This week in U.S. military history
1781: Commanding 1,600 British troops, American Traitor – now a British brigadier general – Benedict Arnold captures and burns Richmond, Va.
1855: A landing party from the USS Plymouth skirmishes with Chinese forces near Canton during the Taiping Rebellion.
1875: U.S. Navy Cdr. Edward Lull leads an expedition to determine the best route for the Panama Canal.
1904: Marines arrive in Korea to defend the U.S. legation assembly at Seoul.
1945: Japanese pilots receive their first order to become kamikaze suicide attackers. At Okinawa alone, 1,465 kamikaze pilots destroy at least 30 U.S. warships and kill 5,000 Americans.
1777: Gen. George Washington sets up winter camp for the Continental Army in the hills surrounding Morristown, N.J.
1861: Florida militia forces seize the Union Apalachicola Arsenal, which is defended by only Ordnance Sergeant Edwin Powell and three laborers. Although hopelessly outnumbered, Powell was prepared to fight if ordered to hold and initially refuses to surrender the keys to the magazines or armory. The militia permits Powell to telegram his command for instruction. Powell reluctantly concedes when he receives no response.
1942: Pres. Franklin Roosevelt informs Congress that he is authorizing the largest armaments production in United States history: 8 million tons of shipping, 45,000 planes, and 45,000 tanks, and 20,000 anti-aircraft guns will roll off assembly lines within the year.
1943: The light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50) uses proximity-fused anti-aircraft shells for the first time in combat, shooting down a Japanese “Val” dive-bomber.
1944: Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill is designated to lead the 5307th Composite Unit (provisional), a long-range penetration special operations unit, now popularly known as Merrill’s Marauders. Of the 2,750 men to enter the unit at Burma, only two were not wounded or killed. Today’s 75th Ranger Regiment is a descendant of Merrill’s Marauders.
1967: 16,000 U.S. and 14,000 South Vietnamese troops enter the “Iron Triangle,” a major Viet Cong stronghold near Saigon, on a massive search and destroy mission. The Viet Cong largely avoided contact with the large force, withdrawing to Cambodia or hiding in tunnels. Operation Cedar Falls will become the largest ground operation of the Vietnam War and marks the first time “tunnel rats” are used.
1973: An F-4 Phantom flown by U.S. Air Force Capt. Paul Howman and 1st Lt. Lawrence Kullman shoots down a MiG-21 fighter over North Vietnam, chalking up the final USAF air-to-air kill of the Vietnam War.
1815: U.S. forces (including soldiers, sailors, Marines, pirates, a few freed slaves, Choctaw Indians, and militiamen from several states) under the command of Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson defeat a numerically superior British amphibious force under the overall command of Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane in the Battle of New Orleans (La.).
Though a decisive victory for the Americans, the battle takes place 15 days after the signing of the war-ending Treaty of Ghent. Communications being what they were in 1815, news of the treaty did not reach New Orleans until February.
1847: A combined U.S. Army-Navy-Marine force under the joint command of Commodore Robert F. Stockton and Gen. Stephen W. Kearny decisively defeat Mexican forces under the command of Gen. José María Flores in the Battle of San Gabriel, California. Within days, U.S. troops are in control of Los Angeles.
1861: Confederate coastal-artillery batteries open fire on the U.S. commercial paddlesteamer Star of the West in Charleston (S.C.) harbor. The shots – the first of the American Civil War – repel the Star, forcing the ship to abort its mission of resupplying the besieged U.S. Army garrison at Fort Sumter.
1945: Following a devastating naval bombardment, the first of more than 200,000 6th Army soldiers land at Lingayen Gulf. The Battle of Luzon (Philippines) is on, and by March, Allied forces control all strategic locations on the island.
1847: U.S. Naval forces occupy Los Angeles during the Mexican-American War.
1920: Following months of negotiations, the Treaty of Versailles is signed, formally ending the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers.
1923: After four years of occupation duty following World War I, Pres. Warren Harding orders all remaining U.S. troops in Germany home.
1927: Marines land at Nicaragua to support the Nicaraguan government during their civil war. The Marines would remain until 1933, supervising elections and maintaining order.
1942: Japanese troops begin their four-month siege of U.S. and Filipino forces at Bataan.
1944: Congress passes the G.I. Bill of Rights, proposed by the American Legion. Following the end of World War II, millions of veterans take advantage of education benefits and home loans provided by the new legislation.
1946: The Army Signal Corps lab at Camp Evans, N.J. reflects radio signals off the moon and receives the return, signifying the beginning of the U.S. space program.
1967: The Mobile Riverine Force, a joint unit consisting of U.S. Army infantry borne by Navy assault craft operating in South Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, arrives at Vung Tau.
1863: The Confederate sloop-of-war CSS Alabama takes the Union steamer USS Hatteras by surprise (Alabama was flying British colors), sinking Hatteras off Galveston, Texas.
1944: 663 bombers from the Eighth Air Force and nearly 600 fighter escorts attack aviation industry targets in Germany in one of the largest raids to date. Of the estimated 500 Luftwaffe fighters that intercept the group, over half are shot down, and nearly 200 more are listed as probable kills or damaged. 60 American bombers and five fighters do not return.
2002: The first detainees from the War on Terror arrive at the Camp X-Ray detention facility in U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Medal of Honor: On January 6, 1968 in South Vietnam, Army helicopter pilot Maj. Patrick H. Brady conducted multiple medical evacuation missions in dense fog and in the face of heavy enemy fire. Over the course of the day, he rescued 51 soldiers and 400 bullet holes were counted in the three helicopters he flew.
Adapted (and abridged) in part from “This Week in US Military History” by W. Thomas Smith Jr.