Today in military history: 173rd Airborne Brigade deploys to Vietnam - We Are The Mighty
Today in Military History

Today in military history: 173rd Airborne Brigade deploys to Vietnam

On May 3, 1965, the 173rd Airborne Brigade deployed to South Vietnam. They were the first U.S. Army ground unit committed to the war that would rage on for eight divisive and deadly years for the United States and ten more years for Vietnam

In the 1950s, tensions were rising between the United States and Communist countries like the Soviet Union and North Korea. Working under the “domino theory,” which held that if one Southeast Asian country fell to communism, many other countries would follow, in 1961 President John F. Kennedy provided aid to South Vietnam and stopped just short of military intervention on the peninsula. 

After the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson was hard-pressed to avoid war — he ordered retaliatory strikes against North Vietnam and deployed Operation Rolling Thunder, a series of air strikes, the following year.

Finally, on May 3rd, 1965, the Airborne Brigade deployed to Vietnam from Okinawa. Their mission was to hold off Communist forces from reaching the Saigon-Bien Hoa complex. Over the next several months, the 173rd was involved in numerous airborne operations and fought a major battle at Dak against an entrenched N.V.A. Army Regiment on Hill 875 – capturing it on Thanksgiving Day. The victory earned them the Presidential Unit Citation for bravery in action. The Brigade withdrew from combat operations in country six years later.

Leader of173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam
U.S. Taiwan Defense Command Commander Vice Admiral Melson (left) and the officer presiding over the Tien Bing No. 4 exercise, General Williamson (right), are having a conversation on stage.
(Public Domain)

They suffered 1,606 killed in action while 12 of their paratroopers earned the Medal of Honor.

More than 3 million people (including over 58,000 Americans) were killed in the Vietnam War, and more than half of the dead were Vietnamese civilians. 

Featured Image: 173rd Airborne Brigade Paratroopers along the Song Be near War Zone D, March 1966.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Today in military history: US forces land at Inchon

On Sep. 15 1950, U.S. Marines under United Nations Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur land at Inchon on the west coast of Korea, dividing the Northern forces in two.

The Korean War began a few months before when 90,000 North Korean troops swept across the 38th parallel and pushed South Korean forces into a hasty retreat. By September, it was not going well for the United Nations forces. American troops were relegated to a small corner of the Korean Peninsula, barely holding off the Communist onslaught as North Korea fought to push them into the sea and out of the war. In what came to be known as the Pusan Perimeter, American and South Korean forces held the line until the Americans could relieve them.

In true joint force action, the Army and Marines, supported by the Navy and Air Force, planned a landing at Inchon, behind the North Korean lines. The enemy around Pusan practically dissipated as the Army broke out of the Pusan Perimeter while Marines were landing at Inchon. Within two weeks, the UN forces had partially retaken Seoul and cut off the enemy’s supply and communications ability.

Codenamed “Operation Chromite,” the U.S. Marines’ amphibious invasion at Inchon was extremely risky, but its success allowed the U.S. to recapture Seoul, the capital of South Korea. 

Unfortunately, the intervention of the Chinese military stalled the U.S. and South Korean advances, preventing them from achieving a decisive victory in the war, which would continue for another brutal three years. 

Featured Image: The UN fleet off the coast of Inchon, Korea.

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Today in military history: Brits capture and burn Washington DC

On Aug. 24, 1814, British forces achieved victory in the Battle of Bladensburg, Maryland, and marched into Washington, D.C.

The burning of Washington was a retaliation attack for the American burning of Toronto and much of America’s capital was set on fire. Little remained of the original city, including the original White House.

The United States had been engaged in the War of 1812 against the British Empire for two years. Battles were rough and fierce, and it seemed like the war would never end. Then some British troops decided to burn down the White House – which had serious consequences.

There were lots of reasons for the war but there were two main ones. First, there were really strict regulations on American trade and secondly, the U.K. was falsely imprisoning American seamen. Plus, the Brits weren’t exactly happy about the fact that America was pushing its boundaries and trying to expand in all directions.

During the battle, President James Madison took command of one of the American batteries, becoming the only sitting U.S. president to engage in combat as commander-in-chief, but he and his wife were forced to flee the capital before the arrival of the invaders.

British General Robert Ross and his officers dined in the White House that night as British troops began to set the city on fire in retaliation for the burning of Canadian government buildings by American troops earlier in the war. They burned the White House, the Capitol building and the Library of Congress before rains fell, extinguishing the flames. 

After 24 hours of occupation, Ross withdrew from the city, leaving its charred remains behind. 

President Madison hired the original architect, James Hoban, to rebuild the White House, which was restored by 1817.

Today in Military History

Today in military history: NATO is established

On April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Alliance was founded in the aftermath of World War II. The Alliance served three main purposes: to deter Soviet expansionism, to promote peace and deter nationalist militarism in Europe, and to encourage European political integration. 

“The aftermath of World War II saw much of Europe devastated in a way that is now difficult to envision. Approximately 36.5 million Europeans had died in the conflict, 19 million of them civilians. Refugee camps and rationing dominated daily life. In some areas, infant mortality rates were one in four. Millions of orphans wandered the burnt-out shells of former metropolises. In the German city of Hamburg alone, half a million people were homeless,” reports official declassified NATO records.

Meanwhile, Communism was gaining momentum as history pointed toward the impending Cold War and the Soviet Union turned its attention on the weakened German capital of Berlin. Europe depended on strong North American support — and luckily, the U.S. was abandoning its former tendency of diplomatic isolation.

In April, 1949, several Western European democracies came together to implement various projects for a peaceful and stable European continent. The North Atlantic Treaty was the first step in this process, wherein the Allies agreed “an armed attack against one or more of them… shall be considered an attack against them all” and that following such an attack, each Ally would take “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force” in response.

This would be put to the test during the Korean War from 1950-1953, where NATO members coordinated defenses and integrated attacks through a centralized headquarters. Throughout the 1950s and the Cold War, the threat of the United States’ nuclear arsenal helped deter large-scale nuclear attacks and perhaps even mitigated some Soviet aggression within Europe.

The Alliance started with 12 member countries in 1949 and today boasts 29 members, remaining the largest peacetime military alliance in the world. 

Today in Military History

Today in military history: Union victory at the Battle of Shiloh

On April 7, 1862, Union forces defeated the Confederates at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee in what was then the bloodiest battle in American history with more than 23,000 dead and wounded.

The day before, Confederate forces under General Albert Sidney Johnston caught Union forces under Major General Ulysses S. Grant by surprise. Their plan had been to back the Union against a series of swamps. Instead, the Union army rallied, fighting a series of defensive stands from Shiloh Hill to what survivors would call “the Hornets’ Nest” — an impenetrable oak thicket. 

The Southern attack began to lose its advantage, its coordination, and, in a fatal bullet wound, its commander. Johnston was hit behind the knee and bled to death, which former Confederate President Jefferson Davis would later refer to as “the turning point of our fate.”

On the night of April 6, nearly 21,000 reinforcements had arrived for the Union, giving Grant 45,000 troops to face off against no more than 28,000 under Confederate General Pierre G. T. Beauregard. 

On April 7, Grant launched his counterattacks at dawn, pushing the Confederates back. By the end of the day, the Union had recovered the ground it had lost.

Over 13,000 Union troops were killed, wounded, missing, or captured. The shockingly high casualty count of the battle caused many to call for Grant’s replacement. Abraham Lincoln would refuse, saying, “I cannot spare this man; he fights.” Grant’s victory would allow him to launch a massive operation in the Mississippi Valley later that year and capture Vicksburg, the last Confederate-controlled area along the Mississippi River.

Grant would go on to take command of the Union Army and force Robert E. Lee to surrender at Appomattox Court House in April 1865. Learn more about the Battle of Shiloh in the video below.

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Today in military history: Russia tests ICBM

On Aug. 26, 1957, the Soviet Union announced the successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Both the United States and the Soviets had been in a race to perfect a nuclear-capable long-range missile since World War II. 

In July of 1957, the U.S. launched an ICBM called the SM-65 Atlas, which was as successful as a modern North Korean missile test or a sloppy hookup after too many drinks: It was just an embarrassing failure to perform.

A month later, the Soviets announced their own ICBM test had gone swimmingly…though no details were given, leading to some dubious though wary reactions from the US. 

The launch of Sputnik two months later, however, would give the Russians the edge in the space race, causing the U.S. to accelerate its efforts to close the “missile gap.”

Today, Russia has an agreement on space cooperation with the United States until the end of December 2030 (in spite of the United States’ newly formed Space Force).

According to DW, “The agreement was first signed in 1992 and has since been extended four times. The pact included joint work on the International Space Station, which Russia said at the beginning of March will continue until 2028. It also included cooperation between Roscosmos and NASA — the two countries’ space agencies — as well as Russian rockets ferrying astronauts and supplies to the ISS, after NASA shelved its space shuttle fleet.”

At a time when political relations between the U.S. and Russian remain tense — the U.S. has accused Russia of hacking and election interference, among other actions — many still believe that science must transcend politics.

Featured Image: Atlas 2E Ballistic Missile on display at the San Diego Aerospace Museum, Gillespie Field, El Cajon, California.

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Today in military history: Americans and Soviets unite against Germany

On April 25, 1945, Eight Russian armies linked up with the American troops on the western bank of the Elbe river. Germany was, for all intents and purposes, Allied territory. The end of fighting on the Eastern Front of World War II was in sight.

This event signaled the first contact between Soviet and American troops after years of fierce fighting. Both forces successfully cut through multiple Wehrmacht divisions and met in the middle of Torgau, Germany.

The Allied powers had effectively cut Germany in two. 

By the 27th, the American and Soviet armies met for a photo op to reenact the meeting, and the Allied powers released statements in London, Moscow, and Washington, reassuring the world that the Third Reich was in its final days.

Although the date isn’t an official holiday, that doesn’t mean it isn’t celebrated. In 2015, 70 years after the original encounter, American and Soviet military units met up once again at the very site of the first meeting to reenact the historic event.

Happy Elbe Day!

Featured Image: In an arranged photo commemorating the meeting of the Soviet and American armies, 2nd Lt. William Robertson (U.S. Army) and Lt. Alexander Silvashko (Red Army) stand facing one another with hands clasped and arms around each other’s shoulders. In the background are two flags and a poster. (National Archives image)

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Today in military history: Charles Lindbergh flies across the Atlantic

On May 20, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became a legend by making the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight.

In 1925, New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig offered a  $25,000 prize (that’s over $350,000 today!) to the pilot who could successfully fly from New York to Paris. Trans-Atlantic flights were risky with the technology of the day – six pilots had already died in attempting the flight.

Born in 1902, Lindbergh learned to fly at the age of 20, getting his start as a “barnstormer” — pilots who traveled the country performing aerobatic stunts and selling joyrides. He joined the United States Army Air Service in 1924, but the Army didn’t need active-duty pilots at the time, so he returned to civilian aviation.

Lindbergh began his historical attempt with take off from Roosevelt Field in Long Island, New York. Lindbergh chose took off knowing that the day’s weather was questionable, and that only 12 days before, World War I aces Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli went missing in their own attempt.

Lindbergh flew a customized plane, retrofitted from a Ryan M-2 aircraft powered by a Wright (yes, that Wright) Jf-C engine and a longer fuselage, longer wingspan, and extra struts to accommodate the weight of the fuel needed to cross the Atlantic. 

The now-famous monoplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, successfully carried Lindbergh for over 33 hours before landing in Paris to a hero’s welcome. He became an instant celebrity and received the Distinguished Flying Cross from President Calvin Coolidge. 

Featured Image: (Left) Charles Lindbergh, with Spirit of St. Louis in the background. (Right) The Spirit of St. Louis on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Today in military history: Battle of Antietam

On Sep. 17, 1862, Confederate rebels and Union troops fought the Battle of Antietam.

President Abraham Lincoln charged Major General George B. McClellan with the defense of Washington D.C. against Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North. 

Earlier in the month, Lee had divided his men, sending General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to capture Harper’s Ferry. After Jackson’s success, Lee decided to make a stand in Maryland at Antietam Creek. While nothing about Antietam Creek, located near Sharpsburg, Maryland, was of true strategic value, both commanders knew that the moment was crucial. Keeping France and England on the sidelines required a Union victory, while the Confederates needed a huge win to influence the Union elections.

The road to Antietam began when Lee marched his troops across the Potomac and into Union-aligned Maryland while attempting to influence the midterm elections of 1862. He was hopeful that a few decisive Confederate victories on Union soil could cause a surge in votes for candidates opposed to the war, potentially leading to the start of peace negotiations at home. He also had a shot at diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy from European powers, like England and France.

After two days of posturing, fighting began early in the morning on Sep. 17 and lasted well past sundown, with staggering casualties on both sides and no ground gained. The next day, both armies gathered their dead and wounded and Lee retreated south. 

It was the bloodiest one day battle in American history. When night finally fell, the two forces had suffered approximately 23,000 casualties with an estimated 4,000 killed, the worst loss of American life in a single day in history. To put that in perspective, approximately 2,500 Americans were killed taking Utah and Omaha beaches on D-Day.

Featured Image: The bridge over Antietam Creek where much of the bloodiest fighting took place. (Library of Congress)

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Today in military history: Marine Corps aviation is born

On May 22, 1912, Marine Corps aviation was born when Lt. Alfred A. Cunningham reported to the U.S. Naval Academy’s aviation camp for instruction.

Cunningham dreamt of the skies since he went aloft in a balloon in 1903 — the same year the Wright Brothers made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft. 

On May 22, the first of the officers arrived at the aviation camp at the U.S. Naval Academy for training. Cunningham was a former soldier and huge aviation enthusiast who had lobbied for a Marine Corps air arm for months before becoming its first pilot.

Cunningham’s orders were changed soon after his arrival and he was sent elsewhere for “expeditionary duty,” but he returned in July only to find that no aircraft were available for him to train on. 

Undeterred, he got the Corps to give him orders to the aircraft factory and obtained instruction from the civilians there. He obtained less than three hours of instruction before taking off solo on August 20. Improvise, adapt and overcome, right, Marines?

Cunningham thus became the Marine Corps’ first aviator and the fifth pilot in the Department of the Navy. In 1913 he participated in the first Naval Aviation exercises with the fleet in Cuba, demonstrating the first use of airplanes in scouting missions.

As Assistant Quartermaster of the Washington Naval Yard, he recommended the establishment of a Navy Air Department, a Naval Air Station at Pensacola, and the placement of an airplane aboard every battleship. He would also go on to become the first pilot to fly a catapult takeoff from a warship under way.

His actions would lead to the success of early aerial combat during the first World War and his contributions to military aviation remain immeasurable. The First Marine Corps Aviator and First Director of Marine Corp Aviation died May 27, 1939 in Sarasota, Florida. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Today in Military History

Today in military history: Hitler commits suicide

On April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide by chewing a cyanide tablet and shooting himself in the head. Overkill? Or not enough kill? I’ll leave you to judge. His death marked the end of World War II on the Eastern Front — days after his death, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allies.

Hitler had not been dealing with Germany’s losses well. His dreams of a ‘1000 year Reich’ diminished with each Allied victory in the devastating war. The Soviet Union delivered a crushing defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, marking a turn in the tides for the Allied forces. In 1944, D-Day launched the beginning of the end for Hitler’s forces, pushing them west into a retreat toward Berlin. 

Even Hitler’s own officers were turning against him, hoping to assassinate him and negotiate better terms for peace. After multiple failed attempts, Hitler was growing paranoid and began executing anyone he suspected of betrayal.

Today in military history: 173rd Airborne Brigade deploys to Vietnam
Hitler poses for the camera in 1930. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-10460 / Hoffmann, Heinrich / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

By January, 1945, Hitler had retreated to a safety bunker, where he would grow increasingly unstable. One day before his death, he married his mistress, Eva Braun, whom he would poison before his death. 

Soviet forces commandeered Hitler’s bunker, taking his cremated ashes and dispersing them to prevent any of Hitler’s followers from creating a memorial at his final resting place. The bunker was demolished in 1947.

Featured Image: July 1947 photo of the rear entrance to the Führerbunker in the garden of the Reich Chancellery. The bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun were burned in a shell hole in front of the emergency exit at left; the cone-shaped structure in the centre served for ventilation, and as a bomb shelter for the guards.

Today in Military History

Today in military history: CIA launches mind-control program MKULTRA

On April 13, 1953, CIA director Allen Dulles launched the psychedelic mind-control program Project MKULTRA.

During the Korean War, the U.S. learned that some American troops captured in Korea were being subjected to rudimentary mind control techniques in order to make them more susceptible to interrogation.

Worried that the U.S. would fall behind in the next frontier of interrogation and espionage, the CIA’s Technical Services Staff began the MK-ULTRA project. MK-ULTRA sought to explore how drugs, especially LSD, could affect enemy soldiers during interrogations.

But the program didn’t stop there. It expanded and expanded, eventually encompassing 149 sub-projects that looked at everything from hypnosis to sleight of hand, from the best ways to buy drugs to methods of controlling the actions of animals.

Sidney Gottlieb approved of a letter about mind-control program
Sidney Gottlieb approved of an MKUltra sub-project on LSD in this letter from June 9, 1953.

While MK-ULTRA is well-known for being the CIA’s crazy drug program, people in the 60s and 70s knew it best for its flagrant ethics violations. Many subjects were drugged without their knowledge or consent, some mental patients and drug addicts were used as test subjects, and at least a few people died from bad reactions to the drugs.

In one particularly outlandish scheme, the CIA hired prostitutes to administer the drugs to Johns without their knowledge and then agents watched the results through two-way mirrors. 

The program was shut down in 1964 and in 1973 then-Director of the CIA Richard Helms ordered that all surviving documents related to MK-ULTRA be destroyed. A few documents escaped the purge because they had been misfiled, but the extent of the human experimentation under the project is still unknown.

Featured Image: Sidney Gottlieb, the American chemist and spymaster best known for his involvement in MKULTRA. Sept. 21, 1977.

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Today in military history: Aztec capital falls to Cortés

On Aug. 13, 1521, Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec Empire, fell to Spanish forces under the command of Hernán Cortés.

Tenochtitlán was established in 1325 A.D., and in the next century, the Aztec empire grew into an advanced civilization marked by agriculture, intricate social, political, and religious customs, and military strength.

Cortés, a Spanish-born noble, first sailed to Hispaniola in the West Indies in 1504. His conquest began with conquering Cuba in 1511, Mexico’s Bay of Campeche in 1519, and finally deeper into Mexico. 

While he did encounter resistance from native peoples, he made allies when he announced his plans to conquer the Aztecs, who were hated for their demands for human sacrifices. 

Montezuma II, the leader of the Aztecs, ultimately invited Cortés into his city, believing him to be an envoy of the god Quetzalcoatl. Cortes imprisoned Montezuma in his own palace and ruled through the now-puppet emperor.

When Cortés left the capital to defeat a Spanish force from Cuba determined to deprive him of his command, he returned to find it in revolt against his rule. 

After a three-month siege, the city fell to Cortés, and with it, the Aztec empire.

Featured Image: Unknown artists. “The Conquest of Tenochtitlán,” from the Conquest of México series, Mexico, second half of seventeenth century, Oil on canvas. (Jay I. Kislak Collection Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress)

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