Today in military history: John Paul Jones sets out to raid British ships - We Are The Mighty
Today in Military History

Today in military history: John Paul Jones sets out to raid British ships

On April 10, 1778, the Father of the American Navy John Paul Jones set out to raid British ships.

An accomplished merchant sailor, John Paul Jones volunteered for Continental Navy service in 1775. He was commissioned as an officer and quickly placed as lieutenant and second-in-command of Esek Hopkins’ flagship Alfred. Jones was extremely successful in early cruises, capturing 16 British vessels in a single cruise after taking command of the Providence.

But Jones had an ambitious plan for the young Continental Navy. Rather than fighting on the American coastline, ensuring that Britain would send additional ships to America where they could provide support to land commanders, he would sail to Europe and fight British ships there, forcing them to pull ships in the Americas back to England.

On April 10, 1778, Jones set his plan into action and sailed from France for the British Isles and the Irish Sea. Jones and his men attacked the British port of Whitehaven Harbor and then his former home in Kirkcudbright Bay, Scotland.

In Scotland, he attempted to abduct the local Earl, but contented himself with stealing the silver instead when he discovered that the Earl wasn’t home. The legend says he even stole the Earl’s teapot from his wife with her morning tea still inside.

Jones went on to fight legendary battles for the U.S., including his victory against two British warships escorting gold from the West Indies to Britain. He is remembered as the “Father of the American Navy” and is buried at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Featured Image: John Paul Jones seizing the silver plate of Lady Selkirk (Henry Davenport Northrop, Library of Congress)

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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.

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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

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Today in military history: Union Army cuts off Port Hudson

On May 21, 1863, a 48-day siege began as the Union Army cut off Port Hudson, Louisiana during the Civil War.

The Union’s “Anaconda Plan” was a strict blockade of the coast and the rivers, including the Mighty Mississippi. The fortifications at Port Hudson and Vicksburg presented a challenge, so in 1863, the Union went after both.

On May 21, Union Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks launched his attack on Port Hudson. Five Union divisions totalling 30,000 soldiers maneuvered simultaneously on the 7,500 Confederates in the port’s defenses, cutting them off from reinforcements or resupply.

General Banks anticipated a quick victory and ordered assaults on the fortifications on May 26. But the Confederates, firing from cover against the advancing troops, killed 2,000 Union soldiers.

A June 13 assault was also doomed as the Confederates inflicted 1,805 casualties while suffering about 200 of their own.

In the end, the Confederates were not beaten or even starved out. But Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg made Port Hudson strategically unimportant and the defenders eventually surrendered on July 9, 1863.

Featured Image: Battle of Port Hudson by J.O. Davidson

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Today in military history: Confederate invasion of Kentucky begins

On Aug. 14, 1862, the Confederate invasion of Kentucky began.

Wanting to draw the Union army away from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and hoping to win over Kentucky and the midwest for the South, Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith led ten thousand troops toward the Cumberland Gap and spent the month of August defeating Yankee forces throughout the state. 

Smith was joined by General Braxton Bragg’s forces, and throughout the fall the Confederates would repeatedly engage with Union General Don Carlos Buell, who finally secured a Yankee victory in October, causing the Confederates to retreat back to Tennessee. 

Often referred to as the Confederate Heartland Offensive, the Kentucky Campaign was a strategic failure overall. Though it would slow Union forces down, they would regain the lost ground within a year and Kentucky would remain in Union hands for the remainder of the war.

Featured Image: The Battle of Perryville as depicted in Harper’s Weekly. (Public Domain)

Today in Military History

Today in military history: The Civil War begins

On April 12, 1861, the American Civil War began.

By April of 1861, the U.S. was in a state of deep crisis. Many Southern states were inflamed by the election of President Abraham Lincoln and other leaders who were seen as likely to limit the power of slave states if they did not abolish the practice entirely. They had already declared secession from the country and both the Union and the Confederacy were gearing up for armed conflict.

One of the greatest potential flashpoints for the coming war was the Union Fort Sumter in the bay at Charleston, South Carolina. The small fort was running out of supplies and sat within range of Confederate batteries surrounding Charleston harbor.

On April 11, a delegation from Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard was sent to Fort Sumter to demand the surrender of the fort. 

The Confederacy gave Anderson good terms for the surrender, but Anderson refused anyway, citing his honor and his obligation to the federal government. He promised to surrender the fort if he received no word from the Army or resupply before April 15.

But the Confederacy knew it couldn’t wait that long and so the delegation told Anderson that they would begin bombardment at 4:30 a.m. if he did not surrender. On the morning of April 12, 1861, they did so. 

Over the next four days, the Confederacy fired over 3,000 shells at the fort, plunging America into a Civil War that would last four years and claim 1.5 million casualties.

Featured Image: Battle of Antietam by Thure de Thulstrup.

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Today in military history: Patton wins race to Messina

On Aug. 17, 1943, U.S. General George S. Patton and British Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery arrived in Messina and completed the Allied conquest of Sicily.

Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, was not without its flaws and screw-ups, but the Allied troops tore open a gap on the beaches and then pressed themselves against the Axis lines, driving back German and Italian troops as they attempted a massive evacuation.

U.S. Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. and British Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery raced at the head of armored columns toward the port city of Messina on the island of Sicily’s east coast. 

For weeks, German and Italian troops dug into the mountains, fighting delaying actions. On Aug. 8, with the eventual collapse clear, Germany began secretly ferrying 60,000 Italian troops and about 40,000 Germans across to Italy.

The Allies knew by the next day that some sort of evacuation was underway. But just like how the Nazis failed to capitalize on the Dunkirk evacuation, so too did the Allies fail at Messina. Allied leaders remained focused on the ground fight. No ships closed the Strait of Messina, no planes took out the ports in Messina or mainland Italy.

This failure would come under scrutiny at the time and in the decades since.

Germany not only got approximately 100,000 Axis troops across, they were able to recover 2,000 tons of ammunition, 47 tanks, 94 heavy artillery pieces and almost 10,000 vehicles — a massive success of sealift capability.

Of course, this made liberating Messina much easier than it otherwise would have been for Patton and Montgomery. But just like the evacuation at Dunkirk meant that Germany would have to face those troops later, the evacuation at Messina allowed Germany to reinforce itself in Italy.

On Aug. 17, Patton’s 7th Army arrived several hours before Montgomery’s 8th Army, which earned him bragging rights for winning what history refers to as the unofficial “Race to Messina,” but Patton is also credited with out-commanding Montgomery. 

Yes. They were on the same side. But that’s how Patton rolled. I mean, he once slapped a hospitalized soldier in the face and accused him of cowardice.

Nonetheless, after a month-long campaign, Allied forces finally completed the battle for Sicily and began to prepare for the advance against the Italian mainland. 

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 sets out to raid British ships
(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: 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.

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Today in military history: US raids Hanoi

On Aug. 27, 1972, U.S. aircraft hit North Vietnamese barracks near Hanoi and Haiphong in the heaviest bombing in four years.

Earlier that year, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) launched a ferocious military operation known as the Easter Offensive, designed to gain as much territory and destroy as many U.S. and South Vietnamese units as possible. 

In response, President Nixon unleashed Operation Linebacker I, a continuous bombing effort against the North.

On Aug. 27, U.S. aircraft flattened NVA barracks near Hanoi and Haiphong and destroyed bridges on the railroad line to China as four ships shelled the Haiphong port and attacked two NVA patrol boats. 

Operation Linebacker One would continue through October and in December, Linebacker II would begin.

Tens of thousands of Americans would die as a result of the Vietnam War, with three hundred thousand more injured and countless traumatized. In 1995, Vietnam released an official estimate detailing as many as two million civilian deaths on both sides with somewhere between two hundred thousand and one million combatants killed. 

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 sets out to raid British ships
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 sets out to raid British ships
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: US pilots get green light to destroy anti-aircraft targets

On Aug. 21, 1965, U.S. pilots received approval to destroy anti-aircraft targets – at will – in North Vietnam.

President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized the air campaign against North Vietnam in February of that year. 

Johnson was wary of drawing the Soviet Union and China into the fight, and so, much to the chagrin of the military leaders responsible for the war strategy, the president and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara restrictively selected the targets to be attacked.

On Aug. 21, 1965, however, U.S. pilots received the green-light to destroy any Soviet-made missiles they encountered while raiding the North. Probably the most famous mission in this campaign was that of the Wild Weasels, a squadron of F-105 Thunderchiefs who deliberately baited anti-aircraft sites in order to locate and destroy them. 

During the Vietnam War, the Republic F-105 Thunderchief — affectionately known as the “Thud” — was one of the U.S. Air Force’s primary strike aircraft. But amidst mounting losses from North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery, the Thud took on a new role — the Wild Weasel.

The Wild Weasels of the United States Air Force were some of the most courageous pilots in Vietnam. In a deadly game of cat and mouse, they flew fighter jets like the F-100, F-105 and F-4 deep into hostile airspace to coax the enemy into opening fire with their surface-to-air missiles. Once the Weasels located the site, other fighter bombers were called in to destroy the installations.

Using hunter-killer teams, a Wild Weasel aircraft would guide a flight of Thuds loaded with bombs and rockets to find the SAM sites and destroy them.

The Wild Weasel was essentially the bait.

Using their advanced radars and warning devices — or sometimes good ol’ drawing enemy fire — the Wild Weasels would “ferret out” the SAM sites, which then allowed the Thuds to come in and pulverize the position. This was often accomplished by simply following the missile’s smoke trail back to its launch site.

The air war over Vietnam lasted over seven more years, changing air tactics and doctrines forever.

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Today in military history: The M16 comes under fire in Vietnam

On May 23, 1967, the M16 went under fire for letting troops down in Vietnam.

The Army began to issue M16s to infantry units in 1965, but the rifle routinely failed when troops needed it most. The crisis gained national attention when Congressman James J. Howard went to the floor of the House of Representatives to read a letter from a Marine in Vietnam.

The letter claimed that many of the casualties suffered during the Battle of Hill 881 were due to malfunctions of the M16 rifle.

The resulting controversy spurred a Congressional investigation. The Army soon found many of the rifles were delivered without cleaning kits and that soldiers and Marines were told that the rifle was “self-cleaning.” The rifle had also received new powder in its 5.56mm cartridges that also caused problems. 

Troops hated the M16 so much, they started calling it the Mattel 16 “because it was made of plastic,” said Marine veteran Jim Wodecki. “At that time it was a piece of garbage.”

“We hated it,” added Marine veteran John Culbertson. “Because if it got any grime or corruption or dirt in it, which you always get in any rifle out in the field, it’s going to malfunction.”

The troops started using cleaning kits from other weapons to unjam their rifles.

“The shells ruptured in the chambers and the only way to get the shell out was to put a cleaning rod in it,” said Wodecki. “So you can imagine in a firefight trying to clean your weapon after two or three rounds. It was a nightmare for Marines at the time.

The M16A1 fixed the problems with a chrome-plated chamber among other improvements. The new rifles were even shipped with a comic-book style manual by legendary graphic novelist Will Eisner.

The improved model proved incredibly reliable, and the M16A4 is in service with our troops today.

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