One Man…Many Lives

Today in History, January 24, 1965:

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill died at the age of 90 in London, England.

I normally try to avoid posting people’s birth and natural cause death dates. These are natural events in their lives, which we all experience. Normally not something they “accomplished.” However as I did my standard research for today’s date, my mind was changed.

Most of the individuals I post about led significant lives…and finding their connections through time is one of my favorite subjects. Yet as I read over several events that I might post about for just this single date, I kept seeing major events which I recognized for having one thing in common…or one person…the remarkable Winston Churchill.

So. Keeping in mind these events are only a microcosm of the influence he had during his 90 years on this Earth:

January 24, 1900. 26-year-old Winston Churchill was a correspondent covering the Boer War in South Africa when he was made a Lieutenant for his exploits. On today’s date he covered the Battle of Spion Kop during the Siege of Ladysmith. During the war he would manage to distinguish himself in combat.

January 24, 1915. The Royal Navy engages the German Navy at the famous Battle of Dogger Bank due to intelligence gained by the Admiralty. In charge of the Admiralty was a 41-year-old First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. He would leave the office somewhat in disgrace after failed efforts in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli…but the indefatigable man would reinvent himself, serving in the government in several posts, including Lord of the Admiralty again.

January 24, 1943. After having done his time in “the wilderness” when he was nearly the sole voice shouting against appeasement of the Nazi regime, now Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of Britain. On this date he concluded a landmark conference with American President Franklin Roosevelt at Casablanca, Morocco, during which the Allied leaders set the course for the second world war.

There is so much more to cover that Churchill was involved in; what an amazing life!

Presidential Roosevelts…Firsts in Flight

TODAY IN HISTORY, JANUARY 14, 1943:

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the first US President to fly in an aircraft for official business.

FDR was to meet Winston Churchill in Casablanca, Morocco to discuss strategy in WWII. For previous meetings the President and Prime Minister had travelled by warship, but the US military was concerned about heightened U-Boat activity in the Atlantic.

As a result President Roosevelt agreed to make the trip by plane, specifically a Boeing 314 four engine flying boat named the Dixie Clipper. The flight flew from Florida to South America and crossed to North Africa. After the meeting, FDR celebrated his 61st birthday on the return flight. He was already in poor health and the 1700 mile trip took its toll.

Thirty-three years earlier, FDR’s cousin Theodore Roosevelt had become the first president to fly in an aircraft. After having left office, TR was on a speaking tour when he encountered pilot Arch Hoxley at Kinloch Field in St. Louis, Missouri.

The always adventurous TR could not resist the offer to go for a jaunt in the Wright built airplane…little more than a powered kite, and much less luxurious than the Clipper his cousin would use. In fact, TR’s pilot, Hoxley, would die in a plane crash the following December.

I have to wonder if this is historic coincidence or much more. FDR grew up in TR’s very large shadow, and greatly admired him. FDR followed TR’s path as much as he could…Under Secretary of the Navy, the New York legislature and New York governor. While TR was a Republican and FDR was a Democrat, FDR traded on TR’s legend…and TR supported his prodigy. TR wanted to break tradition and serve a third term, which did not happen. FDR was into his fourth term when he died.

So of course one has to wonder if from competitiveness or emulation, was the opportunity to follow up on a Presidentially pioneering flight just too much too pass up?

Shortening the War with Tech

Today in History, January 5, 1943:

The light cruiser USS Helena is the first to utilize an anti-aircraft shell equipped with the newly invented radio proximity fuse to shoot down a Japanese dive bomber attacking American ships.

Prior to this anti-aircraft fire had been somewhat inaccurate. The proximity fuse used radio waves projected from the fuse to detonate the shell when it came within range of the enemy aircraft.

Now gunners only had to get their ammunition aimed toward the enemy aircraft, getting the range didn’t matter. The invention is credited with shortening WWII by a year and saving countless lives as a result.

A Horrific Day over Schweinfurt

Today in History, October 14, 1943:

During it’s Second Raid on Schweinfurt, Germany’s ball bearing plants, the Mighty US Eighth Air Force loses SIXTY B-17 Flying Fortress bombers to German fighters and anti-aircraft fire.

That number becomes more ominous when you know that each aircraft had at least a 10 man crew, meaning that 600 airmen either lost their lives or were captured that day.

The casualties in the Eighth Air Force over Europe accounted for more than half of the losses for the entire US Army Air Corps.

With over 26,000 dead, it surpassed the horrific losses of the US Marine Corps during the war by far…the USMC having lost almost 18,000 dead in the bitter battles in Pacific Islands.

USS Oklahoma

Today in History, November 3: 1943 – The USS Oklahoma (BB-37) is re-floated at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii after a months long salvage operation. She had been on Battleship Row on December 7, 1941 when Japanese torpedoes caused her to capsize quickly. After being decommissioned, the ship was sold for scrap, being too old and too damaged for further service. En route from Pearl to San Francisco, the Oklahoma slipped the line from her tow ship and sank to the bottom of the Pacific. I guess she didn’t want to end up in a scrap yard.

https://www.militarytimes.com/2015/07/27/remains-of-pearl-harbor-victims-exhumed-for-identification/

PT-109

Today in History, August 1-2, 1943:

PT-109 (Patrol Torpedo) is patrolling Blackett Strait in the Solomon Islands when it is rammed and cut in half by Japanese Destroyer Amagiri.

Two of the crew are killed outright, but 11 others survive, although some are badly injured/burned. Their very young commander carried one of the injured on his back in the mile + swim to a nearby island. He then took turns with the boat’s exec swimming back out into the channel attempting to signal other PT’s at night while avoiding Japanese patrols.

Finally they were rescued thanks to natives working for an Australian coast watcher. Lt. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who could have easily sat out the war due to his wealth, displayed incredible courage and loyalty to his crew.

One question not asked in the propaganda of his Presidential campaign was, how does a craft that is basically a speedboat, navigated by an experienced sailor, get rammed by a slow moving man-of-war? That aside, nobody can deny President Kennedy’s courage.

25 Missions

Today in History, May 17, 1943:

The Memphis Belle, a B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th Air Force, completes it’s 25th mission and it’s crew has the opportunity to return to the states.

The event would be documented in an Army Air Force documentary, and later a blockbuster movie. What wasn’t documented in the original documentary was the fact that over 30,000 airmen lost their lives taking the skies over Europe, 8,000 bombers destroyed.

More airmen died in the skies over Europe than Marines in the Pacific.

Today (literally) the Belle was unveiled after years of restoration at the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.