I recently came across this fascinating cross-section of a Fletcher-class destroyer. The Navy commissioned 175 of these highly effective and cost-efficient ships during World War II, and we turned around after the war and sold several of the ships to the Japanese, Germans, and Italians.
These destroyers get their name from Adm. Frank F. Fletcher, skipper of the battleship USS Vermont during the Great White Fleet’s around-the-world cruise, who then earned a Medal of Honor commanding the landing at Vera Cruz, Mexico.
His nephew Lt. Frank J. Fletcher also earned the Medal of Honor at Vera Cruz for rescuing hundreds of refugees under fire. He then earned the Navy Cross while in command of a destroyer during the first world war. Although not an aviator, “Black Jack” Fletcher’s task forces defeat the Japanese in the first three carrier battles in history: Coral Sea, Midway, and the Eastern Solomons.
The Fall of Wake
On the evening of 22 December, 1941, Task Force 14 is sailing across the Pacific to break the Japanese siege on Wake. Rear Adm. Frank “Black Jack” Fletcher’s force consists of the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, the heavy cruisers Astoria, San Francisco, and Minneapolis, as well as eight destroyers. The defenders have held out valiantly for two weeks and defeated one landing assault already. But Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo has detached aircraft carriers Soryu and Hiryu from his fleet to assist in the final assault on the American garrison.
At 2100 hours on the 22nd, Vice Adm. William S. Pye — temporarily serving as Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet until Adm. Chester Nimitz reaches Pearl Harbor from Washington, D.C. — learns that the Japanese now have carriers and what they believe are fast battleships in the area. Task Force 14’s departure from Hawaii was already delayed and they could only make 13 knots — hoping to reach Wake on Christmas Eve.
Pye orders the relief operation to turn around. Japanese troops hit the beaches in the pre-dawn hours of 23 December. 449 Marines — including 40 members of Marine Corps Fighter Squadron 211 (VMF-211) now fighting as infantry — face an opposing force that outnumbers them over 5-to-1, supported by carrier-based warplanes. Wake falls to the Japanese by the afternoon of the 23rd. Continue reading “World War II Chronicle: 23 December 1941”
1814: Just ten miles northeast of Washington, D.C., British soldiers and Royal Marines clash with an American force of militia and a detachment of Marines and sailors in the Battle of Bladensburg. The professional British troops easily scatter the militia, but run into a wall when they square off against the Marines. In their first volley, the leathernecks destroy an entire company of the King’s men then pursue their foe into a ravine.
Capt. Samuel Bacon, Quartermaster of the Marine Corps, said “I will tell you something now about the battle of Bladensburg. […] The Marines are a dead shot.” The bodies of 150 British soldiers covered the battlefield in front of the Marines’ lines before the Americans are routed, leaving to road to the capital open in what is considered “the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms.” Gen. Robert Ross’ exhausted troops – several of which died during the battle from exhaustion after long marches – avenge the American destruction of Port Dover (in present-day Ontario) in May by setting fire to the Presidential Mansion (now called the White House), Capitol Building, and numerous other government and military facilities.
However, the British only hold Washington for one day before a massive storm blows through, severely damaging the British ships and causes the occupiers to abandon the area.
1912: The Navy’s first electrically powered ship, USS Jupiter (AC-3) is launched. Ten years later, a flight deck is added to the 542-ft. vessel, and the renamed USS Langley becomes America’s first aircraft carrier. Continue reading “24 August: Today in U.S. military history”
Today’s post is in honor of Staff Sgt. Roger C. Turner Jr., who was killed during an enemy mortar attack on this day in 2004 at Camp Anaconda, Iraq. The 37-year-old from Parkersburg, W. Va. was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.
1800: The frigate USS Constellation (the first of four so-named American warships) under the command of Capt. Thomas Truxtun defeats the French frigate La Vengeance under Capt. F.M. Pitot in a night battle lasting several hours. The engagement, fought during America’s Quasi War with France, is – according to Truxtun – “as sharp an action as ever was fought between two frigates.”
1862: Julia Ward Howe’s poem “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which begins “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” is published in the Atlantic Monthly. It will become a Union Army ballad. Today, the ballad is a martial hymn sung in American military chapels worldwide and by descendants of Union and Confederate soldiers alike.
1941: The 1st Marine Brigade is re-designated as the 1st Marine Division, and the 2d Marine Brigade becomes the 2d Marine Division — marking the first time Marine units are ever organized on the division level.
1942: (Featured image) Vice Adm. William Halsey Jr.’s Task Force 8 (USS Enterprise) hits Japanese facilities in the Marshall Islands, while Rear Adm. Frank J. Fletcher’s Task Force 17 (USS Yorktown) attacks the Gilberts. Aircraft and naval artillery inflict moderate damage to the Japanese garrisons and sink several smaller vessels. The Marshalls-Gilberts Raids mark the first American offensive operation against the Japanese during the war in the Pacific.
“Handsome Jack” and “Black Jack”
1866: “Decoration Day” – the predecessor to Memorial Day – is first observed by order of U.S. Army Gen. John A. Logan, who designated the day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country.” Maj. Gen. (future U.S. pres.) James A. Garfield presides over ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery (the former estate of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee), and approximately 5,000 participants decorate the graves of both Union and Confederate dead — about 20,000 of them — buried on the grounds.
1904: As seven warships of the European and South Atlantic squadrons sit anchored off the North African coast, Marines from the armored cruiser USS Brooklyn (ACR-3), commanded by Capt. John T. “Handsome Jack” Myers, land at Tangiers, Morocco to reinforce the guard force at the American Consulate. The outlaw Raisuli had captured Greek-American expatriate Ion Perdicaris, holding him for ransom, raising tensions between Raisuli and the Sultan.
1942: The B-17F “Flying Fortress” bomber makes its first flight. The Boeing B-17 entered service back in 1935, but the “F” model has several hundred improvements to the airframe. Over 3,000 are built.
That same day, the U.S. Army accepts delivery of the world’s first production helicopter – the Sikorsky R-4. Designer Igor Sikorsky flew the R-4 over 700 miles in a record-setting cross-country trip from the factory in Connecticut to Wright Field (modern-day Wright-Patterson Air Force Base) in Dayton, Ohio. Pilots use the new aircraft to rescue several downed aircrews and sailors in addition to support roles during World War II.
And in the Pacific, Rear Adm. Frank J. “Black Jack” Fletcher’s Task Force 17 departs Pearl Harbor following 72 hours of frantic repairs to USS Yorktown (CV-5). Damaged in the Battle of the Coral Sea, original estimates said that Yorktown required months of repairs to place the warship back in full service. But the Navy needs all the flattops it can get for the upcoming battle at Midway, so the ships sail west (as crews continue their repairs) to join Rear Adm. Raymond A. Spruance’s task force with Enterprise and Hornet already enroute .
1943: After a last-ditch bonsai charge led by Col. Yasuyo Yamasaki, resulting in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, U.S. and Canadian forces have secured the Alaskan island of Attu. Only 28 of the original 8,000-man Japanese occupation force are captured alive. There will be another amphibious landing at Kiska Island in August, but the troops find the island deserted. The brutally cold Aleutian Campaign is over.