Today in military history: Hitler commits suicide - We Are The Mighty
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: Hitler commits suicide
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: 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: Hitler commits suicide
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.

Today in Military History

Today in military history: Robert E. Lee resigns from US Army after Virginia secedes from the Union

On April 20, 1861, Col. Robert E. Lee resigned from the United States Army in response to his home state of Virginia’s decision to secede from the Union. 

Fort Monroe, Hampton Lee's early duty station
Fort Monroe, Robert Lee’s early duty station

Two days before, he was offered command of the Union Army, but Lee chose a different path. While he opposed secession, he remained loyal to the state of Virginia, though not without regrets. While many look back upon Lee as an honorable man and exceptional military commander, it cannot go overlooked that his deliberation had nothing to do with the plight of the enslaved souls in the South — only his loyalties to the country he would abandon and the men he served with.

In his letter to General Winfield Scott, Lee wrote:

General ,

Since my interview with you on the 18th instant I have felt that I ought not longer to retain my commission in the Army. I therefore tender my resignation, which I request you will recommend for acceptance.  

It would have been presented at once, but for the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted all the best years of my life & all the ability I possessed.  

During the whole of that time, more than 30 years, I have experienced nothing but kindness from my superiors, & the most cordial friendship from my companions. To no one Genl have I been as much indebted as to yourself for uniform kindness & consideration, & it has always been my ardent desire to merit your approbation.  

I shall carry with me to the grave the most grateful recollections of your kind consideration, & your name & fame will always be dear to me. Save in the defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword.  

Be pleased to accept my most earnest wishes for the continuance of your happiness & prosperity & believe me most truly yours 

R. E. Lee 

Today in military history: Hitler commits suicide
Robert E. Lee around age 43, when he was a brevet lieutenant-colonel of engineers, c. 1850

On April 22, Lee was promoted to the rank of major general and appointed commander of Virginia’s forces. The following year, he would assume command of the Army of Northern Virginia and he would go down in history as one of the most renowned military tacticians and generals of all time — though others have likened him to “the moral equivalent of Hitler’s brilliant field marshal Erwin Rommel.”

After four long years of civil war, on April 9, 1865, General Lee would surrender his forces to Union General Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse, effectively ending the war at last.

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Today in military history: Paris liberated from Nazis

On Aug. 25, 1944, Paris was liberated from Nazi occupation.

In June 1940, Germany invaded France, and within two weeks, the French government fell and what remained signed an armistice with the Nazis, based in Vichy. 

However, General Charles de Gauille and Free French units who refused to join the Vichy kept fighting the good fight.

Four years later, after the Allied invasion of Normandy, de Galle convinced Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower to employ the Free French 2nd Armored Division and 4th Infantry Division to liberate Paris, even though Hitler ordered that the city be leveled before allowing it to fall into Allied hands. 

The German defenders went so far as to lay explosives under Parisian landmarks and bridges, but General Dietrich von Choltitz ultimately refused, claiming he did not want to go be remembered for destroying the “City of Light.” 

Von Choltitz was arrested and formally surrendered Paris to de Galle, who would lead France intermittently until 1969. 

During the war, Hitler spent three hours in Paris, but spent four years occupying northern France until Allied Forces liberated Paris. During his brief tour, he instructed friend and architect Albert Speer to take note of the city’s design to recreate similar yet superior German buildings.

“Wasn’t Paris beautiful?” Hitler reportedly asked Speer. “But Berlin must be far more beautiful. When we are finished in Berlin, Paris will only be a shadow.”

While sightseeing, Hitler also ordered the destruction of two French World War I monuments that reminded him of Germany’s bitter defeat. Thankfully, the Führer’s time in Paris — and on earth — came to an end.

Featured Image via German National Archive.

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Today in military history: RMS Lusitania torpedoed by German Submarine

On May 7, 1915, the British ocean liner Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat.

From the first shots of the Great War, Germany was desperate to gain an upper hand by any means necessary. They warned the world that their submarines patrolling the North Atlantic would target any ships belonging to Great Britain or her allies. Germany stated that anyone sailing in the waters around Great Britain did so at their own risk.

On May 7, at just after 2 PM local time, the Lusitania was bound for Liverpool from New York, when two German torpedoes hit the starboard side of the ship near the bridge. The Lusitania went down — and took 1,198 people to the bottom with her in under 18 minutes.

Despite the German warning, with 128 Americans dead aboard the sunken ship, President Woodrow Wilson rejected the German explanation for the sinking in a series of notes to the German government. 

Privately, the Lusitania incident turned the President against Germany, convincing him that America should soon be a British ally. It became a key motivator for America’s entry into World War One nearly two years later when, on April 2, 1917, President Wilson would ask Congress to declare war on Germany.

117,465 Americans would be killed in The War to End All Wars.

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: 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: Hitler commits suicide
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: Hitler commits suicide
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

WATCH: Today in military history, Germans test Luftwaffe on Guernica

On April 26, 1937, Hitler’s army tested their powerful Luftwaffe Air Force on the town of Guernica in northern Spain.

At the height of the Spanish Civil War, the small Basque town of Guernica served as a communications center behind the frontline. The town opposed nationalist leader Generalísimo Francisco Franco, but the population was largely made up of civilians. 

Nevertheless, the German Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion and the Fascist Italian Aviazione Legionaria began attacking the town at approximately 4:30 pm; the busiest time of day in the town’s market square. 

Eyewitness accounts recall planes flying as low as 30 meters off the ground, herding the townspeople together and cutting off means of retreat.

For three horrible hours, the Luftwaffe used its arsenal of bombs and heavy guns, killing one-third of the Guernica’s 5,000 person population. 

A reported 31 tons of high explosive, fragmentation and incendiary bombs were used, and the city burned for days. 

The German army stated the attack was necessary and was a strategic mission to destroy supply bridges and cut off routes for retreating soldiers. 

They declared the test a success.

The bombing was reported as the first deliberate targeting of civilians by aerial bombers and caused international outrage. 

Today in military history: Hitler commits suicide
Ruins of Guernica (1937)


Spanish artist Pablo Picasso’s famous painting ‘Guernica’ is inspired by the panic, terror, and confusion of the attack.

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: 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.

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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)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Today in military history: Legendary 5th Special Forces Group activated

On Sep. 21, 1961, the  5th Special Forces Group was activated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The Cold War completely changed the way the U.S. planned to fight hot wars. Special Forces were designed to organize and train guerrillas behind enemy lines.

The U.S. Army’s 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces was formed to do just that as the war in Vietnam began to heat up.

President John F. Kennedy was a strong believer in the capabilities of Special Warfare. He visited the Special Warfare Center on Fort Bragg to review the training program there and authorized Special Forces soldiers to wear their distinctive green berets.

But how America’s premier unconventional warfare force got that iconic headwear is as much a testament to the force’s tenacity as it is a tribute to the founding soldiers who challenged Big Army’s authority.

The beret is said to be somewhat derived from America’s ties to the British Commandos of World War II, who wore a green beret as their standard-issue headdress beginning in 1941.

According to the official history of the Army Special Forces Association, America’s green beret was first designed by SF major and OSS veteran Herbert Brucker about two years after the unit was formed, likely due to the close work between the OSS — the predecessor to the Special Forces — and Royal British Commandos during the war.

The beret was later adopted by 1st Lt. Roger Pezelle and worn by his Operational Detachment Alpha team with the 10th Special Forces Group based in Germany. The SF troopers were reportedly not authorized to wear the berets, but being unconventional warriors, they basically gave Big Army the middle finger and wore them anyway.

“The berets were only worn in the field during exercises,” according to retired SF Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Lupyak. “The Army would not allow the wearing of berets in garrison.”

But that all changed in the early 1960s, when then-President John F. Kennedy adopted the Special Forces as America’s answer to the guerrilla wars that marked the first decades of the Cold War. Before a visit to Fort Bragg in 1961, Kennedy reportedly ordered then Special Warfare School commander Brig. Gen. William P. Yarborough to outfit his soldiers with the distinctive caps, arguing these unconventional warriors deserved headgear that set them apart from the rest of the Army.

The “Green Berets” – as they would become known based on that specific Army green “Shade 297” cap  – would deploy to Vietnam in 1964 to take control of all Special Forces in the country. 

They accomplished their mission of controlling Vietnam’s indigenous tribes and rallying them against the Communists. At the war’s height, the 5th SF Group controlled 84 of these Civilian Irregular Defense Groups, comprising some forty-two thousand men.

Featured Image: Vietnam-era 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Soldiers participate in 5th SFG(A)’s flash changeover ceremony at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, March 23, 2016. During the ceremony, 5th SFG(A) reinstated the Vietnam-era beret flash, adding a diagonal yellow stripe with three red stripes to the existing black and white background. The stripes pay homage to the Group’s history in the Vietnam War and its crucible under fire.

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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