Featured image: “… to the shores of Tripoli…” Lt. Presley O’Bannon leading Marines during the Battle of Derna, inspiring the famous opening line to the Marine Corps Hymn. (painting by Col. Charles Waterhouse, USMC art collection)
1805: Following an extremely difficult march across a 500-to-700-mile stretch of North African desert, a force of eight U.S. Marines, two Navy midshipmen, and band of Arab and Greek mercenaries commanded by U.S. Army officer William Eaton have reached the fortress at Derna (modern-day Libya) during the First Barbary War.
Supported by three warships (USS Nautilus, USS Hornet, and USS Argus), Eaton personally leads the two-and-a-half-hour assault on the fortress. One Marine is killed in action and another mortally wounded in the first U.S. land battle on foreign soil. The Battle of Derna also marks the first time the U.S. flag is raised over foreign soil.
Legend states that newly installed, pro-American pasha Hamet Karamanli was so impressed with Marine 1st Lt. Presley O’Bannon’s leadership and heroics that he presents O’Bannon with a Mameluke sword. U.S. Marine officers today still carry the Mameluke sword, whereas Marine NCOs carry the traditional Naval infantry saber.
1813: Brig. Gen. Zebulon Pike’s 1,800-man American infantry force lands west of the Canadian town of York (present-day Toronto). Supported by a 14-ship naval flotilla, the Americans inflict heavy losses on the outnumbered British regulars, Canadian militia, and Ojibwe warriors. The fort’s magazine explodes during the battle, killing 38 Americans (including Pike) and wounding over 200. York is burned after the town’s capture, enraging the British and inspiring them to retaliate by burning Washington, D.C. the next year.
1865: The overcrowded Mississippi River steamboat Sultana, carrying 2,400 Union soldiers just released from Confederate prison, explodes and sinks just north of Memphis. At least 1,500 soldiers perish in the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history.
1953: As armistice negotiations begin, Gen. Mark Clark – the commander of UN forces in Korea – informs Communist pilots through shortwave radio broadcasts in Russian, Chinese, and Korean that defecting MiG-15 pilots would receive political asylum and $50,000 (the first defecting pilot would be awarded $100,000) to fly an operational jet to South Korea. The Russian MiG-15 was considered to be superior to any Allied fighter at the time and had inflicted heavy casualties on Allied airmen.
Although no pilot would take up the offer until September, Operation MOOLAH had the indirect effect of grounding MiG-15 sorties for several days – perhaps as Communist Party leaders investigated the loyalty of their pilots. And following Clark’s broadcasts, there would be no more sightings of Russian pilots or aircraft, which were considerably better pilots than their Chinese or North Korean MiG counterparts.
[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.
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.
Congress initiates an involuntary recall of former enlisted soldiers, ordering 30,000 men to report for duty in September.
That same day in Southeast Asia, the first members of the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group members arrive in Saigon. The 35-man group will supervise the allocation of military aid to the French military in Vietnam, and later act as military trainers.
1958: USS Nautilus — the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine and the U.S. Navy’s sixth so-named vessel — becomes the first “ship” to cross the North Pole.
Came across this 2004 article by Christopher Hitchens while studying the United States’ dealings with pirates (emphasis mine):
America’s two main diplomats at the time  were John Adams in London and Jefferson in Paris. Together they called upon Ambassador Abdrahaman, the envoy of Tripoli in London, in March 1786. This dignitary mentioned a tariff of three payments–for the ransom of slaves and hostages, for cheap terms of temporary peace and for more costly terms of “perpetual peace.” He did not forget to add his own commission as a percentage. Adams and Jefferson asked to know by what right he was exacting these levies. The U.S. had never menaced or quarreled with any of the Muslim powers. As Jefferson later reported to the State Department and Congress, “The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners.”
“These are foundational ideas from the Islamic institution of jihad—the war Islam has waged by military and propagandistic and economic means since its advent— to Islamize the globe,” writes Andrew Bostom, author of The Legacy of Jihad, in an email discussion today.
“Sura 9 of the Koran is nothing more than a series of timeless war proclamations against all the world’s non-Muslims.” continues Bostom. “Add these Koranic injunctions to the Koranic commentaries, the canonical hadith collections, the biographies of Muhammad, and the Muslim jurisprudence–not to mention over a millennium of facts on the ground history– and these sources and historical evidence make plain that the Muslim Tripolitan Ambassador was entirely correct.” (emphasis mine)
Bostom covers this topic extensively in a 2006 post at FrontPage Magazine that is a must-read.
Mar. 2, 1943: Elements of the U.S. Army Air Forces and Royal Australian Air Force intercept and all-but-destroy an entire Japanese troop-transport convoy in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Several enemy ships, scores of enemy aircraft, and thousands of enemy soldiers will be sent to the bottom. Gen. Douglas MacArthur will remark that Bismarck Sea “cannot fail to go down in history as one of the most complete and annihilating combats of all time.” Japanese Navy Capt. Tameichi Hara will refer to the battle as “shocking” and “unbelievable.”
Mar. 3, 1776: A force of 250 Continental Marines and sailors under the command of Marine Capt. (future major) Samuel Nicholas land on New Providence in the British-held Bahamas and quickly seize Fort Montague in the first amphibious operation in American military history. The landing – largely unopposed (the British garrison spiking their own guns and fleeing) – nets for the Americans much-needed powder, shot, nearly 50 serviceable cannon, and a few mortars.
An avid foxhunter and the highest-ranking leatherneck in the American Revolution, Nicholas will lead Marines alongside Army forces in the future battles of (second) Trenton and Princeton. He is considered to be the first commandant of the Marine Corps.