June 6 in U.S. military history

Soldiers from Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division are among the first waves of troops to land at Normandy’s Omaha Beach.

1862: A Union flotilla decisively defeats the Confederate fleet at Memphis, Tenn. and captures the city.

1918: Two battalions of Marines, led by Brig. Gen. James Harbord, advance against four German divisions in Belleau Wood, the site of an old French hunting preserve near Chateau-Thierry. The Marines face withering fire, with over 1,000 casualties in the first day of battle alone. In three weeks, the Marines drive out the Germans, but at a high cost; Enemy machine guns, artillery, and gas attacks inflict 10,000 American casualties. But the tenacity of the “Devil Dogs” at Belleau Wood becomes legend.

1942: Commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku orders his fleet to withdraw from the Battle of Midway. Although the Americans have lost the carrier Yorktown and a destroyer, Japanese losses are staggering: all four of the fleet’s aircraft carriers (whose aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor six months ago) and a heavy cruiser are sent to the bottom. After a long string of defeats, the United States Navy has dealt Japan “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”

1944: Just after 2 a.m., some 13,000 American and British paratroopers and glider troops begin landing behind enemy lines in France. 2,000 Allied aircraft bombard German positions in preparation of the invasion. And five hours later, nearly 150,000 American, British, and Canadian troops hit the beaches at Normandy. 1,200 warships and over 4,000 landing ships from eight different navies support the invasion. Losses are heavy for both sides and 4,414 American and Allied soldiers die on “D-Day” – the first day of the largest amphibious operation in history.

1957: Two Navy F-8U “Crusaders” and two A-3D “Skywarriors” launch from the deck of USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA 31) off the coast of California and fly to USS Saratoga (CVA 60), operating off Florida in the first transcontinental, carrier-to-carrier flight. The Crusaders land after three hours and 28 minutes, while the Skywarriors make the trip in four hours and one minute.

1964: Communist Pathet Lao anti-aircraft fire shoots down a Navy RF-8A “Crusader” aircraft flying a low-altitude reconnaissance mission over Laos. The pilot, Lt. Charles F. Klusmann, is taken prisoner, but escapes captivity. The downing of the reconnaissance plane is the first loss of a fixed-wing aircraft in what would become the Vietnam War.

Posted on June 6, 2017 at 10:16 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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June 5 in U.S. military history

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gives paratroopers about to embark on “the Great Crusade” the order of the day: “Full victory – nothing else.”

1794: The first six officers of the new United States Navy receive their commissions: Captain John Barry (the first captain in the Continental Navy and considered the “father of the American Navy), Samuel Nicholson, Silas Talbot, Joshua Barney, Richard Dale, and Thomas Truxtun.

1917: The First Naval Aeronautical Detachment lands at Brest, France, becoming the first American military unit deployed for World War I. The Naval aviators, commanded by Lt. Kenneth Whiting, will conduct anti-submarine patrols throughout the war. The service collier USS Jupiter that carried the detachment across the Atlantic will be converted to the United States’ first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV-1) in 1920.

1944: As the sun sets on airfields across England, 13,328 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 After months of planning, Operation Overlord is finally underway.

Meanwhile, the B-29 “Superfortress” flies its first combat mission. Bombers flying out of airfields in India attack Japanese rail lines and other targets in Bangkok, Thailand.

1945: On Okinawa, Marines capture the airfield on the Oroku Peninsula, while a typhoon damages nearly every ship at sea. Kamikaze attacks cripple the battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41) and the heavy cruiser USS Louisville (CA-28).

On Japan, 473 B-29 bombers drop some 3,000 tons of incendiary bombs on Kobe, destroying much of the city.

1948: A Northrop YB-49 “flying wing” experimental bomber crashes while conducting stall recovery tests at Muroc Air Force Base (now Edwards AFB – in honor of the YB-49’s copilot, Capt. Glen Edwards), killing all five airmen on board. The advanced warplane program will be scrapped, but designer Jack Northrop’s dream of a flying wing aircraft will become reality when Northrop’s B-2 stealth bomber makes its first flight 51 years later.

Posted on June 5, 2017 at 08:55 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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June 1 in U.S. military history

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.

1864: The bloody battle of Cold Harbor opens in earnest between Union Army forces under the command of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee. Grant will launch a series of futile attacks over the next three days. Lee will defend and hold. Union losses will be staggering: 13,000 to the Confederacy’s 2,500.

1918: At Belleau Wood, the site of an old French hunting preserve near Chateau-Thierry, Germans punch through the French lines, and American soldiers and Marines move up to fill the hole. When Marine Capt. Lloyd W. Williams arrives, he sees French troops withdrawing from battle. After being advised by a French officer to retreat, the Marine officer famously replies, “Retreat? Hell! We just got here!”

Williams will die during the battle, but the crack shooting and tenacious fighting of the Marines at Belleau Wood becomes legend and earns them the nickname “Teufelhunden” – devil dogs.

1944: Airships K-123 and K-130 of the U.S. Navy’s Blimp Squadron Fourteen land at French Morocco following a 50-hour, 3,100 nautical mile flight from Naval Air Station, South Weymouth, Mass. – the first transatlantic flight of a non-rigid, lighter-than-air aircraft. The massive airships made two stops for fuel and maintenance in Newfoundland and the Azores.

1990: As the Cold War nears its end, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev sign a treaty banning the production of chemical weapons and reducing the two superpowers’ stockpiles of the deadly weapons by 20 percent.

Posted on June 1, 2017 at 08:43 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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May 15 in U.S. military history

1862: Cpl. John F. Mackie becomes the first Marine awarded the Medal of Honor when the he mans the mans the guns of the ironclad USS Galena after most of the Naval gun crew are killed or wounded during the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff.

1864: As 9,000 Union troops led by Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel march into Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Confederate Maj. Gen. John C. Breckenridge musters a defense force that includes cadets from the nearby Virginia Military Academy. The cadets are held in reserve, but when the Union breaks the Confederate lines, Breckenridge declares “Put the boys in… and may God forgive me for the order.” Within moments, 47 cadets are wounded and ten lay dead in the Battle of New Market. Sigel’s men retreat after taking heavy casualties from the outnumbered defenders.

1918: Privates Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts of the all-black “Harlem Hellfighters” become the first American soldiers to be awarded the Croix de Guerre – France’s highest decoration for military valor. When a German raiding party attacks their outpost and captures Roberts, Johnson fights back with grenades, gun fire, his rifle butt, knife, and fists, rescuing his fellow soldier and forcing the Germans to retreat. Johnson is wounded 21 times in the fight, but is not awarded the Purple Heart until 1996 – decades after his passing – and is finally awarded the Medal of Honor in 2015.

1963: U.S. Air Force Maj. (future Col.) Leroy Gordon “Gordo” Cooper, Jr. blasts off aboard “Faith 7”, the final Mercury mission. Cooper will spend over 34 hours in space – circling the globe 22 times – before a short circuit kills the capsule’s automated control system. Cooper has to use the constellations and his watch to manually fly the capsule back to Earth, splashing down just four miles from the recovery ship in the Pacific Ocean.

The former U.S. Marine private (serving in the Presidential Honor Guard in Washington, D.C.) ultimately was commissioned an Army second lieutenant, before his days as an Air Force fighter jock and test pilot.

Posted on May 15, 2017 at 14:37 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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May 5 in U.S. military history

1862: Disappointed in the lack of progress of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, President Abraham Lincoln departs for Hampton Roads, Va. on the Treasury Department revenue cutter Miami to personally oversee operations. Over five days, the president – a former militia rifle company commander – directs the bombardment of Confederate positions and lands to conduct reconnaissance of the area with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase.

1864: The bloody albeit inconclusive Battle of the Wilderness (Virginia) opens between Union Army forces under the command of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, and Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee. Fighting is grim: Casualties will be heavy on both sides. Union and Confederate generals will be killed. Wounded and trapped soldiers will be burned alive by a battle-sparked woods fire. Within two days, Grant will disengage and advance toward Spotsylvania Courthouse.

1916: Two companies of Marines from the transport USS Prairie (AD-5) land at Santo Domingo, beginning the United States’ eight-year occupation of the Dominican Republic. The leathernecks provide protection for the U.S. Legation and Consulate, and occupy the nearby Fort San Geronimo.

1917: Eugene J. Bullard becomes the first black combat aviator, earning his wings with the French Air Service. The Columbus, Ga. native’s father came to America from the Caribbean island of Martinique and his mother was a Creek indian. Bullard fled to Europe to escape racism in the United States and joined the French Foreign Legion as a machine gunner, seeing action in the Somme, Champagne, and Verdun campaigns before being wounded. After recovering, he joined the air service and earned his pilot’s license. The “Black Swallow of Death” would fly 20 combat missions for the French – claiming two aerial kills – before war’s end. He volunteered for the infantry when Germany invaded France again in 1940 and was wounded.

1945: A Japanese balloon bomb explodes in Bly, Oregon, killing a pastor, his wife, and five Sunday schoolchildren on the way to a picnic. The Japanese sent over 9,000 of these incendiary devices into the jet stream, hoping some would land in America and the small explosives would start forest fires or cause casualties. A few hundred of the world’s first “intercontinental weapon” were observed in the United States, going as far inland as Iowa and Michigan, but the only casualties are the one explosion in Bly. The highly technical devices use altimeters and valves to control the hydrogen-filled balloons during the three-day, 8,000-mile flight from the east coast of Japan’s Honshu island.

1961: At 9:34 am, U.S. Navy Commander (future rear admiral) Alan B. Shepard Jr.’s Mercury-Redstone rocket blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Shepard becomes the first American in space as his “Freedom 7” capsule carries him 116 miles above the Earth’s surface. NASA’s first manned space flight tests the ability of humans to withstand the intense g-forces during liftoff and re-entry as Shepard encounters 11.6 g’s as he plummets to the surface during his 15 minute flight.

Posted on May 5, 2017 at 04:16 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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May 4 in U.S. military history

1864: Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all Union forces, moves the Army of the Potomac out of their winter encampments and 100,000 Union soldiers cross the Rapidan River in Virginia to begin the campaign that would set the stage for the defeat of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Union losses in the Overland Campaign – the bloodiest in American history – are heavy, but Grant’s troops are replaceable. Lee’s are not.

1916: To avoid a diplomatic break with the United States, Germany announces it will abandon its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. Instead of indiscriminately sinking all vessels in the British Isles, German subs will only torpedo those found to carry war materials. Germany reverses course in less than a year, sparking America’s entry into World War I on April 6, 1917.

1917: After a nine-day crossing of the Atlantic through stormy seas, a detachment of destroyers commanded by Cmdr. Joseph K. Taussig arrives at Queenstown, Ireland (now known as Cobh). The destroyers will assist convoy escorts against German U-Boats, which are reportedly sinking a staggering 600,000 tons of shipping per month.

1945: Germany’s new president, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz sends envoys to Gen. Sir Bernard Montgomery’s headquarters – a carpeted tent in Lüneburg Heath, Germany – and sign the unconditional surrender of German air, land, and sea forces in the Netherlands, Denmark, and northern Germany.

Meanwhile as the fighting rages on at Okinawa, the Japanese 32nd Army attempts – and fails – to make an amphibious assault behind American lines. A frenzy of kamikaze attacks on U.S. Navy send two destroyers and two rocket-armed amphibious ships to the bottom. Numerous other vessels are damaged.

1968: As soldiers of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) move uphill, braving intense sniper fire, towards fortified enemy positions in Vietnam’s infamous Vietnam’s A Shau Valley, a soldier discovers an enemy claymore. Platoon Leader Douglas B. Fournet orders his men to take cover while he charges forward to disarm the mine. He unsheaths a knife and attempts to cut the wire used to detonate the device, but it explodes. Fournet shields his teammates from the blast with his body and he is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

1970: After days of violent protests and rioting sparked by Pres. Nixon’s decision to begin military incursion into Cambodia, Ohio National Guard units open fire on protestors at Kent State University. In 13 seconds, four students lay dead and nine more are wounded.

Posted on May 4, 2017 at 02:19 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Apr. 22 in U.S. military history

1863: Union cavalry troopers, led by Col. Benjamin Grierson, begin a two-week raid through Mississippi. Grierson’s raiders cut the state’s telegraph lines, destroy two train loads of Confederate ammunition, sabotage 50 miles of railroad, kill 100 and capture 500 Confederates – at the cost of three wounded, seven wounded, and 14 missing.

1915: German artillery near Gravenstafel, Belgium fires over 150 tons of chlorine gas on French forces, including French Colonial Moroccan and Algerian troops, in the first large-scale successful use of chemical weapons. Within moments, the toxic gas cloud inflicts about 6,000 casualties – including many of the German artillery troops. Some 2,000 Americans alone would die from chemical weapons during World War I, and the deadly new tactic inflicts half a million casualties by war’s end.

1942: The Coordinator of Information (predecessor to the Office of Strategic Services, and ultimately, the CIA) activates Detachment 101 – a special operations unit in Burma. The group collected intelligence, destroyed bridges, derailed trains, captured or destroyed enemy vehicles, located targets for the 10th Air Force, rescued downed Allied airmen, and most importantly, recruited and trained over 10,000 native troops for a highly effective guerrilla campaign against Japanese Forces. Detachment 101 and its OSS teams became the prototype for modern-day Special Forces (Army Green Berets). (more…)

Posted on April 22, 2017 at 10:26 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Col. Harry S. Truman, USA

Capt. Truman, circa 1918 (Source: The Truman Library)

Did you know that President Harry S. Truman fought during World War I?

Truman joined the Missouri National Guard in 1905. When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Capt. Truman commanded Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, part of the 35th Infantry Division. From “The Soldier from Independence: Harry S. Truman and the Great War”:

Truman’s battery was frequently employed well forward. He was detailed to provide fire support for George S. Patton’s tank brigade during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, engaged German field guns and was credited with either wiping out or forcing the permanent abandonment of two complete batteries. When firing on these and other targets, he disobeyed orders and fired “out of sector” against threats to his division’s open flank. Truman’s 35th Division, a National Guard formation made up of units from Missouri and Kansas, suffered grievously in that battle, and the battery of the man who would later order the dropping of the atomic bombs was sited approximately 150 yards forward of where Patton was wounded in an area referred to by one artilleryman as “a cemetery of unburied dead.”

The more I find out about Harry Truman, the more I like him. Truman remained an officer in the Field Artillery Reserve until retiring as a colonel in 1953.

Posted on April 22, 2012 at 12:34 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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A Marine aviation first

1stLt Everett R. Brewer

GySgt Harry B. Wershiner

On Sep. 18, 1918, two Marines flying with the British Royal Air Force, 1st Lt. Everett R. Brewer and Gunnery Sergeant Harry B. Wershiner, were flying an air raid mission over Belgium with the Royal Air Force when they came under attack from 15 German scout planes. The Marines shot down two planes–only being credited with one–and became the first Marine aviators to shoot down another plane.

They were both seriously wounded–Brewer shot through the hips and Wershiner shot through both lungs—but managed to fly their de Havilland DH-9 back to the Aerodrome after shaking their opponents. Both were awarded the Navy Cross and the Purple Heart.

Posted on September 18, 2011 at 17:35 by Chris Carter · Permalink · One Comment
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Today in Marine aviation history

On Jan. 21, 1918, 12 officers and 133 enlisted Marines from the 1st Marine Aeronautical Company deployed to Ponta Delgada, Azores for anti-submarine duty, becoming the first fully-equipped American aviation unit to serve overseas in World War I.

Throughout the war, the Marines flew constant daylight patrols over shipping lanes near the Azores in their Curtiss R-6, N-9, and HS-2L sea planes. More on Marine aviation in World War I here and here.

A Curtiss HS-2L flying boat. Source: San Diego Air & Space Museum archives

Posted on January 21, 2011 at 16:34 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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