May 26 in U.S. military history

1917: U.S. Army Gen. John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing is named commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Force, which is destined for European combat the following year.

1942: The Northrop P-61 “Black Widow” night fighter makes its first flight. The twin-boom P-61 is the first aircraft to carry radar and the U.S. military’s first night fighter. The warplane saw service in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters, and is widely believed to be credited with the last “kill” of an enemy aircraft in World War II, when a Japanese “Tojo” fighter pilot flies into the water while attempting to evade a Black Widow. Another P-61 flew over the Cabanatuan prison camp, with the pilot performing acrobatic maneuvers to distract the guards while Rangers infiltrated the camp and rescued 500 American prisoners of war.

1958: Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class William R. Charette selects which remains of unidentifiable service members from World War II will be interred at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from four identical caskets in a ceremony on the deck of the cruiser USS Canberra (CAG-2). Charette is the only enlisted sailor and recipient of the Medal of Honor still on active service. The “unknowns” were disinterred from cemeteries in Europe, Africa, Hawaii, and the Philippines.

1961: An Air Force B-58 “Hustler” bomber – the first operational bomber capable of sustaining Mach 2 – flies from New York to Paris in three hours and 19 minutes, setting a new record and averaging 1,386 miles per hour.

Leroy A. Petry

2008: Staff Sergeant Leroy A. Petry and his fellow Rangers come under enemy fire while attempting to capture a high-value Taliban target in Paktia Province, Afghanistan. Petry, already wounded in both legs by an enemy bullet, sees an enemy grenade land near his team’s position and throws it back. But the grenade explodes just after being thrown, severing Petry’s hand and spraying him with sharpnel. He applies a tourniquet and coordinates support for his soldiers on the radio. Petry will receive an advanced prosthetic hand and rejoin the Rangers, returning to Afghanistan for his eighth deployment before becoming the second living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

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May 25 in U.S. military history

1942: Having broken the Japanese naval code, the Navy secretly prepares for the expected Japanese invasion of Midway. Two companies of Marine Raiders land on the island to reinforce the garrison and submarines take up their patrol positions.

1945: As the Joint Chiefs of Staff meet in Washington and approve plans for the invasion of Japan (set for November 1), 464 B-29 “Superfortress” heavy bombers target Tokyo, burning 16 square miles of the city.

1953: The North American F-100 “Super Sabre” makes its first flight, with test pilot George Welch pushing the jet to Mach 1.03. The sleek new warplane is the first Air Force fighter capable of reaching supersonic speeds at level flight. An Army Air Corps pilot with 16 victories during World War II, Welch is one of two pilots able to get airborne and engage Japanese aircraft during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor for his actions on December 7th, but having taken off without orders, he only receives the Distinguished Flying Cross. While serving as an instructor and test pilot for North American during the Korean War, he reportedly shot down several MiG-15 aircraft, but again did so against orders, so he did not receive credit for the kills. Welch will perish in a crash while performing tests on the F-100 in 1954.

That same day, the specially built 11-inch gun nicknamed “Atomic Annie” fires a nuclear warhead 10,000 yards downrange as 3,200 soldiers and civilians are on hand to witness the United States’ only nuclear artillery test. The projectile is similar in design and yield (15 kilotons) to the “Little Boy” dropped on Hiroshima.

1961: Less than a month after the first American blasts off into space, President John F. Kennedy declares his intention to put a man on the moon in less than ten years and asks Congress to make the space program a high priority. Although Kennedy does not live to see it, his dream comes true when Apollo 11 lifts off from the space center named in his honor on July 16, 1969.

1973: Capt. Charles Conrad, Jr., Cmdr. Paul J. Weitz and Cmdr. Joseph P. Kerwin blast off aboard a Saturn IB rocket. The all-Navy crew are the first to visit the Skylab space station, already in orbit. The astronauts spend a record 28 days in space, making repairs and conducting science experiments until their successful recovery by USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) near San Diego.

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May 24 in U.S. military history

A New York Zouave

1818: Gen. (future U.S. pres.) Andrew Jackson and his expeditionary army march into Spanish-controlled Florida, easily capturing the Gulf-coastal town of Pensacola. Col. José Masot, the Spanish governor, retreats to nearby Fort San Carlos de Barrancas (originally built by the British as “the Royal Navy Redoubt”) where he briefly puts up a token resistance – to save face – before hoisting the white flag there, too.

1861: Less than 24 hours after Virginia secedes from the Union, a regiment of Zouave infantry consisting of volunteer fire fighters from New York City land at Alexandria and occupy the town. The regiment’s commander (and personal friend of President Abraham Lincoln), Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, becomes the first Union officer killed in the Civil War when he is shot while taking down a Confederate flag.

1939: A day after the submarine USS Squalus sinks during a series of test dives off the coast of Portsmouth, N.H., the submarine salvage ship USS Falcon arrives and begins rescue operations. Although 26 sailors drowned instantly when the submarine went down, divers use a newly designed rescue chamber to save the remaining 33 crewmembers. Four divers are awarded the Medal of Honor for the world’s first rescue of a submarine crew in deep water, and Squalus will be raised and recommissioned as USS Sailfish – seeing action in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

1943: One quarter of the German U-boat fleet is sent to the bottom in one month, thanks to breaking the new German Enigma radio code, modern radar, new long range patrol aircraft, aggressive tactics, and escort carriers. German U-boats have sunk thousands of Allied ships, keeping millions of tons of war material off the battlefield, but the tide has turned. The Kriegsmarine is losing more ships than they are sinking. Adm. Karl Dönitz orders his U-boats to break off operations in the North Atlantic, declaring “We had lost the battle of the Atlantic.”

1962: U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Malcolm “Scott” Carpenter orbits the earth three times in his “Aurora 7” space capsule, spending nearly four hours above the Earth’s surface performing science experiments. When Carpenter accidentally bumps his hand against the cockpit wall, he discovers that the mysterious “fireflies” spotted by John Glenn during his orbital mission are in fact ice particles knocked loose from the capsule.

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May 23 in U.S. military history

USS New Jersey (BB-62) firing its 16-inch Mark 7 naval guns. Each of the nine barrels could be aimed and fired independently, sending a 2,700-lb. armor piercing shell some 24 miles downrange. The shell could pierce 20 inches of armor and 21 feet of hardened concrete. A 1,700-lb. explosive round leaves a 20-ft. deep by 50-ft. wide crater and could defoliate trees 400 feet away from the impact site.

1862: Confederate forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson strike, outmaneuver, and – with textbook coordination of infantry, cavalry, and artillery – decisively defeat Union Army forces under Col. John R. Kenly at Front Royal, Virginia.

1943: The most decorated battleship in the U.S. Navy, USS New Jersey (BB-62), is commissioned at Philadelphia. “The Big J” earned 19 battle stars and numerous other commendations during her 48 years of service, which covered actions in the Pacific Theater of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, and the Persian Gulf.

1944: In Italy, VI Corps at the Anzio Beachhead begin their breakout. Fighting is intense – the 3rd Infantry Division suffers nearly 1,000 casualties, the most by any American division in a single day of the entire war, and the German troops defending Cisterna are annihilated in house-to-house combat.

The breakout is a success. Rome will be in Allied hands in days.

1967: U.S. congressman James Howard reads a letter sent from a Marine serving in Vietnam stating that most of the casualties in the Battle of Hill 881 were due to malfunctions with the unit’s new M-16 rifle. The weapon is shorter and lighter than the M-14 it replaced earlier in the year as the U.S. military’s standard service rifle, but does not come with adequate cleaning kit as the new rifle is billed as self-cleaning. Serial reports of dead soldiers and Marines found next to their malfunctioning M-16s anger the American public, until improvements to the rifle and ammunition make the weapon far more reliable.

50 years later, the M-16/M-4 platform remains the standard rifle of the U.S. military.

Posted on May 23, 2017 at 11:06 by Chris Carter · Permalink · 3 Comments
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May 22 in U.S. military history

USS Scorpion‘s tail photographed in 1986 as it rests on the ocean floor, some 10,000 feet below the surface.

1804: The “Corps of Discovery,” a group of about four dozen Army volunteers led by Capt. Meriwether Lewis and 2nd Lt. William Clark, departs St. Charles Missouri on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Altogether, the company will travel some 8,000 miles as they map and explore the recently acquired Louisiana Purchase and find a route to the Pacific Ocean for President Thomas Jefferson.

1912: The aviation arm of the U.S. Marine Corps is born with the arrival of 1st Lt. Alfred A. Cunningham at the Naval Aviation Camp, Annapolis, Maryland. There, Cunningham will begin his flight training, and with less than three hours of instruction, he will solo in a Wright Model B-1 biplane.

1945: As the threat of Cold War with the Soviets begins to materialize following the end the war in Europe, the U.S. military begins recruiting and evacuation of valuable German rocket scientists and their families. Some 1,600 scientists, technicians, and engineers begin work for the United States, most notably Wernher von Braun – the father of American rocket technology and space science.

1968: The fast-attack submarine USS Scorpion (SSN-589) is mysteriously lost at sea several hundred miles off the Azores. All hands – 99 sailors – perish. Scorpion is the second American nuclear sub to sink, after USS Thresher (SSN-593) goes down in 1963.

Posted on May 22, 2017 at 12:19 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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May 15 in U.S. military history

1862: Cpl. John F. Mackie becomes the first Marine awarded the Medal of Honor when the he mans the mans the guns of the ironclad USS Galena after most of the Naval gun crew are killed or wounded during the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff.

1864: As 9,000 Union troops led by Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel march into Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Confederate Maj. Gen. John C. Breckenridge musters a defense force that includes cadets from the nearby Virginia Military Academy. The cadets are held in reserve, but when the Union breaks the Confederate lines, Breckenridge declares “Put the boys in… and may God forgive me for the order.” Within moments, 47 cadets are wounded and ten lay dead in the Battle of New Market. Sigel’s men retreat after taking heavy casualties from the outnumbered defenders.

1918: Privates Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts of the all-black “Harlem Hellfighters” become the first American soldiers to be awarded the Croix de Guerre – France’s highest decoration for military valor. When a German raiding party attacks their outpost and captures Roberts, Johnson fights back with grenades, gun fire, his rifle butt, knife, and fists, rescuing his fellow soldier and forcing the Germans to retreat. Johnson is wounded 21 times in the fight, but is not awarded the Purple Heart until 1996 – decades after his passing – and is finally awarded the Medal of Honor in 2015.

1963: U.S. Air Force Maj. (future Col.) Leroy Gordon “Gordo” Cooper, Jr. blasts off aboard “Faith 7”, the final Mercury mission. Cooper will spend over 34 hours in space – circling the globe 22 times – before a short circuit kills the capsule’s automated control system. Cooper has to use the constellations and his watch to manually fly the capsule back to Earth, splashing down just four miles from the recovery ship in the Pacific Ocean.

The former U.S. Marine private (serving in the Presidential Honor Guard in Washington, D.C.) ultimately was commissioned an Army second lieutenant, before his days as an Air Force fighter jock and test pilot.

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May 12 in U.S. military history

Air Force security police volunteers aboard the CH-53 helicopter “Knife 13” which crashed while enroute to the Mayaguez operation, killing the 18 SP’s and the five-man crew

1780: Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, commanding American forces at Charleston, S.C., surrenders to Gen. Sir Henry Clinton after a six-week siege. Although the fall of Charleston and capture of thousands of Continental Army soldiers is the largest setback of the war for the Americans, British operations in the Southern colonies will quickly prove to be the undoing of the king’s men in North America.

1864: Gen. Ulysses S. Grant orders his forces to assault the Confederate salient known as the “Mule Shoe” during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. 15,000 Union soldiers break through, but Gen. Robert E. Lee quickly plugs the gaps and the Confederates counterattack. Over the next 20 hours, the two sides engage in intense close combat – much of it hand-to-hand. The carnage at “Bloody Angle” is some of the most brutal fighting of the Civil War with 9,000 Union and 8,000 Confederate casualties in just one day.

1865: Although President Andrew Johnson proclaimed an end to the Civil War three days ago, a Union force led by Col. John S. Ford attacks Confederate forces in the Battle of Palmito Ranch, near Brownsville, Tex. The Confederates repulse the attack, killing four of the attacking Union soldiers and capturing over 100, at the cost of only a handful of wounded and captured themselves. The one-sided engagement is the last encounter between organized Union and Confederate troops in the war. Read the rest of this post »

Posted on May 12, 2017 at 09:25 by Chris Carter · Permalink · One Comment
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May 11 in U.S. military history

USS Bunker Hill burns after being hit by two kamikaze pilots

1846: Three days after Gen. Zachary Taylor’s forces defeat the Mexican Army in the Battle of Palo Alto, Pres. James K. Polk tells Congress: “Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon American soil.”

The Mexican-American War – already underway – is formally declared within two days.

1864: During the Battle of Yellow Tavern, Condederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart is shot by a dismounted Union cavalry trooper north of Richmond, Va. “The greatest cavalry officer ever foaled in America” is mortally wounded and will die the next day.

1943: 3,000 soldiers of the 7th Infantry Division land at Attu Island in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to repel Japanese troops that landed in June of 1942. After a month of fighting under harsh arctic conditions, the Americans finish off the remaining Japanese in hand-to-hand combat after a last-ditch Bansai charge. The Battle of Attu is the only land combat on American soil during World War II.

1945: As U.S. soldiers launch another attack against Japanese forces on Okinawa’s Shuri Line, Japanese pilot Kiyoshi Ogawa’s specially modified Mitsubishi Zero fighter slips through anti-aircraft fire and drops a 550-lb. bomb on the USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) before slamming his aircraft into the flight deck, igniting a fuel fire and causing several explosions that kill some 400 sailors and takes Adm. Marc Mitscher’s flagship out of the war.

1957: President Dwight D. Eisenhower announces that the United States will work with South Vietnam to ensure the peaceful unification of Vietnam and continue to provide support in their fight against communism. At this point, the Military Assistance Advisory Group serving in Vietnam consists of only 700 men.

1961: President John F. Kennedy approves the deployment of 400 Special Forces soldiers (Green Berets) and 100 CIA operatives to Vietnam to train South Vietnamese forces. The Green Berets have served as advisors in Vietnam since 1957, but on this day, Pres. Kennedy authorizes Americans to lead clandestine attacks against North Vietnam.

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May 8 in U.S. military history

A Curtis A-1 Triad, the Navy’s first aircraft

1846: In the first major battle of the Mexican War, U.S. Army forces under the command of Gen. (and future president) Zachary Taylor decisively defeat Mexican forces under Gen. Mariano Arista in the Battle of Palo Alto (Texas). The Mexicans will retreat to a seemingly more defensible position at Resaca de la Palma the following day, but Taylor will pursue and beat them badly there too.

1864: Union Army forces under the command of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee clash in the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. The outcome at Spotsylvania Courthouse will be inconclusive and the casualties terribly heavy. In less than two weeks, Grant will again break contact and continue his advance toward Richmond.

1904: U.S. Marines land at Tangier, Morocco to protect the Belgian legation.

1911: U.S. Navy Capt. Washington I. Chambers places an order for two A-1 Triad floatplanes from the Curtiss aircraft company. Thus, May 8 becomes the official birthday of Naval Aviation.

1945: V-E Day: The unconditional surrender of German forces signed by Gen. Alfred Jodl at the “little red schoolhouse” (supreme allied headquarters in Reims, France) the previous day becomes official. Although clashes between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army will continue for another day, Nazi Germany has laid down their arms. After nearly six years of fighting, claiming tens of millions of lives in the largest and bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen, the European Theater of World War II is over.

1972: Following a massive invasion of South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese Army, Pres. Richard M. Nixon announces that he has ordered the mining of North Vietnamese ports to stop the flow of weapons to the communists.

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May 5 in U.S. military history

1862: Disappointed in the lack of progress of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, President Abraham Lincoln departs for Hampton Roads, Va. on the Treasury Department revenue cutter Miami to personally oversee operations. Over five days, the president – a former militia rifle company commander – directs the bombardment of Confederate positions and lands to conduct reconnaissance of the area with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase.

1864: The bloody albeit inconclusive Battle of the Wilderness (Virginia) opens between Union Army forces under the command of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, and Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee. Fighting is grim: Casualties will be heavy on both sides. Union and Confederate generals will be killed. Wounded and trapped soldiers will be burned alive by a battle-sparked woods fire. Within two days, Grant will disengage and advance toward Spotsylvania Courthouse.

1916: Two companies of Marines from the transport USS Prairie (AD-5) land at Santo Domingo, beginning the United States’ eight-year occupation of the Dominican Republic. The leathernecks provide protection for the U.S. Legation and Consulate, and occupy the nearby Fort San Geronimo.

1917: Eugene J. Bullard becomes the first black combat aviator, earning his wings with the French Air Service. The Columbus, Ga. native’s father came to America from the Caribbean island of Martinique and his mother was a Creek indian. Bullard fled to Europe to escape racism in the United States and joined the French Foreign Legion as a machine gunner, seeing action in the Somme, Champagne, and Verdun campaigns before being wounded. After recovering, he joined the air service and earned his pilot’s license. The “Black Swallow of Death” would fly 20 combat missions for the French – claiming two aerial kills – before war’s end. He volunteered for the infantry when Germany invaded France again in 1940 and was wounded.

1945: A Japanese balloon bomb explodes in Bly, Oregon, killing a pastor, his wife, and five Sunday schoolchildren on the way to a picnic. The Japanese sent over 9,000 of these incendiary devices into the jet stream, hoping some would land in America and the small explosives would start forest fires or cause casualties. A few hundred of the world’s first “intercontinental weapon” were observed in the United States, going as far inland as Iowa and Michigan, but the only casualties are the one explosion in Bly. The highly technical devices use altimeters and valves to control the hydrogen-filled balloons during the three-day, 8,000-mile flight from the east coast of Japan’s Honshu island.

1961: At 9:34 am, U.S. Navy Commander (future rear admiral) Alan B. Shepard Jr.’s Mercury-Redstone rocket blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Shepard becomes the first American in space as his “Freedom 7” capsule carries him 116 miles above the Earth’s surface. NASA’s first manned space flight tests the ability of humans to withstand the intense g-forces during liftoff and re-entry as Shepard encounters 11.6 g’s as he plummets to the surface during his 15 minute flight.

Posted on May 5, 2017 at 04:16 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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