October 25th: Saint Crispin’s Day
1415: An English army under the command of King Henry V decisively defeats a larger and better equipped French army at the Battle of Agincourt. The battle is notable for the effective use of English longbows and the high number of casualties among the French nobles who fought there. It was the central scene in William Shakespeare’s play Henry V:
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother
be he ne’er so vile
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s Day.”
1854: In a crucial decision during the Crimean War, FizRoy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan, orders an unnecessary attack on Russian positions of unknown strength. It lead to the debacle of the Charge of the Light Brigade. The battle is best remembered Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d ?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d & thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred
1881: Birth of Pablo Picasso
1917: A Russian mob, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin and his Bolsheviks, storms and captures Tsar Nicholas II’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, thus creating the opening battle of the “October Revolution” phase of the larger Russian Revolution.
1944: WWII Pacific – Naval Battle of Leyte Gulf, Day 3:
1) Battle of Suriago Strait. The world’s final all-gun naval battle, where Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf positioned himself at the northern end of the passage with a massive blocking formation of 6 battleships (five of which were Pearl Harbor survivors), 4 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers, 28 destroyers and 39 PT boats, creating a gauntlet of fire that would, for six hours on this night, destroy the Japanese Southern Force in detail, sinking both of its battleships, two heavy cruisers and at least three destroyers outright, with several more surviving Japanese ships sunk by aircraft later in the morning as they tried to escape back south through the strait.
2) Battle off Samar. Admiral Kurita’s still-potent Central Force slipped through San Bernardino Strait unopposed overnight, making its way down the eastern coastline of Samar Island with what appeared to be a clear run to General MacArthur’s invasion fleet. Kurita’s four battleships, including the massive Yamato, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and eleven destroyers carried enough firepower to systematically obliterate the American landing force, which would be ranged by their guns in mere hours. Nothing now stood between Kurita and his targets except a handful of startled escort carriers (CVE) carrying only ~30 planes each, and another handful of destroyers, armed with 5″ guns and torpedoes. Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague ordered all of his planes- about 90 total- to launch as the CVEs scuttled toward rain squalls to the east. The old Wildcats and Avengers attacked with such fury that Kurita believed he had roused the large carriers of Third Fleet rather than nearly hopeless escorts of the Seventh Fleet. When the planes ran out of ammunition, they kept making dry runs to try to force the Japanese out of ammo. The destroyer squadrons also ran at flank speed into the Japanese formation, firing their little 5 inchers into the huge armored targets before them. The CVEs themselves came under direct Japanese gunfire, with USS Gambier Bay (CVE73) the particular object of IJN Yamato’s 18″ artillery, which crippled and sank the thin-skinned carrier, the only carrier in the war to be sunk by naval gunfire. Then suddenly, when the American position looked doomed, Admiral Kurita fired one last salvo at the American ships and turned around to the north to retire from the fight, a stroke of luck in the famous “fog of war” that no-one anticipated. May I recommend a book, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors (2004) by James D. Hornfischer will give you a mesmerizing insight into the reality of this nearly point blank David-and-Goliath slugfest.
3) Battle of Cape Engano. The Japanese Northern Force of four aircraft carriers and old battleships, the decoy fleet designed to draw off Halsey’s Third Fleet from the main event, actually did decoy Halsey and his five fleet carriers, five light carriers, six battleships, eight cruisers and forty destroyers to chase them several hundred miles away from the main fight at Leyte. But they paid for it, as they expected. Admiral Ozawa’s 108 aircraft were no match for Halsey’s 7-800, and after his planes were swept from the skies, the virtually undefended ships came under withering attack from the Americans, who sank three carriers and a destroyer, and heavily damaged the two light carriers. Despite these important victories, the main story of this battle was the fact that it happened at all, epitomized by the message to Halsey from Fleet Admiral Nimitz at the height of the crisis off Samar: “Where is Third Fleet? The World Wonders.”
1776: Philadelphia inventor Benjamin Franklin departs as the United States’ first Ambassador to France. His mission is to secure France’s support for the fresh American Republic.
1881: Doc Holliday and the Earp Brothers kill 3 of the the group led by Ike Clanton at the famous Shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.