Today in military history: President Truman relieves General MacArthur of duty - We Are The Mighty
Today in Military History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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: The American Revolution begins

On April 19, 1775, the American Revolution began, with a “shot heard round the world.” 

The very first confrontation in the war for independence began with an early morning-hour standoff in Lexington. Seven hundred British soldiers had orders to confiscate a large cache of firearms and arrest Patriot leaders. They were greeted by a local militia who had no intention of handing them over.

At some point, a shot was fired from an unknown gun, triggering an exchange of fire. 

Today in military history: President Truman relieves General MacArthur of duty
Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, leader of the British forces at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

The local militia at Lexington didn’t fare too well, suffering nine dead or fatally wounded at the hands of British soldiers.

But the alarm had been sent, and another British column at Concord Bridge found themselves in a much worse situation. This time, the militia was ready. In their first volley, they killed a number of British officers and sergeants. The exchange of fire ended soon after, and British troops paused to eat lunch. You know, like you do. The pause gave more militia time to arrive – and soon over 1,000 militia were in the field.

The British force soon came under some harassing fire. After a rear detachment of British troops fired in the general direction of the militia, the militia returned fire, this time with deadly effect. 

Today in military history: President Truman relieves General MacArthur of duty
National Park Service map showing the routes of the initial Patriot messengers and of the British expedition

By the time the day was over, the British had suffered 73 dead, 174 wounded and 53 missing. The militia’s hit and run tactics left them with far fewer casualties: 49 dead, 39 wounded and five missing.

So began the Revolutionary War – which would last six and a half years. To this day, nobody knows who fired that first shot.

Featured Image: The Battle of Lexington by William Barnes Wollen, 1910. (From the collection of the National Army Museum).

Today in Military History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Featured image: Attack on Derna by Colonel Charles Watterhouse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Today in military history: Americans and Soviets unite against Germany

On April 25, 1945, Eight Russian armies linked up with the American troops on the western bank of the Elbe river. Germany was, for all intents and purposes, Allied territory. The end of fighting on the Eastern Front of World War II was in sight.

This event signaled the first contact between Soviet and American troops after years of fierce fighting. Both forces successfully cut through multiple Wehrmacht divisions and met in the middle of Torgau, Germany.

The Allied powers had effectively cut Germany in two. 

By the 27th, the American and Soviet armies met for a photo op to reenact the meeting, and the Allied powers released statements in London, Moscow, and Washington, reassuring the world that the Third Reich was in its final days.

Although the date isn’t an official holiday, that doesn’t mean it isn’t celebrated. In 2015, 70 years after the original encounter, American and Soviet military units met up once again at the very site of the first meeting to reenact the historic event.

Happy Elbe Day!

Featured Image: In an arranged photo commemorating the meeting of the Soviet and American armies, 2nd Lt. William Robertson (U.S. Army) and Lt. Alexander Silvashko (Red Army) stand facing one another with hands clasped and arms around each other’s shoulders. In the background are two flags and a poster. (National Archives image)

Today in Military History

Today in military history: The B-52 BUFF makes its first test flight

The B-52 Stratofortress, also known as the Big Ugly Fat F*cker, or BUFF, first flew all the way back on April 15, 1952.

Yeah, that’s right. Today, the B-52 is old enough to collect Medicare. It’s dropped a lot of bombs, too, during the Vietnam War, Desert Storm and the War on Terror. 

Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that the work on the BUFF started before the plane it was designed to replace, the B-36 Peacemaker, even took flight. The original design called for six turboprop engines and even then, the initial design wasn’t quite cutting the mustard.

Boeing kept at it, with help from legendary Air Force General Curtis LeMay. The advent of practical mid-air refueling also made the task easier. After several more iterations and more feedback from LeMay, Boeing finally came up with the Model 464-67, which was the genesis for the B-52 we know today.

On Feb. 14, 1951, the contracts were issued for the XB-52. The YB-52 (the Y standing for “prototype”) made its first flight on this date in 1952, just 14 months later. 

Today in military history: President Truman relieves General MacArthur of duty
A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker with the 927th Air Refueling Wing, Florida refuels a B-52 Stratofortress with the Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, on February 26, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tiffany A. Emery)

Even though the youngest B-52 in the Air Force rolled off the line in 1962, numerous upgrades have kept them flying and bombing with increased precision. The Air Force plans to keep them flying until at least 2040. 

Not bad for a Big Ugly Fat F*cker.

Featured Image: A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing, Barksdale Air Force Base, La., approaches the refueling boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 931st Air Refueling Group, McConnell Air Force Base (U.S. Air Force image by Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo)

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)

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: President Truman relieves General MacArthur of duty
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: Osama bin Laden is killed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Today in military history: US declares war on Mexico

On May 11, 1846, President James K. Polk asked Congress to declare war on Mexico.

Tensions with Mexico were on the rise since the United States annexed Texas and admitted it to the Union as the 28th state. Texas had received its independence from Mexico in 1936, but northern states were hesitant to incorporate another slave-state into the union.

On April 25, 1846, 2,000 Mexican cavalry attacked a 70-man patrol with the United States Army, leaving 11 American troops dead. Later, six more Americans were killed at the Siege of Fort Texas and the Battle of Palo Alto.

Declaring that Mexico had “invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow-citizens on our own soil,” Polk asked for Congress to declare war on Mexico. Polk operated with an expansionist mindset, believing that the United States had a “manifest destiny” to conquer the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The Mexican-American War would become America’s first war fought chiefly on foreign soil. No declaration of war ever came from Mexico.

The resulting conflict would take a year and nine months, and over 13,000 American troops would die – although the Department of Defense notes only 1,733 were killed in combat. 

The United States would eventually force Mexico to cede the territory that would include Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, and New Mexico, among other states or parts of states — nearly one third of its pre-existing territory.

Featured Image: Bombardment of Veracruz by Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot. Originally published in The War Between the United States and Mexico, Illustrated, 1851.

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