24 May: This Day in Military History

1818: Gen. (future U.S. pres.) Andrew Jackson and his expeditionary army march into Spanish-controlled Florida, easily capturing the Gulf-coastal town of Pensacola. Col. José Masot, the Spanish governor, retreats to nearby Fort San Carlos de Barrancas (originally built by the British as “the Royal Navy Redoubt”) where he briefly puts up a token resistance – to save face – before hoisting the white flag there, too.

1861: Less than 24 hours after Virginia secedes from the Union, a regiment of Zouave infantry consisting of volunteer fire fighters from New York City land at Alexandria and occupy the town. The regiment’s commander (and personal friend of President Abraham Lincoln), Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, becomes the first Union officer killed in the Civil War when he is shot while taking down a Confederate flag.

1939: A day after the submarine USS Squalus sinks during a series of test dives off the coast of Portsmouth, N.H., the submarine salvage ship USS Falcon arrives and begins rescue operations. Although 26 sailors drowned instantly when the submarine went down, divers use a newly designed rescue chamber to save the remaining 33 crew members. Four divers are awarded the Medal of Honor for the world’s first rescue of a submarine crew in deep water, and Squalus will be raised and recommissioned as USS Sailfish – seeing action in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

1943: One quarter of the German U-boat fleet is sent to the bottom in one month, thanks to breaking the new German Enigma radio code, modern radar, new long range patrol aircraft, aggressive tactics, and escort carriers. The Kriegsmarine is losing more ships than they are sinking. Adm. Karl Dönitz orders his U-boats to break off operations in the North Atlantic, declaring “We had lost the battle of the Atlantic.”

An “Enigma” machine

German U-boats had sunk thousands of Allied ships, keeping millions of tons of war material off the battlefield, but the tide has turned.

1944: Sgt. Sylvester Antolak charges alone across 200 yards of flat, coverless terrain as the 3rd Infantry Division fights to expand the beachhead at Anzio. Antolak is hit multiple times and pins his weapon under his only remaining functional arm. Amazingly, he survives the charge, killing two Germans with his submachine gun and forces the remaining 10 to surrender. Rather than allow his wounds to be treated, he leads another charge against a German fortification and is killed – earning a posthumous Medal of Honor.

Meanwhile, fellow 15th Infantry Regiment soldier Pvt. James H. Mills covers his platoon’s advance, moving from position to position while killing and capturing several Germans along the way. Realizing that an assault against the German strongpoint would result in heavy American losses, he volunteers to draw enemy fire on himself from an exposed position. His plan works; the Germans concentrate their guns on Mills while his fellow close in on the position, capturing 22 and taking the objective without a casualty. Mills is also awarded the Medal of Honor.

A third 15th Regiment soldier earned the Medal of Honor this day at Anzio (the outfit will conclude the war with 16 recipients, including Audie Murphy). Pvt. 1st Class Henry Schauer, armed with his Browning Automatic Rifle, braves fire from five enemy snipers concentrated on the exposed American and systematically kills each German marksman. Later that day, he ignores enemy artillery and machine gun fire hammering his position, wiping out a German machine gun crew. The following day, the Germans try throwing a tank and machine gun at Schauer, but learn that not even armor can break his concentration as he dispatches another machine gun with deadly accuracy.

1962: (Featured Image) U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Malcolm “Scott” Carpenter orbits the earth three times in his “Aurora 7” space capsule, spending nearly four hours above the Earth’s surface performing science experiments. When Carpenter accidentally bumps his hand against the cockpit wall, he discovers that the mysterious “fireflies” spotted by John Glenn during his orbital mission are in fact ice particles knocked loose from the capsule.

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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 SWAT Magazine, Human Events, Canada Free Press, Deutsche Welle, NavySEALs.com, Lifezette, and other publications. Chris is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, warrant officer in the South Carolina State Guard, and retired firefighter.

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