Today in military history: Israel declares independence - We Are The Mighty
Today in Military History

Today in military history: Israel declares independence

On May 14, 1948, Israel declared independence, triggering an invasion from neighboring Arab states.

After World War I, the British and French divided the former Ottoman Empire territory in the Middle East. Legitimized by the young League of Nations, the British controlled what was then called the Mandate of Palestine. The day the British left, Israel declared its statehood.

After World War II, the British told the United Nations they intended to leave Palestine on May 14, 1948. British rule in the area was practically nonexistent at this time, and the UN’s partition plan intended to divide the area between its Arab and Jewish residents could not be enforced.

After the British left Jerusalem for Haifa, the future Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, declared the Jewish State of Israel. Over the next few days, thousands of Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi, Trans-Jordanian, and Egyptian troops poured over the borders to attack the young country.

Fighting raged until February 1949, when the UN brokered a ceasefire, ending the war, cementing Israel’s statehood, and starting decades of conflict and instability in the region.

Featured Image: David Ben-Gurion (First Prime Minister of Israel) publicly pronouncing the Declaration of the State of Israel, May 14 1948, Tel Aviv, Israel, beneath a large portrait of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern political Zionism, in the old Tel Aviv Museum of Art building on Rothshild St. The exhibit hall and the scroll, which was not yet finished, were prepared by Otte Wallish.

Today in Military History

Today in military history: Congress authorizes Privateers to attack British vessels

On April 3, 1776, Congress authorized Privateers to attack British vessels. 

Pop quiz: you’re the Continental Congress, and it’s 1776. There’s a bunch of British ships out there that need sinking, but you’re a young nation and you don’t have the dubloons to build a proper Navy. What do you do? You hire pirates.

Well, technically “Privateers.” What’s the difference between Pirates and Privateers? To the people they were attacking, not much… 

In a bill signed by President of the Continental Congress John Hancock, commanders of private ships or vessels of war were given authorization to capture British vessels and cargoes, with the exception of ships carrying new settlers and “friends of the American cause.”

Today in military history: Israel declares independence

Fun fact: Old manuscripts such as this 18th Century declaration made use of “the long s” — written as ſ — which is a ye olde variation of the lowercase s. You have my permission to pronounce “vessels” as “veffels” as much as it pleases you, but rest assured, our forefathers weren’t lisping in such documents.

Privateers were permitted to, “by Force of Arms, attack, subdue, and take all Ships and other Vessels belonging to the Inhabitants of Great Britain, on the high seas, or between high-water and low-water Marks, except Ships and Vessels bringing Persons who intend to settle and reside in the United Colonies, or bringing Arms, Ammunition or Warlike Stores to the said Colonies, for the Use of such Inhabitants thereof as are Friends to the American Cause, which you shall suffer to pass unmolested, the Commanders thereof permitting a peaceable Search, and giving satisfactory Information of the Contents of the Ladings, and Destinations of the Voyages.” 

The privateers would still board and capture ships by force, which happened pretty often. If they captured a ship, any and all booty was split between the privateers and the government that hired them. 

The main difference between privateers and run-of-the-mill pirates is that legit privateers had a Letter of Marque and Reprisal, which was an official document stating that they were acting on behalf of the United States. 

If captured, pirates were often executed, whereas privateers that held a Letter of Marque were treated as prisoners of war, instead of criminals.

By this time, the Revolutionary War had been waging since fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Tension would continue to rise until the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 and officially separated from Great Britain.

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.

Today in Military History

Today in military history: Osama bin Laden is killed

On May 2, 2011, Osama bin Laden, mastermind of 9/11 attacks, was killed by SEAL Team Six. 

After nearly a decade of hunting the world’s most wanted man, the CIA located bin Laden at a specially-built compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by following a courier.

At 1 A.M. local time on May 2, SEAL Team Six launched an assault known as Operation Neptune’s Spear, named for the trident in the Navy SEAL’s insignia. The frogmen killed bin Laden and four others at the compound while retrieving loads of valuable intelligence.

No American casualties occurred during the raid, although one Black Hawk helicopter crashed and was destroyed on-site. 

President Barack Obama announced the death of bin Laden at 11:35 PM Eastern Time on May 1 from the White House. His full remarks are in the video above. 

“Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.

Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.” President Barack Obama

 Almost a decade after the September 11th attacks, the United States got justice.

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Today in military history: Apollo 13 returns to earth

On April 17, 1970, the Apollo 13 spacecraft safely returned to earth after suffering major malfunctions on its journey to the Moon. 

“Houston, we’ve had a problem,” Apollo 13 astronaut John “Jack” Swigert famously told the NASA Mission Control Center “Houston” during the Apollo 13 spaceflight. 

Today in military history: Israel declares independence
Apollo 13 lunar module pilot Fred Haise chats with Guenter Wendt and other members of the pad closeout crew in the White Room following a countdown demonstration at Launch Complex 39A. Image Credit: NASA

200,000 miles from Earth, three astronauts and veteran test pilots were scrambling to adapt and overcome a seemingly impossible challenge. They were James Lovell — a Navy Captain and test pilot; Jack Swigert — a fighter pilot in the Air National Guard; and Fred Haise — a fighter pilot in both the Marine Corps and Air Force.

Two days into their mission to the Moon, an oxygen tank exploded, severely disrupting their supply of oxygen, electricity and water. They aborted their landing mission, and scrambled to implement creative and improvised solutions suggested by the support staff back in Houston. 

They’d have to improvise a way to make a square filter fit into a round hole. They’d conjured up a makeshift lifeboat. 

The support staff no longer cared what the spaceship had been designed to do – they had to figure out how to squeeze every bit of capability from the vehicle. 

Today in military history: Israel declares independence
A perilous space flight comes to a smooth ending with the safe splashdown of the Apollo 13 Command Module (CM) in the south Pacific Ocean, only four miles from the prime recovery ship, the U.S.S. Iwo Jima. The Command Module “Odyssey” with Commander, James A. Lovell Jr., Command Module pilot, John L. Swigert Jr. and Lunar Module pilot Fred W. Haise Jr. splashed down at 12:07:44 p.m. (CST), April 17, 1970. The crew men were transported by helicopter from the immediate recovery area to the U.S.S. Iwo Jima.

Overcoming nearly impossible odds, the crew guided the spacecraft back to earth, reentered the atmosphere and touched down in the Pacific Ocean, where they were recovered by the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima. 

Featured Image: The crew of the Apollo 13 mission step aboard the U.S.S. Iwo Jima, prime recovery ship for the mission, following splashdown and recovery operations in the South Pacific. Exiting the helicopter, which made the pick-up some four miles from the Iwo Jima are (from left) astronauts Fred W. Haise, Jr., lunar module pilot; James A. Lovell Jr., commander; and John L. Swigert Jr., command module pilot. The Apollo 13 spacecraft splashed down at 12:07:44 pm CST on April 17, 1970. (NASA Image)

Today in Military History

Today in military history: Marines go ‘to the shores of Tripoli’

On April 27, 1805, the United States Marines went to the shores of Tripoli to take down some pirates.

For basically as long as it has been around, the United States Navy has had a pirate problem.

The United States Navy had been dealing with the piracy issue since independence had been achieved in 1776. American shipping had relied on British Naval protection, but following the Revolution, pirates began to see U.S. vessels as fair game.

The administrations of George Washington and John Adams had been paying tribute to the states on the “Barbary Coast” (what is now North Africa), who extorted the payments in exchange for not carrying out acts of piracy. Still, pirates harassed U.S. ships and often kidnapped sailors and their booty. 

The First Barbary War officially began in 1801, when then-President Thomas Jefferson sent U.S. Navy vessels to the Mediterranean in protest of the raids. 

Then in 1805, William Eaton, who had secured the sexy title of Naval Agent to the Barbary States secured permission to restore the deposed leader of Tripoli, Hamet Karamanli, to the throne. After recruiting over 400 mercenaries, Eaton and seven other Marines got the support of three naval warships and then made a 600-mile trek across the Libyan desert to the city of Derna.

Facing ten-to-one odds, Eaton and Marine First Lieutenant George O’Bannon led the Marines and mercenaries into battle, eventually taking the city after a bayonet charge. Two Americans and at least nine mercenaries died, but the far larger enemy force had been defeated. News of the defeat prompted the leader of Tripoli to seek a settlement with the United States rather than risk losing his throne. 

The battle was one of America’s first overseas military operations and, of course, it remains an iconic event in Marine Corps history, notably marked by a line in the Marine Corps hymn.


Featured image: Attack on Derna by Colonel Charles Watterhouse.

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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: German sub is captured with Enigma machine onboard

On May 9, 1941, the German U-boat U-110 was captured by the Royal Navy, and with it, a number of German cipher documents and an intact Enigma machine.

The Enigma was a brilliant piece of German enciphering machinery that allowed their military to send messages securely. The Germans were so efficient with Enigma that they even had a method for changing the cipher system daily. The device was exceptionally sophisticated, mechanically scrambling the 26 letters of the alphabet based on the daily cipher code. In order to decrypt an Enigma-encoded message, one would need both a machine and the daily cipher.

Later named “Operation Primrose,” the U-boats’ capture remained a secret for months while codebreakers at Bletchley Park got to work. Using the documents on board, they were able to crack a hand-cipher system that was used as a backup to Enigma. In other words, they had access to German messages in plain text and in cipher text, which allowed them to decrypt future messages.

Codebreakers at Bletchley Park, including the now-famous Alan Turing and fellow code-breaker Gordon Welchman, were able to use critical intelligence like that obtained from U-110 to invent a machine known as the Bombe, which automated much of the Enigma decryption work.

With this information, the Allies were able to strategically respond to Enigma-encrypted messages and deliver decisive blows to the Nazi war force.

The work of Bletchley Park, including Turing’s role there in cracking the Enigma code, remained classified until the 1970s, but it has been estimated that the work of the code-breakers shortened the war by several years and saved countless lives.

Featured Image: U-110 was captured by HM Ships Bulldog, Broadway, and Arbretia. (Royal Navy Photo)

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: Israel declares independence
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: US troops land on Okinawa

On April 1, 1945, U.S. troops landed on the island of Okinawa. The Battle of Okinawa would be the last major battle of World War II and — lasting until June 22, 1945 — one of the bloodiest. While it would result in an Allied victory, there were heavy losses on both sides.

After a long campaign of island hopping, the U.S. sought to seize Okinawa as a forward base for the planned invasion of mainland Japan. 50,000 troops from the 10th Army made the landing under the command of Army Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, whose father was a Confederate General during the Civil War. 

The 10th Army was a cross-branch force consisting of the 7th, 27th, 77th, and 96th infantry divisions of the U.S. Army with the 1st and 6th divisions of the Marine Corps.

Even before the landings, three American aircraft carriers were damaged and 116 planes were lost. The campaign to take Okinawa would last for 81 days and cost over 20,000 American lives. Among them would be General Buckner, who was the highest-ranking American officer killed during World War II.

Japan had over 75,000 troops defending the islands and also conscripted thousands of Okinawans, some of them as young as 14 years old. As many as 110,000 Japanese and Okinawans were killed.

Today in military history: Israel declares independence

USS Idaho (BB-42), a New Mexico-class battleship, shells Okinawa on April 1, 1945. (United States Navy photograph, photographed from USS West Virginia (BB-48))

Seven Americans would receive the Medal of Honor for heroism during the campaign, including conscientious objector Desmond Doss, whose story hit the silver screen in Hacksaw Ridge, a film that won two Academy Awards.

The fierce struggle for Okinawa led the United States to reconsider plans to invade mainland Japan and look into options to either blockade Japan or starve it into submission. This led to the ultimate decision to use atomic bombs in August 1945 to force Japan’s surrender, finally ending World War II.

Today in Military History

Today in military history: President Truman relieves General MacArthur of duty

On April 11, 1951, President Truman relieved General of the Army Douglas MacArthur of duty during the Korean War. 

MacArthur, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, was considered a master of the art and execution of warfare. And by many accounts, he had the ego and arrogance to match. He was best known for his brilliance in both the Pacific theater of World War II and the Korean War, but he also had his share of missteps. 

Meanwhile, Truman had had an exceptionally difficult six years in the White House, beginning with replacing the iconic Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and making the call to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. He was committed to limiting the scope of the Korean War — and that’s where the two started to butt heads. 

MacArthur, simply put, sought to win. In his mind, that meant pushing further North and bombing the MiG bases in Manchuria, even if that meant bringing in Chinese Nationalist troops.

Things came to a head when MacArthur ordered the launch of an offensive on April 5, 1951. Two days later, American ships were sent off Formosa, trolling China. After the offensive launched, Truman met with senior advisors, who agreed MacArthur had to go, but warned it would be controversial.

On April 11, Truman relieved MacArthur to preserve civilian control of the military. MacArthur would receive some hype as a possible candidate for President, but ultimately he wouldn’t run. Instead, after a speech to Congress where he said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away,” he went into retirement until his death in 1964.

Featured Image:  President Truman and General MacArthur shake hands at Wake Island, 15 October 1950. (Image courtesy of of the Harry S. Truman Library)

Today in Military History

Today in military history: John Paul Jones takes the fight to England

On April 22, 1778, naval Commander John Paul Jones led a raid against Whitehaven, England, where 400 British merchant ships laid in anchor.

Hoping to carry the war directly to King George III’s doorstep, Jones intended to prove to the English that their homeland was not impregnable. In a memorandum outlining his “plans for expeditions,” Jones had once proposed that “three fast frigates with tenders might burn Whitehaven and its fleet, rendering it nearly impossible to supply Ireland with coal next winter”  while bringing “inconceivable panic in England. It would convince the world of her vulnerability, and hurt her public credit.” 

Charles Willson Peale may have painted his museum portrait of Jones as early as 1781. Jones wears the French Cross of the Institution of Military Merit (the gold medal hanging from a blue ribbon through the top left buttonhole). Louis XVI presented this medal to him in 1780. (Public Domain)

The Royal Navy commanded the seas and Jones knew well enough that to confront His Majesty’s ships was foolish. Instead, he planned his raid on Whitehaven for the dead of night, hoping to arrive with the ebb tide at midnight.

He had more difficulty than planned whilst rowing to the port, which was protected by two forts. They didn’t arrive until dawn, and while Jones’ boat was able to successfully take the southern fort, the other boat reportedly “heard a noise” and abandoned the mission — and the northern fort.

Jones set fire to the southern fort and continued to raid the British Isles, earning a reputation for terrorizing the British navy. His sailing and fighting exploits during the American Revolution have gone down in history as some of the most notable of all time. 

Featured Image: “First Recognition of the American Flag by a Foreign Government” by Edward Moran, 1898. The painting depicts the Continental Navy ship Ranger, commanded by Captain John Paul Jones, receiving the salute of the French fleet at Quiberon Bay, France, on Feb. 14, 1778. (National Archives)

Today in Military History

Today in military history: 3rd US Infantry troops enter Baghdad

On April 5, 2003, on the 18th day of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 3rd Infantry Division entered the city of Baghdad in a show of force that would leave hundreds of enemy soldiers dead and smoldering ruins of Iraqi vehicles and weaponry in their wake.

The 3rd Infantry Division, nicknamed “The Rock of the Marne” for its steadfast defense in the face of numerically superior enemy forces in France during World War I, was sent to the border of Iraq on March 20, 2003, and then served as the vanguard unit in the invasion of Iraq. Over the ensuing weeks, U.S. troops systematically dismantled the military of Iraq President Saddam Hussein in what is known as the Battle of Baghdad.

On April 3, the 3rd ID assaulted Baghdad International Airport as American forces prepared to seal off the city and make their final assault on Hussein’s last citadel, while Baghdad residents fled on foot or in packed cars.

On April 5, the historic division entered Baghdad through a series of coordinated attacks meant to “dismember the city zone by zone so that each of these zones [would fall] under the control of the U.S. Army,” according to CNN Correspondent Walter Rodgers. The footage of tanks and fighting vehicles entering the city were broadcast around the world.

Today in military history: Israel declares independence
(The statue of Saddam Hussein topples in Baghdad’s Firdos Square on April 9, 2003.)

Days later, coalition forces tore down an iconic statue of the Iraqi dictator and continued pushing their way into the city.

For the next few days, the men and women of the 3rd ID and other U.S. forces enacted a siege of the city and hunted down the military resistance. By April 9th, the coalition was occupying the city, instead of sieging it.

While the city had fallen, a war with a criminal insurgency was just beginning and would rage until the U.S. withdrawal in 2011.

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