Posted in Military History

Today in U.S. military history: C-130 Hercules turns 65

Lockheed’s YC-130 during its first flight. Notice the lack of the radome on the aircraft’s nose. The originial Hercules used three-bladed propellers, like the prototype, but today’s “J” models use six-bladed props. (Lockheed Martin)

1942: While Japanese reinforcements depart Truk to join the fighting on Guadalcanal, American P-40 Warhawks with the 49th Fighter Group shoot down 15 Japanese fighters and bombers attempting to target the air base in Darwin, Australia.

1944: When Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army reaches the Seine River, Adolf Hitler orders Gen. Hans Speidel to destroy all bridges in Paris – which Speidel ignores, as well as another order days later to target Paris with V-1 buzz bombs and V-2 rockets. Speidel’s garrison will surrender in two days and the 28th Infantry Division will parade through the streets of Paris, ending four years of Nazi occupation.

300 miles to the west in Brittany, Staff Sgt. Alvin P. Carey spots an enemy machinegun nest 200 yards up a hill that is pinning down his soldiers. He grabs as many grenades as he can carry and has his soldiers cover him, then crawls up the hill. Carey shoots a German soldier on the way up, then begins hurling grenades at the enemy position – drawing the machine gunners’ fire. Although mortally wounded, he still manages to hurl a grenade right on target, killing the crew and knocking their guns out. Carey is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Continue reading “Today in U.S. military history: C-130 Hercules turns 65”

Posted in Military History

Aug. 22: Today in U.S. military history

Shannon (left) and Wallenburg

Today’s post is in honor of 1st Lt. Dustin Shannon and CWO3 James J. Wallenburg who were killed on this day in 2002 when their AH-64 Apache helicopter crashed into a hillside during a nighttime training mission in bad weather near Camp Polk, S. Korea. Shannon was born 6 October 1978 in San Diego and is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy (Class of 2000). The men served in 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry.


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.

1863: The crew of Union steamer USS Shokokon spots the Confederate schooner Alexander Cooper in New Topsail Inlet on the North Carolina Coast (just south of present-day Camp Lejeune). A crew of sailors board a dinghy which they use to reach the rear of the Confederate camp guarding the ship, where Master-at-arms Robert T. Clifford sneaks ashore and counts the enemy. Although outnumbered three-to-one, Clifford leads a charge against the Rebels, who are routed and leave behind their ship and supplies. For his actions, Clifford is awarded the Medal of Honor.

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. Continue reading “Aug. 22: Today in U.S. military history”

Posted in Military History

Today in military history: ‘Eight days in a garbage can’

1918: When enemy fighters shoot down Ensign George M. Ludlow’s Machhi M.5 seaplane (featured image) off the Austria-Hungary coast, Charles H. Hammann lands beside him and rescues the downed aviator. Hamman’s fighter is also damaged, and the winds high and seas choppy, but he manages to take off with Ludlow holding the struts behind him (the plane wasn’t designed to carry two pilots) and flies 65 miles across the Adriatic Sea to the air station at Porto Cassini, Italy. The plane sinks from the weight of the extra passenger after landing but both aviators are safe.

Grumman F8F Bearcat fighters ready for takeoff aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier, USS Tarawa (CV-40) circa 1948. (U.S. Navy photo)

Hammann, an enlisted pilot at the time, becomes the first Naval aviator awarded the Medal of Honor and is commissioned as an ensign after his daring flight.

1942: On Guadalcanal, around 900 soldiers of Japan’s 17th Army slam into about 2,500 Marines manning positions along Alligator Creek. Wave after wave of Japanese soldiers are cut down by the Marines, killing well over 700 attackers – including the Japanese commander – while inflicting nearly 100 percent casualties.

1944: Grumman’s last piston-powered fighter, the F8F-1 Bearcat, makes its first flight. The warplane can fly faster and climb more quickly than the venerable Hellcat, but enters service too late to see action in World War II. The Blue Angels will begin using the Bearcat for their demonstrations, and many Navy and Marine aviators – including Neil Armstrong – consider the agile warplane as their favorite.

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Real American Heroes: The fallen HELL’S ANGELS of the 303rd Bombardment Group

On 15 August 1944, 2,000 U.S. Eighth Air Force and Royal Air Force heavy bombers, supported by hundreds of fighter escorts, lifted off to strike 11 Luftwaffe bases in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. One of those targets was Fliegerhorst Weisbaden, which would become a U.S. Air Force base during the Cold War. Intense enemy flak damaged 11 aircraft, but 39 Hell’s Angels B-17s were soon over the enemy airfield, dropping 164,000 pounds of explosive and incendiary ordinance on the runway and its facilities.

Approximately 45 miles away from Weisbaden on their return trip, shortly after the fighter escorts left, a flight of two dozen Focke-Wulf Fw-190s and Messerschmidt Bf-109s fighters flew out of the sun and pounced on the bombers. In moments, enemy pilots had shot down nine aircraft.

On paper the 303rd Bombardment Group’s Combat Mission No. 229 looks like just another operation — one of many thousands of such missions during the war. Mission reports have this great way of stripping out the human element of combat, filtering out countless compelling stories of how our airmen lived or died during that six-hour mission. All we are left with 75 years later is numbers on a typed piece of paper. Aircraft classified simply as lost or damaged. Men listed as missing, killed, captured or wounded. But how can we begin to wrap our minds around how great and terrible the experience of being on one of these B-17s must have been? Just working with open sources, we don’t know a great deal more about Combat Mission No. 229 than we do about the Greeks that infiltrated Troy by hiding in a giant wooden horse thousands of years ago. It is impossible for us to properly understand the experience of strapping into that lonely, exposed ball turret, fly through enemy anti-aircraft fire, enemy fighters, attack your target, then fly back through the flack and fighters, and hopefully have enough aircraft left to land in one piece.

And if you’re “lucky,” you go back out again and again and again. Continue reading “Real American Heroes: The fallen HELL’S ANGELS of the 303rd Bombardment Group”

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Today in U.S. military history: an airborne rendezvous with history

Pvt. Pvt. Clarence C. Ware (San Pedro, Calif.) applies war paint to Pvt. Charles R. Plaudo, (Minneapolis, Minn.) on the eve of the Normandy Invasion. These men are from the demolition section of the 101st Airborne Division’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment — the “Filthy 13” — which inspired the 1967 film The Dirty Dozen.

1777: A force of militiamen from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont – led by Gen. John Stark – clash with a detachment of British General John Burgoyne’s army in the Battle of Bennington (near present-day Bennington, Vt.). The Americans rout the British, and the amount of supplies captured during the engagement leads to Burgoyne’s forthcoming defeat at Saratoga – which convinces the French to join the war.

1780: Following his successful campaign in the south, Lord Cornwallis engages Gen. Horatio Gates’ force in Camden, S.C.. The Americans are annihilated, taking nearly 2,000 casualties in just one hour. The infamous cavalry commander Col. Banastre Tarleton wrote that “rout and slaughter ensued in every quarter.” Gates’ defeat is so severe that the “Hero of Saratoga” will never again command troops in battle.

1918: 600 miles north of Moscow, American troops (Along with British, Australian, Canadian, and French allies) assist in capturing Archangel from Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik forces. The war will end before the “Polar Bear Brigade” can reach the rear of the German lines and some 200 Americans never return from the little-known Russian expedition.

1940: Happy National Airborne Day! At Fort Benning, Ga., Brig. Gen. William C. Lee and 48 volunteers from the 27th Infantry Regiment perform the Army’s first official parachute jump, demonstrating the use of airplanes to drop soldiers behind enemy lines. It will be two years before the U.S. military uses paratroopers in combat when the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment jumps into North Africa.

Continue reading “Today in U.S. military history: an airborne rendezvous with history”

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Today in U.S. military history: Operation DRAGOON

1934: The Marines depart Haiti, ending the United States’ 19-year occupation of the Caribbean island.

1942: U.S. Navy destroyers finally manage to deliver the first load of supplies to Marines on Guadalcanal, who have been coping with limited rations and ammunition since landing nearly ten days ago.

Also on this day, Maj. Gen. Matthew Ridgway’s 82d “All-American” Infantry Division is redesignated as the 82d Airborne Division, becoming the first airborne division in American military history. The division’s first combat jumps will take place in Sicily and Italy the following year.

Maj. Gen. Matthew Ridgway with fellow paratroopers, Ribera, Sicily, 25 July 1943

1943: 35,000 American and Canadian troops conduct an amphibious landing on the beaches of Kiska, Alaska – only to discover that the Japanese had abandoned the island weeks ago.

In the Solomon Islands, 6,500 soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division storm ashore on Vella Lavella. The islands will be captured in just under a month.

1944: (featured image) Well over 100,000 American and French troops land on the French Riviera, easily driving the German defenders back and capturing several strategic ports. The soldiers move so quickly across France that the supply trains can’t keep up, and most of Southern France is liberated in four weeks.

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Real American Heroes: the lost crew of CHIEF SEATTLE

Before dawn on 14 August 1942 a lone B-17 Flying Fortress taxied to the end of the runway at a remote jungle airstrip seven miles from Port Moresby, New Guinea to scout for Japanese shipping. Aboard are four veterans of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Royal Australian Air Force copilot, a former cavalry trooper, a Scottish gunner, and a navigator that, despite having just turned 21, was already a veteran of 45 sorties. The pilot runs up the throttles and the bomber disappears into the pre-dawn sky for a nine-hour reconnaissance patrol.

The crew will never be seen again.

Back on 6 December, Gen. “Hap” Arnold personally met with 16 B-17 crews that were departing Hamilton Field (Calif.) on a 2,400-mile leg to Oahu before reaching their final destination in the Philippines. He told them “War is imminent. You may run into a war during your flight.”

Hap was right. First to reach Hawaii was the San Antonio Rose, and copilot 2nd Lt. Wilson L. Cook quickly discovered they had flown into a hornet’s nest. They could see ships ablaze in Pearl Harbor and were receiving ground fire. Unarmed, they had to shake off nine Zeroes and by then were nearly out of fuel and badly shot up. Everywhere they tried to land was swarming with enemy fighters, so the pilot (1st Lt. Frank P. Bostrom) landed on a fairway at Kahuku Golf Course.

Aviation Cadet Hubert S. Mobley and Sgt. Irving W. McMichael crewed Naughty but Nice, which was another B-17 that arrived during the Japanese attack. Their pilot landed on a small, unpaved emergency fighter strip, where they loaded fuel, guns, and ammunition before flying to Hickam Field.

Sgt. Elwyn O. Rahier was on the ground when the Japanese attacked; his plane was undergoing repairs at Hickam when an enemy bomb hit their hangar. The bomb blast killed two soldiers and wounded four, including Rahier.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the citizens of Seattle, Wash. raised over $280,000 during a war bond drive to purchase a B-17E, which was named Chief Seattle from the Pacific Northwest. The nearby Boeing plant completed assembly on Chief Seattle and it was delivered to the 435th “Kangaroo” Bombardment  Squadron (Heavy), 19th Bombardment Group (Heavy), Fifth Air Force on 5 March 1942. On 9 August the plane flew its first combat mission, an eight-hour patrol over Rabaul and Kavieng, which Japanese troops had recently captured. Chief Seattle had to abort a second similar patrol two days later when it developed engine problems while enroute. Continue reading “Real American Heroes: the lost crew of CHIEF SEATTLE”

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Today in U.S. military history: breaking the siege at Peking

American troops in the relief of Peking in China. Painting by H. Charles McBarron, Jr.

1900: After fighting their way 80 miles from the port of Tientsin, an eight-nation relief force (the United States, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, and Italy) arrives at the walls of Peking. A young Marine private named Dan Daly earns his first of two Medals of Honor during the battle by single-handedly holding off hundreds of Chinese soldiers. Meanwhile, U.S. Army Cpl. Calvin P. Titus (depicted above, holding flag) earns the Medal of Honor for volunteering to scale the city wall surrounding Peking. The troops break the siege, effectively bringing an end to the Boxer Rebellion.

In our nation’s history, only two Marines earned the Medal of Honor for two seperate actions — Dan Daly and Smedley Butler, both of whom fought at Peking. 18-year-old captain (having just received a brevet promotion for valor at Tientsin) Butler was wounded in this day’s action, and would say that Daly was “The fightin’est Marine I ever knew.”

Continue reading “Today in U.S. military history: breaking the siege at Peking”