That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

Anyone can tell you that in combat, good communications are important. But there was one time that a miscommunication helped the U.S. win a significant naval surface action off Guadalcanal during the Battle of Cape Esperance. 


That bit of lucky confusion happened on the night of Oct. 11, 1942. That was when Japan decided to carry out what was called a “Tokyo Express” run. These runs delivered troops, often dashing in under the cover of darkness. This was necessary because American planes at Henderson Field were very capable of taking down enemy ships in the daylight hours.

 

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
Gilbert C. Hoover (US Navy photo)

To take Henderson Field, Japan had to reinforce the troops on Guadalcanal — especially because the Americans had, in the middle of September run a substantial convoy to Guadalcanal at the cost of the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV 7). During that month, at the battle of Edson’s Ridge, the Marines had repelled an attack, inflicting substantial losses on the Japanese ground troops.

According to “The Struggle for Guadalcanal,” Volume Five in Samuel Eliot Morison’s “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II,” on Oct. 9, 1942, an American convoy carrying the 164th Infantry Regiment, part of the Americal Division, departed for Guadalcanal. Three United States Navy task forces covered the transports.

One was centered around the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8), which had launched the Doolittle raid almost six months prior. The second was around the battleship USS Washington (BB 56). The third was a group of cruisers and destroyers under the command of Rear Adm. Norman Scott, who had his flagship on the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco (CA 38).

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
USS San Francisco (CA 38), flagship of Admiral Norman Scott during the Battle of Cape Esperance. (US Navy photo)

In addition to the San Francisco, the heavy cruiser USS Salt Lake City (CA 25), the light cruisers USS Helena (CL 50) and USS Boise (CL 47), and the destroyers USS Laffey (DD 459), USS Farenholt (DD 491), USS Duncan (DD 485), USS McCalla (DD 488) and USS Buchanan (DD 484) were part of Task Force 64, which had the assignment of securing Ironbottom Sound until the transports finished unloading.

At 11:32 that night, the radar on the USS Helena detected a Japanese force of three heavy cruisers (the Aoba, Kinugasa, and Furutaka) and the destroyers Fubuki and Hatsuyuki. American radar tracked the Japanese force, which was covering a supply convoy. At 11:45 that night, Capt. Gilbert C. Hoover on board the Helena would send a fateful message to Admiral Scott, “Interrogatory Roger.” He was requesting permission to fire. Scott’s response, “Roger,” was intended to acknowledge receipt of the request. But “Roger” was also used for granting permission to fire, according to Morison.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
Rear Admiral Norman Scott (US Navy photo)

Hoover would assume the latter, and at 11:46, the USS Helena opened fire with her fifteen six-inch guns. According to NavWeaps.com, the Mk 16 six-inch guns could fire up to ten rounds a minute. In that first minute, as many as 150 rounds would be fired by that ship. Other American ships also opened fire, and the Aoba, the flagship of the Japanese force, took the brunt of the American fire. The Japanese commander, Rear Adm. Aritomo Goto, was mortally wounded early on.

Thrown into confusion, the Japanese force initially believed they had been fired on by their troop convoy. Eventually, they began to return fire, but the battle’s result was never in doubt. The Aoba would be badly damaged, and the Furutaka and the Fubuki would be sunk by the end of the battle.

The Americans would lose the destroyer USS Duncan, while the Boise and Salt Lake City were damaged and returned to rear bases for repairs, along with the destroyer Farenholt.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
USS Helena (CL 50). This ship’s 15 six-inch guns each could fire ten rounds a minute. (US Navy photo)

Norman Scott had won a tactical victory, thanks to that communications foul-up, but the Japanese landed their reinforcements that night. On the night of October 13, the battleships Kongo and Haruna delivered a devastating bombardment against Henderson Field, but couldn’t prevent American reinforcements from arriving.

Later that month, Japanese forces would fail to take Henderson Field, while a naval offensive would be turned back in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands at the cost of the Hornet.

The two men involved in that communications foul-up would see action about a month later off Guadalcanal when Japanese battleships tried to again bombard Henderson Field, only to be stopped by Daniel Callaghan.

Rear Adm. Norman Scott would be killed in action in that engagement. Hoover would survive, and be left in command of the surviving ships. As he lead them back, the anti-aircraft cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52) would be sunk by a Japanese submarine. Rather than try to rescue survivors, Hoover radioed the position of the survivors to a patrolling B-17, expecting a request to be relayed to the South Pacific.

It never was. Only ten men would survive from the Juneau. According to Morison, Hoover was relieved of his command. An obituary from an unknown newspaper dated June 10, 1980 available at usshelena.org noted that Hoover, a three-time Navy Cross recipient, retired from the Navy in 1947, and served in various capacities until his death.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time terrorists seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca

1979 was a tumultuous year in the Islamic world. The year opened with the overthrow of the Shah and a revolution in Iran. The year ended with chaos in Islam’s holy city of Mecca when radical terrorists took over the Grand Mosque.


The terrorist group, led by Juhayman al-Otaybi, believed that the Mahdi (Arabic for “the redeemer”) arrived on earth in the form of al-Otaybi’s brother-in-law, Muhammad Abdullah al-Qahtani.

On the morning of Nov. 20, 1979 al-Otaybi led some 500 armed insurgents into the mosque just as the Imam was preparing to lead 50,000 followers in their morning prayers. The terrorists killed two unarmed policemen before barricading the gates and taking up defensive positions around the mosque and in the minarets.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
That’s… unexpected.

Within hours, a large force of police from Mecca assembled and attempted to retake the mosque. However, they were outgunned and exposed and were forced to fall back after taking heavy casualties.

Soon, Saudi Army and Saudi National Guard troops joined the surviving police and cordoned off the mosque. The remainder of the city was evacuated by that night. However, further response was delayed due to several issues: Two important Saudi princes were out of the country and unable to give direction. Additionally, violence inside the Grand Mosque is strictly prohibited by Islamic Law. Any kind of violent action required the issuance of a fatwa from the ulema – Islamic intellectuals – to allow for troops to retake the mosque.

In the meantime, Saudi, Pakistani, and French Special Forces arrived in the area to prepare for retaking the mosque.

According to Lawrence Wright, since non-Muslims are barred from entering the holy city of Mecca, the three French commandos converted to Islam in a brief ceremony before continuing with their mission.

With the approval of the ulema to commit violence against those holding the mosque, Saudi forces attempted another assault against the insurgents. Again, the Saudi’s were thrown back with heavy losses. The insurgent snipers in their perches easily picked off approaching troops.

After their second defeat, the Saudis turned to the French to devise a plan that would allow them to retake the mosque.

The French solution was to use gas – pumped into the underground tunnels beneath the mosque – to incapacitate the insurgents so assault forces could then make their way in and kill the terrorists. Unfortunately, the twisting, expansive nature of the tunnels failed to keep the gas concentrated enough to work.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
Smoke rising from the Grand Mosque during the assault on the Marwa-Safa gallery, 1979.

Eventually, Saudi forces drilled holes in the walls and used tear gas and grenades to drive the insurgents away from their strongpoints. In conjunction with Pakistani Special Forces, the assault was renewed.

Those caught in the open were quickly killed. However, many insurgents retreated into the catacombs below the mosque and put up a staunch defense. The Saudi and Pakistani forces fought a bloody battle, oftentimes indiscriminately killing insurgents and hostages alike, in order to retake the mosque.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
Saudi soldiers fighting their way into the Qaboo Underground beneath the Grand Mosque of Mecca, 1979

The siege and battle had lasted more than two weeks and resulted in 255 killed inside the mosque on top of some 127 military personnel killed. Total casualties, including wounded, exceeded 1,000.

68 insurgents, including their leader al-Otaybi, were captured following the battle. Al-Qahtani, the supposed Mahdi, was killed during the recapturing of the mosque.

The insurgents were shown no leniency and were found guilty of seven crimes: violating the sanctity of the Grand Mosque, violating the sanctity of the month of Muharram, killing fellow Muslims and others, disobeying legitimate authorities, suspending prayer at the Grand Mosque, erring in identifying the Mahdi, and exploiting the innocent for criminal acts.

They were divided up into four groups and sent to four cities around Saudi Arabia. The convicted were then publicly executed by beheading.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
Surviving insurgents in custody of Saudi authorities.

The seizure of the Grand Mosque also had the effect of drastically changing policies in Saudi Arabia. Even though the attack was carried out by religious fundamentalists, the king turned to more religion in society to placate any more fundamentalism. These fundamentalist reforms hold sway in Saudi Arabia to this day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This POW earned the Medal of Honor for saving his entire unit

On Apr. 24, 1951, Cpl. Hiroshi Miyamura — known as “Hershey” to his men — and his squad of a dozen machine gunners and five riflemen were stationed on a Korean hill to delay the Chinese attack everyone knew was coming. The hillside was pocked with trenches and craters and littered with razor wire. At 4 in the morning, the quiet was broken by the sound of bugles and whistles as waves of Chinese regulars swarmed across the Imjin River. One of those waves breaking against Miyamura’s position.


Suddenly, he was in charge of a suicide mission.

Born and raised in Gallup, New Mexico, the son of Japanese immigrants, Miyamura served in World War II with the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a Japanese-American unit that became the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of America, but did not see action. He joined up again when the Korean Conflict broke out in 1950 and was trained in heavy weapons and sent to Korea.

For hours that morning, the Chinese waves beat against Miyamura’s position. Their overwhelming numbers came straight at Miyamura as his machine guns slowly eliminated the enemy squad, one man at a time. As their ammunition dwindled, Miyamura, who was directing fire, firing his carbine, and hurling grenades at the attackers, ordered his squad to fix bayonets.

At one point, the Chinese began attempting to flank the remnants of the small unit, so Miyamura attacked — by himself.

“Chinese soldiers had been cautiously moving up the slope when Miyamura suddenly appeared in their midst,” Brig. Gen. Ralph Osborne, would later announce.  “Jabbing and slashing, he scattered one group and wheeled around, breaking up another group the same way.”

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
An artist rendering of Hiroshi Miyamura in the Korean War.

He then returned to his squad and began tending to the wounded, but he soon realized his position was hopeless. He ordered a withdrawal.

As the men readied to pull out, another wave of Chinese struck and Miyamura moved to an untended machine gun and fired it until he was out of ammunition. He disabled the machine gun to keep out of enemy hands and was about to join the withdrawal when the Chinese again hit his position. He bayoneted his way to a second, untended machine gun and used it to cover his men’s withdrawal until he was forced to take shelter in a bunker and kept fighting. The area in front of the bunker was later discovered to be littered with the bodies of at least 50 of the enemy combatants.

When the fighting hit a lull, Hershey found himself alone.

Now wounded in the leg by grenade shrapnel, he began to work his way back from the front at times meeting — and besting — Chinese troops in hand-to-hand combat until, exhausted and weakened, he fell into a roadside ditch and was captured.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
A machine gun position like the ones Hiroshi Miyamura used.

For the next 28 months, he struggled to survive in a North Korean POW camp, believing his entire squad had been killed or wounded. He also naively feared he would face a court-marshal for having lost so many of his men. (In fact, several of the squad had survived). So, when he was finally released at the end of the fighting he weighed less than 100 pounds and faced freedom with some trepidation.

Instead, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

The award had been kept secret for fear of enemy retaliation, so few ever knew of Hershey’s actions on that lonely Korean hill. So it was with some surprise that Miyamura was informed by Gen. Osborne of his MOH.

“What?” he is reported to have said.  ‘I’ve been awarded what medal?’

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
Hiroshi Miyamura receives the Medal of Honor from President Eisenhower.

On Oct. 27, 1953, then-Sergeant Miyamura — he had been promoted while in captivity — received his award from President Dwight Eisenhower at the White House and returned to Gallup where the city’s schools were let out, businesses had been closed, and some 5,000 people greeted him as he got off the train.

Gallup had declared “Hiroshi Miyamura Day.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

America’s secret supersonic spy drones flew over China in the 1960s

While we tend to think of drones as a very modern addition to the battlefield, the truth is, America’s Defense Department has long been interested in the concept of unmanned aircraft. In fact, for a short window of time in the 1960s, America’s supersonic, high-flying drones were already attempting reconnaissance flights over China.

In May of 1960, the United States was at a crossroads. A CIA pilot named Francis Gary Powers flying America’s classified U-2 Spy Plane had been shot down over the Soviet Union at the start of the month. The ensuing international incident edged the world one step closer toward nuclear Armageddon, and President Dwight Eisenhower made the decision to cease all manned flights into Soviet Airspace as a result. With reconnaissance satellite technology under development but still years away from providing actionable intelligence, Lockheed’s famed Skunkworks set to work on another possibility: unmanned flights over the Soviet Union.


That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

D-21 Drone with additional rocket booster for launch from a B-52H

(WikiMedia Commons)

In October of 1962, legendary engineer Kelly Johnson, whose career included designing both the U-2 Spy Plane and the SR-71 Blackbird, set to work designing what would come to be called the D-21: a long-range, high altitude drone that leaned heavily on technology developed for the SR-71’s predecessor, the A-12.

The requirements Johnson was given by the CIA and U.S. Air Force were nothing short of extreme: the drone had to reach speeds of Mach 3.3–3.5, an operational altitude of 87,000–95,000 feet, and needed a fuel range of 3,000 nautical miles. Any modern-day engineer would tell you that such a project would still be daunting today, but Johnson had made a career out of accomplishing the seemingly impossible — often with little more than a hand ruler and scratch paper for calculations.

His D-21 design could meet all the requirements set out for him, but in order to achieve such high speeds at such high altitudes, he had to use a ramjet engine that couldn’t function until it was already flying high in the sky. As a result, plans were drawn up to deploy the drone from a variant of the A-12, dubbed the M-21 Blackbird.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

Just in case you didn’t think the SR-71 could ever look cooler.

(WikiMedia Commons)

With a wingspan of just over 19 feet and a length of nearly 43 feet, the D-21 looked a lot like someone had just hacked the end off of one of the A-12’s wings, making the M-21 a matching aesthetic choice, if nothing else.

The D-21 carried a single high-resolution camera that would snap photos over a pre-programmed flight path. It would then eject the film canisters, which would drift down via parachute and float in water. The plan was to capture these canisters in the air, with Navy ships positioned to retrieve them from the water as a backup. The drone itself would then self-destruct to avoid being captured and reverse-engineered.

The first three test flights of the D-21 from the M-21 Blackbird went smoothly, but on the fourth attempt, the drone experienced an “asymmetric unstart” passing through the bow wake of its M-21 mothership. The two aircraft collided in mid-air at the blistering speed of Mach 3.25. Both pilots managed to eject, but one ultimately drowned before he could be rescued. The decision was made to scrap the M-21 mothership strategy and instead deploy the D-21 from beneath the wings of the B-52H bomber.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

Modified D-21 drones on a B-52H Bomber

(WikiMedia Commons)

After a number of failures, Lockheed’s D-21 completed its first successful B-52H-launched flight in June of 1968 and soon, the program moved into operational reconnaissance flights over China.

In all, four D-21s were launched from B-52Hs and sent into Chinese airspace on reconnaissance missions. Two of the drones completed their flights, but either failed to eject their film, or the film was deemed irretrievable. The other two flights were either shot down or simply disappeared shortly after launch.

Despite their failures over China, the D-21 program was significantly ahead of its time. A Mach-3 capable drone with an operational ceiling of 90,000 feet was an unheard of proposition in its day and remains impressive even in this new era of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The program was ultimately canceled on July 15, 1971, with the B-52s converted for use in the program returned to operational service.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient turned ‘rejects’ into war heroes

Altering graduating from West Point Military Academy at the top of his class, Paul Bucha continued on to Stanford University, where he studied for his Master’s degree. During his summer breaks while attending the prestigious college, he received Airborne and Ranger training.

Soon after completing his MBA, Bucha started his military career at Fort Campbell before heading off to Vietnam with the 187th Infantry in 1967. There, he’d face an impossible challenge of leading a company of troops most soldiers would avoid.


That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
Lt. Paul Bucha takes a moment to pause foru00a0a photo op while in Vietnam.
(Medal of Honor Book)

After Bucha settled into Vietnam, he was quickly promoted and given his first company of soldiers. His brigade commander filled Bucha’s newly formed company with those thought to be the ‘rejects’ of other units. The reputation of the soldiers placed in his company earned them the label of “the clerks and the jerks.”

Although the Army’s superior officers saw them as duds, the young lieutenant instead saw a great group of troops he was honored to lead into war.

In March 1968, Bucha and his men were the lead elements of a counterattack after the Tet Offensive. For two days, Bucha’s men destroyed several enemy strongholds and killed off pockets of resistance. As they continued to push forward, the brave men discovered a battalion-sized element of well-trained Vietnamese fighters.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
(Medal of Honor Book)

An intense firefight broke out, pinning them down. Bucha surged forward with his RTO while tossing several hand grenades to clear the way. Positioned well beyond the reach of allied artillery, the young lieutenant was unable to call for support — they were on their own.

Bucha continued to lead the men for several more hours as the fight raged on, never backing down. Through the night, he encouraged his men to press on, and that’s precisely what they did for their respected leader. Bucha continuously devised and revised plans to keep his men in solid defensive and offensive positions, which saved lives.

By daybreak, Bucha and his men had managed to fight off their overwhelming opposition, leaving over 150 dead enemy troops on the battlefield.

Paul Bucha received the Medal of Honor on May 14, 1970, for personally directing the successful defense of his besieged unit.

Check out the Medal of Honor Book‘s video below to listen to this incredible story for yourself.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Check out this tracked, vintage 1950s six-shooter

When you think of six-shooters, the classic .38 Smith & Wesson Special revolver comes to mind, as made famous by classic cop shows, like Adam-12, Dragnet, and CHiPs, and countless Westerns. But there was one six-shooter that packed a lot more punch than the cowboys’ gun of choice.


The six-shooter in question was the M50 Ontos — and it certainly wasn’t a revolver. This tracked vehicle packed six M40 106mm recoilless rifles. It was intended to serve a tank-killer for use by light infantry and airborne units when it entered service in 1955, facing off against the then-new Soviet T-55 main battle tank. Like a revolver, it was meant to quickly end a fight.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

Six M40 106mm recoilless rifles gave the Ontos one heck of a first salvo,

(US Army)

The Ontos had a crew of three — a driver, gunner, and commander. It held a total of 24 rounds, 6 loaded and 18 in reserve, for its massive guns. The vehicle ended up being used primarily by the Marine Corps — not the Army airborne units for which it was originally intended.

This system proved very potent in Vietnam. Its six recoilless rifles could do a lot to knock infantry back — and the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong found that out the hard way. The Ontos also carried a pair of .50-caliber spotting rifles to improve accuracy and had a World War II-era .30-caliber M1919 machine gun attached (the same used by grunts in WWII).

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

A Marine escapes the cramped confines of his M50 Ontos to catch a break.

(USMC)

The Ontos was retired in 1970, largely because while it looked mean as hell and packed a punch, it had a few severe drawbacks. One of the biggest being that the crew had to exit the vehicle in order to reload the big guns — which sounds like a quick way to shorten your life expectancy. Then again, if you’ve tried to reload a revolver, you know that process can take a while. In that sense, the Ontos was very much a true six-shooter.

Learn more about this unique powerhouse in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KImM4zesVlo

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the ‘Warrior Pope’ led armies in vicious combat

Catholics know the Pope as God’s representative on Earth. Most other people know him as a generally fine world leader who usually wears unique and cool hats. But, from 1503 to 1513, the papal chair was sat by Pope Julius II, the “Warrior Pope,” who was known to be a shrewd politician and skilled conqueror.


Pope Julius II began life in 1443 as Giuliano della Rovere, a member of a poor noble family. His uncle had enough money to fund his way up the Catholic ranks and, eventually, became Pope Sixtus IV in 1471. Della Rovere was soon made a cardinal and continued to maneuver for his own gain.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

Pope Sixtus IV, uncle of future Pope Julius II, The Warrior Pope

(Painting by Melozzo da Forlì)

In 1474, della Rovere went to war in Umbria, a Papal State. He led 3,500 infantry in initial fighting and captured a town on his way to Citta di Castello, where the leading rebel against Rome lived. Della Rovere had lost control of some of his men on the way to the town and his siege weapons were having little effect on the city walls. Della Rovere was forced to request reinforcements from Rome.

Once his reinforcements arrived, della Rovere was at the head of 2,000 infantrymen and 28 cavalry squadrons.

There is some question about whether it was della Rovere’s force or political pressure that led to the capitulation of forces at Citta di Castello. Either way, della Rovere was able to head home a conquering hero.

After the death of Pope Sixtus IV, della Rovere was forced to work outside of Rome while rivals took the papal seat. But, in 1503, a resurgent della Rovere used bribes and political pressures to see himself voted into the Papacy. He adopted the name Pope Julius II.

As pope, Julius fought multiple battles — an unheard of activity for a pope, though his uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, was rumored to have considered it at one point.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

The city of Mirandola was relatively weak compared to other targets of the Warrior Pope, which is why the drawn-out siege was so disappointing.

(Image by unknown artist, suspected to be Lorenzo Penni)

His first battles were against Venice, which held lands taken from the Papal States. This led to a 1508 alliance with France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire, known as the League of Cambrai. Once the Venetians were sufficiently beaten and cowed, Julius II actually flipped his alliances and joined the Holy League, which worked to push French troops out of Italy in 1512.

It was during this campaign that, in 1511, he took to the battlefield and performed actions that offended observers.

The pope had himself carried to the front where his troops were fighting at Mirandola, a town in northern Italy. He routinely cursed his generals and made jokes at their expense, personally directed military operations, and reviewed the assembled troops. When the city continued to hold out, he ordered that they be threatened with pillage (ignoring the protests of his generals and advisers).

But he impressed his troops once again when he came under repeated cannon attack but remained at the front. The first cannonball struck his headquarters, so the Pope moved to his personal quarters. When those were also hit, he returned to his headquarters and ordered that the damage be repaired while he waited.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

Pope Julius II, the Warrior Pope, at the Siege of Mirandola

(Painting by Raffaello Tancredi)

When Mirandola finally fell, he ordered money be extorted from the citizens and disbursed among his troops and that all French soldiers found in the city be executed on the spot.

Luckily for the already deeply offended faithful in his camps, there were no French soldiers to be found in the city.

But the Pope’s conquests created their own problems. Angry French and Venetian forces and their allies soon re-took his conquered lands and even reportedly melted down a statue of him, used the metal to create a cannon, and then mockingly named it after him.

For these consequences, Julius II blamed one of his nephews, the Duke of Urbino, while praising a cardinal who had led forces in the same battles.

As the scapegoated Duke was leaving a tongue-lashing from the Pope and the cardinal was heading to the papal apartments to receive praise, the two men passed each other in the street. The duke leaped from his horse and savagely beat the cardinal before allowing his attendants to murder him.

Julius II was able to form a new alliance with Spain and England that eventually expelled the French, but allowed the Spanish to take hold of much of the same territory. Julius II was forming a new alliance against the Spanish when he died in 1513.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how one man tried to end slavery all by himself

I do not see how a barbarous community and a civilized community can constitute one state. I think we must get rid of slavery, or we must get rid of freedom.

That’s Ralph Waldo Emerson, speaking out against escalating violence in America in the 1850s.


Following the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the settling of Kansas had devolved into open territorial warfare between anti-slavery “free staters” and pro-slavery “border ruffians.” Representatives were physically assaulting senators on the Senate floor. Average American civilians were perpetrating acts of savagery toward one another that fell short of “domestic terrorism” only because, 80 years into the American experiment, there wasn’t yet a national moral consensus definitive enough to terrorize.

But a reckoning was imminent. As Emerson foretold, the U.S. would have to reject slavery or allow the notion of freedom it so exalted to perish as a consequence.

John Brown stepped into the 1850s a man accustomed to both the opportunity and the volatility of American life. He’d lived in eight different towns across five different states, sired over 20 children with two wives, founded a post office, built a school and started at least three different tanneries. He’d made and lost fortunes, gone bankrupt, become an authority on wool production, and travelled overseas to London to do business.

He had, with the bluntest application of will, done whatever it took to drink the nectar of life and liberty that American democracy promised.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
No, John Brown will NOT be attending your next committee meeting.

Brown believed in the core concept of America, if not the frustrating political mechanics of governing it. Brown loved America. But eventually he, and the radical forces he came to represent, could no longer tolerate the hypocrisy of living free in a society that countenanced slavery.  His trajectory as an abolitionist militant began with this vow:

Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!

Unlike notable abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, Brown distrusted politics. He rejected advocacy. He was animated by a righteous certainty that American slaves must take their freedom for themselves. Brown wanted to empower slaves in the bluntest way possible, with guns and an incitement to violence against their masters. Brown was the Civil War’s harbinger — come two years ahead of the horsemen.

After the failure of his famous raid on the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry–where his small force had been put down by a detachment of U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee–after the slaves of West Virginia had failed to rise up with him, Brown was captured and sentenced to die a traitor’s death. But before he did, he made this final statement:

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.

Pundits like to bat around the phrase “the price of freedom” as if the blood of innocents was ever the currency that human progress accepts. But pundits aren’t the authors of humanity’s rise, heroes are. Innocent blood may be spilled in the course of human struggle, but progress is purchased by the blood of the willing. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 ships sunk at Pearl Harbor fought in World War II

While “salvage operations” aren’t usually stories of perseverance and ingenuity, the actions of brave sailors and officers after the Pearl Harbor attacks formed a miracle that is legitimately surprising. While the battleships Utah, Arizona, and Oklahoma were permanently lost after the Pearl Harbor attacks, seven combat ships that were sunk in the raid went on to fight Japanese and German forces around the world, and at least three non-combat ships saw further service in the war.


In all, 21 ships were labeled damaged or sunk after the attack. Nine of them were still afloat and were either quickly repaired for frontline duty or sent to the U.S. West Coast for repairs and new equipment. But another 12 were sunk, and some of those were even declared lost. Before the war closed, seven of the sunken ships would see combat, and another three served in peacetime roles.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

The USS West Virginia burns on December 7 thanks to Japanese attacks. It would go on to punish the Japanese forces across the Pacific.

(U.S. Navy)

USS West Virginia was declared lost three years before entering Tokyo Bay

The USS West Virginia was one of the worst hit in the raid. The “Weevie,” as it was called, had been hit by up to seven torpedoes, but no one could be certain exactly how many torpedoes hit it, really, because the damage was so severe. At least two torpedoes flowed through holes in the hull and exploded inside against the lower decks.

Salvage crews were forced to create large patches that were held in place with underwater concrete. As seawater was pumped out, it was expected that the ship’s electric drive would be unusable or would need extensive repairs but, surprisingly, it turned out that seawater hadn’t reached the main propulsion plant. The alternators and motors were repaired, and the ship headed for Puget Sound Navy Yard.

The ship received much better anti-aircraft armament and defensive armor and headed back into the fight in the Pacific. At the Battle of the Surigao Strait, Weevie fired ninety-three rounds into the Japanese fleet. It later hit Japanese forces ashore on Leyte, served at Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, and was the first of the older battleships to sail into Tokyo Bay to witness Japan’s surrender in 1945.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

The USS Shaw explodes at Pearl Harbor on December 7. It later fought across the Pacific.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Shaw attacked Guadalcanal, Leyte, and the Philippines

The destroyer USS Shaw was only 6-years old when the Pearl Harbor attack began, but the modern warship was in overhaul on Dec. 7, 1941, and had all of its ammo stored below decks. So it was unable to protect itself as dive bombers struck it, shredding the deck near gun number 1, severing the bow, and rupturing the fuel oil tanks. All this damage led to a massive fire in the forward magazines which then blew up.

The Shaw was declared a total loss, but the Navy found that much of its machinery was still good. Damaged sections were cut off, a false bow was fitted, and the ship steamed to Mare Island in California for permanent repairs just two months after the attack.

The overhauled USS Shaw fired on Japanese forces at the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, Guadalcanal, Leyte, and the Southern Philippines. It served out the war before being decommissioned in October 1945.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

The USS Nevada fires its guns at the Normandy shore during D-Day in June 1944, about 30 months after the ship sunk at Pearl Harbor.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Nevada shelled Normandy

The USS Nevada was one of the few ships in the harbor that was ready to fight on December 7, and its official reports indicated that the crew first opened fire at 8:02, about 60 seconds after the attack started. It was able to down between two and five enemy planes, but still took one torpedo and six bomb hits that doomed the ship. An admiral ordered the ship to beach itself to protect the channel and the ship from further damage.

While Adm. Chester E. Nimitz was pessimistic as to the Nevada’s chances, salvage leaders were quite hopeful. Most of the holes were small enough to patch with wood instead of steel. It took extensive work to get the ship capable of sailing to the West Coast. When it arrived at Puget, it received new anti-aircraft guns and a full overhaul.

The Nevada took part in the Aleutian Islands Campaign just one year after Pearl Harbor before going on to fight at Normandy on D-Day. It headed back to the Pacific and fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

The battleship USS California sits in drydock in 1942 as crews prepare to begin major repair operations.

(U.S. Navy)

USS California slammed a Japanese Fuso-class battleship with shells

The California crew was able to get into fighting position as Japanese bombers closed in, but that just left officers in perfect position to watch the track of the torpedo that hit the ship in the opening minutes. As damage control got underway, a second torpedo hit the ship followed by a single bomb. All this was made worse when the crew had to abandon ship as the fires from the USS Arizona floated around the California.

But the crew came back and kept the ship afloat for three days before it finally sank into the mud. Salvage operators had to build cofferdams to begin repairs so that crews could access previously flooded areas. As the ship emerged from the water, caustic solutions were used to remove corrosion and seawater. It sailed for the West Coast in October 1942.

By the time the California left the Puget Sound Navy Yard in late 1943, it had nearly all new parts, from the engine to many weapons. It used these to fight at the Marianas, bombard Saipan and Guam, and then slam a Fuso-class battleship at Surigao Strait with over 90,000 pounds of munitions.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

The USS Downes on left and USS Cassin, capsized on right, sit on the partially flooded floor of Drydock No. 1 on Dec. 7, 1941, after suffering multiple bomb hits and internal explosions.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Cassin

The destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes were in drydock on December 7. So they were essentially impossible to damage with torpedoes, but were highly susceptible to bombs. Guess what Japan hit them with? Bombs passed entirely through the Cassin and exploded on the drydock floor, and both ships were set on fire and struck by tons of fragments. Cassin even toppled off its blocks and struck the drydock floor.

The USS Cassin’s keel and hull were warped by the damage, and the hull was filled with holes. The shell plating was wrinkled. Crews disassembled the ship and sent most everything but the hull to Mare Island where they were installed in a new shell. Despite the entirely new hull, the Navy considered the resulting ship to still be the USS Cassin.

The Cassin was sent against Marcus Island, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Luzon, Iwo Jima, Palau, and the Philippine Islands. Yeah, it had a pretty busy war for a ship “lost” on December 7.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

The USS Downes sails away from Mare Island to serve against Japan in World War II on Dec. 8, 1943, almost exactly a year after the Pearl Harbor attack.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Downes

The Downes arguably suffered worst than the Cassin in drydock as the fires caused sympathetic detonations in the Downes‘ torpedoes and other weapons. It was also twisted by damage, and it had massive holes from the explosions. Downes had aluminum plating on its deckhouse that was completely destroyed.

Like the Cassin, the Downes had its hull scrapped and most of its innards installed in another hull in the shipyard on Mare Island.

This new and improved USS Downes fought at Saipan, Marcus Island, and Luzon. Like the Cassin, it had been declared lost after the Pearl Harbor damage.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

The USS Oglala is visible in the foreground, mostly submerged on its side as other ships burned in the background on December 7 at Pearl Harbor.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Oglala

The minelayer Oglala technically didn’t suffer a hit on December 7, but a torpedo passed under it and hit the USS Helena. The blast from that crippled the old Oglala which had been built as a civilian vessel in 1906. The crewmembers took their guns to the Navy Yard Dock and set them up to provide more defenses. They also set up a first aid station that saved the lives of West Virginia crewmembers.

The ship suffered horribly, eventually capsizing and sinking until just a few feet of the ship’s starboard side remained above water. It was declared lost, and the Navy even considered blowing it up with dynamite to clear the dock it had sunk next to. But the decision was made that it could destroy the dock, so the Navy had to refloat it. At that point, it made sense to drydock and repair it.

After repair and refit at Mare Island Navy Yard, the Oglala was re-launched as a repair ship and served across the west Pacific. It actually joined the Maritime Reserve Fleet after the war and wasn’t scrapped until 1965, almost 60 years after its construction as a civilian passenger liner.

(Author’s note: Most of the information for this article came from The Navy Department Library’s online copy of Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal by Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin. It can be found online here.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This forgotten WWII battle shows even a lucky break can be costly

During World War II, American troops dreaded hitting the beach in the Pacific Theater. They knew full-well that they would be in for a fierce fight when going up against Japanese troops, who fought fanatically, either with furious banzai charges or from well-built fortifications. But in one invasion, troops caught a break — the enemy wasn’t there.

On Guadalcanal, Marines manged to hold down a heavily supply line — a task that famously marked by vicious battles. When American troops went on to reclaim the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska, they expected a similar fight.


That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
Almost immediately after Japan seized Attu and Kiska, American air strikes rained death and destruction.
(DOD)

 

The islands had been taken by Japanese troops in June, 1942, as part of an effort to divert American attention from Midway. While Japan did assume control over the islands, the distraction didn’t work, largely due to a brilliant piece of work by Jasper Holmes.

The occupation was not pleasant for Japanese garrisons. From almost the very moment those islands were seized, American air and naval forces constantly pounded the islands with air strikes and bombardments. In March, 1943, an outnumbered and outgunned U.S. Navy task force drove away a heavily-escorted Japanese convoy in the Battle of the Komandorski Islands.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
USS Pennsylvania (BB 38) opens fire on Japanese positions on Kiska.
(US Navy)

 

Two months later, American forces stormed the beaches of Attu. After 18 days of fighting, which culminated in a banzai charge on May 29, 1943, the Japanese garrison was wiped out. 580 American troops and well over 2,000 Japanese troops were killed in action.

Three more months of air raids and naval bombardment followed for Kiska. But when the invasion force arrived, the island was empty. Japanese forces had managed to evacuate this garrison. Still, between accidents, disease, friendly fire, and frostbite, American and Canadian forces suffered over 300 casualties, which shows that even a lucky break can be costly.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US and Indian Navies fought a fake battle you didn’t hear about

In the Bay of Bengal, the United States Navy and the Indian Navy went head-to-head.


Sort of.

According to DefenceLovers.In, the modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Admiral Gorshkov) and its air group of MiG-29K Fulcrums took on the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and Air Wing 11, mainly composed of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, in a joint training exercise that should leave Russia, with similar aircraft in its force, indirectly warned.

The Indian Fulcrums and the American Hornets took turns maintaining a combat air patrol over a ship while the other side practiced anti-ship strikes.

 

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
MiG-29K of INAS 303 prepares to catch the wire aboard the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya in 2014 | Indian Navy

 

“The MiG-29s that were flying off the Vikramaditya and the FA-18 Super Hornets flying off Nimitz made approaches to the opposite flight decks, got up in the air and got to do some dog fighting as well, which was pretty overwhelming,” Rear Admiral William D. Byrne, Jr., the commanding officer of the Nimitz carrier strike group, told the Indian site.

India bought the Vikramaditya in 2004, and commissioned the ship in 2013 after over nine years of refitting. The Vikramaditya is armed with four AK-630 Gatling guns, and can also fire Barak surface-to-air missiles, using launchers cannibalized from a retired frigate, It carries up to 26 MiG-29K Fulcrums and 10 helicopters. Russian Navy MiG-29Ks saw some action over Syria during the Admiral Kuznetsov’s deployment to the Mediterranean in 2016, but one was lost in a splash landing.

 

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Knighthawks of Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 136 lands on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anthony N. Hilkowski/Released)

When serving with Russia as the Baku (later re-named Admiral Gorshkov after the fall of the Soviet Union), the Vikramaditya was a modified Kiev-class carrier armed with 12 SS-N-12 “Sandbox” missiles and 24 8-round SA-N-9 “Gauntlet” launchers, along with two 100mm guns, eight AK-630 Gatling guns, and two quintuple 533mm torpedo tube mounts. It carried a dozen Yak-38 Forgers and as many as 20 anti-submarine helicopters.

By comparison, Air Wing 11 on board USS Nimitz included four squadrons of F/A-18C, F/A-18E, or F/A-18F multi-role fighters, along with E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning planes, EA-18G Growler electronic warfare planes, and MH-60R anti-submarine helicopters.

Articles

Watch this Marine describe his personal battle at Tarawa

Louis Mamula was one of the Marines assigned to take Betio Island of the Tarawa Atoll in the Pacific.


What was supposed to be a tough but short battle where the Marines would quickly win became some of the bloodiest 76 hours in American history as obstacles on the approach and determined Japanese defenders made the Marines bleed for every bit of sand.

The idea behind capturing Betio Island in the Tarawa Atoll was that it would serve as the opening blow in a new front across the Japanese and give the Navy and Marine Corps a corridor through the Central Pacific to Japan.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
Casualties and destruction after the battle for the Tarawa Atoll. (U.S. Navy)

But the landings ran into trouble as coral reefs and man-made obstacles in the water proved more troublesome than originally expected. Troops headed to the beaches sometimes had to get out of their amphibious vehicles and wade through chest-deep water to the beaches under fire.

On land, the situation wasn’t much better. The relatively flat island gave defensive machine gun positions wide fields of fire and favored the defender.

Mamula landed in this chaos and pushed forward with the other Marines of the 2nd Marine Division. In the video below, he discusses what it took to capture the island so well defended that the Japanese boasted, “a million Americans could not take Tarawa in 100 years!”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 6 most overrated empires in history

‘Empire’ is such a great word. It evokes images of lasting power, strength, and historical importance — even when it has nothing to do with an actual empire.

When it does have to do with an actual empire, you expect some kind of lasting imprint on humanity — some kind expansive reach; some kind of anything, really. Empires aren’t supposed to just rise for no reason and collapse like the Cowboys in the playoffs.

6. The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire has a glorious 600-year history of basically just scaring Europeans about the spread of Islam. If you look at the current state of affairs, it’s obvious that Europe never needed the help in the first place. When it came to actually spreading Islam, the Caliphate wasn’t quite so good at it.

 

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
They were famous for receiving the pointy end of history’s largest cavalry charge.

At its height, the Ottomans didn’t even have full control over the lands they supposedly ruled. As soon as they reached a period of peace and prosperity in the 18th century, they kinda let the whole Empire decline. And even when Ottoman military power recovered, they still suffered losses in territory and in wars. After choosing the wrong side of WWI, they became modern-day Turkey. At only 100 years old, it already has a history and culture more unique than the Ottomans ever had.

5. The German Empire

Another victim of poor decisions during WWI, the German Empire only lasted 47 years. That’s not even long enough for the Kaiser to have a mid-life crisis.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance

Even though it saw a lot of technological and industrial achievements, it pretty much squandered those on a couple of World Wars that it somehow lost. It was late to the game of creating a colonial empire — one with a plan that can be best described as “oh yeah, me too,” as they simply took what Britain and France left behind.

4. The Galactic Empire

As dramatic as the changeover from Republic to Empire might have been (as painstakingly recounted in the Star Wars prequels), their biggest achievements include getting beaten by a fleet of space fighters that resemble your Uncle Todd’s Camaro after spending all their time enslaving and killing entire populations.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
King Leopold approves.

Not to mention their big goal was trying to build the same space station twice and they got trounced in their efforts both times. They left no cultural legacy on the people of the galaxy except for “I’m so happy they’re gone.”

3.  The Russian Empire

This was an empire that was constantly trying to keep up with everyone else. The few Tsars who managed to drag Russia, kicking and screaming, into being competitive, had to do it by some extreme means — like publicly cutting off beards.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
Also by working serfs to death for centuries after the feudal system was retired.

Peasants in parts of Russia were essentially slaves from the 11the century until the 19th century. They weren’t emancipated until 18-goddamn-61. With all that free labor, Russia still struggled to keep up with the rest of the world. And we wonder why the Soviet Union was so popular at first.

2. The Holy Roman Empire

What is it? No, seriously. WHAT IS IT? French philosopher Voltaire once said that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Like an early European Union, a group of small kingdoms and principalities chose their Holy Roman Emperor to operate out of any city he wanted. He ruled basically nothing and the smaller kingdoms could ignore him at their will.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
This comes up when you google Holy Roman Emperor. Do you know who this is? Do you care? Did you also just make fun of his hat?

Sure, individual emperors could get things done, but that was because of who they were outside of being the Holy Roman Emperor, not because actually being Holy Roman Emperor. It’s especially sad for the Holy Roman Empire that a family or dynasty could overshadow the whole history of the empire.

1. Austro-Hungarian Empire

Besides the Herculean effort to stop the Ottomans at Vienna (we went over that), Austria-Hungary is most famous for getting kicked around by Napoleon and losing the World War they dragged everyone into.

That time a bad radio call won the WWII Battle of Cape Esperance
Let’s be honest, Franz Ferdinand probably had it coming.

Imagine a family of really dumb, inbred, rich people who owned a huge plot of land and put an army on it. Then they hired their stupid friends to command the army because uniforms are cool. Then, that family’s neighbors always come bail them out when they’re losing wars because they don’t want the neighborhood going to shit.

That’s the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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