Tagged: OnThisDay

The Battle of Cape Esperance

Just like Nimitz, Yamamoto’s biggest issue in the South Pacific was fuel. Tokyo is actually farther from the Guadalcanal than Pearl Harbor, and like the Americans, the Japanese lacked sufficient tanker capacity. But by October 1942, the Japanese had finally committed to destroying the Americans on Guadalcanal, and enough fuel was allocated for Yamamoto’s big battleships to operate from their anchorage at Truk. For lack of fuel, they had been sitting there for months, derisively referred to by the overworked destroyer and cruiser sailors as “Hotel Yamato” and “Hotel Musashi”.

After the battles at Coral Sea, Midway, and the Eastern Solomon’s, Yamamoto had a healthy respect for American airpower, and Henderson Field was an unsinkable aircraft carrier from which the Cactus Air Force sank everything that came down the Slot in daylight. The only option to neutralize Henderson Field was a run down the Slot at night by fast battleships which could pummel the airstrip. Then, sufficient troops and heavy equipment to secure the island could be landed on Guadalcanal from the big slow transports that Japanese couldn’t use as long as the Cactus Air Force roamed the Slot. Thereafter, Japanese troops on the island would be of sufficient quantity to be able to penetrate the Marine perimeter, and overrun the airfield. With the airfield out of action, Yamamoto could then send the Combined Fleet, spearheaded by the mighty Yamato and Musashi down the Slot without fear of air attack from Guadalcanal, and decisively defeat the American Fleet. The fast battleship run was scheduled for the night of 15 October. Until then, the Tokyo Express would put every ship it had into reinforcing Guadalcanal, and bombarding the airfield in preparation.Throughout September and October, Maj Gen Vandergrift’s Marines on Guadalcanal had defeated everything the Japanese had thrown at them, but the Tokyo Express continually poured fresh troops onto Guadalcanal. Even U.S. Marines can’t hold out indefinitely. Additionally, the poor rations, constant fighting and the debilitating effects of living in the jungle were taking their toll on the Americans. Though they would never admit it, the Marines needed help. That help would come in the form of the US Army 164th Inf Regt, from the Americal Division which was formed from the AMERIcan defenders of New CALedonia. The convoy from New Caledonia was escorted by cruisers and destroyers of Task Force 64, led by Rear Admiral Norman Scott.

When Scott took command of the American escort force, he was keenly aware of the sorry state of American surface forces. He was not about to repeat the same mistakes as his predecessor, who had been ignominiously defeated at The Battle of Savo Island in August, known amongst the crews as “The Battle of Five Sitting Ducks.” To Scott, night surface action was about one thing, and one thing only: “the first effective salvo, though the second and third didn’t hurt the cause either.”

To this end, Scott instituted a night gunnery training program that had his crews at general quarters every evening and early morning conducting gunnery excercises. He designated areas of the sea and squared his captains off against each other. During these gunnery drills the turrets were offset several degrees so the shells safely landed behind the target. But the big splash to the stern let the opposing crew know without a doubt when they were “hit”. And everyone had friends on the Vincennes, Quincy, and Astoria, resting below in “Ironbottom Sound”. Battle Drills became second nature. Moreover, Scott changed the culture of his surface ships. He lobbied to have his cruisers operate independently of Adm Turner’s transports when they weren’t directly involved in actual escort missions. After Nimitz’ visit to the South Pacific in early September, Scott was granted his wish. His command was elevated to a separate Task Force, Task Force 64, on par with Turner’s transports and Fletcher’s carriers. Scott changed his mission from escort to “screening and attack”, and let his captains know that he intended to take the fight to the Japanese. The Tokyo Express had to be in and out of the waters around Guadalcanal before the sun rose. That made them predictable. Scott planned to exploit that.

Scott got his chance on the night of 11-12 Oct 1942. Rear Admiral Aritomo Goto was escorting a massive Tokyo Express Run of almost 11,000 Japanese troops, and included two sea plane tenders that carried much needed heavy equipment such as trucks and artillery pieces. Goto’s run was divided into two groups, a transport group with a bombardment group in the lead. As Scott’s task force was escorting the 164th to Guadalcanal, coastwatchers and reconnaissance planes spotted Goto. Scott sent the transports safely away with a few destroyers, and moved to ambush the Japanese north of Guadalcanal’s Cape Esperance. Just before midnight, the Japanese bombardment group, consisting of three cruisers and two destroyers, was picked up on radar and Scott ordered his column of five destroyers, and three heavy and two light cruisers, to change course in order to cross the Japanese T. Goto, whose ships relied on flares and visual identification, and had no reason to expect cruisers in the area from the so far passive Americans, had no idea what was about to hit him.

Unfortunately for Scott, the watch officer of the lead cruiser, the San Francisco, didn’t turn where the lead destroyers turned, and instead turned turned simultaneously with the lead destroyer as soon as the order was given. In Army terms, he executed a “Left Flank, March”, instead of a “Column Left, March”. The rest of the formation followed. This put the lead three destroyers out of position, and even worse, in between the Americans cruisers and the Japanese.

For several critical minutes, confusment reigned in the American formation as Scott and his captains attempted to ascertain the exact location of the destroyers in order to prevent fratricide. All the while, the Japanese closed the distance, to the point where they became visible in the darkness. One exasperated gunner complained, “What are we doing? Waiting to see ‘the whites of their eyes’?” The captain of the new light cruiser USS Boise finally said, “I know what I’m shooting at”, and opened fire. Everyone else followed suit.

American naval doctrine at the time said that distances less than 17,000 yards were “close contact”. Off Cape Esperance, they were less than 4000, and closing rapidly. At this distance, it wasn’t the big manually controlled 8” guns of the heavy cruisers that would be responsible for the bulk of the damage, but the radar controlled rapid fire 6″ guns of the American light cruisers, the Boise and Helena. The Japanese complained they fired “like machine guns”, and at a distance where it was impossible to miss. It also didn’t help that the Japanese ships were initially loaded with high explosive rounds to bombard Henderson, not ship killing armor piercing rounds. The two American light cruisers savaged the two lead Japanese cruisers.

However, not everything worked in Scott’s favor. In the confusion, fire control was lacking and the task force’s fire was not distributed properly. The lead Japanese cruiser, the Aoba, took the bulk of the fire while the rear most Japanese cruiser was initially not fired upon at all. And the Kinugasa made the Boise pay for firing first. Even worse, the American heavy cruisers lacked the new fire control radars of their little brothers, and inadvertently fired upon the wayward destroyer squadron, sinking one and damaging another. In less than 30 minutes, one Japanese cruiser and one destroyer were sunk, with the rest badly damaged, at the cost of two American cruisers and one destroyer damaged and another sunk by friendly fire.

The Battle of Cape Esperance was the first time the US Navy defeated the Japanese in a surface action in World War Two and provided a much needed morale boost to the Allied destroyer and cruiser crews, who up to this point were consistently outperformed, out-maneuvered and out-gunned by their Japanese counterparts. However, the confusion caused by the San Francisco cost the Americans dearly. In addition to the ships damaged, and sailors killed and wounded in battle, the Japanese managed to unload all of their reinforcements on Guadalcanal. Many Marines and soldiers (The US Army’s 164th Regt would land a day later on the 13th) would pay a heavy price for Goto’s successful Tokyo Express run, even if he didn’t survive to see it

The attritional battle for Guadalcanal would continue.

Computer Science

Science 22 Sep 1967:Vol. 157, Issue 3795, pp. 1373-1374

Allen Newell 

Alan J. Perlis 

Herbert A. Simon

“Professors of computer science are often asked: “Is there such a thing as computer science, and if there is, what is it?” The questions have a simple answer:

Wherever there are phenomena, there can be a science to describe and explain those phenomena. Thus, the simplest (and correct) answer to “What is botany?” is, “Botany is the study of plants.” And zoology is the study of animals, astronomy the study of stars, and so on. Phenomena breed sciences.

There are computers. Ergo, computer science is the study of computers. The phenomena surrounding computers are varied, complex, rich. It remains only to answer the objections posed by many skeptics.

Objection 1. Only natural phenomena breed sciences, but computers are artificial, hence are whatever they are made to be, hence obey no invariable laws, hence cannot be described and explained. Answer. 1. The objection is patently false since computers and computer programs are being described and explained daily. 2. The objection would equally rule out of science large portions of organic chemistry (substitute “silicones” for “computers”), physics (substitute “superconductivity” for “computers”), and even zoology (substitute “hybrid corn” for “computers”). The objection would certainly rule out mathematics, but in any event, its status as a natural science is idiosyncratic.

Objection 2. The term “computer” is not well defined, and its meaning will change with new developments, hence computer science does not have a well-defined subject matter. Answer. The phenomena of all sciences change over time; the process of understanding assures that this will be the case. Astronomy did not originally include the study of interstellar gases; physics did not include radioactivity; psychology did not include the study of animal behavior. Mathematics was once defined as the “science of quantity.”

Objection 3. Computer science is the study of algorithms (or programs), not computers. Answer. 1. Showing deeper insight than they are sometimes credited with, the founders of the chief professional organization for computer science named it the Association for Computing Machinery. 2. In the definition, “computers” means “living computers” – the hardware, their programs or algorithms, and all that goes with them. Computer science is the study of the phenomena surrounding computers. “Computers plus algorithms,” “living computers,” or simply “computers” all come to the same thing – the same phenomena.

Objection 4. Computers, like thermometers, are instruments, not phenomena. Instruments lead away to their user sciences; the behaviors of instruments are subsumed as special topics in other sciences (not always the user sciences – electron microscopy belongs to physics, not biology). Answer. The computer is such a novel and complex instrument that its behavior is subsumed under no other science; its study does not lead away to user sciences, but to further study of computers. Hence, the computer is not just an instrument but a phenomenon as well, requiring description and explanation.

Objection 5. Computer science is a branch of electronics (or mathematics, psychology, and so forth). Answer. To study computers, one may need to study some or all of these. Phenomena define the focus of a science, not its boundaries. Many of the phenomena of computers are also phenomena of some other science. The existence of biochemistry denies neither the existence of biology nor of chemistry. But all of the phenomena of computers are not subsumed under anyone exiting science.

Objection 6. Computers belong to engineering, not science. Answer. They belong to both, like electricity (physics and electrical engineering) or plants (botany and agriculture). Time will tell what professional specialization is desirable between analysis and synthesis, and between the pure study of computers and their application.

Computer scientists will often join hands with colleagues from other disciplines in common endeavor. Mostly, computer scientists will study living computers with the same passion that others have studied plants, stars. glaciers, dyestuffs, and magnetism; and with the same confidence that intelligent, persistent curiosity will yield interesting and perhaps useful knowledge.”

The Emancipation Proclamation

After the bloody Union victory at Antietam a few days before and the retreat of Robert E. Lee’s Army out of Maryland, President Lincoln felt he now had the political clout to transform the very nature of the American Civil War. On 22 Sep 1862, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that all slaves held in Confederate territory would be freed if the state did not return to the Union by the end of the year. Although a bold step, the Proclamation did not end slavery in slave owning states that didn’t secede, nor did it give former slaves citizenship, nor did it even free very many slaves. It did however turn the war from a partisan political struggle of reunification to a moral crusade against slavery, at least in the eyes of the rest of the world. Although many in the North would be greatly angered by the Proclamation; Great Britain and France, both with anti-slavery laws, could no longer support the Confederate States. The South, with its small population and tiny industrial base, would have to defeat the North on its own.

The Battle of Valmy

In 1791, the nervous monarchies of Europe finally declared war on the Revolutionary France to restore the Bourbon monarchy and prevent the spread of liberte, egalite, and fraternite (liberty, equality, and brotherhood) to their lands. The War of the First Coalition started well for the monarchies, as a large mixed army of Austrians, Prussians, Hessians, and French emigres under the Duke of Brunswick seized several French fortresses and brushed aside any French revolutionary resistance.

By the end of the summer 1792, Brunswick was deep into French territory and advanced on Paris through the Argonne Forest. Brunswick was shadowed by the French Army of the Center under Francois Kellermann. At the time, Revolutionary France’s Army of the North under Charles Dumouriez was invading Austrian Netherlands. But with the threat to Paris, Dumouriez turned south and joined Kellermann. Dumouriez and Kellerman appeared behind Brusnwick and along his lines of communication eastward back to Prussia. Though the French were outnumbered 54,000 to 84,000, morale was high, a good portion of the army were professionals from the old Royal Army, and even though Paris was exposed, the cautious Brunswick would never leave an enemy army to his rear. They were right.

The Napoleonic idea and practice of advancing forward to the objective while foraging off the land was still a decade in future, and Brusnwick’s Army was tied to its depots in the German states. Brunswick could have easily seized Paris but instead turned his army east and attacked the French at Valmy.

In the driving rain, the two armies lined up at opposite ends of the field of battle and commenced an artillery duel. Unlike the bulk of the infantry in the French Army, which were made up of raw but passionate volunteers, the artillery still consisted of the professional gunners from the old Royal Army. For decades, the French artillery was considered the best in Europe. Unlike Brusnwick’s gunners, they kept their powder dry, and a steady stream of accurate fire pounded Brunswick’s lines. Furthermore, Brunswick’s artillery got the worst of the exchange, which demoralized the rest of the army, who would soon have to advance into the teeth of the French cannon. As Brunswick’s Army began to advance, the infantry assault was checked by French fire. And though there was a brief panic after a French ammunition wagon exploded, Kellermann was quickly on the spot, and cried out “Vive’ le Nation!”, which spurred the volunteers to break out into loud and enthusiastic renditions of “Ca Ira” and “La Marseillaise”. Brunswick couldn’t exploit the brief opportunity and broke off the assault completely because he felt the position was too strong and he could fight elsewhere. His army withdrew east away from Paris, never to return.

German poet Wolfgang von Goethe who was present at the battle, told his retreating comrades, “Here and today, a new epoch in the history of the world has begun, and you can boast you were present at its birth.”

Valmy provided a much needed boost to the French Revolution. In 1792, the French Revolution was beginning to collapse as increasing amounts of control was taken by radical elements, which alienated many French citizens (Lafayette being the most famous). Upon the news of the victory at Valmy, the French Legislative assembly formally abolished the monarchy and formed the National Assembly. The French Republic was born. The Battle of Valmy was the best chance the monarchies of Europe had to snuff out the French Revolution. It would take more than two decades, six more “Wars of the Coalition”, and Napoleon’s defeat, for the monarchies of Europe to get that close to Paris again.

The Battle for Edson’s Ridge

Throughout early September, 1942, the Japanese 17th Army at Rabaul ferried thousands of troops down New Georgia Sound, better known as “The Slot”, to Guadalcanal in a nightly ritual the Marines referred to as “The Tokyo Express”. Because of the aircraft on Henderson Field and the carriers USS Hornet and Wasp, the Tokyo Express would speed down the Slot at night, unload troops and cargo on Guadalcanal’s north tip, shell Henderson Field, and depart before they could be sunk by Allied aircraft in the morning.

By the second week of September, the Japanese were ready to attack. On the evening of 11 September, 6000 men of MG Harukichi Kawaguchi’s reinforced 35th Brigade (of which Ichiki’s Regiment was the vanguard) began the 17 mile approach march through the jungle to Henderson Field. At dawn on the 12th, they attacked the Marine perimeter.

LtCol Merritt Edson, commanding 900 Marines of the 1st Marine Raider battalion and the remnant of the 1st Marine Parachute Battalion, fought off Kawaguchi’s relentless assaults over the next two days. The Japanese launched waves of banzai charges and the Marines engaged in brutal hand to hand combat to stop them. Nonetheless, Edson’s men were forced back along the length of “Bloody Ridge”. In several instances the Japanese broke through to Henderson Field’s flight line where support personnel had to throw them back, or were turned back by Marine gunners firing over open sights at the charging Japanese. In the end though, the Battle of Edson’s Ridge shattered Kawaguchi’s brigade.

On 15 September 1942, LTG Harukichi Hyakutake, commander of the Japanese 17th Army, received the news of the defeat and after receiving concurrence from Yamamoto and the Imperial General Staff, suspended all other offensive operations in order to reinforce Guadalcanal. Yamamoto was seeking the “Kantai Kessen” or decisive battle, with the Americans specifically the US Navy. Yamamoto felt that the battle for Guadalcanal would draw the US Navy into the open where it could be destroyed in a single epic confrontation. Once the bulk of its navy was sunk, America would surely sue for peace, just as the Russians did after Tsushima 40 years before. Japanese operations in the Pacific for rest of the war can be characterized as the search for the Kantai Kessen with the US Navy.

1500 miles away, the Japanese on New Guinea were within sight of Port Moresby (and almost certain capture of the island), when Yamamoto’s order gave the Australians some very much needed time to reorganize. The Japanese would never threaten Port Moresby and the Australian mainland, again.

The Raid on Dieppe

With America’s entry into the war, Admiral Doenitz’ sent all of his available long range Type IX U-boats to sink merchantmen along the unprepared and nearly undefended East Atlantic coast. The British knew this was happening through the Ultra intercepts, but the Americans ignored them. So began the “Second Happy Time”, as U-boat captains sank ships off the American coast and in the Caribbean Sea with impunity.

The German Kriegsmarine’s (Navy) Happy Time of the first eight months of 1942 wasn’t necessarily destined to be so happy just because of American arrogance and laxity; the Battle of the Atlantic got exponentially more difficult for the Allies on 1 February 1942. On that day, the Kriegsmarine switched from a three rotor to a much more secure four rotor Enigma machine for their U-boats’ operational communications. When Alan Turing and the boys and girls of Hut 8 at Bletchley Park woke that morning, they found they could no longer read the Germans’ mail. Undetected U-boats went about slaughtering the vital merchantmen needed to keep Britain in the war.

Turing needed a four rotor Enigma machine, or at least as much German cryptographic material as possible, such as code books or old messages (these were a source of “cribs” or known plaintexts with their corresponding ciphertext, that dramatically reduced the time needed to decode messages) if Britain and America were going to go back to evading the U-boats and attacking them, instead of chasing them around by following the trail of sunken ships they left behind.

The task to “pinch” i.e. steal, a four rotor Enigma machine fell to the commandos of Lord Louis Mountbatten’s Combined Operations Headquarters. Mountbatten’s normal targets for enemy cipher material were German weather trawlers in the North Atlantic, but they dried up when the Germans established their secret weather stations in Spitsbergen Islands in the Arctic Ocean. The commandos came to rely on sensitive material they captured on various raids to fill the void, such as the Loften and Vargas Islands in Norway, and St Nazaire in France, but none produced what Turing needed, including several other operations planned specifically to pinch a machine but were aborted for various reasons.

In early April 1942, Britain’s clandestine secret service, MI6, and its research arm, the blandly named Inter Service Topographical Department (ISTD) identified a four rotor machine and a veritable treasure trove of cipher material in the Moderne Hotel at the French port of Dieppe. The Moderne housed a Kriegsmarine port headquarters, a headquarters for a squadron of minelayers, and most importantly, a detachment from the Kriegsmarine Special Purpose Signals Regiment 618. MI6 even pinpointed the location of the Enigma machine: locked in a safe in a storage room in the basement.

Mountbatten gave the operation to raid the Moderne Hotel at Dieppe to the “Authorized Looters of the Admiralty”, Ian Fleming’s (author of the James Bond novels) 30 Intelligence Assault Unit. 30AU was a covert intelligence gathering formation that “cleaned up” after, or during, regular and commando operations, and then went out of their way to hide the fact that they did so, so as to preserve the integrity of the information they acquired. Combined Operations planned Operation Sutter using 30AU supported by 40 Royal Marine Commando for June. But several attempts in June and July failed due to bad weather. Sutter was scrapped, and Mountbatten was told to pinch another machine somewhere else.

However, the plan was resurrected in late July by Winston Churchill. Mountbatten considered Churchill his direct superior, much to the General Staff’s dismay. Churchill was fascinated by commandos, cryptanalysis, cloak and dagger stuff in general, and even by Mountbatten, whom he considered a younger version of himself. Operation Sutter was the combination of all of these and Churchill couldn’t resist. Furthermore, Mountbatten was “growing his empire” with the Prime Minister’s support and his operations were getting progressively larger. He still wanted, and needed, to execute Sutter, but the security risks caused by aborted attempts meant that it had to change. So instead of just 30AU and 40 RM Commando, he’d use a whole division. Mountbatten wanted to “crack a nut with a steam hammer” to cover up the true objective in the Moderne Hotel.

Mountbatten wanted the Royal Marine Division but Churchill was under intense political pressure to get the 2nd Canadian Division into the fight. They arrived in Britain just after the evacuation at Dunkirk and had been training for almost two years and had not seen any action. Operation Sutter was renamed Operation Jubilee and the 2nd Canadian Division would provide the steam hammer.

Operation Jubilee was the first Allied large scale division-sized amphibious operation in the European theater. As the US Marines were finding out at that moment in the Solomons, it was much more difficult and complicated than at first realized, especially since the Canadians and commandos weren’t assaulting mostly unoccupied beaches, but a heavily fortified port. The plan called for independent commandos to first clear heavy gun emplacements on the flanks of Dieppe. The next wave of Canadian infantry was to clear machine gun nests and pillboxes overlooking the main assault beaches. The Canadian main body would follow on with a frontal assault supported by tanks on Dieppe itself. While the engineers accompanying the main assault were wrecking the port facilities (the stated cover objective for the raid) 30AU and 40 RM Commando was supposed to secure the hotel and seize the Enigma machine. For the job, 30AU even recruited a former cat burglar and safecracker, given amnesty for his previous crimes, specifically for the mission. In addition to an entire division, this single individual was supposed to be supported by copious amounts of naval gunfire and RAF bombers. However, the bombers were called off as they were too inaccurate and they couldn’t risk damaging the hotel. The supporting battleships and cruisers were also called off in the name of security: the Germans would certainly wonder what they were doing when they entered the English Channel.

At 3 am on 19 August 1942, the invasion force left the south of England to raid Dieppe to “help relieve the pressure on the Soviets and open the second front against the Germans in the West”, which we know now was complete bullshit. Unfortunately, the invasion force didn’t even get across the English Channel before things started to go wrong.

The landing craft of No 3 Commando, charged with silencing the coastal battery at Berneval to the east of the main landings, ran into a small German coastal convoy, whose armed trawler sank or scattered most of their landing craft. However, a handful of the indefatigable commandos managed to land and prevent the guns from firing by sniping at gunners. They accomplished their mission but it was an inauspicious start to the operation.

Further west was the only bright spot of Jubilee. No 4 Commando under the indomitable Lord Lovat, and accompanied by 40 Americans of the newly formed US Army Rangers, “in a classic operation of war” seized and neutralized the battery at Varangeville. The rest of the operation was a disaster.

When the next wave of Canadians came ashore to clear the German positions covering the main assault beaches, the Germans were already alerted and waiting for them in previously unidentified caves and firing positions. The Canadians were massacred and accomplished none of their objectives. Shortly thereafter the main assault landed directly into the teeth of the German defenses. Naval gunfire by destroyers off shore and air support by fighters and fighter bombers was completely inadequate. The few tanks that made it to shore were either stuck in the sand or stopped by roadblocks from getting into town. The engineers needed to blow the barriers were easy targets for German machine gunners. Few Canadians reached the town, much less the hotel. Maj Gen John Roberts, the commander of the 2nd Canadian Division, ordered in his reserve and then 30AU and 40 Commando to force their way in. But after three unsuccessful and very costly assaults, the order went out to evacuate.

Of the 5000 men, mostly Canadians, that took part on the Raid of Dieppe, 900 were killed, 600 wounded, and almost 2000 were captured. Dieppe was a national disaster for Canada. The Germans were genuinely confused about why the Allies would try to force a division sized landing against two full regiments in a fortified city, or even conduct an operation that was “too large for a raid and two small for an invasion”.

They wouldn’t know the answer for seven decades until a curious Canadian historian came across a single recently declassified signals intelligence document from the ISTD that simply stated, “Dieppe Objective Not Realized”, and then unraveled from there.

Mountbatten and Churchill would both maintain the fiction til the day they died that the Raid on Dieppe was a large scale rehearsal for the future amphibious invasion of France. To that end, Dieppe did provide plenty of lessons learned in large scale amphibious operations, in particular naval and air fire support, beach composition and reconnaissance, simplicity of concept and simultaneity of concurrent objectives, among many others. These lessons would be directly incorporated into and instrumental in the success of the Operation Torch landings in North Africa in November of 1942. But the cost for those lessons, and that fiction, was high: in addition to the casualties, Roberts would be made a scapegoat, and the Germans would bask propaganda value of the Allied defeat for months.

As for the original objective of the Dieppe Raid, the four rotor Enigma machine? Turing would have to wait another two months when one fell into the figurative Allied lap after a chance capture of sinking U-boat off Egypt in October.

The Battle of Bennington

In mid August, 1777, British General John Burgoyne’s plan to capture Albany and the Hudson River valley, which would separate New England from the Middle and Southern colonies, was beginning to suffer from logistical problems. In addition to gunpowder and food, his army was in desperate need of horses. To remedy this, he dispatched LieutCol Frederich Baum and 800 Hessians, mostly dismounted dragoons, to the town of Bennington, Vermont which he expected to be defended by no more than the remnants of Seth Warner’s brigade of Green Mountain Boys, at most 400 men.

Unfortunately for the Hessians, John Stark was commissioned by the state of New Hampshire to raise a force of militia to protect the area. John Stark was a former Lieutenant in Roger’s Rangers, a former Continental Army Colonel (he resigned and returned to New Hampshire after being passed over for Brigadier General), and Hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill, where his men defeated a flanking attack across the Mystic River beach (which forced the costly frontal attacks) and then led the rear guard as the Americans withdrew. Stark had an uncanny ability to predict his foe’s maneuvers. He would do the same again against Baum.

Stark had twice as many men as Baum, nearly 1600, and moved on the Hessian column upon discovering it. Both sides received militia and Indian reinforcements but Baum didn’t know the area and moved into a defensive position on a hill to await more reinforcements from Burgoyne. Stark’s militia immediately surrounded the position.

On the morning of 16 August 1777, John Stark addressed his troops, “Yonder are the Hessians. They were bought for seven pounds and tenpence a man. Are you worth more? Prove it. Tonight the American flag floats from yonder hill or Molly Stark sleeps a widow!”

Molly Stark did not sleep a widow that night.

Unlike American militia in most Revolutionary War battles, Stark’s men from Vermont and New Hampshire fought as well as any regular from the Continental Line, and engaged the Hessians, Loyalists, and Indians at bayonet and saber point all afternoon. Just after the mortally wounded Baum surrendered, Hessian reinforcements from Burgoyne arrived, and they too were savaged, escaping only because night fell.

At Bennington, Burgoyne lost over a thousand men. Even worse, the remainder of his expedition was cut off from any forage and isolated in the wilderness of Northern New York. Burgoyne had no choice but to move on Albany as fast as possible, lest his men starve, or freeze to death later in the year from a lack of winter quarters.

Major General Lafayette and (soon to be) Major General DeKalb

In 1776 and early 1777, the US Ambassador to France, Silas Deane, was handing out promises of commission to any man with military experience who was willing to travel to America to join Washington’s Continental Army, which was in desperate need of trained and experienced officers. Unfortunately, most were long on resume and short on actual experience. However, in April 1777, two officers ran the British blockade in a private ship and arrived in Charlestown, South Carolina in late June.

The first was a giant bear of a man, the 56 year old Johann von Robais de Kalb, better known as Baron DeKalb. DeKalb was the son of a Bavarian shoemaker and a career soldier. At 16, he left home to join a German regiment in the French Army and served with distinction in the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel and made a noble for his exploits. After 30 years of service, he retired in 1764, but found that civilian life in a small estate outside Versailles with his rich French wife didn’t suit him. In 1767, he traveled to America as part of a clandestine French mission to assess the possibility of the thirteen North American colonies rebelling against Great Britain. He was so impressed with the American people that he decided he would join their inevitable revolution. He got his chance in 1777, when he met a young man of similar ambitions — Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette.Lafayette was DeKalb’s opposite in every way. The slight Lafayette was just 18 in 1777. At the age of 14, just four years previously, he married a relative of the King of France, and was commissioned a sous-lieutenant in the King’s Musketeers, and soon a lieutenant in the dragoons. He was as deficient in military matters as DeKalb was experienced. But he was as dedicated to the American cause as DeKalb after a dinner party in which the disgruntled Duke of Gloucester, King George III’s brother, expressed support for the rebellion. However France was actively trying to stay out of the American Revolution and as a relative of the French king was forbidden to depart. So the extraordinarily wealthy teenage Lafayette just went to Spain with DeKalb and several other officers destined for service in America, and bought a ship. 

The “Victorie” took the men across the Atlantic and Lafayette bought coaches to take them to Philadelphia, where they planned to collect Silas’ promised commissions as major generals. But Washington had been burned by adventurers with imaginary exploits who convinced Deane they were something they weren’t, and Continental Congress couldn’t afford to pay a general’s salary to someone who wasn’t. They refused to honor Deane’s promises.

The rich Lafayette offered to serve for no pay. This, and the timely intercession of Ben Franklin by correspondence, won over the Continental Congress, who was still debating the merits of turning away so well connected a Frenchman. On 31 July 1777, the 19 year old Marquis de Lafayette became the youngest major general in the history of the US Army, an accomplishment that still holds today. He received his commission exactly 18 years after his father, a colonel of grenadiers, was killed at the Battle of Minden fighting the Prussians in the Seven Years War. Lafayette departed to assume a position on Washington’s staff shortly thereafter.

Lafayette’s commission infuriated DeKalb. The proud and quiet, but equally competent German was much more qualified for a commission as a major general than the young Lafayette (and all of the Continental generals, and even Washington for that matter…) He had grown fond of the Frenchman, who looked to DeKalb as a mentor and great friend, but the slight couldn’t stand. He lobbied for a commission for a month before the large and thoroughly exasperated German burst into Congress and demanded his commission, laying out his extensive military career to the aghast assembly. Still they refused. The resigned DeKalb finally requested payment to return to France, which he implied was the least bit of recompense for a breach of trust between himself and the fledgling nation. On 17 September 1777, the ashamed Congress relented, and the next day, DeKalb left for Washington’s staff to eventually take command of two Massachusetts’ brigades on the left of the Continental Line.

MG DeKalb added much needed professionalism to the Continental Army. When Washington ordered the army into winter quarters at Valley Forge later that year, DeKalb was instrumental in the training and discipline of the Continental Army. Unfortunately, history would award his fellow German, Baron Von Steuben, the lion’s share of the credit for the professionalization of the Continental Army at Valley Forge, but it couldn’t have been done without DeKalb.

For the next two years DeKalb would be Washington’s most trusted and stalwart division commander, and always in the thick of the fighting. DeKalb was tragically killed during the disaster at Camden in 1780, fighting to the last with his regulars, as Horacio Gates’ militia fled the British and Tory bayonets.

MG Lafayette would follow a different course. Lafayette had come to America “not to teach, but to learn” and this greatly impressed Washington. He inserted himself wherever he was needed. The young man would become the son Washington never had. Despite his youth, Washington trusted Lafayette with his most difficult and sensitive commands and missions. For example, Washington entrusted the young 19 year old with an invasion of Canada in 1778, which was cancelled at Lafayette’s request due to lack of supplies and men. However, “The Fearsome Horseman” as he was known among the native tribes, brought the Oneida nation over to the American cause, whose support would be much needed in Sullivan’s Iroquois campaign the next year. Lafayette would be hugely influential in the delicate negotiations with France to coordinate a common strategy after France’s entry into the war. Lafayette would fight for America wherever and whenever needed for the rest of the war, and it was his independent command that maneuvered Cornwallis into a box at Yorktown.

After the war, Lafayette would return to France and continue his service in the name of Liberty. He would be one of the few nobles not exiled, or executed by the guillotine during the French Revolution. He stood firm for a representative government in France, and was one of Napoleon’s few political enemies after his rise to emperor. Lafayette continued his quest after the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. It was a 70 year old Lafayette at the barricades as head of the National Guard during the Revolution of 1830. Afterwards, he turned down an offer as dictator after the royalist troops were routed.

Lafayette died in 1834 a hero to both America and France. He was buried in a French cemetery, but underneath soil taken by his son, Georges Washington, from Bunker Hill, whose memorial Lafayette dedicated.

At a eulogy in America, former president John Quincy Adams said of Lafayette, he was, “high on the list of the pure and disinterested benefactors of mankind”

The First Battle of Sackets Harbor

Coming one month and one day after the United States declared war on Britain, the first battle of the War of 1812 was not initiated by the Americans, but by the British. Their naval commander at Kingston, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario where it feeds the St Lawrence River, had a small flotilla of five ships. On 19 July 1812 he set out to capture American shipping on the lake. That morning the British seized a small ship filled with flour, from whose crew they learned of an American brig, the USS Oneida, at Sackets Harbor, New York, not too far away. The British sent the crew to the town to inform the garrison that they were to surrender a recently captured (before the war) merchant schooner along with the Onieda to the British, and if the Americans fired on them, they’d “burn the village to the ground”.
29 year old Lt Melancthon Woolsey, the captain of the Onieda, was having none of it. The British commander must have been misinformed because there was a substantial American force in Sackets Harbor, though only one fighting ship, Woolsey’s Oneida. He sent runners to assemble COL Bellinger’s 27th New York Militia Regiment, and took command of the infantry company and a volunteer artillery battery under CPT Camp already in town. Once his lookout spotted the approaching British off in the distance, Woolsey sailed the Oneida out to meet them. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), the morning winds off the lake prevented him from leaving the harbor, so he anchored his ship broadsides to the British, and quickly transferred the guns of the landward broadsides to augment Camp’s shore battery.
Along with the other guns, Woolsey had a lone 32 pounder which was originally meant for the Oneida, but was too big, and was mounted in a swivel on shore, in Camp’s hastily built “Fort Volunteer”. The 32 pounder was commanded by Mr. William Vaughan, the Oneida’s sailing master (roughly equivalent to an old warrant officer specialized in navigation) and it was he who fired the first hostile round of the War of 1812.
Vaughan didn’t have any 32 lb ammunition, so he initially used 24 lb cannonballs (of which he had many, the Oneida’s guns were mostly 24 pounders), and wrapped them in carpet that he ordered torn up from the floors of the village houses. The first shot was woefully short, and laughter was heard from the crews of the British ships. They weren’t laughing for long.
Woolsey turned over his ship to his first mate, and directed the battle from the shore battery. For two hours, the Americans and British traded fire, of which only the Americans’ was effective, especially that of Vaughan’s gun. Many of the British cannonballs failed to even reach the shore battery, and those that did just plowed shallow furrows in the mud until they stopped. Many were 32 pounders from the bigger British ships, so Woolsey had the men dig them up. Vaughan fired them back at the British to much greater effect.
In response to the accurate American fire, the British ships raised anchor and began to maneuver, in order to throw off the American’s aim and get their other broadsides into the fight. As the British flagship, the HMS Royal George, was doing so, a 24 lb cannon ball entered her stern and raked the ship: killing eight sailors, wounding a dozen more, and doing a great amount of damage all along its entire length. Shortly thereafter, the exasperated and ineffectual British withdrew back to Kingston, without causing the American’s any casualties, and no damage beyond the furrows. One sailor remarked, “The enemy broke nothing but – the Sabbath”.
In celebration, Woolsey’s sailors and gunners, and the militia in the village with their band, broke out in a spontaneous rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.
Though they didn’t take part in the battle, 3000 militia arrived in Sackets Harbor by nightfall, and many watched from shore. Woolsey, Camp, Vaughan, and “Black Julius” Torry, an African American on Vaughan’s gun crew, were given credit in the dispatch to the governor of New York for America’s first victory in the War of 1812. Sackets Harbor would become the American military and ship building epicenter in the Lake Ontario arms race against the British and Canadians across the St Lawrence River in Kingston.

Fall Blau

By early 1942, Germany had used up its oil reserves and was suffering significant oil shortages. Despite extensive interwar investment into synthetic oil plants, 75% of Germany’s oil was supplied by the Ploesti oil fields in Romania. In March of 1942, Romania ministers informed Hitler that they could not meet Germany’s planned oil needs for 1942. On 4 April 1942, Hitler signed Fuehrer Directive 41 which made seizing the Caucasus oil fields a priority.  This would also have the added benefit of denying the oil to the Soviets, and was desperately needed by the German economy.

Despite being at war for almost three years, and engaged in hostilities with Great Britain, the Soviet Union and now America, the German economy was still not on a war footing. Furthermore, the larger amount of territory that needed defended combined with the losses of men and material in the past year, especially during the nearly incessant Soviet winter counterattacks, reduced the capacity of Germany military to conduct offensive operations. Unlike Operation Barbarossa the year before, the Wehrmacht could no longer launch a general offensive in the East on three axes. Therefore, Fall Blau (Case Blue in German), the German offensive in 1942 would focus on Army Group South at the expense of the center and north. Army Group North would continue its limited attacks on Leningrad, while Army Group Center stood fast in front of Moscow.

Due to extensive German deception operations, Stalin had expected the Germans to continue on towards Moscow and was taken completely by surprise by the German advance south east across the Ukrainian and Russian Steppe. After defeating several wasteful Russian spoiling attacks, on 28 June 1942, Fall Blau launched 1.3 million German, Romanian, Italian, and Hungarian troops towards the Caucasus Mountains and the Volga River. Four armies supported by eleven panzer divisions of Army Group South assaulted southeast with the final objective of seizing the oil fields at Maykop, Grozny, and Baku in the Caucasus Mountains and around the Caspian Sea. They did so with three axes of advance. The first was clearing the Crimean peninsula and capturing Sevastopol which had been under siege for many months. The second and main effort would be the strike towards the Caucasus for the oil fields. And the third axis was an advance on the Volga River in a supporting effort to protect the flank of the Caucuses.

The initial advance was wildly successful, especially so in areas supported by the Luftwaffe.