1775: In a speech before the House of Burgesses, future Virginia governor (and colonel of the 1st Virginia Regiment) Patrick Henry exclaims, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
1776: As a force-multiplier for the fledgling Continental Navy, the Continental Congress authorizes the employment of privateers (privately owned and armed merchant ships) against “enemies of these United Colonies,” specifically Great Britain, her commercial shipping, privately owned vessels, and ships of the Royal Navy.
1815: Though the War of 1812 has officially ended – communications being what they are in the early 19th century – the Royal Navy sloop-of-war HMS Penguin under the command of Capt. James Dickenson engages the sloop USS Hornet (the third of eight so-named American Navy ships) under Capt. James Biddle off the South Atlantic archipelago Tristan da Cunha. The fighting is quick and hot: Both captains are wounded; Dickenson mortally. HMS Penguin surrenders in less than one-half hour. Continue reading “23 March: This Day in U.S. Military History”
1945: The aircraft carrier USS Franklin sails to within 50 miles of the Japanese mainland – closer than any U.S. carrier during World War II. A lone Japanese bomber slips through the flattop’s defenses and hits Franklin with two armor-piercing bombs. The bombs detonate below the flight deck, igniting fires and devastating the ship. Around 800 sailors are killed and another 400 wounded – the highest casualties for a surviving ship during the war.
“Big Ben’s” death toll would have been far higher were it not for men like Lt. (j.g.) Donald A. Gary, who earned the Medal of Honor when he located a blacked-out mess compartment holding 300 trapped sailors. Gary made repeated trips through the ship, guiding the men to (relative) safety.
1989: The jointly developed Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey makes its maiden flight. The U.S. military’s first tiltrotor aircraft will not enter service until 2007.
1992: Two F-15 Eagles intercept a pair of Russian Tu-95 “Bear” bombers near the Alaskan coast – the first such confrontation since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Continue reading “19 March: Today in U.S. Military History”
1778: In a letter to Frenchman Jacques Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, an intermediary between King Louis XVI and American emissaries seeking support for the American Revolution (including ships), Continental Navy Capt. John Paul Jones writes, “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm’s way.”
Readers will recall Jones’ dramatic refusal-to-surrender — “I have not yet begun to fight!” — the following year during the famous battle of the North Sea between the Continental Navy frigate Bonhomme Richard and the British frigate HMS Serapis.
1927: (Featured image) Although originally designed as a battlecruiser, the United States Navy commissions its second-ever aircraft carrier, USS Saratoga (CV-3). One of just three carriers to survive the entire war (along with Ranger and Enterprise), “Sister Sara” earned eight battle stars during World War II. Following her service during World War II, the flattop is sunk during atomic weapons testing.
1944: Over 4,000 Allied warplanes hammer Nazi Germany with one of the heaviest bombardments of World War II prior to an advance by the 1st and 9th U.S. Armies. Continue reading “16 November: Today in U.S. 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.
As of June 4, 1940, the British Expeditionary Force, along with thousands of French and other Allied forces trapped at Dunkirk, were safely back on the shores of England. One-third of a million troops had been saved, but a dozen destroyers and hundreds of small vessels lay at the bottom of the English Channel, while enough vehicles, ammunition, and equipment to outfit nearly ten divisions have fallen into enemy hands.
Why Hitler inexplicably halted his Panzer corps and allowed the Allies to escape remains a source of debate to this day, but nearly two years after the miracle at Dunkirk, the Fuhrer orders the construction of the Atlantic Wall – a massive defensive fortification which ran from France’s border with Spain to the northern tip of Denmark in preparation for the inevitable Allied invasion of Europe.
In early 1944, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel takes charge of the Atlantic Wall. Having witnessed first-hand the strength of Allied air power while in North Africa, and realizing that Germany’s only hope for victory was to stop the Allies on the beach, Rommel beefed up the wall by adding more minefields and gun emplacements. American paratroopers will tell you that where Germany went wrong on the Atlantic Wall was they forgot to put a roof on it.
As the sun sets on airfields across England on June 5, 1944, 13,000 American paratroopers with the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions (along with nearly 8,000 British and Canadian paratroopers) board the C-47 transports and gliders that will carry them behind Nazi lines on “the Great Crusade.” 1,000 British bombers pound German defenses at the beaches of Normandy while thousands of ships carrying some 130,000 Allied soldiers steam towards France.