The Lost Battalion Publishing Dispatch #20

A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting Historical Occurrences



The Lost Battalion Dispatch #20 for the Week of November 13, 2022

This Week in History

A Battleship v. Battleship Brawl, an Expedition, and the End of an Empire

Friedrich Guggenberger and Ark Royal

On November 13, 1941, Friedrich Guggenberger, commander of U-81, was guiding his submarine through the Gibraltar Straits when he came upon Force H, a British naval task force that was returning after escorting a convoy to Malta. Guggenberger fired torpedoes at the battleship HMS Malaya. He missed. One of the stray torpedoes struck HMS Ark Royal amidships, flooding the starboard boiler room, oil tanks, and a large portion of the bilge. Within 20 minutes, the aircraft carrier developed an 18-degree list. Because other British carriers had sunk quickly with great loss of life, Captain Loben Maund immediately ordered the crew to abandon ship.

Responding to Maund’s order, the crew assembled on the flight deck to determine who would stay aboard and attempt to save the carrier. This delayed damage control efforts until 49 minutes after the torpedo hit. By this time flooding had spread to such an extent that it was not possible to save the ship. She capsized and sank the next day. Maund was convicted of negligence by a court-martial in February of 1942.

Guggenberger heard the torpedo explosion but was then kept busy avoiding the depth charges of the escorting destroyers. Thinking he’d sunk a battleship; he was surprised to learn he’d sunk a carrier instead. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross for the achievement. Guggenberger sank a total of 17 ships before an American PBM Mariner depth-charged his U-513 off Brazil in 1943. He survived the sinking and took part in the Great Papago Escape from the US POW camp near Phoenix, AZ. He was 10 miles from the Mexican border when he was recaptured.

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USS Washington

The Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal took place on the night of November 14-15, 1941. A Japanese force, consisting of a battleship, two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and nine destroyers, was engaged by four American destroyers and two battleships while escorting transports to the island.

The American destroyer screen was roughly handled by the Japanese and the battleship USS South Dakota was heavily damaged before the battleship USS Washington stormed to her rescue, sinking the battleship IJN Kirishima. The United States lost three destroyers, the Japanese lost Kirishima and a destroyer.

The Japanese transports made it to the island where they beached themselves to unload their troops and cargo. 2000 of the 3000 soldiers aboard safely disembarked, but most of their ammunition, food, and heavy equipment were destroyed when planes from Henderson Field, artillery, and the USS Meade destroyed the beached ships.

This was one of only two battleship-versus-battleship actions of the Pacific War. The other was the one-sided destruction of the Japanese Southern Force at the Battle of Surigao Straits during the Leyte Gulf campaign.

Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Columbia River, on November 15, 1805, a year and a half after leaving St. Louis, Missouri in search of the Northwest Passage. By this time, they knew there would be no water passage from the Mississippi to the Pacific. Even if a portage from the headwaters of the Missouri river to a tributary of the Columbia had been possible, they had discovered that western rivers were too full of rapids and waterfalls to make traversing them practical.

Nevertheless, the expedition was a success because of the extensive body of scientific data gathered concerning the flora, fauna, and geography of the West. The journals of the Corps of Volunteers for Northwestern Discovery laid the foundation for America’s westward expansion. You can peruse them in their entirety here.

William Clark and Merriwether Lewis

Pizzaro capturing Atahualpa

168 Spaniards with 12 arquebuses and a cannon defeated between three and eight thousand Incan warriors at the Battle of Cajamarca on November 16, 1532. Incan emperor Atahualpa was captured by the leader of the Spanish expedition, Francisco Pizzaro. Atahualpa was later executed in retaliation for allegedly ordering the killing of a Spaniard. This essentially brought the power of the Incan Empire to an end.

The Spanish installed Atahualpa’s brother Manco as emperor.  Many of the indigenous peoples that had been conquered by the Incas saw the Spanish as liberators at first. When Spanish colonial officials adopted the Incan forced labor system for their own use, this quickly changed. Four years later, Manco took advantage of Spanish in-fighting to revolt. He set up a Neo-Incan empire in the mountainous Vilcabamba region, harassed the Spaniards, and fomented revolts against them for the next 36 years.

John Bardeen

On November 17, 1947, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain performed the first of a series of experiments on germanium crystals, observing that, when gold point contacts were applied, a signal input from one contact produced an output with greater power at the other. By December 16, they had created the first point-contact transistor. Transistors are the key components of all modern electronic devices, making this, almost undeniably, the most important discovery of the 20th century.

In 1956, Bardeen, Brattain, and William Shockley, leader of the Solid State Physics Group at AT&T’s Bell Labs in Murray Park, NJ where the discovery was made, shared the Noble Prize for Physics for “researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect.”

Bardeen would share another Nobel Prize for his work on superconductivity in 1972, making him the only person ever awarded two Nobel Prizes for Physics. If Albert Einstein had been alive, he would have been jealous.

The Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty between Panama and the United States was signed on November 18, 1903, just over two weeks after Panama declared independence from Columbia. The treaty gave the United States complete control over the Canal Zone.

After the French efforts to build a sea-level canal across the isthmus of Panama failed, the company that owned the franchise sought a new plan and a buyer. Manager Phillipe Bunau-Varilla came up with a lock and lake design that was shopped to the United States. The US Congress, keen to obtain a shorter passage to the West Coast, approved a treaty with Columbia very similar to the one later signed with Panama in preparation to make the deal, but the Columbian Senate rejected it. Bunau-Varilla then told President Teddy Roosevelt and Secretary of State John Hay that separatists in Panama might be encouraged to revolt against Columbia if properly motivated.

US warships proceeded to the region to block the sea routes the Columbian Army would need to use to reach Panama. Attacking overland through the Darien jungle was not practical. When all the pieces were in place, Panama declared independence. The United States immediately recognized the new country. US troops moved in to guarantee its sovereignty almost before the declaration of independence reached Bogota. Columbia protested vehemently but could do little else. Roosevelt had spoken softly while carrying a big stick. US newspapers and some congressmen were outraged, but the deed was done. Roosevelt later said, “I took the Isthmus, started the canal, and then left Congress not to debate the canal, but to debate me.”

The US purchased the French equipment, excavations, and the Panama Railroad for $40 million and paid Panama $10 million plus $250,000/year for governance of the Canal Zone in perpetuity. The canal was completed at a cost of $500 million and formally opened on August 15, 1914. It vastly improved the expense of shipping goods from West Coast and Far Eastern markets and consequently ruined the economy of Chilean ports, Patagonian sheep farms, and the Falkland Islands. In 1921 the US settled with Columbia, paying $25 million and receiving in turn Columbian recognition for Panamanian independence.

USS Missouri transiting the Panama Canal in 1945

HMAS Sydney encountered the German commerce raider Kormoran off the coast of Western Australia around 4 PM on November 19, 1941. The raider used several ruses to lure the light cruiser into close range before hoisting the Kriegsmarine flag and opening fire.

After a 30-minute battle, both ships were left heavily damaged and on fire. Sydney steamed away from the fight and sank about 4 hours later with the loss of all 645 hands. Kormoran remained afloat until midnight before being scuttled as the crew abandoned her. 318 of her 399 crew were rescued by the Australian navy or captured after reaching the mainland in lifeboats.

The wreck of HMAS Sydney was discovered 128 miles offshore in 2008

B Turret of HMAS Sydney showing shell pentration

Refight the Naval Battles for Guadalcanal

Battlegroup puts you in command of naval Task Forces in exciting World War II combat. Can you make the decisions that will keep your ships afloat and leave those of the enemy resting at the bottom of Iron Bottom Sound?

Find out here: Battlegroup

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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