Weekly Occurrences in Military History and News from the LBP Frontline

The Lost Battalion Dispatch

Lost Battalion Dispatch #8 for the Week of August 22, 2022
This Week in Military History

The Geneva Convention is born. The battleship Iowa begins her career.

Henry Dunant
The 1st Geneva Convention was held on August 22, 1864. Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman and humanitarian witnessed the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in 1859 and was appalled by the suffering of 40,000 wounded Piedmontese and Austrian soldiers left on the field. The two sides lacked facilities and personnel to treat the men and refused to declare a truce so the wounded could be recovered.

With the help of Swiss lawyer Gustave Moynier, Dunant founded the International Red Cross in 1863. A year later, the Swiss government invited all the nations of Europe as well as the United States, Brazil, and Mexico to a diplomatic conference in Geneva. Twenty-six delegates from sixteen countries attended. They resolved to put international standards in place for the treatment of wounded soldiers. There were four basic tenets of the agreement. 1: All establishments for the treatment of the wounded were to be immune from capture or destruction. 2: Wounded men were to be impartially treated as such facilities no matter on which side of the conflict they fought. 3: Civilians treating the wounded were to be inviolate. 4: The Red Cross symbol was adopted as the means by which persons, equipment, and facilities covered by the agreement were to be recognized.

By 1882, 12 of the 16 countries that had sent representatives had signed the agreement. It was revised and expanded by a second convention in 1906 and by the Hauge Conventions of 1899 and 1907 which extended and adapted the basic tenets to Naval warfare. The Final Act of the Geneva Convention in 1949 updated and replaced the earlier treaties. Currently, 196 nations have adopted the Geneva Convention.

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A destroyed German armored car after the Fourth Battle of Kharkov. Note that the Soviets are riding on a British Mark IV Churchill tank rather than the vaunted T-34.
The Fourth Battle (and final) World War II Battle of Kharkov ended on August 23, 1943.

The first battle over the city occurred in October of 1941 when German 6th Army captured the manufacturing base of the legendary, but somewhat overrated T-34 Soviet tank, after a four-day battle only to find that the Soviets had relocated much of the manufacturing equipment far to the east.

The second battle was fought for two weeks in May of 1942 when the Soviets counter-attacked after stalling the German offensive during the intervening winter. German Field Marshall von Bock conducted a determined defense, losing 20 to 30 thousand men while inflicting over 270,000 casualties on the Russians, 170,000 of which were killed in action. The city was left in rubble when the Germans withdrew, leaving the Soviets with a Pyrrhic victory.

After the debacle at Stalingrad and the success of the Soviet Operation Uranus, German Field Marshall Erich von Manstein stemmed the Russian tide with a brilliant campaign between February 18 and March 20 which ended with Kharov once again in German hands.

The Fourth and final battle came in the wake of the German failure at Kursk. Once again, the Germans, this time under the direction of Manstein, inflicted massive casualties on the attacking Russians. 50,000 Red Army soldiers were killed and 180,000 wounded while the Germans suffered 9000 killed and missing, and 16,000 wounded.

Amazingly, the Russian army seems not to have learned the folly of attacking this Ukrainian city in the face of fierce resistance. After being thrown back from the city in late February of 2022, the Russians attempted to bypass and encircle it. In May, a Ukrainian counterattack broke the encirclement. Since then, the Russians had resorted to shelling a city that seem impossible for them to capture. An estimated 4000 Russians have been killed in these futile efforts while Ukrainian military casualties are roughly one-tenth that number.

The Battle of the Eastern Solomons or The Second Battle of the Solomon Sea was fought between the United States Navy and that of Imperial Japan on August 24 and 25 of 1942. History’s third major carrier battle, after the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway, was an unquestionable US victory and served to further deplete the ranks of trained Japanese naval aviators.

The Japanese plan was to destroy the American carriers in the waters off Guadalcanal so a strong surface force could eliminate the other American ships in the area, neutralize Henderson Field on the island, and then land reinforcement to destroy the Marines defending it. The Japanese carrier Ryujo opened the battle with a strike on Henderson Field, but was in turn crippled and sunk by a raid from the USS Saratoga. The remaining Japanese carriers Sokaku and Zuikaku launched a strike against Saratoga and Enterprise. Enterprise took the brunt of this attack. She was hit by three bombs, heavily damaged, and set on fire. However, US Navy crews were highly trained in damage control techniques and Enterprise was sufficiently repaired to resume flight operations only an hour after the attack.

The Japanese pilots reported that both American carriers were heavily damaged and out of action so a surface force was dispatched to destroy them during the night but the carriers had withdrawn out of range of this force. Meanwhile, the Japanese carriers also withdrew due to heavy aircraft losses and low fuel. The Japanese invasion force steamed on toward Guadalcanal but was driven back by an attack from planes based at Henderson Field and a flight of B-17s from Espiritu Santo that heavily damaged the light cruiser Jinstu and sank a transport and a destroyer.

Eventually, the bulk of the Japanese reinforcements would arrive on Guadalcanal, being delivered piecemeal aboard destroyers at night, but they were forced to leave most of their heavy equipment behind.

The real damage to the Japanese war effort was the loss of 61 veteran aircrews. The US lost only 7 planes in the battle and several of the pilots were rescued.

USS Enterprise burning during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.
Henschell Hs 923 Glide Bomb
On August 25, 1943, the Germans made the first successful attack on a ship by a guided missile, slightly damaging two Royal Navy ships in the Bay of Biscay. Two days later, HMS Egret, a Royal Navy sloop was patrolling the bay to intercept German U-boats along with another sloop, four frigates, and two destroyers. They were attacked by 18 Dornier Do-217 bombers equipped with the new Henschell Hs 293 glide bombs which could be radio-controlled by operators aboard the bombers. Egret was stuck and sunk with the loss of 198 men. One of the destroyers was hit and heavily damaged but the other was able to avoid the guided missiles by out turning them. This was history’s first loss of a ship to a guided missile attack.
Romanus IV Riding toward his Doom
Anatolia (modern Turkey) was effectively lost to the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) empire on August 26, 1071, at the Battle of Mazikert.

A Byzantine army under command of the Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes had advanced eastward to put an end to the growing threat of the Seljuk Turks under Alp Arslan. After pushing the Seljuks back throughout the day, Romanus ordered a withdrawal as night began to fall. This led to confusion on his right flank. The Seljuks were quick to take advantage of this with their highly mobile bow-armed cavalry.

The battle might still have been saved as Byzantine doctrine demanded the army be deployed with a supporting line of infantry and cavalry behind the main attacking force. Unfortunately, Romanus had entrusted command of the second line to Andronikus Doukas, the son of one of his chief rivals. Doukas ignored orders to support the failing right wing and instead began to withdraw himself.

The Byzantine left wing soon faltered and the center was encircled along with the Emperor. Loyal Armenian troops and the elite Varangian guardsmen surrounded the Emperor in a sunken roadway and fought into the night to save him, dying almost to the man in the process.

Romanus was wounded and taken captive by the Seljuks. He was ransomed and released in short order, only to face a civil war wherein he was defeated by the Doukas family, deposed, blinded, and sent into exile. These events were so destabilizing that the Empire was never able to reassert control over Anatolia, the main recruiting ground for its military.

The battle was not the end for Byzantium, but it began a long, slow decline that would eventually result in another Turkish empire, the Ottomans capturing Constantinople in 1453.

USS Iowa launched on August 27, 1942. The Iowa class would be the last class of battleships deployed by the United States Navy. Exactly one year later, Iowa set sail on her first mission, hunting for the German battleship Tirpitz which was thought to be cruising in Norwegian waters and threatening Allied convoys.

In November of that year, she transported President Franklin Roosevelt and his staff across the Atlantic on the first leg of his voyage to the Tehran Conference with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.

As 1944 began, Iowa transited the Panama Canal for service in the Pacific where she served as escort for a Fast Carrier Battle Group and participated in numerous shore bombardments. She reprised this role during the Korean War and was deployed in the Persian Gulf to escort oil tankers during the “Tanker War” phase of the Iran-Iraqi war in the 80s. During a gunnery exercise in 1989, a powder explosion in her Number Two turret killed 47 sailors.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Iowa was decommissioned. She is currently a museum ship docked at San Pedro Berth 87 in the Port of Los Angeles.

USS Iowa in the Pacific
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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.

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