This Day in U.S. Military History…… August 17

17 August
1585 – A first group of colonists sent by Sir Walter Ralegh under the charge of Ralph Lane lands in the New World to create Roanoke Colony on Roanoke Island, off the coast of present-day North Carolina.
1590 – John White, the leader of 117 colonists sent in 1587 to Roanoke Island (North Carolina) to establish a colony, returned from a trip to England to find the settlement deserted. No trace of the settlers was ever found.
1812 – Frigate President captures British schooner L’Adeline in North Atlantic.
1862 – Joint landing party from U.S.S. Ellis, Master Benjamin H. Porter, and Army boats destroyed Confederate salt works, battery, and barracks near Swansboro, North Carolina. This constant attack from the sea destroyed the South’s resources and drained her strength.
1862 – Minnesota erupts in violence as desperate Dakota Indians attack white settlements along the Minnesota River. The Dakota were eventually overwhelmed by the U.S. military six weeks later. The Dakota Indians were more commonly referred to as the Sioux, a derogatory name derived from part of a French word meaning “little snake.” They were composed of four bands, and lived on temporary reservations in southwestern Minnesota. For two decades, the Dakota were poorly treated by the Federal government, local traders, and settlers. They saw their hunting lands whittled down, and provisions promised by the government rarely arrived. Worse yet, a wave of white settlers surrounded them. The summer of 1862 was particularly hard on the Dakota. Cutworms destroyed much of their corn crops, and many families faced starvation. Dakota leaders were frustrated by attempts to convince traders to extend credit to tribal members and alleviate the suffering. On August 17, four young Dakota warriors were returning from an unsuccessful hunt when they stopped to steal some eggs from a white settlement. The youths soon picked a quarrel with the hen’s owner, and the encounter turned tragic when the Dakotas killed five members of the family. Sensing that they would be attacked, Dakota leaders determined that war was at hand and seized the initiative. Led by Taoyateduta (also known as Little Crow), the Dakota attacked local agencies and the settlement of New Ulm. Over 500 white settlers lost their lives along with about 150 Sioux warriors. President Lincoln dispatched General John Pope, fresh from his defeat at the Battle of Second Bull Run, to organize the Military Department of the Northwest. Some Dakota fled to North Dakota, but more than 2,000 were rounded up and over 300 warriors were sentenced to death. President Lincoln commuted most of their sentences, but on December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota men were executed at Mankato, Minnesota. It was the largest mass execution in American history.
1862 – Major General J.E.B. Stuart is assigned command of all the cavalry of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
1863 – Naval forces under Rear Admiral Dahlgren, including ironclads U.S.S. Weehawken, Catskill, Nahant, Montauk, Passaic, Patapsco, New Ironsides, and gunboats Canandaigua, Mahaska, Cimarron, Ottawa, Wissahickon, Dai Ching, Seneca, and Lodona, renewed the joint attack on Confederate works in Charleston harbor in conjunction with troops of Brigadier General Gillmore. The naval battery ashore on Mossie Island under Commander F. A. Parker contributed some 300 rounds to the bombardment, “the greater portion of which,” Parker reported, struck the face of Sumter or its parapet.” U.S.S. Passaic and Patapsco also concentrated on Fort Sumter, though the Navy’s chief fire mission, as it would be for the next 5 days of the engagement, was to heavily engage Confederate batteries and sharpshooters at Fort Wagner in support of Gillmore’s advance. In the face of the Union threat, Flag Officer Tucker, flying his flag in C.S.S. Chicora, ordered Lieutenant Dozier to have the torpedo steamers under his command ready for action without the least delay” in the event that the ironclads passed Fort Sumter. During the day’s fierce exchange of fire, Dahlgren’s Chief of Staff, Captain G. W. Rodgers, U.S.S. Catskill, was killed by a shot from Fort Wagner. “It is but natural that I should feel deeply the loss thus sustained, for the close and confidential relation which the duties of fleet captain necessarily occasion im-pressed me deeply with the worth of Captain Rodgers. Brave, intelligent, and highly capable, [he was] devoted to his duty and to the flag under which he passed his life. The country, added the Admiral in his report to Secretary Welles, “can not afford to lose such men.”
1864 – General Robert E. Lee, attempting to consolidate his position on the James River below Richmond, turned to the ships of Flag Officer Mitchell’s squadron for gunfire support. The enemy is on Signal Hill, fortifying,” he telegraphed. “Please try and drive him off. Our picket line is reestablished with the exception of Signal Hill.” Ironclads C.S.S. Virginia II, Lieutenant Johnston, and C.S.S. Richmond, Lieutenant J. S. Maury, promptly steamed to a position above Signal Hill where they took the Union position under fire. Shortly thereafter scouts reported that Union forces had fallen back and that Lee’s troops now commanded the hill.
1864 – Battle of Gainesville, Confederate forces defeat Union troops near Gainesville, Florida.
1877 – Asaph Hall discovered the Mars moon Phobos. Hall of the US Naval Observatory discovered the moons around Mars and named them Deimos (anxiety) and Phobos (fear), Homer’s names for the attendant’s of the god of war.
1896 – A prospecting party discovered gold in Alaska, a finding that touched off the Klondike gold rush.
1929 – Horace Alderman, convicted of murdering 2 Coast Guardsmen and a Secret Service agent in 1927, was hanged at Coast Guard Base 10 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was the only person ever executed on Coast Guard property.
1939 – The markets came down with a case of the war jitters on this day. World War II was a few weeks from officially starting, but Wall Street could smell trouble brewing. After refusing U.S. requests to enter into peace agreements and breaking a non-aggression pact with Poland, Hitler had readied his troops to seize the Polish port city of Danzig. The markets reacted to these overtures by posting their biggest decline since July. Bond ratings followed suit, prompting fears that the troubles in Europe would torpedo whatever progress the American economy had made since the Depression. But a funny thing happened on the way to the war-America’s economy grew stronger. As the nation ramped up for action, there was a wholesale increase in the production of war-related utilities. The government spent millions on preparing for the war and the defense industries surged with activity. By the end of 1939, unemployment posted a healthy decline and the index of industrial production had skyrocketed; the index and national income kept getting fatter, peaking between 1944 and 1945. Of course, some of Wall Street’s fears came true: the rate of inflation jumped when the war began and various necessities had to be rationed. But Wall Street’s misgivings were otherwise misplaced: the war helped kick-start the American economy, pushing it from a lingering Depression-era funk into a prolonged state of abundance.
1941 – The United States government presents a formal warning to the Japanese along the lines agreed at Placentia Bay. The text of the note has been toned down somewhat from the draft originally agreed with the British and Dutch, so they do not present their notes in order avoid appearing to disagree with the American position. No decision on the Japanese proposal of a meeting between Roosevelt and Konoye is offered at this time.
1942 – The first bombing raid flown by a completely American squadron bombs Rouen in France.
1942 – Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson and a force of Marine raiders come ashore Makin Island, in the west Pacific Ocean, occupied by the Japanese. What began as a diversionary tactic almost ended in disaster for the Americans. Two American submarines, the Argonaut and the Nautilus, approached Makin Island, an atoll in the Gilbert Islands, which had been seized by the Japanese on December 9, 1941. The subs unloaded 122 Marines, one of two new raider battalions. Their leader was Lt. Col. Evans Carlson, a former lecturer on postrevolutionary China. Their mission was to assault the Japanese-occupied Makin Island as a diversionary tactic, keeping the Japanese troops “busy” so they would not be able to reinforce troops currently under assault by Americans on Guadalcanal Island. Carlson’s “Raiders” landed quietly, unobserved, coming ashore on inflatable rafts powered by outboard motors. Suddenly, one of the Marines’ rifles went off, alerting the Japanese, who unleashed enormous firepower: grenades, flamethrowers, and machine guns. The subs gave some cover by firing their deck guns, but by night the Marines had to begin withdrawing from the island. Some Marines drowned when their rafts overturned; about 100 made it back to the subs. Carlson and a handful of his men stayed behind to sabotage a Japanese gas dump and to seize documents. They then made for the submarines too. When all was said and done, seven Marines drowned, 14 were killed by Japanese gunfire, and nine were captured and beheaded. Carlson went on to fight with the U.S. forces on Guadalcanal. He was a source of controversy; having been sent as a U.S. observer with Mao’s Army in 1937, he developed a great respect for the “spiritual strength” of the communist forces and even advocated their guerrilla-style tactics. He remained an avid fan of the Chinese communists even after the war.
1943 – First Québec Conference of Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and William Lyon Mackenzie King begins. The allies agreed to begin discussions for the planning of the invasion of France, codenamed Overlord in a secret report by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. There were also discussions to increase the bombing offensive against Germany and continue the buildup of American forces in Britain prior to an invasion of France. In the Mediterranean (a theater on which Churchill was very keen) they resolved to concentrate more force to remove Italy from the alliance of Axis Powers and to occupy it along with Corsica. There were discussions about improving the coordination of efforts by the Americans, British and Canadians to develop an atomic bomb. It was decided that operations in the Balkans should be limited to supplying guerrillas whereas operations against Japan would be intensified in order to exhaust Japanese resources, cut their communications lines and secure forward bases from which the Japanese mainland could be attacked. In addition to the strategic discussions, which were communicated to the Soviet Union and to Chiang Kai-Shek in China, the conference also issued a joint statement on Palestine, intended to calm tensions as the British occupation was becoming increasingly untenable. The conference also condemned German atrocities in Poland. Churchill and Roosevelt also secretly signed the Quebec Agreement to share nuclear technology.
1943 – The USAAF bombs the ball-bearing manufacturing centers at Schweinfurt and Regensburg in a daylight raid. A total of 51 bombers are lost. During the night (August 17-18), the German rocket research center at Peenemunde is bombed by nearly 600 British bombers. A total of 41 bombers are lost in the raid. This bombing creates a significant delay in the German rocket program. Also noteworthy about the raid is the British use of “window,” dropped by Mosquito bombers, which causes about 200 German fighters to concentrate over Berlin.
1943 – A small number of Japanese reinforcements land on Vella Lavella. There is an inconclusive battle between American destroyers and the Japanese transport force.
1943 – U.S. General George S. Patton and his 7th Army arrive in Messina several hours before British Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery and his 8th Army, winning the unofficial “Race to Messina” and completing the Allied conquest of Sicily. Born in San Gabriel, California, in 1885, Patton’s family had a long history of military service. After studying at West Point, he served as a tank officer in World War I, and these experiences, along with his extensive military study, led him to become an advocate of the crucial importance of the tank in future warfare. After the American entrance into World War II, Patton was placed in command of an important U.S. tank division and played a key role in the Allied invasion of French North Africa in 1942. In 1943, Patton led the U.S. 7th Army in its assault on Sicily and won fame for out-commanding Montgomery during their pincer movement against Messina. Although Patton was one of the ablest American commanders in World War II, he was also one of the most controversial. He presented himself as a modern-day cavalryman, designed his own uniform, and was known to make eccentric claims of his direct descent from great military leaders of the past through reincarnation. During the Sicilian campaign, Patton generated considerable controversy when he accused a hospitalized U.S. soldier suffering from battle fatigue of cowardice and then personally struck him across the face. The famously profane general was forced to issue a public apology and was reprimanded by General Dwight Eisenhower. However, when it was time for the invasion of Western Europe, Eisenhower could find no general as formidable as Patton, and the general was again granted an important military post. In 1944, Patton commanded the U.S. 3rd Army in the invasion of France, and in December of that year his expertise in military movement and tank warfare helped crush the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes. During one of his many successful campaigns, General Patton was said to have declared, “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” On December 21, 1945, he died in a hospital in Germany from injuries sustained in an automobile accident near Mannheim.
1944 – There is a few miles gap between the Canadian line and the American line to the south, held by US 1st Army with US 5th Corps forward. To the south and west, other American forces capture Dreux, Chateaudun and Orleans. In Brittany, the German defenders of the citadel at St. Malo surrender.
1944 – There is little German resistance to the Allied advance of US 7th Army. St. Raphael, St. Tropez, Frejus, Le Luq and St. Maxime are captured during the day.
1944 – Near Aitape, American forces extend their line in a general advance against light Japanese resistance. On Numfoor, the last significant Japanese force is brought to battle by American forces and destroyed.
1945 – Ho Chi Minh begins the first of a series of eight letters to President Harry Truman. Because of his relations with the OSS, collaborating against the Japanese, he regards the US as the friend of all struggling peoples. he asks for US aid in gaining Vietnam’s independence from France. There is no record of any US official ever answering these appeals. The US government is in a quandary, not wanting to support French colonialism, but not wanting to turn Vietnam over to a Communist administration.
1950 – The bodies of 20 mortar men of the 5th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division were recovered near Hill 303 in the vicinity of Waegwan. North Korean soldiers murdered the soldiers after they had surrendered.
1950 – The 1st Marine Brigade battled North Koreans at Obong-ni Ridge.
1952 – Kathryn C. Thornton, PhD, astronaut, was born in Montgomery, Alabama.
1955 – The Civil Affairs/Military Government Branch in the Army Reserve Branch was established on August 17, 1955. Subsequently redesignated the Civil Affairs Branch on October 2, 1959, it has continued its mission to provide guidance to commanders in a broad spectrum of activities ranging from host-guest relationships to the assumption of executive, legislative, and judicial processes in occupied or liberated areas.
1958 – World’s 1st Moon probe, US’s Thor-Able, exploded at T +77 sec.
1960 – American Francis Gary Powers pleaded guilty at his Moscow trial for spying over the Soviet Union in a U-2 plane.
1962 – Navy’s first hydrofoil patrol craft, USS High Point (PCH-1) launched at Seattle, WA.
1966 – Pioneer 7 launched into solar orbit.
1973 – The United States and Thailand agree to begin negotiations on the reduction of the 49,000-man American presence in Thailand. Thailand had been a close ally of the United States and had provided both military bases and combat troops to assist the United States and South Vietnam in the war against the Communists. Responding to President Lyndon Johnson’s call for “Free World Military Forces” to come to the aid of South Vietnam, Thailand sent combat troops, which by 1969 totaled nearly 12,000. The last Thai troops were withdrawn from Vietnam in April 1972. In addition to providing troops, Thailand also provided bases for the U.S. Air Force, which included four tactical fighter wings. In addition, strategic bombing missions by B-52s over both North and South Vietnam were flown from U.S. bases in Thailand. With the signing of the Paris Peace Accords and the Congressional restrictions against further bombing, these bases were no longer needed.
1982 – The first Compact Discs (CDs) are released to the public in Germany.
1987 – Rudolf Hess, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s former deputy, is found strangled to death in Spandau Prison in Berlin at the age of 93, apparently the victim of suicide. Hess was the last surviving member of Hitler’s inner circle and the sole prisoner at Spandau since 1966. Hess, an early and devoted follower of Nazism, participated in Hitler’s failed “Beer Hall Putsch” in 1923. He escaped to Austria but voluntarily returned to Germany to join Hitler in Landsberg jail. During his eight months in prison, Hitler dictated his life story–Mein Kampf–to Hess. In 1933, Hess became deputy Nazi party leader, but Hitler later lost faith in his leadership ability and made him second in the line of succession after Hermann Goering. In May 1941, Hess stole an airplane and landed it in Scotland on a self-styled mission to negotiate a peace between Britain and Germany. He was immediately arrested by British authorities. His peace proposal–met with no response from the British–was essentially the same as the peace offer made by Hitler in July 1940: an end to hostilities with Britain and its empire in exchange for a free German hand on the European continent. However, by May 1941 the Battle of Britain had been lost by Germany, and Hitler rightly condemned Hess of suffering from “pacifist delusions” in thinking that a resurgent Britain would make peace. Held in Britain until the end of the war, Hess was tried at Nuremberg after the war with other top Nazis. Because he had missed out on the worst years of Nazi atrocities and had sought peace in 1941, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was held in Spandau Prison in Berlin, and the USSR, the United States, Britain, and France shared responsibility in guarding him. On August 17, 1987, he was found strangled to death in a cabin in the exercise yard at Spandau Prison. Apparently, he choked himself to death with an electrical cord he found there. Some suspected foul play.
1988 – Pakistani President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq (63) and U.S. Ambassador Arnold Raphel were killed in a mysterious plane crash. Zia, president from 1977-1988, was responsible for the overthrow and death of Premier Bhutto, whose daughter, Benazir Bhutto, was the current prime minister.
1996 – An Air Force C-130 cargo plane carrying gear for President Clinton crashed and exploded shortly after takeoff from Jackson Hole Airport in Wyoming; eight crew members and a Secret Service employee were killed.
1998 – Pres. Clinton testified via video via closed-circuit TV from the White House before a grand jury concerning his relations with Monica Lewinsky. He then delivered a TV address in which he denied previously committing perjury, admitted his relationship with Lewinsky was “wrong,” and criticized Kenneth Starr’s investigation. “I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate… It was wrong.”
1990 – At the request of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Transportation and the Commandant of the Coast Guard committed Coast Guard boarding teams to operation Desert Shield. Coast Guardsmen served in the Gulf prior to this commitment, however.
1993 – Random house agrees to pay Gen. Colin Powell an advance of about $6 million for the rights to his autobiography, My American Journey. The deal followed fierce bidding wars between several major publishers. Powell was born to Jamaican immigrants, grew up in New York City, distinguished himself in the military, and served as an important presidential adviser until his retirement in September 1993. His book became an immediate bestseller. Retired Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf reportedly obtained $5 million from Bantam Books to write his autobiography, It Doesn’t Take a Hero, which sold more than 1 million hardcover copies. Powell’s book, however, became the fastest-selling book in Random House history. Before the book even hit bookstores, Random House boosted its initial print run from 500,000 to 1.25 million.
1998 – NATO forces began a 5-day exercise in Albania as a threat to Serbia.
1998 – It was reported that spy satellites had detected a secret underground complex in North Korea that was suspected of being involved in a nuclear weapons program.
1999 – In Bosnia the Office of the High Representative, an int’l. agency for carrying out aspects of the Dayton peace agreement, reported that as much as a billion dollars disappeared from public funds from int’l. aid projects. Losses were triggered when USAID called in loans from the Bosnia and Herzegovina Bank that could not be covered.
1999 – In Iraq US and British warplanes bombed missile sites in the north and south.
2001 – In Macedonia NATO’s 1st advance troops of Operation Essential Harvest arrived in Skopje.
2002 – The new $ 1 billion Navy destroyer McCampbell, completed in July at the Bath Iron Works in Maine, was commissioned in SF.
2003 – Saboteurs blew a hole in a giant Baghdad water main, forcing engineers to cut off water to the capital. Two ferocious blazes raged out of control along the pipeline that exports Iraq’s oil to the north.
2003 – Mazen Dana, Reuters cameraman, was shot dead by US troops in Iraq while he filmed outside Abu Ghraib prison in western Baghdad. Soldiers mistook his camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
2004 – Britain brought terrorism charges against 8 al Qaeda suspects tied to recent alerts about US financial sites.
2014 – For the first time, an unmanned plane took off and landed form a US Aircraft Carrier, alongside a manned aircraft. The X-47B UCAS participated in flight operations side by side with the Navy’s standard F/A/-18E Super Hornet fighter. The goal for the flight test on the USS Theodore Roosevelt was for the two aircraft to take off within 90 seconds of one another and then for both had to land within a minute and a half.

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