Un fathomable

Today in History, August 18, 1931:

The Yangtze River in China floods. Either directly or indirectly through starvation, 3.2 MILLION people die as a result.

That is more than every man, woman and child in the state of Oklahoma due to one natural disaster.

And the flood was only the beginning of China’s troubles in the 30’s. The war with Japan would take millions more lives.

First Deposits into “Iron Bottom Sound”

Today in History, August 9, 1942:

Two days after the US Marines had made an amphibious landing on Guadalcanal seized what would become Henderson Field, the transports that brought them still stood off the coast, protected by 8 American and Australian Cruisers and 14 destroyers.

In the early morning hours a force of Japanese Heavy and Light Cruisers moved silently into the waters between Guadalcanal and Savo Island and opened fire on the American and Australian warships, which they caught, quite literally, napping. The British commander of the Allied force, Admiral Crutchley had taken his flagship to a conference with the amphibious force commander, Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner and Marine Gen. Alexander Vandergrift, leaving a subordinate in command.

The Japanese Navy had been practicing and perfecting night time combat tactics for years, a fact the USN was not aware of, so they weren’t really expecting an assault. The Japanese also had very effective torpedoes. Several of the Allied ships managed to get off some shots that caused minor damage to the IJN cruisers, but the experienced, practiced Japanese crews poured withering torpedo and gunfire into the American and Australian ships, whose crews were exhausted from 2 days of shelling the enemy ashore in humid high temperatures.

Within an hour the USS Astoria, USS Quincy and USS Vincennes were on their way to the sea floor, making the first of many deposits that would give this passage the name “Iron Bottom Sound” because of all of the Allied and Japanese ships that now rest there with their crews. The next day, Admiral Turner would order the HMAS Canberra scuttled due to her damage.

The US aircraft carriers that had been providing air cover for the landings had been ordered out of the area by their commander, Adm. Frank “Black Jack” Fletcher. The transports and their covering surface ships could not remain with range of Japanese aircraft without air cover of their own, so they too left the area, leaving the Marines to their own devices for quite some time. Numerous battles would be fought in the waters of Guadalcanal, Savo and Tulagi Islands, and in “The Slot” leading from Guadalcanal to the enemy bases in the Solomons.

Carl Spaatz, Pioneer of Air Power

Today in History, July 14, 1974:

General Carl Spaatz dies.

Spaatz was a fighter pilot in his youth during WW1. He remained in the Army Air Corps, and when WW2 began went to England.

As German bombs fell on London during the Blitz and everyone else ran for the shelters, Spaatz sat on rooftops to gain knowledge of German tactics by watching their bombers and fighters in action.

When America entered the war, he became the commander of the Eighth Air Force as it began daylight bombing raids over Germany.

After the war, the Army Air Corps was separated from the US Army and became its own military branch, the US Air Force in 1947. Spaatz was it’s first Chief of Staff.

Saipan Banzai Charge

Today in History, July 7, 1944:

The largest Japanese Banzai charge (suicidal attack) of World War II is conducted during the Battle of Saipan, when the Japanese military is finally cornered on the island.

3,400 Japanese soldiers, including the wounded and civilians were killed as they charged the US Army and Marines. 650 Americans would die in the massive attack, but they held firm, and within two days the island was declared secure.

I won’t post the photos and videos I found, as they are gruesome. Look them up if you’d like.

3 posthumous medals of honor would be awarded out of this horrific battle.

“Steady, men….steady! ChaaaaAAAaaRRGE!!”

Today in History, July 1:

A day for important battles.

1863 – The Union and the Confederates first clash at The Battle of Gettysburg, and both send reinforcements. The first day went badly for the Union, but the largest battle in North America had three more days to go, and would become a major turning point in the Civil War.

1898 – The Battle of San Juan Hill becomes a major victory for the US in the Spanish-American War as the US Army’s Fifth Corps takes the heights over Santiago de Cuba. It also set the stage for Colonel Theodore Roosevelt to become President as he became famous for leading his Rough Riders up Kettle Hill (not San Juan).

1916 – The Battle of the Somme in France; after a week’s bombardment with over 250,000 shells, the British launch an attack into no-man’s land. The Germans had retained many machine guns despite the bombardment, and the British soldiers were slaughtered. With 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded in one day, it was one of the worst defeats for the British military’s history.

1942 – The Battle of El Alamein; In North Africa Erwin Rommel’s army had routed the British and their allies, driving them back so quickly that they had to leave much of their equipment behind. But on today’s date the British Army, resupplied by Americans and reorganized, turned the tide back on Rommel at El Alamein.

Ignore History at Your Peril

Today in History, June 22, 1941:

Operation Barbarossa.

The largest invasion in history, ordered by Adolph Hitler, kicks off as 3 million German soldiers, supported by 19 Panzer (tank) divisions, 2,500 aircraft and 7,000 artillery pieces use their now standard Blitzkrieg tactics against Russia.

Initially the offensive was incredibly successful, pushing 300 miles into enormous Russia within weeks.

Hitler’s fellow meglomaniac Stalin had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, and had recently asked to join Hitler in his designs on world domination, so he thought his country was safe; and Russia’s air forces were obsolete.

However, Hitler was ignoring history (never, ever, EVER, do that!!). Napoleon (almost 129 years to the day) had invaded Russia and been turned back by the Russian winter, in WWI Hitler’s predecessors had been ruined by opening a second front against Russia. Hitler’s fate would be the same.

Russia benefited from an almost limitless source of manpower, and the industrial might of America, which sent arms and modern aircraft. Added to the Russian winter which Hitler did not prepare for, and defeat was unavoidable for Germany. 

Being sent to the “Eastern Front” was the kiss of death for German troops who had gained disfavor with their superiors.

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.