12 January: This Day in Military History

1945: Warplanes from the U.S. Navy’s carrier Task Force 38 under the command of Vice Adm. John Sidney McCain Sr. (grandfather of Senator John S. McCain III), attack enemy convoys and bases along the coast of Japanese-held French Indochina (Vietnam) in the Battle of the South China Sea.

Codenamed Operation “Gratitude,” the attacks are wildly successful. Despite rough seas and high winds from a dangerously close typhoon, Japanese bases at Saigon, Cape Saint Jacques (Vung Tau), Cam Ranh Bay, Qui Nhon, and Tourane Bay (Da Nang) are hit hard, resulting in the destruction of docks, barracks, weapons depots, hangars, and scores of Japanese seaplanes and other aircraft, as well as the sinking of more than 40 enemy ships.

Vice Adm. John S. McCain (left) and Adm. William F. Halsey, Com. 3rd Flt., hold conference on board USS New Jersey (BB-62)

1962: Ten miles west of Saigon, U.S. Army H-21 “flying banana” helicopters ferry South Vietnamese paratroopers into battle – the first major American combat operation in what will become the Vietnam War.


(Featured Image) Also on this date, the U.S. military begins defoliation operations to deny the Viet Cong use of jungle cover for their movements. Over nine years, Operation “Ranch Hand pilots,” whose motto was “Only you can prevent forests,” would fly 19,000 sorties and drop an estimated 20 million gallons of defoliant. 10 percent of the vegetation in South Vietnam is destroyed.

Ranch Hand Pilots dispersing “defoliant”

1973: An F-4 “Phantom” flown by U.S. Navy Lieutenants Vic Kovaleski and Jim Wise splash a MiG-17, making it the Navy’s final air-to-air kill and the last aerial-combat kill of the war.

F-4 “Phantom” Vietnam
A U.S. F-4 Phantom bombards a gunnery range in Spain, March 1986



1991: With President George H.W. Bush having already deployed 500,000 U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf, Congress passes an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq. The opening shots of Operation “Desert Storm” are just five days away.

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Chris Carter

Chris Carter is the Director of the Victory Institute, and deputy regional director of the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team. His work appears at The US Report, International Analyst Network, Human Events, Canada Free Press, Family Security Matters, Deutsche Welle, NavySEALs.com, Blackfive and other publications. Chris is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, non-commissioned officer in the South Carolina State Guard, and retired firefighter.

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