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This Day in History

ON THIS DAY IN MILITARY HISTORY 
April 29

The Vietnam War, 1971

South Vietnam, US Armed Forces:  At the US Embassy compound in Saigon, Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker presents E Company, Marine Security Guard Detachment, with the “Meritorious Unit Commendation for meritorious service as the immediate defense and security force for the US Mission Saigon, RVN, from February 1, 1969 to December 31, 1971.” The Marine Security Guards played a pivotal role in the defence of the US Embassy in Saigon in January 1968 during the Tet Offensive, and will repeat that pivotal role during the evacuation from Saigon on April 29, 1975. 

April 28

Planning D-Day, 1944

Operation Neptune, Rehearsal:  Disaster strikes Exercise Tiger. At about 01:30 hours nine torpedo-armed E-boats, out of Cherbourg, attack the follow-up convoy of eight Landing Ships, Tanks (LSTs) in Lyme Bay. The German boats have avoided a patrol of Royal Navy destroyers and motor torpedo boats, and only one small warship, the British Corvette HMS Azalea, is in close escort. The E-boats attack the rear of the convoy and the first LST to be torpedoed is 507, which withstands the explosion but catches fire. Soldiers and sailors abandon ship only to find themselves in a burning sea, as fuel oil ignites. The chaos is made far worse because the men have not been told how to use life belts. Then LST 531 is hit amidships by two torpedoes, and in 10 minutes has capsized and is sinking. There is now panic and wild firing from the remaining transports in the convoy. At about 02:30 hours the E-boats strike again, and LST 289 has her stern blown off. The crew contain the fire and she remains afloat and under power. The five remaining landing ships exchange fire with the E-boats, which disengage at 03:30 hours, at about the same time as the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Saladin arrives. A search for survivors does not begin in earnest until 05:30 hours, by which time some men have been in the freezing Channel waters for over two hours, causing even more deaths. This attack has dealt a serious blow to invasion preparations. Nearly 200 sailors and 500 soldiers are dead. Most of the soldiers are from one unit, the 1st Engineer Special Brigade, and they are specialists in the job of building and maintaining the invasion beachhead. They are men that the Allies can ill-afford to lose. Two of the LSTs have been sunk and one seriously damaged. This loss wipes out the operational reserve of LSTs for Operation Overlord, and will mean that three replacement landing ships will have to be ordered to sail from the Mediterranean immediately. 

April 27

Planning D-Day, 1944

Operation Neptune, Rehearsal:  By this second day of Exercise Tiger, Admiral Moon’s Force U has doubled back towards the Devon coast during the night and, by morning, has anchored in Start Bay, off Slapton Sands: Watching proceedings are Admiral Ramsay and General Montgomery. After an initial naval bombardment, the 4th Infantry Division attempts to land. Ramsay is unimpressed. He describes the exercise privately as a “flop”. Communications break down between the navy and the assault units, with the result that only two infantry companies get ashore in the first wave. However, the exercise continues and throughout the day the 4th Infantry is landed. A follow-up convoy of mine LSTs are expected off Slapton Sands early Friday morning. 

April 26

Planning D-Day, 1944

Operation Neptune, Rehearsal:  A full-scale rehearsal of Operation Neptune begins, known as Exercise Tiger. It involves Force U, commanded by Rear-Admiral Don P. Moon, US Navy. During the day the US 4th Infantry Division, VII Corps, under Major General Raymond O. Barton, embarks from ports on the south Devon coast. Force U then sails into Lyme Bay proceeded by minesweepers.

German Air force, Port Raid:  This day there is another German air raid on Portsmouth. At least 80 bombers make the attack and sortie farther north towards Basingstoke. 

April 25

The Civil War, 1864

Arkansas, Land War:  The Battle of Marks’ Mills. A Union supply train of 240 wagons is captured by Confederate forces. This defeat forces Steele to look to save his army rather than unite with the forces of Nathaniel Banks on the Red River. 

April 24

The Third Reich, 1942

Sea War, Kriegsmarine:  The motor torpedo-boats, which previously had been under the jurisdiction of the Flag Officer for Destroyers, are given their own autonomous command under Kapitan zur See Rudolf Peterson. 

April 23

The Civil War, 1864

Louisiana, Land War:  The Battle of Monett’s Ferry/Cane River Crossing. Retreating Union troops of the Red River Campaign overthrow a Confederate cavalry division set in defense around Monett’s Ferry. 

April 22

WWII, 1944

Pacific, Papua New Guinea:  General Douglas MacArthur, leading a 52,000-strong Allied invasion force, makes an amphibious landing in Hollandia, northern New Guinea. Hollandia will be the base for the next phase of MacArthur’s Operation Cartwheel, which is designed to drive the Japanese from northwest New Guinea.  

April 21

WWII, 1943

Squadron RAF No. 341, composed of members of the Free French forces fighting with the Allies,   arrives at Biggin Hill in the south east of England. They are equipped with Supermarine Spitfire L.F Mk.IXs. From Biggins Hill they mounted sweep patrols over the English Channel, probing the German defences of occupied Europe. 

April 20

The Vietnam War, 1971

South Vietnam, US Aid:  Included in President Nixon’s announced troops cups. VMA (AW) 225, the last A-6 Intruder Squadron, stands down in preparation for its return to its base at US Marine Corps Air Station, EL Toro, California. 

April 19

Planning D-Day, 1944

Security, Communications:  The diplomatic movement ban is extended to include military personnel of the governments-in-exile in Great Britain. The ban will run until June 19. 

April 18

The Civil War, 1864

Arkansas, Land War:  The Battle of Poison Spring. A Union raid out of Camden, send by Major General Fred Steele, to acquire corn is crushed by the Confederates on its return journey at Lee’s Plantation, the Union force losing 198 supply wagons. 

April 17

The Civil War, April 17-20, 1864

North Carolina, Land/Naval War:  The Battle of Plymouth. Opposing land and naval forces fight a major engagement. The Confederates secure an important victory on the Atlantic coast when Plymouth falls on the 20th. 

April 16

Planning D-Day, 1944

Order of Battle, US Forces:  The lead units of the US 79th Infantry Division arrive in the England. The division will be organized into VII Corps, First Army, and it scheduled to land in Normandy on D+8.

Logistics, Landing Craft:  Despite the “Landing Craft conference” held in February, and the postponement of Operation Anvil, there are still not enough LSTs (Landing Ships, Tanks) in Great Britain to carry all the necessary vehicles. The problem is fast becoming a crisis, which just seven weeks left until the planned invasion date. Churchill is to send a personal message to the US Chief of Staff, General Marshall, asking for his help and reminding the general what the judgement of history might be if the problem isn’t solved. “How it is”, the prime minister writes, “that the plans of two great empires like Britain and the United States should be so much hamstrung and limited by a hundred or two of these particular vessels will never be understood by history ….the absence of these special vessels may limit our whole war effort on our left flank, and I fear we shall be accused unjustly of not doing out best, as we are resolved to do.”

April 15

WWII, 1944

Air War, Europe: The US 8th Army Air Force and RAF Bomber Command decide to switch bombing from German urban centers to railroads in Belgium and France to prepare for the forthcoming Allied invasion by preventing German reinforcements reaching the front. A Force of 448 Flying Fortresses and Liberators of the US 15th Army Air Force, escorted by 150 Mustang fighters, also attacks the oil fields at Ploesti and Romanian capital, Bucharest. During the night the RAF bombs the railroad lines at Turnu Severin in Romania.

The Vietnam War, 1971

South Vietnam, US: Aid The Strength of the 3rd Marine Amphibious Brigade on its activation is 1322 Marine and 124 US Navy officers and 13,359 Marine and 711 US Navy enlisted men. The ground combat element is the 1st Marines and the air element consists of two aircraft grounds: Marine Air Group 11 and Marine Air Group 16. The 3rd Marine Amphibious Brigade includes numerous combat supports and service support units. The last four CUPP squads of M Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, are deactivated, ending the CUPP programme. In the 18 months of its existence, the CUPP programme has accounted for 578 enemy killed while the Marines have lost 46 killed in action. 

April 14

The Vietnam War, 1971

South Vietnam, US Aid:  III Marine Amphibious Force, under the command of Lieutenant-General Donn J. Robertson, along with the 1st Marine Division and 1st Marine Air Wing, leaves Vietnam. It has been “in country” since May 6, 1965. The 3rd Marine Amphibious Brigade (MAB) is officially established in the Republic of Vietnam. Lieutenant-General Robertson, Commanding General (CG), III MAF, relocates to Camp Courtney, Okinawa, and Major-General Armstrong, the Commanding General, 1st Marine Air Wing (MAW), assumes command of all units remaining in the Republic of Vietnam. He reports to the Commanding General, 1st Marine Air Reserve (Rear), and Major-General Widdecke, CG, 1st Marine Division, relocates to Camp Pendleton. 

April 13

The Vietnam War, 1971

South Vietnam, US Armed Forces:  The US Army’s 196th Light Infantry Brigade, which will be the last US ground combat element in Quang Nam Province, moves into the Que Son Area.  

April 12

The Civil War, 1864

Tennessee, Land War:  The Union garrison at Fort Pillow, on the Mississippi River, made up of 295 white Tennessee troops and 262 U.S. colored troops, all under the command of Major Lionel F. Booth, is attacked by Confederates under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest with a Cavalry division of 2,500 men. Forrest seizes the older outworks, with high knolls commanding the Union position, and surrounds Booth’s force. Rebel sharpshooters on the knolls fire into the fort, killing Booth, but the garrison cannot depress its artillery enough to cover the approaches to the fort. The Confederates launch an attack at 11:00 hours, occupying more strategic locations around the fort. Forrest demands unconditional surrender. The garrison refuses and the Confederates renew the attack, overrunning the fort and driving the Federals down the rivers bluff. Only 60 of the Union colored troops survive the fight (the Confederates are accused of massacring the black troops). The Confederates evacuate Fort Pillow in the evening. “Remember Fort Pillow” becomes a rallying cry along black troops in the last year of war.

The Civil War, April 12-13 1864

Louisiana, Land/River War:  The Battle of Blair’s Landing/Pleasant Hill Landing. Brigadier General tom Green’s Confederate cavalry attack grounded Union transport boats at Pleasant Hill on the Red River. Gunboat and withering infantry fire beat off the attack and kill Green.

WWII, 1944

Politics, Romania: In reply to a Romanian mission regarding the conditions for an armistice between Romania and the Soviet Union, Moscow demands that Romania break with the Germans, that its forces fight alongside the Red Army, and insists on the restoration of the Romanian and Soviet border. It also calls for reparations for damage inflicted on the Soviet Union by Romania, freedom of movement through the country for Soviet and other Allied forces and the repatriation  of soviet prisoners. The Romanians reject these conditions and remain with the Axis. 

April 11

Planning D-Day, 1944

German Defences, France: Grand Admiral Donitz sends a message to the U-boat captains of Group Landwirt (Farmer) in France. In terms that resound with desperation he exhorts his men to take extreme measures against the coming Allies invasion, going so far as to suggest suicide attacks. “Every vessel taking part in the landing,” he writes, “even if it has but a handful of men or solitary tank aboard, is a target of the utmost importance which must be attacked regardless of cost.” He goes on: “Every boat that inflicts losses on the enemy while he is landing has fulfilled its primary function, even though it perishes in so doing.” 

April 10

The Civil War, April 10-13, 1864

Arkansas, Land War: The Battle of Prairie D’Ane/Gum Grove/Moscow. A major clash at Prairie D’Ane sees Union forces eventually gain the upper hand over four days of fighting and go on to take Camden. 

April 9

WWII, 1944

Eastern Front, Ukraine:  The Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front reaches the outskirts of Odessa.

The Civil War, 1864

Louisiana, Land War:  The Battle of Pleasant Hill. Union forces, retreating after the Mansfield defeat, stop and turn to face a major Confederate attack near Pleasant Hill. Both sides lose over 1,500 troops. 

April 8

WWII, 1944

Eastern Front, Crimea: General Fedor I. Tolbukhin’s 4th Ukrainian Front (470,000 men, 6000 field guns and mortars, 560 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 1250 combat aircraft) begins the liberation of the peninsula. The German and Romanian forces defending the region as part of the Seventeenth Army can muster only 200,000 men, 3600 field guns and mortars, 200 tanks and self-propelled guns and 150 aircraft.

The Civil War, 1864

Louisiana, Land War: The Battle of Mansfield/Pleasant Grove/Sabine Crossroads. When General Ulysses S. Grant took command of the Union armies in early 1864, he planned a series of offensives, one of which under General Nathaniel P. Banks, would move from New Orleans, Louisiana, against the port of Mobile in Alabama. Banks had other ideas. He decided to embark on a campaign northwest up the Red River. He envisioned a combined army and navy force, with troops and gunboats under David D. Porter, moving up the Red River to cooperate with another Union force under General Frederick Steele in capturing Shreveport, Louisiana, a major supply depot and gateway to Texas. Banks hoped to capture large supplies of cotton as well. Banks and Porter got underway from St. Martinville, Louisiana, on March 12, with the troops loaded on slow-moving transport boats. Porter’s gunboats moved more quickly and on March 16 captured Alexandria, Louisiana, which was roughly halfway to Shreveport. It took Banks and his transports almost two weeks to catch up. As Porter moved to Shreveport, Banks marches his men along the west side of the Red River. Today, a Confederate force traps and defeats Banks at Mansfield, south of Shreveport. And then Steele fails to march to support him as originally plans. Banks falls back and decides to turn the entire expedition around and retreat to New Orleans. Porter’s naval flotilla is stranded by falling river levels at Alexandria and is almost lost to Confederates firing on the fleet from the banks of the river. Only the heroic construction of river dams near Alexandria by 3,000 soldiers, sailors, and marines rescue the marooned boats and allows them to escape. The Red River Campaign thus ends in complete failure.

April 7

The Vietnam War, April 7-12, 1971

South Vietnam, Ground War:  So as not to give the impression that the United States has given up on its South Vietnamese ally, the US 1st Marine Regiment launches a five-day offensive, called Operation Scott Orchard, in the area west of An Hoa. The Marines comb the areas around Pickens forest and Catawba falls. A 105mm and 155mm howitzer battery are set up at Fire Support Base Dagger as give companies, under the operational control of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, are then inserted into the area. After five days of operations, only scattered resistance is encountered. Four NVA soldiers are killed and 12 individual weapons captured. The US Marines suffer only minor casualties.

The Vietnam War, 1971

South Vietnam, US Aid:  In a further sign that the ground role of US forces is over, President Nixon announces further troop cuts in American forces in Vietnam and states that they will be gone by June 30. Among US Marine forces named in these cutbacks are the 3rd Marine Amphibious Brigade and the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines.

April 6

WWII, April 6-11, 1944

Far East, Burma:  Japanese forces attack the Chindit fortified position at “White City”, which is subsequently evacuated.

April 5

WWII, 1944

Eastern Front, Ukraine: The Soviet 3rd Ukrainian front captures Razdelnaya station and cuts the local German forces in two, one of which is forced to withdraw toward Odessa and the other toward Tiraspol.

April 4

WWII, April 4-13, 1944

Far East, India: The first stage of the Imphal Battle has ended. The Japanese have failed to destroy the Allied defense line. The British IV Corps, now concentrated around Imphal, can turn its attention to the destruction of the Japanese. By April 13, the Japanese have been ejected from Nungshigum, one of the hills commanding the Imphal plain, and their 15th Division is being harried down the road to Ukhrul. 

The Third Reich, 1942

Sea War, Baltic: The Gneisenau is moved to Gotenhafen.

April 3

WWII, 1944

Air War, Norway:  The German battleship Tirpitz has been damaged in Altenfiord, Norway, by Royal Navy aircraft flown from the British carriers Victorious and Furious. Tirpitz has been hit 14 times, which means that it will not sail again for several months.

The Civil War, April 3-4, 1864

Arkansas, Land War: The Battle of Elkin’s Ferry/Okolona. During the Unions Camden Expedition, Confederate troops fail to prevent Union forces from crossing the Little Missouri River at Elkin’s Ferry.

April 2

Planning D-Day, 1944

Home Front, Great Britain: The Chiefs of Staff obtain Churchill’s agreement to reorganize Britain’s anti-aircraft defences to protect the invasion fleet. /selected batteries will now be moved from civilian areas to embarkation ports. It is a risk, ass the German air raids on cities continue. In March, civilian casualties from raids over London, northeast England and south Wales were 279 killed and 633 injured.

April 1

Planning D-Day, 1944

Logistics, Mulberry: The Bombardon sea barriers undergo their first, and successful, sea trials, off Weymouth Bay. The floating concrete boxes withstand 2.4m (8ft) seas for 10 hours.

Security, Coast/Free French: The visitors ban comes into effect. Its terms are strict. No civilians will be allowed into an exclusive zone extending 16km (10 miles) inland from the coast, and residents will only be permitted to travel a few miles from their homes. The zone covers a stretch of coast from the River Humber to Penzance, as well as Milford Haven, Portishead and estuaries of the rivers Forth, Tay and Clyde. The need to maintain strict security is also having a serious impact on the Allies’ relationship with the Free French. SHAEF fears that the ciphers used by de Gaulle’s Committee of National Liberation are compromised, and there are concerns about its communist members. From today the Combined Chiefs of Staff order that no information about Neptune/Overlord be passed to the committee. In effect, France is to be invaded without its self-appointed provisional government being informed. 

March 11

WWII, 1944

Eastern Front, Ukraine General Rodion Malinovsky’s 2nd Ukrainian Front reaches the Bug River, brushing aside resistance from the German Eighth Army. The Germans hope to halt the Red Army on this great water barrier.

WWII, March 11-12, 1944

Far East, Burma In the Arakan, northern Burma, the Allies recapture Buthidaung and then surround and capture the Japanese fortress at Razabil.

March 10

D-Day Planning, 1944

Rommel’s Army Group B headquarters moves from Fontainebleau to the castle of La Roche-Guyon, northwest of Paris. It will not be closer to the coast and the OB West HQ at St Germain.

Security, Coasts After weeks of discussion, Churchill finally agrees to the ban on the movement of civilians to and from the south and east coasts. 

March 8

WWII, 1944

Air War, Germany
The US 8th Army Air Force launches a massive daylight precision raid on the Erker Ball-Bearing Works, Berlin. A total of 590 aircraft mount the raid. There are 75 direct hits on the target, but the Americans lose 37 aircraft. This is the third US raid on Berlin under the escort of P-51 Mustang fighters. It results in the halting of ball-bearing production for some time.

March 7

WWII, March 7-8, 1944

Far East, Burma/India Operation U-Go, the Japanese offensive to drive the Allies back into India by destroying their bases at Imphal and Kohima, begins with moves to sever the Tiddim to Imphal road. The Japanese 33rd Division has orders to cut off the 17th Indian Division at Tiddim and force the British to commit their reserves to rescue it, while the 31st and 15th Divisions are to cross the Chindwin farther north and fall on Imphal and Kohima.

WWII, 1944

Home Front Germany: Members of the Nazi organization for woman are making house-to-house calls to recruit females born between the ages of 17 and 45 to work “in the service of the community.” This is to bolster Germany’s depleted labor force.

D-Day Planning, 1944

Planning & Security:  The invasion poses a huge problem for the security services: for those involved it is the secret everyone wants to talk about, but which no one is allowed to mention in public. In this climate of frustrated gossip someone is bound to say something and today’s security breach comes via and London Evening News. Despite undertakings not to publish such speculation, the newspaper reports the Canadian minister of munitions as predicting major Allied operations will take place “within the next three or four months”. The story is known to Churchill, who sends a stiffly worded personal telegram to the Canadian prime minister, reminding him that ministers should not make any reference to the “timing scope or direction of forthcoming operations”.

March 6

D-Day Planning, 1944

RAF Bomber Command carriers out the first raids on French rail targets to test the feasibility of Zuckerman’s Transportation Plan. The 261 Halifax bombers attack the rail centre of Trappes, southwest of Paris, and knock out the entire electrified line from Chartres to Paris. The bombers return without loss. There have been doubts that these strategic aircraft can bomb accurately enough to hit such small targets at night, but Bomber Command finds these results very encouraging. One of Harris’s staff officers reports that “it is appreciated that this new-found ability to saturate with bomb strikes a given area of approx. 500 x 1,000 yards square constitutes a weapon of war of enormous power”. Raids on French rail targets will continue over the next three weeks, with attacks on the nights of March 13-14, 15-16, 23-24, 25-26, and 26-27.

Deception, Fortitude North As part of Fortitude North, Colonel R.M. Macleod arrives in Edinburgh to establish the headquarters of the phantom British Fourth Army. The deception is designed to give the impression that an Allied attack on Norway from Scotland is imminent. It is created by Macleod and a staff of 30, who generate enough radio traffic between Edinburgh, Stirling and Dundee to convince the Germans that there is a force of 250,000 men, complete with armoured division and tactical air support, being organized to strike across the North Sea.

March 5

WWII March 5- 11, 1944

Far East, Burma Brigadier Mike Calvert’s 77th Brigade of the Cindits begins landing by glider at two selected points code-named “Broadway” and “Piccadilly” in the Kaukkwe Valley, northern Burma. During the first lift, 61 gliders are used, although only 35 reach their target. By the 11th, the whole of Calvert’s brigade has been flown in.

March 4

D-Day Planning, 1944

Planning: Headquarters  SHEAF HQ begins a move out of Norfolk House. The building is too small, and recent German air raids on central London have convinced Eisenhower that a new location is needed. It is moving to former Eighth Army Air Force headquarters in Bushy Park, in the suburbs of southwest London. The move will be completed by Monday, but plans have already been made to create a forward HQ at Southwick House, near Portsmouth. March 3

D-Day Planning, 1944

Deception, Bodyguard:  In Moscow, the Soviet-Allied talks over Operation Bodyguard come to a successful conclusion. The Soviets agree to participate fully. Their role will be threefold. They will begin their summer offensive after Overlord has begun, and will make every appearance of preparing attacks on northern Norway and the Black Sea coasts of Romania and Bulgaria.

March 2

The Vietnam War, 1971

Laos, Ground War: The South Vietnamese Marine Brigade 147 makes a heliborne assault into Laos during Operation Lam Son-719 at Fire Support Base Delta, and relieves the ARVN forces which are currently operating there.

WWII, 1944

Politics, Allies The Allies cut off all aid to Turkey due to its government’s reluctance to help their war effort.

The Civil War, 1864

Virginia, Land War: The Battle of Walkerton/Mantapike Hill. An abortive Union raid against Richmond’s defenses ends in the destruction or capture of much of attackers. Captured papers refer to the burning of Richmond and killing of President Davis as primary objectives.

The Union, Armed Forces: Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant is made commander of all the armies of the United States.

March 1

WWII, 1944

Far East Burma The Chindits’ 16th Brigade crosses the Chindwin River, as Chinese forces and Merrill’s Marauders (a US commando force) under General Joseph Stilwell, advance toward Myitkyina.

D-Day Planning, 1944

The Cabinet’s Home Defence Committee meets again. It endorses the proposal for a visitor ban along the south coast, recommended on February 28, and suggests extending it to other areas of the country, including Milford Haven in Wales, Portishead on the Severn Estuary near Bristol and the estuaries of the Forth, Tay and Clyde in Scotland. It also recommends a ban on all diplomatic communications by the British representatives of neutral and friendly countries prior to the invasions – except, of course, the United States.

Home Front:  Great Britain Churchill holds the first weekly meeting of the Government’s Overlord Preparation Committee. Its brief is far-reaching and covers every aspect of Overlord as it affects the Home Front. Presents are 12 ministers, responsible for labour, health, war transport, food, fuel and power, plus representatives of the War Officer, Air Ministry and Admiralty. Among their first discussions are proposals to clear civilian hospitals of patients, in order to make room for the thousands of military casualties expected on D-Day.

 

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