The Flying Banana Goes to War

Today in History, December 11, 1961:

The first helicopters (H21C Shawnees) arrive in Vietnam, with the mission of transporting South Vietnamese troops into combat.

Helicopters had been used in Korea to transport wounded soldiers, but by Vietnam they had developed to the point that they could be used to move troops quickly into combat areas. This was a marked change in combat operations.

The decendants of the Shawnee would of course play an ever more important role in Vietnam and beyond.

Strategic Bombing – Dresden to Rolling Thunder

Today in History, February 13: 1945:

British bombers stage a night attack on Dresden, Germany. Later American bombers would stage a daytime attack. Most recent studies indicate 25,000 civilians died, not 500,000 as the Nazis claim.

What is a fact is that the incendiary bombs caused a firestorm that destroyed most of the city.

1965: President Johnson authorized “Operation Rolling Thunder”, the strategic bombing of targets in North Vietnam in an attempt to stem the tide of enemy troops and supplies streaming into the combat zone. More tonnage of bombs would dropped than in WWII before the operation was called off in 1968.

“These Proceedings…Are Closed.” ¬†Historic Connections¬†

Today in History, September 2: 1945 – A Japanese delegation signs surrender documents aboard the Battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, bringing WWII to an end. Even after atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (more people were killed in bombings by B-29’s in other bombings, ironically) killing tens of thousands, the Japanese military only came to terms with defeat after much gnashing of teeth, threats of assassinating each other and finally a direct order from the Emperor himself, who was mortified by the suffering of his people. 

 A couple of interesting asides to the story. In the first photo you will notice an American flag, framed “backwards” as to appear to be flying, mounted on the bulkhead of the Missouri. The flag had flown at the mast of Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s flagship in 1853 as he made his second visit to Tokyo, which resulted in the closed nation of Japan trading with westerners for the first time in 200 years. The flag had been flown by special courier from the States especially for the surrender ceremony. 

 This detail seemed so fantastic to me that I had to research it until I found confirmation from the Naval History and Heritage Command’s website. Perry was the younger brother of Oliver Hazard Perry, helped advance the steam powered US Navy, and fought in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War in addition to his Japanese exploits. A replica of the Perry flag is positioned in the same location aboard the Missouri, which is now docked in Pearl Harbor near the USS Arizona. 

 Another sad point I found was that on September 2, 1945, as Gen. MacArthur concluded the surrender with the words, “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are closed”, Ho Chi Minh, who had cooperated with the Japanese occupation of “Vietnam” during the war, was participating in declaring the independence of the “Democratic Republic of Vietnam” in North Vietnam. This would lead to the Indochina Wars and eventually to American involvement in the Vietnam War. It seems it never ended.

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. 

The Legendary Phantom

Today in History, May 27: 1958 – The MacDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II makes it’s first flight. The Phantom had a payload of 18,000 lbs (the WWII B-17 had a payload of 2,000 lbs). The fighter bomber would serve well into the 90’s. Initially, no guns were included, as the .50 caliber was overshot by the Mach 2.2 speed of the Phantom. Once the fighter entered combat, it was soon discovered that the guns were still needed, so a 20mm cannon was added.