Posted in Baseball World War II Chronicle

World War II Chronicle: 29 January 1942

Evening Star images from the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

The submarine menace

Most Americans alive today were born in a time where American naval supremacy was essentially a birthright. Other than the occasional intercept of a Cold War-throwback Russian bomber, we take the security of our coastlines — maybe even our hemisphere — for granted.

But that wasn’t the case in January 1942. Enemy submarines prowled our Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico coastlines, and newspapers featured near-daily stories of Americans lost at sea. The featured image above tells the story of the crew of the Prusa, a cargo ship torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-172 south of Hawaii on 19 December 1941. The crew miraculously survived 31 days on the open ocean before reaching the Gilbert Islands.

History tends to focus on the various battles of World War II, but making sure materials got where they were needed was every bit as important to the war effort. That job fell to the brave men of the Merchant Marine, who routinely sailed through waters infested by German and Japanese submarines. When you remember the heroes that fought, bear in mind that 1 out of every 26 men in the Merchant Marine lost their lives — the highest percentage of any service.

U-66 (left) under attack by aircraft from the escort carrier USS Card, 7 August 1943 (U.S. Navy photo)

On 19 January, about 200 miles off the North Carolina coast, the German U-boat U-66 (Korvettenkapitän Richard Zapp, commanding) puts two torpedoes into the Canadian steam passenger ship Lady Hawkins. The attack was so sudden and effective that the liner couldn’t even send a distress call, and the vessel slips under the waves within 30 minutes. After five days at sea, one lifeboat is rescued by an Army transport. Of the 322 crew and passengers, only 71 survive — including 17 Americans (see pages A-2, A-4, and A-8 for U-boat attacks).

This attack came just 24 hours after U-66 sank the Allan Jackson, an American freighter carrying 72,000 barrels of oil from Colombia to New York. Zapp’s torpedoes broke the vessel in two and set the oil on fire, burning several shipwrecked Americans alive. A U.S. Navy destroyer was on hand within four hours to rescue survivors. Of the 35 Merchant Marine crew, all but three officers and ten men perished.

Forget Pearl Harbor?

Collier’s magazine war correspondent Quentin Reynolds advised Americans that the slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor” was terribly defeatist and should not be used (page A-8). Continue reading “World War II Chronicle: 29 January 1942”

Posted in Baseball World War II Chronicle

World War II Chronicle: 28 January 1942

The submarine USS Gudgeon (SS-211), which on 11 December became the first sub to depart Pearl Harbor for a war patrol, had just finished her watch off Japan’s Bungo Strait when the crew received an ULTRA message on 27 January reporting that three enemy submarines were operating in their area, 240 miles west of Midway.

Lt. Cmdr. Elton W. Grenfell soon spots a Japanese I-68-class submarine and fires three torpedoes, sinking I-73. Gudgeon becomes the first U.S. submarine to sink an enemy vessel during World War II.

To date, Allied submarines, mines, surface ships, and warplanes have sunk 15 Imperial Japanese Naval vessels since the Pacific War began last month. American, Dutch, and British crews combined sent 22 Japanese merchant vessels to the bottom, totaling over 100,000 tons.

Source: The Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee’s Japanese Naval and Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II by All Causes

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Posted in Baseball Military History

“Harvard Eddie” Grant and the fallen baseball players of World War I

101 years ago this week, U.S. Army Capt. Eddie Grant was killed in action on the Western Front. “Harvard Eddie” was a fascinating character: soldier, scholar, lawyer, and third baseman — playing ten seasons in the Major Leagues before becoming one of the first baseball veterans to volunteer for military service. He was one of eight big league baseball players to die during the war. Here are their stories:


On April 21,1914 New York Yankees skipper Frank Chance called on a 20-year-old rookie named Tom Burr to take over at center field in a close game against the Washington Senators. Burr was pulled before he could hit and no one hit the ball to him in what would mark the last game both Burr and Chance (yes, of the famed Chicago Cubs “Tinkers to Evers to Chance” double-play combination) would play.

Four years later Burr was called up again — this time flying warplanes for the U.S. Air Service’s 31st Aero Squadron. On Oct. 12, 1918, just one month before the armistice, Lt. Burr’s plane collided with another flyer during gunnery training in France, sending the former major leaguer plunging to his death into Lake Cazaux.

Harry Glenn played six games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1915, then joined the Army and was training to become an aviation mechanic when he died of pneumonia on the same day as Burr. Harry Chapman who played five seasons in the National, American, and Federal leagues before joining the Army would also die of pneumonia just nine days later. Then on Nov. 8, former Chicago White Sox outfielder Larry Chappell, who had signed on with the Medical Corps, passed away from the flu.

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Posted in Baseball Military History

3 October: Today in U.S. military history

Today’s post is in honor of the 19 soldiers who gave their lives on this day in 1993 during Operation GOTHIC SERPENT: Sgt. Cornell L. Houston Sr. and Pfc. James H. Martin Jr. of the 10th Mountain Division; SSgt. William D. Cleveland Jr., SSgt. Thomas J. Field, and CW4 Raymond A. Frank of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s SUPER 64; CW3 Clinton P. Wolcott and CW3 Donovan L. Briley of SUPER 61; Cpl. James E. Smith, Spc. James M. Cavaco, Sgt. James C. Joyce, Cpl. Richard W. Kowalewski Jr., Sgt. Dominick M. Pilla, and Sgt. Lorenzo M. Ruiz of the 3rd Ranger Battalion; MSgt. Timothy L. Martin, SFC Earl R. Filmore Jr., SSgt. Daniel D. Busch, SFC Randy Shughart, and MSgt. Garry I. Gordon of 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. (Delta’s SFC Matthew L. Rierson is killed in action on 6 Oct., but is typically included among the battle’s casualties)

1794: President George Washington calls on the governors of Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to mobilize troops to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington himself will lead the army – the only time a sitting president commands troops in the field. Henry “Light Horse” Lee, veteran of the American Revolution and father of Confederate general Robert E. Lee will also lead troops, and also participating in the campaign is Pvt. Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

1912: Four Marine battalions – including one led by Maj. Smedley Butler – converge and assault the fortress atop the 500-ft. Coyotepe Hill. Nicaraguan rebel commander Gen. Benjamin Zeledón is killed during the battle, and the rebellion effectively ends once the Marines capture the city of León in two days.

Butler, a veteran of the Boxer Rebellion, Banana Wars, Mexican Revolution, and World War I, is the only Marine in history to be awarded two Medal of Honors and the Marine Corps Brevet Medal. His Medal of Honor citations can be read here: 1st award / 2nd award

1950: Major League Baseball rules that Philadelphia Phillies’ 17-game winner Curt Simmons, whose National Guard unit had just been activated during the Korean War, would not be eligible to pitch in the World Series, despite the fact that he was on furlough. With their ace left-hander out of the lineup, the Phillies will be swept by a New York Yankee team managed by World War I veteran Casey Stengel (USN) and featuring Joe DiMaggio (USA), Whitey Ford (soon-to-be USA), Hank Bauer (USMC), Jerry Coleman (USMC), and Yogi Berra (USN).

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Posted in Baseball

Today in baseball history: Clemente’s 3000th and Ruth’s 60th

Clemente during his service in the Marine Corps Reserve

On Sept. 30, 1972, Roberto Clemente passed Honus Wagner for most games ever played by a Pittsburgh Pirate, but the fans in Three Rivers Stadium witnessed a much more important milestone that day. Pitching for Yogi Berra’s New York Mets was Jon Matlack, a lefthander that won 15 games that year and would be awarded the National League Rookie of the Year. He struck out Clemente in the first inning, but Clemente smoked a double off the leftfield wall in the fourth for hit number 3,000.

At that point, Clemente was just the 11th player to reach the 3,000-hit milestone. He is pulled from the game afterwards for a pinch hitter, fellow future Hall-of-Famer Bill Mazeroski. It will be Clemente’s last regular season at-bat of his career; he is killed in a plane crash while delivering aid to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua after the Cincinnati Reds eliminate the Pirates from the playoffs.

On this same date in 1927, the New York Yankees were about to close out what many argue is the best season in Major League Baseball history. Fans packed “The House that Ruth Built” to see the Bambino break baseball’s homerun record — which he set in 1921. Ruth was absolutely on fire, having hit 16 home runs just in the month of September, hitting numbers 58 and 59 the day before.

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