Today in military history: US evacuates Saigon - We Are The Mighty
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: US evacuates Saigon
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.

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Today in military history: Emancipation Proclamation

On Sep. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary emancipation proclamation, which would free more than 3 million Black souls from slavery in the United States.

Many associate slavery with the South, but the truth is that slavery existed in every colony before the Revolutionary War. In fact, Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery, and New York had over 1,600 slaves in 1720. Equally upsetting is the fact that presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both owned slaves. By the mid 1860’s, however, the southern states and their plantation economy that depended heavily on the free labor provided by their captives.

In the first year of the war, President Lincoln shied away from the topic of slavery, and instead concentrated on the reunification of the country. But after the union victory at the Battle of Antietam, he made his first emancipation proclamation, announcing that anyone enslaved in Confederate states would be set free in one hundred days.

On Jan. 1, 1863, he issued the final Emancipation Proclamation, calling for the abolishment of slavery in rebel states as well as the recruitment of African Americans to the Union military. Nearly 200,000 would serve.

After the proclamation, anti-slavery nations like Great Britain and France could no longer support the Confederacy. Lincoln pushed for an anti-slavery amendment to the Constitution, which would pass after his death, eliminating the legal practice of slavery throughout America for good — its affects, however, would linger for generations.

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Today in military history: Victory in Europe is celebrated around the world

On May 8, 1945, the Allied Powers celebrated Victory in Europe after years of brutal warfare. The day would be known as V-E Day, celebrated for generations to come.

Victory over the Nazis became official when German General Alfred Jodl signed the unconditional surrender of all forces in Reim, France, just 9 days after Adolf Hitler committed suicide.

General Jodl had initially hoped to limit the terms of surrender to only the German forces still fighting the Western Allies, but General Dwight D. Eisenhower would accept nothing short of total surrender, putting an end to all fighting on the Western Front.

There were two official signings: The first was on May 7, 1945, when German Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl signed Germany’s surrender on all fronts in Reims, France. The second signing — insisted upon by Soviet Premier Josef Stalin — was by German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel the next day in Berlin. Jodl and Keitel were later found guilty of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany, and both were subsequently executed.

On May 8, the people of Europe, who had been subjected to years of German occupation, oppression, and bombardment put out flags and banners, and rejoiced in the defeat of the Nazi war machine.

News spread quickly around the world from Moscow to Los Angeles. 

While the American military still had months of fighting ahead of them in the Pacific, the war in Europe was won, but not without grave cost.

Tens of millions of service members and civilians were killed over five years of war across the continent, including 250,000 U.S. troops who were killed in the European theater. Among the dead were also 6 million Jews who were murdered by Nazi Germany. 

While it would take another four months to defeat the Japanese threat in the Pacific, the cessation of war in Europe was cause for world-wide celebrations.

Featured Image: Crowds gathering in celebration at Piccadilly Circus, London during V-E Day on May 8, 1945.

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Today in military history: George Washington protests taxation without representation

On May 17, 1769, George Washington brought a list of resolutions to the Virginia colony legislature, subverting British taxation without representation. This act of protest would eventually lead to the armed uprising of the American Revolution.

Voicing frustration felt by many colonists at the time, George Washington brought a stack of retaliatory measures to the floor of the Virginia legislature. Largely in response to the Townshend Acts of 1767, a series of laws passed by the British government on the American colonies that placed new taxes on imports such as paper, paint, lead, glass, and tea. As the colonists had no representation in parliament, these restrictions began to chafe at the colonies.

George Washington’s “non-importation resolutions,” drafted by George Mason, proposed that Virginians should minimize their use of any of the imported goods in an attempt to force Great Britain to rethink the taxes.  

The royal governor dissolved the Virginia legislature but Washington and the other representatives simply went to the house of Alexander Hayes and passed the resolution there on May 18.

While the resolution itself was mainly symbolic, other colonies followed with their own resolutions to show solidarity with Massachusetts, where violent protests against the Townshend Acts had led to a British military occupation of Boston beginning in 1768.

The sentiment against taxation without representation would later snowball into physical protests such as the Boston Tea Party. Finally, tensions came to a boiling point and the first shots of the Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775.

Featured Image: The earliest authenticated portrait of George Washington shows him wearing his colonel’s uniform of the Virginia Regiment from the French and Indian War. The portrait was painted about 12 years after Washington’s service in that war, and several years before he would re-enter military service in the American Revolution. Oil on canvas by Charles Willson Peale.

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: US evacuates Saigon
(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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They declared the test a success.

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

Today in military history: US evacuates Saigon
Ruins of Guernica (1937)


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

Today in Military History

Today in military history: 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: US evacuates Saigon
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: 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: 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: US evacuates Saigon

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: 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: US evacuates Saigon
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: US evacuates Saigon
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).

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: US evacuates Saigon
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: The US enters WWI

On April 6, 1917, the United States of America finally entered World War I. After years of a formal position of neutrality, the United States declared war against Germany in response to their aggressive naval tactics, including Germany’s policy of unrestricted warfare against all ships that entered the waters surrounding the British Isles. 

The naval attacks began in 1915, including the sinking of the William P. Frye, a private American vessel; the sinking of the Luisitania on May 7, 1915, where 1,198 passengers were killed, including 128 Americans; and the sinking of an Italian liner in August 1915, which killed 272 people, including 27 Americans. 

Public opinion began to turn against Germany and by early 1917, President Woodrow Wilson was preparing Congress to strike. On Feb. 3, 1917, the U.S. broke diplomatic relations with Germany. A few hours later, the American liner S.S. Housatonic was sunk by a German U-boat — although the German commander politely ordered the Housatonic’s crew to abandon the ship first, sparing their lives.

On Feb. 22, Congress passed a $250 million arms appropriations bill in order to prepare the U.S. for war and by April four more U.S. ships had been sunk by Germany’s naval fleet. On April 2, President Wilson called for war. 

Four days later, Congress approved his request. U.S. troops would land in France by June in a war that would continue for another year and a half, killing nearly 20 million people across the globe including 2 million Americans.

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Today in military history: Paris liberated from Nazis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Image via German National Archive.

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