Posted in Military History

Aug. 15: Today in military history

[Originally published at OpsLens.com]

1934: The Marines depart Haiti, ending the United States’ 19-year occupation of the Caribbean island.

1942: U.S. Navy destroyers finally manage to deliver the first load of supplies to Marines on Guadalcanal, who have been coping with limited rations and ammunition since landing nearly ten days ago.

Also on this day, Maj. Gen. Matthew Ridgway’s 82d “All-American” Infantry Division is redesignated as the 82d Airborne Division, becoming the first airborne division in American military history. The division’s first combat jumps will take place in Sicily and Italy the following year.

1943: 35,000 American and Canadian troops conduct an amphibious landing on the beaches of Kiska, Alaska – only to discover that the Japanese had abandoned the island weeks ago.

In the Solomon Islands, 6,500 soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division storm ashore on Vella Lavella. The islands will be captured in just under a month.

1944: (featured image) Well over 100,000 American and French troops land on the French Riviera, easily driving the German defenders back and capturing several strategic ports. The soldiers move so quickly across France that the supply trains can’t keep up, and most of Southern France is liberated in four weeks.

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Posted in Baseball Military History

Military veterans of the MLB

68b1e520-c287-11e4-adb7-a1c97d6db9cf_AP858593037636Mitch Harris became the first Naval Academy graduate to pitch in the major leagues in almost 100 years. Following his five years of active duty service, Mitch played 26 games with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015.

Bob Feller holds the distinction of becoming the first professional athlete to enlist in the Armed Forces for World War II. The Hall of Fame left-hander served as a chief petty officer aboard the battleship USS Alabama in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters. After losing four seasons to the Navy, Feller struck out 12 batters and only allowed four hits in his first game back after the war. Ted Williams called him the “fastest and best pitcher I ever saw.”

Detroit slugger Hank Greenberg had just wrapped up his second league MVP award when he was drafted into the Army, serving briefly until the military released all draftees over the age of 28. After the Pearl Harbor attack Sgt. Greenberg volunteered for the Army Air Force, serving stateside while he attended officer candidate school. The future Hall of Fame slugger volunteered for overseas assignment and shipped out to the China-Burma-IndiaTheater in the first deployment of the B-29 Superfortress.

Veteran Boston Braves catcher Hank Gowdy became the first professional baseball player to enlist during World War I, joining the Ohio National Guard’s 166th Infantry Regiment and seeing plenty of action on the Western Front. Gowdy volunteers again when World War II breaks out, and the 53-year-old captain becomes the only baseball player to have served during both world wars.

[Note: new players are added frequently. Message us if there is someone you would like to see on the list.]

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Posted in Military History

Aug. 6: today in military history

[Originally published at OpsLens.com]

1763: With Ottawa chief Pontiac laying siege to Fort Pitt (modern-day Pittsburgh), a force marches to the frontier fort to break the siege, consisting of Pennsylvania rangers and Scottish soldiers of the 42d Royal Highlanders – the famed “Black Watch.” Allied natives ambush the relief force at a creek known as Bushy Run and a bloody two-day battle kicks off. Col. Henry Bouquet’s men emerge victorious, routing the Indians – although at high cost to the Scottish/American troops – and lifting the siege at Fort Pitt.

Today’s 111th Infantry Regiment traces its lineage to the Philadelphia “Associators” militia regiment (formed by Benjamin Franklin) that manned Fort Pitt. Each year at their “dining-in” banquet, an empty table setting is left in honor of the commander of the Black Watch. At least twice in the last 200-plus year tradition, the officer has been on hand to accept the honor.

Jesse Owens salutes the American flag on this day during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Finishing second is German long-jumper Lutz Long (far right), who joins the Wehrmacht and is killed on Sicily in 1943.

1945: A lone B-29 bomber takes off from Tinian Island’s North Field and heads out for a six-hour flight to Japan. Once the Enola Gay is over its target of Hiroshima, Col. Paul Tibbetts releases the bomb and dives to speed away from the device’s powerful shock wave. 43 seconds later, the world’s first atomic bomb detonates, killing between 80,000 and 140,000 Japanese instantly, and severely wounding another 100,000.

Although the United States demonstrated they now possess the ability to utterly annihilate entire cities, the Japanese government vows to fight on. Another atomic bomb will have to fall before Japan is brought to its knees.

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Posted in Military History

August 3: Today in military history

[Originally published at OpsLens.com]

1804: During the First Barbary War, Commodore Edward Preble’s Mediterranean Squadron begins his first bombardment of Tripoli Harbor. Commanding a division of ships is Stephen Decatur, the youngest sailor ever to be promoted to captain in U.S. Naval history. When Decatur’s brother is killed while boarding a Tripolitan gunboat, Decatur hands over command of his ship and, along with a small crew, boards the enemy vessel and engages the much-larger force in fierce hand-to-hand combat. When the captain responsible for his brother’s death attempts to behead Decatur, Daniel Fraser throws himself over Decatur, taking the lethal blow for his captain. Decatur shoots and kills the captain and avenges his brother.

1914: As Germany declares war on France, Britain mobilizes their military. The Ottoman Empire declares armed neutrality (although they have secretly signed an alliance with Germany) and mobilizes their forces as well. Meanwhile, Belgium rejects Germany’s ultimatum to allow their troops to pass through on their way to invade France.

1943: As American, British, and Canadian troops drive across Sicily, Axis forces begin evacuating the island. While visiting soldiers awaiting evacuation at Nicosia, Gen. George S. Patton, commanding the Seventh Army, slaps a soldier suffering from battle fatigue and orders him back to the front lines. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower reprimands Patton for the incident and the legendary general will not command another combat force for 11 months.

1950: Eight F4U-4B “Corsairs” of Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) 214 take off from the deck of USS Sicily (CVE-118) and attack enemy installations at Chengu, marking the first Marine aviation sortie of the Korean War. During World War II, the “Black Sheep” of VMF-214 destroyed hundreds of Japanese aircraft, sank several vessels, and earned the Presidential Unit Citation under Medal of Honor recipient and former “Flying Tiger” Maj. Greg “Pappy” Boyington – the Marine Corps’ top ace, with 28 aerial victories.

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Posted in Military History

August 2: Today in military history

1776: Although the Continental Congress voted to establish “the thirteen united [sic] States of America” on July 2 and adopted Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence two days later, congressional delegates sign the Declaration on this date. The most famous inscription belongs to John Hancock, the president of Congress, who is said to have declared, “There, I guess King George will be able to read that without his spectacles,” after adding his rather substantial signature.

1862: The brass approves the plan by Maj. Jonathan Letterman, Medical Director for the Army of the Potomac, to establish an ambulance corps. Letterman is considered the “Father of Battlefield Medicine” for revolutionizing the way casualties are handled; soldiers now had first aid stations at the regimental level where they could be treated and triaged. Those more seriously wounded could be sent – by ambulance – to field hospitals at the division and corps level.

During the Peninsula Campaign, one out of every three Army of the Potomac casualties would die prior to implementing Letterman’s system. But after, just 2 percent of soldiers wounded Battle of Gettysburg died.

1909: After a successful demonstration for the military by Orville Wright, the Army Signal Corps purchases a Wright Flyer for $30,000 (the equivalent of $800,000 today). The two-seat “Signal Corps Airplane No. 1” will train America’s first military pilots at College Park, Md. and Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio over the next two years – crashing several times – before it’s retirement. Today, the legendary aircraft hangs in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

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Posted in Military History

Aug. 1: Today in military history

1914: As France begins mobilization of its army, Germany crosses into neighboring Luxembourg and declares war against Russia.

1943: 177 B-24 Liberator bombers of the Ninth and (newly formed) Eighth Air Forces depart Libya to conduct a low-level strike the Axis oil fields at Ploiesti, Romania. A massive German air defense network inflicts heavy casualties on the Americans, shooting down 53 B-24s and damaging another 55. One bomber manages to limp back to the Benghazi air field with an incredible 365 bullet holes. Over 310 Americans are killed with over 200 captured or missing. Five raiders earn the Medals of Honor – the most ever awarded for a single mission.

In the Solomon Islands, the Japanese destroyer Aragiri rams the motor torpedo boat PT-109. Two sailors are killed by the nighttime collision. Lieutenant (junior grade) John F. Kennedy and his remaining 11-man crew swim over three miles to a nearby deserted island and are rescued days later. The future president is awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for gallantry.

1944: Gen. George Patton’s Third Army becomes operational and forms the right flank of the Allied force sweeping across France.

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Posted in Military History

31 July: Today in military history

1777: A month after arriving in the United States, the Marquis de Lafayette is commissioned “major general” in the Continental Army after offering to serve without pay. Lafayette will meet Gen. George Washington in five days, who is in Philadelphia to brief the Continental Congress on military affairs, then joins Washington’s staff and the two become close friends.

1874: USS Intrepid, the world’s first warship armed with self-propelled torpedoes, is commissioned.

1942: (Operation WATCHTOWER) As Army Air Forces aircraft begin their week-long preparatory bombardment, 16,000 Marines of Maj. Gen. Alexander Vandegrift’s soon-to-be-famous First Marine Division board their landing craft and depart for the invasion of Guadalcanal – the first American offensive of World War II.

1943: As ten soldiers work to fill in a crater on a Sicilian road, the Americans come under machinegun fire from two enemy positions. Sgt. Gerry H. Kisters and his officer move forward to the first nest and captures the gun and its four operators. Then, Kisters closes in on the second gun – by himself. Although wounded five times during his approach, he kills three of the emplacement’s occupants and captures the second machinegun.

For his actions, Kisters is awarded the Medal of Honor. As he is presented with the nation’s top award, he is also awarded the Army’s second highest medal, the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), for actions during a May, 1943 battle in Tunisia. Kisters is the first American to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the DSC during World War II.

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July 17 in military history

1898: Spanish forces under the command of Gen. José Toral surrender Cuba to Gen. William R. Shafter, practically ending Col. (and future president) Teddy Roosevelt’s “splendid little war.” In December, the Treaty of Paris puts an official end to the Spanish-American War.

1927: When Nicaraguan rebels attack the Marine garrison at Ocotal, Maj. Ross E. Rowell’s Marine Corps DeHavilland DH-4 biplanes disperse the force with strafing runs – and the first use of dive bombing in support of ground forces. The American occupation of Nicaragua will last another six years, but after Ocotal, rebels will never again make the mistake of mounting a large scale attack on U.S. forces.

1944: Two transport ships are destroyed – along with over 300 sailors and civilians killed and nearly 400 wounded – when ammunition being loaded aboard the ships at Port Chicago, Calif. explodes. One vessel is so badly obliterated that no identifiable pieces can be found. The explosion was reportedly heard 200 miles away, and registered a 3.4 on the Richter scale.

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July 16 in military history

1861: Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell’s 35,000-man army departs Washington, D.C., marching to meet Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s Confederate force assembled along Bull Run some 25 miles away. Just weeks ago, McDowell was a major and now leads the largest field army assembled in North America to that point.

1945: (featured image) The atomic age dawns when man’s first nuclear weapon is tested at Alamogordo Air Base, N.M. (present-day White Sands Missile Range). The shock wave from the 19-kiloton device, nicknamed “Gadget,” could be felt 100 miles away and the mushroom cloud reached over six miles in the air. (note: the above image is taken just 16 milliseconds after detonation. The fireball is already 660 feet high.)

Within hours of the Trinity test, the cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) departs San Francisco on a top-secret mission. The un-escorted cruiser sprints across the Pacific at a record-setting pace, bound for Tinian. On board is the uranium and parts for the “Little Boy” weapon that will level Hiroshima on August 6.

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July 3 in military history

1775: Gen. George Washington, the newly appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, takes formal command of his troops in Cambridge, Mass.

1778: A force of 1,000 Loyalists and Iroquois warriors commanded by Col. John Butler attacks American fortifications and settlements in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, killing some 360 militiamen and destroying 1,000 houses. Reportedly, women and children are also killed in Butler’s “Wyoming massacre,” and those that escape the slaughter will die of starvation and exposure.

1863: During the third – and final – day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Gen. Robert E. Lee orders three divisions of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s Confederate soldiers across open ground to assault the Union position on Cemetery Ridge. Union fire shatters the rebels, inflicting thousands of casualties before the troops can return to the Confederate lines after the failed attack, which becomes known as “Pickett’s Charge.”

Fearing a Union counter-attack, Lee orders Maj. Gen. George Pickett to rally what is left of his division, Pickett replies, “General, I have no division.” After three days of fighting at Gettysburg, Lee abandons his invasion and retreats to Virginia. In terms of total casualties, Gettysburg is the deadliest battle of the Civil War with some 50,000 soldiers from both armies killed, wounded, or captured.

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