Today in military history: John Paul Jones takes the fight to England - We Are The Mighty
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.” 

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

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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: John Paul Jones takes the fight to England
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: Mexico ratifies Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

On May 19, 1848, Mexico ratified the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, thus ending the Mexican-American War.

The war began over territory disputes in what was then the Republic of Texas, Nuevo Mexico, and Alta California. After two years of fighting, Mexico surrendered and peace talks began.

As part of the treaty, the United States paid Mexico $15 million in exchange for all or parts of present-day Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and Texas. Per the terms of the agreement, the Mexican government ceded fifty-five percent of its territory and recognized the Rio Grande as the southern boundary with the United States. 

Adjusting for inflation, that’s almost a third of the continental United States for about what La La Land earned at the box office. Though it did indeed expand U.S. territories, it reignited the tension over free- and slave-holding states and contributed to the cause of the Civil War just twelve years later. 

Featured Image: Map of the United States, Including Land Acquired by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, that Accompanied President Polk’s Annual Message to Congress in December 1848

Today in Military History

Today in military history: Abraham Lincoln is shot

On April 14, 1865, five days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse and effectively ended the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer. President Lincoln would succumb to his wounds the next morning.  

Abraham Lincoln
Portrait of Abraham Lincoln

The previous month, Booth and some fellow Confederate supporters hatched a failed plan to kidnap the president. As the South fell to the Union forces, Booth became more desperate and he devised a plan to assassinate the president in his private box above the stage of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. 

The president shared his box with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, army officer Henry Rathbone, and Rathbone’s fiancé Clara Harris. At 10:15pm, Booth snuck in and fired his .44-caliber single-shot derringer pistol point-blank at the president’s head and stabbed Rathbone in the shoulder before leaping on the stage and shouting, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (The Latin translates to “Thus ever to tyrants” — it is the Virginia state motto). 

A doctor in the audience, 23 year-old Charles Leale, ran to the president, who was paralyzed and struggling to breathe. He was carried across the street to a boardinghouse where he was pronounced terminally wounded. He died the next morning at 7:22 am.

President Lincoln laid in state on a catafalque in the Capitol rotunda before he was interred on May 4, 1865, at Oak Ridge Cemetery near his home in Springfield, Illinois.

Booth broke his leg in the leap but hobbled to a horse and fled the scene. The resulting manhunt was one of the largest in history, with over 10,000 federal troops, police and detectives tracking him down. He was killed fleeing Union troops on April 26, while his co-conspirators were convicted and executed by hanging on July 7, 1865.

Lincoln Memorial
President Lincoln is immortalized in stone at the Lincoln Memorial, a treasured national monument.

President Lincoln’s legacy as the man who preserved the Union and set in motion the emancipation of all enslaved people in the United States endures to this day.

Featured Image: 4″x3″ slide depicting John Wilkes Booth leaning forward to shoot President Abraham Lincoln as he watches Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. 14 April 1865.

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: John Paul Jones takes the fight to England
(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.

Today in Military History

Today in military history: Wilson asks Congress to declare war

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany, bringing the United States into the first World War.

America had been committed to neutrality in the ‘Great War,’ but tensions between the United States and Germany were already high by 1917. At the start of the war, German U-Boats were aggressively attacking shipping vessels. In 1915, a U-Boat sank the British luxury liner Lusitania, killing 1,198 civilians — including 128 Americans.

Germany knew that American industrial might and manpower would tip the scales for the Allied powers, so they backed off on their attacks after sinking the Lusitania. But in 1917 they resumed their provocation, hoping to break the stalemate on the Western Front. 

President Wilson was not happy.

The German Foreign Minister then made matters worse for Germany by sending a telegram to the German Embassy in Mexico, instructing them to offer Mexico a military alliance in the event of a German-American war. The British intercepted the telegram, and their codebreakers decrypted this piece of political dynamite.

The United States had already broken off diplomatic ties with Germany in wake of the recent submarine attacks. The telegram was publicly released on February 28, and to everyone’s surprise, the Germans openly admitted the telegram was genuine.

Over the course of that month, five American ships were sunk by German U-boats. That led President Wilson to ask Congress to declare war on Germany. 

Wilson declared, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” 

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

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: John Paul Jones takes the fight to England
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: Admiral Yamamoto, Pearl Harbor mastermind, is shot down

On April 18, 1943, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, mastermind of the attack on Pearl Harbor, was shot down by American pilots.

American forces have begun to turn the tables in the Pacific. Midway had seen the decimation of the Japanese carrier fleet, and the Japanese Navy had failed to cut off American Marines at Guadalcanal. Admiral Yamamoto planned an inspection tour of various bases in the Solomon Islands, and his itinerary was radioed to the bases he would visit.

Admiral Yamamoto
Portrait of Admiral Yamamoto

But it turns out American codebreakers were also listening. The Japanese Admiral’s travel plans made it into the hands of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, and before long the 347th Fighter Group was on their way to rain on Yamamoto’s parade. 

A squadron of P-38s led by Captain Thomas G. Lanphier and Major John W. Mitchell took off from Guadalcanal. They soon intercepted the Japanese formation of two Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers and six Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighters.

Today in military history: John Paul Jones takes the fight to England
Replica of Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero Model 22 (NX712Z) (Commemorative Air Force / American Airpower Heritage Flying Museum)

Yamamoto’s Betty was shot down by Captain Lanphier, who also claimed to have shot down a Zero. Lieutenant Rex Barber shot down the second Betty carrying many of Yamamoto’s senior staff officers. Barber and Lieutenant Besby Holmes also each claimed to have shot down Zeroes as well. The last pilot from the “killer flight,” Lieutenant Raymond Hine, never returned to base.

The mission, code-named Operation Vengeance, had been a success. Pearl Harbor had been avenged.

Featured Image: U.S. Air Force P-38 Lightning similar to those flown by Captain Thomas G. Lanphier.

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.

Today in Military History

Today in military history: US evacuates Saigon

On April 29, 1975, Operation Frequent Wind began, evacuating the last Americans and “at-risk” Vietnamese from Saigon, South Vietnam.

After the orders came through, armed forces radio began playing Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” to signal that the evacuation was underway. 

Nearly 100 helicopters were deployed from aircraft carriers to airlift approximately 7 thousand men, women, and children out of harm’s way in under 24 hours. 

The heroic pilots swarmed in and landed on confined rooftops, enclosed courtyards, and other various spaces loading countless people into the already cramped cargo areas to shuttle them to nearby Navy ships as Vietnamese forces stormed towards the city.  

Today in military history: John Paul Jones takes the fight to England
A South Vietnamese helicopter is pushed over the side of the USS Okinawa during Operation Frequent Wind, April 1975. The helicopter had to be disposed of to make room for the extensive Marine Corps helicopter operation helping to evacuate the city of Saigon.

So many helicopters landed on the decks of the nearby U.S. Navy aircraft carriers that empty helicopters were pushed overboard to make room for incoming aircraft. Other pilots were told to drop their passengers off then ditch their helicopter in the sea and await rescue.

The U.S. Marines — who provided security for the evacs — were the last to fly out, just as the Embassy fell to the Communists, leaving nearly 400 evacuees remaining.

Operation Frequent Wind remains the largest helicopter evacuation on record. In 19 hours, a total of 1,373 Americans and 5,595 Vietnamese and third country nationals were rescued. 

Featured Image: Vietnamese refugees board a U.S. Marine Corps Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter from HMH-463 at Landing Zone 39, a parking lot At Ton Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon, Vietnam, 29 April 1975.

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: John Paul Jones takes the fight to England

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: Battle of Alamance preludes Revolutionary War

On May 16, 1771, the Battle of Alamance ended the War of the Regulation, a colonial war that some say was the start of the American Revolution.

By 1771, tensions were boiling in the colonies. A group of North Carolinian rebels calling themselves “the Regulators” began to openly fight against Crown officials they believed were corrupt. For decades, farmers had protested excessive fees and high taxes they were required to pay to local sheriffs and the colonial government. They demanded changes to the laws and began resisting and harassing local officials they deemed to be taking advantage of them.

On May 16, 1771, 2,000 Regulators met Royal Governor William Tyron and his 1,000-strong colonial militia at Alamance, in the western part of the colony. The Regulators demanded an audience with the Governor to discuss their differences; Tyron refused unless the Regulators agreed to disarm themselves. 

Governor Tyron’s goal was to end what he saw as open rebellion and a refusal to obey local laws. After sending two warnings to the Regulator army to surrender, Tyron marched his force forward. 

Today in military history: John Paul Jones takes the fight to England
Only known likeness of Gov. William Tryon. (Public Domain)

The Regulators had zero training, little ammunition, and no cannons. Their best hope was to fight as they’d seen Native Americans fighting: avoiding lines and formations and shooting from behind tree lines. 

The battle lasted two hours. Tyron and the militia answered the Regulators’ bullets with cannon fire. The militia were organized while some of the Regulators were reported to have simply left the field of battle when they ran out of munition. Nonetheless, both sides suffered. 

Today in military history: John Paul Jones takes the fight to England
Painting of the Battle of Alamance (YouTube)

The casualty count for the Regulators is unknown but nine militiamen died on the field of battle and over sixty more were wounded. In the immediate aftermath, leaders amongst the Regulators were given ad hoc trials. Fourteen were tried, twelve were convicted, and seven were hanged for treason.

The rest were promised amnesty on the condition that they took an oath of allegiance. In the next two weeks, 6,409 complied.

But many say that this was the beginning of the Jeffersonian-thinking that “a government that exercises the least control over its people governs best,” hinting at the earth-changing war to come.

Featured Image: Image From North Carolina Museum of History; “Battle of Alamance” Postcard Circa 1905-1915, by artist, J. Steeple Davis

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Today in military history: Crusader control of Holy Land ends

On May 18, 1291, Acre, the last Crusader stronghold in the Middle East, fell to the Muslim Mamluks, ending Crusader control of the Holy Land.

European Christian Crusaders had been reeling from Sala-a-din’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1187. The Third Crusade recaptured Acre (in modern-day Israel) for the next 100 years. But in that time, one by one, Crusader cities would fall to the Mamluk Sultanate.

The Muslim Mamluks came to power in the region in 1250, marking a shift in the balance of power in the region. The Muslims were then able to compete with the heavy cavalry of the Crusader knights – and they did. 

Crusader cities in Caesarea, Haifa, Galilee, and Antioch sparked more Crusades from Europe, but they were largely ineffective. Latakia fell in 1278, Tripoli in 1289. Acre was surrounded. 

The Crusaders hoped for either an army from Italy or an unlikely alliance with the Mongols. Neither materialized and the Mamluks laid siege to Acre on April 5, 1291. By May 18, Al-Ashraf Khalil’s 222,000-strong army entered the city and killed its Crusader defenders, ending the last Crusader control of the region.

The Siege of Acre, also known as the Fall of Acre, marked the end of further crusades to the Levant. With the fall of Acre, the Crusaders lost their last major stronghold of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and by 1302 with the loss of Ruad, they were no longer control any part of the Holy Land.

Featured Image: Siège d’Acre (1291) by unknown 14th century French artist (Gallica Digital Library)

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