1779: Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold’s court martial begins in Philadelphia, but the trial is immediately postponed when Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton captures Stony Point, N.Y.. The Americans did not know that Arnold had already contacted Clinton about switching sides, and in July he begins to give the British intelligence on troop locations and strength.
The disaffected American officer is charged with misconduct and will be cleared of all but two minor charges in December, and 12 months later Arnold becomes a British brigadier general.
1813: The frigate USS Chesapeake – one of the United States Navy’s original six ships – clashes with British ship HMS Shannon outside Boston Harbor. After being mortally wounded by a sniper round Chesapeake captain James Lawrence’s last words to his crew are “Tell the men to fire faster and [don’t] give up the ship! Fight her till she sinks!” Shannon‘s crew boards and will capture Chesapeake, taking her crew prisoner, but Capt. Lawrence’s famous final words live on today.
Note: each week we will be exploring the connections (both in print and on OpsLens TV) between seemingly disconnected events that occurred this week in military history, in addition to our daily military history posts. (Originally published at OpsLens.com)
During this week in 1944, the Allies were in the final preparation stages for what Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower called “the Great Crusade” – the invasion of Normandy. An elaborate deception campaign successfully tricked the Germans into thinking that Gen. George Patton was about to lead the fictional First U.S. Army Group, consisting of inflatable tanks and equipment, across the English Channel to Pas De Calais.
To eliminate Germany’s ability to quickly redeploy its divisions spread across France once they learned that Patton’s invasion at Calais was a hoax, Eisenhower launched Operation CHATANOOGA CHOO CHOO – a series of massive air attacks against Axis rail infrastructure by the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces, along with the Royal Air Force warplanes and French resistance fighters. Over the next few days, the French skies were full of bombers which hammered the German railroads, marshaling yards, and vital bridges while fighter-bombers attacked rolling stock and hundreds of irreplaceable locomotives.
The attacks devastated Nazi Germany’s logistics, essentially sending much of their transportation in northern France “back to the Stone Age.” The air and deception campaigns prove to be so successful that it took several weeks to move units from Calais to defensive positions – far too late to stop the invasion force.
The man credited with coining the statement of bombing a country back to the Stone Age was, at the time, commanding the Eighth Air Force’s 305th Bomb Wing. Before Gen. Curtis LeMay became famous for his campaign of incendiary attacks against Japan and instrumental leadership of Strategic Air Command and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Cold War, he was a fearless B-17 commander that personally led his formations, created new defensive tactics, and flew in the lead even when the general was not needed in the air.
[Featured image: A U.S. warplane taking off from USS Yorktown (CV-5) shortly before the Battle of the Coral Sea.]
1873: Marines from the USS Pensacola and USS Tuscarora land at the Bay of Columbia to protect American citizens and interests as local groups fight for control of the Panamanian government.
1915: Just off the coast of southern Ireland, the submarine U-20 spots the massive ocean liner RMS Lusitania, steaming from New York and hoping to sneak through Germany’s blockade of the British Isles . The U-boat fires a single torpedo at the ship and Lusitania sinks in just 18 minutes, taking 1,198 people – including 128 Americans – with her to the bottom.
While the British government maintained for years that Lusitania was purely a passenger liner, the secondary explosions which caused the vessel to sink so quickly may have been from the tons of ammunition secretly being transported from an allegedly neutral United States. The sinking of Lusitania will be a major factor in the United States declaring war on Germany two years later.
[Featured image: President George W. Bush after a successful trap aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) in a S-3B Viking assigned to the Blue Wolves of Sea Control Squadron Three Five (VS-35) designated “NAVY 1”. Although not a carrier pilot like his father, former president George H.W. Bush, he did fly the F-102 Delta Dagger interceptor for the Texas Air National Guard.]
1898: U.S. Navy Commodore George Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron steams single file into Manila Bay and destroys the out-armored and out-gunned Spanish fleet in the Philippines. Despite the support of shore batteries, the Spanish lose all seven of their vessels and only six American sailors are wounded. The Spanish-American War will effectively end in August, and Spain will cede control of the islands to the United States.
1943: When his B-17 bomber is hit by German flak and Sgt. Maynard H. “Snuffy” Smith loses power in his ball turret gun, he climbs out to assist the other airmen. With a fire now burning in the fuselage, three of the crew had already bailed out. Smith treats two severely wounded comrades and begins fighting the fire that was melting holes in the aircraft.
For the next 90 minutes, Smith alternates between caring for the wounded, extinguishing the fire, and manning the .50 caliber guns against attacking German fighters. The plane makes it safely back to England, but breaks in half upon landing from the fire and 3,500 bullets and pieces of shrapnel. Smith is awarded the Medal of Honor.
1945: Eighth Air Force B-17s drop 700 tons of food over German-occupied Holland, whose residents are suffering from famine. The Germans told the Allies that their bombers would not be targeted so long as they remained within approved air corridors. Over the next week, Over the next week, Operation CHOW HOUND delivers 7,000 tons of food, bringing an end to the “Hunger Winter.”
1781: Continental Army forces — including infantry, cavalry, dragoons (horse-mounted infantry), and militia – under the command of Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan, clash with a better-equipped, more-experienced force of British Army regulars and Loyalists under the command of Lt. Col. Banastre “Bloody Ban” Tarleton in a sprawling pastureland known as Hannah’s Cowpens in the South Carolina upcountry.
The Battle of Cowpens ends in a decisive victory for Morgan – who defeats Tarleton in a classic double-envelopment – and a near-irrevocable loss of men, equipment, and reputation for the infamous Tarleton and his “British Legion.”
1966: A nuclear-equipped B-52 bomber flying an Operation “Chrome Dome” airborne alert mission off the coast of Spain collides with a KC-135 “Stratotanker” during refueling, destroying both planes. Four B28 thermonuclear weapons fall from the sky; three landing near the village of Palomares and one sinks in the Mediterranean Sea in what is one of the worst nuclear disasters in U.S. military history.
Two of the weapons’ conventional charges went off upon impact, spreading small amounts of contamination, one lands largely intact, and after two-and-a-half months of searching, crews locate and recover the fourth device which had been sitting 2,850 feet below the surface. Navy Master Diver Carl Brashear – the Navy’s first black diver – will lose his leg in the recovery operation and will later return to duty despite being an amputee. His incredible story is portrayed in the 2000 film Men of Honor, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Master Chief Petty Officer Brashear.
1991: A massive U.S. and coalition air campaign continues to pound the Iraq’ air force and air defense systems, expanding the attacks to include Saddam Hussein’s command and control infrastructure. Meanwhile, the dictator fires eight Soviet-built “Scud” ballistic missiles into Israel. Saddam sought to draw Israel into the campaign, which he hoped would split Arab nations from the coalition as they would be unlikely to fight alongside Israel. President George H.W. Bush convinces the Israelis not to enter the war and pledges to deploy U.S. Patriot surface-to-air missiles to protect against further attacks.
1864: In a daring nighttime commando raid, Lt. William B. Cushing, piloting a torpedo-armed steam launch, slips past a Confederate schooner guarding the ironclad CSS Albemarle. Cushing detonates the spar torpedo, blowing a massive hole in the warship, which had been dominating the Roanoke River. Although several of his crew are drowned and captured, Cushing and another sailor escape, leaving behind a destroyed ironclad.
1942: After several days of intense fighting, a shattered Japanese military abandons their offensive on Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field. The Japanese will evacuate the island in February, and the Americans will turn Guadalcanal into a major base during the Solomon Islands campaign.
1954: Following in his father’s pioneering footsteps, Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. becomes the first black general in the U.S. Air Force. Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., who served in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, and both World Wars, had been the first black man ever promoted to the rank of general in the United States Armed Forces. After becoming the first black pilot to ever solo in a U.S. Army Air Corps aircraft, the younger Davis commanded the 99th Pursuit Squadron – the famous “Tuskegee Airmen” – during World War II. He again saw combat when he deployed to Korea as Commander of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing in 1953.
1962: Maj. Rudolph Anderson (USAF) becomes the only casualty from hostile fire during the Cuban Missile Crisis when a Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile shoots down his U-2 spy plane during a reconnaissance overflight of Cuba. Anderson will be posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, the U.S. military’s second-highest award for valor, after the Medal of Honor.
1939: A letter written by Hungarian-born physicist Leo Szilard, and signed by Albert Einstein, reaches President Franklin D. Roosevelt, warning that the Germans could develop an atomic weapon and that the United States should begin their own nuclear research. Roosevelt quickly authorizes a committee on uranium, setting in motion what will eventually become the Manhattan Project.
1942: U.S. Naval forces under the command of Rear Admiral Norman Scott intercept a Japanese fleet, commanded by Rear Adm. Aritomo Gotō, attempting to reinforce troops on Guadalcanal in the Battle of Cape Esperance. Fighting begins shortly before midnight off the northwest coast of the island when the Japanese are caught by surprise. The heavy cruiser Furutaka and destroyer Fubuki are sunk during the gun battle, and Adm. Gotō is mortally wounded. Planes from Henderson Field strike the retreating Japanese fleet the next morning and sink two additional Japanese destroyers the following day. Japanese sailors who jumped overboard refuse to be rescued by American ships, instead choosing to remain in the shark-infested waters.
1945: Marines of the III Amphibious Corps land in China to assist in repatriating hundreds of thousands of Japanese and Koreans and to protect American lives and property. By the time the Marines depart China the following year, 35 have been killed and 43 wounded in clashes with Mao Zedong’s Communist forces.
1968: Astronauts Walter M. Schirra (Capt., USN), Donn F. Eisele (Col., USAF), and Walter Cunningham (Col. USMCR ) blast off aboard Apollo 7. The crew, commanded by Schirra, would orbit the Earth for 11 days and transmit the first live television broadcasts from orbit.
1971: Marine legend Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, the highest decorated Marine in history, passes away. Among his numerous decorations, Puller earned the nation’s second-highest award for valor (five Navy Crosses and a Distinguished Service Cross) six times – second only to Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s top flying ace of World War II. The 37-year veteran served in the Nicaraguan and Haitian campaigns, as well as World War I and the Korean War.
1777: Gen. Sir William Howe outmaneuvers Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army and takes the American capital of Philadelphia. Historically, wars usually end when the capital city falls into enemy hands, but the American Revolution will continue for another six years.
1918: Though technically launched at 11:30 p.m., Sept. 25, with an intense artillery barrage; the Meuse-Argonne Offensive – the six-week long “greatest battle of World War I in which the Americans participated” – officially begins just before dawn when whistles are blown along the American trench-lines, and with fixed-bayonets, American soldiers clamber over the top and begin their assault against the German lines. On this day alone, the Army awards eight soldiers with the Medal of Honor.
The battle, which begins with approximately 600,000 American soldiers and Marines, will see U.S. ranks swell to more than one million men. 26,277 Americans will be killed, another 95,786 wounded. But the campaign will end the war.
Meanwhile off the coast of Great Britain, a German U-boat sinks the Coast Guard cutter Tampa on convoy escort duty. Tampa takes 119 Coast Guardsmen and Navy sailors and 11 Royal Navy passengers with her to the bottom of the Bristol Channel – the greatest combat-related loss of life at sea for the Americans during World War I.
1945: U.S. Army Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey, the chief of the Saigon Office of Special Services, is mistaken for a Frenchman and shot in the head by Viet Minh forces, making Dewey the first American killed by communists in Vietnam.
1983: Shortly after midnight, Moscow’s early warning network reports the launch of an American intercontinental ballistic missile. Despite a period of high tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov realizes that it must be a glitch in the computer system since an American first strike would surely involve hundreds of missiles and does not initiate a retaliatory strike, as Soviet doctrine required. Later, another the system reports the launch of another four missiles. This marks the closest the United States and Soviet Union come to accidental nuclear war.
1776: After a series of defeats by the British, the Continental Army conducts a strategic withdrawal of Long Island, and Gen. William Howe sends a letter to Gen. George Washington seeking a peace conference. Washington rejects the offer, forwarding the message to Congress instead. Diplomacy falls flat when the British refuse to recognize American independence on Sept. 11, and the British respond by capturing New York City four days later.
1862: Near Lexington, Ky., Maj. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith accomplishes the “nearest thing to a Cannae” (Hannibal’s double envelopment of the Roman army – perhaps the greatest tactical achievement in military history) during the Civil War. The Confederates rout Maj. Gen. William “Bull” Nelson’s inexperienced Union troops – capturing over 4,000 – in the Battle of Richmond.
1918: Southeast of Verdun, France, Gen. John J. Pershing’s First Army moves into position at the Saint-Mihiel salient. Among Pershing’s three U.S. (and one French) corps is Lt. Col. George S. Patton, Jr.’s newly formed 1st Provisional Tank Brigade, which will conduct the first tank warfare in American history in the upcoming Battle of Saint-Mihiel – the first independently-led American operation of World War I.
1963: After the United States and Soviet Union narrowly avoid war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a “hot line” is installed between the Pentagon and Kremlin, providing the two nuclear-armed superpowers with instant communication in hopes of preventing another conflict. The U.S. sends “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back 1234567890,” and the Soviets respond with another message indicating all their teletype keys are functioning. The 10,000-mile secure cable connection still operates today, however it has been upgraded to a telephone system.
1995: NATO begins its first bombing campaign, Operation “Deliberate Force.” American land- and carrier-based warplanes, along with aircraft from 14 other nations, drop over 1,000 precision-guided munitions on Bosnian Serb positions, and the operation marks the first combat action for the German Luftwaffe since the end of World War II 50 years earlier.
1776: A force of over 20,000 Redcoats led by Gen. William Howe land on Long Island, N.Y.. Over the next few days the British will force the Americans to withdraw to New Jersey, and the British capture the vital port of New York City – which they hold for the duration of the war.
1914: During the opening days of World War I, the world is introduced to a level of violence on a scale never before seen as the German army kills 27,000 French soldiers in one day at Ardennes and Charleroi. By month’s end, the Battle of the Frontiers will account for over a quarter million French casualties – with 75,000 killed in action. Meanwhile, the French, British, and Belgian troops manage to inflict 200,000 casualties on German General Helmuth von Moltke’s invasion force.
1942: Elements of Gen. Friedrich Paulus’ Sixth Army begin arriving outside Stalingrad, beginning what would become perhaps the largest and deadliest engagement in human history – claiming some 2 million casualties over the course of the battle. The Sixth Army will be surrounded and wiped out after five brutal months of urban combat, and only 6,000 of the 107,000 prisoners will survive the war.
1945: As Japanese forces surrender across Asia, American aircraft drop several teams of French colonial administrators into French Indochina (present-day Vietnam).
1956: Chinese fighters engage a U.S. Navy P4M “Mercator” flying a nighttime patrol over international waters, killing all 16 crew members. During the Cold War, communist warplanes will shoot down several Mercator electronic surveillance aircraft.