Category: cold war

East German dress sword, circa 1950′s

from Helios Auctions

The Space Race : The Crazy Idea to go to the Moon Together

from The Exploration with William C. Fox

Surfin’ USSR

Ray Stevens, 1988

Tactical Nuclear Weapon’s Exercises during the Cold War

It’s quite obvious that nuclear bombs are effective weapons for destroying cities, however during the Cold War a question that was on military tacticians minds was as to the effectiveness of nuclear weaponry on the battlefield. The idea of tactical use of nuclear weaponry is to conduct an strike directly against enemy military forces and defenses. The blast would literally blow a hole in the enemy’s defenses which could then be exploited by armored forces and infantry. There were many questions to the efficacy of such a tactic. What effect would a bomb have on enemy fortifications? What are the health hazards of deploying troops in a fallout zone? Would soldiers be able to conduct an offensive maneuver after witnessing a blast 1,000 times brighter than the sun?

To answer these questions and more, the US military created a series of tests called the Desert Rock Exercises, which took place in Nye County Nevada. The basic jist of the tests involved detonating a nuclear bomb, either on the ground or in the atmosphere. Once the blast subsided a unit of soldiers would enter the blast zone, sometimes as close as 900 meters from the epicenter. Desert Rock tests I, II, III involved 6,000 soldiers. Desert Rock IV involved 7,400 soldiers, and Desert Rock VI involved 8,000 soldiers, and Desert Rock VII and VIII was conducted with a unit of Marines.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world the Soviets determined that they were not to be outdone by the Americans and conducted a exercise of their own. In 1954 the Soviet Army conducted the Totskoye Nuclear Exercise in which 45,000 men, commanded by Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov, marched through the blast zone of a 40 kt nuclear bomb.

For someone who is concerned for his or her health, marching through the fallout zone of a nuclear blast is not a very smart idea, and over the coming years the men involved in these experiments suffered from various cancers and related health effects. What’s worse is that these “Atomic Veterans” were sworn to secrecy and were not even permitted to inform their doctors as to the nature of the experiments they had taken part of.

In 1979 the National Association of Atomic Veterans was formed with the goal of lobbying congress for healthcare, hazard pay, and other extra benefits. In 1990 President George H.W. Bush signed the Radiation Exposure Act into law, entitling Atomic Veterans and other government employees to special compensation. In 1995 Pres. Bill Clinton officially apologized for the treatment of Atomic Veterans. Finally in 1996 the Nuclear Radiation Secrecy Agreement Act rescinded Atomic Veterans oath of secrecy.

Soviet Underwater Firearms of the Cold War

World War II saw the rise of combat divers and underwater demolition commandos, a new aspect of warfare which would evolve and increase throughout the Cold War. In the 1960′s the Soviet Union began to deploy special frogmen or divers whose duty was guard naval assets and protect them for enemy divers or commandos. Firearms are ineffective underwater since bullets don’t travel well through water. The following video demonstrates this problem…

Typically, early Soviet frogmen were armed only with a knife and if they were lucky, a speargun. In the late 1960′s the Russian engineer Vladimir Simonov sought to rectify this situation by designing a specialty firearm which could be effectively used underwater. What he created was the SPP-1 underwater pistol, which was adopted in 1971. The most unique aspect of the SPP-1 was it’s cartridge, which fired a 115mm long, caliber 4.5mm dart (4.5x40mmR) which was designed to be hydro-dynamically stable and thus able to travel through water. 

The pistol is a breechloading firearm with four barrels, with each barrel firing one at a time giving it four shots. Ammunition was kept in special clips to facilitate reloading. The barrels were not rifled as the projectile is kept in line by hydrodynamic effects. As a result the pistol has much less accuracy and range when fired outside of water. 

While the SPP-1 was a revolutionary design and was certainly useful, it had limited firepower, range, and penetrating power. Thus Simonov designed APS underwater rifle, which was adopted in 1975. The APS used the same kind of cartridge, firing a 120mm long, caliber 5.66mm dart (5.66x39mm). Using a gas piston system similar to that of the kalashnikov, the rifle was semi automatic and was fed using 26 round detachable magazines. Unlike the kalashnikov it fired from an open bolt, as apparently have the action and barrel filled with water increase stability of the projectile when fire. Again, like the SPP-1 pistol it’s barrel was not rifled, giving it limited range out of water. 

The SPP-1 and APS was used by Soviet Special Forces and Naval Forces throughout the 1970′s and 1980′s. The designs were retired in the 1990′s with the development of newer designs such as the ADS and the ASM-DT.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev pats a man’s belly for some reason during his visit to Iowa in 1959.

The K-219 Soviet Submarine Missile Disaster

from The History Guy ; History Deserves to be Remembered

Frank Sturgis, a man who live the life of a James Bond movie character,

In a post I originally made a few years ago I detailed the life of Otto Skorzeny, the ex Nazi commando who formed a paramilitary mercenary group that had it’s hand in almost every conflict in the 1960′s and early 70′s. A life worthy of being in a James Bond movie or novel, Skorzeny was a product of the times, the post World War II/Cold War era that was filled with espionage and intrigue. Another such person of those times who lived a “James Bond film” life was Frank Sturgis; commando, spy, revolutionary, assassin, and mercenary extraordinaire. 

Frank Sturgis (born Frank Fiorini) began his career during World War II when he volunteered for the Marine Corps, becoming a Marine Corps Raider, a group of elite units that served as commandos in the Pacific Theater.  After the war he was an officer for the Norfolk Police Department but quit after only six months due to rampant police corruption. On Nov. 9th, 1947 Stugis joined the US Navy Reserve where he was trained as a pilot. He was honorably discharged on Aug 30th, 1948, and the next day he enlisted in the US Army. While in the army he worked with an Army Intelligence unit in Germany and was stationed in Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. He also served as an honor guard for General Lucius Clay.

During his Army career Sturgis rescued a woman from being gang raped by a group of hoodlums. The woman and Sturgis formed a romantic relationship. As it so happens, Sturgis’ girlfriend was a member of the Haganah, an Israeli paramilitary group that would later form the Israeli Defense Force. Thus, during the 1940′s and early 1950′s Sturgis often worked as a spy for Israeli Intelligence. 

In 1957 Sturgis married a Cuban woman and moved to Miami. Sturgis’ wife introduced him to former Cuban President Prio Socarras, who was deposed by a military coup led by Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Sturgis became an avid anti-Batista supporter, which is where he met an anti-Batista revolutionary named Fidel Castro. 

Sturgis helped train Castro’s guerrilla army, and even personally trained the Castro’s right hand man Che Guevara. On January 11th, 1959 Stugis took part in the mass execution of 71 Batista supporters on San Juan Hill. A photograph of him was taken standing on the mass grave.

After the fall of the Batista regime Sturgis was named gambling czar and director of security and intelligence for the air force. His task as gambling czar was to root out mafia influence in the Cuban gambling and resort industry.

In the early years of the Cuban Revolution Castro wasn’t very forthcoming about his communist beliefs and the agenda he had for his regime. He was especially tight lipped to Americans and other foreigners who supported the Revolution. To many, Castro was merely a freedom fighter whose aim was to topple Batista’s dictatorship and restore a democratic Cuba. Hence, why after the fall of the Batista regime and the rise of Castro’s dictatorship, many became disillusioned with the Revolution and switched sides. In June of 1959, Sturgis left Cuba and defected to anti-Castro forces in exile.

After his involvement in the Cuban Revolution, Sturgis became an avid member of the anti-Castro movement; organizing, arming, and training various anti-Castro paramilitary groups in Florida. In 1975 an investigation conducted by the Rockefeller Commission concluded that Frank Sturgis was not employed by the CIA, however it is undeniable that Sturgis had some sort of CIA connections in the 1960′s. He was involved in training the exiled Cuban rebels who would take part in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, and organized attempts to assassinate Castro. In one attempt, Sturgis contacted Castro’s girlfriend Marita Lorenz, a German born American actress whose relationship with Castro soured when the dictator forced her to have an abortion. Sturgis provided Lorenz with poison capsules, which she hid in a container of facial creme. The assassination failed when the capsules dissolved within the creme, and Castro later discovered the plot. In a scene reminiscent of any spy thriller, Castro had Lorenz hold a pistol to his bare chest and told her to kill him. When she couldn’t do it Castro responded, “that’s right, nobody can kill me.” At that point Lorenz’s heart melted for Castro and they made sweet lovin’ one more time. Lorenz was then permitted to leave the country, where she then shacked up with Venezuelan dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez. Marita had a thing for Latin American dictators. She now lives in Baltimore and supposedly a movie is being made about her staring Jennifer Lawrence.

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy 1963 several allegations arose that Sturgis had some part in the conspiracy. Marita Lorenz herself later claimed that she once witnessed Sturgis, Lee Harvey Oswald, and a group of Cuban exiles plan the assassination. To his dying day Sturgis has denied any involvement, and made counterclaims that Jack Ruby was working for Castro. Government investigations would clear Sturgis of any involvement, however in 2007 CIA officer E. Howard Hunt made several deathbed confessions implicating Sturgis as well as many others. To muddy the waters further, Hunts widow and children claim that his two sons, Saint John Hunt and David Hunt, had coached the dying man into making the confessions for media attention and financial gain. 

While it is unclear if Sturgis had any role in the assassination of JFK, it is certainly confirmed that Sturgis was part of one of the most infamous political scandals in American history, one that would bring down a President. In 1972 President Richard Nixon approved a plan by G. Gordon Liddy (Committe for the re-election of the President CRP) and E. Howard Hunt (CIA Agent) to install wiretapping devices in the Democratic National Committee’s offices in the Watergate Hotel. On May 28th, 1972 a group of men broke into the DNC offices and were successfully able to install phone tapping equipment and listening devices. However it was discovered that the device were not working properly. On the night of June 17th, a second burglary was attempted, however this attempt would fail when five men were discovered by a security guard leading two their arrest. The five men were two anti-Castro exiles; Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard Barker; A CIA operative who directed attempts to overthrow Castro, James McCord; a former CIA electronics expert and CRP manager, and of course Frank Sturgis.

Sturgis served 14 months in Federal Prison for his involvement in the Watergate Scandal. After his prison term Sturgis became an informant for the Miami Police Department who were investigating illegal activities conducted by anti-Castro exile groups. During the 70′s he was also an informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency. In 1980, Sturgis traveled to Angola to train anti-Communist rebels during the Angolan Civil War. In 1981 he trained US backed Contras in Honduras. In the later 1980′s he interacted with the terrorist Carlos the Jackal, and spent time with Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yassir Arafat, debriefing the CIA on Arafat’s peace plans with Israel. On December 4th, 1993 Sturgis died in a VA hospital after losing a battle with lung cancer.

BUT THE STORY DOESN’T END THERE. On December 4th, 1980 a private jet crashed shortly after take off, killing seven, among them Portuguese Prime Minister Adelino Amaro da Costa. Initial investigations concluding the crash was an accident but later investigations suggest a bomb may have been involved. After the 15 year statute of limitations expired in 2006, some people came forward admitting they were part of a conspiracy, among them a security agent named Jose Esteves, who claimed he had constructed and planted the bomb. Esteves claims he was given $200,000 and instructed by Frank Sturgis.

A captain in the Afghan army defects to Mujahideen fighters near Herat, Soviet Afghan War, 1980

Uranium fashion clothing and equipment from an unpublished fashion story by Nina Leen for LIFE Magazine, 1955. 

(Via the LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)