Lost Battalion Dispatch #32

A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting
Historical Occurrences with occasional
contributions by Ian S. McCaskie


This Week in History: An alliance with France, a plague in San Fransisco, and the Beatles meet Ed Sullivan.

The Lost Battalion Dispatch #32 for the Week of February 5, 2023

The Breguet 14 B2 and Lt. Stephen W. Thompson
Lt. Stephen W. Thompson claimed the first aerial victory for a member of the United States armed forces on February 5, 1918. Thompson, however, was not the pilot of the aircraft nor was he flying in an American plane. The United States 1st Aero Squadron had arrived in France in September but had not yet begun combat operations. Lt. Thompson was visiting a French squadron when he was invited to fly as gunner-bombardier aboard a Breguet 14 B2. After bombing a target near Saarbrücken, Germany, the French squadron was attacked by Albatross D. III fighters. Thompson shot one down. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Bronze Palm, a French medal bestowed on foreign soldiers who perform a heroic deed in the service of France.
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French Alliance Stamp from 1978
The fledgling United States signed its first military treaty on February 6, 1778. Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee negotiated a deal with France which declared: “The essential and direct End of the present defensive alliance is to maintain effectually the liberty, Sovereignty, and independance [sic] absolute and unlimited of the said united States, as well in Matters of Gouvernement as of commerce.” Both sides agreed never to make peace with England until that independence was recognized. Also signed that day was the Treaty of Amity and Commerce wherein the Most Christian King of France formally recognized the independence of the United States.

France informed Great Britain of the treaties on March 13th. Four days later, the British declared war on France, turning a colonial rebellion into a full-scale geopolitical conflict between world superpowers. Significant military and financial aid from France flowed into the United States and was a crucial factor in the success of the American Revolution.

During the French Revolution, several actions of the French government led to public dissatisfaction with the treaty. Despite declaring it to be still in effect regardless of the change in French government, George Washington, in his Farewell Address, warned that “permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated.” The French were angered by 1794 Treaty of London between the United States and Great Britain which averted war and established peaceful trade between the two nations. Tension between the United States and Revolutionary France came to a head during the presidency of John Adams. A vote was scheduled in the Senate to annul the treaty and, despite efforts by Thomas Jefferson and his supporters to prevent it from passing, achieved exactly the 2/3rds majority needed on July 7, 1798. The United States did not establish another formal military alliance until World War II.

In 1978, the treaty signing was immortalized on a US Bicentennial stamp. The original document and a transcript can be seen on the National Archives website by clicking here.

On February 7, 1900, Wong Chut King, a salesman at a San Fransisco lumber yard, fell sick. His Chinese doctors thought it was typhus or gonorrhea but when he died on March 6th a police surgeon was suspicious of his swollen lymph glands. The city’s bacteriologist was called in. He thought he saw bubonic plague bacilli in his microscope and sent samples to the lab of Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun, chief quarantine officer of the US Marine Hospital Service. It would take four days for the results to come in. The police surgeon and a health department officer immediately called on the Board of Health to quarantine San Fransisco’s Chinatown.

The Board initially complied. On the morning of March 7th, the area was circled by ropes and surrounded by policemen who prevented the 25,000 to 35,000 residents from leaving. The Chinese Consul General complained, and the Board lifted the quarantine after only two days saying, “the general clamor had become too great to ignore.” When Dr. Kinyoun confirmed the existence of the plague, the Board did not restore the quarantine but simply sent inspectors backed by policemen into Chinatown to attempt to disinfect the neighborhood. Chinese resistance to property suspected of harboring “filth” being taken and burned led to physical violence with the police and the Chinese began hiding residents who were sick.

California governor Henry Gage feared that word of the bubonic plague in his state would damage the economy and so he publicly denied its existence. Compliant newspapers began a defamation campaign against Dr. Kinyoun. US Surgeon General Walter Wyman and Treasury Secretary Lyman Gage intervened, establishing a commission of medical experts experienced in identifying and treating plague cases. The commission conclusively determined that bubonic plague was present in San Fransisco.

Gage denounced the findings.

Wyman instructed Kinyoun to restore the quarantine of Chinatown, block all East Asians from entering the state, and have all persons of Asian heritage in Chinatown inoculated with an experimental vaccine. The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association filed suit in federal court to prevent the vaccinations and judge William Morrow ruled in their favor. No quarantine was imposed. Travel remained unrestricted.

Meanwhile, the plague continued to spread. There were dead rats everywhere.

In a 1901 address to the state legislature, Governer Gage accused Kinyoun of injecting plague bacteria into cadavers to falsify evidence. Claiming that the Marine Hospital Service was engaged in scaremongering, he pushed a bill to censor any media reports of plague. The bill failed to pass, but a slightly watered-down law preventing reports being shared within the medical community did and $100,000 was budgeted for a public relations campaign denying the plague’s existence. Gage also sent a commission to Washington D.C. composed of railroad, newspaper, and shipping lawyers. They negotiated an agreement with MHS to remove Kinyoun from San Fransisco in return for a promise of cooperation in stamping out the epidemic. Gage quickly reneged on his part of the bargain. The plague continued to spread.

By 1902 the news could no longer be contained. Reports from the Sacramento Bee and Associated Press publicly contradicted the San Fransisco newspapers consistent denials of the outbreak. Colorado, Texas, and Louisiana imposed quarantines of rail and shipping cargo from California. With the threat of a national quarantine looming, the shipping and railroad interests that had backed Gage decided to toss him overboard. They refused to support his reelection bid and had physician and former Oakland mayor George Pardee nominated in his place. When he was elected, Pardee immediately implemented public health measures including the spending of millions of dollars to eradicate the flea-bearing San Fransisco rats primarily responsible for spreading the disease.

By 1904 the plague was under control. Had such measures been taken when Kinyoun called for a quarantine, bubonic plague might never have established a toehold in North America. It has since spread across the western United States carried by fleas on rats and rural rodents like squirrels and prairie dogs. On average seven cases a year have been reported in humans during the last two decades.

The San Fransisco outbreak was part of the third bubonic plague pandemic which began in Yunnan, China in 1855. It killed at least 12 million people in India and China and perhaps up to three million more worldwide. The pandemic was considered active until 1960 when worldwide deaths from bubonic plague dropped below 200 per year. The first pandemic, also called the Plague of Justinian, spread from Constantinople beginning in 541 and may have killed 100 million people. The second pandemic, known as the Black Death, began in 1342 in Sarai, capital city of the Mongol’s Golden Horde on the lower Volga River. When it reached Europe in 1348, up to 200 million people died, about half of the population. Between 1901 and 1904 only 119 people died of plague in San Fransisco.

There is no vaccine for the plague. If treated early, antibiotics can reduced the death rate to around 16%. Untreated cases have a 66 to 93% mortality rate.

Yersinia Pestis, Plague Bacteria
Russian Shore Battery in Action at Port Arthur
The Russo-Japanese War began on the night of February 8, 1904. At around 10:30 PM a squadron of Japanese destroyers encountered Russian patrols while approaching Port Arthur, Manchuria with the intent of attacking the Russian fleet anchored there. Although tensions were high between the two nations, the Russians had orders not to initiate combat. The encounter threw the Japanese formation into confusion and two of the Japanese ships collided causing them to fall behind the other destroyers while they dealt with the damage.

Just after midnight, four destroyers were able to make coordinated torpedo attacks which damaged the protected cruiser Pallada and the battleship Retvizan. The remaining destroyers arrived piecemeal after the element of surprise had been lost. Attacking individually instead of in concert they were less effective. Of 16 torpedoes fired that night only three struck home. The third strike was a lucky one for the Japanese that disabled Tsesarevich, the most powerful battleship in the Russian fleet.

The next morning, a Japanese recon force was sent to look into Port Arthur. The commander misjudged the extent of the damage to the Russian fleet and their readiness for battle. At his recommendation, the main Japanese fleet steamed into the harbor to attack despite the fact that the Russians would have support from their shore batteries.

The Japanese attack began at noon. Twenty minutes later, Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō realized his subordinate’s mistake and ordered his ships to retreat.

Neither side lost a major warship in the Battle of Port Arthur. The Japanese suffered seven hits to their capital ships, the Russians took five. Since the Japanese had fled the field, it could be counted as a minor victory for the Russians except for the fact that they had limited repair facilities at Port Arthur while the Japanese were only a short distance from their main ports and drydocks.

Japanese proximity to the theater of conflict would prove to be a decisive factor in the overall war. After deploying mines outside Port Arthur to keep the Russian Far Eastern Fleet bottled up there, troops were landed to besiege the port. In April, the entire Russian fleet was destroyed by land-based long-range artillery. In 1905 the Russian Baltic fleet was defeated after steaming halfway around the world to fight the Japanese in the Tsunami Straits. After this, the Russians were forced to accept peace terms.

An estimated 73 million Americans watched The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. The Fab Four sang two of their own songs and did a cover of Meredith Wilson’s “Till There Was You.” There was screaming from the audience at the end of every line of the lyrics. It was an extraordinarily successful appearance. During the next month 2.5 million records were sold in the US by the “youngsters from Liverpool “and they became the first act to hold all five top spots on the Billboard chart.

You can see the entire performance here.

The Beatles
HMS Dreadnought was christened by King George VII with a bottle of Australian wine on February 10, 1906. The battleship revolutionized naval technology. She was the first of her kind to be equipped solely with 12-inch guns instead of a variety of larger and smaller caliber weapons. Her turbine engines gave her a top speed of 21 knots, making her faster than any other battleship in the world.

The launch of Dreadnought sparked a naval arms race. By creating a ship that outclassed all others, Great Britain had inadvertently made her own fleet, the strongest in the world, just as obsolete as those of her rivals. The resulting naval power struggle was one of the factors that led to World War One.

HMS Dreadnought
At 2 PM on February 11, 1979, the Supreme Military Council of Iran declared neutrality in the country’s “current political disputes” and ordered all military units to return to their bases. The move effectively ended the provisional non-Islamist government that had been struggling to control Iran since the departure of the Shah on January 16th. Revolutionary forces loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini promptly took over government buildings, TV and radio stations, and the palace. February 11 is celebrated as “Islamic Revolution’s Victory Day” in Iran with state-sponsored demonstrations.
2009 Victory Day Celebration in Tehran
Brawling Battleships
Brawl with HMS Dreadnought

Brawling Battleships is a fast-paced card game where you try to sink as many dreadnaughts as possible. Learn more and get a copy today by clicking here.

About the Lost Battalion Dispatch

This weekly newsletter is brought to you by Cher Ami, the homing pigeon whose heroic flight helped bring relief from a barrage of friendly fire to the First Battalion, 308th Infantry of 77th New York Infantry Division and alerted high command that over 500 American troops were holding out against all odds while surrounded in the Argonne Forest during World War One.

At Lost Battalion Publishing we take inspiration from the historical Lost Battalion that never gave up, never lost hope, and persevered despite a series of devastating setbacks.

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