1775: John Adams of the Second Congressional Congress nominates George Washington, a fellow congressional delegate and veteran of the French and Indian Wars, to lead the newly formed Continental Army. Washington is unanimously elected.
1864: Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton signs an order setting aside 200 acres of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s estate as a cemetery for fallen Civil War soldiers. Today, Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place to over 400,000 fallen military members.
1877: Former slave Henry O. Flipper is the first black cadet to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. 2nd Lt. Flipper will lead the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry during the Apache Wars.
1944: Following a three-hour Naval and air bombardment, 8,000 Marines under the command of Maj. Gen. Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith (a recipient of France’s Croix de Guerre for his actions during the battle of Belleau Wood in World War I), hit the beaches of Saipan. The Japanese war planners are caught by surprise, and by nightfall the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions have a beachhead spanning six miles and reaching inland nearly 1,500 yards. Japanese propaganda leads its people to believe that unspeakable acts await anyone unlucky enough to be captured by the U.S. military, and thousands of Japanese civilians will leap to their deaths from the cliffs of Saipan.
On July 7, some 3,000 Japanese troops charge forward in the largest banzai charge of the war, nearly wiping out two battalions of soldiers from the 27th Infantry Division. The Japanese defenders inflict 14,000 casualties on the Americans, but the island is declared secure on July 9.
1777: Marquis de Lafayette lands in South Carolina, having crossed the Atlantic on a ship that the 19-year-old French officer purchased with his own money. He soon makes fast friends with Gen. George Washington and the Continental Congress, and is offered a commission as a major general.
1917: Taking off from bases in Belgium, German Gotha bombers target London for the first time. Hundreds of civilians are killed and the air raids would continue, virtually unopposed, for the next month.
1942: While patrolling a beach on New York’s Long Island, Coast Guardsman John C. Cullen catches four German saboteurs posing as stranded fishermen. The Germans escape, but the leader turns himself in to the FBI – kicking off a two-week manhunt for the remaining Abwehr military intelligence operatives (all are American citizens born in Germany). The lid is blown off “Operation Pastorius,” the German plot to sabotage strategic American targets. All of the agents are captured and six are executed.
1943: 76 B-17F Flying Fortress bombers set out to attack the U-boat pens at Kiel, Germany. 60 “Forts” hit the pens, and Luftwaffe aircraft knock 22 more out of the sky in the heaviest fighter attacks on the Eighth Air Force to date. While gunners claim at least 39 German aircraft, 23 bombers are damaged – one so critical that it is no longer operable. Three airmen are killed, 20 wounded, and 213 are missing in action. The costly raid will lead war planners to realize that the heavily armed B-17s can no longer defend themselves against German aircraft. Escort fighters will begin accompanying bombers into Europe.
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On June 12, 1944 (D-Day + 6), Paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division capture Carentan, France after three days of heavy urban combat, finally linking the Utah and Omaha beachheads. Meanwhile, a third wave of troops and supplies land at the beaches of Normandy. Over 300,000 men, tens of thousands of vehicles, and hundreds of thousands of tons of materiel have hit the beach so far.
That same day in the Pacific, airplanes from Adm. Marc Mitscher’s Task Force 58, consisting of nine aircraft carriers and six light carriers, pound Japanese positions in the Marianas Islands in preparation for the upcoming invasions. The next day, over a dozen battleships join in the attack and being leveling the defenses of Saipan.
This week also marks the first American bombing missions of both world wars. On June 12, 1918, eight pilots of the 96th Aero Squadron conduct the first-ever American bombing mission in Europe, attacking rail yards at Etain, France. 24 years later (to the day), Col. Harry A. Halverson leads a flight of 13 B-24 Liberator bombers from Libya 1,000 miles to the Axis oil fields at Ploesti, Romania. One plane has to turn back due to mechanical issues, and the bombers inflict minimal damage to the target. Crews land at Turkey (where they are interned), Iraq, and Syria.
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.
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, Confederate 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.
1889: An Army wagon train leaves Fort Grant loaded with $28,000 in gold and silver coins (nearly the equivalent of one million dollars today) to pay U.S. troops stationed in Arizona Territory, guarded by a dozen Buffalo Soldiers from the 24th Infantry and 10th Cavalry regiments. A band of highwaymen ambush the convoy and manage to make off with the money following a 30-minute firefight that wounds eight soldiers.
1775: The famous Vermont guerrilla force the “Green Mountain Boys”, commanded by Col. Ethan Allen, and state militiamen led by Col. Benedict Arnold catch the British troops at Fort Ticonderoga (present-day Ticonderoga, N.Y.) by surprise. The Americans charge into the fort, chasing off the lone sentry and begin disarming the sleeping defenders.
When the British commander demands to know under what authority are the men entering, Allen replies, “The Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!” The strategic fort is captured without a shot fired. The cannon and armaments are sent to Boston where they will be used to break the British siege.
1797: The 55-gun heavy frigate USS United States is launched at Philadelphia, becoming the first commissioned ship of the U.S. Navy. The warship will see action during the Quasi-War with France, the Barbary Wars (see entry below), and the War of 1812 before she is seized by Confederate forces in 1861 and re-christened CSS United States.
1801: Following Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration, Yusuf Karamanly – the Pasha of Tripoli – demands tribute from the United States to prevent the Barbary pirates from continuing their practice of taking hostages and capturing ships. President Jefferson refuses, and the Pasha declares war.
[Featured image: future top Naval ace and Medal of Honor recipient David McCampbell (right) exchanges caps with Royal Canadian Air Force pilot Jerry Smith after Smith lands his Spitfire aboard USS WASP.]
1865: After learning that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the previous month, Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest surrenders his men at Gainesville, Ala.. Forrest orders his men to “submit to the powers to be, and to aid in restoring peace and establishing law and order throughout the land.”
The infamous cavalry officer, whom Union general William Tecumseh Sherman would refer to as “that devil Forrest,” is considered one of the most brilliant tacticians of the Civil War; a remarkable feat considering he enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private with no prior military experience.
1926: Naval aviators Lt. Commander Richard E. Byrd and Chief Aviation Pilot Floyd Bennett take off from Spitsbergen, Norway and head north. In about eight hours, they will report that they have reached the North Pole, becoming the first men to do so by air.
Congress will award both men the Medal of Honor for their flight, which remains surrounded by controversy as Byrd is reported to have said that an oil leak in their Fokker Trimotor aircraft during the nearly 16-hour flight may have caused the explorers to turn around prematurely. However in three years, Commander Byrd will – without a doubt – fly over the South Pole.
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.
[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.