This Week in American Military History:
Mar. 2, 1943: Elements of the U.S. Army Air Forces and Royal Australian Air Force intercept and all-but-destroy an entire Japanese troop-transport convoy in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Several enemy ships, scores of enemy aircraft, and thousands of enemy soldiers will be sent to the bottom. Gen. Douglas MacArthur will remark that Bismarck Sea “cannot fail to go down in history as one of the most complete and annihilating combats of all time.” Japanese Navy Capt. Tameichi Hara will refer to the battle as “shocking” and “unbelievable.”
Mar. 3, 1776: A force of 250 Continental Marines and sailors under the command of Marine Capt. (future major) Samuel Nicholas land on New Providence in the British-held Bahamas and quickly seize Fort Montague in the first amphibious operation in American military history. The landing – largely unopposed (the British garrison spiking their own guns and fleeing) – nets for the Americans much-needed powder, shot, nearly 50 serviceable cannon, and a few mortars.
An avid foxhunter and the highest-ranking leatherneck in the American Revolution, Nicholas will lead Marines alongside Army forces in the future battles of (second) Trenton and Princeton. He is considered to be the first commandant of the Marine Corps.
Mar. 3, 1815: The U.S. Congress authorizes American Naval action against the pirate state of Algiers.
Mar. 3, 1883: The U.S. Congress approves the creation of the “new Navy” with an authorization to build three “steel-protected cruisers” and a “steel dispatch boat.” The authorization begins a steel-ship renaissance for the U.S. Navy.
Mar. 3, 1931: The U.S. Congress adopts “The Star Spangled Banner” as the official national anthem.
The anthem’s lyrics were initially penned as a poem by Washington, D.C. lawyer Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. Key wrote his now-famous words on an envelope as he witnessed the British night-bombardment of Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Sept. 13-14, 1814, from the deck of a Royal Navy ship aboard which had been detained.
Portions of the anthem read:
“…Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
“Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”
Mar. 4, 1944: B-17 Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Army Air Forces participate in the first daylight bombing raid over Berlin. A massive B-17 raid over the German capitol will follow in two days.
Mar. 5, 1770: A contingent of armed British soldiers fire into a crowd of protesting colonists in what will become known as the Boston Massacre. Five colonists are killed. The soldiers, charged with murder, will contend the protestors were threatening them with rocks and clubs. The killings will spark public outrage, demands for the death penalty for the soldiers responsible, and draw America even closer toward revolution.
Ironically, patriot and future U.S. President John Adams is the lawyer who will successfully defend the British soldiers. A portion of Adams’ argument reads:
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence: nor is the law less stable than the fact; if an assault was made to endanger their [the soldiers’] lives, the law is clear, they had a right to kill in their own defense.”
Mar. 5, 1776: Six years to the day after the Boston Massacre, British Gen. Sir William Howe awakens to find Continental Army Gen. George Washington’s artillery well-positioned atop Boston’s commanding Dorchester Heights. Howe purportedly says, “The rebels have done more in one night than my whole army would have done in a month.”
Washington’s men continue to strengthen their gun-batteries and fortifications over the next 10-plus days forcing Howe to deem the American positions “impregnable.” The British will begin evacuating Boston on the 17th.
Mar. 5, 1942: The Seabees – the U.S. Navy’s celebrated combat-capable Construction Battalions (CBs) – are established.
Mar. 5, 1966: The "Ballad of the Green Berets" composed by U.S. Army Special Forces Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler and author Robin Moore hits the number-one spot on the Billboard Chart where it will remain for five weeks.
A portion of the lyrics read:
“Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret.
“Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America’s best
One hundred men we’ll test today
But only three win the Green Beret. …”
Mar. 6, 1836: The Alamo – commanded by Lt. Col. William Barret Travis – falls to Mexican forces after the garrison puts up one of the most heroic defenses in American military history (see previous week’s military milestones).
Mar. 7, 1942: The first group of black airmen – including Capt. (future general) Benjamin O. Davis Jr. – graduates from the U.S. Army Air Forces flight school at Tuskegee, Alabama.
Mar. 7, 1945: U.S. Army armored forces race to seize the strategically vital Ludendorff Bridge (also known as the Remagen bridge) before the Germans blow the structure. The Americans are successful, thus enabling the allies to establish a bridgehead on the enemy side of the Rhine River.
Let’s increase awareness of American military tradition and honor America’s greatest heroes by supporting the Medal of Honor Society’s 2010 Convention to be held in Charleston, S.C., Sept. 29 – Oct. 3, 2010 (for more information, click here).