Feb. 19, 1945: The first two of three dispatched U.S. Marine divisions begin hitting the beach on day-one of the epic battle for Iwo Jima. Of the 21,000 Japanese diehards defending Iwo, some 20,800 will be killed. Almost 7,000 Marines will lose their lives. Another 26,000 will be wounded.
Feb. 20, 1944: U.S. Army Air Forces and Britain’s Royal Air Force begin Operation ARGUMENT, a massive thousand-plus bomber offensive aimed at destroying the German Air Force and Luftwaffe manufacturing facilities in order to achieve irreversible air superiority before the Normandy landings. Allied losses will be high. German losses will be staggering.
Feb. 20, 1962: U.S. Marine Lt. Col. (future colonel) and two-war fighter pilot John H. Glenn Jr. becomes the first American to orbit Earth. Glenn orbits Earth three times in less than five hours in his spacecraft, Friendship 7.
Feb. 22, 1909: Pres. Theodore Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet” – a four-squadron armada of white-painted warships manned by some 14,000 sailors and Marines – returns to Hampton Roads, Virginia after sailing around the world in a grand show of American Naval power.
Feb. 22, 1967: The U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade conducts the first and only mass parachute jump of the Vietnam War. The jump is but one element of the much broader airborne (primarily heliborne assault) and infantry “search and destroy” operation, Junction City. The operation will continue through May.
Feb. 22, 1974: Lt. J.G. Barbara Ann Allen Rainey becomes the first female Naval aviator. In 1982, she will be killed in a crash while training a student pilot.
Feb. 23, 1778: Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a Prussian Army officer – arguably the father of American drill instructors – arrives at Valley Forge with the task of whipping the Continental Army into shape.
Feb. 23, 1836: The advance elements of a 4,000-plus-man Mexican army under the command of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna begin the siege of the isolated Texas Army garrison at the Alamo mission near (now part of present-day) San Antonio, Texas, during the Texas War of Independence.
The Alamo’s approximately 200-man garrison will be wiped out nearly to a man when the Mexicans storm the mission on March 6.
Feb. 23, 1847: During the Mexican-American War, a Mexican army under Santa Anna launches a series of attacks against a numerically inferior U.S. Army force under the command of Gen. (and future president) Zachary Taylor near Buena Vista. Though surprised and outnumbered, the Americans beat back the Mexicans who are forced to withdraw with heavy losses.
Feb. 23, 1945: After several days of savage fighting, U.S. Marines capture the summit of Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima. Just after 10:30 a.m., a small flag is raised on Suribachi. But an officer orders a larger flag be hoisted so that it might be seen from the far end of the island.
Feb. 24, 1813: The sloop-of-war USS Hornet (the third of eight so-named American warships) under the command of Capt. James Lawrence sinks the Royal Navy brig HMS Peacock in a swift action in which Peacock’s skipper, Capt. William Peake, is killed.
Feb. 24, 1991: At 4:00 a.m. the lead elements of the enormous coalition ground force surges forward into Iraq and Kuwait aimed at ousting Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait. President George H.W. Bush will order a ceasefire on the 28th. The 42-day “mother of all battles” (38 days for the initial air campaign and four days for the ground campaign) will end.
Feb. 25, 1779: Following an arduous campaign through freezing floodwaters, a joint American-French force under Virginia militia Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark captures British-held Fort Sackville at Vincennes in the Illinois backcountry.
Image of the Day: Operation DESERT STORM ground campaign map
Adapted (and abridged) in part from “This Week in US Military History” by W. Thomas Smith Jr. at Human Events. See more at the Center for American Military History.