Dec. 18 in U.S. military history

[Originally published at OpsLens.com]

After his victory in the Battle of Manila Bay, George Dewey was promoted to the new rank of “Admiral of the Navy,” the highest rank ever held by a U.S. Naval officer.

1902: Pres. Theodore Roosevelt orders Adm. George Dewey to take the U.S. North and South Atlantic Squadrons and sail to Venezuela, in order to prevent blockading European navies from waging war against Venezuela over unpaid debts.

1927: A day after a Coast Guard vessel accidentally rams – and sinks – the submarine USS S-4 (SS-109) off Cape Cod, Navy divers are rushed to the scene. Chief Gunner’s Mate Thomas Eadie learns by tapping on the hull that six sailors remain alive. When fellow diver Fred Michels attempts to attach a line pumping fresh air into the sub, which lies 100 feet below the surface, his own air line is fouled. Although exhausted from his previous dives – for which he will receive his second Navy Cross – Eadie quickly dives again and manages to save Michels after two hours of grueling work. Unfortunately, bad weather prevents the divers from saving the sub’s sailors in time, but Eadie is awarded the Medal of Honor.

1944: In the Philippine Sea, Adm. William “Bull” Halsey’s Task Force 38 sails directly into Typhoon “Cobra”. The 100 mph-plus winds and high seas capsize and sink three destroyers, while heavily damaging a cruiser, five aircraft carriers, and three destroyers. The deadly storm claims the lives of 790 U.S. sailors and destroys over 100 planes, leading to the creation of a Naval weather center and typhoon tracking center on Guam the following year.

Over China, nearly 300 B-29s Superfortress, B-24 Liberator, and B-25 Mitchell bombers – accompanied by P-51 Mustang escorts of the 14th Air Force – attack the Japanese Army’s expeditionary base at Hankao, igniting supply fires that will burn for three days.

1965: Two days after the aircraft carrier USS Wasp recovers Gemini VI astronauts Walter M. Schirra (USN) and Thomas P. Stafford (USAF) in the first-ever televised landing of a spacecraft, the crew of Gemini VII – Frank Borman (USAF) and Jim Lovell (USN) – splash down safely in the Atlantic just 11 miles away from Wasp.

1972: On the first day of President Richard Nixon’s Operation “Linebacker II” bombing campaign, an enemy MiG-21 “Fishbed” locks on to a B-52 following their bomb run and closes in. Tail gunner Staff Sergeant Samuel O. Turner opens fire with the bomber’s quad .50-caliber machine guns, blasting the MiG out of the sky and scoring the first tail gun kill for the B-52. Turner is awarded the Silver Star for saving his crew and his bomber now sits on display at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington.

Posted on December 18, 2017 at 08:45 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Dec. 8 in U.S. military history

Chief Petty Officer Edward C. Byers, Jr., one of two actively serving Medal of Honor recipients in the United States Armed Forces

1941: As Japanese warplanes continue to hammer Allied bases across Asia and the Pacific, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously declares Dec. 7 as “a date which will live in infamy,” asking Congress to declare war on Japan – which they will do in a matter of hours. The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and numerous other governments also declare war on Japan.

Eyeing the destruction from USS Enterprise (CV-6) as the aircraft carrier steams into Pearl Harbor, he says that “Before we’re through with ’em, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell.”

Col. William W. Ashurst (USMC) is captured and surrenders his remaining “China Marines”, who are held as prisoners until the end of the war. Also in China, USS Wake becomes the only U.S. warship to surrender during World War II, when the Japanese capture the river patrol gunboat and her crew by surprise while the ship is at anchor. A Japanese invasion fleet departs Kwajalein Atoll, and in three days will assault Wake Island.

In the Philippines, Japanese forces land at Batan Island, as enemy air strikes take out roughly half of the American warplanes on Luzon Island to the south.

Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler declares war on the United States, ordering his naval forces to begin attacking U.S. shipping. Although the Chinese have been fighting Japan for over four years, China formally declares war against Japan – and Germany – on this date.

1942: Considered “perhaps the greatest individual success of American PT boats during the war,” eight PT boats engage – and turn around – a force of eight Japanese destroyers on a mission to supply soldiers on Guadalcanal.

1965: 150 Air Force and Navy warplanes begin conducting strikes against North Vietnamese Army infiltration routes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. The covert Operation “Tiger Hound” will continue until 1968, when it becomes part of Operation “Commando Hunt.”

2012: Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Edward C. Byers, Jr. earns the Medal of Honor during a mission to rescue an American doctor who had been captured in Afghanistan. His citation can be read here.

Posted on December 8, 2017 at 11:55 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Dec. 7 in U.S. military history

The famous “Blue Marble” photo taken by the Apollo 17 crew. Yes, the earth appears to be “upside down” but that is due to the astronauts’ position on the moon.

1917: Four U.S. battleships, USS Delaware (BB-28), USS Florida (BB-30), New York (BB-34), and USS Wyoming (BB-32) arrive in British waters and join the British Grand Fleet for service during World War I. That same day, the United States declares war on Austria-Hungary.

1941: At 3:57 a.m. the minesweeper USS Condor spots a periscope at the entrance to Pearl Harbor. The ship signals the nearby destroyer USS Ward, whose crew begins searching for the unidentified vessel. At 6:37 a.m., Ward spots the periscope as a two-man Japanese mini sub attempts to follow a U.S. cargo ship into the harbor and sinks the enemy warship – the first U.S. shots of World War II.

Having achieved total tactical and strategic surprise, Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo’s 1st Air Fleet begins their attack on Pearl Harbor. The strike is conducted in two waves: The first wave of 183 enemy aircraft strikes just before 8:00 a.m. The second wave of 170 planes hits a little after 8:30 a.m.

Of the ships anchored at Pearl Harbor, five of the eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were either sunk or severely damaged. By day’s end, 2,718 American sailors, 582 soldiers (including Army Air Forces personnel), 178 Marines, and 103 civilians will be dead, dying or wounded. Japanese losses were minimal: 30 planes, five minisubs, 65 killed, and one Japanese sailor captured. All but two of the battleships – Arizona and Oklahoma – are raised to fight again.

Meanwhile, Japanese forces bomb Guam and Wake as destroyers and planes attack Midway. Other Japanese targets include Shanghai, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies.

1942: USS New Jersey (BB-62), one of the world’s largest battleships ever built, is launched. The “Big J” will serve a total of 21 years in the active fleet, seeing action in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. In 1982 the Iowa-class battleship will put to sea once again after being modified to carry Tomahawk cruise missiles, and is decommissioned for the last time in 1991.

1943: At the Bernhardt defensive line in Italy, Lt. Gen. Mark Clark’s Fifth Army secures the Mignano Gap.

1944: Patton’s Third Army crosses the Siegfried Line at Saarlautern.

In the Pacific, the 77th Infantry Division lands at Ormoc in the Philippines as one of the escort destroyers, USS Ward (the same ship that sunk the midget submarine three years ago at Pearl Harbor), is sunk by kamikaze attacks. Nearby, the USS Mahan is also sunk by kamikaze attacks.

1950: Air Force cargo planes drop eight “Treadway” bridge spans in the Funchilin Pass, enabling the First Marine Division to cross the most difficult natural obstacle on their breakout of the Chosin Reservoir.

1952: U.S. Air Force F-86 “Saber” pilots shoot down seven of 32 enemy aircraft – the highest tally of the Korean War.

1959: America’s first operational ballistic missile, the PGM-17 “Thor”, is successfully launched at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

1972: Apollo 17 launches for NASA’s final lunar mission. Aboard are two U.S. Navy captains: Eugene A. Cernan and Ronald E. Evans, and Harrison H. Schmitt – a civilian geologist.

Posted on December 7, 2017 at 15:16 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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The 15 men who earned the Medal of Honor during the Pearl Harbor attacks

On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo’s 1st Air Fleet begins their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Two waves of aircraft strike the U.S. Pacific Fleet at anchor, as well as bases across Hawaii. Five of the eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships are either sunk or severely damaged. By day’s end, 2,718 American sailors, 582 soldiers (including Army Air Forces personnel), 178 Marines, and 103 civilians are dead, dying or wounded.
In a day full of countless acts of American bravery and sacrifice, 15 men and officers of the U.S. Navy earned the Medal of Honor – 11 posthumously – during the battle. Here are the accounts of their actions.

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to John William Finn for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For extraordinary heroism distinguished service, and devotion above and beyond the call of duty. During the first attack by Japanese airplanes on the Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, on 7 December 1941, Lt. Finn promptly secured and manned a .50-caliber machinegun mounted on an instruction stand in a completely exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy enemy machinegun strafing fire. Although painfully wounded many times, he continued to man this gun and to return the enemy’s fire vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety. It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post to seek medical attention. Following first aid treatment, although obviously suffering much pain and moving with great difficulty, he returned to the squadron area and actively supervised the rearming of returning planes. His extraordinary heroism and conduct in this action were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

For The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Ensign Herbert Charpoit Jones, United States Naval Reserve, for conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. Ensign Jones organized and led a party, which was supplying ammunition to the anti-aircraft battery of the U.S.S. CALIFORNIA (BB-44) after the mechanical hoists were put out of action when he was fatally wounded by a bomb explosion. When two men attempted to take him from the area which was on fire, he refused to let them do so, saying in words to the effect, “Leave me alone! I am done for. Get out of here before the magazines go off.” (more…)

Posted on December 7, 2017 at 15:04 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Dec. 6 in U.S. military history

[Originally published at OpsLens.com]

Battle of San Pasqual, painting by Col. Charles Woodhouse (USMCR)

1846: Gen. Stephen Watts Kearney’s U.S. Army of the West, accompanied by a small detachment of mounted rifle volunteers commanded by Marine Lt. Archibald Gillespie, attack Mexican “Californios” in the Battle of San Pasqual, near present-day San Diego. Both sides claimed victory and the engagement became one of the bloodiest of the Mexican-American War.

1917: A German U-boat torpedoes the destroyer USS Jacob Jones off the coast of England, which becomes the first U.S. destroyer to be sunk by a submarine.

1941: After an Australian scout plane spots a Japanese fleet near the Malayan Coast, the Allies presume that the Japanese plan to invade Thailand. However, British intelligence intercepts a radio signal warning to the Japanese fleet to be on full alert, prompting advisers to question whether the move is a diversion.

Meanwhile, Admiral Yamamoto tells his First Air Fleet “The rise or fall of the empire depends upon this battle. Everyone will do his duty with utmost efforts.”

Also, the Japanese fleet departs Palau for the invasion of the Philippines.

1950: American forces – primarily leathernecks of the now-famous 1st Marine Division​, a few American soldiers, and a handful of British commandos – begin their epic “fighting withdrawal” from Hagaru-ri to Koto-ri and on to Hamnung, during the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir, Korea. At Koto-ri, a few officers express concern that their vastly outnumbered, bloodied, freezing, near-starving columns might not survive the final trek to Hamnung.

As the UN orders communist forces to halt at the 38th Parallel, U.S. and Australian planes kill an estimated 2,500 enemy troops.

1961: The U.S. Air Force is authorized to begin combat operations in Vietnam – provided they carry a Vietnamese national with them for training purposes.

1967: When his company was attacked by a battalion-sized enemy force in South Vietnam’s Biên Hòa Province, U.S. Army chaplain, Capt. Charles J. Liteky moved multiple times through heavy enemy fire to deliver last rights to dying soldiers and aid to wounded soldiers. Despite incoming small arms and rocket fire, Liteky stood up multiple times in order to direct the incoming helicopters to the landing zone. During the engagement, he would carry 20 wounded soldiers to the landing zone for evacuation. For his actions, Liteky is awarded the Medal of Honor.

1968: The Navy launches Operation “Giant Slingshot” to interdict the flow of men and weapons flowing through the Mekong Delta from the Cambodian border.

Posted on December 6, 2017 at 15:20 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Dec. 1 in U.S. military history

[Originally published at OpsLens.com]

“Marine One” – a Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King of HMX-1, along with an identical decoy. (White House photo)

1779: During what is perhaps the worst winter of the century, Gen. George Washington’s army establishes their winter camp at Morristown, N.J.

1918: The American Army of Occupation enters Germany. Rejecting the Treaty of Versailles, the United States technically remained in a state of war against the Germans until 1921 when a separate peace agreement was signed.

1921: Lt. Cmdr. Ralph F. Wood departs Norfolk, Va. in a blimp for Washington, D.C. in the first flight of a helium-filled aircraft.

1941: With the Japanese fleet secretly steaming towards Pearl Harbor, Japanese emperor Hirohito signs a declaration of war against the United States.

1941: The Civil Air Patrol is established. Originally intended for reconnaissance, civilian planes are eventually fitted with bombs and depth charges when German submarines begin attacking U.S. shipping on the east coast. During the war, CAP pilots would log half a million hours, spotting 173 submarines, hitting 10 and sinking two – at the cost of 64 pilots.

1943: The Teheran Conference between Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin concludes. The three leaders agree on plans to invade western Europe in May, 1944; to invade southern France; and that the Soviets would join the war against Japan once the Germans were defeated.

1943: The improved P-51D “Mustang” is sent into combat for the first time, during a fighter sweep over Belgium. By war’s end the Mustang will shoot down nearly five thousand German planes – an incredible 19 enemy fighters per Mustang lost. The P-51D will also see service in the Pacific Theater, and later provide close air support for troops during the Korean War.

1949: The Marine Corps’ first helicopter squadron, HMX-1, is commissioned at Quantico, Va. Today, HMX-1 is tasked with transportation of the president, vice president, and other high-ranking military and government officials.

1950: Col. Allan MacLean’s Regimental Combat Team 31 is annihilated by Chinese forces during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Although enemy casualties are extremely heavy, over 1,000 U.S. soldiers are killed (to include Col. MacLean), freeze to death, or die in Chinese captivity. After the battle, only 385 of the task force’s original 3,200 soldiers are fit for duty.

1969: The U.S. government holds its first draft lottery since 1942.

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Nov. 21 in U.S. military history

The Grumman F9F-2 “Panther” – Ensign Neil Armstrong (future Apollo 11 astronaut) is flying the jet in the background

1817: The First Seminole War begins when Gen. (and future president) Andrew Jackson leads forces into Spanish-held Florida to reclaim escaped slaves from Seminole tribal areas.

1943: USS Nautilus (SS-168) surfaces and disembarks Capt. James L. Jones and his Marine Amphibious Reconnaissance Company off the beaches of Abemama Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. The raiders board rubber rafts and paddle ashore under cover of darkness, spending the next several days wiping out the defenders and capturing the islands along with fire support from the sub. The Marine Corps’ modern-day Force Reconnaissance companies trace their roots to Jones’ team.

1947: Grumman’s first jet fighter, the F9F “Panther” makes its first flight. The F9F will serve as the Navy and Marine Corps’ primary jet fighter during the Korean War and will be flown by Hall of Fame baseball player Ted Williams (USMC) and Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong (USN).

1967: Gen. William Westmoreland, the commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam, tells the American press that “I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing.”

1970: Col. Arthur D. “Bull” Simons leads a 56-man rescue operation on the Son Tay POW camp, just 23 miles from Hanoi, North Vietnam. Although the prisoners had been relocated to another camp prior to the operation, the raid – involving over 100 aircraft from multiple services – was a tactical success. Dozens of enemy guards are killed during the brief engagement and the assault would serve in part as a model for the formation of Special Operations Command.

Posted on November 21, 2017 at 09:46 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Oct. 27 in U.S. military history

Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., Commander of the Tuskegee Airmen, and future four-star General

1864: In a daring nighttime commando raid, Lt. William B. Cushing, piloting a torpedo-armed steam launch, slips past a Confederate schooner guarding the ironclad CSS Albemarle. Cushing detonates the spar torpedo, blowing a massive hole in the warship, which had been dominating the Roanoke River. Although several of his crew are drowned and captured, Cushing and another sailor escape, leaving behind a destroyed ironclad.

1942: After several days of intense fighting, a shattered Japanese military abandons their offensive on Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field. The Japanese will evacuate the island in February, and the Americans will turn Guadalcanal into a major base during the Solomon Islands campaign.

1954: Following in his father’s pioneering footsteps, Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. becomes the first black general in the U.S. Air Force. Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., who served in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, and both World Wars, had been the first black man ever promoted to the rank of general in the United States Armed Forces. After becoming the first black pilot to ever solo in a U.S. Army Air Corps aircraft, the younger Davis commanded the 99th Pursuit Squadron – the famous “Tuskegee Airmen” – during World War II. He again saw combat when he deployed to Korea as Commander of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing in 1953.

1962: Maj. Rudolph Anderson (USAF) becomes the only casualty from hostile fire during the Cuban Missile Crisis when a Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile shoots down his U-2 spy plane during a reconnaissance overflight of Cuba. Anderson will be posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, the U.S. military’s second-highest award for valor, after the Medal of Honor.

Posted on October 27, 2017 at 10:48 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Oct. 26 in U.S. military history

An Aeromarine 39 on final approach for USS Langley, Oct. 1922

1909: U.S. Army Lt. (future brig. gen.) Frederick Erastus Humphreys​ becomes the first Army aviator to solo in a heavier-than-air craft – the Wright Flyer​ – following three hours of instruction by Wilbur Wright​.

1922: Off Cape Henry, Va., Lt. Commander Godfrey Chevalier becomes the first aviator to land on a moving ship when his Aeromarine 39B biplane touches down on the deck of USS Langley.

1942: Japanese carrier-based aircraft sink the carrier USS Hornet, leaving only one operational American carrier in the Pacific. The Battle of Santa Cruz is a pyrrhic victory for the Japanese, however, as their carrier pilots were decimated in the attack and can no longer conduct attacks on U.S. forces at Guadalcanal.

On Guadalcanal, Platoon Sergeant Mitchell Paige single-handedly fought off waves of Japanese soldiers while all the Marines in his machine gun section are either killed or wounded. Once reinforcements arrived, Paige will lead a bayonet charge that drives off the enemy. For his actions, Paige is awarded the Medal of Honor.

1950: The First Marine Division lands at Wonsan, Korea and moves north toward the Yalu River. In a month, they will be attacked by 10 Chinese divisions and have to fight their way out of the Chosin Reservoir.

Meanwhile, Republic of Korean (South Korea) forces arrive at the Yalu River and learn that two entire Chinese Armies have already crossed into Korea.

1966: A magnesium parachute flare ignites aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV-34) off the coast of Vietnam, igniting the worst ship-board fire since World War II. 44 sailors perish in the blaze.

1968: An estimated four battalions of North Vietnamese soldiers attempt to overrun Fire Support Base Julie near the Cambodian border. Supported by dozens of B-52 strikes, the defenders manage to repel the attack.

Posted on October 26, 2017 at 09:23 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Oct. 25 in U.S. military history

1812: The frigate USS United States under the command of Capt. (future commodore) Stephen Decatur – hero of Tripoli and said to be the U.S. Navy’s own Lord Nelson​ – captures the Royal Navy frigate HMS Macedonian under the command of Capt. John Carden in a brisk fight several hundred miles off the Azores.

1925: The court martial of Col. William “Billy” Mitchell, America’s chief aviation officer during World War I and considered to be the “Father of the U.S. Air Force”, begins in Washington, D.C.. The outspoken Mitchell is charged with multiple counts of insubordination due to his criticism of Navy leadership for investing in battleships instead of aircraft carriers and the handling of numerous fatal aviation incidents. Maj. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, one of Mitchell’s 12 judges, refers to his assignment as “one of the most distasteful orders I ever received.”

1942: On Guadalcanal, Japanese forces launch a series of full-frontal assaults to retake Henderson Field. The defending Marines – led by Lt. Col. B. Lewis “Chesty” Puller – and soldiers kill upwards of 3,000 Japanese troops at the cost of only 80 Americans. Sgt. John Basilone became a Marine legend during the battle, fighting off wave after wave of Japanese soldiers for two days despite being incredibly outnumbered.

1944: During the Battle of Leyte Gulf, torpedoes from the destroyer USS Melvin (DD-680) sink the Japanese battleship Fusō, considered to be the largest warship to go down with all hands during World War II. Rear. Adm. Jesse Oldendorf’s 7th Fleet Support Group, consisting of several battleships sunk or damaged during Pearl Harbor, engage and sink the battleship Yamashiro, marking the last battleship-versus-battleship engagement in history. The escort carrier USS St. Lo (CVE-63) becomes the first major warship to be sunk by Japanese kamikaze pilots. By war’s end, kamikaze attacks would sink 34 U.S. ships.

Elsewhere in the gulf, three Japanese destroyers are sunk at the cost of one U.S. escort carrier, two destroyers, and a destroyer escort.

Aircraft from the U.S. 3rd Fleet, commanded by Adm. Bill Halsey, sink the Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku, the last surviving carrier that struck Pearl Harbor. Also headed for the bottom are two more light carriers and a destroyer. Two more ships – including another light carrier – are crippled. Later that day, naval gunfire and torpedoes will claim another Japanese light carrier, two destroyers, and a light cruiser. The Battle for Leyte Gulf is effectively over.

1950: Well over 200,000 Chinese Communist troops attack UN forces in their first assault of the Korean War. The Chinese force withdraws to the mountains and when they attack again one month later, they will drive the American-led force all the way back to the southern tip of the Korean peninsula.

1983: In the largest military operation since Vietnam, nearly 2,000 U.S. troops land on the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada to secure American citizens and topple the Marxist regime. On the first day of fighting, members of the 75th Ranger Regiment parachute into the Port Salines International Airport, allowing planes to deliver soldiers of the 82d Airborne Division. When a SEAL team determines that the beach is unsuitable for the planned amphibious invasion to capture Pearl Airport on the opposite side of the island, helicopters ferry Marines ashore and quickly secure their objective.

Posted on October 25, 2017 at 09:31 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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