Today in military history: USS Joyce sinks German U-Boat off New York coast - We Are The Mighty
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: USS Joyce sinks German U-Boat off New York coast
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: USS Joyce sinks German U-Boat off New York coast
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).

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Today in military history: Winston Churchill becomes prime minister as Germany invades

On May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Western Europe while Winston Churchill became prime minister of Great Britain.

Marking the beginning of Hitler’s Western offensive, German bombers struck Allied airfields in Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and France while paratroopers rained from the sky at critical junctures. Ground forces invaded along two main routes, a northern route that was expected by the defending armies, and a southern thrust through the Ardennes forest that was not.

The Allies did not know about the southern attack and rushed most of their defenders to the north. The southern thrust quickly broke their backs. Luxembourg fell on the first day while Belgium and the Netherlands surrendered before the end of May. France would survive until June.

The war in Europe would continue for five more brutal years.

England knew the continent was doomed and accelerated their preparations for defending the isles. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, known for his policy of appeasement, was replaced by Winston Churchill, a man known for his bulldog temperament and military vision.

Churchill would go on to serve as Conservative Prime Minister twice, from 1940 to 1945 and from 1951 to 1955. A war veteran himself, he was active in both administrative and diplomatic functions during World War II, as well as giving rousing speeches that are credited with stimulating British morale during the hardship of war.

Today in military history: USS Joyce sinks German U-Boat off New York coast
Churchill in 1904 when he “crossed the floor“. (Public Domain)

He would live until Jan. 24, 1965, dying at the age of ninety and receiving the first State Funeral given to a commoner since the Duke of Wellington’s death more than a century before. 

“It has been a grand journey — well worth making once,” he recorded in January 1965 shortly before his death, possibly his last recorded statement.

Featured Image: “The Roaring Lion” photograph by Yousuf Karsh depicting Winston Churchill on Dec. 30, 1941.

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Today in military history: 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: ‘Swamp Fox’ victory in South Carolina

On Aug. 15, 1780, American Colonial militia leader Francis Marion continued to frustrate the British in South Carolina after an overwhelming win at Port’s Ferry.

Francis Marion learned guerrilla warfare as a militia lieutenant in a war against the Cherokee Indians in 1761. When the Revolutionary War began, Marion was named a captain and given command of an infantry unit. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and fought hard, but he was there when the battle of Camden ended organized resistance in South Carolina.

Rather than sit out the rest of the war, he enlisted a force of a few dozen men known as Marion’s Partisans and led them in harassing operations against the British. The Partisans scattered British and Loyalist forces on multiple occasions and once rescued 150 Patriot prisoners. Multiple British task forces to capture or kill Marion and the Partisans failed.

Called the “Swamp Fox” for his ability to hit the British and disappear without a trace into the South Carolina swamps, Marion was the only senior officer to escape the British capture of Charleston (and he went on to inspire Mel Gibson’s character in the 2000 film The Patriot).

Marion took command of a force of irregular troops who would hit British forces and terrorize Loyalists. He and his men fought for no pay and supplied their own horses, arms, and food.

The Swamp Fox and his irregular cavalry of 250 completely routed a loyalist force on the Pee Dee River at Port’s Ferry.

After General Horatio Gates sent Marion away from the main body of the Continental Army, Marion launched a strategic campaign against all British and Tory forces in the colony. Port’s Ferry was an important river crossing for the Swamp Fox’s forces.

Marion’s campaign was so successful that support for the British in South Carolina was largely restricted and Lt. Col. Francis Marion  was never captured.

Featured Image: Mel Gibson in The Patriot (Columbia Pictures)

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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: NATO is established

On April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Alliance was founded in the aftermath of World War II. The Alliance served three main purposes: to deter Soviet expansionism, to promote peace and deter nationalist militarism in Europe, and to encourage European political integration. 

“The aftermath of World War II saw much of Europe devastated in a way that is now difficult to envision. Approximately 36.5 million Europeans had died in the conflict, 19 million of them civilians. Refugee camps and rationing dominated daily life. In some areas, infant mortality rates were one in four. Millions of orphans wandered the burnt-out shells of former metropolises. In the German city of Hamburg alone, half a million people were homeless,” reports official declassified NATO records.

Meanwhile, Communism was gaining momentum as history pointed toward the impending Cold War and the Soviet Union turned its attention on the weakened German capital of Berlin. Europe depended on strong North American support — and luckily, the U.S. was abandoning its former tendency of diplomatic isolation.

In April, 1949, several Western European democracies came together to implement various projects for a peaceful and stable European continent. The North Atlantic Treaty was the first step in this process, wherein the Allies agreed “an armed attack against one or more of them… shall be considered an attack against them all” and that following such an attack, each Ally would take “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force” in response.

This would be put to the test during the Korean War from 1950-1953, where NATO members coordinated defenses and integrated attacks through a centralized headquarters. Throughout the 1950s and the Cold War, the threat of the United States’ nuclear arsenal helped deter large-scale nuclear attacks and perhaps even mitigated some Soviet aggression within Europe.

The Alliance started with 12 member countries in 1949 and today boasts 29 members, remaining the largest peacetime military alliance in the world. 

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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: Abraham Lincoln is shot

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

Abraham Lincoln
Portrait of Abraham Lincoln

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today in Military History

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

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Today in military history: Armistice ends the Spanish-American War

On Aug. 12, 1898, the Spanish-American War ended in armistice.

The Spanish-American War started after the USS Maine suddenly exploded in Havana Harbor in February 1898, an incident that was later found to be caused by faulty ship design but was blamed, at the time, on a Spanish mine. The resulting war was focused on Cuba, but the growing American military contested Spain across its empire, resulting in combat from the Atlantic to Pacific.

The conflict officially only lasted a few months, though its origins began three years before with Cuba’s rebellion from Spain. American sympathy for Cuba grew and U.S. intervention became inevitable after the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor.

The battleship had been in Cuba to protect U.S. citizens and assets during anti-Spanish riots, and though Spain and Cuba soon after reached their own armistice, the U.S. Congress demanded more, including Cuba’s right to independence. 

The Spanish-American War began in late April, and in the following three months, the U.S. Navy would serve Spain a staunch defeat. Spain surrendered on July 17 and then on August 12, an armistice was signed. Finally, in December, the Treaty of Paris officially ended the three-month war, ceding Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the United States.

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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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