Featured image: This photograph was taken through the periscope of U.S. submarine USS Nautilus (SS-168) after sinking Japanese destroyer Yamakaze 60 miles from Yokosuka, Japan on this date in 1942.
1864: Fighting at Petersburg (Va.) has reached a stalemate and Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants comes up with an idea. Soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania Regiment – mostly coal miners before the war – begin construction of a 500-foot long underground shaft. Once the soldier-miners reach enemy trench line on July 30, they detonate the gunpowder and blow a hole in the Rebel trenches, instantly killing nearly 300 Confederate troops. Unfortunately for the Yankees, they are unable to quickly exploit the breach and Brig. Gen. William Mahone seals the hole and defeats the Union assault.
1876: In southeastern Montana Territory, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry Regiment squares off against thousands of allied Lakota and Cheyenne Indian warriors under the command of Crazy Horse and Chief Gall in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The Americans are encircled and annihilated. Custer, his two brothers, a nephew, and a brother-in-law are among the 268 Americans killed in action.
“Custer’s Last Stand” is the greatest defeat for the Americans during the Great Plains War.
1942: Maj. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower arrives in London and is named Commander of U.S. Forces in Europe, despite having no combat experience in his 27-year career. Continue reading “This day in U.S. military history: Korean War launches and “Custer’s Last Stand””
In 1960, The Atlantic published an article by Army historian Brig. Gen. S.L.A. Marshall shedding light on the absolute nightmare that faced the first wave of soldiers landing on OMAHA Beach on D-Day. If you read nothing else this summer, find some time and a quiet place, sit down and read Gen. Marshall’s entire piece. The beaches of Normandy weren’t anything like what we watched in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN; the first waves of soldiers — if they weren’t killed by enemy fire while still on the landing craft, drowned in the surf, or mowed down by machineguns — were utterly exhausted and suffering from shock once they made it to shore. Entire units were wiped from existence.
What follows is an account of just one unit: the 116th Infantry Regiment’s Able Company, tasked with taking DOG GREEN Sector below Vierville-sur-Mer.
Able Company riding the tide in seven Higgins boats is still five thousand yards from the beach when first taken under artillery fire. The shells fall short. At one thousand yards, Boat No. 5 is hit dead on and foundered. Six men drown before help arrives. Second Lieutenant Edward Gearing and twenty others paddle around until picked up by naval craft, thereby missing the fight at the shore line. It’s their lucky day. The other six boats ride unscathed to within one hundred yards of the shore, where a shell into Boat No. 3 kills two men. Another dozen drown, taking to the water as the boat sinks. That leaves five boats.
Lieutenant Edward Tidrick in Boat No. 2 cries out: “My God, we’re coming in at the right spot, but look at it! No shingle, no wall, no shell holes, no cover. Nothing!”
His men are at the sides of the boat, straining for a view of the target. They stare but say nothing. At exactly 6:36 A.M. ramps are dropped along the boat line and the men jump off in water anywhere from waist deep to higher than a man’s head. This is the signal awaited by the Germans atop the bluff. Already pounded by mortars, the floundering line is instantly swept by crossing machine-gun fires from both ends of the beach.
Able Company has planned to wade ashore in three files from each boat, center file going first, then flank files peeling off to right and left. The first men out try to do it but are ripped apart before they can make five yards. Even the lightly wounded die by drowning, doomed by the waterlogging of their overloaded packs. From Boat No. 1, all hands jump off in water over their heads. Most of them are carried down. Ten or so survivors get around the boat and clutch at its sides in an attempt to stay afloat. The same thing happens to the section in Boat No. 4. Half of its people are lost to the fire or tide before anyone gets ashore. All order has vanished from Able Company before it has fired a shot. Continue reading “What was it REALLY like during the first wave on Omaha Beach?”
By Tom Mullikin
[A version of this story was published by Canada Free Press, July 27, 2010.]
NORMANDY, FRANCE – A cold, rainy day greets my wife and me. The day is July 14, 2010. It’s a day, weatherwise, that might have easily resembled the conditions encountered by Allied soldiers as they fought their way from the sea onto the enemy held shoreline, followed by the inexorable grind inland toward the goal of ending the tyranny of Nazi Germany.
More than 66 years after the Normandy Invasion, June 6, 1944 [today on the 75th anniversary of that invasion], we begin our journey attempting to get our heads around the experiences of my father, Charlie Mullikin, an American soldier who landed here on the Normandy coast and was ultimately wounded in action.
On this day, we are enjoying SCUBA diving onto many the great shipwrecks lying offshore. White caps are pounding our small rubber Zodiac boat. Visibility is near zero—no more than five feet at best. I can only imagine the violent and terrible cold shock to those American, British, and Canadian soldiers carrying their packs, weapons, and ammunition through the bloody, churning surf.
I am also reminded of the Navy frogmen, predecessors to our modern Navy SEALs, who suffered 50-percent casualties as they removed the defensive obstacles placed on the beach and in the surf by the Germans.
I made this trek to celebrate my 50th birthday. More importantly, I wanted to recognize the price of freedom and remember the selfless contributions made by my father and other citizen soldiers of his era—appropriately christened, “The Greatest Generation.” Continue reading “A Tribute to my father on the 75th anniversary of the NORMANDY INVASION”
[Featured image: “Chips,” a military police sentry dog with the 3rd Infantry Division, earned the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart during World War II. (U.S. Army photo)]
1865: Desperate for manpower on the front lines, the Confederate government approves enlisting and arming slaves. Although Gen. Robert E. Lee requested that slaves who fought should be granted freedom, the bill did not allow such a provision. A few thousand slaves would go on to fight for the Confederacy; over 200,000 blacks fought for the Union.
1942: The U.S. Army establishes the “K-9 Corps” – training dogs to serve in sentry, scout, messenger, and mine detection duties during World War II. The Quartermaster Corps puts the dogs through an 8-12 week basic training at camps across the United States, weeding out the animals who can’t handle the sound of gunfire or handle the military lifestyle. Starting with 32 acceptable breeds, the Army eventually cuts down the list to seven: German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Siberian huskies, farm collies, Eskimo dogs, and Malamutes.
Some even serve on the front lines. The Japanese are said to have never attacked a patrol accompanied by a war dog. A German Shepherd named “Chips” serving with a military police company on Sicily attacked a German pillbox, forcing the occupants to surrender. Wounded in his attack, Chips was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star.
Today’s post is in honor of Cpl. Nathan B. Carse, who was killed by an improvised explosive device on this day in 2011 in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province. The 32-year-old native of Harrod, Ohio was the son of a Green Beret and was assigned to 2d Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade.
1862: A day after 10,000 soldiers under the command of Brig. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, supported by a flotilla of Union gunships, land at Roanoke Island (N.C.), the Confederates surrender the island’s four forts and two batteries. Federal forces now control a strategically significant section of the Atlantic coast, and coupled with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s victory at Fort Henry in Tennessee two days ago, Northerners finally have something to cheer about.
1910: William D. Boyce incorporates the Boy Scouts of America. Countless boys will cut their teeth as young adventurers in Boyce’s scouting program before joining the military. When sub commander Eugene Fluckey – one of nine Medal of Honor recipients to earn the Boy Scouts’ top distinction of Eagle Scout — assembled a landing party to go ashore and destroy a Japanese train, he wanted former Boy Scouts to do the job, since they would most likely have the skills to find their way there and back.
11 of the 12 humans to set foot on the moon were Boy Scout alumni; and Neil Armstrong — the first — was an Eagle Scout.
Today’s post is in honor of Spc. Allen D. Kokesh Jr. who was died on this day in 2006 from wounds sustained by an improvised explosive device attack on his vehicle in Baghdad. The 21-year-old from Yankton, S.D. was assigned to the South Dakota Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 147th Field Artillery.
1943: The submarine USS Growler (SS-215) spots the supply ship Hayasaki and begins a nighttime battle. The Japanese ship turns to ram the sub and rakes Growler‘s bridge with machine gun fire, wounding the skipper, Commander Howard W. Gilmore.
Unable to get off the bridge, Gilmore orders the crew to “Take her down!” — sacrificing his life to save his men. For his actions, Gilmore is awarded the Medal of Honor – the first of seven sub commanders to earn the nation’s top award for valor during World War II.
Meanwhile, the Imperial Japanese Navy completes Operation “Xe” – the evacuation of nearly 1,800 remaining troops from Guadalcanal. After six months of brutal fighting, nearly 15,000 Americans killed or wounded, and over 600 aircraft and dozens of ships lost, the island is now completely in American hands.
1965: Sappers cut their way through the defensive wires surrounding Camp Holloway in Pleiku, opening the way for 300 Viet Cong guerrillas to attack the helicopter base near Pleiku. Simultaneously, the VC attacks other nearby targets, killing eight Americans and wounding over 100, while destroying and damaging dozens of helicopters and planes. Pres. Lyndon Johnson orders a retaliatory strike, and 49 aircraft from the carriers USS Coral Sea (CV-43) and USS Hancock (CV-19) hit military targets along the de-militarized zone and in North Vietnam.
1914: Austrian doctors examine a young Adolf Hitler, determining him unfit for service in the Austro-Hungarian military. Hitler will volunteer for the German army when war breaks out in August, serving as a runner for a reserve infantry regiment.
1918: U.S. Army Lt. Stephen W. Thompson, a member of the American 1st Aero Squadron, is invited by French aviators to fly in a French “Breguet” biplane bomber as a gunner on one of their missions. Thompson shoots down a German Albatross fighter over Saarbrucken, Germany, making him the first American in uniform to shoot down an enemy airplane.
Today, the U.S. Air Force’s 1st Reconnaissance Squadron traces its lineage back to the 1st Aero Squadron.
1943: President Franklin D. Roosevelt awards Maj. Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift the Medal of Honor for his role as commanding general of the 1st Marine Division during the Guadalcanal campaign.
1944: Over Forges-les-Eaux, France, Oberstleutnant (Lt. Col.) Egon Mayer shoots down a P-47 Thunderbolt, becoming the first Luftwaffe pilot to shoot down 100 enemy warplanes entirely on the Western Front. Mayer is shot down and killed two days later while leading an attack on a B-17 formation over Sedan.
Today’s post is in honor of Sgt. Daniel Torres, who was killed by an improvised explosive device on this day in 2005 in Bayji, Iraq. The 23-year-old native of Fort Worth, Texas was assigned to 2d Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.
1779: Continental Navy Capt. John Paul Jones takes command of the former French frigate Duc de Duras, renaming her Bonhomme Richard (after Benjamin Franklin’s pen name). It will be aboard the Richard — badly damaged and sinking during the famous battle in the North Sea with the Royal Navy frigate HMS Serapis on 23 September — that Jones refuses a surrender demand, allegedly replying, “I have not yet begun to fight!” It has also been widely reported that when the Serapis’ Captain Richard Pearson inquired as to whether or not Jones had lowered or struck his colors, Jones shouted back, “I may sink, but I’ll be damned if I strike!”
Incidentally, Bonhomme Richard (the first of five so-named American warships) does sink. But not before Pearson himself surrenders (believed to be “the first time in naval history that colors are surrendered to a sinking ship”), and Jones transfers his flag to his newly captured prize, Serapis.
Jones is destined to become “the Father of the American Navy,” though some argue that the title belongs to Commodore John Barry.
1787: Shays’ Rebellion — a short-lived Massachusetts uprising led by former Continental Army Capt. Daniel Shays, spawned by crippling taxes and an economic depression in the wake of the American Revolution — is quashed by Massachusetts militia.