Thursday, February 17, 2005

On this day in military 1461, 1864 and 1944

On this day in military history….in 1461. The Lancastrians defeat the Yorkists at the Second Battle of St. Albans during the Wars of the Roses. The Wars of the Roses were intermittent English civil wars (from 1455 to 1487) fought over the throne of England between the forces of the House of Lancaster whose symbol was the red rose and the House of York whose symbol was the white rose (now you know why it was called the Wars of the Roses). Both houses were branches of the same royal house, the Plantagenet (sounds French) who traced their lineage back to King Edward III (if you really want to dig around in English royal genealogy, go to the official royal website,, and have fun). For Americans, it is sufficient to know that the English had their own Civil War that was not finished until Henry Tudor (of the House of Lancaster) defeated the forces of Richard III (of the House of York) at the Battle of Bosworth and then married Elizabeth of York, the best surviving Yorkist claimant to the throne. Aren’t you glad we have elections?

On this day in military history….in 1864. The C.S.S. Hunley sinks the U.S.S. Housatonic and herself in the 1st successful submarine attack in history. During the Civil War, the Union conducted a blockade of the Confederacy. The Confederate forces were always thinking of new and different wars to break the blockade, including fast ships and ironclad warships. One of the ways was to build a ship that would dive under the water and plant a bomb against the side of a ship. The C.S.S. Hunley was just such a ship. It was built like a long, cylindrical iron boiler that could hold a crew of eight (seven oarsmen and the captain). Propulsion was provided by the seven oarsmen who turned a hand-crank propeller. It carried an explosive charge that was attached to a 22-foot spar off the front of the ship. The C.S.S. Hunley would sail up to the unsuspecting ship, jam the explosive charge into the hull, and back away before the charge blew up. The C.S.S. Hunley was also the first true submarine since it used ballast tanks to dive and surface. However, it was a “death trap” for its crews. Five men died when the captain accidently dived with the hatches open during a training mission and one another occasion, the inventor, Horace Hunley and seven other were killed when it failed to surface during a trial dive. Although it had never launched a successful attack, on the night of 17 February 1864, it attacked the U.S.S. Housatonic in Charleston harbor. The explosion sent the U.S.S. Housatonic to the bottom in five minutes, but the C.S.S. Hunley also sank, although the cause is not known. In 1995, the wreck of the C.S.S. Hunley was found and raised from the ocean floor. All remains of the crew that were found were buried with full military honors in Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetary.

On this day in military history….in 1944. US carrier forces raid the Japanese anchorage at Truk Lagoon in the Caroline Islands. Truk Lagoon was the main Japanese base in the central Pacific and one of the major anchorages for the Japanese fleet in World War II. It was the only Japanese base in range of the Marshall Islands. To insure air and naval superiority during the Marshall Islands invasion, Operation Hailstone was executed to neutralize Truk. In two air strikes, the US sunk three Japanese crusiers, six destroyers, three other warships and 32 merchant vessels. 250 Japanese aircraft were also destroyed on the ground. The US suffered only 25 aircraft lost. During World War II, there were three surprise air attacks against warships in port. The British showed the world that it could be done against the Italian fleet at Taranto, the Japanese refined the idea against the US at Pearl Harbor and the US perfected the idea against the Japanese at Truk. As a result of the attack at Truk, the largest concentration of shipwrecks in the world are located at Truk lagoon. If you are a diver, this is your Mecca.


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