Posts tagged military.

October 2, 1944: The Warsaw Uprising ends.

The Warsaw Uprising was a military operation that took place between August and October of 1944, an ultimately failed attempt led by the Polish Home Army to liberate the city of Warsaw from Nazi forces. Implemented as part of a national uprising, the operation’s goal was to liberate the city, but it was also to do so before the Soviet Union could assert its authority there over the Polish government-in-exile in London. Polish fighting forces numbered at around 50,000, the majority of whom were fighters for the Home Army, and most were considerably out-armed: the German force, while only consisting of between 10-15,000 men, had at their disposal tanks, airplanes, artillery - and a vulnerable civilian population. Despite these disadvantages, however, Polish forces managed to take back much of the city only a few days into the fighting. While relief and ammunition did come in the form of airlifts, it was not enough. The Germans launched counterattacks, and then massacred approximately 40,000 people (both civilians and fighters) within the span of one week early on in the uprising.

Fierce urban warfare continued  for weeks; the under-armed and under-supplied Polish forces and Warsaw’s civilian population resisted German occupiers for a total of sixty-three days with little outside support except for Allied airlifts. Red Army forces, though nearby, did not offer significant military aid because most Polish resistance fighters supported the Polish government-in-exile and wished to limit the extent of Soviet influence in postwar Poland. Upon the resistance’s capitulation on October 2, 1944, the civilian population of Warsaw was cleared from the city. Between 150,000-200,000 were killed during the fighting, and a further 60,000 were shipped to concentration and extermination camps. The Nazis then methodically razed the city itself, though much of it had already been damaged during the 1939 invasion and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. 

September 19, 1356: The Battle of Poitiers is fought.

The Battle of Poitiers was one of the great battles of the Hundred Years’ War, a series of intermittent conflicts fought between the Kingdoms of France and England (and their respective allies) over the throne of France. Edward III of England proclaimed himself the rightful king of France over the Valois king Philip VI, through his mother (the sister of the previous king), although he never pursued the claim until the kingdoms became embroiled in various diplomatic disagreements. Approximately twenty years into the first stage of the conflict, forces under Edward, Prince of Wales (later popularly known as “the Black Prince”) met French forces near the city of Poitiers. 

Also present was John II of France, who had since succeeded Philip as king since the latter’s death in 1350. His armies outnumbered the English nearly 2:1, but superior tactics (and French blunders) granted a great victory to the English, who also suffered far fewer casualties. John and other French lords were captured during the battle. While the Dauphin and future king Charles served as regent, he was forced to enact unpopular taxes in order to pay for his father’s three million crown ransom, and deal with opposition from all segments of society (from the peasantry to the bourgeoisie to the nobles). A weakened and divided France was forced to conclude the 1360 Treaty of Brétigny, which signaled the end of the first phase of the war and ceded large chunks of France to the English, including the areas of Aquitaine, Gascony, Poitou, Saintonge, and others. In return, Edward abandoned his claim to the throne of France. The effects of the treaty were fleeting; war proceeded once more nine years later, and French efforts pushed the English out of the territories they had gained by the treaty. 

July 16, 1945: The U.S. conducts the first successful atomic bomb test.

J. Robert Oppenheimer later remarked that, as he witnessed the detonation of “the Gadget” in the Jornada del Muerto desert of New Mexico during the Trinity nuclear test, he was reminded of a quote from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Oppenheimer, a professor and physicist, was a key figure of the Manhattan Project, which ran from 1941 to 1946 and sought to place in American hands the power of fission before Nazi Germany could develop the technology in a usable form. The Project combined American and British resources, industrial power, money, and information, with the top scientific minds from both nations and exiled scientists from Germany and Austria. The Trinity test was the first successful detonation of a nuclear device, and it was a product of Project Manhattan. Conducted by the U.S. Army under Lieutenant General Leslie Groves, it was designed to resemble a drop from an airplane (as to accurately measure the effects of such an attack), in this test simulated by a 100-foot-tall steel tower, from which the plutonium-core device was raised. The detonation occurred at approximately 5:29 AM; onlookers - mostly scientists and military officials - observed from stations ten to twenty miles away from ground zero. 

The successful Trinity test marked the beginning of a new age: an Atomic Age. This less refined version of the era’s new superweapon exploded with an energy of approximately 20 kilotons. It created a mushroom cloud 12 kilometers high; it left behind a crater 1,000 feet wide; it generated heat described as 10,000 times hotter than the surface of the sun; and it was only the beginning. One member of Leslie Groves’ staff described the effects of the detonation as “unprecedented, magnificent, beautiful, stupendous and terrifying,” writing that “no man-made phenomenon of such tremendous power had ever occurred before.”

July 12, 1191: The Siege of Acre ends.

The siege of the city of Acre by Crusader forces lasted two years and was one of the early major conflicts of the Third Crusade - whose goal was to reconquer the portions of the Levant from Saladin, the Ayyubid sultan and celebrated Muslim military leader who had captured Jerusalem in 1187. The Crusaders failed to retake Jerusalem, the lodestar of the entire operation, leading to the initiation of the Fourth Crusade, but Acre, along with Jaffa and other portions of the Levantine coast, were successfully conquered in a series of bloody confrontations. Initially, the Crusader army was composed of soldiers of the Kingdom of Jerusalem under Guy of Lusignan, the King of Jerusalem who launched the siege. Saladin’s army was an amalgam of troops from various territories under Ayyubid control.

In late 1189, reinforcements from Europe arrived to blockade the city by sea and land, and to augment the strength of the Crusader infantry. Over 15,000 men (some estimates have put the size of his army at 100,000) followed Frederick I Barbarossa into battle, though he himself drowned in a river under the weight of his own armor as his massive army approached Acre. Philip II Augustus of France arrived in the Holy Land in April of 1191, and Richard I “the Lionheart” of England soon after, although the latter alienated the other European noble and royal leaders, who just as quickly returned home as they had arrived once the city fell, leaving the Cœur de Lion to negotiate terms of surrender himself. After a long standstill between the attackers and defenders, repeated attempts to breach the city’s fortifications finally paid off when the Crusaders broke the siege on June 11 and entered the city on June 12. The bloodshed was not yet over, however; on August 20, the English king perpetrated the Massacre at Ayyadieh in response to Saladin’s delaying tactics during their surrender negotiations - over 3,000 people (men, women, and children) were slaughtered in a theatrical, threatening gesture of violence to the Muslim leaders. 

June 22, 1945: The Battle of Okinawa ends.

The Allied assault on the Okinawa Islands was the bloodiest and one of the last major battles of the Pacific War.The Okinawa Islands were of great strategic importance to the Allies for the role they would have played during the planned November invasion of the Japanese mainland; the islands’ airfields, located only several hundred miles away from the rest of the Japanese archipelago, would have served as launch pads from which the invasion would begin. Over 100,000 Japanese and American combatants were killed, along with an estimated 100,000 civilians and commanders on both the Allied and Japanese sides, during the eighty-day-long battle over the sixty-mile-long island. 

Not only was the Battle of Okinawa (codenamed “Operation Iceberg”) the bloodiest clash of the Pacific War, it was also one of the largest (and was, in fact, the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific)  over 100,000 troops participated on each side; some 1,400 American ships were also involved in the battle, dozens sunk by desperate kamikaze attacks; and, because of the sheer scale of the battle, it has been referred to as the “typhoon of steel”. Much of the combat and fiercest fighting took place in the southern portion of the island, but, despite fierce Japanese counter-attacks, resistance was mostly wiped out by mid-June. Realizing their force’s impending, inevitable defeat, the three Japanese commanders - Mitsuru Ushijima, Isamu Cho, and Minoru Ota - chose to commit seppuku toward the end of the battle rather than surrender. 

One other notable aspect of the Battle of Okinawa was the presence of a significantly large civilian population living on the island, caught in the crossfire between Japanese and Allied attacks. Around 300,000 people lived on Okinawa before the assault began, and, according to US Army estimates, nearly half were dead by the end, from bombings and artillery fire, starvation, forced military service, and mass executions. The vast majority of buildings on Okinawa were also destroyed during the battle. Some historians theorize that the bloody results of the battle may have influenced strategists to seek a different means to end the war besides a full-scale mainland invasion. 

June 14, 1667: The Raid on the Medway ends in a British defeat.

The Second Anglo-Dutch War was one of four wars fought between the Dutch Republic and England (Great Britain after 1707) - at the time Europe’s greatest seafaring and trading powers, and natural rivals in that respect. The first concluded in 1654 (an English victory), and the second began eleven years later, after the restoration of Charles II to the throne, born of widespread pro-war sentiment and the continued competition between the two nations over maritime trade. 

The famous Raid on the Medway, also called the Battle of Chatham, was a naval clash that ended in the epic defeat of the Royal Navy, one of the worst in its history, and precipitated a quick end to the war. At this point in the conflict, Charles II was opening peace talks with the Dutch while also soliciting aid from the French, and, with war funds running low, his fleet was left in a temporary state of weakness - perfect conditions for an attack, according to the Dutch grand pensionary and planner of the raid, Johan de Witt. On June 9, the Dutch fleet under Admiral Michiel de Ruyter launched an attack on a group of English ships on the poorly-defended River Medway, destroying thirteen ships and capturing the HMS Unity,a Dutch warship-turned-English guard ship, and the fleet’s flagship HMS Royal Charles. The success of the Dutch attack and embarrassing defeat of the Royal Navy struck a blow to English morale; the ignominy of the loss was accompanied by a wave of panic and fear regarding rumors of a full-blown Dutch invasion. This did not come, but the end of the war did a little over two weeks later. Of the Dutch fleet’s presence on the Thames, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

…it was pretty news come the other day so fast, of the Dutch fleets being in so many places, that Sir W. Batten at table cried, By God, says he, I think the Devil shits Dutchmen.