100BC: Birth of Julius Caesar (d.44BC), first Dictator of the Roman Republic.
988: Traditional date of the founding of Dublin, Ireland.
1040: Lady Godiva makes her famous ride through Coventry to protest an onerous tax levied by her husband. He relents.
1191: The Saracen garrison at Acre surrenders to Conrad of Montferral, ending a two year siege of the city- a key waypoint on the Third Crusade.
1099: The First Crusade- Low on supplies, and finding themselves encamped on arid ground after they failed to initially breach the fortified walls of Jerusalem, the 15,000 men of the First Crusade respond to a vision by the priest Peter Desiderius to purify themselves by a three day fast, and then make a pious demonstration of marching barefoot around the city, mimicking the Hebrews’ actions at Jericho. This day saw both the completion of the fast and the demonstration around the city, and stimulated a public rapprochement between bickering factions in the Crusader army. One week later, the final assault on Jerusalem will begin.
1189: Richard the Lionhearted is crowned King of England. The son of French King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, he also ruled as Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Ireland, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, and Overlord of Brittany. Richard spent only six months or so on the Auld Sod, complaining that it was “always rainy.” But Britons remained proud of his military prowess and continued to hold him up as the embodiment of British virtues, even as they were perpetually taxed to pay for not only his crusades, but also his literal King’s Ransom, which finally freed him from imprisonment in Austria on return from the Holy Lands.
1415: Death of Bohemian religious reformer Jan Hus (b.1369), burned at the stake for heresy. An early precursor to the great Protestant Reformation that began a century later, Hus was deeply influenced by the teachings of Briton John Wycliffe, and brought back to Bohemia new religious thinking that shocked the established church with its emphasis on the individual over the institution in salvation. He played a central role during the papal schism between Rome and Avignon. He wrote against the European papal crusades and the sales of indulgences. He was excommunicated by Pope Alexander V in 1409, but the Bohemian government took his side against the pope. Tensions continued over the next several years, until Prince Sigsmund of Hungary convened the Council of Constance to settle the dispute once for all. Despite promise of safe passage, Hus was arrested and imprisoned. During his trial he was read 39 charges against him, all derived from excerpts from his and Wycliffe’s writings, but framed in the context of their threat to the authority of both church and state. Repeatedly asked to recant, he refused, denying that anything written was contrary to the Bible. His fate thus sealed, he was on this day taken to the cathedral in Constance, dressed in priestly vestments. He was repeatedly asked to recant, and with each denial a part of the vestment was torn from his person. His degradation continued to the point of being shorn and stripped, then tied to the stake with a massive pile of straw heaped around him. At the final request for recantation, he declined with the words, “God is my witness that the things charged against me I never preached. In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.”After his death, his bones were dug up and re-burned, and his ashes scattered at sea.
1535: Death of Sir Thomas More (b.1478), executed for treason against King Henry VIII. The brilliant humanist philosopher and the king’s recent Lord High Chancellor refused to countenance Henry’s annulment from Catherine of Aragon, and denied the king’s recently assumed role as head of the Church in England: “No temporal man may be the head of the spirituality.” More’s strong defense of papal authority in matters spiritual put him deeply at odds with the mercurial king and led to his removal from office and subsequent trial and execution. In a nominal commutation of his sentence, Henry averred that More’s earlier status permitted he be beheaded rather than hanged, drawn and quartered as the punishment for treason. When he mounted the execution scaffold he turned to the sheriff: “I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, seem me safe up; and for my coming down, I can shift for myself… I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” His body was buried in an unmarked grave in the Tower of London, his head fixed on a pike over London Bridge for a month after the execution, then rescued by his daughter and buried in the Roper family vault in Canterbury. His death was (and is) widely seen as a travesty of justice. Winston Churchill wrote, “The resistance of More and Fisher to the royal supremacy in Church government was a noble and historic stand. They realized the defects of the existing Catholic system, but they hated and feared the aggressive nationalism which was destroying the unity of Christendom…Henry VIII with cruel axe decapitated not only a wise and gifted counselor, but a system, which…had for long furnished mankind with its brightest dreams.” More was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1886 and was canonized, along with John Fisher, in 1935. He is remembered in the literary world as A Man for All Seasons.
1536: Death of Erasmus of Rotterdam (b.1466), best known as the first and greatest humanist thinker, biblical translator, and author of nearly 30 percent of the books circulating in the early 16th century. Ironically, despite being a devout Catholic, his incisive sense of logic and belief in human free-will decisions made him one of the an early intellectual “fathers” of the Protestant Reformation.
1543: King Henry VIII marries his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, who not only survived him but also survived three other husbands, thus becoming the most married queen in English history.
1576: Explorer Martin Frobisher sites the landmass of Greenland.
1776: Captain James Cook departs Plymouth on his third journey of exploration of the Pacific Ocean. As far as a war with the American colonies, he had better things to do.
1778: As evidence of his support- heavily lobbied by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson- of the newly declared United States of America, Louis XVI of France declares war on the United Kingdom. The war costs him large sums of money, which he finances through heavy borrowing. The financial strain plays directly into the crisis that caused him to convene the Estates General in 1789.
1789: The French National Assembly, which on the 17th of June formed itself out of an uneasy alliance between the 3rd and 2nd Estates of the Estates Generale, almost immediately became embroiled with both the Crown and the 1st Estate over its legitimate authority. Banned from the Estates venue, on the 20th of June it met on a tennis court and took The Tennis Court Oath, which committed the Assembly not to adjourn until it had created a new national constitution. By this day, the Crown had moderated its demands on the group, and they in turn re-designated themselves the National Constituent Assembly, and assumed unto themselves sole legislative authority, an assertion not yet universally agreed upon. It did, however, provide a viable venue for the continued transformation- to full revolution– of the French government.
1789: The French Minister of Finance, Jacques Necker, is dismissed from office by King Louis XVI for favoring a re-structured tax program that would shift the burden more evenly across the Estates. In his years of service Necker was widely viewed as a highly forward-thinking reformer, even when working directly for the Crown. During the upheavals of early 1789, he took a leading role in supporting the demands of the Third Estate, but over time he found less and less cooperation from the rest of Louis’ government. With unrest growing concurrent with the dissolution of the National Assembly and the establishment of the National Constituent Assembly, high expectations were growing among the common people of Paris, many of whom looked to Necker as their voice at Court. His dismissal on this day, and the way the news traveled through the grapevine on the 12th triggered an increasingly violent mob mentality, exacerbated by the extensive presence of mercenary troops serving at the order of the King. With Necker’s dismissal, the mobs began to grow panicked over the prospect of a violent repression of the political and social movement that was energizing the city.
1793: Death of Jean Paul Marat (b.1743), a fiery member of the French National Assembly and the ruling Directorate. A member of the Jacobin faction who favored radical implementation of revolutionary principles, he was a particular opponent of the Girondan faction, who were looking more for major reform than actual revolution. Marat was afflicted with a withering skin disease that caused him to spend most of his days in a therapeutic bath. On this day, he was called upon by Charlotte Corday, who claimed to have evidence of Girondan movements outside of Paris. As she finished making her case, Marat exclaimed, “Their heads will fall in ten days!” at which point Corday pulled a knife from her corset and plunged it into Marat’s chest, severing his aorta. Executed by guillotine on the 17th, she never denied her guilt: “I killed one man to save 10,000!” The Directory decided to make Marat a martyr to the Revolution, and commissioned Jean Louis David to assist in burnishing his image, the main portrait of which is included here
1798: The Quasi-War with France- After four years of increasing tensions between the United States and the revolutionary French Republic, including repeated capture of American merchant ships by French privateers, Congress on this day repeals all treaties with France. This includes cancelling our Revolutionary War debt to France, justified on the basis that the money was owed to the Crown and not the Republic. The action infuriated the French government, who increased its issue of Letters of Marque in order to continue harassing American shipping. With its entire navy in layup after the war, the American coastline is completely naked to attacks. President Adams re-activated 25 ships, who go on to distinguish themselves by capturing 22 privateers and deterring hundreds of attacks on American shipping. The conflict lasts nearly two years, until Napoleon Bonaparte takes control of the French Directory.
1804: Death of former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (b.1755), the victim of a duel with the sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr. The two had long been political rivals, but after a recent NY gubernatorial election which Burr lost to an associate of Hamilton’s, Burr became so incensed at Hamilton and vice versa, that the two took their dispute to a bluff over the Hudson River at Weehawken, NJ. Hamilton shot intentionally high, but Burr was determined to take his revenge and aimed directly at Hamilton’s torso. After his fall, Hamilton turned to his Second and his doctor, and told them the wound was mortal. Minutes later he fell unconscious and was taken back home to NYC. On his deathbed, he moved in and out of consciousness as he bid farewell to a stream of friends and relatives. Finally, in the early afternoon of this day, he died.
1839: Birth of John D. Rockefeller (d.1937): Cleveland native, oil man, industrial titan, and philanthropist.
1846: U.S. troops occupy Monterrey and Yerba Buena (San Francisco), beginning the American conquest of California.
1846: Congress authorizes the retrocession to Virginia of District of Columbia lands south of the Potomac River. So the Pentagon is, in reality, not in DC.
1853: Commodore Matthew Perry, with a United States Navy fleet dubbed the “Black Ships” by the Japanese, steams into Tokyo Bay to begin negotiations to open trade relations between the United States and Japan.
1854: Birth of George Eastman (d.1932), inventor of roll film in 1884 and film transparencies, the foundation of the motion picture industry. He founded the Eastman Kodak company in 1892, establishing mass-produced film and standardized photo equipment that brought photography out of the expensive laboratories of the dry plate process and into the hands of the general public. In his later years, Eastman was a notable philanthropist, donating over $100 million to a variety of charities and foundations.
1856: Birth of Nikola Tesla (d.1943), Serbian-American inventor whose work with electricity and magnetism was well ahead of his time. He compounded the aura of his foreign background with a certain mysticism and P.T Barnum-like hucksterism that isolated him and his work from the mainstream scientists of the early twentieth century.
1863: The United States authorizes its first Draft. Exemptions and substitutions may be purchased for $300; a lucrative black market follows.
1863: New York Draft Riots- Remember the first day of the Union Draft (DLH 7/7)? July thirteenth saw the draft’s second lottery drawing, and it wasn’t complete before a mob of over 500 Irish immigrant laborers converged on the building where the drawing was underway and began shattering windows with paving stones, eventually setting the building ablaze. NYC’s police were inadequate to quell the riot and it ended up spreading uptown. Over the next three days, over 120 civilians were killed, scores of buildings destroyed, and the riots degenerated into a near-pogrom against the city’s black population, against whom the Irish competed for the low-paying entry jobs.
1865: At the Navy Yard in Washington, four conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln are hanged by the neck until dead, three months after the President’s shooting by John Wilkes Booth. Lewis Payne, David Herold, George Atzerodt, and Mary Surratt are hung at the scaffold. Surratt was the first woman executed in the United States.
1868: Final ratification of the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing full citizenship to former slaves.
1870: Death of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren (b.1809), Chief of the Navy Bureau of Ordnance, and inventor of a number of advanced muzzleloading naval artillery pieces. His legacy includes the Naval Test range on the Potomac River that bears his name.
1914: Babe Ruth makes his major league debut with the Boston Red Socks, playing pitcher and outfield.
1917: Under the leadership of Colonel T.E. Lawrence, troops from the Arab Legion captured the Ottoman port of Aqaba as part of the British-inspired Arab uprising against the Turks, whose empire was regularly referred to during the Great War as “The Sick Man of Europe.” Given Turkey’s alignment with the Central Powers, both Britain and France looked eagerly to the post-war dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and their eventual participation in the spoils.
1921: Former President William Howard Taft is sworn in as the 10th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
1923: Official dedication of the HOLLYWOOD sign.
1925: Opening day of the ACLU-initiated trial against young biology teacher John T. Scopes, in Dayton, Tennessee. Media circus to follow. The case was sensationalized primarily because of the presence of the two most famous lawyers in the country, three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryant for the prosecution, and Clarence Darrow for Scopes. The climax came when the two lawyers agreed to cross-examine each other on the issues surrounding the teaching of evolution.
1930: Under the guidance of industrialist Henry Kaiser, construction begins on Boulder Dam in southern Nevada.
1940: First major Luftwaffe assault in what would become known as the Battle of Britain.
1943: Opening guns of Operation HUSKEY, the Allied invasion of Sicily. During this campaign Lieutenant General George S. Patton cements his reputation as “Old Blood and Guts” as he sweeps wide of his assigned lanes and captures not only Palermo at the western end of the island, but beats British Field Marshall Montgomery to Messina in the east.
1943: Battle of Prokhorovka, the primary armor engagement of the two months long Battle of Kursk, which began on the 9th as a German attempt to perform a double-pincer encirclement of the Soviet bulge resulting from the German’s earlier withdrawal from Stalingrad. Kursk was the last offensive operation executed by the Wehrmacht on their eastern front; any further action was halted by Hitler as a result of yesterday’s Allied invasion of Sicily. Today’s eight-hour battle pitted 494 German tanks against 593 Soviet T-34 tanks plus 37 pieces of self-propelled artillery, creating the largest armored battle in history. The Soviets were able to stall the German offensive and save their over-extended forces, but they could not exploit the action to prevent a continued orderly German withdrawal.
1944: After three weeks of intense fighting, Saipan Island in the Marinas is declared taken. The final days of the assault included the Japanese staging a suicidal Bonzai charge that overwhelmed the combined Army and Marines units in their path but resulted in over 4,500 Japanese deaths, many of whom were already-wounded personnel dragooned into the desperate charge. Saipan was also where Japanese civilian suicides were first ordered en masse. The island became a major US Army Air Corps bomber base for attacks on the Japanese homeland.
1947: The AK-47 rifle goes into production in the Soviet Union. It remains the most widely produced and distributed firearm in the world.
1960: Two months after being shot down on a U-2 reconnaissance mission over Russia, the Soviet Union formally charges Francis Gary Powers with espionage. He is convicted in August and spends two years in prison before being part of a prisoner exchange with the U.S. for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel.
1962: The United States conducts the STARFISH high altitude nuclear test program. This burst was one of five conducted in outer space during the FISHBOWL series of tests. STARFISH was a 1.4 megaton W49 warhead carried by a Thor rocket to an apogee of 680 miles. The Mk.4 re-entry vehicle was detonated at 250 miles and produced an electromagnetic pulse that forced virtually all of the instrumentation off the scale, in addition to creating an orbital radiation belt and an aurora visible for hours after the burst.
1962: Launch of TELSTAR, the world’s first active, direct-relay communications.
1985: French intelligence agents (DGSE) bomb and sink the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbor, New Zealand.
2009: Death of Robert Strange McNamara (b.1916), Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he was one of General Curtis LeMay’s planners who designed the incendiary bombing campaign against Japan during the latter stages of the war, when they applied numerical analysis processes to measure the effectiveness of the bombing. He went on to become CEO of Ford Motor Company during the 1950s and was brought into President Kennedy’s cabinet with the specific task of bringing organizational rigor to the Pentagon’s planning, programming, and budgeting processes.
Paul Plante says
With respect to Julius Caesar (d.44BC), I believe the first Dictator of the Roman Republic was actually Lucius Cornelius Sulla, born in 138 BCE.
And there definitely is a connection between the two, Sulla, and Caesar – Caesar’s uncle was Gaius Marius, a famed Roman general who was a popularis, while Marius’ protégé, the younger Lucius Cornelius Sulla, was an optimas, and in Caesar’s youth their rivalry led to civil war.
Both Marius and Sulla distinguished themselves in the Social War, and both wanted command of the war against Mithridates, which was initially given to Sulla; but when Sulla left the city to take command of his army, a tribune passed a law transferring the appointment to Marius.
Sulla responded by marching his army on Rome, the first time ever this happened and an influence for Caesar in his later career as he contemplated crossing the Rubicon.
Having brought Mithridates to terms, Sulla returned to finish the civil war against Marius’ followers, and after a campaign throughout Italy he seized Rome at the Battle of the Colline Gate in November 82 BC and had himself appointed to the revived office of dictator; but whereas a dictator was traditionally appointed for six months at a time, Sulla’s appointment had no term limit.
Statues of Marius were destroyed and Marius’ body was exhumed and thrown in the Tiber.
Sulla’s proscriptions saw hundreds of his political enemies killed or exiled.
Caesar, as the nephew of Marius and son-in-law of Cinna, was targeted.
He was stripped of his inheritance, his wife’s dowry and his priesthood, but he refused to divorce Cornelia and was forced to go into hiding.
The threat against him was lifted by the intervention of his mother’s family, which included supporters of Sulla, and the Vestal Virgins.
Sulla gave in reluctantly, and is said to have declared that he saw many a Marius in Caesar.
Feeling it much safer to be far away from Sulla should the Dictator change his mind, Caesar quit Rome and joined the army, serving under Marcus Minucius Thermus in Asia and Servilius Isauricus in Cilicia.
Meanwhile, in 79 BC, Sulla resigned his dictatorship, re-established consular government and, after serving as consul in 80 BC, retired to private life.
In a manner that the historian Suetonius thought arrogant, Julius Caesar would later mock Sulla for resigning the Dictatorship—”Sulla did not know his political ABC’s”.
On hearing of Sulla’s death, Caesar felt safe enough to return to Rome.
Lacking means since his inheritance was confiscated, he acquired a modest house in the Subura, a lower-class neighbourhood of Rome.
Caesar’s return coincided with an attempted anti-Sullan coup by Marcus Aemilius Lepidus but Caesar, lacking confidence in Lepidus’s leadership, did not participate.
Instead he turned to legal advocacy.
He became known for his exceptional oratory, accompanied by impassioned gestures and a high-pitched voice, and ruthless prosecution of former governors notorious for extortion and corruption.
Even Cicero praised him: “Come now, what orator would you rank above him…?”
Aiming at rhetorical perfection, Caesar travelled to Rhodes in 75 BC to study under Apollonius Molon, who had previously taught Cicero.
A remarkable man was Gaius Julius Caesar, but he was not the first dictator of the Roman Republic, at least as I see it.
Paul Plante says
As to the opening guns of Operation HUSKEY, the Allied invasion of Sicily, they were turned on the U.S. 82d Airborne Division in what was likely the worst “friendly fire” incident in our history.
On the 82d Airborne website, we find this remembrance of that incident, as follows:
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
504th PIR Friendly Fire Tragedy in Sicily
On the night of July 11 after the Battle of Biazza Ridge, many men of the 505 bore witness to a horrifying incident involving the 504th PIR.
Bill recorded what he saw in a letter to his sister:
“[On July 11 at night]…our own navy… shot down 27 transport planes killing 410 paratroopers, who were coming in to reinforce us.”
Source: William Clark, letter dated June 13, 1945
Years later, in an interview after the War Bill told his friend, Herd Bennett about the incident:
“He was lying in a fox hole watching the 504th make the jump.”
“He states that he laid on the ground and saw many of the C-47 transport planes (they were bringing the paratroops in) blasted out of the air by American artillery that thought they were German airplanes.”
Source: Herd L. Bennett as told to him by William Clark, August 19, 1999.
For Bill, the worst thing next to witnessing his friend’s death, was the shooting down of planes from 504 by the US navy.
Bill had seen a lot of good men and close friends die that day, but the SNAFU by his own forces was overwhelming.
It could have been avoided in his opinion, and now Bill was to watch as they needlessly died.
These were sentiments shared by other troopers who occupied his position on the ridge that night:
“Sergeant Raymond Hart, with Company H, and his men watching from Biazzo Ridge could see ‘troopers jumping out of burning planes.'”
“‘Needless to say, we felt like we had lost the war.'”
“‘More than one man cried that night.’”
Source: “Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II”, Nordyke, P., 2006 p. 91
General Gavin was also on Biazza Ridge and remembered what he saw:
“It must have been ten o’clock at night when all hell broke loose in the direction of the beaches.”
“Antiaircraft fire was exploding like fireworks on the Forth of July, tracers were whipping through the sky, and as we were observing the phenomena, the low, steady drone of airplanes could be heard.”
“They seemed to be flying through the flak and coming in our direction.”
“Everyone began to grasp their weapons to be ready to shoot at them.”
“A few of us cautioned the troopers to take it easy until we understood what was going on.”
“Suddenly at about 600 feet the silhouettes of American C-47s appeared against the sky – our own parachute troops!”
“Some seemed to be burning, and they continued directly overhead in the direction of Gela.”
“From the damaged planes some troopers jumped or fell, and at daylight we found some of them dead in front of our positions.”
Source: “On to Berlin”, Gavin, J., 1978, p. 42
“Later we learned that it was the 504th Parachute Infantry that was being flown to a drop zone near Gela to reinforce the 1st Infantry Division.”
“General Ridgway had been there to meet them.”
“Unfortunately, the Germans had sent in parachute reinforcements on the British front to the east the same night.”
“In addition, there had been German air attacks on our Navy, so when the parachute transports showed up, our ships fired at them, and twenty-three were shot down and many damaged.”
Major Mark Alexander commander of 505th PIR 2nd Battalion had been misdropped along with his troops far to the southeast of Gela.
On the night of July 11 was perfectly placed to see the shooting:
“After dark when we hit the coast road again, we could see the invasion armada in the water off Gela.”
“From our strung-out position along the coast road, we saw two German bombers fly in, bomb the fleet and fly off.”
“I’d say about two minutes behind them came 48 C-47s carrying the rest of the 504th paratroopers.”
“They came in at roughly the same altitude and from the same direction as the German bombers.”
“The navy opened fire.”
“From where I was, I could see the planes were our own, but the navy got excited and just kept shooting.”
“Finally they stopped, but they had knocked down 23 planes.”
“Some of them were able to make a hard landing on Sicily, but a whole bunch of men were killed.”
“Even the 45th Division got in on the shooting.”
“They thought the Germans were attacking.”
Source: “Jump Commander” Alexander, M. and Sparry J, 2010 pp. 86-87
The cost of the friendly fire incident to the 504th was 81 killed, 16 missing, and 132 wounded.
Source: “Four Stars of Valor: The Combat History of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II”, Nordyke, P., 2006 p. 91
The 52nd Wing of the Army Air force was flying the 504th troopers.
They suffered 7 men killed, 53 missing, 30 wounded and 23 C-47s lost.
Source: “Valor Without Arms: A History of the 316th Troop Carrier Group, 1942 – 1945”. Ingrisano, M. 1991 p. 23
In Bill’s 1945 letter he states that 27 planes were shot down and 410 paratroopers.
He wasn’t far off on his estimation of the number of planes lost.
Given the date of his letter and his ability to get accurate information, his estimate of the number of men killed wasn’t too bad either.
As Major Alexander noted, minutes before the C-47s appeared, the Navy’s ships were attacked by Luftwaffe bombers.
Furthermore, the Navy had been under attack all day.
Messerschmitt ME 109 fighters had strafed some ships, while others had been bombed by Junkers Ju 88 medium bombers and Heinkel He 111 heavy bombers.
The navy fired on the C-47s because they thought they were under another attack.
“The persistent enemy air attacks had one unintended result, namely the predisposition of Navy gunners to fire at any aircraft, frequently before identifying them.”
Source: “Operation Husky: The Allied Invasion of Sicily, 1943” Nutter, T. 2003 http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/husky/naval1.aspx?p=7
C-47 Crew Perspective
The paratrooper perspective on the ground was of harrowing disbelief.
But what was experienced by the men in the C-47 aircraft was far worse.
Michael Ingrisano, a C-47 pilot quotes the 316th Troop Carrier Consolidated Mission Report of Husky 2 about their experience:
“All went well until the airplanes began to enter the designated corridor.”
“There shore batteries opened fire on the airplanes and the entire corridor became alive with deadly machine gun fire and heavy flak.”
“The fire became so intense that the formations broke up, each airplane seeking openings through the heavy curtain of fire.”
“The situation became more acute as the planes approached the area of the DZ.”
“By that time there was sufficient dispersion among the aircraft that some airplanes were able to drop their troops in comparatively calm territory, one airplane dropping 3 miles from the DZ; another 7 miles; another 10 miles from the DZ; others dropped the paratroopers as close to the DZ as possible despite the intense fire, some of them making two passes, others 3 passes over the field before being able to identify the drop points through the heavy bursts of fire.”
Six of the planes failed to drop their paratroopers.
They felt it suicide to drop them through such concentrated fire.
One ship made 3 attempts to approach the drop zone but could not because of the impenetrability of the anti-aircraft fire.
Another plane, trying to escape hostile fire, was going at such an excessive speed that it could not jump its troops.
All the airplanes that were able to survive the intense accurate fire dived through the barrage and headed out to sea, over the coast in the vicinity of Gela and Licata.
There another tragedy confronted them: Our own Navy.
As rapidly as they passed over one vessel, the next one took up the fire, and so it continued some 20 miles out to sea.
In desperation, the pilots expended their pyrotechnics signals, but it only aided the massacre.
For some it outlined the silhouette of the airplanes in the air; to others, the flare looked like another burst of flame hitting the target.
Several of the C-47s were shot down in the sea.
The survivors, in most instances, were saved and taken aboard naval vessels.
There they learned to some satisfaction that there were explanations for the tragedies seemingly unnecessarily committed.
Just 10 minutes before the C-47s arrived at the DZ the Germans had been dropping bombs, the 14th raid of the day.
The captain of one vessel told them that inter-boat communications system had just announced ‘All planes in the immediate vicinity are friendly,’ when suddenly a 500 pound bomb burst within 200 yards of the destroyer.
The reaction was in the form of active retaliation.
Into this the C-47s flew.
One pilot, 1st Lt. Ray E. Everhart, further reports ‘The crew on the destroyer seemed to know about as little about aircraft identification as I did about battleship identification.’
A very good example of this: The skipper called back at one time, ‘Gentlemen, you see a beautiful formation of B-17s going to Sicily to bomb Italians.’
Actually they were British Halifaxes.
Survivors who crash landed in Sicily were told that one officer was going to be relieved because he had announced over the radio and in the clear the fact that American paratroopers were expected in the vicinity between 2200 and 2400.
Yet, 2nd Lt. George S.[John J.] Hoye [44th], one of the survivors states: “‘Ground troops reported that they had not been warned that friendly airplanes would be over our area and had assumed planes were hostile.’”
“The mission was costly to the 316th Group: F/O Anderson and co-pilot Lt. Harpster [45th] concluded: ‘Something should be done about friendly naval craft firing on us.'”
“‘Also something should be done about flights constantly losing formations.”‘
“‘On the whole the mission was extremely dangerous and costly whereas it had [no] reason to be.'”
“Evidently the safest place for us tonight while over Sicily would have been over enemy territory.”
Source: “Consolidated Mission Report, 316th Troop Carrier Group, A-2 Section, Husky No. 2”, Aug. 5, 1943.
As quoted in: “Valor Without Arms: A History of the 316th Troop Carrier Group, 1942 – 1945”. Ingrisano, M. 1991 p. 21
504th PIR Perspective
The paratroopers of the 504 had their own horrendous stories to tell about the disaster.
Here’s one from Lt. A. C. Drew of Company F, 504:
“The pilot of my plane gave me the warning twenty minutes out from the DZ.”
“After the red light came on, he had to give me the green light in about one minute, due to the plane being on fire.”
“We jumped into a steady stream of antiaircraft fire, and not knowing that they were friendly troops.”
“About seventy-five yards from where I landed , plane No. 915 was hit and burned.”
“To my knowledge only the pilot and three men got out.”
“The pilot was thrown through the window.”
“Another plane was shot down on the beach and another plane was burning about one thousand yards to my front.”
“There were four men killed and four wounded from my platoon.”
“Three of these men were hit coming down and one was killed on the ground because he had the wrong password. ”
“After landing, we found out this had been changed to ‘Think’ – ‘Quickly’.”
“The antiaircraft fire we jumped into was the 180th Infantry of the 45th Division.”
“They were not told we were coming.”
“We tried to reorganize, but found we didn’t have but forty–four men, including three officers.”
“We searched all night for the rest of the men.”
“After accounting for them we took care of the dead and wounded and started toward our objective.”
“We arrived at the 504th CP at 2:00, July 12, 1943.”
Source: “All American All the Way: The Combat History of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II” Nordyke, P., 2005 pp. 84 – 85.
Post War Conspiracy Theory of Friendly Fire Cover-up
Article7. This newspaper clipping is from Bill’s sister’s scrapbook of the Sicilian invasion.
The article praises the ability of the Army, Navy, and Army Air force to work well together as an effective team.
It’s an analysis of the post invasion success, and was published on July 12 or 13 1943.
To quote the article:
“Co-ordination of the three arms in the invasion appears to have been masterfully planned and executed.”
Interestingly none of the newspaper articles in her collection say anything about the friendly fire attack.
Even if the press did know about it, it’s logical that they wouldn’t report it.
For obvious reasons, the enemy didn’t need to know about a disaster of this magnitude.
Not to mention the demoralizing effect it would have had on morale for the Allied forces fighting around the world, and the populations on the home fronts.
This is especially true given that Operation HUSKY was at the time the largest sea and airborne invasion ever attempted and the first successful major joint US-British attack on Hitler’s “Fortress Europe”.
Articles like these one would be tantalizing fuel for proponents of the alleged cover up of the friendly fire disaster.
Allegations of a cover up sprang up once the American public became aware of the incident, which wasn’t until sometime after the war was over.
Newspaper Article Analyzing the Successful Coordination Between the Army, Army Air force, and Navy .
Source: Dayton Herald, circa July 12-13, 1943
Posted by Jeff Clark at 12:36 PM
Paul Plante says
I had an old friend who was “volunteered” into the 82d Airborne after Pearl Harbor because he was small.
At that time, the United States had no airborne troops in division strength, although the Germans did and the Russians did, as well.
It was thought at that time that men over a certain size would not be able to survive a jump with a full combat load, so the original paratroopers were all small men.
According to this old man, who did that jump into Sicily, as well as the jump into Normandy on D-Day, the Brits called them “The Midgets.”
He served under James Maurice “Jumpin’ Jim” Gavin (March 22, 1907 – February 23, 1990), a senior United States Army officer, with the rank of lieutenant general, who was the third Commanding General (CG) of the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.
During the war, General Gavin was often referred to as “The Jumping General” because of his practice of taking part in combat jumps with the paratroopers under his command; he was the only American general officer to make four combat jumps in the war, including the disastrous jump into Sicily, where he sprained his ankle and was separated from his men who were scattered to hell and yon.
“Jumping Jim” Gavin can well be called “the father of American airborne tactics,” which tactics served the American troops well in Korea when the Chinese came down in force, who were led by airborne officers from WWII, because airborne troops, being behind enemy lines, think nothing of being surrounded, as “behind enemy lines” means you are always surrounded.
As Wikipedia tells us, Gavin began training at the new Parachute School in Fort Benning in August 1941and after graduating in August, he served in an experimental unit.
His first command was as a captain and the commanding officer of C Company of the newly established 503rd Parachute Infantry Battalion.
Gavin’s friends William T. Ryder, commander of airborne training, and William P. Yarborough, communications officer of the Provisional Airborne Group, convinced Colonel William C. Lee to let Gavin develop the tactics and basic rules of airborne combat.
Lee followed up on this recommendation, and made Gavin his operations and training officer (S-3), and on October 16, 1941, Gavin was promoted to major.
One of Gavin’s first priorities was determining how airborne troops could be used most effectively.
His first action was writing FM 31-30: Tactics and Technique of Air-Borne Troops.
He used information about Soviet and German experiences with paratroopers and glider troops, and also used his own experience in tactics and warfare.
The manual contained information about tactics, but also about the organization of the paratroopers, what kind of operations they could execute, and what they would need to execute their task effectively.
I was what was called “leg infantry” in Viet Nam, which means non-airborne infantry, and I would say that the airborne troops had superior organization, thanks to the book “Jumping Jim” Gavin wrote about airborne tactics at the beginning of WWII.
In February 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II, Gavin took a condensed course at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, which qualified him to serve on the staff of a division, and he then returned to the Provisional Airborne Group and was tasked with building up an airborne division, which is how my old friend became a paratrooper.
In the spring of 1942, Gavin and Lee went to Army Headquarters in Washington, D.C., to discuss the order of battle for the first U.S. airborne division.
The 82nd Infantry Division, then stationed in Camp Claiborne, Louisiana and commanded by Major General Omar Bradley, was selected to be converted into the first American airborne division and subsequently became the 82nd Airborne Division.
Command of the 82nd went to Major General Matthew Ridgway.
Ridgeway was later picked to replace the hapless and largely incompetent but tremendously arrogant “Dougout Dougie” MacArthur in Korea after “Harry S. “The Buck Stops Here” Truman sacked MacArthur for just being a real ******* too much of the time, especially after the Chinese came in and hacked apart the American troops MacArthur had divided in his headlong rush to the Yalu when winter was setting in, in Korea.
Getting back to “Jumping Jim” Gavin, in August 1942, he became the commanding officer of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (505th PIR) at Fort Benning which had been activated shortly before on July 6.
Gavin built this regiment from the ground up.
He led his troops on long marches and realistic training sessions, creating the training missions himself and leading the marches personally.
He also placed great value on having his officers “the first out of the airplane door and the last in the chow line”.
This practice has continued to and with present-day U.S. airborne units.
Thankfully, they have worked out their communications with other units much better than Sicily.