The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot

Today in History, June 19, 1944:

Reversal of Fortunes, exhibited by “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”, or the First Battle of the Philippine Sea.

US Marines, supported by their parent service, the US Navy, are invading Saipan and other islands in the Marianas Islands, which is such a threat to Japan that the Imperial Japanese Navy finally comes out to fight a definitive battle.

When the war began the Japanese had the most advanced aircraft available, while the US Navy lagged sorely behind. The Japanese Zero, for example, was much faster and more maneuverable than the American Wildcat fighter. But by 1944 the American industrial complex had engaged fully. As late as 1943 the USS Enterprise stood alone in the Pacific against numerous IJN Carriers.

But by June of 1944 the Americans put to sea 15 Aircraft Carriers in 4 Task Groups equipped with modern aircraft that far out matched Japan’s aircraft, which had not been updated since the war began. In addition, Japan’s air service had lost nearly all of it’s experienced pilots, while the Americans had thousands of combat hardened, well-trained pilots and crews.

When the IJN sent it’s carriers and their crews against TF 58, they were massacred. In two days the Japanese lost over 400 aircraft and their crews, 3 aircraft carriers they could not spare, and the Americans lost 29 aircraft (some of the crews were rescued) and no ships. So many Japanese aircraft fell from the skies that a Lexington pilot referred to it as an old time turkey shoot, and the name stuck.

The air crews of the task force had been launched late in the day on the 20th to attack the Japanese fleet. When they returned, it was well after dark and they began landing their planes in the sea, unable to see the carriers well enough for landings aboard.

With the threat from enemy submarines and aircraft during the war, blackout conditions were the rule. Admiral Marc Mitscher wasn’t going to lose his boys and their planes, however. With his order the fleet lit up, and the planes began landing on fumes.

Proving Their Mettle…Farmers and Shopkeepers at Bunker Hill

Today in History, June 17, 1775:

“Don’t one of you fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”

The Battle of Bunker Hill.

British Gen. William Howe landed his army on the Charlestown Peninsula and attacks colonist (Patriot) positions on Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill.

Believing they were fighting farmers with pitchforks (the Patriots WERE as yet untrained and unorganized) Howe had his well trained, experienced troops charge the American positions head on, and was repelled by not so inexperienced fire (a poor farmer hunting game can’t afford to waste ammo, and becomes a very good marksman).

The Brits mounted a second attack, and were again sent running back down the hill. A third wave succeeded, however, as the militia was running out of ammunition.

Howe eventually won the battle, but he did so at great expense…nearly half his army lie dead on the field. The British had learned a dear lesson…they were fighting an untrained and poorly disciplined group of citizen soldiers…that were highly motivated and devoted to their cause.

The Siege of Gibraltar

Today in History, June 16, 1779:

Reportedly the largest battle (in terms of troops / sailors involved) of the American Revolutionary War begins….at Gibraltar.

When the French came in to aid the Americans, Spain followed suit. But of course, they had their own motives and designs. Primarily to regain lost territories; but they also drew up plans for the invasion and conquest of Britain.

On today’s date French and British forces began a land and sea siege of the British fortress at Gibralter, which was the keystone of English control of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Great Siege of Gibraltar, with constant bombardment, attacks, counter attacks, Naval reinforcement, Naval battles, starvation and disease would continue for 3 years and 7 months.

Gibraltar never fell.

Happy Birthday, US Army!

Today in History, June 14, 1775:

The Continental Congress votes to establish the Continental Army to fight for freedom and independence from England. The next day, the Congress voted unanimously to make George Washington the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. For the next several years Washington would command the Continental Army and the state’s militias. Happy Birthday to the United States Army, and thanks for the service of so many soldiers since that have kept us free.

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, Marquis de Lafayette

Today in History, June 13, 1777:

A 19-year-old boy, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, Marquis de Lafayette, arrives at North Island, Georgetown, South Carolina from his native France. He had been a commissioned officer in the French Army since he was 13.

I’m sure Lafayette seemed somewhat ridiculous to many in the Continental Army at first, but he was dedicated to the American cause and soon gained the confidence of Gen. George Washington. He served with distinction in several battles, including the siege of Gen. Cornwallis at Yorktown. His influence as a French aristocrat gained vital support for the US cause from the French King and populace. 

Americans were thoroughly impressed with him, and he idolized Washington…his only son would be named George Washington Lafayette. He would go on to be a key figure in the French Revolution, penning “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” with the assistance of Thomas Jefferson.

“Oh, ah, Mr. Wayne, I heard you were dead?” ——-“NOT Hardly…..”

Today in History, June 11, 1979:

John Wayne, The Duke, Marion Michael Morrison, dies. He was not just an actor, he was an American icon that inspired us to great things. We won’t see his like again.

Yet John Wayne lives on in his legacy. Each time someone tries to emulate him, live like him, the country is all the better for it.

So perhaps the Duke is not gone at all.

A Violent Decade of Assassinations

Today in History, June 8, 1968:

What a busy news day this must have been?!

James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr is arrested in London, England where he was attempting to make his way to an African nation run by racists (ironic). He would eventually be convicted of assassinating Civil Rights leader King.

On the same day…..

…another civil rights activist is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Robert F. Kennedy would be laid to rest within 30 yards of his brother John, assassinated only five years earlier.