This Week in American Military History:
Apr. 24, 1778: Capt. John Paul Jones – commanding the Continental sloop-of-war Ranger (the first of 10 so-named American warships) – captures the Royal Navy sloop HMS Drake in an action off the Irish coast in which Drake’s captain, Commander George Burdon, is killed by a Continental Marine.
A day earlier, Jones led a daring raid on the British fortress at Whitehaven, England. The raid was the first on British soil by an American force.
Apr. 24, 1862: Union Naval forces under the command of Adm. David Farragut knife past Confederate gunboats and batteries at Forts Jackson and St. Philip in the Mississippi River at New Orleans. Farragut will capture the city.
Apr. 24, 1980: Following a string of glitches from missed deadlines to malfunctioning helicopters, a U.S. operation aimed at freeing American hostages in Iran is aborted at a remote staging area – code-named “Desert One” – some 200 miles from Tehran. As the rescue force begins to withdraw, one of the helicopters operating in night black-out conditions accidentally hovers into a C-130 transport aircraft. A terrific explosion follows, killing five U.S. airmen and three Marines.
Though an operational disaster, America’s enemies will be stunned by the fact that such a mission in adverse conditions was nearly carried out so far from American shores. Moreover, the disaster will force military planners to ramp up and retool U.S. special operations forces, establishing a special warfare capability that is today the envy of foreign militaries worldwide.
Apr. 26, 1777: Just after 9:00 p.m., 16-year-old Sybil (also Sibbell) Ludington – “the female Paul Revere” – begins her 40-mile, all-night ride (much of it in the rain) across an isolated circuit of New York–Connecticut backcountry, warning villagers of a British attack on nearby Danbury, Connecticut.
Apr. 26, 1865: Just over two weeks after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders his Army of Northern Virginia, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrenders the once-vaunted Army of Tennessee to U.S. Army Gen. William T. Sherman near Durham Station, N.C.
Apr. 27, 1805: Following an extremely difficult march across a 500-to-700-mile stretch of North African desert; U.S. Army officer and Naval agent to the Barbary regents William Eaton, U.S. Marine Lt. Presley Neville O’Bannon and seven American leathernecks – leading an unlikely and often near-mutinying Christian-Muslim army of Arabs, Western European adventurers, and Greek mercenaries – attack and seize the fortress at Derna commanded by the ruling pasha Yusuf Karamanli, on “the shores of Tripoli” (Yes, that’s where the line comes from in the Marine Corps Hymn.)
Supported by the offshore guns of USS Argus (the first of two so-named U.S. Navy vessels), USS Hornet (the third of eight so-named U.S. Navy vessels), and USS Nautilus (the first of six so-named U.S. Navy vessels), O’Bannon’s men storm the enemy’s works in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, turn the enemy’s guns on the pasha’s palace, and ultimately raise the stars and stripes over the “Old World” for the first time.
So-impressed with O’Bannon’s leadership and heroics, newly installed pasha Hamet Karamanli (Yusuf’s pro-American brother), will present O’Bannon with a Mameluke sword. U.S. Marine officers today still carry the Mameluke sword, whereas Marine NCOs carry the traditional Naval infantry saber.
Apr. 28, 1965: Almost 160 years to the day after the storming of Derna, U.S. Marines land in the Dominican Republic.
Apr. 30, 1798: The U.S. Navy Department – parent company of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps – is established.
Apr. 30, 1945: German leader Adolf Hitler and his new bride, Eva Braun, commit suicide in Hitler’s Berlin Bunker. German Army forces will surrender to the Allies within days.
Apr. 30, 1970: Pres. Richard M. Nixon announces, “In cooperation with the armed forces of South Vietnam, attacks are being launched this week to clean out major enemy sanctuaries on the Cambodian-Vietnam border. … This is not an invasion of Cambodia. The areas in which these attacks will be launched are completely occupied and controlled by North Vietnamese forces. Our purpose is not to occupy the areas. Once enemy forces are driven out of these sanctuaries and once their military supplies are destroyed, we will withdraw.”