The Importance of Being Thorough…

Today in History, February 1, 1942:

Less than two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the US Navy strikes back.

Task Forces built around the USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Enterprise (CV-6) sped in quickly in cover of darkness, then struck at Japanese air bases and shipping in the Marshall Islands. The US aircrews made repeated sorties against the islands throughout the day, until Admiral William Halsey decided they had pressed their luck enough and ordered a withdrawal…the carriers and their support ships were valuable and in short supply.

The air raid did little damage…however it was a tremendous morale booster for the military and the folks at home, and brought home the realization to the Japanese that they could be “touched.”

Now for a History link…I love those. While the US had significant facilities in parts of the Pacific, they had spent little in Japanese held areas before the war.

The command staff and they flyers involved were using the very latest charts and maps they had of Kwajalein Atoll and the Marshall Islands…they were at least 100 years old in 1942.

In 1838, wanting to join the scientific communities of the European nations, the United States authorized and supplied six ships commanded by Lt. Charles Wilkes to explore the Antarctic region, the Northwest and Western coastal regions of the US and the Pacific.

During a more than 3 year circumnavigation of the world, the “US Ex Ex”, or US Exploring Expedition collected more than 4,000 scientific samples, documented their contacts with peoples along their route, and meticulously charted the many islands, bays, inlets, etc they found. Wilkes was very dedicated to this portion of the Expedition, much to the annoyance of the scientists aboard.

Wilkes lengthy US Navy career would bring him to fame again during the Civil War with the Trent Affair…but that’s another story.

As he was charting the Marshalls, his intent was for whalers and other ships to make use of his efforts…he almost certainly couldn’t imagine massive ships carrying aircraft which would drop explosives on the Pacific paradise 100 years hence.

US Exploring Expedition 


Today in History, August 18: 1838 – At Hampton Roads, Virginia, The United States Exploring Expedition, consisting of USS Vincennes, USS Porpoise and others, weighs anchor and begins a four year adventure. The US government had made the decision to fund a scientific venture around the world, but specifically to explore the Pacific. Also known as the “Ex. Ex.” and the Wilkes Expedition after it’s commander, US Navy Lt. Charles Wilkes, the group of sailors, scientists and artists would face terrible weather, murderous natives, intrigue and sometimes poor leadership. 

 Not all of their ships, nor all of their crews would make it home. On the way they discovered parts of Antarctica, previously unknown species and islands. They collected thousands of samples, many of which would be lost. 

 America was placed on the scientific map by the men of the expedition. If you want a good read, it’s “Sea of Glory” by Nathaniel Philbrick, which details their exploits.

Wilkes place in history did not end with the Expedition. He would operate in the Naval Observatory in Washington on the scientific side. Then during the Civil War he would create an international incident when he commanded ships which would stop an English ship and sieze two Confederate emissaries enroute to London. The US would eventually release the Confederates…preventing England’s entrance into the war.