Today in military history: NATO is established - We Are The Mighty
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. 

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APRIL 8: Today in military history: The Japanese take Bataan

On April 8, 1942, the Japanese captured the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. The next day, the U.S. surrendered the peninsula to the Japanese, leaving the approximately 75,000 Filipino and American troops on Bataan to the mercy of their captors, who forced the brutal 65-mile trek to prison camps known as the Bataan Death March.

The Japanese Imperial Forces’ attack on Pearl Harbor in Dec. 1941 is perhaps the most infamous attack of a much larger campaign unleashed on U.S. and Allied Forces across the Pacific. The day after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched an invasion against the Philippines, capturing the capital within a month. 

Over the following months, U.S. forces fought desperately to hold the islands, but by April 6, they were fighting against overwhelming odds as defensive lines were destroyed or ordered to withdraw before they could be fully occupied. Crippled by disease, starvation, and lack of supplies, the U.S. defense was deteriorating.

On the morning of April 8, the U.S. was fortifying new positions on the Alangan River in an attempt to form one last safe space from which to fight when Japanese planes began hitting the line and forced the withdrawal of the infantry and tanks on the right side of the line.

That night, the U.S. dug a final line of defense at the Lamao River only to discover that the Japanese already held ground on their flank. 

Forces were redistributed to try and stem the tide, but U.S. Navy sailors were sent to destroy the remaining stockpiles of ammunition and other material before it could be captured. The siege of Bataan was essentially over — and the Japanese had won.

The next day, U.S. forces surrendered and the Japanese forced the survivors, including 12,000 Americans, on the cruel march to the prison camps in San Fernando. Thousands of prisoners died along the way at the hands of their captors, who starved, beat, and bayoneted the marchers. Thousands more would die from disease, abuse, and starvation in the prison camps.

Featured Image: This picture, captured from the Japanese, shows American prisoners using improvised litters to carry those of their comrades who, from the lack of food or water on the march from Bataan, fell along the road.” Philippines, May 1942.

Today in Military History

Today in military history: USS Joyce sinks German U-Boat off New York coast

On April 16, 1944, the Coast Guard-manned destroyer USS Joyce sank a German U-boat off the coast of New York.

On the morning of April 16th, the USS Joyce — a US Navy destroyer manned by the Coast Guard — was escorting a convoy leaving New York harbor and bound for the United Kingdom. The North Atlantic was fertile hunting ground for German U-Boats, and large convoys were particularly tempting targets. 

Today in military history: NATO is established
USS Joyce at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, San Francisco, CA (US Navy Photo)

Just the previous month, the Joyce braved two U-Boat attacks to rescue survivors from the USS Leopold, which was torpedoed while investigating a radar contact. Little did they know, they were about to get their revenge.

That afternoon, the gasoline tanker SS Pan-Pennsylvania was torpedoed by the U-Boat U-550, and set aflame while joining the convoy.

With all hands on deck, the USS Joyce headed west along with the USS Petersen to support the damaged ship. They picked up 31 survivors, including the tanker’s captain. Then they went hunting. 

At full speed, the pair of ships moved into position. The USS Joyce detected U-550’s sonar and deployed depth charges that bracketed the German submarine. 

Today in military history: NATO is established
A U.S. Navy Lockheed VW-2 flies over the radar-picket destroyer escort USS Joyce (DER-317), in the 1950s. (US Navy Photo)

One bounced off the submarine’s deck before it exploded, damaging the enemy vessel and forcing it to resurface.

The nearby USS Gandy opened fire and rammed the surfaced U-Boat, then all three destroyers opened fire. The U-550 surrendered, but the crew scuttled her before she could be boarded and seized. 

The Joyce rescued 13 survivors from the U-550, including the ship’s captain. The rest went down with the ship.

Featured Image: Aft plan view of Joyce at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, San Francisco, CA. March 9, 1951 (U.S. Navy photo).

Today in Military History

Today in military history: The US enters WWI

On April 6, 1917, the United States of America finally entered World War I. After years of a formal position of neutrality, the United States declared war against Germany in response to their aggressive naval tactics, including Germany’s policy of unrestricted warfare against all ships that entered the waters surrounding the British Isles. 

The naval attacks began in 1915, including the sinking of the William P. Frye, a private American vessel; the sinking of the Luisitania on May 7, 1915, where 1,198 passengers were killed, including 128 Americans; and the sinking of an Italian liner in August 1915, which killed 272 people, including 27 Americans. 

Public opinion began to turn against Germany and by early 1917, President Woodrow Wilson was preparing Congress to strike. On Feb. 3, 1917, the U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Germany. A few hours later, the American liner S.S. Housatonic was sunk by a German U-boat — although the German commander politely ordered the Housatonic’s crew to abandon the ship first, sparing their lives.

On Feb. 22, Congress passed a $250 million arms appropriations bill in order to prepare the U.S. for war and by April four more U.S. ships had been sunk by Germany’s naval fleet. On April 2, President Wilson called for war. 

Four days later, Congress approved his request. U.S. troops would land in France by June in a war that would continue for another year and a half, killing nearly 20 million people across the globe including 2 million Americans.

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Today in military history: The Red Baron is killed in action

On April 21, 1918, the Red Baron was killed in action.

Manfred von Richthofen, known to allies and enemies as the Red Baron, was a dog-fighting legend in a time when planes were made of wood, fabric, and aluminum.

After joining the German army as a cavalryman, the Barron quickly switched to the Imperial Air Service in 1915, and took to the skies over the western front by 1916.

Between 1916 and 1918, the Red Baron downed 80 enemy aircraft, easily surpassing all flying-ace records of the time.

While many Ace pilots of the era were known for risky and aggressive aerial acrobatics, the Baron was a patient tactician and expert marksman. He preferred to dive upon his enemies from above, often with the sun at his back. His two most famous aircraft, the Albatros D.III and Fokker Dr. I, were painted bright red to honor his old cavalry regiment. 

On April 21st, while hunting British observation aircraft, the Red Baron and his squadron ventured deep into Allied French territory. They quickly got into a tussle with an Allied squadron, and the Baron began to stalk a Canadian Air Force plane.

In the heat of the chase, the Baron flew too low to the ground, and was fired upon from below. Sources differ on who fired the shot, but the kill is often credited to an Australian machine gunner using a Vickers gun. 

The Baron was struck in the chest by a single .303 bullet. Even as he died, he still managed to make a rough landing. By most accounts, his plane was barely even damaged.

He was buried by Allied forces with full military honors.

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: NATO is established
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: Pat Tillman is killed in Afghanistan

On April 22, 2004, former Arizona Cardinals safety and decorated Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed in an ambush near the Afghan-Pakistan border.

After four seasons as a star safety with the Cardinals, Tillman decided to step away from his successful football career to enlist in the Army in 2002, eight months after 9/11. Meanwhile, his brother Kevin walked away from a professional baseball contract with the Cleveland Indians to enlist as well. Both Tillman brothers were pinned as Army Rangers in late 2002. 

Pat Tillman would take part in the initial Iraq invasion as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and then redeployed to Afghanistan where he would be based out of FOB Salerno with the Ranger Battalion and courageously go out on several combat missions. 

In April of 2004, Tillman and his squad took heavy enemy contact. Surrounded, he was heard giving his men instruction on how to take the fight to the enemy and ordering them to take up their firing positions. 

During the fight, Tillman was fatally wounded and killed. 

He posthumously received the Silver Star and Purple Heart, which were respectfully presented to his family. 

In his memory, the Pat Tillman Foundation was created by Tillman’s family and friends in order to carry forward his legacy of service. Their mission is to unite and empower remarkable military service members, veterans and spouses as the next generation of public and private sector leaders committed to service beyond self.

Today in military history: NATO is established
Airmen from the 39th Operations Support Squadron pose for a group photo before embarking on a 40-mile bike ride, April 22, 2020, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The bike ride was held to honor former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who died in Afghanistan April 22, 2004. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrea Salazar)

$20 million have been invested to date in Tillman Scholars, military service members, veterans and spouses with a high potential for impact as demonstrated through a proven track record of leadership, the continued pursuit of education and the commitment of their resources to service beyond self. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

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)

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Today in military history: George Washington protests taxation without representation

On May 17, 1769, George Washington brought a list of resolutions to the Virginia colony legislature, subverting British taxation without representation. This act of protest would eventually lead to the armed uprising of the American Revolution.

Voicing frustration felt by many colonists at the time, George Washington brought a stack of retaliatory measures to the floor of the Virginia legislature. Largely in response to the Townshend Acts of 1767, a series of laws passed by the British government on the American colonies that placed new taxes on imports such as paper, paint, lead, glass, and tea. As the colonists had no representation in parliament, these restrictions began to chafe at the colonies.

George Washington’s “non-importation resolutions,” drafted by George Mason, proposed that Virginians should minimize their use of any of the imported goods in an attempt to force Great Britain to rethink the taxes.  

The royal governor dissolved the Virginia legislature but Washington and the other representatives simply went to the house of Alexander Hayes and passed the resolution there on May 18.

While the resolution itself was mainly symbolic, other colonies followed with their own resolutions to show solidarity with Massachusetts, where violent protests against the Townshend Acts had led to a British military occupation of Boston beginning in 1768.

The sentiment against taxation without representation would later snowball into physical protests such as the Boston Tea Party. Finally, tensions came to a boiling point and the first shots of the Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775.

Featured Image: The earliest authenticated portrait of George Washington shows him wearing his colonel’s uniform of the Virginia Regiment from the French and Indian War. The portrait was painted about 12 years after Washington’s service in that war, and several years before he would re-enter military service in the American Revolution. Oil on canvas by Charles Willson Peale.

Today in Military History

Today in military history: German airship Hindenburg crashes

On May 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg burst into flames while attempting to moor after a trans-Atlantic flight.

Billed as the largest airship ever built — nearly the size of the RMS Titanic — the Hindenburg had begun regular passenger service from Germany to the United States the year before, carrying commercial passengers (who, by the way, were allowed to smoke in the on-board smoking lounge…) across the Atlantic. 

The hydrogen-floated airship had departed Frankfurt, Germany, three days before, bound for the first of ten round trip crossings to the United States in a time when airplanes were not yet a viable trans-Atlantic option.

Today in military history: NATO is established
The dining room of the Hindenburg (German Federal Archives, CC BY-SA 3.0 de)

The trip had been relatively uneventful until a storm began to brew in Hindenburg’s path. To avoid the inclement weather, Capt. Max Pruss re-charted his course over New York City, creating a sensation in Manhattan. He waited out the storm hovering over the Atlantic before ordering his ship to Lakehurst, New Jersey.

With heavy winds requiring challenging maneuvering, it was said to be a difficult landing. Nonetheless, the Hindenburg dropped her mooring lines and successfully tied in to the landing winches on the ground. Still, disaster was imminent.

The cause of the fire is still much debated, but the hull of the warship incinerated within seconds as it fell 200 feet to the ground, killing 13 passengers, 22 crewmen, and 1 civilian ground worker.

Surprisingly, 62 survived, but most of them were left with substantial injuries. As the radio reporter Herbert Morrison so famously uttered that day, “Oh the humanity…”

Hindenburg’s tragic disaster marked the end of the airship era.

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Today in military history: Winston Churchill becomes prime minister as Germany invades

On May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Western Europe while Winston Churchill became prime minister of Great Britain.

Marking the beginning of Hitler’s Western offensive, German bombers struck Allied airfields in Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and France while paratroopers rained from the sky at critical junctures. Ground forces invaded along two main routes, a northern route that was expected by the defending armies, and a southern thrust through the Ardennes forest that was not.

The Allies did not know about the southern attack and rushed most of their defenders to the north. The southern thrust quickly broke their backs. Luxembourg fell on the first day while Belgium and the Netherlands surrendered before the end of May. France would survive until June.

The war in Europe would continue for five more brutal years.

England knew the continent was doomed and accelerated their preparations for defending the isles. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, known for his policy of appeasement, was replaced by Winston Churchill, a man known for his bulldog temperament and military vision.

Churchill would go on to serve as Conservative Prime Minister twice, from 1940 to 1945 and from 1951 to 1955. A war veteran himself, he was active in both administrative and diplomatic functions during World War II, as well as giving rousing speeches that are credited with stimulating British morale during the hardship of war.

Today in military history: NATO is established
Churchill in 1904 when he “crossed the floor“. (Public Domain)

He would live until Jan. 24, 1965, dying at the age of ninety and receiving the first State Funeral given to a commoner since the Duke of Wellington’s death more than a century before. 

“It has been a grand journey — well worth making once,” he recorded in January 1965 shortly before his death, possibly his last recorded statement.

Featured Image: “The Roaring Lion” photograph by Yousuf Karsh depicting Winston Churchill on Dec. 30, 1941.

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Today in military history: Victory in Europe is celebrated around the world

On May 8, 1945, the Allied Powers celebrated Victory in Europe after years of brutal warfare. The day would be known as V-E Day, celebrated for generations to come.

Victory over the Nazis became official when German General Alfred Jodl signed the unconditional surrender of all forces in Reim, France, just 9 days after Adolf Hitler committed suicide.

General Jodl had initially hoped to limit the terms of surrender to only the German forces still fighting the Western Allies, but General Dwight D. Eisenhower would accept nothing short of total surrender, putting an end to all fighting on the Western Front.

There were two official signings: The first was on May 7, 1945, when German Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl signed Germany’s surrender on all fronts in Reims, France. The second signing — insisted upon by Soviet Premier Josef Stalin — was by German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel the next day in Berlin. Jodl and Keitel were later found guilty of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany, and both were subsequently executed.

On May 8, the people of Europe, who had been subjected to years of German occupation, oppression, and bombardment put out flags and banners, and rejoiced in the defeat of the Nazi war machine.

News spread quickly around the world from Moscow to Los Angeles. 

While the American military still had months of fighting ahead of them in the Pacific, the war in Europe was won, but not without grave cost.

Tens of millions of service members and civilians were killed over five years of war across the continent, including 250,000 U.S. troops who were killed in the European theater. Among the dead were also 6 million Jews who were murdered by Nazi Germany. 

While it would take another four months to defeat the Japanese threat in the Pacific, the cessation of war in Europe was cause for world-wide celebrations.

Featured Image: Crowds gathering in celebration at Piccadilly Circus, London during V-E Day on May 8, 1945.

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.

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