This Month in Military History

DEC11779During what is perhaps the worst winter of the century, GEN George Washington's army establishes their winter camp at Morristown.
DEC11918The American Army of Occupation enters Germany. Rejecting the Treaty of Versailles, the United States technically remained in a state of war against the Germans until 1921 when a separate peace agreement was signed.
DEC11921LCDR Ralph F. Wood departs Norfolk in a blimp for Washington, D.C. on the first flight of a helium-filled aircraft.
DEC11941With the Japanese fleet secretly steaming towards Pearl Harbor, Japanese emperor Hirohito signs a declaration of war against the United States.
DEC11941The Civil Air Patrol is established. Originally intended for reconnaissance, civilian planes are eventually fitted with bombs and depth charges when German submarines begin attacking U.S. shipping on the east coast. During the war, CAP pilots would log half a million hours, spotting 173 submarines, at the cost of 64 pilots.
DEC11943The Teheran Conference between Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin concludes. The three leaders agree on plans to invade western Europe in May 1944; to invade southern France; and that the Soviets would join the war against Japan once the Germans were defeated.
DEC11943The improved P-51D "Mustang" is sent into combat for the first time, during a fighter sweep over Belgium.
DEC11949The Marine Corps' first helicopter squadron, HMX-1, is commissioned at Quantico.
DEC11950COL Allan MacLean's Regimental Combat Team 31 is annihilated by Chinese forces during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Although enemy casualties are extremely heavy, over 1,000 U.S. soldiers are killed, freeze to death, or die in Chinese captivity. After the battle, only 385 of the task force's original 3,200 soldiers are fit for duty.
DEC11969The U.S. government holds its first draft lottery since 1942.
DEC41783GEN George Washington bids farewell to his fellow Continental Army officers over a turtle feast at Fraunces Tavern. Washington tells them that "With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable."
DEC41861Jefferson Davis is elected President of the Confederate States of America.
DEC41941PBY "Catalina" patrols report that a flotilla of 30 transports at the Indochina (Vietnam) port of Cam Ranh Bay have disappeared. Marine Fighter Squadron 211, having just been delivered to Wake Island by the carrier USS Enterprise immediately begin their patrols, as the carrier returns to Hawaii. The Pearl Harbor attack schedule is dispatched to the Japanese submarine fleet, and a destroyer squadron sets out for the Japanese invasion of Guam.
DEC41942B-24 "Liberator" bombers of the 12th Air Force bomb Naples, marking the first time U.S. aircraft target Italy.
DEC41950While flying a search-and-destroy mission during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, ENS Jesse L. Brown - the Navy's first black aviator - is shot down. His wingman, LT Thomas J. Hudner, Jr. crash-lands his Corsair and feverishly attempts to rescue the seriously injured Brown. A helicopter arrives to rescue the downed pilots, but the men are unable to extricate the mortally wounded Brown from the plane. For his actions, Hudner is awarded the Medal of Honor.
DEC41965A Titan II rocket carrying LCDR James Lovell (USN) and MAJ Frank Borman (USAF) blasts off from Cape Canaveral. The Gemini VII crew will spend the next 14 days in space, doubling the amount of time humans have spent in space - a record that will stand for the next five years.
DEC51941USS Lexington (CV-2) departs Pearl Harbor loaded with Marine dive bombers destined for Midway Atoll, leaving no carriers at the base. The mission saves the aircraft carrier from destruction in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
DEC51941Japanese submarines, having been informed of the Pearl Harbor attack timetables the day before, have surrounded the Hawaiian Islands. Prior to their surprise invasion of the Philippines, Japanese planes conduct reconnaissance flights of Luzon Island's coastline.
DEC51943The Eighth Air Force conducts their first bombing mission against secret German V-1 and V-2 launch sites as part of Operation CROSSBOW.
DEC51945A squadron of five Navy Avenger torpedo bombers departs Fort Lauderdale for a flight over the so-called "Bermuda Triangle" in the Atlantic Ocean. Two hours later, the lead pilot radios that both of his compasses had malfunctioned and that their position is unknown, with other planes reporting similar problems. Four hours after takeoff, a message is heard ordering pilots to prepare for ditching their aircraft. A rescue operation is launched, and a Mariner search-and-rescue aircraft is also lost. Hundreds of ships and planes are unable to find any trace of the men or aircraft.
DEC51950Pyongyang, Korea falls to the invading Chinese army.
DEC51950The aircraft carrier USS Princeton (CV-37) arrives off the coast of Korea to provide air support to US troops retreating from Chinese forces.
DEC51964President Lyndon Johnson presents Army CPT Roger H.C. Donlon the first Medal of Honor of the Vietnam War in ceremonies at the White House. CPT Donlon led a Green Beret team as they defended against a reinforced Viet Cong battalion near Laos on 6 JUL 1964.
DEC61846GEN Stephen Watts Kearney's U.S. Army of the West, accompanied by a small detachment of mounted rifle volunteers commanded by Marine LT Archibald Gillespie, attack Mexican "Californios" in the Battle of San Pasqual, near present-day San Diego. Both sides claimed victory and the engagement became one of the bloodiest of the Mexican American War.
DEC61917A German U-boat torpedoes the destroyer USS Jacob Jones off the coast of England, which becomes the first U.S. destroyer to be sunk by a submarine.
DEC61941After an Australian scout plane spots a Japanese fleet near the Malayan Coast, the Allies presume that the Japanese plan to invade Thailand. However, British intelligence intercepts a radio signal warning to the Japanese fleet to be on full alert, prompting advisers to question whether the move is a diversion.
DEC61941ADM Yamamoto tells his First Air Fleet "The rise or fall of the empire depends upon this battle. Everyone will do his duty with utmost efforts." Meanwhile, a Japanese fleet departs Palau for the invasion of the Philippines.
DEC61950American forces – primarily leathernecks of the now-famous 1st Marine Division, a few American soldiers, and a handful of British commandos – begin their epic "fighting withdrawal" from Hagaru-ri to Koto-ri and on to Hamnung, during the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir, Korea. At Koto-ri, a few officers express concern that their vastly outnumbered, bloodied, freezing, near-starving columns might not survive the final trek to Hamnung.
DEC61950As the UN orders communist forces to halt at the 38th Parallel, U.S. and Australian planes kill an estimated 2,500 enemy troops.
DEC61961The U.S. Air Force is authorized to begin combat operations in Vietnam - provided they carry a Vietnamese national with them for training purposes.
DEC61967When his company was attacked by a battalion-sized enemy force in South Vietnam's Biên Hòa Province, U.S. Army chaplain, CPT Charles J. Liteky moved multiple times through heavy enemy fire to deliver last rights to dying soldiers and aid to wounded soldiers. Despite incoming small arms and rocket fire, Liteky stood up multiple times to direct the incoming helicopters to the landing zone. During the engagement, he would carry 20 wounded soldiers to the landing zone for evacuation. For his actions, Liteky was awarded the Medal of Honor.
DEC61968The Navy launches Operation GIANT SLINGSHOT to interdict the flow of men and weapons flowing through the Mekong Delta from the Cambodian border.
DEC71917Four U.S. battleships, USS Delaware (BB-28), USS Florida (BB-30), New York (BB-34), and USS Wyoming (BB-32) arrive in British waters and join the British Grand Fleet for service during World War I.
DEC71917The United States declares war on Austria-Hungary.
DEC71941At 0357 the minesweeper USS Condor spots a periscope at the entrance to Pearl Harbor. The ship signals the nearby destroyer USS Ward, whose crew begins searching for the unidentified vessel. At 0637, Ward spots the periscope as a two-man Japanese mini sub attempts to follow a U.S. cargo ship into the harbor and sinks the enemy warship - the first U.S. shots of World War II.
DEC71941Having achieved total tactical and strategic surprise, VADM Chuichi Nagumo's 1st Air Fleet begins their attack on Pearl Harbor. The strike is conducted in two waves: The first wave of 183 enemy aircraft strikes just before 0800. The second wave of 170 planes hits a little after 0830. Of the ships anchored at Pearl Harbor, five of the eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were either sunk or severely damaged. By day’s end, 2,718 American sailors, 582 soldiers (including Army Air Forces personnel), 178 Marines, and 103 civilians will be dead, dying or wounded. Japanese losses were minimal: 30 planes, five minisubs, 65 killed, and one Japanese sailor captured. All but two of the battleships - Arizona and Oklahoma - are raised to fight again.
DEC71941Japanese forces bomb Guam and Wake as destroyers and planes attack Midway. Other Japanese targets include Shanghai, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies.
DEC71942USS New Jersey (BB-62), one of the world's largest battleships ever built, is launched.
DEC71943At the Bernhardt defensive line in Italy, LTG Mark Clark's Fifth Army secures the Mignano Gap.
DEC71944Patton's Third Army crosses the Siegfried Line at Saarlautern.
DEC71944In the Pacific, the 77th Infantry Division lands at Ormoc in the Philippines as one of the escort destroyers, USS Ward, is sunk by kamikaze attacks. Nearby, the USS Mahan was also sunk by kamikaze attacks.
DEC71950Air Force cargo planes drop eight "Treadway" bridge spans in the Funchilin Pass, enabling the First Marine Division to cross the most difficult natural obstacle on their breakout of the Chosin Reservoir.
DEC71952U.S. Air Force F-86 "Saber" pilots shoot down seven of 32 enemy aircraft - the highest tally of the Korean War.
DEC71959America's first operational ballistic missile, the PGM-17 "Thor", is successfully launched at Cape Canaveral.
DEC71972Apollo 17 launches for NASA's final lunar mission. Aboard are two U.S. Navy CPTs: Eugene A. Cernan and Ronald E. Evans, and Harrison H. Schmitt - a civilian geologist.
DEC81941As Japanese warplanes continue to hammer Allied bases across Asia and the Pacific, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously declares 7 DEC as "a date which will live in infamy," asking Congress to declare war on Japan - which they will do in a matter of hours. The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and numerous other governments also declare war on Japan. Eyeing the destruction from USS Enterprise (CV-6) as the aircraft carrier steams into Pearl Harbor, he says that "Before we're through with 'em, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell."
DEC81941COL William W. Ashurst (USMC) is captured and surrenders his remaining "China Marines" will be held as prisoners until the end of the war.
DEC81941USS Wake becomes the only U.S. warship to surrender during World War II, when the Japanese capture the river patrol gunboat and her crew by surprise while the ship is at anchor. A Japanese invasion fleet departs Kwajalein Atoll, and in three days will assault Wake Island.
DEC81941In the Philippines, Japanese forces land at Bataan Island, as enemy air strikes take out roughly half of the American warplanes on Luzon Island.
DEC81941Adolf Hitler declares war on the United States, ordering his naval forces to begin attacking U.S. shipping.
DEC81941Although the Chinese have been fighting Japan for over four years, China formally declares war against Japan - and Germany.
DEC81942Considered "perhaps the greatest individual success of American PT boats during the war," eight PT boats engage - and turn around - a force of eight Japanese destroyers on a mission to supply soldiers on Guadalcanal
DEC81965150 Air Force and Navy warplanes begin conducting the covert Operation TIGER HOUND, strikes against North Vietnamese Army infiltration routes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. The campaign will continue until 1968, when it becomes part of Operation COMMANDO HUNT.
DEC82012CPO (SEAL) Edward C. Byers, Jr. earns the Medal of Honor during a mission to rescue an American doctor who had been captured in Afghanistan.
DEC919921,800 U.S. Marines land on the beaches of Somalia to restore order to the war-torn country. Backed by the Marines, aid workers are soon able to restore humanitarian aid to civilians.
DEC101941When a Japanese submarine reports the sighting of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) northeast of Hawaii, Japanese vessels still in the area are ordered to attack. Meanwhile, one of Enterprise's bombers spot the submarine I-70 and drops a 1,000-lb. bomb, nearly missing the sub but knocking out its ability to submerge. Later another SBD Dauntless attacks I-70, sending the sub to the bottom - the first fleet submarine lost by the Japanese and the first to be sunk by aircraft during World War II.
DEC101941Off the coast of Malaya, the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battle cruiser HMS Repulse become the first capital ships sunk solely by air power during the war, of which Winston Churchill would later say, "In all the war I never received a more direct shock. [...] There were no British or American capital ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbor who were hastening back to California. Over this vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme and we everywhere were weak and naked."
DEC101941Over the Philippines, a PBY Catalina is attacked by three Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zeros. Chief Boatswain Earl D. Payne shoots down one, marking the first (verified) air-to-air kill of a Japanese plane. Meanwhile, CPT Henry T. Elrod shoots down a Mitsubishi G3M "Rikko" bomber over Wake Island - the first aerial victory for the Marine Corps. Elrod will soon earn the Medal of Honor for sinking a destroyer and is killed on the ground while defending Wake.
DEC101941The Naval Governor of Guam, CPT George J. McMillin, surrenders the island when 7,000 Japanese land on the island and overwhelm its defenders.
DEC101941The United States conducts its first heavy bombardment mission of the war, targeting LTG Masaharu Homma's 14th Japanese Army as they land on Luzon.
DEC101954At Holloman Air Force Base, LTC John P. Stapp straps into a rocket sled and blasts off to a speed of 632 miles per hour, becoming the "fastest man on earth." However, the more noteworthy of his ride was his sudden deceleration - experiencing 46.2 G's as he stopped. This test demonstrated the possibility of pilots ejecting from supersonic aircraft.
DEC111941The small American garrison on Wake - consisting of a few hundred Marines, sailors, and civilian contractors - repels a Japanese invasion force seeking to capture the island. As coastal defense guns hammer the incoming warships, sinking one destroyer and damaging several others, the island's four remaining F4F-3 "Wildcat" fighters take off to intercept a flight of Japanese warplanes. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Marine CPT Henry T. Elrod will shoot down two aircraft before he and his fellow aviators set their sights on the Japanese ships. Elrod becomes the first pilot to sink a ship, when his bombs detonate the depth charges on Kisaragi. The destroyer goes down with all hands.
DEC111941Adolf Hitler declares war on the United States. Although Nazi Germany and Japan had signed an agreement stating that Germany would come to Japan's aid if they were attacked, Germany was under no such obligation since Japan was the aggressor. However, and with virtually no consultation with his staff, Hitler declares war against the United States anyways. Within hours, Congress responds with a unanimous declaration of war against Germany.
DEC111954The world's first "supercarrier", USS Forrestal, is launched. The conventionally powered aircraft carrier is the first U.S. flattop built with an angled flight deck and steam catapults and is the first designed to operate jet aircraft. With an overall length of over 1,000 feet, Forrestal was the largest warship built at the time.
DEC111961At Saigon harbor, the aviation transport ship USNS Core unloads 33 U.S. Army H-21C "Shawnee" helicopters, which are the first American helicopters deployed to Vietnam. The crews' mission will be to transport South Vietnamese soldiers into combat.
DEC12175321-year-old Virginia adjutant George Washington delivers an ultimatum for French forces to abandon Fort Le Boeuf as they were trespassing on British territory.
DEC121770The British soldiers responsible for the Boston Massacre are acquitted. Future president John Adams is their lawyer.
DEC121937As the gunboat USS Panay and three Standard Oil tankers work to evacuate U.S. citizens and Standard Oil employees from Nanking, China, the vessels are attacked and sunk by the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
DEC121953MAJ Chuck Yeager pilots the Bell X-1A to Mach 2.44 (1,648 mph), setting a speed record (for straight-wing aircraft on level flight) that still stands today. However, the X-1 tumbles out of control and falls some 50,000 feet in just over a minute. Yeager manages to recover and land the aircraft.
DEC121985As members of the 101st Airborne Division return from Egypt following a peacekeeping mission, the DC-8 civilian airliner carrying them crashes shortly after takeoff, killing 248 soldiers. While officials state the cause of the incident is ice accumulation, Islamic Jihad - the Hezbollah -associated group that carried out the deadly attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut two years prior - declares that they brought down the plane.
DEC121992Marine Corps Cobra helicopter gunships destroy a Somali armed vehicle, marking the first combat action of Operation RESTORE HOPE.
DEC131636The Massachusetts General Court in Salem orders the creation of a militia, requiring all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60 join, to defend the colony if necessary. Three regiments are created: the North Regiment - today's 181st and 182nd Infantry Regiments; the East Regiment - today's 101st Engineer Battalion; and the South Regiment - today's 101st Field Artillery Regiment. The National Guard was born.
DEC131918The U.S. Army of Occupation crosses the Rhine and enters Germany.
DEC131951Air Force pilot George A. Davis Jr. shoots down four MiG-15 jets, the largest one-day total of the Korean War. Davis was the war's first double ace (10 kills), shooting down a total of 14 Chinese, Korean, and Soviet jets, but he would later become the only ace to be killed during the conflict and will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
DEC131966U.S. aircraft bomb the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi and Haiphong harbor for the first time, targeting oil facilities.
DEC131970U.S. forces return from Cambodia, bringing an end to President Richard Nixon's limited incursion. Around 30,000 Americans and 50,000 South Vietnamese troops had been deployed, making the two-month mission one of the largest combat operations in the Vietnam War.
DEC131974Just north of Saigon, the North Vietnamese Army attacks Phuoc Long Province in a "test" attack. South Vietnamese resistance is ineffective, and the United States does nothing.
DEC132003Around 600 members of the Fourth Infantry Division, along with special operators from Task Force 121, conduct a massive search for the deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein when intelligence suggests he is hiding near his hometown of Tikrit. Operation RED DAWN is about to come up empty-handed, but with helicopters enroute to pick up the team, one of the operators discovers a "spider hole" hidden under a section of flooring, where Saddam had been hiding. Although armed with an AK-47 and a Glock handgun, he surrenders without a fight.
DEC141799George Washington passes away at Mount Vernon. The former president and commander-in-chief of the Continental Army was 64.
DEC141924The battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41) launches a Martin MO-1 observation plane by using its forward turret as an explosive-powered catapult.
DEC141941While a Japanese sub shells the Hawaiian Islands, VADM Wilson Brown's Task Force 11 departs Pearl Harbor, attempting to divert the Japanese fleet from their attack on Wake Island. The fleet consists of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, three cruisers, and nine destroyers.
DEC141944Congress creates the temporary, five-star grades of Fleet Admiral and General of the Army. ADMs William Leahy, Ernest King, and Chester Nimitz are promoted to the new rank within days, as are GENs George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, and the Army Air Force's Henry "Hap" Arnold (who in 1947 will become the only "General of the Air Force"). William Halsey, the United States' last fleet admiral, will pin on his fifth star on 11 DEC 1945. And during the Korean War, GEN Omar Bradley becomes the last man promoted to the elite rank.
DEC141961President John F. Kennedy informs President Ngo Dinh Diem that the United States would increase military aid and expand our military commitment to South Vietnam. Upon their return from a fact-finding mission, GEN Maxwell D. Taylor, and Special Assistant for National Security Affairs Walt W. Rostow recommended that Kennedy send helicopters, aircraft, military advisors, and support personnel. They also suggested the secret deployment of 8,000 troops for combat operations. Kennedy will implement all but the combat forces.
DEC141964U.S. warplanes attack targets of opportunity in northern Laos in the first strikes of President Lyndon B. Johnson's top-secret Operation BARREL ROLL. The air campaign is intended to interdict the flow of communist supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but also becomes a close air support campaign against Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese forces.
DEC141972After Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan sets the unofficial lunar speed record at 11.2 mph on the Lunar Rover, Cernan becomes the last human to set foot on the moon.
DEC151862Union Army MG Ambrose E. Burnside ends his disastrous series of frontal attacks against GEN Robert E. Lee’s well-entrenched Confederate forces along Marye’s Heights during the Battle of Fredericksburg. It is during the battle that Lee – emotionally moved by the valor of the Federal Army, which, despite terrible losses, attacks his impregnable position time-and-again – says, “It is well that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it.”
DEC151864GEN John Bell Hood's Confederate Army of Tennessee is routed in the Battle of Nashville by a Union army under command of GEN George Thomas. After the battle, Hood's once formidable army would no longer be an effective fighting force.
DEC151944A plane carrying MAJ Glenn Miller, leader of the world-famous "Glenn Miller Orchestra" prior to World War II, disappears in bad weather over the English Channel. Miller volunteered for service and led the Army Air Force Band from 1942 until his disappearance.
DEC151944LTG Alexander Patch's Seventh Army enters Germany.
DEC151945During the American occupation of Japan, GEN Douglas MacArthur orders the end of Shintoism as the state religion, which viewed Emperor Hirohito as a divine authority.
DEC151948The Navy and State Department sign a memorandum establishing the Marine Security Guard program for U.S. embassies across the world.
DEC151950As UN forces withdraw south of the 38th Parallel, the F-86 "Sabre" makes its combat debut in Korea.
DEC151964The AC-47, the Air Force's first gunship, makes its combat debut in Vietnam.
DEC151965American bombers conduct their first major attack against North Vietnamese industrial targets, destroying a power plant north of Haiphong that supplied 15 percent of the country's electricity.
DEC151965Walter M. Schirra (USN) and Thomas P. Stafford (USAF) blast off aboard Gemini VI. The crew tested rendezvous procedures in space with Gemini VII, which had already been in space for several days.
DEC151967During a firefight in South Vietnam's Binh Dinh province, SPC Allen J. Lynch crosses a kill zone multiple times, killing numerous enemies, to carry three wounded comrades to safety. As his company withdraws from the numerically superior enemy, Lynch remains behind with the wounded - after crossing the kill zone several more times to carry the casualties to a safer location, and then single-handedly defends the position for two hours until another company mounts a counterattack, and the men are evacuated.
DEC151969President Richard Nixon announces that 50,000 U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Vietnam.
DEC161944A massive German Army force — composed of SS Panzer (SS armored units), Volksgrenadier (infantry), Panzergrenadier (armored infantry), and Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) — burst through the snow-covered Ardennes Forest and smash headlong into the weakest stretch of the Allied frontlines in Belgium. The attack — which will become known as the Battle of the Bulge is a last-ditch gamble on the part of the Germans, a surprise counteroffensive aimed at cutting American and British forces in half; crossing the Meuse River; encircling, isolating, and destroying Allied armies west of the Meuse; and perhaps reaching the North Sea.
DEC171903Brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright pilot the first heavier than air machine. The Wright Flyer travels 120 feet in the air over the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, staying aloft for 12 seconds. The aviators will make three more flights that day. The modern aviation age has been born.
DEC171947The world's first swept-wing bomber makes its first flight - thanks in part to research captured from German scientists in World War II. The Boeing B-47 Stratojet becomes the cornerstone of the newly formed Strategic Air Command until its retirement in 1965.
DEC181902President Theodore Roosevelt orders ADM George Dewey to take the U.S. North and South Atlantic Squadrons and sail to Venezuela, to prevent blockading European navies from waging war against Venezuela over unpaid debts.
DEC181927A day after a Coast Guard vessel accidentally rams - and sinks - the submarine USS S-4 (SS-109) off Cape Cod, Navy divers are rushed to the scene. Chief Gunner's Mate Thomas Eadie learns by tapping on the hull that six sailors remain alive. When fellow diver Fred Michels attempts to attach a line pumping fresh air into the sub, which lies 100 feet below the surface, his own airline is fouled. Although exhausted from his previous dives - for which he will receive his second Navy Cross - Eadie quickly dives again and manages to save Michels after two hours of grueling work. Unfortunately, bad weather prevents the divers from saving the sub's sailors in time, but Eadie is awarded the Medal of Honor.
DEC181944ADM William "Bull" Halsey's Task Force 38 sails directly into Typhoon "Cobra". The 100 mph-plus winds and high seas capsized and sank three destroyers, while heavily damaging a cruiser, five aircraft carriers, and three destroyers. The deadly storm claims the lives of 790 U.S. sailors and destroys over 100 planes, leading to the creation of a Naval weather center and typhoon tracking center on Guam the following year.
DEC181944Nearly 300 B-29s Superfortress, B-24 Liberator, and B-25 Mitchell bombers - accompanied by P-51 Mustang escorts of the 14th Air Force - attack the Japanese Army's expeditionary base at Hankao, igniting supply fires that will burn for three days.
DEC181965The crew of Gemini VII - Frank Borman (USAF) and Jim Lovell (USN) - splash down safely in the Atlantic just 11 miles away from USS Wasp.
DEC181972On the first day of President Richard Nixon's Operation LINEBACKER II bombing campaign, an enemy MiG-21 "Fishbed" locks on to a B-52 following their bomb run and closes in. Tail gunner SSG Samuel O. Turner opens fire with the bomber's quad .50-caliber machine guns, blasting the MiG out of the sky and scoring the first tail gun kill for the B-52. Turner is awarded the Silver Star for saving his crew and his bomber now sits on display at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington.
DEC19177718 miles northwest of Philadelphia, GEN George Washington's Continental Army establishes its winter camp at Valley Forge. 2,500 of the original force of 12,000 would not survive the winter thanks in part to harsh weather conditions, disease, supply shortages, and malnutrition. Over the winter, the Prussian drillmaster - later, Washington's Chief of Staff - Baron Friedrich von Steuben drills the Americans, greatly increasing their combat effectiveness and morale.
DEC191862Confederate cavalry under BG Nathan Bedford Forrest dismantle the Mobile and Ohio railroad tracks around Jackson, Tennessee, delaying Union MG Ulysses S. Grant's drive to Vicksburg.
DEC191941After the Battle of Moscow, Adolf Hitler fires Field Marshall Walther von Brauchitsch, the commander-in-chief of Nazi Germany's armed forces for their highly successful campaigns across most of Europe. Hitler appoints himself as von Brauchitsch's replacement.
DEC191944At the Siegfried Line in southern Germany, all members of TSGT Robert E. Gerstung's heavy machine gun squad are killed or wounded, Gerstung keeps his gun firing, braving eight hours of intense tank, artillery, and mortar fire. When he runs out of ammunition, he crosses the killzone to retrieve more ammunition, and later, another weapon when his malfunctioned. When the order was given for the Americans to withdraw, Gerstung provided the only covering fire for the unit. He is awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
DEC191972After spending a record 75 hours on the moon's surface, Apollo 17 astronauts CPT Eugene A. Cernan (USN), CPT Ronald E. Evans (USN), and civilian geologist Harrison H. Schmitt splash down in the South Pacific, just four miles from the recovery ship USS Ticonderoga.
DEC192000The UN Security Council votes to impose sanctions on the Taliban in Afghanistan, directing them to close terrorist training camps and to hand over Osama bin Laden, who was suspected in attacks against United States embassies.
DEC192001Fires that had been burning for over three months under the rubble of the World Trade Center are finally declared to be extinguished.
DEC192003Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi halts his nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs after secret negotiations with the United States and Britain.
DEC201860Delegates meeting in Charleston unanimously adopt the ordinance to dissolve ties with the United States; South Carolina has become the first state to secede from the Union.
DEC201941Flying in support of the Nationalist Chinese in combat against the Japanese, the 1st American Volunteer Group - better known as the "Flying Tigers" - enters combat for the first time. Out of the ten Japanese bombers intercepted, nine are shot out of the sky by the AVG's P-40 "Warhawks". Thanks to innovative tactics skipper Claire Chennault learned from observing the nimbler Japanese fighters prior to America's entry in the war, Flying Tigers would rack up an incredible 296 victories during the 18 months of combat, while only losing 14 pilots.
DEC201941The battleships USS Pennsylvania, USS Maryland, and USS Tennessee depart Pearl Harbor for a nine-day journey to shipyards on the West Coast to repair damage suffered during the Pearl Harbor attack.
DEC20194330,000 feet over the North Sea, SSG Forrest L. "Woody" Vosler's B-17 is damaged and forced to leave the formation after a bombing raid on Bremen, Germany. Despite his own wounds, the radio operator left his station to man a machinegun when the tailgunner is wounded. Blinded by shrapnel, Vosler repairs his radio - by touch - to send a distress signal as the damaged plane was about to ditch in the frigid waters of the North Sea. For his lifesaving actions, Vosler receives a promotion and is awarded the Medal of Honor.
DEC201989Less than a week after Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega declares that a state of war exists between his country and the United States, over 27,000 US troops and 300 aircraft invade Panama to protect American lives and overthrow Noriega.
DEC201992During Operation RESTORE HOPE, 300 American Marines and Belgian paratroopers hit the beaches of the Somalian port city of Kismayo in the first combined amphibious assault since the Vietnam War.
DEC211861President Abraham Lincoln signs a bill creating a "Medal of Honor" for enlisted sailors and Marines who "distinguish themselves by their gallantry and other seamanlike qualities during the present war." The Army version of the medal is signed into law the following summer.
DEC211866In the biggest defeat on the Great Plains until Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse tricks CPT William J. Fetterman into leading an ad hoc force outside the walls of Fort Phil Kearny, where the 78 soldiers and two civilian scouts are wiped out by approximately 2,000 Cheyenne and Sioux.
DEC211943Just days into her ninth war patrol, with one-quarter of skipper John A. Moore's crew having no combat experience, the submarine USS Grayback sinks its fourth Japanese ship in just three days.
DEC211944German troops from the 5th Panzer Army have surrounded the 101st Airborne at Bastogne, Belgium. Nearby, PVT Francis S. "Frank" Currey ignores heavy incoming fire, killing one German tank, disabling three others, and forcing an enemy unit to retreat after inflicting heavy casualties with an effective combination of fire from his automatic rifle, a bazooka, a halftrack, and anti-tank grenades. Five soldiers that had been pinned down for hours by enemy infantry and the now-empty tanks are able to escape. For his actions, Currey was awarded the Medal of Honor.
DEC211945Nearly one month after a vehicle accident that paralyzed him, GEN George S. Patton dies of a pulmonary embolism in a military hospital in Heidelberg, Germany.
DEC211950Airmen from the Fifth Air Force conduct Operation KIDDY CAR, the evacuation of nearly 1,000 Korean War orphans to the island of Cheju-do to escape approaching communist forces.
DEC211951During Operation HELICOPTER, medevac choppers land on the pad of USS Consolation, ferrying wounded from the battlefield directly to a hospital ship for the first time.
DEC211968COL Frank Borman (USAF), CPT James Lovell (USN), and MG William Anders (USAF) blast off aboard Apollo 8, becoming the first humans to leave Earth's orbit.
DEC221775The Continental Congress creates the Continental Navy. Esek Hopkins, Esq. is named commander-in-chief of the fleet, four captains are commissioned, as well as five 1LTs (including future hero John Paul Jones), five 2LTs, and three 3LTs.
DEC221864Following his “March to the Sea” and just before his “March through the Carolinas,” Union Army GEN William Tecumseh Sherman presents the captured city of Savannah to President Lincoln as a “Christmas gift.” The wire from Sherman to Lincoln reads; “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”
DEC221941Winston Churchill arrives in Washington, D.C. for the Arcadia Conference, the first military strategy summit between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister.
DEC221941The first U.S. troops arrive at Australia.
DEC221944Having surrounded the 101st Airborne at Bastogne, Belgium, German GEN Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz issues a surrender ultimatum to GEN Anthony C. McAuliffe, the acting commander for the 101st. Clement's one-word response: "NUTS!" Despite being heavily outnumbered, the 101st was able to hold out until the 4th Armored Division relieved them on 26 DEC.
DEC221944German commanders recommend ending the Rundstedt Offensive (Battle of the Bulge) due to a lack of significant progress.
DEC221944Near Kalterherberg Germany, TSGT Peter J. Dalessondro called in mortar strikes and used his rifle, grenades, and an acquired automatic weapon to save his unit from being completely routed by multiple overwhelming attacks. Dalessondro remains behind and is last heard calling for mortar strike on his own position as enemy troops surround and are poised to overtake him. For his selfless actions, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
DEC221950Air Force F-86 Sabres shoot down six communist MiG-15 fighters without losing a single jet in the biggest dogfight of the Korean War.
DEC231783Although Congress had granted him what amounted to dictatorial powers during the war, George Washington resigns his position as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.
DEC231814One day before a peace treaty is signed which ends the War of 1812, a force of 2,000 Regular Army and militia, commanded by MG Andrew Jackson, attacked and overruns 1,500 British troops on Villere's Plantation, Louisiana. The British are so disorganized that they are unable to launch their attack on New Orleans for several days. And when they do, it becomes one of the most lopsided victories in U.S. military history.
DEC231941After being repulsed by the American defenders during their first assault on Wake Atoll, Japanese air and land forces return and assault Wake, Wilkes, and Peale islands. After having endured 15 days of attacks and 12 hours of desperate fighting, U.S. forces finally surrender - but not until after they inflict heavy casualties on the landing force.
DEC231941The C-47 "Skytrain" makes its first flight. Douglas Aircraft will stamp out 10,000 of the versatile "Gooney Birds" which will serve the U.S. Armed Forces for three decades: towing gliders and delivering paratroopers at Normandy, dropping supplies during the Berlin Airlift, and providing close air support over Vietnam.
DEC23196882 crewmembers of the captured USS Pueblo walk across the "Bridge of No Return," ending 11 months of brutal captivity in North Korea.
DEC232002A General Atomics MQ-1 "Predator" drone and an Iraqi MiG-25 "Foxbat" engage each other in Iraq's "no-fly zone." The aircraft trade missiles, and the Iraqi fighter shoots down the Predator in the first-ever drone-versus-conventional-aircraft dogfight.
DEC241812Delegates from the United States and Great Britain sign the Treaty of Ghent in modern-day Belgium, bringing an end to the War of 1812. News travels slowly, however, and two weeks after the signing, MG Andrew Jackson defeats a British invasion force in the Battle New Orleans.
DEC241943670 B-17s and B-24s from the Eighth Air Force conduct a bombing raid at German long-range rocket sites at Pas de Calais, France.
DEC241944The heavy cloud cover and winter weather which had been kept American warplanes grounded during the Battle of the Bulge finally breaks after a week. Nearly 3,000 heavy bombers and fighters of the Eighth Air Force take off from England for the largest strike mission of the war to relieve the troops on the ground.
DEC241944BG Frederick W. Castle, commanding the 3rd Combat Bomb Wing, assigns himself as co-pilot of the lead bomber for this vital mission. While enroute, his B-17 develops engine problems causing it to drop out of formation. Since the bomber was over allied-controlled Belgium, he decided not to jettison his load of bombs, which would help them regain speed and maneuverability, but risked the lives of those below. Castle's hobbled bomber makes an easy target for Luftwaffe Bf-109 fighters, whose repeated attacks set the bomber on fire and send it into a dive. Castle orders the men to bail out while he remains at the controls, and the plane explodes before he can parachute safely. Castle's sacrifice saves the lives of five of his nine crewmembers and BG Castle is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
DEC241950An armada of ships and aircraft evacuate over 100,000 U.S. and South Korean troops, along with their equipment and 91,000 Korean refugees from the North Korean port of Hungnam, in what has become known by historians as the "greatest evacuation movement by sea in U.S. military history."
DEC241968Crew aboard the Apollo 8 spacecraft become the first humans to orbit the moon.
DEC241972A North Vietnamese MiG-21 Fishbed fighter closes in on the B-52 Diamond Lil while the bombers approach their target of a railyard at Thai Nguyen. Tail gunner A1C Albert E. Moore fires three bursts of fire from the B-52's quad .50 cal machine guns, shooting down the MiG and scoring the last-ever tail gun kill - and saving his bomber crew. Today, the Diamond Lil is on display at the Air Force Academy with a red star painted on the rear of the plane commemorating Moore's victory.
DEC261776After GEN George Washington's famous crossing of the icy Delaware River the night before and an eight-mile forced march, 2,500 Continental Army soldiers and militia catch the Hessian (German mercenaries fighting for the British) garrison at Trenton completely by surprise. Washington's force captures 900 soldiers along with weapons and supplies, incredibly without losing a single American soldier to combat. LT James Madison is one of the few soldiers wounded during the battle.
DEC261943Following a naval and air bombardment, the 1st Marine Division lands at Cape Gloucester in their first combat operation since Guadalcanal. Dense jungles, horrible weather, and near-impassable mud welcomed the invaders, but the Marines "adapt, improvise, and overcome," capturing the island from the Japanese in just over a week.
DEC261944Elements of the U.S. 4th Armored Division break the German Army's siege of Bastogne relieving the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division. The grateful but proud Airborne soldiers insist they are only being "relieved," not "rescued."
DEC261972Under cover of darkness, approaching from different headings, and flying at different altitudes, seven waves of B-52s - 120 bombers total - attack Hanoi and Haiphong. After just 15 minutes, 8,000 bombs have pounded North Vietnamese targets: in the largest raid of Operation LINEBACKER II, and the largest single combat launch in Strategic Air Command history.
DEC261972Harry S. Truman passes away. The former president enlisted in the Missouri National Guard as an artilleryman prior to World War I and would fight in Alsace and the Meuse-Argonne campaign. By war's end, Truman had been promoted to captain, and he remained in the Reserve Officer Corps - ultimately achieving the rank of COL in 1938.
DEC261998A week after the four-day bombing and cruise missile attack against targets in Iraq known as Operation DESERT FOX, Saddam Hussein announces that his military will target U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the "no-fly zones". The dictator will offer up a $14,000 reward to anyone that shoots down an American plane, but the Iraqi military can't come through.
DEC262006Former president Gerald Ford passes away. After the Pearl Harbor attacks, Ford enlisted in the Navy. The former University of Michigan football star receives his commission, serving as a navigator, antiaircraft battery officer, and athletic officer aboard the light carrier USS Monterrey in the Pacific Theater. LCDR Ford will remain on the inactive reserve list until 1963.
DEC271846Although heavily outnumbered, a force of Missouri militia led by COL Alexander W. Doniphan called the "Doniphan Thousand" defeats the Mexican army at El Paso and captures the city in one of the major battles of the Mexican-American War. By the time Doniphan and his men return to Missouri, they have undertaken what could be the longest military march (5,500 miles) since Alexander the Great.
DEC271935When a volcanic eruption threatens Hilo, Hawaii, Army Air Corps planes drop bombs in order to divert the lava flow.
DEC2719422LT Richard I. Bong, flying a P-38 Lighting over Buna, scores his first of 40 kills against Japanese aircraft. Bong will become the United States' top ace of World War II and is awarded the Medal of Honor.
DEC271943With railroad workers threatening a wartime strike, President Franklin D. Roosevelt seizes the critical infrastructure, putting the railroads under the supervision of the War Department.
DEC271950LTG Matthew B. Ridgway takes over as commander of the retreating 8th Army and immediately travels to the front lines, where he reorganizes the command structure and restores his men's morale. The Chinese offensive soon grinds to a halt and Ridgway will lead a counteroffensive in the spring.
DEC271992LTC Gary North shoots down an Iraqi MiG-25 in Iraq's southern no-fly zone with an AIM-120A missile, marking the first beyond-visual-range kill and the first combat air-to-air victory for the F-16.
DEC281941After the execution of civilian construction contractors who fought alongside the Marines on Wake Island until their capture by the Japanese, the Navy's Chief of Bureau of Yards and Docks, RADM Ben Moreell, requests that Naval construction battalions be created. The teams would be capable of building anything, anywhere, under any conditions, at any time, and - if necessary - picking up weapons and fighting. The famous Seabees have been born. In the Pacific Theater alone, they construct 111 major airfields, over 300 bases, and countless roads, bridges, and facilities. Just two years after their founding, ADM Ernest King will write that "Your ingenuity and fortitude have become a legend in the naval service."
DEC281944The Allies begin gaining ground during their counter-offensive in the Battle of the Bulge. Against the advice of his generals, who believe that further progress is impossible, Adolf Hitler orders renewed offensives in the Ardennes and Alsace.
DEC28198240 years after being launched, the Iowa-class battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62) is re-commissioned for the third - and final - time, after refitting the ship to carry Tomahawk cruise missiles. The "Big J" will finally be taken out of service following Operation DESERT STORM in 1991.
DEC281990In preparation for DESERT STORM, the aircraft carriers USS America (CV-66) and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) deploy from Norfolk, joining USS Ranger (CV-61) and USS Midway (CV-41) in the Persian Gulf, and USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) and USS Saratoga (CV-60) in the Red Sea.
DEC291778British troops, commanded by LTC Archibald Campbell, assault a force of militia and Continental Army soldiers defending Savannah. The King's Men easily defeat MG Robert Howe's army, killing, capturing, or wounding over 500. When the British gain control of the colony the following year, Campbell writes that he is "the first British officer to [take] a star and stripe from the flag of Congress."
DEC291812The USS Constitution defeats the British frigate HMS Java - the second of Old Ironsides' five victories - in a three-hour battle off the coast of Brazil. After Java is burned, the British admiralty orders their frigates never to engage American frigates in a one-on-one confrontation.
DEC291862Plans to capture Vicksburg are thwarted when GEN William Tecumseh Sherman's frontal assault across open ground against entrenched Confederate forces fails in the Battle of Chickasaw Bluffs.
DEC2918907th Cavalry troops surround a Sioux encampment at Wounded Knee Creek, attempting to disarm the Natives under Chief Big Foot. The soldiers attack when a shot is fired (it is not known who fired) and massacre over 150 Sioux, including many women and children. The Massacre at Wounded Knee is the last major engagement in the Plains Wars.
DEC291943The submarine USS Silversides (SS-236) sinks three Japanese cargo ships and damages a fourth off the Palau Islands.
DEC29197260 B-52 bombers target the North Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. While the "Stratofortresses" are still in the air, the communists inform the White House that they are ready to return to the peace talks.
DEC301813:ritish troops burn Buffalo, N.Y.
DEC301959The USS George Washington, America's first ballistic missile submarine, is commissioned at Groton.
DEC302006Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is executed by hanging following a conviction by an Iraqi court for murdering 148 Shiites from Dujail after an unsuccessful 1982 assassination attempt.