Using side-firing weapons on aircraft can be traced back to 1927, when a concept was demonstrated by fixing a .30 caliber machine gun to the side of a biplane and flying a simple manoeuvre known as a pylon turn. Named after the air racing term, it involved positioning an aircraft in a gentle bank and orbiting it around a fixed point as the gun fired continuously. Yet, when Army brass watched the demonstration, which showed promise, they dismissed it as strange and useless, ordering the idea shelved as they moved on to more familiar things. Another effort was made to garner interest in 1939, as just as war clouds loomed, but it too fell by the wayside. Ultimately, it would take an American commander in Queensland, Australia to force the Air Corps to realise the potential of the idea.

A-20 Havoc light Bomber

In 1943, with the U.S. deep in World War II, Army Air Corps Major Paul “Pappy” Gunn unknowingly laid the seeds of what would become the gunship, when he added four .50 caliber machine guns to the nose of his squadron’s A-20 Havoc light bombers. Using them as strafers, he soon realised that, though additional firepower helped, it remained barely adequate to achieve what he really needed them to do: sink Japanese shipping. Therefore, he sought out a more suitable airframe in B-25D Mitchell medium bombers, and mounted four .50s in the nose, two on either side of the fuselage and three behind the front nose wheel bay. As this arrangement was never part of the original design, all modifications had to be made in the field. Nevertheless, the improvements worked, and Gunn’s A-20s and B-25s soon flew into action in a big way.

B-25D Mitchell Medium Bomber

From March 2-4, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea raged as aircraft of the U.S. and Australia intercepted a Japanese convoy of eight transports carrying men and material to reinforce Lae, New Guinea.

Gunn’s A-20s and B-25s swept in at low level, hammering the hulls and decks of the transport ships and their naval escorts with bombs and tens of thousands of rounds. The attacks were relentless, and at the end of the battle all eight of the transports slipped beneath the waves, smouldering and peppered from bow to stern with bullet holes. The modifications worked, and the gunships success echoed back to designers who, months later, produced G and H models of the Mitchell sporting armaments up to 75mm.

A-26 Invader

Just as quick as it arrived though, the Mitchell ended its run as the premier gunship of the era with the arrival of a new kid on the block, one even more purpose built for task. The A-26 Invader. This light-attack, two-man aircraft, which debuted in 1944, unfortunately played second fiddle to the more famous Mitchell’s exploits until after the war’s end, when the ensuing years caused it to make a name for itself as the definitive gunship until the mid 1960s.

The Invader’s reputation started when Korea exploded into war in 1950. Armed with up to 14 .50 caliber guns (8 in the nose, 6 in the wings) along with its bombs and rockets, the Invader began tearing up enemy vehicles trains and positions, often at night. Crews developed new tactics like the Hunter-Killer, where the Hunter roved the countryside looking for headlights or any other sign of enemy activity. If spotted, Communist drivers would shut off their lights, unaware the departing aircraft had radioed to the Killer, which often caught them falling for the ploy and turning them back on. The result was often dozens of explosions and swirling torches licking at the sky. So good were the Invaders that no matter what tactics they used, many an enemy machine fell to them. By the end of the war, they were credited with 38,500 trucks, 406 locomotives and 3,700 railway cars dispatched, in addition to seven enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground.

Not much longer after, that they were carving out the jungle in a place where it would see its most lengthy service: Vietnam.

Supplied by the U.S. and now sporting French tri-colours, the A-26 was used heavily in the First Indochina War, and was involved, along with many other aircraft, in the futile effort to prevent the garrison at Dien Bien Phu from being overrun. And while the French left southeast Asia in disgrace, that in no way affected the A-26, which returned with the U.S. to Thailand in 1960 to assist the Laotian government fighting the Pathet Lao communists, then back to the new nation of South Vietnam in 1962 to begin its encore and final performance.

Meanwhile, at the same time back in the U.S., with the growing prospects of engaging in so-called ‘limited wars‘ like Vietnam, the Air Force created a panel to study ways of defending strategic hamlets and forts throughout the country using new techniques. Good as it was, the A-26 simply didn’t have the ability to provide the sustained suppressive fire needed to break off massed attacks that might last for hours. For this, the old concept of side firing guns on a loitering aircraft was again pulled from the shelf, and this time made into reality.

The program, designated as Project Tail Chaser, used a modified Convair C-131 twin-engine transport, with cameras placed in windows where guns would be. In several tests, the aircraft banked, flew the pylon turn and proved the concept feasible. But, before the next step of adding weapons could begin, a military project’s greatest enemy, lack of funds, reared its head and caused years of delays.

AC-47 SPOOKY GUNSHIP

Finally, live-fire tests were conducted in the summer of 1964 using older C-47 twin-engine transports from Eglin Air Force Base, and the program picked up steam again. Under the command of Captain Ron Terry, Project Gunship 1 was created, and a low-hour C-47 airframe was pulled offline in Vietnam and refurbished with a new and deadly cargo: three six-barrelled .30 caliber miniguns.

Each minigun was capable of firing 6,000 rounds per minute. They were mounted in pods on the plane’s left side, two firing through portholes and one firing out the cargo door. In addition, 24,000 rounds were carried to feed the guns, which were aimed by the pilot looking through a sight fixed to his left. The trigger was a button on the control wheel that, when pressed, sent a swath of fire the size of a football field that could be held and adjusted as long as the pilot stayed in his turn.

The result, as its new crews found, was absolute carnage in tests, often leaving targets torn asunder in tiny pieces on the wind. Most of those on the ground who saw it at work were often rendered speechless. Confidence was high among all that this could be a game changer.

Two six-man crews and the plane, designated AC-47, were assigned to the 1st Air Commando Squadron, when action came on the night of December 23. A radio call crackled from the Tran Yenh Special Forces outpost for immediate fire support. Arriving just thirty seven minutes later, the crew could hear the urgency and desperation on the radio. The outpost was under a major Vietcong attack and was in danger of being overrun. Below the C-47, massive flares swayed, dropped by another C-47 acting as a flare ship. As the plane began dropping its own flares, the pilot radioed the outpost, asking if they wanted him to fire. Hearing only the motors of another C-47 overhead the radio operator replied “Ah… Yes.”

The AC-47 started its bank and a stream of fire leaped from the sky to the ground, surprising the defenders and annihilating the attackers, who never saw how the judgment rained down to tear a path through their ranks and the jungle itself. With such a high rate of fire and every fifth round a tracer, it seemed a massive red tornado started to swirl outside the camp’s perimeter, sweeping all before it into dust.

The AC-47 continued its slow trek in a great circle, as more tracers by the hundreds ricocheted skyward after hitting the ground, making it appear as if Hell itself was pushing its way to the surface and the earth was giving way. Nothing of flesh survived its onslaught. And when the firing stopped a few minutes later, a haze smelling of gunpowder settled over the night. The outpost was safe. Not even the plaintive cry of a wounded guerrilla was heard. 4,500 hundred rounds had been expended.

The saved men offered profuse thanks before a call came from another outpost known as Trung Hung, twenty miles away. A few minutes later, and new witnesses watched in amazement as the sky sent another red tongue to the earth to feed off the blood of more unsuspecting attackers.

Once the AC-47 returned to base, it wasn’t long before the destruction it had wrought that night began making rounds. In the days that followed, more requests came, and the bird cranked up and winged off to do its duty, never failing to break up an attack, no matter if it took hours.

It came to be during one of these night missions to protect a hamlet on the Mekong Delta in early 1965, another witness to its power, a Stars and Stripes reporter watched in awe and wrote how the stream of tracers reminded him of a dragon’s breath. After reading the story, the commanding officer of the wing said, “Well I’ll be damned, Puff the Magic Dragon,” referencing a children’s song made popular by the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary.

That was all it took, forever more, the solitary AC-47 and those that joined it later, carried the call sign ‘Puff.’ Even the Vietcong got in on the action, believing that the monster was real, and that shooting at it would only make it angry. It did.

On February 8, 1965, Puff located hundreds of Vietcong on a hillside firing at it and let loose, staying on station for four hours and firing over 20,000 rounds to leave the place bereft of trees and stalk. Maybe it was necessary to cover the body parts of the 300 plus enemy that had been gathering for an offensive.

Three years later, it was during in the siege of Khe Sanh in 1968 that the AC-47s, now expanded and operating countrywide using the call sign ‘Spooky’, gave its greatest and lengthiest service. Also it might be said, it proved to be the slow demise for the 47s used by the U.S. in the gunship role.

Khe Sanh was a remote Marine hilltop outpost in the northwest part of Vietnam. Situated near the Laotian border, the North Vietnamese had brought it under siege with the start of the Tet offensive on January 31st, 1968. President Johnson became so worried and obsessed with its fate that he demanded hourly updates on it as the mightiest warplanes in the U.S. inventory, including the B-52, unloaded thousands of tons of ordnance and literally changed the topography day-to-day around the site.

When dusk came, the NVA emerged from their deep tunnels and moved closer to the perimeter, only to have an AC-47 massacre them each time. This act was replayed countless times during the siege, and planes relieved each other making sure there was always a gunship orbiting the base. They stayed night after night for months on end until the siege was broken.

With this in mind, though the B52 may have been the airborne star of the event, an equal case could be made for the AC-47, who kept the enemy reeling when they were considered ‘danger close,’ and kept them from storming the base using one of their favourite weapons, Night.

After 1968, the AC-47s slowly began to be supplanted and replaced by both the Lockheed AC-130 Spectre (Project Gunship 2) and AC-119 Stinger (Project Gunship 3). Once numbers of these aircraft were in theatre, the AC-47s ranks grew smaller still until just a handful were serving into the 1970s, when they were withdrawn in favour of the Spectre. Variants of the AC-47 still serve today as gunships in South America, though without the miniguns that gave it its characteristic moniker.

From the American Revolution to the Korean War, thousands of U.S. soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors have been taken prisoner or gone missing. But it took the Vietnam War—and a sense of abandonment felt by wives and family members of Americans held captive—to bring forth what has evolved into United State's POW/MIA symbol.

The POW/MIA flag is inextricably tied to the National League of POW/MIA Families, which was born in June 1969 as the National League of Families of American Prisoners in Southeast Asia. Its mission was to spread awareness of the mistreatment of prisoners of war at the hands of their captors. It was the brainchild of Karen Butler, wife of Navy pilot Phillip Butler, who had been shot down over North Vietnam in April 1965, and Sybil Stockdale, whose husband, Navy Commander James Bond Stockdale, was the highest-ranking POW in North Vietnam. Stockdale had been held prisoner since September 1965, when his A-4 Skyhawk went down over North Vietnam.

In 1971, League member Mary Hoff came up with the idea of creating a flag as the group’s symbol. Her husband, Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Michael Hoff, had been missing in action since January 7, 1970. Mary Hoff called the country’s oldest and largest flag-maker, Annin Flagmakers of Verona, N.J. “Mary Hoff called out of the blue. I had no idea what the League of Families was when she called,” Norm Rivkees, then Annin’s vice president of sales, said. “She then explained everything and I went to our president, Randy Beard. There was no hesitation. He just said: ‘Absolutely. We would be honoured to create a flag.’”

Rivkees turned over the job of designing the flag to Annin’s small advertising agency, Hayden Advertising, where the task was assigned to graphic artist Newton F. Heisley. Heisley, who died in 2009, had served in World War II as a C-46 twin-engine transport pilot with the 433rd Troop Carrier Group. After coming home from the war with a Bronze Star, he received a degree in Fine Arts from Syracuse University and worked as a graphic artist at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette before going to work for Hayden. After getting the POW/MIA flag assignment, Heisley sat down at his drawing table and sketched three different designs. The one he chose had an image of a gaunt man in profile, with a guard tower and a strand of barbed wire in the background—the design that we recognise today. When Annin began producing the flag, Heisley was still tweaking its design. He planned to add colour to the black-and-white image, but those ideas were dropped.

Heisley modelled the flag’s silhouette on his 24-year-old son, who was on leave from the Marines and looking gaunt while getting over hepatitis. Heisley also penned the words that are stitched on the banner, “You are not forgotten.” As Heisley told the Colorado Springs Gazette in 1997, the flag “was intended for a small group. No one realised it was going to get national attention.”

It took nearly a decade, but the POW/MIA flag began getting attention in a big way in the early 1980s. In 1982 it became the only flag, other than the Stars and Stripes, to fly over the White House, after it was first displayed there on POW/MIA Recognition Day. In 1989 the flag was installed in the Capitol Rotunda. It also has the distinction, historians and flag experts believe, of being the only non-national flag that any federal government anywhere in the world has mandated to be flown regularly. That began with a 1990 law to recognise the POW/MIA flag and designate the third Friday of September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

If any good came out of American involvement in the Vietnam War, it was that both hawks and doves now agree that the troops of that war were treated poorly when they returned home. The early 1970s saw many protests against the war on college campuses and in the nation’s largest cities. Many antiwar activists lacked the maturity to distinguish between the government that “made” war and those sent to fight it. A student organisation that understood the difference was Voices in Vital America (VIVA), a Los Angeles–based group formed in the 1960s to counteract campus antiwar protests. In 1970 VIVA member Carol Bates Brown, who was in the California chapter, started an initiative to promote awareness of prisoners of war by making and selling metal POW bracelets engraved with the name, rank, service branch and date of loss. VIVA distributed nearly 5 million bracelets, selling them for $2.50 to $3 apiece and raising enough money to purchase untold millions of bumper stickers, buttons, brochures, matchbooks, newspaper ads and the like to draw attention to the missing service personnel.

One one such bracelet was inscribed “SFC Billy R. Laney, USA, 6-3-67, LAOS.” Billy Ray Laney was born on Aug. 21, 1939, in Blanch, Alabama. He married in 1958 and had three children. Laney joined the Navy in October 1956 and served until Aug. 2, 1960. The next day, he joined the Army. By February 1967 his principal duty was operations and intelligence specialist. Laney was a Special Forces member of an organisation set up by the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and called the Studies and Observation Group. MACV-SOG, or simply SOG, was a covert operations group that incorporated units from all branches of the military, including Navy SEALs, Air Force special operations squadrons, Marine Corps reconnaissance units and Army Special Forces troops, the famed Green Berets. Laney was in the Command and Central Detachment, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces.

In June 1967 Laney was part of a Strategic Air Command/SOG operation that targeted the North Vietnamese Army in an area code-named “Oscar-8,” a rugged, jungle-covered mountainous region in eastern Laos about 12 miles southeast of Khe Sanh. That area was the source of more than 1,500 National Security Agency radio intercepts in one 24-hour period. The rise in radio transmissions intended for Hanoi high command led SOG to believe NVA General Vo Nguyen Giap was paying a visit to Oscar. Oscar-8 was the absolute headquarters of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It contained the largest supply warehouse for NVA outside Hanoi and was a critical transportation area. The objective of the Oscar-8 operation was to kill Giap and all other enemy forces along the way using the Strategic Air Command and SOG.

First, B-52s would drop 900 high-explosive bombs onto the target area. Within 15 minutes of the last bombing, Marine CH-46 helicopters would drop off an 80-man SOG commando unit, called a Hatchet Force, consisting of Americans and Nung tribesmen, to assess the situation and gather intelligence. “The actual defensive position and helicopter-landing zone consisted of a very large bomb crater,” according to a July 3 memo from the Marine Aircraft Group, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. “It would only accommodate a single aircraft, so the CH-46s had to go in one at a time.”

Laney landed on June 2 with SOG forces on the first transport copter, piloted by Major Richard E. Romine. But a mistake in timing authorised the insertion before a command helicopter could sweep the target zone for an initial assessment. Consequently, the commando unit found itself surrounded and under attack. “The B-52 bombing had done significant damage, but it clearly had not destroyed the NVA defences,” said an observer, who was at the target area in a fixed-wing aircraft when the Hatchet Force troops and chopper crews loaded at Khe Sanh.

That night Laney and the SOG force hunkered down and waited for a possible pickup. After a tactical airstrike at dawn on June 3, three CH-46s came to get the unit. Romine, the flight leader, flew the first Marine copter in. “Upon being reassured that the surrounding enemy was neutralised by airstrikes, I decided to make the entry into the landing zone after briefing my flight to take sufficient interval so that I could assess the situation prior to their approach into the zone,” he said in a July 3 report from the Marine Aircraft Group to the Marine Corps commandant.

The major managed to pick up eight Nungs but had trouble when he tried to lift out of the bomb crater landing zone. “Almost immediately the number two engine quit,” he reported. “I managed to make a controlled crash approximately 150 feet from my objective, sometime after being hit and before I crashed,” Romine added, “I broadcast a mayday and informed the flight to break off and not attempt the extraction at that time.”

The other rescue helicopters did not hear the transmission, however, “for reasons unknown to myself,” Romine reported. The No. 2 helicopter successfully retrieved a group of soldiers, mostly from a Nung platoon, but encountered automatic-weapons fire and was hit several times. The No. 3 helicopter, piloted by Captain Stephen P. Hanson, also attempted a troop pickup.

Hanson’s CH-46 loaded 15 passengers, including Laney and SOG sergeants Ronald J. Dexter and Charles F. Wilklow. As the chopper took off, however, Hanson unknowingly turned into the heaviest concentration of NVA forces. “We began to receive fire as soon as we lifted off,” Wilklow said, “and it became more intense.” The aircraft veered out of control, broke in half and landed about 4½ feet above the ground, suspended by jungle foliage.

The door gunner, Lance Cpl. Frank E. Cius, was able to get off a few hundred rounds from his machine gun before the impact, which knocked him on his back. Dexter, Wilklow and a couple of Nungs were in good enough shape to engage the North Vietnamese. Laney was wounded in the back before they got on the chopper, according to Wilklow. After the crash, “I noticed SFC Laney under a seat,” he said. “He had a badly broken ankle in addition to his previous wound. When I started to examine him, he said, ‘Please don’t touch me.’ I don’t recall seeing or hearing any more from him after that.”

Out of ammunition and shot in the leg, Wilklow crawled away from the wreckage, looking for Dexter, and passed out. Unknown to him, Dexter, Cius and nine of the Nungs had formed a perimeter about 200 meters from the downed aircraft. Enemy fire continued after the crash with heavy streams of bullets coming in the helicopter windows.

From the next morning, June 4th, until late in the afternoon, gunships and fixed-wing aircraft pummelled Oscar-8 in preparation for additional troop pickups and resupply attempts, which continued late into the day. Dexter, Cius and the Nungs had been forced away from the area, and reconnaissance overflights the next day failed to reveal any survivors at Oscar-8, so further extraction efforts were called off.

Billy Ray Laney was officially reported as missing in action on June 3. Other reports indicate that Dexter, Cius and the Nungs were captured on June 5th. Wilklow, who had crawled away from the landing zone with an injured leg, was also captured and wound up in an NVA base camp but escaped on the fourth day. The next day, against all odds, Wilklow was spotted by Waugh, on an airborne observation mission, and rescued.

“The raid on Oscar-8 had been a disaster,” wrote Robert Gillespie in his book Black Ops Vietnam: An Operational History of MACVSOG. “Seven aircraft had been shot down. Twenty-three Americans—SOG team members, USAF pilots and Marine helicopter crewmen—were lost, along with about 50 of the Nung raiders.”

By all accounts, including those from NVA personnel, Sergeant Dexter died in captivity on July 29, 1967. Marine Corporal Cius was released on March 5, 1973, during Operation Homecoming. He now lives in New York and is very active in veterans issues. Sergeant Wilklow’s son told me that his father died in July 1992 after a long fight with cancer.

On March 20, 1978, following a review of Laney’s missing person’s status, the Army made a determination to change his status from missing in action, June 3, 1967, to dead, as of March 20. Sergeant Laney’s remains were recovered later from the Laos crash site and positively identified through DNA testing in 1999, as were those of Captain Hanson, who also died on the ground in Laos. On Oct. 5, 2000, Laney’s remains were returned to Alabama, and there was a grand ceremony in Huntsville, where his widow and children and an assembly of country music stars, politicians, veterans and many others paid homage to him.

A memo was sent from MACV to the 5th Special Forces Group commanding officer, dated June 28, 1967—just 25 days after Oscar-8—informing him that the MIA Board had made a determination that Laney’s status be changed from MIA to KIA as a result of hostile action. This, for reasons unknown, was never done. In the interim, Laney’s wife and parents were provided with practically no information. His wife even received a Postal Authorisation Card in 1972 permitting her to send a Christmas package to her husband.

Even though the Oscar-8 operation has been labeled a failure by some, had this Special Forces operation succeeded in its objective to kill General Giap, it can be argued that North Vietnam’s military would have been totally disrupted. The war might have ended sooner, saving more than 38,000 American lives lost in the Vietnam conflict in the following six years.

On August 2nd, 1943, CBS War Correspondent Eric Sevareid and a small group of American diplomats and Chinese army officers climbed aboard a Curtiss C-46 Commando transport plane at a U.S. Army Air Forces base in Chabua, India. Sevareid wanted to report firsthand on an ongoing mission to get gasoline and other supplies to China in support of Chiang Kai-shek, whose forces were fighting the Japanese. The USAAF’s brand-new Air Transport Command had been struggling to run the most audacious and dangerous airlift operation ever attempted—flying “the Hump,” over the foothills of the Himalayas—and Sevareid wanted to report on the operation.

China had gone to war with Japan in 1937, but by the time the United States entered the Pacific War, Japan had sealed off China from any source of supply. Its ports had been conquered, and the last rail connection with the Soviet Union, a distant and pitiful lifeline, had been closed in 1941 by a Soviet-Japanese neutrality treaty. The infamous Burma Road lasted a while longer, but when the Japanese captured the port of Rangoon, the Burma Road was left with no supplies to carry.

Flying over Burma (today, Myanmar) - a 261,000-square-mile swath of mostly mountainous terrain the size of Texas—was the only way.

As the C-46 climbed high above the Patkoi Range, the aircraft that pilots had dubbed “the flying coffin” suddenly lost its left engine, and it soon became clear that the plane was going to crash. “I stood in the open door of that miserable Commando and declared, ‘Well, if nobody else is going to jump, I’ll jump,’” John Paton Davies, one of the American diplomats, later wrote. “Somebody had to break the ice.”

Sevareid followed Davies, but only after grabbing a bottle of Carew’s gin. He and 19 other men landed in the jungle—the C-46’s copilot did not survive—near a village that was home to a notorious tribe of headhunters, the Nagas, who, amazingly, hosted and fed them until help arrived 22 days later. Most likely because of the VIPs aboard the flight, intensive search-and-rescue efforts were mounted, including parachuting a flight surgeon to the marooned party. That was the beginning of serious search and rescue along the Hump routes. Before “the Sevareid flight,” crews and occasional passengers were pretty much on their own in the Burmese jungles and mountains.

On their 80-mile trek back to civilisation, a native guide explained the Hump to Sevareid in a way that perfectly encapsulated its astonishing expanse: “India there,” he said, pointing in one direction, and then, pointing in the other, “China there.”

The Second Sino-Japanese War occupied the attention of 1,250,000 Japanese troops stationed in Southeast Asia and China itself. It was a huge commitment by the Japanese, but they faced a Chinese force of more than three million. That Chinese army did little—the war had essentially become a stalemate—but was nonetheless a threat, and that meant those million and a quarter Japanese soldiers couldn’t be sent to Guadalcanal or anywhere else in the South Pacific. President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that Chiang Kai-shek, the supreme commander of most of China’s army—Mao Zedong led the rest—was his guy, and Chiang needed American support.

Roosevelt imagined a superpower role for China after the war, and he wanted to be on good terms with the generalissimo. Chiang kept demanding more supplies, and Roosevelt kept sending them, at least until he became increasingly disenchanted with the Chinese Nationalist dictator.

But was that really the reason for flying some 500 to 560 miles over the Hump? To supply the Chinese and keep them in the war, thus pinning down all those Japanese troops? That has been the popular explanation for decades, but it is far from the whole story.

The Hump was a myth in many ways. Even the description “over the Himalayas” stretches the truth, for none of the several Hump routes overflew mountains that were technically part of the Himalayas. Yes, some of them crossed the Patkai and Santung Ranges, which forced a minimum cruising altitude of 15,000 feet, especially when flying by instruments in poor visibility, and that left no margin in the event of an engine failure in a twin-engine C-46 Commando or Douglas C-47 Skytrain or even a four-engine Consolidated C-87/C-109 Liberator Express. The Himalayas, though, were part of what percolated the extreme weather and jetstream-strength winds that were the routes’ severest challenges.

The flood of memoirs, war stories, and reminiscences from members of the Hump Pilots Association (some 5,000 at its peak) was unequaled among such postwar alumni groups, and its annual conventions seemed to increase the significance of the feats they reported. “Every time we meet,” one former Hump pilot recalled, “the Himalaya Mountains get higher, the weather gets worse, and there are more Japanese fighters in the sky than there were in the whole fleet.”

The men who flew the Hump were near the bottom of the Army Air Force food chain; indeed, ATC, the abbreviation for Air Transport Command, was often said to mean “Allergic to Combat” or “Army of Terrified Copilots.” Those terrified copilots got little respect during the war but made sure the world heard about their exploits afterward. Inevitably, some of what they broadcast was myth and much was exaggeration. That said, they operated overloaded airplanes, some of them mechanically flawed and poorly maintained with no source of spares, and did it in the world’s worst instrument-flying weather.

Westerly winds sometimes reached 150 miles an hour (typically inflated by pilots in later years to 200 and even 250), and 115 miles an hour was not unusual. A trip in a C-47 from China back to India could see ground speeds of 30 miles an hour, according to some Hump reminiscences, and pilots cruising at 16,000 feet might find their aircraft carried uncontrollably to 28,000 feet, then suddenly back down to 6,000. The weather was at its worst from February to April, with fierce thunderstorms and heavy icing. May to September was monsoon season with even worse thunderstorms. October and November meant good weather, which brought out Japanese fighter planes, and December and January brought heavy winds, turbulence, and icing.

It didn’t help that Hump route charts were outdated and inaccurate, with many exaggerated height callouts. Some Hump pilots went to their graves believing they had seen a mysterious mountain taller than Everest—a peak of 32,000 feet looming far above them when they suddenly broke out of clouds into the clear. Sometimes the media were responsible for the exaggeration, for journalists everywhere knew that if they needed colourful copy, all they had to do was sign on for a Hump run.

IN THE EARLIEST DAYS OF THE HUMP, before Pearl Harbor, the route was flown not by the U.S. military but by an airline: CNAC, the China National Aviation Corporation, a cooperative endeavour between the Chinese government and Pan American Airways. Its pilots—mostly expatriate Americans and Brits flying Douglas DC-3s, some of them U.S.-provided—were the best mountain pilots in the Far East, and their skill and experience showed when the Army Air Force Ferry Command (ATC’s predecessor) began to fly the route in 1942. CNAC aircraft often carried more than double the tonnage that their Army Air Forces partners felt safe hauling aboard identical aircraft. The experienced CNAC pilots initially made flying the Hump look easy, but nobody yet realised that future operations would be flown by ill-trained newbies with no mountain- or weather-flying hours.

The Ferry Command’s early pilots were also skilful, though they lacked relevant experience flying over such terrain or in such weather. The first 100 were airline pilots who held AAF Reserve commissions. But when Hump tonnage began to build and a substantial fleet of cargo planes had arrived in India, the demand for pilots grew rapidly. AAF flight schools churned out as many as they could, but the best of them chose to fly fighters and fast medium bombers; for a new aviator in his early 20s, glory lay in combat, not in flying freight.

Despite the occasional presence of Japanese fighters, the Hump was officially declared a noncombat operation, with lower pay scales and more demanding rotation-home criteria. The Hump transports were easy but only occasional prey, since Japanese fighters would have to spend time, effort, and gas to find one airplane at a time. In October 1943, the Japanese stationed a swarm of Nakajima Ki-43 Oscars at Myitkyina (pronounced “Mitchinaw”) in northern Burma, tasked to interdict the Hump routes. This worked briefly—four Hump transports were downed—until Lieutenant General Claire Chennault, commander of the famous Flying Tigers, proposed launching a small group of up-gunned B-24s along one route. The Oscars found the Liberators and casually attacked, thinking they were unarmed C-87s, and eight of the Ki-43s were shot down.

Air Transport Command got the least capable flight students from the training classes; many arrived in India with minimal instrument–flying skills, some without multi-engine training. When possible, they were paired for training with airline pilots, many of whom were stunned by their lack of competence. By the end of 1942, 35 percent of the Hump operation’s new pilots showed up in India with just 27 weeks of flight training. During spring 1943, nearly a third of the AAF pilots force-fed to the China-Burma-India Theatre were only single-engine rated.

Even experienced crews got into trouble over the Hump. General Henry “Hap” Arnold was flying the Hump with a hand-picked crew aboard his personal Boeing B-17 in February 1943 when they turned a two-and-a-half-hour trip into a six-hour epic. Befuddled by lack of oxygen, the crew made enough navigation errors to put themselves over Japanese-held territory.

One small category of service pilots, however, were happy to log hours flying modified civilian airliners. After the war they would be at the head of the line leading to the door marked “Airline Captain,” even then a glamorous and well-paid job.

From its inception in early 1942 through the spring of 1943—the U.S.-run operation was what some likened to a civilian flying club run by its pilots. They decided when they would fly, what route they’d take, and how much cargo they’d carry. They were their own schedulers, dispatchers, and weather forecasters, and, not surprisingly, flights were often canceled because of bad weather or the threat of Japanese interception. That lasted until the arrival of Brigadier General Thomas Hardin, a former TWA vice president who took over the Hump command in August 1943. “From now on, there is no weather over the Hump,” he immediately decreed, telling the flying club pilots to suck it up or join the infantry.

Hardin flew the Hump, sometimes solo and regardless of the weather, in a worn-out North American B-25 medium bomber that he had somehow appropriated, and he arrived unannounced at the various ATC bases in India and China with his hair on fire, sacking and reassigning officers whenever he found laxity and incompetence. Hardin came to be feared and respected by the most aggressive of his pilots and hated by the malingerers. He asked more of his aircraft, maintainers, and crews than anyone had imagined was possible, and he was responsible for demanding and getting record tonnage delivered to China—first 10,000 tons a month, then almost 24,000.

Hardin was also responsible for a terrible Hump safety record; he admitted that setting new tonnage-delivered records was more important than bothersome safety procedures. During just one seven-month stretch during his tenure, there were 135 major accidents and 168 crew fatalities, half of them night-flying crashes. Hardin had initiated after-dark flying over the Hump, saying “airplanes don’t need to sleep.” At one point, every thousand tons flown into China cost three American lives. Hardin lasted just 13 months and was replaced by another brigadier general, William Tunner. Tunner would become famous as the orchestrator of the 1949 Berlin Airlift.

Under Hardin, Hump pilots were allowed to rotate home after logging 650 hours. A typical flight took about three hours in good weather, and some crews flew three missions a day in order to build hours as fast as they could, flying some 2,000 demanding hours a year—twice the amount that the Federal Aviation Administration today allows airline pilots to log annually. And, not surprisingly, tired crews crashed. Tunner changed the deal to 750 hours and a minimum of 10 months in theatre. Morale suffered some, since living in fetid accommodations at bases in India for almost a year was a cruel sentence, but safety improved.

Initially there was the indomitable Douglas C-47/C-53, the two military versions of the DC-3. Pilots called it “the rocking chair of the air” because it was so easy to operate, but the early-1930s design had limitations. It was difficult to load with bulky cargo, struggled to reach operational Hump altitudes, and carried a relatively small load.

Along came the Curtiss C-46 Commando, a whale of an airplane that carried 70 percent more cargo than a C-47 and boasted two of the finest and most powerful piston aircraft engines ever produced: 2,000-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R2800 radials. The C-46 could munch mountains for breakfast, but it was deeply flawed. Still under development as a pressurised airliner, the military Commando was hastily sent to India when it should remained in testing. At one point, a group of early C-46s was returned with a list of more than 700 major and minor glitches that needed correcting before further production.

The C-46’s biggest fault was tiny leaks in wing fuel tanks and lines. Such leaks weren’t unusual among complex multi–engine airplanes, but in the Commando, they were fatal. Curtiss had failed to vent the juncture between wing and fuselage, so the gasoline pooled there instead of quickly evaporating. Random fuel-pump sparks caused 20 percent of all Hump C-46s to explode in flight. (Wing roots weren’t vented until after the war.)

In an attempt to turn a bomber into a cargo plane for the Hump routes, Consolidated Aircraft put a flat floor in its B-24, removed the guns and bomb racks, and called the result the C-87 Liberator Express. But the B-24 had been designed to carry a stable load in a small area on the airplane’s center of gravity: bombs in fixed, vertical bomb racks. When Hump crews flew C-87s randomly loaded with a variety of cargoes, few ever found a sweet spot where the airplane felt comfortable, stable, and in trim.

The army also tried to turn the B-24 into a Hump tanker, dubbed the C-109, with big flexible bags full of gasoline in the hold. It was difficult to land at the 6,000-foot-high airfields in China and soon acquired the name Cee-One-Oh-Boom. One C-109 blew a tire on landing, exploded, and wiped out three other Liberator Expresses. In his book Flying the Hump, ex-China-Burma-India pilot Otha C. Spencer wrote, “All the pilots on the base wished [it] had wrecked the whole fleet.”

It was the arrival of the Douglas C-54 Skymaster in February 1944 that turned the Hump operation into the largest, most efficient airline in the world. The Skymaster was the militarised version of the DC-4, the first large, four-engine American airliner, and it had the cargo volume of a railroad boxcar. The C-54 didn’t have the high-altitude performance to fly the “High Hump” routes, but in May 1944 British and American forces captured the Japanese fighter strip at Myitkyina, thus eliminating any opportunity for the Japanese to interdict the less extreme “Low Hump” routes. The C-54 did quite nicely at 12,000 feet and carried far more cargo per trip than even the porky Curtiss Commando. It was also safer than its four-engine predecessor, the Liberator Express, and its tanker version, whose accident rate was 500 percent higher than the C-54’s.

By early 1943, U.S. brass hats, including AAF chief Hap Arnold, were beginning to doubt the value of the Hump operation. Arnold felt the airlift could certainly be ramped up to accomplish what it had set out to do, but he saw little point in spending lives, material, and effort simply to sustain the will of the Chinese. Many felt that Chiang was husbanding his acquired supplies for use against Mao, not the Japanese.

That was a turning point for the Hump operation. Under the cover of aiding China, the ATC program quickly changed course to become the major source of supplies for the Twentieth Air Force, which was planning to bomb Japan with its B-29s from Chinese airbases. China had now become a launch pad, no longer of interest as a postwar partner. But ultimately, the Twentieth flew just nine Boeing B-29 missions from China against the Home Islands before it moved to huge airfields in the Marianas. The postwar Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that those few missions “did little to hasten the Japanese surrender or justify the lavish expenditures poured out on their behalf through a fantastically uneconomic and barely workable supply system.” For every four gallons of avgas delivered to the Twentieth, Hump transports burned three and a half.

Still, during 1944 the Hump flights grew exponentially in terms of tonnage, organisation, and operational sophistication. They became quite simply the world’s biggest international airline—750 aircraft and more than 4,400 pilots. Between August 1944 and October 1945, the Hump delivered almost 500,000 tons of material from India to China. Chiang got less than 20,000 tons of it—three pounds of every 100 that crossed the Hump. The Twentieth Air Force got gasoline and ordnance; Chiang all too often got wine, decorative shrubbery for his house, Ping-Pong tables, office supplies, condoms, and such.

Roosevelt died in April 1945, and his successor, Harry Truman, shared little of his warmth toward Chiang; nor did Truman believe that Nationalist China would play an important postwar role. China quickly became a decidedly minor player in Allied strategy. The Hump operation showed that a substantial amount of cargo could be airlifted anywhere, under the worst flying conditions, as long as those in charge were willing to pay the price in men, aircraft, and money. What it didn’t prove was that such an undertaking was useful. As a logistics operation, the Hump flights were a failure. The cost in aircraft and crews was enormous. Loss estimates vary between 468 and 600-plus airplanes (the AAF did not record every crash), but the best one seems to be 590 aircraft lost with 1,314 crewmen. General George C. Marshall felt the Hump had negative value: “The over-the-Hump airline has been bleeding us white in transport airplanes….The effort over the mountains of Burma bids fair to cost us an extra winter in the main theatre of war.”

In the end, the Hump had much to do with establishing the United States as the world’s airline leader. The War Department bought over 1,000 C-54s, 3,000 C-46s, and 10,000 C-47s—and many of them were sold as surplus to become American airliners after hostilities ended. The United States began the postwar period with the airplanes, the pilots, and the air-transport management skills to build a worldwide airline system, all developed at least in part by flying the Hump.

The United States Coast Guard is the United States oldest and premier maritime agency. The history of the Service is very complicated because it is the amalgamation of five Federal agencies. These agencies, the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation, and the Lifesaving Service, were originally independent, but had overlapping authorities and were shuffled around the government. They sometimes received new names, and they were all finally united under the umbrella of the Coast Guard. The multiple missions and responsibilities of the modern Service are directly tied to this diverse heritage and the magnificent achievements of all of these agencies.

The Coast Guard, through its forefathers, is the oldest continuous seagoing service and has fought in almost every war since the Constitution became the law of the land in 1789. Following the War of Independence (1776-83), the Continental Navy was disbanded and from 1790 until 1794, when Congress authorised the construction of six frigates (of which only three were launched by 1797), the revenue cutters were the only national maritime service. The Acts establishing the Navy also empowered the President to use the revenue cutters to supplement the fleet when needed. Laws later clarified the relationship between the Coast Guard and the Navy.The Coast Guard has traditionally performed two roles in wartime. The first has been to augment the Navy with men and cutters. The second has been to undertake special missions, for which peacetime experiences have prepared the Service with unique skills.

Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, the Coast Guard carried out neutrality patrols as set out by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 5 September 1939. The Coast Guard's fleet of cutters and craft first began sailing into harm's way on the Atlantic after the establishment of the Neutrality Patrol in 1939 and then into real danger escorting convoys in 1941, all prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Direct action with the German Navy soon followed. The USS Alexander Hamilton, CG fell victim to a U-boat's torpedo in January, 1942, becoming the first US warship lost in combat in the Atlantic after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Cutters countered and quickly drew blood, sinking three U-boats off the East Coast in 1942. Coast Guardsmen on board the cutter Icarus, which sank U-352, gained the distinction of being the first U.S. servicemen to take German prisoners of war.

The cutters themselves, most of which had been constructed between the wars, were designed to have additional armament added in case of national emergency. The Navy added this additional armament beginning in 1940, including more and heavier guns, depth charge tracks, "Y" and "K" guns, additional anti-aircraft weaponry, and sonar equipment. After the start of the war, cutters were some of the first Allied vessels fitted with newly developed electronic gear, such as high-frequency radio direction finders, known as HF/DF or "huff-duff," and surface and air search radars.

On April 9, 1941, Greenland was incorporated into a hemispheric defence system. The Coast Guard was the primary military service responsible for these cold-weather operations, which continued throughout the war. On September 12 the cutter Northland took into "protective custody" the Norwegian trawler Buskoe and captured three German radiomen ashore. This was the United States' first naval capture of World War II. Although most of the 327s were initially assigned to duty in Greenland, but their exposed propellers were easily damaged by ice. Consequently they were assigned as convoy escorts on the North Atlantic. Later, they escorted convoys across the mid-Atlantic, past Gibraltar, and through the Mediterranean to North Africa. After their distinguished service in the Battle of the Atlantic, the surviving 327s were converted to amphibious force flagships and served during some of the most intense battles of the Pacific Theatre.

If any battle marked the turning point of World War II in the Pacific, most experts agree that the six-month land, sea and air battle for Guadalcanal was the one. American naval strategists drew a line in the sand at Guadalcanal because enemy aircraft flying from that island could cut-off Allied supply lines to Australia.

During the Guadalcanal offensive, the U.S. Coast Guard served an important role through its specialties in maritime transport, amphibious landing and small boat operations. On ‘the Canal,’ the Coast Guard worked seamlessly with its USN and USMC counterparts and, for the first time in its history, commanded and manned a U.S. Naval Operating Base, or NOB. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Dwight Hodge Dexter commanded NOB “Cactus,” the code name for Guadalcanal’s naval base. At its peak, NOB Cactus included about thirty LCPs, also known as Higgins Boats, and a dozen bow-ramped tank lighters. About 50 officers and enlisted men manned the operation, which included an odd collection of coconut plantation buildings, homemade shacks and tents; and log-reinforced dugout shelters for surviving air raids, naval bombardment and artillery shelling.

On the morning of Aug. 7, 1942, exactly eight months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first American amphibious operation of World War II was about to begin. The cloud cover of the previous days and circuitous voyage from Wellington, New Zealand, had hidden the invasion fleet’s movements from enemy aircraft and submarines, so Japanese forces on Guadalcanal received no forewarning of an impending attack. The fleet entered Sealark Channel near the landing beaches and front line warships began shore bombardment of enemy positions on the island. The waves of Marines coming ashore greatly outnumbered the combined strength of Japanese military forces and civilian construction personnel responsible for building the enemy’s new airfield. The Japanese beat a hasty retreat from their shore positions into the jungles of Guadalcanal. Within a day of the landings, the Americans had captured the partially completed airstrip and established a defensive perimeter around the airbase.

Dexter was a natural leader who was devoted to his crew. When the enlisted men on board troop transport Hunter Liggett heard that he would command Guadalcanal’s small boat operations, several volunteered to serve with him. On Aug. 8, 1942, Dexter came ashore with the first 24 Coast Guardsmen to serve at NOB Cactus. He set up his headquarters in the former manager’s house for the Lever Brothers coconut plantation, which was located within the Marine’s defensive perimeter at Kukum, east of Lunga Point. The white frame structure was in good condition considering the naval bombardment that had softened up the beaches the day before. Near Dexter’s headquarters, his men built a small tool shed for servicing their landing craft and machinery. They also built a signal tower out of coconut logs and a makeshift shelter located underneath it built of packing crates with a tent roof. This shelter housed Coast Guard heroes, including signalman Douglas Munro, later recipient of the Service’s only Congressional Medal of Honor, and Ray Evans, later recipient of the Navy Cross. The rest of Dexter’s men had similar shelters or tents, but all lived close to the log-reinforced bomb shelters.

NOB Cactus held a variety of titles. In the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the First Marine Division, Reinforced, the added word “Reinforced” refers to the Coast Guard unit. NOB Cactus also formed part of Transport Division 7 and it had the moniker of “Local Defense Force and Anti-Submarine Patrol, Guadalcanal-Gavutu.” These names indicate the variety of missions carried out by Dexter’s unit. NOB Cactus served primarily to run supplies and troops from transport ships to the beaches of Guadalcanal, but Dexter’s men and landing craft performed far more missions than merely supplying the troops. They provided an important radio and communications link between land forces and offshore vessels. They navigated the waters of Guadalcanal and islands as far distant as 60 miles to land Marines and retrieve them when necessary. They inserted reconnaissance teams led by British Colonial Forces officers behind enemy lines. In the aftermath of aerial dogfights above and naval battles on the surface of nearby Iron Bottom Sound, NOB watercraft took to open water to retrieve wounded Americans and Japanese prisoners. For a time, NOB personnel fitted their landing craft with depth charges and conducted nightly anti-submarine patrols. Coast Guard personnel also pitched-in to defend American positions by serving artillery pieces and providing infantry support. The men even trawled off the beaches, catching fresh fish to supplement the meagre menu of Marines at the local mess hall.

The men of NOB Cactus used the dugout bomb shelters frequently due to aerial bombing, naval shelling and artillery bombardment that took place on a regular basis. Under cover of darkness, Japanese naval units from their base at Rabaul, New Britain, regularly attacked Guadalcanal and its defending Allied warships. The men on the Canal also suffered through daily air attacks, which tore up the airfield and prevented transports from lingering off the beaches for any length of time. In fact, Dexter maintained a captured Japanese three-barrelled machine gun, referred to by a British observer as a “Chicago piano,” to defend against air attacks. During the initial stages of the campaign, enemy artillery and sniper fire also hounded the men at NOB Cactus. The Japanese had salvaged a deck gun from one of their grounded ships and mounted it in the jungle highlands commanding the airfield. Nicknamed “Pistol Pete” by the Americans, the Japanese used this gun to lob several rounds per day at American positions until an American air attack finally silenced the gun. After dark, the Japanese also sent aircraft over Guadalcanal to bomb the Marines and prevent them from enjoying more than a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Due to the constant shelling and bombing, the NOB Cactus crew aptly named their nearby lagoon, “Sleepless Lagoon.”

Dexter’s men and landing craft kept critically needed supplies flowing to the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal. U.S. Navy photo.

Dexter’s men and landing craft kept critically needed supplies flowing to the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal. During his command of NOB Cactus, Dexter made sure his men had plenty of food and supplies and trained them in air raid drills, digging foxholes and the use of slit trenches for cover. One of the men later wrote about Dexter, “I felt I could stand the bombings, shellings and artillery so long as he was there. He gave us the feeling of safety that only good officers can give to their men.”

In the condolence letter to Coast Guard Medal of Honor recipient Douglas Munro’s parents, Dexter referred to Munro as “one of my boys.”

Like many who served in the early part of the Guadalcanal campaign, Dexter contracted malaria. In November 1942, when the disease finally got the best of him, Dexter rotated back to the United States. He had earned the respect and admiration of those who served under him at NOB Cactus. Some of his men broke down and cried when he finally announced he was redeploying for home. The Navy awarded Dexter the Silver Star Medal for his command of NOB Cactus.

His medal citation aptly concludes, “By his courage in the face of great hardship and danger, he set an example which was an inspiration to all who served with him.”

When Dexter departed Guadalcanal, the battle had entered its fourth month, but by then the Americans had become experienced jungle fighters and secured their position on the island. The defeat of Japanese forces on the Canal appeared assured by late 1942 as elements of the U.S. Army relieved the malaria-ridden First Marine Division. In early 1943, commander of U.S. forces on Guadalcanal, US Army General Alexander Patch declared the island secured of all Japanese military forces.

Guadalcanal was a killing field that consumed thousands of men, hundreds of aircraft and dozens of front line warships. Even though the U.S. Navy had triumphed earlier in 1942 at the pivotal naval battle at Midway, the struggle for Guadalcanal proved the first true test of all branches of the American military against determined enemy forces within Japanese-held territory. After Guadalcanal, the Allies would remain on the offensive for the rest of the war and the Japanese would fight a lengthy retreat all the way back to their home islands.

Dexter returned to the States having lived through a lifetime’s worth of vivid and often horrific experiences. For the remainder of the war, he rose through the officer ranks at bases within the United States. His post-war assignments included a tour in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he had lived as a child. He also served as commander of the high-endurance cutter Dexter, which is unrelated to his family. In September 1959, he retired from the Service as a rear admiral, after a 35-year career. Dexter was a member of the long blue line and served in the Coast Guard with distinction both in combat and in peacetime.


A total of 18 manufacturers were officially contracted to make the type A-2 flight jacket, between 1931 and 1943. In that time, more than three quarters of a million pieces were produced between them, at a cost of nearly six and half million Dollars.

Most of these firms were from the arena of sporting goods and outerwear manufacturing. Their titles often conveyed the nature of their purveyance: Star Sportswear Mfg Co, Cable Raincoat Co, Poughkeepsie Leather Coat Co and so on. Such was the industrial might of the US, companies like this could be relied upon to supply all the necessary requirements for war materiel: the US had at its disposal the largest and most formidable industrial infrastructure in the world, and once mobilised, it was quite simply an unstoppable juggernaut of war production.

Indeed, such was the momentum of this immense war machine, that by the end of hostilities there was an over-run of production of all kinds of clothing and equipment, surplus stocks of which can still be found today which have never been used. Unfortunately, any surplus stock of A-2 jackets have long since been consumed, but nevertheless, they did exist.

Winning a government contract wasn't an easy undertaking, competition was hot. For every one of the 18 manufacturers who officially produced the A-2, dozens of other companies tendered bids who were not accepted. The process went like this: the government put a contract up for offer, manufacturers would tender bids over a given period. Materiel Command would then consider these bids based on a list of criteria that the manufacturers would be assessed on. Needless to say, cost was quite high on the list but other details such as condition of equipments, production capacity, reputation, experience of managers and so on, were also part of the selection process. Most were turned down for one reason or another, often to their severe displeasure, as of course, to be awarded a huge consider contract was extremely lucrative. Indeed, contracting officers would often receive letters of protest from rejected manufacturers. Sometimes, anonymous tip-offs of underhanded practices, or back hand dealings, would be reported in order to discredit the competition.

Squabbles also occurred directly between companies, one resulting in the fire bombing of the Werber Coat Co. The Aero Leather Clothing Company was accused and a court case ensued. This event might account for Werber's move from Beacon NY (the same Leather district as Aero) to Newburgh in the mid-30s, just after the fire, and also the gap in their otherwise regular list of contracts they were getting each year until then. (If one examines the manufacturers list, apart from the very first A-2 contract awarded to Security Aviation Togs, Werber was the sole contractor from 1933 to 1936, at which point Aero comes into the picture).


Many of the manufacturers were located in relatively close proximity to each other, particularly in the industrial districts in and around New York, which, needless to say, had some tough individuals at the helm. When tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of Dollars were at stake, the competition to secure a contract was intense. Understandably, during the peace time of the 1930s, the contracts awarded during this period were for lesser quantities than those that were to follow once the US entered the war. When one examines the data, the exponential increase in the late 30s as the slide toward conflict became inevitable. One can also see how certain companies were obviously favoured over time, as repeat contracts were awarded to them, and not to others.

Upon the award of the contract, the selected company would be sent a written specification, along with a set of detailed drawings, which described and illustrated every detail of the garment and how it should be assembled. In addition to this, they would be sent a formal contract and secrecy agreement for signing. However, even with such detailed instructions, each company interpreted them differently, albeit minutely, which resulted in slight differences after the various makers. The differences we refer to as the 'company house style'. Details such as pocket profiles, collar shape, seam allowances, vary to some degree or other between each maker, giving their garments their own unique subtle between and house style.

To ensure a standard of quality was maintained, each company was visited by an Army-Navy inspector from the Materiel Division whose responsibility was to check the garments before they were released for shipment. A-2's were made in 'lots' meaning a contract would be broken down into smaller groups. Jackets would be randomly plucked from each lot for inspection, and if they passed, they would be stamped in the lining with the inspectors personal numbered AN (Army Navy) stamp. Not all A-2s have an AN stamp for this reason.


It is evident from examining original samples that not too much emphasis was placed on things such as neatness of stitching, alignment and so on (even though this was part of the inspection criteria) or at least if it was, the inspectors were evidently lenient.

Generally however, the construction was good: these items were not for high street sale after all, they were work clothes, so quality control was focused more toward their meeting the functional requirement. The inspectors examination would be a pragmatic one, based on the overall serviceability and quality of the garment: Is the leather of the correct weight? Are all the fastenings in place and functioning? Are the the aligned sleeves correctly? Is the garment appropriately labelled and sized? Not so much emphasis was placed on aesthetic things such as matching grain in the leather, or a bit of uneven stitching, indeed original stitching samples indicate some jackets left a lot to be desired in this regard.

After the war, many of these manufacturers continued to net government contracts, as well as maintaining their original practice of supplying the civilian market. However, as time went on, most of them have either closed down, or evolved into other industries. With the passing of time and urban renewal, many of the manufacturers buildings are gone. In some cases, the whole district has been completely renewed, leaving no trace of buildings or even the road layout.

Scattered across the US, but mostly in the East, these 18 manufacturers produced in excess of 750,000 A-2 jackets - one of the most significant and influential garment designs to come out of the 20th century. Much more information on this subject can be found in the Eastman Type A-2 Flight Jacket Identification Manual available HERE.



On November 21, 1970, at the U.S. Air Force base at Udorn, Thailand, helicopters carrying a force of 56 U.S Army Special Forces personnel led by Col. Arthur 'Bull' Simons took off into the blackness of the night sky. Those aboard had been training secretly for months and were ready to execute Operation Kingpin, the final phase of a daring plan–the rescue of American prisoners of war from the North Vietnamese prison camp at Son Tay. They were supported by 29 USAF aircraft and 92 flight crew on the direct raid and a total of 105 aircraft including supporting roles.

The US Intelligence committee had determined that the Son Tay camp was being enlarged to handle additional prisoners and confirmed that 55 American POWs were imprisoned there. Reconnaissance photographs also revealed the letters SAR (search and rescue), spelled out by what appeared to be the prisoners’ laundry, and an arrow with the number 8 next to it, indicating the distance the POWs had to travel to the fields where they worked.

Preparation for the mission was conducted in four phases and culminated in 170 rehearsals. The challenge was to ensure that Air Force search and rescue crews could operate with Army Special Forces. Brig Gen Leroy J. Manor (USAF) was selected as the overall mission commander, while Col Arthur Simons (USA) would lead the ground forces.

Simon ended up with a little more than 100 volunteers and they went to Eglin Air Force Base, FL. and they built a Son Tay prison, a makeshift camp that could be disassembled daily when the Russian Satellites flew overhead. They practiced this mission 171 times. They had to overcome a bunch of technical things: they had to refresh everybody in land-navigation, basic soldier skills, marksmanship, and hand-to-hand training.

Phase one included personnel selection and movement to training areas. Phase two stressed individual component training during which the Air Force practiced rendezvous, formation, and night mission profiles. During phase three, aerial and ground rescue operations were practiced. Both the Army and Air Force participants rehearsed day and night. Training was conducted first step-by-step and progressed to real-time pacing. The final phase was joint training and mission rehearsal during which procedures were fine-tuned and interoperability of forces assured. The final full rehearsal was conducted 6 November 1970 with the order to execute given on 21 November 1970.

During the planning phase, three alternative plans (green, red, and blue) were developed and practiced during phase three. Plan green was the contingency for loss of the ground force commander's helicopter. Plan red was called if the second support helicopter did not reach Son Tay. Plan blue was the contingency if the compound assault helicopter failed to make its objective. From different locations in Thailand, the forces converged at different points in North Vietnam. The overall plan was for the HC-130 to fly and orbit halfway to the objective while the force was in the area. The MC-130s would rendezvous with A-1Es and helicopters and lead them to the objective. Several problems arose due to the speed limitations of both the fixed- and rotary-winged aircraft, but the intensive training allowed these problems to be overcome. During movement to the objective area, the Navy conducted diversionary attacks on Haiphong Harbour.

During the conduct of the mission, Colonel Simons's helicopter landed at the wrong compound. The remaining force recognised the problem and executed plan green and proceeded to the objective. The raid was not successful in bringing home any American prisoners because they had been moved when the Son Tay River flooded. This forced the prisoners to be moved to a new camp 13 KMs away. Because of the proximity, when the Air Force aircraft were flying over, the American prisoners recognised the sound and thought that America was invading North Vietnam.

A North Vietnamese photo taken inside Son Tay prison after the raid shows the wreckage of the HH-3E helicopter that carried the Blue Boy Assault Team.

The raid succeeded at its technical objective of seizing control of the camp and 26 minutes after the first helicopter crash landed, all US Special Forces were recovered and flying home. One US soldier was wounded in the leg and one broke his ankle in the intentional crash landing. An unknown number of North Vietnamese soldiers were killed in the raid. It is believed that North Vietnamese General Tran BA Thanh was responsible for the failed Son Tay prison raid. He served as a ARVN officer on the South Vietnamese Prime Minister's staff during the war, providing invaluable intelligence to Hanoi.

Despite this, the mission was successful from the joint perspective. Unity of command, strong leadership, mass, and training were the deciding factors in removing the cultural barriers between the services, allowing them to function with speed and flexibility. Many people in the US, particularly congress, criticised it for being another failure. But it wasn't a failure, it saved hundreds of lives. It caused the consolidation of all POWs in Hanoi, permitting them to organise, communicate, and care for one another. Prior to the raid, the prisoners were scattered throughout North Vietnam in these little prisons, kept in isolation, deprived of food, and tortured. Almost immediately following the raid, they were collected into two main prison camps, they were allowed to commingle because hundreds of people in two places can't be separated. They were given food and the torture basically stopped, and the rate of prisoners dying, which was sometimes as often as several a week, stopped. The estimate is that hundreds of lives were saved.

To commemorate the raid, the US Special Operations Command presents the Bull Simons Award. The annual award, named in honour of Col. Arthur D. "Bull" Simons, is given to those embodying the spirit, values and skills of the legendary special forces operator.

Development of Search and Rescue and the creation of a dedicated elite unit that could make the difference between life and death , or freedom and captivity evolved through WWII, Korea and the French Indochina war. It was boosted by the reality of the first losses in Laos and Vietnam during the early stages of the war., when a modified intelligence gathering SC-47 was shot down near Xiang Khouangville (Laos) on 23 March 1961, followed in February 1962 by the loss of a C-123B Ranch Hand airplane in South Vietnam.

Until then, the Air Rescue Service (ARS) had been organised as peacetime rescue units with no proper combat trained crews or aircraft adapted to the highly dangerous missions. In the early years of the US involvement in South East Asia, the World was divided into five rescue regions, each relying on a rescue centre. In December 1961, three officers and two NCOs from PARC (Pacific Area Rescue Centre) were sent to establish a Search and Rescue Centre at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. With the rapid acceleration of the USAF involvement, they were officially established as rescue coordinators. Initially they depended mostly on the Army, Marines and the Vietnamese to fulfil their missions. Rivalry between the services and the fact that the USAF was no match for the Army with the MACV chain of command delayed the development of an Air Force Search and Rescue (SAR) structure in South East Asia. The semi covert aspect of the missions also slowed the introduction of SAR units.

By 1966 a full training programme and military hardware was in place. In February that year, the maroon 'Pararescue' beret was authorised by the Air Force Chief of Staff, General John P McConnell. It was the first time a beret had been approved in the Air Force. It was officially noted that :

'Pararescue personnel are highly trained specialists who perform extremely hazardous duties demanding the very highest degree of mental and physical discipline and thus deserve to wear the distinctive attire consisting of maroon beret, bloused trousers with combat boots and special badge, both on and off base.'

One such Parajumper was Airman First Class William Pitsenbarger. Born in 1944 in Piqua, Ohio, Pitsenbarger was an ambitious only child. He wanted to quit high school to join the U.S. Army Special Forces' "Green Berets," but his parents convinced him to stay in school. After graduating in 1962, Pitsenbarger joined the Air Force. After Air Force basic training, he volunteered for Pararescue work and embarked on a rigorous training program, which included U.S. Army parachute school, survival school, a rescue and survival medical course, and the U.S. Navy's scuba diving school. More Air Force rescue training and jungle survival school followed. His final training was in air crash rescue and firefighting, with assignment to the HH-43 Huskie helicopter.

Arriving in Vietnam in August 1965, Pitsenbarger completed more than 250 missions, including one in which he hung from an HH-43's cable to rescue a wounded South Vietnamese soldier from a burning minefield. This action earned him the Airman's Medal and the Republic of Vietnam's Medal of Military Merit and Gallantry Cross with Bronze Palm. Pitsenbarger was only 21 years old when he was killed in action. But in his short life and valorous Air Force career, he was an example of dedication, compassion and tenacity for all those with whom he served.

On April 11, 1966, in thick jungle near Saigon, an infantry company on 134 soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division (the "Big Red One") was surrounded by a Viet Cong battalion of approximately 500 troops. In a fierce firefight, the North Vietnamese surrounded and pinned down the Americans. As the battle went on, the number of U.S. casualties grew steadily. This would be Pitsenbargers final mission and his actions embodied the pararescueman's motto: "That Others May Live."

Detachment 6 of the USAF's 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron received an urgent call to evacuate the wounded. Army helicopters could not land in the battle zone because there were no clearings in the tall, dense "triple canopy" forest. The tallest trees rose 150 feet, and a second layer stood at about 100 feet, with a third layer below. Only U.S. Air Force HH-43 Huskie helicopters with cables and winches could hoist the injured from the jungle. Airman Pitsenbarger was the rescue and survival specialist aboard "Pedro 73," one of the two Huskies on the mission. The Huskies were to take turns hoisting litters with critically wounded patients through the forest canopy and delivering them to a nearby airfield. Pedro 73's crew, while under fire and hovering in a hole in the forest below the tallest trees and barely large enough for the Huskie, saw that the ground troops desperately needed help loading wounded into the litter. Pitsenbarger volunteered to be lowered to the ground to help. He descended a hundred feet into the firefight with a medical bag, a supply of splints, a rifle and a pistol.

On the ground, Pitsenbarger organised and speeded the evacuation, enabling the Huskies to rescue nine soldiers on several trips. Normally, pararescuemen return to the helicopter, but Pitsenbarger chose to stay and help the beleaguered troops. As the fight continued, Pedro 73 was badly damaged by ground fire and forced to withdraw. Rather than escape with the last Huskie, Pitsenbarger chose to stay on the ground and aid the wounded. Soon the firefight grew too intense for the helicopters to return. Near dusk, as the VC launched another assault, Pitsenbarger fought back with an M-16. Then, he was hit several times as he made his way toward another wounded man. Pitsenbarger was shot four times, once between the eyes, and died on the spot. The next day one of Pitsenbarger’s best friends, Henry J. O’Beirne of Huntsville, Ala., a former Air Force pararescueman who had served with him and been his bunkmate, recovered his body. ‘He was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things,’ said O’Beirne.

‘He was the bravest man I’ve ever seen, and I saw it all,’ said Martin L. Kroah, Jr., who served two tours in Vietnam, one as a Special Forces officer. Kroah, of Houston, said he remembered Pitsenbarger being lowered through the trees at a time when small-arms fire was' so intense that it was deafening, and all a person could do was get as close to the ground as possible and pray.’ Before long Kroah had been wounded five times and was flat on the ground. ‘On three different occasions I glimpsed movement, and it was Pits dragging somebody behind a tree trunk or a fallen tree, trying to give them first aid,’ he recalled. ‘It just seemed like he was everywhere. Everybody else was ducking, and he was crouched and crawling and dragging people by the collar and pack straps out of danger….I’m not certain of the number of dead and wounded exactly, but I’m certain that the death count would have been much higher had it not been for the heroic efforts of Airman Pitsenbarger.’ Kroah added that the battle was so fierce that his own Army medic was frozen with fear and unable to move and that one of his fire-team leaders, a combat veteran of World War II and the Korean War, curled into a fetal position and wept.

‘For Airman Pitsenbarger to expose himself on three separate occasions to this enemy fire was certainly above and beyond the call of duty of any man,’ said Kroah. ‘It took tremendous courage to expose himself to the possibility of almost certain death in order to save the life of someone he didn’t even know….He had a total disregard for his own safety and tremendous courage.’

For the next couple of hours Pitsenbarger crawled through the thick jungle looking for wounded soldiers. He would drag them to the middle of the company’s small perimeter, putting them behind trees and logs for shelter. At one point, said Charles Epperson, of Paris, Mo., Pitsenbarger saw two wounded soldiers outside the perimeter. ‘He said, ‘We’ve got to go get those people,’ and I said, ‘No way. I’m staying behind my tree.’ It was just unbelievable fire coming at us from all sides. But he took off to get those guys, and I could see him trying to get both of them and having a hard time, so I ran out there and helped him drag them inside our lines. He was an inspiration to me,’ said Epperson.

Fred Navarro, who was seriously wounded, said Pitsenbarger saved his life by covering him with the bodies of two dead GIs, shielding him from more bullets. ‘We were getting pounded so bad that I could only lie on the ground for cover. Pitsenbarger continued cutting pant legs, shirts, pulling off boots and generally taking care of the wounded. At the same time, he amazingly proceeded to return enemy fire whenever he could,’ said Navarro, of San Antonio, Texas.

F. David Peters, of Alliance, Ohio, had been in Vietnam only two weeks at the time of the incident. He recalled that he was terrified when he was told to help Pitsenbarger during the firefight. ‘I don’t remember how many wounded were taken out when we started taking small-arms fire,’ said Peters. ‘I remember him saying something to the [helicopter] pilot like, get out of here, I’ll get the next one out. His personal choice to get on the ground to help the wounded is undoubtedly one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen,’ said Peters.

Johnny W. Libs, a seasoned jungle fighter who was leading Company C that day, said he’d never seen a soldier who deserved the Medal of Honor more than Pitsenbarger. He recalled telling one of his machine-gunners, Phillip J. Hall, of Palmyra, Wis., that Pitsenbarger was out of his mind to leave his chopper for ‘this inferno on the ground. We knew we were in the fight of our lives and my knees were shaking, and I just couldn’t understand why anybody would put himself in this grave danger if he didn’t have to.’ Libs, of Evansville, Ind., also said that Pitsenbarger seemed to have no regard for his own safety. ‘We talk about him with reverence. I [had] never met him, but he’s just about the bravest man I have ever known. We were brave, too. We did our job. That’s what we were there for. He didn’t have to be there. He could have gotten out of there. There’s no doubt he saved lives that day.’

Hall said that Pitsenbarger’s descent into the firefight ‘was the most unselfish and courageous act I ever witnessed. I think of him often now,’ he added. ‘That thing never leaves my mind totally. He did actually give up his life for guys on the ground that he didn’t even know. And he didn’t have to be there. I know he made the conscious decision to stay there.’ Salem said that Pitsenbarger had volunteered to go to the ground because the soldiers were having trouble putting a wounded man into the wire basket to be lifted out. The helicopter pilot recalled telling Pitsenbarger that he could leave the chopper only if he agreed that, when given a signal, he would return to the aircraft. ‘As we were [getting in position], I said, ‘Pits, it’s hotter than hell down there; do you still want to go down?’ He said, ‘Yes sir, I know I can really help out.’ He made a hell of a difference. We ended up getting nine more out after he got on the ground. He is the bravest person I’ve ever known,’ Salem said.

For coordinating the successful rescues, caring for the wounded and sacrificing his life while aggressively defending his comrades, William H. Pitsenbarger received the Air Force Cross on June 30, 1966. After review, the original award was upgraded, and on Dec. 8, 2000, the Medal of Honor was presented to his family in a ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Museum. Airman Pitsenbarger is the 59th Medal of Honor recipient.



"Of all the branches of men in the Forces, there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariner.
Great deeds are done in the air and on the land; nevertheless, nothing surpasses your exploits." - Winston Churchill.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Arthur Wilson VC, the Controller of the Royal Navy, summed up the opinion of many in the Admiralty at the time when he said in 1901, "Submarines are underhand, unfair, and damned un-English. ... treat all submarines as pirates in wartime ... and hang all crews." In response, Lieutenant Commander (later Admiral Sir) Max Horton first flew the Jolly Roger on return to port after sinking the German cruiser SMS Hela and the destroyer SMS S-116 in 1914 while in command of HMS E-9. Decades later in 1982, returning from the Falklands conflict HMS Conqueror flew the Jolly Roger depicting one dagger for the SBS deployment to South Georgia and one torpedo for her sinking of the Argentinian Cruiser Belgrano.

During World War Two it became common practice for the submarines of the Royal Navy to fly the Jolly Roger on completion of a successful combat mission where some action had taken place, but as an indicator of bravado and stealth rather than of lawlessness. British submarines fought a deadly battle with their German counterparts during World War Two. The British submarines succeeded in sinking 12 German U-boats, for the loss of 4 of their own to U-boats. British submarine development between the wars owed much to the versatile E-boats built at the start of the Great War. The most notable types were the H and L classes that continued in service until well into the Second World War. The L Boats in particular were well liked by their crews and many successful submarine commanders were trained in them.

It took a certain type of personality to become a Submariner, something still true today. They were considered a different breed to the usual Royal Navy sailor. The 'Perisher' (as the Submarine Command Course is better known) is a 24-week course all officers must take prior to serving as an Executive Officer on board a Royal Navy Submarine. It has been run twice a year since 1917, usually starting on 2 July and 14 November each year. It is widely regarded as one of the toughest command courses in the world, with a historical failure rate of 25%. If at any point during the training a candidate is withdrawn from training he will be nominated for boat transfer and kept occupied until the transfer. His bag is packed for him and he is notified of the failure when the boat arrives. On departure he is presented with a bottle of whiskey. A failure on Perisher means that the unsuccessful candidate is not permitted to return to sea as a member of the Submarine Service (although they are still allowed to wear the dolphin badge). He is, however, permitted to remain in the Royal Navy, moving into the surface fleet. In more recent years, the United States Navy has sent some of its own submariner officers to undergo the 'Perisher', in order to foster and maintain closer links with the Royal Navy.

At some point during World War Two the Submarine Service became known as the 'Silent Service' mostly due to the fact that their missions were covert and went unreported, they were often deployed in the shallow waters of the Mediterranean and accompanying coastlines, sometimes not having enough depth to sneak away after an attack. Not all of their actions were combat based, often their missions would be to drop agents off and pick others up, rescue downed airmen from the clutches of the Axis or carry out intelligence surveys.

In 1939 the Allies primary maritime tasks were based on the assumption Britain and France will go to war against the European Axis powers of Germany and Italy. The Royal Navy will be responsible for the North Sea and most of the Atlantic, with the French contributing some forces. In the Mediterranean, defence will be shared between both these Navies. At the outbreak of War Britain had 58 submarines available, 47 of which could have been considered as up to date. As the war progressed, the Royal Navy and its few Allied-manned submarines neither had the target opportunities of the German U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean nor the US submarines in the Pacific, and certainly in the early years suffered heavy losses for comparatively few gains at least in Axis warships. But if account is taken of such vital activities as the heavy merchant ship sinking in the Mediterranean, certainly in the battle for North Africa, the many dangerous cloak-and-dagger operations so vital to Churchill's command to "set Europe alight", helping to cut Germany supply routes from Norway and Japanese ones to Burma, then the even more silent part of the "Silent Service" played a major role in clearing the seas of enemy ships. 73 British submarines were lost in the war, reflecting the difficulties of their operating areas and targets: the well protected German shipping around Northern Europe, the clear and shallow Mediterranean, Malacca Straits and Indian Ocean. A total of over 2000 men lost their lives in service to the country.


It's no secret that Americans love outlaws, from the legends and lore of rebellious (and illegal) acts by the Founding Fathers, to the bushwhacking and bank-robbing capers of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, to the "bad boy" music of Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and Dr. Dre.

American culture and mass media have led inexorably to characters that embody this bad-boy attitude - a recent example being Jax, the heartthrob outlaw biker star of the TV show "Sons of Anarchy". Western society has a long established canon from which we "learn" about society from fictional dramas. And the more we watch shows like "Sons of Anarchy," the more a news story will seem to fit our mental construct of "how those people are." The same is true of popular TV crime dramas' portrayal of American minorities' involvement in violent crime. And it seems that every time outlaw motorcycle clubs are portrayed in the news, it's because of something terrible, such as the deadly events in Waco, Texas. Add to this the fact that the outlaw biker narrative has been largely controlled over time, not by members of the culture, but by outsiders and the misconceptions grow.

The term 1%er was first used in print in the pages of Life Magazine during the 1960’s. The article was a contrived response to an AMA rally in Hollister CA, after encouraging certain individuals to get drunk and ride through town the media then reported on 'drunken' motorcycle clubs giving rise to the popular misconception of bikers and also the movie The Wild One. The American Motorcycle Association stated that 99% of the people at their events were God fearing and family oriented. The other 1% were hard riding, hard partying, non mainstream type people. Thus the term 1%er found its place in popular vernacular.

Motorcycle clubs were historically born of a love of the machine, racing, riding and from military service. Gangs began for various reasons as well, but largely as a form of protection for outsiders or ethnic immigrants residing in inner cities. Their social structure is overwhelmingly democratic from the local to the international levels. Officers are democratically elected and hold office so long as they meet the memberships' needs.

In contrast, Motorcycle Gangs can be seen as more autocratic than democratic, where leaders emerge more for their charismatic leadership and illicit earning abilities than for their abilities to run organisations. Motorcycle clubs are organised hierarchically, with strictly defined chains of command and lines of communication. MCs elect secretaries whose jobs are to maintain meeting minutes, keep track of committees and chairs, and see that old business is complete and new business is on the agenda. Treasurers also are elected officials and they attend to fiduciary responsibilities such as collecting membership dues, paying clubhouse expenses and financial planning for the future. Both secretaries and treasurers are required to produce written documents for the membership to review and approve during each meeting.

It's not easy becoming a patch-holder. Many have compared "prospecting" - the process of earning full membership - to that of military basic training, where the individual is broken down in order to be reformed into a part of a collective: To think not of one's self but of others, and to understand that one's actions or inactions impact the team and the organisation. But prospecting takes months and sometime a year or more (5 years for one MC). Prospecting is physically, emotionally, and intellectually demanding and not everyone can do it. A significant amount of social status is conferred upon those with the steel to make it. Perhaps this is the only obvious similarity between MCs and gangs. MC is generally reserved for those clubs that are mutually recognised by other MC or outlaw motorcycle clubs. This is indicated by a motorcyclist wearing an MC patch, or a three piece patch called colours, on the back of their jacket or riding vest. Outlaw or 1%er can mean merely that the club is not chartered under the auspices of the AMA, implying a radical rejection of authority and embracing of the "biker" lifestyle as defined and popularised since the 1950s and represented by such media as Easyriders magazine, the work of painter David Mann and others. In many contexts the terms overlap with the usual meaning of "outlaw" because some of these clubs, or some of their members, are recognised rightly or wrongly by law enforcement agencies as taking part in organised crime.

That sense of brotherhood was on display at a funeral for a patch-holder slain at Waco. Members of the Hells Angels, Bandidos, Mongols, Vagos and more than 50 other motorcycle clubs come together in peace to mourn the passing of a man who touched the lives of so many in his community. To them, he was much more than a biker or a patch-holder -- he was their Brother, with all the familial love, respect, and honour that that word conveys. Possibly such a gathering has never happened before. This convergence of contrasting MCs was no media stunt. There were no media in the funeral that day (although there was one white, unmarked van, out of which came uniformed men clad in body armour and armed with assault rifles).

Perhaps the singularly most important distinction between outlaw motorcycle clubs and gangs is evidenced through philanthropy. Many motorcycle clubs are closely intertwined with charity work: MC family members are or have been affected by the maladies the charities seek to eradicate, and members of the local community are in legitimate and immediate need. MCs support a wide variety of local, national, and international charities that seek to end disease, poverty and hunger, but especially supported are disabled veterans organisations. Charity is to members of motorcycle clubs as petrol and oil are to their machines. For some, it's a major reason why they join and stay in MCs. Clubs have been observed providing 24/7 security at battered women's shelters, holding motorcycling events such as Poker Runs to raise money for local families whose homes were destroyed by fire or natural disasters, or to help families stricken by some other tragic event get on their feet. If a member of the community is in legitimate need, and the MCs are able to help, they almost always do. Even if it's just "Passing the Hat," where patch-holders literally pass around a baseball cap into which members place what cash they can spare. This might not seem like much, but to a family in desperate need of short-term assistance, this can mean the difference between having electricity and water and going without.

The above puts perspective on the recent statement that certain US law enforcement officials and organisations have labeled outlaw motorcycle clubs as a domestic terrorist threat, something is that is obviously more concerning since many of these clubs are made up of veterans who have fought bravely in recent wars for their country.

    The lineage of the term Hell's Angels can be traced back many years, while the famous Californian motorcycle club can undoubtedly find its origination in combat veterans who went on to find camaraderie riding motorcycles together post WWII, the phrase actually originates in this context from a 1930 aviation war movie directed and produced by Howard Hughes. The Hollywood blockbuster starred Ben Lyon, James Hall and Jean Harlow, and centred on the combat pilots of World War I. Despite its initial poor performance at the box office, it eventually earned its production costs twice over. Controversy during the Hell's Angels production contributed to the film's notoriety, including the accidental deaths of several pilots, an inflated budget, a lawsuit against a competitor, and repeated postponements of the release date. Originally shot as a silent film, Hughes retooled the film over a lengthy period. Most of the film is in black and white, but there is one colour sequence—the only colour footage of Harlow's career. Hell's Angels is now hailed as one of the first sound blockbuster action films.

    Hell's Angels received its premiere in Hollywood on May 24, 1930. All the stars and makers of the film attended, as well as Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin with his girlfriend Georgia Hale. A program with leather cover was designed for the premiere by famed aviation illustrator Clayton Knight. Reviews were universal in acclaim for the flying scenes but the mundane plot and maudlin characterisations were also noted. The Hell's Angels screening revealed many traits of pre-code Hollywood. In addition to some fairly frank sexuality, there was a surprising amount of adult language (for the time) during the final dogfight sequence, e.g. "son of a bitch", "goddamn it", and "for Christ's sake", along with the words "ass", "hell", and a few uses of "God" in other scenes.

    Harlow, Lyon and Hall received mixed reviews for their acting, Hughes was praised for his hard work on the filming and aircraft sequences. Mourdant Hall, reviewer for The New York Times, was especially critical about Harlow's performance, saying, "his film is absorbing and exciting. But while she is the centre of attraction, the picture is a most mediocre piece of work."

    Probably the most well known usage of the phrase Hell's Angels in a factual military context can be seen in the USAAF 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), the group was activated on 3 February 1942 at Pendleton Field, Oregon and finally assembled later that year at Molesworth, England, flying its first combat mission on 17th November 1942 with a planned strike at the St. Nazaire submarine pens. Over the months and years that followed, lessons were learned, equipment was improved, and the tale of Hell's Angels "Might in Flight" evolved. First targets were usually airfields and marshalling yards in France and the Low Countries. Several targets in Paris were struck in 1943 and, although it was defended by about 250 flak guns, only one plane was lost in six attacks. The 303rd formations often encountered the 'Abbeville Kids', the yellow-nosed FW 190s flying out of the airfield just north of Abbeville, France. Their attacks were in retaliation to the 303rd's bombing of Abbeville on 10 July 1943. They didn't take kindly to our bombing and took great joy in finding a 303rd BG formation.

    Soon, many German targets were hit and, to mention a few, Mannheim and Ludwigshafen were attacked 12 times with only five losses. The transport and industrial centre of Frankfurt was bombed nine times in 1943 and 1944, in which only three aircraft were lost. The 15 August 1944 attack on the Wiesbaden airfield cost the group nine bombers. Cologne rail lines and industry were the targets on 10 missions, including the famous glide bomb attack. The largest marshalling yard in Germany, located at Hamm, was hit six times and its flak defences accounted for two aircraft down. In the later stages of the war, the 303rd bombers struck industrial sites, transportation hubs, and oil refineries at Munich, Magdeburg, Hamburg, Gelsenkirchen, Merseburg, Leipzig, Essen, Schweinfurt. Bremen, Stuttgart, Kiel and Brunswick with increase in efficiency and decreasing losses.

    As part of the joint USAAF-RAF objective to eradicate the "buzz bomb" threat, 303rd crews attacked 12 sites between 28 February and 30 August 1944 at altitudes of 12,000 and 14,000 feet. On 11 January 1944, leading the First Division, the 303rd hit Oschersleben, Germany, after most of the 8th Air Force and its fighter escort had aborted due to weather. The devastating strike was the beginning of the end for the German Air Force, but cost 10 aircraft (42 altogether in the First Division). For this valuable contribution to the war effort, the men of the Hell's Angels Group, both air and ground echelons, wear the badge of a Distinguished Unit Citation.

    On 6 March 1944, the Group participated in one of the first strikes on Berlin. Later, they carried their bombs as far east as Poland, where one of the most compact bombing patterns of the war destroyed an industrial site. The 303rd was, of course, part of the aerial support on D-Day, 6 June 1944. On that date, the crews flew three separate missions between dawn and dusk in a ground support role rather than a strategic bombing force. Bombing almost around the clock occurred in June when 29 missions and 1000 sorties were flown. In tribute to one of the most famous Flying Fortresses of World War II, 'Hell's Angels' #41-24577, the 303rd Bombardment Group took its name. In the inventory since the Group's beginning, this aircraft was the first heavy bomber in the 8th Air Force to complete 25 missions.

    While the 303rd's usage of 'Hell's Angels' is the most well known, the first noted use of the phrase was actually with the 3rd Pursuit Squadron of the American Volunteer Group (AVG). The AVG, more famously known 'The Flying Tigers' were a secret United States military operational entity, authorised and approved by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on 23 December 1940. As part of this covert operation, which had been requested by Claire Lee Chennault (a former USAAC pilot instructor and veteran of the 94th 'Hat in the Ring' squadron during WWI) on behalf of Chaing Kai-Shek and the Chinese government, who had been at war with the Empire of Japan since 1937. The AVG received 100 P-40 fighter aircraft, diverted from a shipment to England. The personnel were recruited from active branches of the War Department: the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Pilots, maintenance, communications, clerical and medical personnel were secretly recruited from active duty units. All documentation, equipment and personnel transfers were processed through and by the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO), as approved by the US Government. Nothing could then be traced to the United States government, which was not yet in conflict with the Empire of Japan. Chaing Kai-Shek appointed Chennault Commander of the AVG.

    The AVG was divided into four elements: a headquarters squadron and three fighter squadrons. Each squadron selected their respective name, which was the custom of the time for military aviation units. The First Pursuit Squadron (1PS) became the Adam & Eve's. The Second Pursuit Squadron (2PS) became the Panda Bears. Chuck Older, Ken Jernstedt, Tom Haywood and Ed Overend, all former USMC pilots, selected the name 'Hell's Angels' for the Third Pursuit Squadron (3PS). Each squadron designed their own squadron insignia. The 'Hell's Angels' opted for a red silhouette of a curvy woman with halo and wings outlined in white. Each Hell´s Angels pilot had his own 'Lady' painted on his individual aircraft and this same insignia is still used today by active United States Army, Marine Corps and Air Force squadrons. During the seven month combat operations of the AVG this unit acquired a record of 297 Japanese aircraft destroyed, as confirmed by British and Chinese Intelligence. Other sources have placed the total Japanese aircraft destruction, caused by the AVG, at well over 600 to 900, including aircraft destroyed on the ground during strafing operations. The AVG was disbanded on 4 July 1942, at which time few accepted returning into the US Army Air Force, most optioned to return to the US where they returned to active service or other war efforts. Chennault continued to command the 14th Air Force in the China Burma India Theatre (CBI). The 14th Air Force all referred to themselves as 'Flying Tigers', even though the real 'Flying Tigers' had been deactivated on 4 July 1942.

    According to the lore of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club it was Arvid Olsen, the former Squadron Leader of the 3rd Pursuit Squadron that gave the idea of the name to the actual founders of the HAMC, in Fontana, California in the late 1940's. Although Olsen was never an actual member of the HAMC, he was known to associate with the founding members. The selection of HAMC colours, red on white, could be viewed a result of the association of Olsen with the HAMC founders, like the insignia of the 3PS "Hell's Angels". It is also worth noting that the Deathshead insignia of the HAMC, can also be traced to two USAAF insignia designs, the 85th Fighter Squadron and the 552nd Medium Bomber Squadron.

    It's undoubtably true that the majority of motorcycle and car clubs of the late 1940's were started by WW2 veterans, illustrated by the military clothing worn in many of the periods photographs. Motorcycle and car clubs exploded during this time, especially in California. Various reasons can be attributed to being the catalyst for this - many veterans returned with new mechanical skills and applied this training to making their vehicles go faster and perform better, others missed the camaraderie they found in in the brotherhood of combat and some found it difficult integrating back into society, whatever the reasons, these clubs created a lifestyle and culture that still resonates today.


    “The basic specifications for United States aircraft now flying in combat areas were laid down five years or more ago, an indication of the slow process of aeronautical design in peacetime. Germany had a definite plan for employment of its aircraft then under test. So did Japan. So, for different reasons, did the designers in England. A striking proof of their conviction is the Spitfire – a splendid fighter, admirable in all respects for the defence of France and, as it later proved, of England itself.”
    US Office of War Information, 1942

    When the Eighth Air Force began arriving in England in 1942, it was initially planned that what fighter units would be assigned to it would utilise the Lockheed P-38 Lightning for high-altitude, long-range fighter escort, while the Bell P-39 Airacobra would provide escort for the medium bombers that were coming.

    The first P-39 unit to arrive in England was the 31st Fighter Group – the first unit to have taken the Airacobra operational the previous year – though they arrived before their aircraft. In the interim, they were equipped with the Spitfire Mk. V. By the time the similarly-equipped 52nd Fighter Group arrived, the RAF had been able to convince the Americans of the unsuitability of the P-39 for aerial combat in western Europe. As a result, both groups were equipped with Spitfire Mk. Vs.


    During the summer of 1942, the 307th and 308th Fighter Squadrons of the 31st Fighter Group went to Biggin Hill and Kenley respectively for temporary attachment to RAF fighter wings where they could receive an introduction to combat. The 309th FS went to Westhampnett, and by August 5, all three units were operational. Their baptism of fire came on August 19, when they flew air support for the Dieppe Raid, losing eight Spitfires and seven damaged, with one pilot killed and another made prisoner; two Fw-190s were claimed destroyed, with three probables and two damaged. With this, the 31st was considered blooded, and was reunited as a group at Westhampnett, while the 2nd and 4th Fighter Squadrons of the 52nd Fighter Group took their places at Biggin Hill and Kenley.

    Before either group could have more effect, they were transferred to the XII Air Force that September, as the North African invasion loomed; by late September, both units had left England to enter combat in the Mediterranean. During the opening day of Operation Torch, Major Harrison Thyng, CO of the 308th FS, shot down two Vichy D.520s to open the unit’s score in the Mediterranean Theatre. In December and January, the 52nd Fighter Group entered combat in defence of the port of Bone. On January 13, 1943, 1st Lt. Norman Bolle shot down 114-victory Lieutenant Wilhelm Crinius of II/JG-2. On February 4th, their luck was reversed when 12 Spitfires of the 4th FS escorting ground-strafing P-39s were hit by Kurt Buhligen and Erich Rudorffer of II/JG2, taking down 3 of the Spitfires for no losses. Throughout this period the Americans found themselves frequently outclassed by the flying of JG2 and JG77, sent to counter the North African invasion.

    By March 21, the Americans had adopted the more aggressive tactics of the RAF’s Western Desert Air Force, and 36 Spitfires of the 31st FG ran across 17 Ju-87D-3s of III/St.G.3, escorted by Bf-109s and Fw-190s of JG77 and JG2. While the 307th FS held off the fighters, the 309th shot down 4 Stukas and claimed another 4 as probables, for one loss; the following day the 52nd FG claimed 5 Bf-109s, 2 Fw-190s and 2 Ju-88s for one loss – a crash-landing due to flak damage. The two Spitfire units had come into their own.

    During April 1943, Captains Norman MacDonald and Arthur Vinson of the 52nd FG became the first USAAF Spitfire aces, though Vinson was lost immediately after shooting down his 7th victim. By the time of the Axis surrender in Africa on May 13, the 52nd FG claimed 86 victories and had added a third ace – Lt. Sylvan Field – while the 31st FG claimed 61, and two aces, Lt Col. Thyng and Major Frank Hill. Hill would become the top US Spitfire ace of the war with 7 victories. In August 1943, the 308th FS of the 31st FG – the group’s most successful squadron – became the first USAAF unit to operate the Spitfire Mk. VIII, the group having had some Mk. IXs in limited operation since the previous April, with enough in each squadron to provide a high cover flight for the Spitfires Mk. Vb. The new Spitfires first saw combat over Palermo, Sicily, on August 8, 1943, when 20 Bf-109s were encountered, of which 3 were shot down. On August 11, the 308th claimed two Fw-190s and a Macchi C.205. There would be additional combat over Italy in late September during the Salerno invasion, and then things quieted down.


    By December 1943 the American groups were flying bomber escort in Southern Italy. In January, 1944, 1st Lt. Leland P. Molland, a recent arrival, made the first two of his eventual five scores in the Spitfire Mk. VIII, in combat with Fw-190s intercepting American B-25s escorted by the Spitfires.

    The Anzio invasion on January 22, 1944, brought the Luftwaffe out in force once again, and the 31st FG scored against 18 Fw-190 fighter bombers over the beachhead. That evening, Spitfires of the 2nd FS, which had moved to Corsica with the rest of the 52nd FG, intercepted 50-60 He-111 torpedo bombers of KG26 bound from Marseilles to attack the invasion fleet off Anzio, and forced most of the German bombers to drop their torpedoes, while shooting down seven Heinkels and damaging three Ju-88s. The next day, the 4th FS intercepted six Do-217s equipped with Fritz-X bombs and shot down two, scattering the others.

    Through the rest of January, both units engaged in numerous combats over the beachhead and as far inland as Rome. On February 6, 308th FS CO Maj. Virgil Fields was shot down and killed. Lt. Molland, who became an ace with his fifth kill in the fight in which Fields was lost, moved up to command the squadron.

    By March 21st, the 308th had raised its total score to 62, with 1st Lt. Richard F. Hurd becoming the second highest-scoring US Spitfire ace with 6 victories. On March 11, 1944, the 31st FG had received their first P-51B Mustang. On March 24, the unit was taken off operations to handle full conversion to the Mustang, despite the feelings of many of the pilots that they were being asked to take an inferior airplane to their Spitfire Mk. VIIIs and IXs. On March 26, 1944, the 31st flew their last Spitfire mission, with four Spitfires Mk. VIII of the 308th FS finding 20 Fw-190G fighter bombers, of which they claimed one destroyed and three probables for the group’s last victories in the Spitfire.

    The following month, the 52nd Fighter Group followed the 31st into the Mustang and on to the new 15th Air Force, with the last US Spitfire victories being 3 Bf-109Gs shot down of 6 that attacked the Spitfire IXs of the 5th FS of the 52nd FG during a bomber escort to Orvieto, Italy.

    Uncle Sam’s Spitfires had written a little-known chapter in US fighter history. Though the USAAF used over 600 Spitfires during the war, the aircraft was never given a US designation, and little publicity was given to the exploits of the 31st and 52nd Fighter Groups – nothing like what they would get in the summer of 1944 during the wild air battles over Ploesti when they flew Mustangs. This is most likely a good example of the US military’s overall dislike of having to admit to using “NIH” (Not Invented Here) equipment.

    During their time in Spitfires, the 31st FG claimed 194.5 confirmed, 39 probables and 124 damaged; the 52nd claimed 152.33 confirmed, 22 probables and 71 damaged. Thirteen pilots became aces on the Spitfire. Leland Molland went on to score another 6 victories in the summer of 1944 in the P-51 to bring his score to 11. Harrison Thyng added 5 more victories to his 5.5 as CO of the 4th FIW in Korea, while Royal N. Baker, who scored 3.5 in Spitfires added another 13 in Korea.

    Article originally published on The Spitfire Site.

    In the words of Slidin’ Sonny Nutter, speedway racing was “Four guys, four laps, for all the marbles.” It’s widely accepted that all riders probably have a screw loose. Racers, then have at least two screws loose. But speedway racers must have at least three to get out there and give it all they’ve got on the dirt ovals.

    A speedway race is, as Sonny Nutter said, four racers competing for four laps on a dirt track from a standing start. The tracks are 260 to 425 meters long, and are always oval-shaped. A speedway event consists of multiple heats of races, and racers score points for whatever place they finish each heat in, and the winner is the racer with the most points at the end of the event. Straightforward enough.

    Speedway bikes are a different story. A speedway bike has only one gear, runs on pure methanol, weighs a minimum of 170 pounds, has no electronic components managing the engine, and has no brakes. As required by FIM’s “Track Racing Rules.” For the record, bikes often get up to 80 miles per hour in the corners during these races. The only controls they have are the throttle, clutch, and handlebars. Speedway racing has been a fan-favourite internationally since the early 1900s, although its origins aren’t exactly known. Sometime during the late 1910s and early 1920s people started racing in an early form of speedway racing, and by the late 1920s was an international hit. The first organised races were held in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and many racers who competed in what was then known as “Short Track Races” gained star status because of how flashy and exciting the races were. The first racer to inspire the term “broadsiding” was an American racer named Don Johns in 1914, who was said to be able to run the entire course with the throttle wide open, throwing huge showers of dirt up into the air as he ripped through each turn.

    The legend of Slidin’ Sonny Nutter, as do many legends, originates with a humble beginning. Sonny’s love for motorcycling was born in 1958 when he was 13 years old and working as a 'gunk brush' at Jack Baldwin’s motorcycle shop in Santa Monica, California. A gunk brush, if you didn’t already know, is someone who cleans the really hard-to-get-off gunk from a motorcycle by spitting on said gunk, and then scrubbing it off by hand. Spending so much time around motorcycles sparked a deep interest that eventually grew into an unstoppable passion.

    From there, Sonny spent every Friday and Saturday night at the races, watching and learning from the both the best and the locals. One of his favourite places was the iconic Ascot Park in Gardena, California. Sonny started his own career in racing during the 1960s as a flat tracker, and went on to win numerous races.

    It was in the early 1970s that Sonny found niche in the “brakeless” speedway races. He was so good at them he was able to make a regular living off the winnings, and raised a family while racing five nights a week at the local Southern Californian circuits.

    Sonny’s legend is crowned by two major achievements. He was asked to be the captain of the speedway team representing his country in Israel at the World Speedway Championship and won the most competitive and extremely longed-for California Speedway Championship, twice! Another title he’s rather proud of and will tell you about with a winning grin and a charming glint in his eye is that he was voted the AMA’s “Most Liked” racer in 1970. Look at that face and tell us you wouldn’t have voted for him too.

    Sonny still lives in Santa Monica, building “Nutterized” trackers from his own workshop. These trackers are authentic throwbacks modelled after the oil-in-frame trackers that legends like Sonny raced on in the 70s. If you're looking for the real deal then look no further!

    The Swedish motorcycle maker Husqvarna has a history filled with controversy, success and massive failures to its present-day position in the motorcycle world. It was sold out, bought out and nearly ground out, time and again. From an American perspective, Husqvarna essentially bred off-road motorcycling in the US and changed the entire industry.

    Like many old European brands, Husqvarna’s history is steeped in military armament. Originally founded in 1689 in the town of Huskvarna, the company produced muskets and weapons for the Swedish king, but once the conflict was over, idle wartime production equipment was left seeking a new use, and that’s how Husky transgressed into the motorcycle world. First it was hunting guns, then household appliances, white goods like stoves and sewing machines, and finally motorcycles and power equipment. Its first bike was produced in 1903 sourcing engines from other manufacturers. Thirty years later the company started road racing with its own V-Twins under the guidance of renowned engine-builder, Folke Mannerstedt. Like most brands at the time, off-road machines were nothing more than modified street bikes. This, combined with age restrictions, eventually led to unexpected success in the dirt.

    Motorcyclists had to be 18-years-old to ride, but bikes under 75 kgs were deemed appropriate for riders aged 16 and up. Husqvarna first targeted the lightweight motorcycle realm with a 98cc moped, inadvertently starting down a path that would change off-road racing. In 1955, the “Silverpilen,” or “Silver Arrow” was introduced in Sweden with a 175cc motor and three-speed transmission. Consumers immediately began modifying the 2-stroke for off-road use, and by 1959 the factory produced five special machines for its racers which featured an enlarged 250cc engine and 4-speed transmission. Rolf Tibblin claimed the European 250 Motocross Championship that year and Husky began toying with a 500cc 4-stroke. But, for all intents and purposes, it was the 2-stroke design that launched Husky to fame. Husqvarna produced 100 replicas in 1963 which instantly sold out, and production began virtually doubling for the next several years.

    Fighting other European brands like Triumph, Bultaco, Maico, Greeves and CZ, Husky’s critical advantage was the difference in weight. Success on the World Motocross GP circuit made for an easy transition into the American market where the sport of motocross was lagging. In January of 1966, Edison Dye imported two Husky 250 machines and gave them to Malcolm Smith and John Penton. In the fall of that same year, Dye brought over someone who could fully demonstrate the potential using the proper style and technique. Torsten Hallman won every race he entered in what came to be known as the 23-Moto Streak – an exhibition of superiority that ignited Americans’ imaginations and put Husqvarna on the map in the US.

    In the early 1970s, Steve McQueen was the highest-paid movie star in Hollywood, a major sex symbol and an obsessed biker with a staggering collection of sports cars, four-wheelers and of course - motorcycles. So when McQueen dropped his trusty Triumph in favour of the new Husqvarna 400 Cross - overnight Husky became the only off-road bike that seemed to matter. The Husky also got a starring role alongside Steve McQueen (as well as riding legends Mert Lawwill and Malcolm Smith) in Director Bruce Brown’s classic movie - “On Any Sunday”.

    A veteran surf documentary director, Bruce Brown's interest was initially triggered after going to Ascot Park and watching the dirt track races. Brown said. “I met a few of the racers and was struck by how approachable and how nice most of these guys were. It wasn’t at all like the image a lot of people had about motorcycle riders in those days. I just thought it would be neat to do a movie about motorcycle racing and the people involved.” Even though Brown already had a successful movie to his credit (Endless Summer), he found that financing a film on motorcycling wasn’t going to be easy, until McQueen step in and told him he would back it, the rest is history and together they created an iconic and aspirational motorcycle movie that would be a catalyst for increasing the popularity of off road bikes.

    As demand increased Penton took the role of East Coast distributor while Dye handled things on the Pacific side until 1974 when Husky took over. With sales and racing success in the States and abroad, Husqvarna’s management was content to rest on its laurels, refusing to make a 125cc machine despite Penton and Dye’s feverish requests for a small-bore.

    Husqvarna began constructing a new plant for its motorcycle production, called M73, but the vision was never realised. Swedish white goods powerhouse, Electrolux, purchased Husqvarna in 1977. Acquired for its line of appliances, Electrolux took on the motorcycles simply as part of the deal. After realising the profit available in chainsaws, it headquartered that effort at M73. Motorcycles were split off into their own division, Husqvarna Motorcycles AB, and transferred nearly 50 miles away to a separate factory in Odeshog. After this Husqvarna changed ownership again and unfortunately took another step further away from their glory days.

    Husqvarna’s influence has reached countless riders. The list of heroes who rode Huskies at some point in their career is a Who’s Who of motocross, enduro and desert racing legends. Edison Dye is widely considered the grandfather of motocross, but Torsten Hallman was the man responsible for demonstrating Husqvarna’s motocross prowess. His fluid, aggressive riding style was unimaginable for Americans at the time. Husqvarna's history is a first-hand account of the greatness, demise and resurgence of America’s off-road racing heritage.

    American aviator Leslie Irvin is predominantly known for designing the iconic RAF sheepskin flying jacket in the early 1930s, a jacket that would go on to later become synonymous with his name, however his this wasn't his first claim to fame, he was also the inventor of the parachute “rip-cord” system.

    Irvin was born in Los Angeles in 1895. He became a stunt-man for the fledgling Californian film industry, for which he had to perform acrobatics on trapezes from balloons and then make descents using a parachute. Irvin made his first parachute jump when he was fourteen and jumped from an airplane for the first time in 1914, sailing 1,000 feet to the ground in a stunt for the movie Sky High. He later joined the Army Air Service's parachute research team at McCook Field near Dayton, Ohio. After World War 1, Major E. L. Hoffman of the Army Air Service led an effort to develop an improved parachute for exiting airplanes by bringing together the best elements of multiple parachute designs. Participants included Irvin and James Floyd Smith. The team eventually created the Airplane Parachute Type-A. In 1919, Irvin successfully tested the parachute by jumping from an airplane. The Type-A parachute was put into production and over time saved a number of lives. This was the first premeditated freefall parachute descent. With Smith flying the plane and Irvin making the jump, the new chute performed flawlessly, though Irvin broke his ankle on landing.

    Less than two months later, The Irving Air Chute Company was formed in Buffalo, New York, the world’s first parachute designer and manufacturer, Legend has it that 'Irvin' was inadvertently changed to 'Irving' by a secretary who mistakenly tacked a 'g' on the end of the name. An early brochure of the Irving Air Chute Company credits William O'Connor 24 August 1920 at McCook Field as the first person to be saved by an Irving parachute. Two years later, Irvin's company instituted the Caterpillar Club awarding a gold pin to pilots who successfully bailed out of disabled aircraft using an Irving parachute. In 1926 he opened a factory in the UK, at Letchworth and by the end of the 1930s Irvin parachutes were in use worldwide.

    As aviation advanced so did the altitudes to which pilots could fly. Suddenly aircrew were flying to thousands of feet where temperatures would easily be sub-zero, not a good thing when aircraft construction still provided basic, un-insulated cockpits. It was this situation that drove Irvin to create The Irvin Flying Jacket.

    The design was approved by the Air Ministry in 1932, and although often referred to as the 'Irvin' its production was contracted out to many manufacturers in order to meet demand. Irvin’s jacket was made from heavyweight sheepskin, its thick natural wool provided incredible insulation. And, while the sheepskin was considered heavyweight the jacket itself was comparatively light and remarkably comfortable. Irvin insisted on the most supple sheepskin: in a cramped cockpit movement was already restricted and no pilot or crew would want to be constrained further still. The Irvin jacket was a masterpiece of design, maximum warmth and comfort combined with maximum mobility. The jackets had long sleeves zipped to enable gauntlets to be worn. The wide collar could be raised to provide excellent insulation around the neck and lower part of the head and face while a belt at the waist to ensure draughts couldn’t drop the pilot’s body temperature and reduce his level of alertness. The original jackets didn’t have pockets as these were not needed. The pre and early war jackets were manufactured with undivided one-piece body and sleeve panels. This produced a fantastic looking jacket, but proved to consume an extravagant amount of material. With the coming of war and the demand for greater quantities of jackets a more efficient use of the material was devised. The full piece panels were divided and subdivided into small pieces, resulting in a design made up of more seams.

    In the Summer of 1940 the most famous air battle of the war took place over Southern England and the channel - The Battle of Britain. Although only just around the corner, the multi-panel jackets had not yet come into being, so the full-panel garments were all that were being worn during this time and hence are often referred to as the Battle of Britain pattern Irvin. After the war demand fell away and Irvin stopped producing jackets. Fans maintained a buoyant second-hand market, but eventually supplies dwindled away and the jackets became very hard to find.

    Eastman offer three different models of this iconic flight jacket - the 1940, 1942 and 1944 patterns, each reproduction replicates the specific RAF jacket meticulously. One feature of some of the later war jackets was that they were produced from a breed of sheep (Devons) that had a unique curly character to the fleece. We are the only manufacturer to offer this model reproduction. The Devon breed is an extremely rare breed now, and accordingly the sheepskin industry yields very low quantities of skins that can be acquired. We offer this model whenever we can procure the skins, so it's only available for limited periods of time.

    You can find these products in the Eastman British flight jacket section HERE

    As many of you will know, the ELMC brand takes inspiration from, and centres around, west coast, road and motorcycle counter-culture of the mid 20th century. For many years, we have had an appreciation for garments and articles from the civilian genre of heritage clothing, particularly those of the motorcycle club and road culture, not least the amazing jewellery and trinkets worn by bikers during that era.

    As with any Eastman product, the materials and components we produce are to the highest degree of quality and authenticity possible. As such, when we decided to offer some Southwestern biker inspired jewellery within the ELMC line there was only one brand we had in mind to work alongside - The Peyote Bird. Gem, owner and creator of the line has been immersed in Southwestern and Native American culture for many years, collecting and curating antique pieces from this bygone age, she also has a keen appreciation for biker style and historical detail, painstakingly sourcing each antique component direct from the US,

    Original antique Native American Navajo or Zuni made pieces from the turn of the 20th century onwards are cleverly reworked alongside Mexican and Military trinkets from that period, various styles of vintage chain and handcast brass and silver connectors are utilised to make necklaces that hark back to those worn by the mid century motorcycle riders seeking freedom and exploring the vast expanses of the US and Mexico.

    The age of the antique pieces used varies from early sandcast silver to Fred Harvey era coin silver, their respective age imbuing them with unique qualities and character. Antique coins are also often used from Indian Head nickels to Liberty pennies, some dating back to the 1860's. No expense has been spared in the sourcing of materials. Each necklace is benchmade by Gem herself from start to finish.

    Every Peyote Bird necklace is one of a kind, no two are the same ensuring complete individuality and style. Each piece is presented in a handmade pouch constructed from vintage Navajo or Saltillo blanket and comes complete in a Peyote Bird gift box. Exclusive products, for exclusive taste.

    You can view our current range of The Peyote Bird for ELMC necklaces in the Treasures section HERE

    One of the lesser known photojournalists in Vietnam was actually the son of Hollywood royalty. Sean Flynn was the only child of the marriage of Errol Flynn and Lili Damita. After studying briefly at Duke University, Flynn abandoned a lukewarm film career to join a band of intrepid journalists documenting the civil wars in Vietnam and Cambodia. At first, Flynn drew international attention merely by virtue of being the even-more-handsome son of his movie-star father entering a combat zone. He and his colleagues' brazen lifestyle and daring work in the field became the stuff of legend and inspired a cast of colourful characters in war films and literature. More significant, their photos, shot within the frenzied theatre of combat, became pivotal in exposing Americans at home to the brutality and ambiguous profit of their military's involvement in the region.

    In March 1966, Flynn was wounded in the knee while in the field. In mid-1966, he left Vietnam long enough to star in his last movie. He returned to Vietnam and made a parachute jump with the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne in December 1966. In 1967, he went to Israel to cover the Arab Isreali War. He returned to Vietnam in 1968, after the Tet Offensive, with plans to make a documentary about the war. He went to Cambodia in early 1970, when news broke of North Vietnamese advances into that country.

    The 1970-75 conflict in Cambodia, a spillover of America's war against the North Vietnamese, pitched the US-backed government headed by Lon Nol against Khmer Rouge insurgents supported by the government in Hanoi. The war was eventually won by the Maoist-influenced Khmer Rouge forces, which then put in place a murderous four-year regime that caused the death of up to 2 million people.

    On April 6, 1970, Flynn and a group of journalists left the city of Phnom Pehn to attend a government sponsored press conference in Saigon. Flynn and fellow photojournalist Dana Stone (who was on assignment for CBS news) chose to travel on motorcycles instead of the limousines that the majority of the other journalists were traveling in (the limousines had been previously used by tourists before the journalists took them over). Reporter Steve Bell, who was one of the last Westerners to see the two alive, later said that after the press conference, Flynn and Stone had gotten word that there was a checkpoint on Highway 1 manned by members of the Viet Cong. Eager to get a photograph of the Viet Cong, Flynn and Stone decided to set out on Highway 1 alone. Before they left, Bell snapped the last photo ever taken of Flynn and Stone. They were never seen or heard from again and their remains have never been found.

    "Afterwards we all headed back to Phnom Penh, but they said they wanted to go forward. They had heard there was a checkpoint that was manned by the Viet Cong. It was thought that you could see the Viet Cong there," said Mr Bell, who took a photograph of the two men as they set off on what would be a final journey. "We headed back to Phnom Penh and no one ever saw them again... I think they were among the first to go missing. It had not reached the point where we knew quite how dangerous it was."


    Although it is known that Flynn and Stone were captured at a checkpoint on Highway 1, their true fate is unclear. It has been suggested that they died in the hands of "hostile" forces. Citing various government sources, the current consensus is that Flynn and Stone were held captive for over a year before they were killed by Kymer Rouge in June 1971.

    Flynn's mother spent an enormous amount of money searching for her son, with no success. In 1984 she had him declared legally dead. In March 2010, a British team searching for Flynn's body thought they had found it, when they uncovered the remains of a Western hostage allegedly executed by the Khmer Rouge.Tests results on the human remains found at the grave site in eastern Kampong Cham province, Cambodia, were released on June 30, 2010, and they were found not to be the remains of Sean Flynn. Lt. Col. Wayne Perry of the Joint POW / MIA Accounting Command said there was no match between DNA from the recovered remains and DNA samples they had on file from the Flynn family.

    The story of Sean Flynn was immortalised by The Clash in the song "Sean Flynn" from the album Combat Rock. He also has a prominent role in Michael Herr's book about his experiences as a war correspondent, Dispatches.

    Combat photographers and correspondents played a vital role during this time, changing public opinion and creating a groundswell of anti war sentiment. But their contribution was not without cost: at least 37 journalists were killed or went missing in Cambodia during the 1970-1975 war between the U.S.-backed military government and the North Vietnamese

    Motorcycle’s and black leather jackets are synonymous today, but it wasn’t always that way. The majority of the early leather motorcycle jackets were adapted from aviation and military gear following World War I. During this time, leather jackets were associated with speed and adventure. Interestingly, it was Hollywood and the movies that gave the motorcycle jacket its enduring mystique.

    ‘‘The Wild One’’ shaped a creed of cool that has never really aged and it's iconography of the motorcycle jacket still resonates today. Brando’s 1950 Triumph Thunderbird 6T riding 'Johnny' instigated this social revolution — until then most notable as the protective gear of highway patrolmen — the motorcycle jacket became an institution on the strength of the way he wore it. Together they made the ultimate Sign — where the signified and signifier were equal in power. A look swiftly mimicked, cloned, spoofed, appropriated by fashion and silk-­screened by Andy Warhol in a series of works that constituted its sanctification. In ‘‘Four Marlons,’’ Warhol printed one still in quadruplicate on a raw linen canvas evocative of gold. Here was a personality to build a cult around.

    Two years later, “Rebel Without a Cause” staring James Dean, was released. The film and Dean’s subsequent death in an auto accident, sealed the connection, in the public mind, between speed, danger, rebellion, and the black leather motorcycle jacket. The movie’s success ushered in an era where the motorcycle and the leather jacket began to be identified with the rebellious youth, especially in America.

    Just as actual 1930s gangsters aped the style of characters played by the actor George Raft, real-life delinquents turned to black leather. You didn’t need a motorcycle to be in a ‘‘motorcycle gang,’’ according to the moral-­panic logic of the day. What is more, you didn’t even need a gang to enjoy the aura of a gangster, a fact attested by the many teenage rebels whose acquisition of a motorcycle jacket constituted the full extent of their rebellion. But for the fashion subcultures — that is, for rock bands and teen cliques devoted to them — the motorcycle jacket is an international uniform impervious to becoming obsolete. It is a garb for all tribes: from goths in Iceland to rockabillies in Japan.

    Writing about the Ramones, the critic Tom Carson once sketched the dynamics of the masquerade: ‘‘Their leather jackets and strung-out, streetwise pose weren’t so much an imitation of Brando in ‘The Wild One’ as a very self-­conscious parody — they knew how phoney it was for them to take on those tough-guy trappings, and that incongruousness was exactly what made the pose so funny and true.’’ The Ramones’ imitators did not necessarily get this, and instead, reading the self-­parody as an uncomplicated statement of force, copied that.

    While Brando's motorcycle jacket was eventually appropriated by fashion and taken down some terrible avenues (especially during the 1980's), other motorcycle jacket silhouettes fared better. As style conscious 50's teens embraced the classic Brando jacket, actual motorcycle riding apparel manufacturers including Langlitz, Buco and Beck among others, pushed forward during this time creating new innovative styles based around real functionality and protection. One of these styles was the now classic J-100 by the Joseph Buegeleisen company in Detroit Michigan, a sleek and less bulky jacket, the form and cut is one of the most flattering of all cafe racer designs ever produced. Made specifically for racing, the full-piece panels and tubular sleeves make the garment appear very aerodynamic. The extra body length, with high mounted zip allows the rider to sit down without stressing the garment around the hips, but still keeping the lower back covered when riding.

    These futuristic jacket silhouettes ushered in a new era of motorcycle style and continued in popularity through the 1960's into the 70's with the Cafe Racer being immortalised by Peter Fonda in the movie Easy Rider.

    Click HERE to view the new ELMC J-100 Cafe Racer reproduction

    The last US Navy propeller attack aircraft to disappear from the decks of the flat tops was the Douglas AD Skyraider. This aeroplane had a unique capability: even when it carried its full internal fuel of 2,280 pounds, a 2,200 lb torpedo, two 2,000 lb bombs, 12.5 inch rockets, two 20 mm guns and 240 pounds of ammunition, the Skyraider was still under its maximum gross weight of 25,000 pounds.

    Entered in service just in time to take part in the Korean War, the Skyraiders in the improved A-1H version were quite slow; nevertheless in spite of performance not even comparable to those of the other assets in the Air Wing’s strike group, the propeller-driven attack aircraft managed to shoot down two MiG-17s during the early part of the Vietnam War.

    In fact, some of the most unusual kills of the conflict did not come from the F-4s, F-105s, or F-8s but from the Korean War era piston-engine Skyraiders, thanks to the four M3 20 mm fixed forward-firing cannons capable of firing 800 rounds per minute, that fitted the A-1Hs.

    The first of these victorious engagements took place on Jun. 20, 1965, when a flight of Skyraiders from the Strike Squadron 25 (VA-25) Fist of the Fleet, took off from the USS Midway (CVA-41) supporting the rescue of a downed USAF pilot in the northwest corner of North Vietnam were attacked by a flight of MiG-17s. The two enemy jets launched missiles and fired with their cannons against the two A-1Hs, but both Skyraiders’ pilots, Lt. Charles W. Hartman III, flying A-1H BuNo 137523, radio callsign “Canasta 573,” and Lt. Clinton B. Johnson, flying A-1H BuNo 139768, callsign “Canasta 577,” evaded them and manoeuvred to shoot down one of the MiGs with their 20 mm cannons.

    Lt. Johnson described this engagement in Donald J. McCarthy, Jr. book 'MiG Killers' as follows: “I fired a short burst at the MiG and missed, but got the MiG pilot’s attention. He turned into us, making a head-on pass. Charlie and I fired simultaneously as he passed so close that Charlie thought I had hit his vertical stabiliser with the tip of my tail hook. Both of us fired all four guns. Charlie’s rounds appeared to go down the intake and into the wing root, and mine along the top of the fuselage and through the canopy. He never returned our fire, rolled, inverted, and hit a small hill, exploding and burning in a farm field.” The subsequent MiG kill of this engagement was shared by both Hartmann III and Johnson.

    The second victory of the propeller-driven Skyraider against a North Vietnamese MiG-17 jet fighter, took place on Oct. 9, 1966 and involved four A-1Hs launched from the deck of the USS Intrepid (CV-11) in the Gulf of Tonkin flying as “Papoose flight.”

    The flight was from the Strike Squadron 176 (VA-176) Thunderbolts and it was led by Lt. Cdr. Leo Cook, with Lt. Wiley as wingman, while the second section was led by Lt. Peter Russell with Lt. William T. Patton as wingman. It was during the RESCAP (the REScue Combat Air Patrol, a mission flown to protect the downed pilots from ground threats) flight, that the “Spads” (as the Skyraiders were dubbed by their pilots) were attacked by four MiG-17s. This engagement ended with one Fresco confirmed as being shot down, a second as probably shot down and a third heavily damaged.

    According to McCarthy, the MiG-17 kill was awarded to “Papoose 409,” the A-1H BuNo 137543, flown by Lt. Patton who, after having gained a position of advantage on one of the MiGs, opened fire with his four guns, hitting the tail section of the enemy jet. Patton followed the MiG which descended through the cloud deck and when Papoose 409 emerged from the clouds he spotted the enemy pilot’s parachute.

    The U.S. Navy Skyraiders last combat tour took place from July 1967 to 1968 onboard USS Coral Sea (CV-43), but this versatile propeller aircraft continued to fly with the U.S. Air Force and with the Vietnamese Air Force until the end of the conflict thanks to its unparalleled capabilities in close air support.


    It is widely regarded that The Graduate marked the beginning of countercultural consciousness in American movies. In the fading memory of that moment, now layered with so many ironic reversals, retrenchments, and disappointments, it is less the film that is recalled than the potent effect it produced. Shorn of its contemporary context, Nichols’s film is a nicely executed comedy of romantic embarrassment spruced up with Felliniesque close-ups.

    The movie that finally breached the already crumbling fortress of old Hollywood was Dennis Hopper’s 1969 bombshell, Easy Rider. In Easy Rider, the fabled ‘road' equals freedom, befouled by ugly Americana. But in Monte Hellman’s 1971 classic, Two-Lane Blacktop, it becomes something altogether different and far more interesting: a repository of dreams and fantasies, for squares, hipsters, and obsessives alike. Where Hopper’s film is set in the Great American Dreamscape, Hellman’s vision of the American West is far less pretentious, parcelled out in nicely measured, seemingly offhand portraits. Where Hopper wears his hipster credentials on his sleeve, Hellman obscures his and even tones down his well-made soundtrack choices in the mix. Where Hopper and Fonda “play” disenchantment and disaffection (offset by Nicholson’s authoritative charm), James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, and Laurie Bird are three non actors who embody a sense of youthful restlessness (offset by Warren Oates’s heartbreakingly eloquent woundedness). And where Easy Rider is finally a series of choices and strategies and inventions clustered around a big concept, Two-Lane Blacktop is a movie about loneliness, and the attempts made by people to connect with one another and maintain their solitude at the same time—an impossible task, an elusive dream.

    The rough cut of Two-Lane Blacktop was three and a half hours long. “We were contractually obligated to deliver a two-hour movie, so we lost half the script,” said Hellman. “We lost some good scenes, for sure, that I fell in love with.” Gone are the flavour and colour of street-racing life and the road, evoked so beautifully in Wurlitzer’s script. What is gained is a trancelike absorption in movement and ritual. Hellman’s film is composed of many of the in-between moments that most filmmakers would cut. In the process, a strange terrain of tenderness and disconnection inhabited by the four principal characters is mapped out: their shared remoteness is exactly what makes it safe for them to venture into one another’s company. This movie about a cross-country race between a car freak in a lovingly souped-up ’55 Chevy and a fantasist in a store-bought GTO moves at an even, gliding pace, and it’s all about stopping to gas up, eat, make some bread in local quarter-mile drag races, pick up hitchhikers, let the engine breathe, share a drink.

    Though he visually reads ‘hippie’, Taylor is the classic introvert, for whom everything is swallowed up and contained by the road. Oates is the smiling extrovert-dreamer, for whom everything becomes a part of the Playboy dream he’s spinning on his drive across America. Wilson provides the authenticity of a genuine drag racer and car fanatic who oozes the Californian dream. Taylor’s aquiline face may be the visual center of the movie, buoyed by Bird’s pout and Wilson’s West Coast stoned softness, but Oates is its emotional core. Oates’s nameless would-be hipster is perfect in every way: V-neck sweaters (they keep changing colour), driving gloves, a wet bar in the trunk, music for every mood, a cocky grin that looks like it’s been practiced in the mirror. The actor imbues his character with a strong sense of physical uneasiness—he can’t even lean against a building comfortably.

    Unlike Oates’s GTO, who projects his desperate longing out onto the open spaces, for Taylor’s Driver the road is a refuge. Or perhaps a cocoon. The nihilistic tone achieves grandeur in itself, up to the controversial and bravura finale. “It was really the most intellectual, conscious manipulation of the audience that I’ve ever done,” said Hellman. “I thought it was a movie about speed, and I wanted to bring the audience back out of the movie and into the theatre, and to relate them to the experience of watching a film. I also wanted to relate them to, not consciously but unconsciously, the idea of film going through a camera, which is related to speed as well. I think it came to me out of a similar kind of thing that Bergman did with Persona.” Hellman is literally arresting his character’s fantasy of dissolving into pure speed and limitless road (the burn of the image begins in Taylor’s head), a fantasy shared by countless movies, then and now. Including Easy Rider.

    Two-Lane Blacktop is the least romantic road movie imaginable. Nonetheless, Hellman saw it as a romance. In finished form, it is ultimately a great film about loneliness and self-delusion. Warren Oates’s GTO (as he’s credited) is every pontificating drunk, every reformed junkie, every guy who moves to another town to begin again. “We’re gonna go to Florida,” he tells Bird in the film’s most acutely poignant moment. “And we’re gonna lie around that beach, and we’re just gonna get healthy. Let all the scars heal. Maybe we’ll run over to Arizona. The nights are warm . . . and the roads are straight. And we’ll build a house. Yeah, we’ll build a house. ’Cause if I’m not grounded pretty soon . . . I’m gonna go into orbit.” Meanwhile, she’s ready to doze off in the passenger seat. Like all dreamers, he’s just talking to himself.

    Post WWII thousands of A-2 jackets still remained in air depots and other bases. In order that these garments would give the best continued service they were treated with a reconditioning process which involved the re painting of the outer surface of the shell. Reissue A-2s are jackets that went back to the quartermasters inventory after active service and subsequently went through a refurbishment process. This included a re-coating of the leather shell with a very dark brown lacquer. After years of wear these garments would accrue a distinctive beaten-up vintage patina due to the way the lacquer would wear off. It was a beaten-up re-issue A-2 such as this (and Rough Wear model 16159) that was worn by Steve McQueen in the iconic movie The Great Escape, and is why so may have admired its vintage appeal ever since.

    The last contracts for A-2 jackets were placed in 1943 and by the 27th April 1943 it was relegated to 'Limited Standard Use'. When the war ended thousands of servicemen returned home and rejoined civilian life meaning there was an abundance of military equipment and material that had to be sorted and re-inventoried. Countless millions of dollars had been spent producing it, so careful consideration was given as to what was to be kept for continued use, stored or discarded.

    As you would expect, tons of it had gone overseas to various theatres of operation, so much thought was given as to what was worth bringing home and what should be left. In those few years of war, military technology had accelerated to a point where some equipment was being made obsolete almost as soon as it was put into service, such was the impetus behind a raging war machine that was totally committed to defeating the enemy. For example, 'flight' went from plodding bi-planes to supersonic jets in less than 10 years. Accordingly, this same degree of improvement took place in all other fields of military design including flight gear. However, the A-2, although being a design from the beginning of the 1930's, was considered a valuable piece of military equipment, even by 1943 it was still deemed worthy of a place in the Quartermaster's wardrobe.

    The A-2 was then put in line for 're-issue'. Experience had taught that the darker a garment was the more serviceable it would be, not showing oil stains and soiling. Because the jackets were made from aniline finished hides which tend to absorb rather than repel they were re painted with a dark brown poly-acrylate dye, which provided an altogether tougher barrier. Characteristics of this re-coating process would be that certain hard-to-get-at areas, such as down inside the pockets, back of the windflap etc, were not reached. The finish was often unevenly applied, giving rise to mottled shading and varied texture.

    However it transpired that this over painting method whilst initially achieving its aim, very soon started to look shabby. The over paint would crisp and flake off. Not only this, but it would take a lot of the original under-finish with it (effectively skinning the hide), leaving just the pale, buff, skin tone of the dye-base). This left an extreme contrast between the surviving dark painted areas, and the paler skinned ones - not a good look for a military garment. This disastrous technique effectively sealed the fate of the A-2 as unsightly jackets were quickly plucked from service. The finish would wear off in irregular patterns bearing the lighter shade of the nap beneath giving a distinct contrast between those areas, and where the coating remained. All of this however is what has given these garments their latter-day vintage appeal. Nevertheless, the A-2 continued to see service well into the late 40's and can even be seen on occasion in archive images from the Korean War.


    Nowhere was this look more immortalised than the jacket worn by Steve McQueen as Capt. Virgil Hilts in the movie The Great Escape. McQueen’s jacket was one such original re-issue A-2. After careful analysis of many original stills from the movie we have been able to confidently identify the jacket he wore as one made by the Rough Wear® Clothing Company, under contract number 16159. So our re-issue A-2 is made as this model. As part of the reissue process that his jacket underwent, it can be seen that the original zip, which would have most certainly been a Talon M-39 (with rectangular puller), has been replaced with a Talon M-42 with bell-shaped puller - a detail replicated on our product.

    We have recreated this model in the most discerning method possible, by literally repeating the steps of production right through to the reissue finish, to bring you a garment of stunning vintage authenticity. First we produce the garment as a factory fresh original maker Rough Wear® 16159, which is made in an aniline dyed, Havana shade, veg-tanned horsehide. We then re-coat the garment with the correct shade of dark brown lacquer (just as they did at the quartermasters - by hand, with a brush), after which the garment is put through an extensive and specialised TimeWorn® process to positively re-create the high-contrast distressed wear affect of a classic vintage original. This all requires a tremendous amount of hand-done work, but is the only way this standard of authenticity can be achieved.

    In accordance with AAF regulations of that time, re-issue A-2s had a mandatory Army Air Forces decal applied to the shoulder, as well as a stamp to the lining. These stamps were generally randomly positioned somewhere on the back panel no doubt due to haste, not clinically centred and perfect, so our recreation is done exactly the same way.

    This garment is presented first and foremost as a plain re-issue A-2, so it comes in standard form without any insignia (apart from the mandatory shoulder decal). However, one can order the jacket with whatever extra insignia one likes from our inventory, and of course in ‘V. HILTS spec’. Click HERE to view the Eastman Re-Issue and 'Escape' A-2.

    The star was a drunken hippy. One of the writers was an acid-fried biker. And the director was a paranoid control freak. But the really bad news was that all three of them were Dennis Hopper.

    Hopper's subversive road movie burst onto the cinema screens of a confused America in 1969, the title was in itself a double entendre, the term Easy Rider was slang for a hooker's old man - 'not a pimp, but the dude who lives with her, because he's got the easy ride'. But it was also a telling and powerful reference to what was happening to America in the late Sixties, in the words of Hopper - 'Liberty had became a whore and the whole country took an easy ride.'

    However, it isn't the sex, music or huge drug intake - both on and off-screen - that links Easy Rider inextricably to the late Sixties. What really marks the film out as a product of that fractured, uncertain age was that it got made at all. And, in particular, that it got made by Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda.

    Certainly, when the pair announced their intention of making the ultimate biker movie, few sane people would have wagered on them finding the finance - let alone producing a film that not only became one of the biggest box-office hits of 1969 but also completely changed the way major studios treated their burgeoning baby-boomer generation. If the film's proposed subject matter - two doped-up philosophising hippies (Hopper and Fonda) use the proceeds from a drug deal to ride across America in search of 'freedom' - wasn't enough to put off potential investors then Hopper and Fonda's Hollywood reputations undoubtedly were.

    Hopper was a Dean generation character actor who had been blacklisted following a bust-up with director Henry Hathaway. Kicked out of mainstream pictures, he was reduced to working with underground filmmakers like Roger Corman. It was while shooting Corman's The Trip that Hopper got to know Peter Fonda. The son of Hollywood legend Henry, Peter had thrown away a promising career in respectable cinema to appear in zero-budget exploitation movies like The Wild Angels.

    Starring roles in The Trip did little to improve either man's standing. Far more helpful was their decision to hook up with satirical author and screenwriter Terry Southern. Southern's involvement provided them with a title, Easy Rider, and a backer in the shape of Bert Schneider. The latter was a fledgling film producer who had just hit the big time courtesy of his kit-form boy band The Monkees and was happy not only to provide money but to let Hopper and Fonda become director and producer respectively.

    As it turned out, any problems the production may have had over finance were as nothing compared with the trauma of the Easy Rider shoot. During most productions, on-set drug-taking and a leading man breaking his ribs would constitute major concerns. In the case of Easy Rider, these seemed minor inconveniences when weighed against the bizarre antics of Hopper himself. A heavy drinker, famed for his to-the-edge performances and confrontational manner, the director's instability and paranoia resulted in clashes with everyone from Fonda downwards. When he wasn't picking fights, Hopper would fill his time forcing Fonda to relive memories of his mother's suicide and dragging actress Karen Black through the streets of New Orleans in search of inspiration.

    Hopper justified his behaviour on the grounds that he wanted to make a special film. And he did. The massive commercial success of Easy Rider ensured that for a couple of years major studios were happy to throw money at any wild-eyed auteur capable of capturing some of that youth buck - a period that Hopper himself brought to the close with 1971's The Last Movie.

    Peter Fonda later recalled, 'Easy Rider really was a trip. Back when I was making studio pictures like Tammy And The Doctor, I got a lot of fan mail - thousands of letters a week asking for my autography and my picture. When I did Easy Rider, I got letters from people saying, "What do I do?", "How do I speak to my father?", "How do I keep myself from committing suicide?", "How do I live?" Nobody was asking me for my picture and my autograph any more.'

    Most importantly, the film represented a crossroads in the film industry, one where the old Hollywood system had become stagnant while young filmmakers were revitalising the medium with fresh, creative ideas that were having a real impact on the culture and their generation. The movie was responsible for launching Jack Nicholson's career at a time when he was about to give up acting for producing. And it certainly enabled Fonda and Hopper to pursue their own separate visions on film while maintaining creative control.

    Unfortunately, the tensions that arose between Fonda and Hopper during the film's making erupted into an ongoing dispute over the "authorship" of the movie with Hopper claiming solo credit for the story idea and script in a lawsuit. Hopper, in turn, was later sued by Rip Torn for spreading lies about a physical confrontation the two had in a public restaurant, which may have been the reason Torn was replaced by Jack Nicholson in the film. To it's fans though, none of this matters much, the movie stands alone for its iconic soundtrack featuring songs by Steppenwolf, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix and others, the innovative, freewheeling cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs, Nicholson's scene-stealing performance and the its fresh take on two young nonconformists looking for the real America.

    False flag operations have changed the course of World history on countless occasions for hundreds of years. The contemporary term false flag describes government led covert operations designed to deceive the general populous, of its own country, in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by other entities, groups, or nations. Historically, the term "false flag" has its origins in naval warfare where the use of a flag other than the belligerent's true battle flag is displayed as a deception, or, ruse de guerre, before engaging the enemy.

    If one follows the money in any false flag operation, you will see that the people with the most to gain have always occupied the key military and civilian positions, not only to ensure the success of the mission, but also to cover up the crime and reap the most reward. Such is the hallmark of false flag operations throughout history. Leading Nazi Hermann Göring once stated: "Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, England, America, or Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

    The most common false flag operations consist of a government agency staging a terror attack, upon its own people, to then falsely blame the uninvolved entity (country/organization etc). The resulting carnage brings about a groundswell of public indignation and opinion in favour of the government and whatever policy they put forward. At least two millennia have proven that false flag operations, with healthy doses of propaganda and ignorance, provide a great recipe for endless war. During the 20th century they were as numerous as they were insidious. From The Manchurian Incident in China, the Reichstag Fire in Berlin, the myth of the 'surprise' attack on Pearl Harbour, to the Tonkin Gulf incident that facilitated the Vietnam war.


    One operation in particular (which thankfully was never implemented) could have easily precipitated a nuclear World War III - Operation Northwoods.

    In 1962, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, headed by General Lyman Lemnitzer, unanimously proposed state-sponsored acts of terrorism on American soil, against its own citizens. The head of every branch of the US Armed Forces gave written approval to sink US ships, shoot down hijacked American planes, and gun down and bomb civilians on the streets of Washington, D.C., and Miami. The plan was only overturned when President Kennedy refused to endorse it. The concept of Operation Northwoods was to engineer a situation where the blame for the (self-inflicted) terrorism would fall on Cuba's leader, Fidel Castro, after which the American public would beg and scream for the Marines to storm Havana. Among other heinous acts, Operation Northwoods proposed faking the crash of an American commercial airliner. The disaster was to be accomplished by faking a commercial flight from the US to South America, the plane would be boarded at a public airport by CIA agents disguised as college students with aliases going on vacation. An empty, remote-controlled, clone of the commercial jet would then swap places for it at a given rendezvous point in flight, as it left Florida, and the real airliner would then land at a secure area in Eglin Air Force base. A May-Day transmission pertaining to come from the commercial jet would then be sent out stating that they had been attacked by a Cuban MIG fighter. The empty remote-controlled clone would then be blown up and the public would be told that all of the US citizens aboard were killed.

    The document also suggested numerous other acts of domestic terrorism including using a possible NASA disaster (astronaut John Glenn's death) as a pretext to launch the war. The plan called for "manufacturing various pieces of evidence which would prove electronic interference on the part of the Cubans if something went wrong with NASA's third manned space launch. Further to this buildings in Washington and Miami would be rigged with explosives and blown up. Cuban agents (undercover CIA agents) would be arrested and confess to the bombings. In addition, false documents proving Castro's involvement in the attacks would be "found" and given to the press. Another element of the plan suggested attacking an American military base in Guantanamo with CIA recruits posing as Cuban mercenaries. This involved blowing up the ammunition depot and would obviously result in material damages and many dead American troops. As a last resort, the Pentagon even considered using public taxes to bribe another country's military to attack their own troops in order to instigate a full-scale war, the plan specifically mentioned bribing one of Castro's commanders to initiate the Guantanamo attack. Below are some of the actual declassified Northwoods documents


    Operation Northwoods was only one of several plans under the umbrella of Operation Mongoose. Shortly after the Joint Chiefs signed and presented the plan in March, 1962, President Kennedy, still smarting from the Bay of Pigs fiasco, declared that he would never authorise a military invasion of Cuba and refused to endorse the Northwoods project. In September, Kennedy denied the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Lyman Lemnitzer, a second term as the nation's highest ranking military officer, and by the winter of 1963, Kennedy was assasinated, apparently by Lee Harvey Oswald, a communist sympathiser, in Dallas Texas.

    The public would only learn about Northwoods 35 years later, when the Top Secret document was declassified by the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board.

    Nearly 40 years later a very similar event would actually take place on American soil bearing all the hallmarks of Operation Northwoods - the destruction of the World Trade Centre on the 11th September 2001.

    Military footwear can be traced back over thousands of years, even as far back as the Roman Empire, and just like humans, the combat boot has evolved through generations of change and adaptation. Arguably one of the most important pieces of equipment or gear anyone in a combat situation may possess, the combat boot has come a long way from its humble beginnings.

    Several important military traditions were given birth to during the historic break from England in 1770's. The U.S. was still young, and its military was tiny compared to England’s oppressive command. Smaller militias lent aid to the cause from all across the original colonies, most of which had their own distinct colours and apparel, alluding to the different military divisions we know today. The typical dress worn would be - a hunting shirt, breeches, leggings, wool jacket, hat, and whatever footwear was available. Since raw materials were expensive, and taxes high, many soldiers, and even civilians, were forced to improvise with their footwear. In the colder colonies, where shoes were necessary to fight against frostbite and hypothermia, ground troops used whatever materials they had on hand. Scraps of cloth or raw animal hide were popular choices, but on occasion blankets tied to the feet would prove better than going barefoot into battle.

    Cavalry, ranking officers, and those that could afford them typically wore Hessian boots. Hessian boots originated in Germany, and were knee high with a short heel, tailored for riding on horseback. The boots typically had tassels on the front, and were later cut lower in the back to help with manoeuvrability white still offering protection for the knee. The boots were styled for a close fit and worn with knee high breeches. Due to the tightness of this boot, a boot hook was often necessary to properly put the boots on, which proved a lengthy process.

    Standardised boots were hard to come by during the 19th century, and much of the military still wore whatever shoes they were able to afford. Infantry units wore calf high riding boots in a style similar to the Hessian Boot. Trooper boots that went up past the thigh offered the most protection, but were expensive and impractical for ground units on long marches. The beginning of government issued boots came about in the War of 1812. The War Department ordered as many pairs of ankle high boots that were available to the at the time, and outfitted the soldiers that would need them the most. The boots were typically sewn on straight lasts, a type of shoe mold that made each shoe completely symmetrical. Until they were properly broken in the boots proved uncomfortable, often leaving blisters. Sometimes called Brogan boots, they were usually made of calfskin or patent leather.

    One of the first revolutions in military footwear came about in 1837 when a 'pegging' machine was invented, this made for the faster production of cheap boots and booties. The pegs, usually small pieces of wood or metal, were used to hold the shape of the boot, but deteriorated much faster than the hand-sewn method. By the time the American Civil War came, the government reverted back to the original design of hand sewn boots. The price for pegged boots decreased to just over $1.25, while hand sewn Cavalry boots were often purchased at three times that price. The idea of soles became more popular during this time, and most were hand sewn. The Hessian boot was replaced by a Wellington style M1851 Artillery Driver’s boot, which were outfitted to cavalry and artillery drivers. The heel was slightly shorter than the Hessian boot, and the toe was more squared. In an effort to improve durability, brass tacks were inserted in the sole.

    Union soldiers had access to better quality materials, while their Confederate counterparts suffered with boots of sub-par quality. The soldiers fighting for the North were first issued hand-sewn boots, and pegged boots only as a last resort. Most boots worn by the Confederate Army were pegged, nailed, or riveted, and fashioned in a style similar to that of the British Military at the time. Some of the greedier manufacturers used poor materials in an effort to take advantage of the civil turmoil. Rumours of cardboard being used circulated, and some even sharpened the pegs or brass tacks in the soles to make them wear out more quickly.

    With the evolution of explosives and artillery like grenades and machine guns, trench-style warfare became more common during the early and mid-1900’s. Given the wet, cold, and unsanitary nature of the trenches, military gear and equipment, boots in particular, had to hold up against extreme conditions.

    The modern combat boot we know today began to take shape in WWI. Most boots made in the early 1900’s had a distinct left and right, as opposed to previous versions with each shoe being virtually interchangeable. In the early years of WWI, the Russet Marching shoe was the most widely accepted boot worn in the military. It was highly polishable and made of machine-sewn calfskin. The inner lining was made from feathers. While this boot proved far more advanced than previous issue boots, it did not hold up well on French terrain. A later version, modelled with specifications from France and Belgium, was made from vegetable retanned cow hide, and featured both a full and half-sole. Rows of hobnails and iron plates were affixed to the heel of every boot. The heel and sole were attached with screws, nails, and stitching, and despite their superior construction, still did not hold up against the rough conditions.

    In 1917 the Trench Boot was born, offering vast improvements from the Russet Marching Shoe. While it offered better protection against the wet conditions, it was not waterproof, which lead to various diseases like trench foot. The look and styling was similar to the marching shoe, but the insole was composed of new materials like; canvas, cork, and cement. Due to the rigid nature of the soles, the boots were highly uncomfortable until broken in and the natural movement of the foot caused excessive damage. The Trench Boot offered little in the way of insulation, and many soldiers complained of cold feet. It became common practice to wear multiple pairs of socks, and order boots a few sizes above what one would normally wear. Several different variations were produced in an attempt to fix the early issues of waterproofing.

    A year later, the 1918 Trench Boot, or “Perishing Boot” was released, offering improvements over earlier versions. Better quality materials, such as heavier leather and stronger canvas were used in an attempt to improve the longevity of use. The boot’s soles were attached in a similar fashion with screws and nails, but held three soles in total, as opposed to the previous issue’s one and a half. The metals used in hobnailing conducted the cold, and the thicker sole helped eliminate that problem. Iron toe cleats were added to the toe of each boot, offering extra protection, but making the boots bulkier.


    During the initial stages of WWII, the standard issue US military boot was the M-42 'Service Shoe', an all leather toe cap boot with a two piece stitched sole, this style was eventually replaced by the rough-out boot, probably the most recognisable boot of the war. After the Normandy invasion the American military started updating their equipment, one of the items they replaced was the canvas gaiters and rough out ankle boot. They did this by basically making the rough out boot higher by adding a double buckle leather gaiter onto the top of the boot. The M-43 buckle boots where in general issue by the winter of 1944/45 and where worn by all branches of service including the Paratroopers, Armoured and Infantry in the Battle of the Bulge. They were titled 'Boots, Combat Service', and nicknamed “Double Buckle Boots.” While previous military boots like the Trench Boots only had laces, these boots went back to the older buckle style. These boots were made from synthesised rubber and other recycled materials, and had a leather fold-over cuff with two buckles. With only a single sole, they proved uncomfortable, but much easier to move around in than the Trench Boot. In times of shortage, some units, particularly Rangers, were issued Paratrooper Jump boots, which were quite distinct from all other boots at the time. The Paratrooper boots were highly sought after by regular troops who often purloined or "acquired" via alternative means.


    Previous issue boots with minimal variation were used during the Korean War, but were not fit for purpose in Vietnam. Vastly different climates and temperatures rapidly deteriorated the soles and integrity of the Combat Service Boot, which was eventually replaced by the Jungle Boot.

    The general idea behind Jungle Boots first came about in Panama and the latter part of WWII for Soldiers serving in the Pacific. While these boots consisted mainly of rubber and nylon, they did not hold up well. The government issued boot was typically the traditional all leather combat boot, or the Jungle Boot. The U.S. Department of War tasked the company Wellco with solving the troops various issues with moisture, insects, and sand. Wellco created and sold a prototype which held up better than their previous counterparts. The boot was composed of a black leather sole and canvas upper with an attached tongue, which helped to keep out insects and debris. It built upon earlier generations by using rubber and a canvas with a cotton blend, but added in the durability of leather. Water drains were added to help keep the feet dry and prevent bacteria from growing.

    After in-combat testing and feedback, the Jungle Boot was adapted to better suit the soldiers’ needs. The canvas blend was replaced with a nylon canvas that dried faster. Steel plates were affixed to the soles of the boot, to protect the feet against punji stakes used to pierce the foot. Additional nylon webbing reinforced the boots’ uppers, increasing the durability. While these boots did not last as long as all leather combat boots, they did offer a vast improvement over the earlier versions. Soldiers were known to carry multiple sets of boots, and often wore their jungle boots only when absolutely necessary. These high tech jungle boots signalled the dawn of a new era, over the next 20 years combat boots would evolve into the lightweight protective boots worn today.

    While impossible to predict the future, it’s a safe bet that combat boots will continue to grow and evolve alongside those that wear them. From the Roman Empire to the sands of present day Iraq, it’s easy to forget that something we see regularly can have such a rich history. With huge leaps in all aspects of technology, who’s to say which direction the design and features of future boots will take.


    World War Two conjured up many extraordinary characters. But even among the most exalted company William Ash - the model for the Vergil Hilts character played by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape - stands out. Ash was an American who, while his country was still reluctant to enter the war, crossed into Canada to train as a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was posted to Britain and flew Spitfires with RAF 411 Squadron.

    In March 1942 he was shot down over northern France but escaped from the wreckage of his plane and was given shelter by a number of courageous French women and men. He was captured in Paris by the Gestapo and condemned to death. His life was saved by the Luftwaffe who argued that as an airman, Ash was their prisoner. He spent the rest of the war in various Prisoner of War camps. But instead of being grateful for his salvation he became an obsessive "escapologist" - seeking to break free by whatever means came his way.

    Ash always modestly denied the claim he was based on McQueen's character. For one thing he didn't ride a motorbike, he said. For another, he did not take part in the breakout from the Stalag Luft III camp, on which the movie is based. The reason he did not participate in that particular breakout was that he was locked up in the "cooler" - as the camp jail was called - as punishment for a previous escape attempt. In actuality, Ash was every bit as charismatic as the fictional Hilts with whom he shared many characteristics. Apart from being American, he was good looking, dashing and more than a bit of a rebel. He was also delightfully self-deprecating. He described some of his exploits in his writings, though he often underplayed his sufferings and achievements.

    He had a tough upbringing in Depression-hit Texas where his father struggled to bring up a family on what he made from his job as a travelling salesman. Young Bill worked his way through university but could find no job at the end of it and spent months riding the rails as a hobo, seeking whatever work he could get. His experiences shaped his political views. He was too young to join the idealistic Americans fighting Franco's nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. But when World War Two broke out, he was determined to do his bit to combat fascism.

    William Ash

    It rankled with him that he did not do more fighting. He only managed to shoot down one German aircraft for certain before he was downed himself. He decided to use his incarceration to wage war on the enemy by other means. Most of his fellow inmates had little interest in escaping. Having survived the trauma of being shot down, the majority decided they had used up their store of luck and tried to pass the time behind the wire as best they could, often studying and acquiring new skills, while they waited for the war to end.

    Bill Ash belonged to a hard core devoted to overcoming every obstacle the Germans put in their way to returning home and carrying on the fight. They often found it hard to analyse precisely their motivations. Some felt it was their duty. For others, focusing on a project was a way of combating the stultifying boredom. In Bill's case it boiled down, he said, to "an unwillingness to crawl in the face of oppression".

    He lost count of his escape attempts, or the number of times he was condemned to a spell in the 'cooler', which meant solitary confinement and a bread and water diet. Some of the escape bids were opportunistic efforts like the time he wangled his way on to a work detail tasked with unloading a train then made a run for it when the guards' backs were turned.nOthers were complex, long-term schemes that required a huge amount of organisation, ingenuity and endurance. A little-known but extraordinarily ambitious project was the Latrine Tunnel Escape which took place in Oflag XXIB, a camp near the Polish town of Szubin.

    Bill had a hand in devising the plan, which was not for the faint-hearted. It involved digging a tunnel more than 100 yards long from a starting point beneath a large lavatory block. Every day for three months teams of diggers would lower themselves through a trap door set into a toilet seat trying to avoid falling into the lake of raw sewage beneath. An entrance set into wall of the latrine pit led into a chamber where the tunnel began. Day after day they would scrape away at the sandy soil working by the light of margarine lamps. They lived in fear of cave-ins and asphyxiation and panic attacks brought on by claustrophobia. Tunnelling was in some ways the easy part. To stand any chance of making it out of Nazi-controlled territory they needed civilian-style clothing, money, and documents. Here they were helped by other prisoners who brought a wide variety of skills either acquired in peacetime or learned in the camp.


    Eventually, one night early in March 1943, 35 men dressed in outfits fashioned from Air Force uniform and blankets and armed with convincingly forged identity cards crawled through the narrow tunnel and under the perimeter fence to freedom. One managed to get as far as the Swiss border before being recaptured. Two made it to the Baltic and were on their way in a rowing boat to neutral Sweden when they disappeared, presumed drowned. All the rest were recaptured within a few days. It was a bitter disappointment, but almost all carried on trying to escape. Bill finally succeeded a few days before the war ended, breaking out of a camp near Bremen just as the British Army arrived.

    His experiences as a prisoner had a profound effect on his political outlook. After the war he stayed on in Britain and seemed set to follow some of his camp comrades - like Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Tony Barber and TV presenter and historian Robert Kee - into a successful conventional career. He went to Oxford University and joined the BBC, which gave him a top administrative job in India. His increasingly radical views made it hard for him to conform, however. He rejected the Communist Party of Great Britain as being too compromised and helped found a breakaway group. He also lost his full-time job with the BBC, though he continued to do some work for the drama department.

    Ash was a happy and gregarious man who never lost a touch of his boyhood innocence. His career as an escapologist showed him that in wartime people were capable of extraordinary selflessness. Why was it, he wondered, that this spirit could not be carried on into peacetime?


    World War II changed the world and laid the foundation for the American car-crazy phenomenon that exploded in the 1950s - Hot Rodding. Once the hostilities in Europe and Asia had ceased, those lucky enough to make it back wanted to enjoy living the way they couldn't while serving Uncle Sam. Finally home, ex-GIs couldn't get enough of cool cars, all-American burgers and fries, and the girl next door who had grown up since they left. Building a hot rod or custom car was a method of self-expression, and for many, the cars provided the means for the social life they desired.

    Many GIs also found it hard to let go of the adrenaline rush of enemy action. Something inside them yearned for a little bit of that thrill, but without the potential wartime consequences. Getting behind the wheel of a cool hot rod or custom car fulfilled those conscious and unconscious desires. And with many coming back from the war with some money saved and a job waiting, they had the means to acquire what they wanted.

    The timeline for hot rods and custom cars starts before World War II. Teens itching to tinker with cars and go fast were racing cheap Ford Model T's on Southern California's dry lakes and street racing in Los Angeles even in the 1920s. The Harper, Muroc, and El Mirage dry lakes -- all 50 or so miles north of Los Angeles -- saw racing activity from the '20s up to World War II. Racing at El Mirage continues today.

    Speed junkies could jump in their hopped-up, chopped-down Model Ts and be at one of the dry lakes in less than three hours. Or, if the need was urgent, they could find a deserted back road or open field. At the lakes, the cars were timed with handheld stopwatches and placed in a class determined by the resultant time. The vast majority of the cars being run were four-cylinder Ford Model Ts or their successor, the four-cylinder Model A. The cars were cheap, plentiful, lightweight, and easy to work on. They responded to simple "hop ups" like higher compression, ignition and timing adjustments, additional carburettors and more radical cam grinds.

    The drill was fairly simple: Buy the nicest roadster you could find (because roadsters were the lightest); strip off everything not needed to go fast, like the fenders, headlights, hood, and top; find some cheap used tires to replace your bald ones or to mount over your existing tires for a little extra tread; and go racing. Paul Chappel's Speed Shop on San Fernando Road in Los Angeles and Bell Auto Supply in neighbouring Bell were the first stores in the country devoted exclusively to supplying speed parts for those who wanted to run with the fast pack. Performance parts included high-compression heads, exotic overhead-cam conversions, and radical cams (also called "sticks").

    The Ford flathead V-8 was born in 1932 and with it a new opportunity to go fast. Though slow to be accepted by hot rodders, more 65- and 85- horsepower flathead V-8s found their way into junkyards as the '30s progressed and thus began the transformation from four-bangers to flatheads. Also released in 1932 were the lightweight '32 Ford or "Deuce" frame and roadster body. The combination was unbeatable in terms of performance potential and looks. To this day, a flathead-powered Deuce roadster is the quintessential hot rod. That engine and frame combination would also provide an excellent foundation for many types of bodies, or sometimes hardly any body at all.

    As interest in racing grew, kids began to try out their "gow jobs" more often on public streets. What was mostly good, clean fun could get ugly -- and it often did. "Speed contests," as the police called them, were occurring with greater frequency and more dire consequences. Casualties were described in detail in local newspapers, branding the hot rodder as a social menace requiring increasing control or, better yet, elimination. More hot rodders were finding the dry lakes a safer, less public alternative to racing on the streets. But this "detour" was having its own problems. Multiple casualties were reportedly occurring during the middle of the night on the dark racing courses of the dry lakes. Hot rodders ran unmonitored, without thinking that a like-minded racer could be coming from the other direction. The result was sometimes catastrophic.

    Help was on the way, though. In 1937, the Southern California Timing Association was formed. The SCTA formalised classes, developed more sophisticated timing systems, and made racing safer and more organised. Then, in 1941, a monthly publication called Throttle Magazine was created to track racing results, feature some of the better cars, and report on new safety and speed issues. The scene was starting to gel, but after Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, and the U.S. became involved in World War II, hot rodding would have to wait.

    As the 1940s began, the hot rod and custom car fad continued to trickle down to car enthusiasts throughout the Los Angeles area. Now it involved older used cars that were transformed into "mystery cars" through sometimes minor, sometimes major body modifications. But it remained a relatively small and localised fad before many of the participants in this trend were called into service in WWII. Two things happened to spread the gospel of hot rods and custom cars during World War II. First, many servicemen were filtered through California on their journey to the Pacific. There, they witnessed firsthand America's car-culture capital, with its unique customs and stripped down hot rods ripping through the streets. It must have left quite an impression on many.

    Second, many GIs from Southern California spread information and pictures of hot cars to any soldier with time to spare. The racing and cruising activities must have seemed cool and exciting to any young soldier. Simple exposure must have been enough to spark the interest of young soldiers. So once the seed was planted, it had to be nurtured, and for that we can thank Robert "Pete" Petersen and Hot Rod magazine, which came on to the scene in 1948. After the war, the economy boomed. Young veterans had a bulletproof attitude after facing the horrors of combat, and they now found themselves with excesses of time and money, along with mechanical skills learned in the service. The postwar energy helped hot rodding grow more than it ever had in Southern California, and Hot Rod spread the word nationwide.

    Hot Rod picked up where Throttle left off, the latter never returning after its one-year run in 1941. The fledgling magazine touched on all aspects of the car-enthusiast arena, covering hot rods, custom cars, drag racing, and even circle-track racing. Hot Rod also informed readers about the latest speed equipment, and taught them how to perform engine and body modifications. Hot Rod was in a good position to promote safety, and to help organise early drag racing and car shows, all of which helped promote and organise hot rodding itself. Speed-parts manufacturers and custom and performance shops had a place to advertise. It was a win-win situation for all involved.

    As the end of the 1940s approached, hot rods and custom cars were poised to become not just a trend but a lifestyle. Postwar adolescents were discovering the freedom and social significance of driving a unique automobile on the streets of Downtown, USA. Picture this - It's a summertime Saturday night in the 1950s, and the Southern California suburbs are hopping with hot rods. In the San Fernando Valley just north of L.A., ex-GIs are bent over their crude roadsters doing last-minute checks before heading out at midnight to one of the dry lake beds east of Los Angeles.

    Their goal is to be first in line for the heads-up racing that starts at dawn. Soon they'll aim their headlights for the excitement of speed and the camaraderie that goes with running the straight, dusty courses. But first, a few of them conduct impromptu light-to-light races down San Fernando Road to check out the clutch and size up the competition. Over in the bedroom communities of Lakewood, Lynwood, and Compton a few miles west of L.A., cruisers in their late teens and early 20s are "drive-in hopping." It's a ritual that takes off from The Clock drive-in in Bellflower, then heads down Pacific Coast Highway to The Clock on Sepulveda in Culver City, over to Tiny Naylor's in Hollywood, onto the freeway to Toluca Lake and Bob's Big Boy, over to Bob's in Pasadena, a straight shot west to Nixon's on Whittier Boulevard, and finally back to The Clock in Bellflower.

    Occasionally, street racing accidents end up on the front page of the Orange County Register in grisly detail. There is safer, organised racing in Orange County, too. It's the abandoned airstrip, which is considered the first organised drag racing venue in the country -- Santa Ana Dragstrip.

    It's the golden age of the hot rod and custom car, and Southern California is the place to be. Decades from now, these scenes will be relived and recreated thousands of times. Hot rods and customs from this period will be revered, copied, and restored to preserve for all time this magical era in automotive history.