David Lourne, Writer, Printer, ex-pilot, ex-Army, sarcastic observer.
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I LOVE this one!
Look; I greatly admire the US military and I do understand that not all equipment in development performs to spec, but the M247 Sgt. York HAS to go down as one of the funniest fails in history!
Great looking machine, innit?
Built on an M-48 Patton hull, the Sgt. York was designed to be a radar-directed anti-aircraft gun that would support the relatively new M1 and M2 AFV’s in the late 1970’s.
It did not…er…have the success planned for by the US Army. In fact, its development was an amazing series of moderately hilarious disasters.
First of all, when design proposal and trials were undertaken, the US Army chose the York over the competition (a vehicle from General Electric based around the A-10’s massive GAU-8 gun); despite the fact that the General Electric machine outshot the Ford Sgt. York 19–9 out of 20 targets aimed at.
So - the US Army had their new SPAAG (Self Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun). You know - the one that placed dead-last in a competition of two. Time to develop it.
Things went downhill from there.
The M-247 was build around the battle-proven M-48 hull; a superb platform that had done the United States proud. But…the Sgt. York was designed to support M1 Abrams tanks - which had been built to replace the M-60; the tank that had replaced the M-48. The 247 couldn’t even come CLOSE to keeping up to the machines it was being built to protect. So…GREAT hull…for Vietnam.
The Sgt. York wielded twin 40mm. Bofors guns - a superb multi-purpose weapon…but the prototype was given warped, second-hand guns from Army storage rather than new. To put it bluntly, no matter how well the targeting system worked, those guns couldn’t hit squat.
But Hey! Good old American electronics, eh? How about that radar targeting system?!
Well, heh-heh-heh…this is where things get REALLY fun. Remember, this thing is designed to shoot down Russian attack aircraft like the Su-25 Frogfoot:
A Frogfoot, ruining someone’s day.
…and attack helicopters like the Mi-24 Hind:
I don’t care WHO you are; this thing is freakin’ scary.
Now - attack helos do NOT fly high and wait patiently for enemy AD to target them. They fly low, nap-of-the-Earth, sneaking through trees and remaining undercover until they pop-up to fire. Attack fighters do the same; just a few hundred miles an hour faster.
The Sgt. York had a minuscule little problem: its radar couldn’t discriminate between targets and trees. Raising the guns to fire made it worse: they blocked (or rather, interfered with) the targeting radar.
And, as it turns out, the turret was mounted on a…say it with me…M-48 hull; which means the turret traversed FAR too slowly to track fast-moving fighters. And..you know…was designed to fight in Vietnam; cold weather kinda buggered it up. It had a habit of leaking hydraulic fluid…not the best thing if you’re fighting in winter.
But…you know! That good old American knowhow; the radar would surely make up for these teensy little problems, right?
The system was demonstrated for a party of US and British Generals. A target was set up, the system (live and fully armed) was activated…and promptly whipped around to aim right at the reviewing stand. Several senior officers were injured as they dived for cover. The system was reset, aimed at the target…and blew holes in the ground just in front of the machine. After several attempts the machine lined up on trees, empty sky and in one unverified case seriously threatened the port-a-potty that had been set up (and was undoubtedly put to good use when this thing started aiming everywhere mais the target.)
The onboard ECCM (Electronic counter-countermeasures) system could be jammed with WWII technology.
The Army said it was because the machine had just been washed; the water fouled the electronics. Reporter George Easterbrook promptly quipped “Does it ever rain in Europe?”
But wait…it gets better.
The Army kept trying to fix the damned thing; it was, after all, their new accepté SPAAG. They tried for years to get it to hit n'importe quoi. Finally in 1984 they announced another round of testing, and invited the press to come watch.
It was hilarious - the platform simply could not hit a single moving target. They switched to a hovering target instead…and it couldn’t hit cette. Engineers hung a radar reflector off the target and tried again…no dice. They kept adding radar reflectors (essentially big flat pieces of tin foil) until they had quatre of the bloody things hanging off the target. The M-247 enfin saw the target, fired…and missed. It kept firing (and missing) until the onboard gunner helpfully turned the turret by hand a few degrees, striking the target.
But…not squarely. The blasted drone lurched to the side and testing officials blew it up remotely.
The test was declared a success. The press used a rather different word.
As reporter George Easterbrook said, it was a lot like watching bloodhounds tracking a man standing still in the middle of an empty parking lot covered in steaks.
50 M-247’s were produced for the US Army. 46 were rolled out to tank ranges and used for target practice.
Only four remain intact; on display at various museums.
Chuckle - here’s to you, Sergeant York!
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The 1917 Halifax Explosion -
In the morning of December 6th 1917 the French cargo ship Mont-Blanc was carrying munitions from New York through Halifax ultimately to go to Bordeaux France. As it made its way into the Halifax Harbor it made a collision with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo.
The Imo was travelling through the harbor at an accelerated rate; having had been delayed earlier in the day it was attempting to make up for time. Despite repeated attempts at advising the Imo to slow down, the captain disregarded them and continued through at high speeds.
The Imo would eventually meet its fate as it began towards a head on collision with the Mont-Blanc. At this point both ships were aware of the potential collision, and both had shut their engines off to prevent significant damage; a force stop wasn't used by the Mont-Blanc for fear that doing so may set off its cargo. Eventually the two ships were steered to the point where they had become parallel, the Mont-Blanc passing the Imo bow avoiding a collision.
The Imo, for what ever reason, decided to go in reverse, causing its head to swing into the Mont-Blanc. Initial damage wasn't severe; the problem though was that barrels of Benzol toppled over and began to spill out. As the Imo restarted its engines it flew out sparks, igniting the Benzol vapors.
The resulting explosion released an energy equivalent to 2.9 Kilotons of TNT - at the time the largest man made explosion until the development of Nuclear weapons. The explosion obliterated all nearby structures, completely destroying the nearby community of Richmond, killing around Two Thousand people and resulting in the injuries of another Nine Thousand. It was a blast so powerful that it ended up creating a Tsunami, which subsequently wiped out a native population who were living on Tuffs Cove. Pieces of the Mont-Blanc was scattered, travelling miles away from the initial blast area, its main gun reportedly travelling 3.5 miles north. It was so loud that the explosion was said to be heard over 100 miles away
All because the captain of the Imo was feeling a bit impatient that day.
Michael M. Ross, I'm a historian of human misery, myth, and meaning.
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"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” (Shackleton recruitment ad, probably apocryphal.)
It’s universally acclaimed to be one of the great survival stories of all time: Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 to 1916. It exhibits the finest qualities of leadership, courage, and grit in a heroic age. But what about common sense and good judgment?
Shackleton’s plan was to traverse the Antarctic continent, on foot with skis and dogs. Britain had already lost the race for the South Pole to Norway. A veteran polar explorer, Shackleton recruited 28 men for the exploit and set sail from London as World War 1 began, on August 1, 1914. Many of the men were not well-suited to the mission, had little or no long-duration sea or ice experience, and one even suffered from extreme sensitivity to the cold.
When reaching the remote southern Atlantic island of South Georgia, in December (midsummer), the local whalers warned Shackleton that the ice pack in the Weddell Sea was much denser than usual and advised him to wait till the following year. He ignored their advice, and the Endurance - one of the sturdiest wooden sailing ships ever built (a three-masted barquentine custom-made by Norwegian shipbuilders) - edged further south despite the thickening sea ice.
Within a couple of weeks, in January 1915, it became beset, completely ice-bound, in the Weddell Sea, near Vahsel Bay, a few miles from the Antarctic mainland. The expedition would never even set foot upon it.
The ice-bound Endurance
The crew stayed aboard the trapped ship through the entire Antarctic winter - occupying themselves through the months of darkness with their routine of maintaining the ship, playing games, singing, smoking, and performing silly skits to each other.
They did not abandon their home till October 27th, when it was about to be crushed by massive ice floes that had enveloped the ship. They experienced the full shock of the elements, beginning with a futile three-day march over the ice to establish a temporary camp, which was interrupted by a mad rush to recover more provisions from the ship before it went down.
Dogs watching the end of the Endurance
The crew then embarked on a march to open water, an arduous journey of two months that required hauling three heavy lifeboats and all the equipment taken off the ship. On December 23rd, Shackleton abandoned the effort. They would make camp and wait for the late summer melt of the ice floes that surrounded them.
Hauling one of the three lifeboats
What Shakelton hadn’t bargained for was the rate and direction of the rotating ice mass in the Weddell sea, which made his originally preferred island destinations impossible. (One was Paulet Island, where 12 years earlier he had stashed a substantial amount of food for another expedition.)
By March 30, 1916 all 69 dogs and the ship’s cat had been killed for food. The ice floe they were camped on split in two, separating them from their three lifeboats. Even as they were circled by “killer whales” (orcas), they were able to recover the boats. In an act of desperation, on April 9th, the whole crew went to sea in the three lifeboats in a quest for one of the most inhospitable islands in the world: Elephant Island. It was a 200-mile, weeklong voyage in open boats over treacherous waters to reach a tiny speck. If they missed it, they would die in the open ocean.
They survived the journey, but the island had nothing to offer but steep rocky ledges. At least it was solid ground - the first the men had stood on for 497 days, since the expedition had departed South Georgia. They found the one spot on the island that afforded some shelter and hunkered down for the southern winter (just north of the Antarctic circle). Within days Shackleton announced he would leave and attempt to sail to the distant South Georgia.
Shackleton and five men left with the largest lifeboat, which the carpenter had made more seaworthy by raising the boat’s sides and building an improvised deck. They set out for a hellish 17-day voyage of 800 nautical miles with treacherous conditions and navigation against adverse winds and currents. Storms drove them ashore on the wrong side of South Georgia.
The lifeboat launch from Elephant Island
Shackleton decided their boat could not circumnavigate the island to the whaling station. Instead, he and two others set out by foot on something like a suicide mission to cross the never-charted and mountainous interior of the island: a 26-mile trek over icy peaks. Against the odds, they completed the journey in 36 hours with life and limb intact - and without sleep, which would have probably killed them due to extreme exposure. They each recounted a feeling of having an invisible guide.
The peaks of South Georgia Island
As they drew close to the tiny whaling station, they heard a steam whistle blow, and completed their journey, but not before contending with a hazardous frozen waterfall. They were greeted with amazement by the inhabitants. Soon afterwards, the three who had been left behind were rescued.
What about the 23 men on Elephant Island? They were still there and alive despite frostbite and minor amputations by the crew’s medic. They were able to sustain themselves and keep warm - thanks to the abundant supply of unfortunate seals who could be bludgeoned on the rocky shore. This supplied adequate meat and blubber for fires. But Shackleton had no idea whether or not his men were alive.
After recovering for three days, on May 30th, he chartered a British ship to go to Elephant Island, but it was stopped by ice 100 miles short of the island. The Uruguay government loaned a survey ship, which came within sight of Elephant Island before pack ice drove it back. Independently, a British chartered schooner set out from Punta Arenas, Chile. It got within 100 miles of Elephant Island before storms and ice forced it to return.
On August 25th, Chilean authorities loaned a small steamer, which set sail to the island with Shakleton aboard. The Elephant Island survivors spotted the ship and signaled her with a huge blubber fire. The men were rescued after 131 days on the frigid island. Every member of the crew had survived.
However, that’s not the complete story. Unfortunately, there’s another one, far less known, of the support expedition on the other side of Antarctica that had been waiting for the arrival of Shackleton’s party for two years.
Oblivious to the fate of the Endurance, Shackleton's second team had anchored in the Ross Sea and had cached more than 4,000 pounds of provisions on the Ross Ice Shelf to supply Shackleton’s polar trek. They didn’t learn of the futility of their heroic efforts under terrible conditions until 14 months later, long after Shackleton rescued his crew. The Ross Sea Party had marched 1,500 miles to accomplish the only successful part of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The cost: Three lives including the team’s leader.
That’s the history. Now you decide: Greatest survival story or Epic Fail?
Note: The expedition was photographed in exquisite detail by crew member Frank Hurley, an Australian photographer. (These and many more pictures are available on Mashable.)
Markee Jackson, living history everyday
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The French Invasion of Russia
One of the most epic fails in history occurred in the year 1812 when Napoléon Bonaparte tried to lead the Grande Armée, the strongest military in continental Europe, into Russia in the dead of winter.
On June 24, 1812, Napoleon, along with 400,000–700,000 men, crossed the Niemen River into Russian owned Poland and began their march towards the Russian Imperial Army. In about six months, due to a shortage of food, The Battle of Borodino, freezing temperatures, diseases, etcetera that number had dwindled to less than 100,000 (some reports state 20,000).
The reasoning behind Napoleon's invasion was simple: teach Russia respect. Napoleon felt disrespected by Czar Alexander I for a variety of reasons, some of those reasons include: trading with the British, putting a tax on French goods, preventing Napoleon from marrying his older sister The Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna and his younger sister Anna Pavlovna of Russia.
When Napoleon declared war on Russia, Alexander knew his forces had no shot against Napoleon head-on; Napoleon’s forces outnumbered his 3–1, so the Russian Imperial Army used the Russian weather to their advantage. Every time Napoleon’s forces would get close, the Russian forces would retreat deeper and deeper into the heart of Russia. Due to the retreats, the war lasted longer than Napoleon expected.
Normally if rations were running low Napoleon and his men would just live off the land; but, Russia was different. The Russians developed a scorch earth policy--they burned the land around them as they retreated. This made it difficult for Napoleon and his men to find supplies and as a result, his men grew weaker and weaker.
On October 19, after capturing the now abandoned Moscow, Napoleon realized that Russia wasn’t going to surrender and that his army could not survive the winter. As a result, Napoleon ordered his troops to retreat to France; but, even that had its complications.
Due to Russian troops blocking his original retreat route, Napoleon and his troops were forced to retrace their steps, and as a result, were forced to endure the full effect of a Russian winter.
High-winds, snow, sub-zero temperature, a lack of food, and the Russians on their tail led to thousands of men and horses dying daily as a result. The cold was so bad that some soldiers would climb into the carcasses of dead horses to keep warm.
On December 5th, after realizing the severity of a potential coup d’etat, Napoleon abandoned his army. In the coming months Russia, Prussia, Sweden, and Austria joined Great Britain in their efforts to take down Napoleon. In March 1814 Paris was captured, and by April 1814 Napoleon was forced to surrender and was exiled in Elba.
You may think that there was no way Napoleon could’ve known that his army would’ve been in Russia for that long, and that is correct; but, three days after arriving in Russia a cold rain, sleet, and hail storm killed a large number of his troops and horses. At that moment Napoleon could have retreated; but, he didn't.
“I have come once and for all to finish off these barbarians of the North,”
“The sword is now drawn. They must be pushed back into their ice, so that for the next 25 years they no longer come to busy themselves with the affairs of civilized Europe.”
Trying to invade Russia during the winter led to the fall of one of the greatest military generals of all time in Napoleon. It can also be argued that trying to invade Russia during the winter marked the beginning of the end for Charles XII (the downfall of the Swedish Empire) and Hitler (proof that the German army wasn’t invincible).
Kang-Lin Cheng, I'm just some guy
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Yao Zhan, Masters History, La Trobe University (1997) · Author has 326 answers and 1.7m answer views
The Fort Tumu Incident(土木之變): This was an episode of the Ming dynasty in the 1400’s where the Oirat Mongols captured the Ming Emperor. The incident itself was an epic fail, but the story that came afterward is possibly even worse.
It is the early to mid-1400’s in China. After almost 100 years of Mongol rule over China (where the Han Chinese were literally treated like second-class citizens), the Chinese finally regained their hard-fought independence in 1368, when the Ming dynasty was established. The Chinese were able to drive the Mongols back into Mongolia, but failed to conquer the area known as modern-day Mongolia. As such, the Mongols never gave up their dreams of reconquering China.
The Mongols then split into two major groups. One group was composed of Mongols who were the direct descendants of Genghis Khan and his clan. The others were not. Because Genghis Khan was so well respected, only the clans that claimed to be his descendants were considered to be worthy of the title “Great Khan”. The Oirat Mongols were not the descendants of Genghis Khan, but they still had a lot to prove on the battlefield.
The leader of the Oirat Mongols in this story was a man named Esen (也先). During this time, in addition to border conflicts with Ming China, Ming China also imposed a number of unfair trade practices with the Mongols (think Trump when he said China’s raping America on trade, only substituting America with the Mongols). As a result, Esen led his men to pillage and loot the Chinese frontier towns as a form of protest. Needless to say, the Ming court could not overlook this, and decided to send a punitive expedition to punish the Oirats for their treachery.
The Ming Dynasty At That Time
The emperor at this time would be known as Emperor Yingzong (英宗) or Zhengtong (正統).
Emperor Yingzong was still a boy when he became the Emperor (the portrait of him above was obviously painted much later). As a young boy, he looked up to a eunuch by the name of Wang Zhen.
Now, a side note about eunuchs. These are men who have had their male reproductive parts removed, and the only job they could get is to do menial work in the palace. The only other people who do menial work in the palace are the palace maidens. By removing the eunuch’s ability to sexually reproduce, the court effectively prevented any illegitimate offsprings that might have came from the eunuch’s horsing around. Eunuchs constantly suffer humiliation that they are not real men, and if they leave the palace, nowhere in society would accept them. As a result, eunuchs were doomed to basically be the janitors and secretaries of the palace for their entire lives.
There was, however, one way for them to escape their fate. Being an emperor of China is a full time job, and because the throne is hereditary, the emperors must have a lot of sons. But with such a demanding job, most emperors don’t have time to be a good father to all of his sons. As a result, many times, eunuchs would step in and fulfill the role of being a father to the young princes. If the prince they pampered eventually became the emperor of China, he may allow the eunuchs that raised him to have unofficial power and influence of the court. This was the case with Wang Zhen; he was seen as the father that Emperor Yingzong never had. As a result, Wang Zhen committed all sorts of wicked deeds.
Wang Zhen advised Emperor Yingzong to lead all of the elites of the Ming army to fight against the Oirats head on during late-summer/early autumn of 1449. Wang also wanted to go along the expedition, along with the young emperor. Almost everyone in court opposed this, but Yingzong overruled everyone else’s concern because he wanted Wang Zhen to be happy.
As a result, the Ming had an army of hundreds of thousands, and both the Emperor and his trusted eunuch were included. Historians believed that Wang Zhen’s hometown was probably located near the border with Mongolia, and Wang wanted to show his clan that he has close relationships with the emperor, and how he essentially had the whole army under his thumb. However, an army with hundreds of thousands of people is very difficult to feed, and the logistics were an absolute nightmare. The army ran out of food and water quickly, and being the desert, it was difficult to find food and water.
Along the way, the Ming army was ambushed by the Oirats. The Ming army panicked and began to retreat in complete chaos. Wang Zhen ordered the troops to camp at the semi-abandoned Fort Tumu, despite the fact that his generals suggested to camp out at a base with reliable access to drinking water.
The Oirats knew the Chinese were running out of water, so they feigned retreat and intentionally lured the Chinese to a freshwater spring. When the Ming troops saw freshwater, they immediately dived in and started drinking (after all, even the most elite warriors need water to survive). Just when the Chinese were getting comfortable, the Oirats surrounded the Ming army and closed in on the massacre. Despite having an army hundreds of thousands strong, almost all of the Chinese troops were killed by just a few thousand Oirats. The Chinese troops killed Wang Zhen in anger, but by then, it was too late. Emperor Yingzong was captured and forced to become a prisoner of war.
This technically concludes the incident at Fort Tumu (which as you could see, was an epic fail), but the story continues (and trust me, the biggest failures are yet to come. Yes, échecs, plural).
After losing the emperor, the Ming dynasty was in deep trouble. Almost all of the elite troops were dead, the emperor was a hostage, and the entire country had lost its will to fight. It truly looked like the Chinese’s independence from the Mongols were short-lived.
However, thankfully, the Chinese had a very smart and talented minister named Yu Qian (于謙). He argued that everyone should proceed with a cool head, and that not all was lost. First, he had Yingzong’s younger brother, Daizong, be brought to the throne. He later argued that China is not composed of one man, but instead, a nation of its citizens.
As such, when Esen of the Oirats demanded ransom for Yingzong, the Ming court flat-out refused all of his demands. Yu Qian proclaimed that Ming China will not sacrifice everything to save one man, and that China had a new emperor under Daizong. Esen was completely shocked by this response, as he had not anticipated the Chinese to abandon their captured emperor so quickly. As a result, he attempted to invade Beijing, but his invasion was defeated.
As a result, Esen decided to let internal disputes destroy China. He released Emperor Yingzong free of charge back to the Chinese in 1450. Needless to say, it was a very awkward family reunion. Yu Qian and Emperor Daizong decided to imprison Yingzong in order to prevent any disputes to the throne.
However, despite being imprisoned, Yingzong somehow managed to gather supporters and raise an army to take back the throne. Yingzong struck the jackpot when Daizong’s son suddenly died of illness, and Daizong lost all of the will to live. Yingzong retook the throne and became one of the very few men in Chinese history to rule twice as an Emperor.
As for the Oirats? Well, they were hoping infighting between the two Chinese emperors would tear the country apart, in which they would seize their chance to conquer China. Ironically, it was the Oirats that fell into infighting instead. Apparently, releasing such a valuable hostage, such as the emperor of China, free of charge turned out to be a very unpopular move as a leader. He was assassinated in 1455, and the Oirat Mongols would not threaten China again until their descendants, the Dzungars, rise about 300 years later.
I really do not know who was the biggest failure in this story: Emperor Yingzong, Wang Zhen, Emperor Daizong, or Esen. All of them had such hilariously bad shortcomings, that this whole thing sounds like a stupid story written by a Chinese nationalist in the Ming dynasty (kind of like some of the anti-Japanese war dramas being produced today). Yet, it’s all true. Everything I’ve listed actually happened.
In the end, the reason why Emperor Yingzong emerged victoriously wasn’t because he was a great and talented man; it was because his opponents (Daizong, Esen, etc.) were all worse.
As such, the moral of the story is: sometimes, the only reason you’ve won isn’t because you’re better than your opponents; sometimes, the only reason you’ve won is because your opponents SUCK way more than you do.