From Dueling Ironclads to Flying Tigers

This Week in American Military History:

Mar. 6, 1836:  The Alamo – commanded by Lt. Col. William Barret Travis – falls to Mexican forces after the Texas garrison puts up one of the most heroic defenses in American military history.


Mar. 7, 1942:  The first group of black airmen – including Capt. (future general) Benjamin O. Davis Jr. – graduates from the U.S. Army Air Forces flight school at Tuskegee, Alabama.

Mar. 7, 1945:  U.S. Army armored forces race to seize the strategically vital Ludendorff Bridge (also known as the Remagen bridge) before the Germans blow the structure. The Americans are successful, thus enabling the allies to establish a bridgehead on the enemy side of the Rhine River.

Mar. 8, 1965:  The lead elements of 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines begin coming ashore at Da Nang, South Vietnam. Within hours, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines will arrive aboard transport aircraft at the nearby airbase. The Marines of 3/9 and 1/3 – both part of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade – are the first American ground-combat forces destined for offensive operations against the enemy in Southeast Asia, once again putting teeth in the Marine Corps’ claim that it is “first to fight.”

Mar. 9, 1847:  Thousands of American soldiers and a company-sized (though referred to as a battalion) force of Marines under the overall command of U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott and “Home Squadron” Commodore David E. Conner begin landing at Collado Beach, Mexico, just south of Vera Cruz.

In what will prove to be “a model” for future amphibious operations, the landings are unprecedented: The largest American amphibious operation to date, conducted in less than five hours without a single loss of life.


A portion of Conner’s dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy reads:

“Gen. Scott has now with him upwards of 11,000 men. At his request, I permitted the Marines of the squadron, under Capt. [Alvin] Edson, to join him, as a part of the 3rd Regiment of artillery. The general-in-chief landed this morning, and the army put itself in motion at an early hour, to form its lines around the city. There has been some distant firing of shot and shells from the town and castle upon the troops as they advanced, but without result.”

Though the landings are bloodless, grim fighting will continue in the Mexican-American War.

Mar. 9, 1862:  In day-two of the now-famous Battle of Hampton Roads (Virginia), the Confederate Navy’s ironclad warship, CSS Virginia (built from the remains of the previously scuttled frigate USS Merrimack) and her Union rival, the also-ironclad USS Monitor, begin exchanging shots in history’s first duel of ironclads.

The battle ends in a draw with both vessels inflicting marginal damage on one another before breaking off the fight: Technically it is a tactical victory for Virginia because she has inflicted greater damage on the blockading ships than they on her (Virginia had attacked and destroyed the Union Navy’s wooden warships USS Congress and USS Cumberland the previous day before the arrival of the Monitor). But it may also be seen as a strategic victory for the Union because Virginia fails to break the blockade. The battle however will not be remembered for which side might have carried the day – though that is still being debated – but how the first-ever clash of ironclads helped further a developing revolution in Naval tactics and ship-design and construction.


Mar. 10, 1783:  The Duc De Lauzun, a Continental Navy transport-vessel (laden with Spanish silver), and her escort, the frigate Alliance (the first of two so-named American warships), are spotted by three Royal Navy ships – HMS Sybil, HMS Alarm, and HMS Tobago –off Cape Canaveral, Florida. Sybil pursues the two American vessels, fires on the slow-moving Duc De Lauzun, then is aggressively engaged by Alliance. In less than one hour, the badly damaged Sybil disengages and flees, ending the last Naval battle of the American Revolution.

Alliance’s skipper is Capt. (future commodore) John Barry, considered in some circles “the Father of the American Navy,” though some would argue that title belongs to Capt. John Paul Jones.
Mar. 11, 1862:  Pres. Abraham Lincoln – frustrated over Union Army Gen. George B. McClellan’s unwillingness to attack the Confederate Army – relieves McClellan of his post as general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, but keeps him on as commanding-general of the Army of the Potomac. McClellan – who will lose his command after failing to destroy Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s wounded army following the Battle of Antietam – becomes the second well-known casualty in Lincoln’s series of firing, hiring, and firing generals until the Union Army (like the already well-commanded Confederate Army) is led by some of the most able generals in American military history.


Mar. 11, 1943:  “The Flying Tigers” – the famous volunteer group of American fighter pilots contracted to the Chinese Air Force during World War II and ultimately brought under U.S. Army Air Forces command as the China Air Task Force – is absorbed into the 14th Air Force.

Commanded by Gen. Claire L. Chennault, “the Flying Tigers” were so-named because of the tiger-shark faces painted on the noses of their P-40 fighters.

Today, according to the U.S. Air Force, airmen of the 14th Air Force are “the day-to-day operators of Air Force Space Command’s space forces.” And the centerpiece of the 14th Air Force emblem is a tiger with wings.

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