Today in military history: Marines go ‘to the shores of Tripoli’ - We Are The Mighty
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.

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.

Today in Military History

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

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

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

Today in military history: Marines go ‘to the shores of Tripoli’
USS Joyce at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, San Francisco, CA (US Navy Photo)

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

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

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

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

Today in military history: Marines go ‘to the shores of Tripoli’
A U.S. Navy Lockheed VW-2 flies over the radar-picket destroyer escort USS Joyce (DER-317), in the 1950s. (US Navy Photo)

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

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

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

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

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.

Today in Military History

Today in military history: CIA launches mind-control program MKULTRA

On April 13, 1953, CIA director Allen Dulles launched the psychedelic mind-control program Project MKULTRA.

During the Korean War, the U.S. learned that some American troops captured in Korea were being subjected to rudimentary mind control techniques in order to make them more susceptible to interrogation.

Worried that the U.S. would fall behind in the next frontier of interrogation and espionage, the CIA’s Technical Services Staff began the MK-ULTRA project. MK-ULTRA sought to explore how drugs, especially LSD, could affect enemy soldiers during interrogations.

But the program didn’t stop there. It expanded and expanded, eventually encompassing 149 sub-projects that looked at everything from hypnosis to sleight of hand, from the best ways to buy drugs to methods of controlling the actions of animals.

Sidney Gottlieb approved of a letter about mind-control program
Sidney Gottlieb approved of an MKUltra sub-project on LSD in this letter from June 9, 1953.

While MK-ULTRA is well-known for being the CIA’s crazy drug program, people in the 60s and 70s knew it best for its flagrant ethics violations. Many subjects were drugged without their knowledge or consent, some mental patients and drug addicts were used as test subjects, and at least a few people died from bad reactions to the drugs.

In one particularly outlandish scheme, the CIA hired prostitutes to administer the drugs to Johns without their knowledge and then agents watched the results through two-way mirrors. 

The program was shut down in 1964 and in 1973 then-Director of the CIA Richard Helms ordered that all surviving documents related to MK-ULTRA be destroyed. A few documents escaped the purge because they had been misfiled, but the extent of the human experimentation under the project is still unknown.

Featured Image: Sidney Gottlieb, the American chemist and spymaster best known for his involvement in MKULTRA. Sept. 21, 1977.

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.

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)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Today in military history: Battle of Flamborough Head

On Sep. 23, 1779, John Paul Jones won the naval Battle of Flamborough Head.

During the Revolutionary War, Jones was commissioned into the new Continental Navy and in August 1779, took command of the Bonhomme Richard, a French ship flying under the American flag and creating havoc within the British Isles.

On Sep. 23, Jones engaged the British ships of war Serapis and Countess of Scarborough in a battle he managed to win — despite having the odds and numbers against him. During the conflict, when asked by the captain of the Serapis if he wished to surrender, Jones replied, “I have not yet begun to fight.”

He then crashed his ship into the Serapis, had his sharpshooters clear the enemy deck, and captured the Serapis while the Bonhomme Richard sank.

After the battle, he was both hailed as a hero and denigrated a pirate, depending on which country you ask. 

His remains are interred at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

As for his flagship, the Bonhomme Richard, today there is still a search to find her. The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, led by GFOE Vice President Melissa Ryan, started a project in 2006 to search for the remains of the legendary Revolutionary War ship. Their current focus is the investigation of a high priority wreck site first discovered by the French Navy on a joint expedition in 2012. The site has revealed an iron anchor, rigging block, lengths of partially buried wooden planking, and other artifacts indicating that it may be an 18th-century wreck.

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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.

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.

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Today in military history: Marine Corps aviation is born

On May 22, 1912, Marine Corps aviation was born when Lt. Alfred A. Cunningham reported to the U.S. Naval Academy’s aviation camp for instruction.

Cunningham dreamt of the skies since he went aloft in a balloon in 1903 — the same year the Wright Brothers made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft. 

On May 22, the first of the officers arrived at the aviation camp at the U.S. Naval Academy for training. Cunningham was a former soldier and huge aviation enthusiast who had lobbied for a Marine Corps air arm for months before becoming its first pilot.

Cunningham’s orders were changed soon after his arrival and he was sent elsewhere for “expeditionary duty,” but he returned in July only to find that no aircraft were available for him to train on. 

Undeterred, he got the Corps to give him orders to the aircraft factory and obtained instruction from the civilians there. He obtained less than three hours of instruction before taking off solo on August 20. Improvise, adapt and overcome, right, Marines?

Cunningham thus became the Marine Corps’ first aviator and the fifth pilot in the Department of the Navy. In 1913 he participated in the first Naval Aviation exercises with the fleet in Cuba, demonstrating the first use of airplanes in scouting missions.

As Assistant Quartermaster of the Washington Naval Yard, he recommended the establishment of a Navy Air Department, a Naval Air Station at Pensacola, and the placement of an airplane aboard every battleship. He would also go on to become the first pilot to fly a catapult takeoff from a warship under way.

His actions would lead to the success of early aerial combat during the first World War and his contributions to military aviation remain immeasurable. The First Marine Corps Aviator and First Director of Marine Corp Aviation died May 27, 1939 in Sarasota, Florida. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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: First use of Agent Orange in Vietnam

On Aug. 10, 1961, the U.S. Army used Agent Orange in Vietnam for the first time.

Agent Orange was a chemical herbicide used to destroy forest cover used by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. In what became a program codenamed Operation Ranch Hand, the U.S. sprayed more than 19 million gallons of the chemical over 4.5 million acres of land, including roads, rivers, forests, crops and military buildings.

It should come as no surprise that Agent Orange was later revealed to cause very serious health problems, including tumors, birth defects and cancer among U.S. and Vietnamese personnel and their families. 

In addition to Trichlorophenoxyacetic and Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, Agent Orange also contains Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin. TCCD is known for being extremely dangerous, even in small amounts. When troops serving in Vietnam came home, many reported side effects of cancer, congenital disabilities in their children, miscarriages and skin diseases among others.

According to the History Channel, evidence of Agent Orange can still be found in many areas where the chemical was dropped decades ago.

Class-action lawsuits were filed on behalf of Vietnam war veterans and their families that were exposed, and finally President George H.W. Bush signed into law an act mandating that conditions resulting from exposure be treated by the VA. 

400,000 Vietnamese citizens were killed or injured by Agent Orange and millions more suffer from cancer or related illnesses. When Vietnamese citizens filed lawsuits against chemical companies responsible for the chemical, however, federal judges in the U.S. dismissed the suits. 

Let that sink in.

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