Project Habakkuk

Today in History, August 17: 1943 – Project Habakkuk, The First Quebec Conference and Pykrete. During WWII Geoffrey Pyke presented an idea to his superiors in the British military of building an enormous aircraft carrier out of a material he called pykrete, ice mixed with wood pulp, which turned out to be very strong. The ship, had it been built, would weigh in at 2.2 million tons and have space for 150 twin engine aircraft, and would be practically impervious to bombs and torpedoes. Experiments were underway in Canada. On today’s date, the First Quebec Conference (Codename Quadrant) began, involving FDR, Churchill and their military staff. Reportedly, during the conference, Lord Louis Mountbatten brought an ordinary block of ice and a block of pykrete into a meeting room filled with generals and admirals. Without warning he drew his pistol, aimed at the block of ice, and fired. The block shattered. He then aimed at the block of pykrete and fired at it. The bullet did not penetrate, but rather ricocheted, zinging around the room and going through the leg of Admiral Ernest J. King’s trousers. The ships, of course, were never built; not due to the shooting incident, but because other alternatives were more easily available.

Presidential Protests are Nothing New

Today in History, August 16: 1841 – Rioters burn President John Tyler in effigy directly in front of the White House. The importance of this act is complicated and involved Tyler’s former rivals. The Bank of the United States had been in charge of the nation’s finances off and on since it was originally established during President Jefferson’s tenure. One of the major events of President Andrew Jackson’s presidency involved the bank. Jackson found the bank to be corrupt, manipulating markets and committing fraud. Jackson refused to renew the bank’s charter, preferring instead to have the nation’s moneys spread amongst many banks. Many criticized Jackson for this, including then Senator Tyler. Later President Martin Van Buren again refused to renew the bank’s charter. When Tyler became President, the Whigs thought he would renew the bank’s charter. However from his new position he was able to see what Jackson observed, and he too refused to renew the charter. Another important note in this series of events….the District of Columbia established a police force to deal with such violence after the events in front of the White House.

As an interesting aside, President Tyler had many children, who also went forth and multiplied. John Tyler was born in 1790 and still has two living grandsons. 

Strategy and Commerce…The Panama Canal


Today in History, August 15: 1914 – The Panama Canal opens for business as the cargo ship Ancon becomes the first ship to transit the series of locks. A long and complex history led to the canal’s opening. The French tried first, but failed after malaria and the huge cost ended their venture. The Canal was important to the US. After the Spanish-American War, the US had interests in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and they had always needed a faster, less dangerous route to the nation’s coasts for shipping than the Strait of Magellan at South America’s Southern tip. President Theodore Roosevelt ramrodded the building of the canal. When a treaty with Columbia fell through, the Panamanians, who wanted the canal, declared their independence from Columbia and TR sent the US Navy to support their efforts. After they won their independence they signed the Hay-Bunua-Varilla Treaty, giving American ownership of the canal in exchange for rent.  John Hay was the Secretary of State for the US, who had been a secretary to President Lincoln many years before.  Was their some skullduggery involved in these dealings? Of course. For years after it’s opening, the Canal served it’s purpose…commerce between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and a quick route for American warships (in the photo, the USS Missouri transits the Canal in 1945) to defend the country in both oceans (WWII was known as the Two Ocean War). In 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed a treaty giving away the Canal to the Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos. Today, the Chinese are bankrolling the expansion of the Canal. Which means the nation that we are likely to have conflict with in the next century has control of the route our Navy would need to defend our country. So. Who do you favor? President Theodore Roosevelt? Or President Jimmy Carter? I vote for Teddy. Would love to see them in a debate, or in a ring together.

Today in History, August 14: 1945 – How long did WWII last? The August Revolution. On the day that the Japanese formally surrendered to the Allies aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japanese officials in Vietnam turned over government buildings to Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Viet Minh, in defiance of the peace terms. There would be a temporary peace as the Viet Minh “attempted” to work with the British and French occupation forces of “French Indo-China”. There were Chinese occupation forces also. None of this would last, and the Japanese actions contributed to the eventual First Indo-China War. Thirty years later, after much blood and sacrifice by both French and American soldiers, sailors and airmen, the Vietnam War would finally end. 

Today in History, August 13: 1931 – The first Community Hospital in the United States is dedicated in Elk City, Oklahoma. Dr. Michael Shadid noticed that the farmers and their families in the region were not getting sufficient medical care. He worked with the farmers and the Oklahoma Farmer’s Union to begin a non-profit clinic and hospital owned by the farmers. For his trouble the Medical Examiners Board tried to revoke his medical license, the State Medical Association tried to pass a bill outlawing non-profit hospitals, and the Beckham County Medical Association expelled him.

Today in History, August 12: 1867 – “Hon. EDWIN M. STANTON, Secretary of War.
Sir: By virtue of the power and authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and laws of the United States, you are hereby suspended from office as Secretary of War, and will cease to exercise any and all functions pertaining to the same.
You will at once transfer to General Ulysses S. Grant, who has this day been authorized and empowered to act as Secretary of War ad interim, all records, books, and other property now in your custody and charge.
Volatile politics is nothing new in America. For his second term, President Lincoln had chosen Democrat Andrew Johnson as his vice President because he was from a border state, loyal to the Union, but a Southerner. 

 When Johnson assumed office after Lincoln’s assassination, he did not enforce reconstruction in the South as strongly as Lincoln’s contemporaries in the cabinet and the Congress wanted. The battle was ongoing, with Congress passing the Tenure of Office Act to prevent Johnson from firing cabinet members that did not agree with him. 

 Most prominent was Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. On this date Johnson suspended Stanton and replaced him with the popular Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who resigned the position once Congress reconvened and voted not to remove Stanton. Stanton refused to leave, to the point that in February of 1868 when Johnson formally fired him, Stanton barricaded himself in his office in the War Department. 

 The “radical” Republicans in the House voted to impeach Johnson over the ordeal, but the Senate, after a lengthy trial, kept him in office.