Bloody April - History

Bloody April - History


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Led by German Ace Baron Manfred von Richthofen (the "Red Baron") the British lost 316 aircrew members compared to the loss of 116 German air crews. The Germans were once again flying superior aircraft- the Albatros& the Halberstadt. A British pilot lasted on average only 17 hours in the air before being shot down.


Mary Tudor: brutal but brilliant

For centuries, Mary Tudor has been portrayed as a heartless zealot with the blood of hundreds of Protestants on her hands. But, argues Alexander Samson, behind the grisly caricature stands one of England's most accomplished monarchs

This competition is now closed

Published: November 17, 2020 at 11:00 am

“A horrible and bloody time.” That’s how the 16th-century Puritan preacher John Foxe described the reign of Mary I. And it’s a verdict that’s stuck. For much of the past 450 years, Mary has been widely cast as a malevolent force in English history. She’s the cruel reactionary who burned Protestants at the stake the Catholic traitor who served England up on a plate to her grasping Spanish husband. And perhaps worst of all, she’s the jealous half-sister who plotted the future Elizabeth I’s downfall – thus almost denying England one of its greatest reigns. When historians describe the 16th century as a glorious chapter in English history, more often than not they don’t have the five years that Mary occupied the throne in mind.

Of course, not everyone has shared this negative assessment of England’s first queen regnant. In her influential 12-volume Lives of the Queens of England (1842–48), the historical writer and poet Agnes Strickland offered a more sympathetic assessment of Mary, informed by a return to primary sources.

Three major biographies following on the heels of the 450th anniversary of Mary’s death (in 2008) also attempted to redress the balance, praising the queen for her intelligence, astute policies and refusal to be dominated by court favourites.

But such reappraisals have failed to turn the tide of opinion. For her attempts to resuscitate Mary’s reputation, Strickland was dismissed as a “papistical sympathiser”. As for the more recent efforts to fight Mary’s corner, they were unceremoniously thrust aside in 2010 by a London Dungeon exhibition entitled Killer Queen: Bloody Mary. Not only were visitors to the dungeons ‘treated’ to the smell of burning flesh, Tube adverts for the show featured a digital poster of Mary that morphed into a screeching zombie – one deemed so frightening that the Advertising Standards Authority chose to ban it.

So why has the image of a bloody, fanatical Mary won out so conclusively over more sympathetic appraisals of the Tudor queen? To a great extent, the answer lies in religion. For centuries, historians have celebrated the Protestant Reformation in England (begun by Mary’s father, Henry VIII, and extended by her siblings Edward VI and Elizabeth I) as a movement of national liberation. Mary’s role in the whole saga is often portrayed as that of a wicked Catholic witch – one who threatened to strangle this glorious chapter in English history at birth. The re-Catholicisation of England under Mary is seen consequently as a temporary reverse on the road to Anglican triumph, a backward-facing and reactionary undermining of hard-won sovereign independence. It is this fact, above all others, that has fed Mary’s dark reputation.

But cut through the stereotypes and the propaganda, and examine what Mary actually achieved, and I believe that a far more positive picture of Mary’s reign emerges – that of a conscientious woman who blazed a trail for female rulers, and established England as a serious player on the world stage. In fact, if any of the Tudor kings and queens can lay claim to the title ‘illustrious’, then I would argue that it’s Mary.

Herculean daring

That Mary was able to secure the throne at all was a remarkable achievement. When her brother, the fervently Protestant Edward VI, died on 6 July 1553, her future hung in the balance. Edward had disinherited his Catholic sister from the succession, and the powerful Duke of Northumberland – supported by a well-provisioned army – was preparing to make his move for the throne. When Northumberland had the Protestant Lady Jane Grey (a relative of Mary’s) proclaimed queen on 10 July 1553, Mary found herself firmly on the back foot. But she soon turned the situation to her advantage, gathering a small but loyal group of followers around her, assembling a military force at Framlingham Castle in Suffolk, and turning up the pressure on her opponents. Northumberland soon crumbled and, on 1 October, Mary was crowned queen in Westminster Abbey. It was, wrote one of the new queen’s supporters, a feat “of Herculean rather than womanly daring”.

If one image has come to define the woman who reigned England for the following five years, then it is perhaps Anthonis Mor’s portrait of Mary from 1554 (shown on page 29). One art historian has described the queen’s gaze in the painting as fanatical, gargoyle-like and frightening. But this is certainly not a characterisation that the diplomat Annibale Litolfi would have recognised. Having met Mary, he noted that she was “not at all ugly as in her portraits, and that her lively expression, white skin and air of gratia, even rendered her beautiful”.

As for the idea that she was dour and austere, this is belied by an anecdote relayed by Juan Hurtado de Mendoza, a servant of Philip of Spain, in which, we’re told, that Mary laughed so hard at a joke that she spluttered for breath.

This is a mere vignette but it offers us a glimpse of Mary’s fun-loving side. Here was a woman who loved fashion, gambling, hunting, entertainments and chivalric pursuits.

If the accusation that Mary was devoid of humour is groundless, then so is the image of a queen hopelessly out of step with the desires of her people. Few doubt now that the majority of the population in England welcomed Mary’s restoration of traditional religion following the moves towards Reformation rolled out under her father and brother over the past two decades.

Mary’s religious programme was supported by a highly effective campaign of preaching, public religious ritual and a rapid restocking of the material fabric of churches. Bells and hymns echoed through the streets as many parishes signalled their solidarity with the queen’s traditional beliefs.

But this was not a reactionary resumption of hardline Catholicism. Mary’s reign witnessed a movement away from pilgrimage and the cult of saints, pointing the way for the reinvigorated Catholicism of Europe in the late 16th century. It is worth remembering that the Great Bible – the first complete translation of the Bible into English, authorised by Henry VIII – was never officially withdrawn under Mary. What’s more, monastery lands confiscated by her father were not returned to the church but remained in the hands of their new owners.

In fact, Catholic restoration must be counted among Mary’s greatest achievements, reversing in five short years the wholesale theological changes of a generation. The longevity of England’s Catholic recusant community after her reign – during the Protestant administration of Elizabeth I and beyond – is due, in no small part, to the effectiveness of Mary’s religious policies.

Timeline: Mary Tudor’s turbulent life

18 February 1516

Mary is born in Greenwich. She is the only child of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (pictured above), to survive infancy

23 May 1533

Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine is declared invalid five months after he marries a second wife, Anne Boleyn. Mary is deemed illegitimate and stripped of her succession rights

28 January 1547

Henry VIII dies and is succeeded by his son, as Edward VI (above). Mary repeatedly defies her fervently Protestant half-brother by refusing to renounce her Catholicism

6 July 1553

King Edward VI dies, aged 15. Lady Jane Grey, a Protestant relation of Mary’s, is proclaimed queen four days later

3 August 1553

Having gathered a military force in Suffolk and outmanoeuvred her rivals, Mary rides into London in triumph, accompanied by her half-sister Elizabeth. Lady Jane Grey is imprisoned in the Tower of London

1 October 1553

Mary is crowned queen by her lord chancellor, Stephen Gardiner, at Westminster Abbey

12 February 1554

Lady Jane Grey is executed on Mary’s orders. Her fate is sealed by the so-called Wyatt rebellion against Mary’s rule, in which her father is implicated

18 March 1554

Mary has her half-sister, Elizabeth (pictured above), imprisoned in the Tower of London, after it’s alleged that she too supported the Wyatt rebellion. Yet lacking firm evidence of her sister’s guilt, Mary refrains from ordering Elizabeth’s execution

25 July 1554

Despite the reservations of some of the most powerful figures in the English court, Mary marries Philip of Spain at Winchester Cathedral

April 1555

Thanksgiving services are held in London after erroneous rumours spread that Mary has given birth to a son. Mary, it seems, has experienced a false pregnancy

21 March 1556

Thomas Cranmer, former archbishop of Canterbury, is burned at the stake. He is one of more than 280 ‘heretics’ executed during Mary’s reign

17 November 1558

Mary dies, aged 42, during an influenza epidemic. The English crown passes to her half-sister, Elizabeth

Blood on her hands

One area in which we can’t exonerate Mary, however, is the campaign of persecution that earned her the title ‘Bloody Mary’. Her savage clampdown on religious dissent claimed at least 284 victims over four years – the majority of whom were burned at the stake.

At one time, historians sought to distance Mary from the persecution of Protestants, blaming it on Spanish influence, embittered conservatives or unscrupulous counsellors. Such arguments are undermined by the fact that witnesses at the later trial of Bartolomé Carranza, one of the architects of the Catholic restoration, attested to the queen’s personal involvement in discussions with both him and Cardinal Reginald Pole concerning religious policy and theology. And there’s little escaping the fact that the burning of dissenters was particularly intense in England.

In fact, the only defence you could offer Mary is that she was far from the only European monarch to persecute dissidents. The Council of Blood in the Low Countries claimed a thousand lives in just over seven years, while more than 200 Catholics were put to death under Elizabeth I. In short, all rulers were under an obligation of intolerance and burning ‘heretics’ was a ubiquitous practice. What’s more, recent scholarship has suggested that, by the end of Mary’s reign, high-profile victims were declining markedly and dissidence apparently weakening. Mary’s campaign of persecution may have been brutal, but all the suggestions are that it had the desired effect.

Getting her man

If Mary’s ardent Catholicism was – in the eyes of generations of Protestant polemicists – her greatest crime, then her choice of husband only made matter worse. Mary’s marriage to Philip, the future king of Spain, exposed her to a barrage of criticism: that she had little agency in the marriage that it was an entirely loveless marriage (for more on this, see box right) that Philip’s true aim in marrying Mary was to incorporate England into his Spanish Catholic empire.

None of these arguments entirely stand up to scrutiny. Mary was certainly no passive onlooker during the marriage negotiations, bargaining hard and exaggerating the weakness of her position in order to extract greater concessions and more favourable terms. She certainly desired the union, too – and demonstrated as much when facing down opposition from parliament and her lord chancellor, Stephen Gardiner. “If she were married against her will she would not live three months,” she declared.

Yet opposition to the marriage continued to simmer – and, in early 1554, it exploded into a popular uprising, led by the Kentish politician and landowner Thomas Wyatt. Soon the rebels were growing in number and heading for London: Mary’s administration found itself in an existential crisis.

But this was a challenge the queen proved herself more than capable of meeting. As the revolt gathered momentum, Mary delivered a speech at the Guildhall that galvanised resistance to the uprising among Londoners. Casting herself as the mother of the people, she declared: “I cannot tell how naturally the mother loveth the child, for I was never mother of any… if a prince or governor may as naturally and earnestly love her subjects, as the mother doth the child, then assure yourselves, that I, being your lady and mistress, do as earnestly and tenderly love and favour you.” Denied Londoners’ support, Wyatt’s rebellion was doomed to fail. He was captured and executed, his head and limbs placed on public display. Soon, both houses of parliament had approved the marriage treaty.

Another charge directed at Mary and Philip’s marriage is that it effectively turned England into a vassal state of a foreign power. This, too, ignores the evidence. Philip respected Mary’s superiority over him in England and had no intention of subverting the constitution or the law of the land. He demonstrated this in a letter to his father in November 1554, in which he declared that: “I am anxious to show the whole world by my actions that I am not trying to acquire other peoples’ states, and your Majesty I would convince of this not by my actions alone, but by my very thoughts.”

If Philip and Mary had produced an heir, a dynastic inheritance uniting England and the Low Countries would have created a northern European powerhouse to eclipse France and perhaps even Spain itself. This is hardly consistent with the idea of a weakened nation falling under the shadow of overweening Spanish power.

In fact, after four years of their co-monarchy, Mary seemed more secure on the throne – and Philip more popular – than ever. A global influenza pandemic hit England in 1557–58, affecting as much as half the population in some parts of the country. Despite the high mortality rate, the regime weathered the storm without major social protest.

But the stability of Mary’s regime was every bit as much the result of her personal qualities as her choice of husband. From a young age she demonstrated her conscientiousness, marking the running totals of her privy purse expenses at the top of each page in her own hand from her time as Princess of Wales. When she came to power, it was no different. The Venetian ambassador noted early in her reign that she rose at daybreak, prayed, heard Mass and then conducted business incessantly until after midnight. In 1555 one of her closest collaborators, Reginald Pole, future Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote to Philip that she was spending much of the night dispatching state affairs, despite the costs to her health.

This thirst for hard work helped produce four proclamations addressing the Great Debasement of the coinage, all issued in Mary’s first year on the throne. The Muscovy Company – the first English joint-stock company in which the capital remained in use, instead of being repaid after every voyage – also received its royal charter during Mary’s reign. It would become a cornerstone of the nation’s growth as a force in global trade

Ultimately, though, Mary’s greatest achievement may have been to provide a model for her younger sibling, Elizabeth, to follow. Mary and Elizabeth had a troubled relationship (reaching a low point in 1554, when Mary had Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower). Yet the older sister set down the statutory foundations of female rule on which the younger sister built, offering a prototype of strong, independent, royal government, and an assiduous and involved monarch, unswayed by the powerful male courtiers who surrounded her.

Female powerhouse

Mary died in 1558, before she could build on her early successes – and her accomplishments have been all but crushed under the weight of negative stereotypes. In fact, if you’re searching for a neat emblem of where Mary stands in modern conversations on British rulers, then you need look no further than the current British citizenship test. Her father, Henry VIII, features in 15 per cent of questions on Britain’s “long and illustrious” history. As for Mary, she doesn’t merit a single mention. What’s more, while a street and tube station have been named in her honour in Madrid, not a single major monument pays tribute to the queen in England.

This does her a huge disservice. It’s high time that the real Mary I was written back into history that we celebrated her role in running a highly efficient administration, in broadening England’s global horizons, and in setting a precedent for her more fortunate and long-lived sister. For 450 years, confessional differences have had a huge – and detrimental – influence on Mary’s reputation. Surely we should now challenge these stereotypes and recognise that Mary wasn’t just ‘bloody’, but also saintly and wise.

Alexander Samson is a reader in early modern studies at University College London. His latest book, Mary and Philip: the Marriage of Tudor England and Habsburg Spain, was published by Manchester University Press in January


The Bloody 100th

On March 6, 1944, Boeing B-17Gs of the 100th Bomb Group fight their way through an attacking force of Focke-Wulf Fw-190A-8s, in "First Strike on Berlin," by Nicolas Trudgian. The 100th lost 15 bombers that day.

The Eighth Air Force’s 100th Bomb Group earned its nickname the hard way in the brutal skies over Germany.

Only one World War II U.S. Army Air Forces tail flash survives in the present-day U.S. Air Force: the Square D. Seventy-five years ago, on June 25, 1943, the 100th Bombardment Group (Heavy) first wore that emblem into battle.

The 100th was constituted as a heavy bomber group inside the Eighth Air Force, which, at peak strength on D-Day, June 6, 1944, fielded 40 groups of Boeing B-17s and Consolidated B-24s. The 100th’s tail marking of a bold “D” on a square background was rendered on the vertical stabilizers of its B-17s, whose big, parabolic-shaped tail fins made for an effective if utilitarian canvas. In 2018 the Square D still adorns a Boeing aircraft—the KC-135R—though the 100th is now an aerial refueling wing. Even still, the Square D carries with it the heroic, bloody history of the 100th Bomb Group.

In November 1942, Colonel Darr Alkire was the first commander assigned to head up the 100th. By December, several hundred men formed the initial flying cadre of the group’s four bomb squadrons—the 349th, 350th, 351st and 418th—along with the requisite administrative, engineering and ground support units. While each unit was actively training, the Army Air Forces identified leaders who could forge the ungainly mass of civilians into airmen.

Among the commanders serving under Colonel Alkire were two officers who became synonymous with the unit’s early dashing, devil-may-care notoriety. John “Bucky” Egan was originally the 100th operations officer, and Gale “Bucky” Cleven was the initial commander of the 350th Bomb Squad­ron. Just two of the several Bucks or Buckys who would serve with the 100th, Egan and Cleven were excellent pilots and charismatic men. More than a few of the 100th’s young airmen came to view the two Buckys as inspirational figures, modeling their own behavior on that of these older leaders.


Left: Majors John Egan (left) and Gale Cleven were among the 100th’s inspirational leaders. Right: Harry Crosby, a 418th Bomb Squadron navigator, later wrote a book about his service in the “Bloody 100th.” (100th Bomb Group Foundation Archives)

On the way to operational readiness, the group trained in Walla Walla, Wash., and, by the end of November, in Wendover, Utah. The third phase of training occurred in Sioux City, Iowa, where the crews focused on formation flying and navigation. In February 1943, the fliers were dispersed throughout the western United States and relegated to the role of instructors for new units. Ground personnel were assigned to the air base at Kearny, Neb. While in limbo, the group’s airmen regressed in their march toward combat readiness.

In April the lack of preparation and three months spent apart manifested in a training mission gone badly awry. Of 21 aircraft scheduled to make the 1,300-mile run between Kearney and Hamilton Field in California, three landed in Las Vegas (including Alkire’s ship) and one flew the opposite direction to Tennessee. The whole group, sans Alkire, who lost this command over the debacle (though he would later lead a B-24 unit), was sent back to Wendover for a much-needed refresher.

One of the more intriguing outcomes of continuing to keep the 100th Stateside for more training was the decision to replace all the group’s copilots with a recently graduated class of multi­engine pilots from Moody Field in Valdosta, Ga. In a recent interview, a member of that class, John “Lucky” Luckadoo, said that breaking up crews who had worked for months to establish camaraderie and trust had a profoundly negative impact on morale. The 96-year-old Luckadoo called the decision “ludicrous” because it forced him and his classmates, who were sitting in the right seat of a B-17 for the first time, to undergo a difficult “learn-on-the-job” experience. Luckadoo recalled that he had accrued less than 20 hours of B-17 flight time prior to making the transatlantic crossing to Britain.

The 100th Bomb Group arrived in England in early June 1943, just one of the dozens of heavy bomber groups comprising the Eighth Air Force’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd air divisions. After a brief stay at an incomplete airbase in Podington, the 100th set up shop at Thorpe Abbotts airfield in East Anglia. The group’s airmen began flying over England and the Channel to get the lay of the land as they prepared for their first mission over enemy territory.

That first mission came on the morning of June 25, 1943, when 30 B-17s took off from Thorpe Abbotts for a raid on the submarine pens at Bremen, Germany. By the end of the day, the group had lost three Flying Fortresses and 30 crewmen, including pilot Oran Petrich and his crew, one of the first assigned to the 100th. The group acquired its reputation as a hard-luck unit very early in its operational history, and it would go on to become known as the “Bloody 100th,” a nickname laden with the weight of sacrifice.

On August 17, less than two months after its initial foray over enemy soil, the 100th flew to Regensburg for the first time. The raid was in the men’s self-interest, for it targeted a factory where Messerschmitt Me-109s—fighters that would torment them in the months to come—were assembled. It was a complex mission, requiring the coordination of two separate masses of Eighth Air Force bombers (the second was headed to Schweinfurt and its ball-bearing works) and Republic P-47 escorts. Ultimately it required the Regensburg-bound bombers to shuttle to North Africa, with a planned return to England at a later date. In the end, the 100th, located at the tail end of a 15-mile bomber stream, was left unescorted when one of the P-47 units never appeared.

As they approached Regensburg, “what seemed to be the whole German Air Force came up and began to riddle our whole task force,” wrote 418th Bomb Squadron navigator Harry H. Crosby in A Wing and a Prayer. “As other planes were hit, we had to fly through their debris. I instinctively ducked as we almost hit an escape hatch from a plane ahead. When a plane blew up, we saw their parts all over the sky. We smashed into some of the pieces. One plane hit a body which tumbled out of a plane ahead.”


The B-17G "Hang the Expense II" returned from Frankfurt on January 24, 1944, in spite of a flak hit that blew tail gunner Staff Sgt. Roy Urich from the plane. He survived to become a prisoner of war. (National Archives)

Of the 24 American bombers lost that day over Regensburg, more than a third bore the 100th’s Square D on their tails. The 100th put up 220 fliers in 22 B-17s, and 90 of those men and nine For­tresses didn’t make the return trip to Thorpe Abbotts.

The group’s reputation as a hard-luck unit was sealed in the second week of October 1943, during missions to Bremen and Munster. On October 8, Lucky Luckadoo put his nickname to the test over Bremen. That day, he was flying in a combat formation position with the darkly humorous nickname of “Purple Heart corner,” the low plane in the low group.

Luckadoo noted that the Luftwaffe favored head-on attacks during those first months of combat flying by the 100th. The German fighters would “get out in front of our formation—in line abreast of 25 or 30 Focke-Wulfs or Messer­schmitts—and spray the formation with cannon fire, rockets and .30-caliber machine guns.” As a result, he said, “We suffered tremendous fatalities.” Anti-aircraft artillery also took a toll, and Crosby noted that as they approached Bremen, the group encountered “Flak, a whole, mean sky full of it.” Luckadoo and his crewmates returned to Thorpe Abbots that day, but seven B-17s were lost and 72 aircrew died on the Bremen mission.

Crosby’s shot-up B-17 barely made it back on three engines to crash-land at an abandoned RAF airfield. After catching a ride in a lorry to Thorpe Abbotts, Crosby and his fellow crewmen, who were presumed lost, found their beds stripped and personal possessions removed. “On the bare cot were two clean sheets and two pillowcases, two blankets, one pillow, all neatly folded,” he wrote. “Ready for the next crew.”

Two days later, 21 Forts departed Thorpe Abbotts for Munster, but just 13 reached the target. The losses on the Munster mission were devastating: 12 aircraft and 121 men. A single B-17, Rosie’s Riveters, piloted by Lieutenant Robert Rosenthal, bombed the target and returned to Thorpe Abbotts that day.

The perceived impact of the losses was compounded by the attrition in squadron leadership: 350th Bomb Squadron commander Major Bucky Cleven was shot down over Bremen, and Major Bucky Egan, CO of the 418th Squadron, was downed over Munster on October 10 while trying to exact revenge for his best friend Cleven. The two commanders found themselves at the same POW camp. Legend has it that when Egan arrived, Cleven said, “What the hell took you so long?” The loss of the two Buckys, seen by the rank and file as exemplars of everything that a flier should be, was crushing.

Several days after these disastrous missions, the 100th was able to muster only eight aircraft for a raid that nearly broke the back of the Eighth Air Force. October 14, 1943, became known as “Black Thursday.” On that autumn day, 291 B-17s assembled to make a second raid on the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt. American losses were appalling: 60 aircraft shot down, 17 written off and more than 100 others damaged. The loss of more than a quarter of the aircraft participating in the raid was clearly unsustainable, both in the eyes of VIII Bomber Command and, perhaps more important, the American people.

In a twist of fate that served to highlight the randomness inherent in warfare, the 100th Bomb Group emerged comparatively unscathed that dreadful day. All eight B-17s that it contributed to the mission returned to Thorpe Abbots.


A mixed squadron of 100th Group Flying Fortresses includes a veteran B-17F (foreground) among the newer camouflaged and bare-metal B-17Gs. (National Archives)

The October 1943 missions wound up being among the last bombing raids deep into German airspace that the Eighth Air Force flew without end-to-end fighter escort. Though the bombers bristled with .50-caliber machine guns (ultimately 13 in the B-17G, with its added chin turret to counter frontal attacks) and adhered rigorously to combat box formation flying to provide mutually supportive defensive fire, it was obvious that the B-17s in the European theater were vulnerable to Luftwaffe hunters. In the end, the primary tool for redressing the imbalance of power between the hunters and the hunted was to import a newer, more capable long-range fighter, the North American P-51 Mustang.

Though the fuel burn of aircraft is typically measured in gallons per hour, it’s also instructive to think in the traditional earthbound measure of miles per gallon. The P-51 was a pilot’s dream in terms of speed and maneuverability, but its real superiority was that it could eke out twice as many miles from a gallon of 100-octane avgas as could a P-47. With the Mustang, Army Air Forces planners finally had a fighter that could stay with the bomb groups all the way to Berlin and back.

Commander of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring had once pompously bragged that Allied bombers would never be seen in the skies over Germany. By March 4, 1944, Allied bombers weren’t just flying over Germany, they flew all the way to Berlin. On that date, the 100th and their mates in the 95th Bomb Group became the first fliers to successfully bomb the German capital. For its efforts, the 100th was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.

The ability to provide fighter escorts end-to-end on bombing missions had a profound effect on bomber losses suffered over Germany. The Eighth Air Force had lost nearly 30 percent of the bombers that took part in raids during the second week of October 1943. During what became known as the “Big Week” in February 1944, Eighth Air Force bombers suffered losses of only about 2 percent.

German flak and fighters weren’t the only dangers the heavy bomber crews faced. Flying in the foul English weather along the coast on instruments could be a formidable challenge. John Clark, a copilot in the 418th Bomb Squadron, flew the bulk of his combat missions in the depths of the wet and cold winter of 1944-45. He described instrument flying as “something you’re doing with the aircraft that was unique and important, to get this big device [bomber] through impenetrable fog or night…and bring it down to the ground.”

Danger wasn’t found only in the skies. Simply repairing and maintaining the massive B-17s could be hazardous to one’s health. At a recent gathering of 100th veterans, Master Sgt. Dewey Christo­pher, a crew chief in the 351st Bomb Squadron, recounted how a live magneto combined with the necessary act of hand-propping a Wright Cyclone R-1820 led to his being tossed 30 feet through the air by a suddenly active propeller as the engine tried to start. He landed on his head and then in the infirmary with a broken shoulder.

While the 100th lost only a single bomber on the first Berlin mission, the use of P-51s to provide air cover over Germany didn’t completely eliminate the group’s propensity for bad days. Two days later, on March 6, the 100th suffered its worst losses of the war—15 aircraft and 150 crewmen—on the second mission to Berlin.

The 100th Bomb Group flew its final combat mission on April 20, 1945, just days before the cessation of hostilities in Europe. As the war in Europe wound down, the 100th and numerous other Eighth Air Force bomber groups celebrated the weeks leading up to V-E Day on May 8 by exchanging their 500-pound general purpose bombs for containers of food, medical supplies, clothing, candy and cigarettes. The so-called “Chowhound” missions dropped thousands of tons of supplies to the long-suffering people of the Netherlands and France. So many 100th fliers wanted to be a part of the humanitarian efforts that the oxygen systems, unnecessary at low level, were removed from the B-17s, freeing up room for as many as four extra crewmen on each plane. The missions helped the 100th put a positive spin on what had been a harrowing experience.


“Did we deserve to be called the ‘Bloody 100th’? Other outfits lost more planes and crews than we did. What marked us was that when we lost, we lost big. These eight missions gave us our notoriety.” –Harry H. Crosby, "A Wing and a Prayer"

Over the course of 22 months of aerial combat, the aircrews of the 100th had served a deadly apprenticeship as they honed their skills and tactics. In an unemotional analysis of the raw numbers, the Bloody 100th’s wartime losses were not the worst suffered by the Eighth Air Force, though they were in the top three of losses by heavy bomber groups. The official history from the 100th Bomb Group Foundation cites 184 missing aircrew reports on 306 missions. In his memoir An Eighth Air Force Combat Diary, 100th copilot John Clark pointed out that “50% of the Group’s losses occurred in only 3% of its missions.” Like a gambler whose luck has gone cold, when the crews of the 100th had a bad day, they had a very bad day.

More than 26,000 Eighth Air Force personnel sacrificed their lives in service to the war effort. The total number killed or missing in action was slightly more than that suffered by the U.S. Marine Corps, and a little less than half the losses sustained by the entire U.S. Navy. Comparisons such as these do nothing to diminish the contributions of other mili­tary branches, but rather point out the gargantuan scale of the Eighth Air Force’s effort. The 100th Bomb Group’s portion of those losses was 785 men killed outright or missing in action and 229 aircraft destroyed or rendered unsuitable for flight.

In 2016 the Bureau of Veterans Affairs estimated there were 620,000 World War II veterans alive, but that we lose 372 per day. The responsibility for remembering, for commemorating the service of those veterans has fallen to their children and their grandchildren. In the case of the 100th Bomb Group, a number of organizations have taken up that obligation.

The 100th Bomb Group Foundation maintains an extraordinarily useful website (100thbg.com), and its members hold a biennial reunion. Last October, 17 group veterans, all in their 90s, attended the most recent reunion outside Washington, D.C. A smaller reunion takes place in February of each year in Palm Springs, Calif., in collaboration with the Palms Springs Aviation Museum. Other institutions connected with the 100th include the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum at the former Thorpe Abbots airfield the American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, England the Museum of Air Battle Over the Ore Mountains in Kovarska, Czech Republic and the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force near Savannah, Ga.

More than seven decades on, the actions of the men of the Bloody 100th still loom large in our cultural memory. Each time we refresh those memories, we ensure that their hard-earned lessons are not forgotten.

Douglas R. Dechow’s grand uncle Tech Sgt. Harry Dale Park was a member of the 100th Bomb Group. The 20-year-old Park was killed in a B-17 over Normandy on August 8, 1944. Dechow is the director of digital projects at the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University. Further reading: A Wing and a Prayer, by Harry H. Crosby An Eighth Air Force Combat Diary, by John A. Clark Century Bomb­ers, by Richard Le Strange and Masters of the Air, by Donald L. Miller.

This feature originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Aviation History. Subscribe today!


A Civil Rights Watershed in Biloxi, Mississippi

The waters beside Biloxi, Mississippi, were tranquil on April 24, 1960. But Bishop James Black’s account of how the harrowing hours later dubbed “Bloody Sunday” unfolded for African-American residents sounds eerily like preparations taken for a menacing, fast-approaching storm. “I remember so well being told to shut our home lights off,” said Black, a teenager at the time. “Get down on the floor, get away from the windows.”

It wasn’t a rainstorm that residents battened down for, but mob reprisals. Hours earlier Black and 125 other African-Americans had congregated at the beach, playing games and soaking sunrays near the circuit of advancing and retreating tides. This signified no simple act of beach leisure, but group dissent. At the time, the city’s entire 26-mile-long shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico was segregated. Led by physician Gilbert Mason, the black community sought to rectify restricted access by enacting a series of “wade-in” protests. Chaos and violence, though, quickly marred this particular demonstration.

To comprehend how a beautiful beachfront became a laboratory for social unrest, consider Dr. Mason’s Biloxi arrival in 1955. A Jackson, Mississippi native, the general practitioner moved with his family after completing medical studies at Howard University and an internship in St. Louis. Many of Biloxi’s white doctors respected Mason, who died in 2006. “Some would ask him to scrub in for surgeries,” said his son, Dr. Gilbert Mason Jr. Still, gaining full privileges at Biloxi Hospital took 15 years. In northern cities, he’d dined at lunch counters and attended cinemas alongside whites. Here, change lagged. “Dad was not a traveled citizen, but he was a citizen of the world,” his son noted. “Things that he barely tolerated as a youth, he certainly wasn’t going to tolerate as an adult.”

Chief among those was the coastline’s inequity of access. In the early 1950s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fortified the beach to stem seawall erosion. Though the project employed taxpayer funds, blacks were relegated to mere swatches of sand and surf, such as those beside a VA Hospital. Homeowners claimed the beaches as private property—a view Mason vigorously disputed. “Dad was very logical,” said Mason Jr. “He approached it systematically.”

This approach represented the doctor’s modus operandi, according to NAACP Biloxi Branch President James Crowell III, who was mentored by Mason. “The thing that amazed me about Dr. Mason was his mind,” said Crowell. “His ability to think things through and be so wise: not only as a physician, but as a community leader.”

While making a mark in medicine, Mason engaged in political discourse with patients, proposing ways they might support the still-nascent civil rights struggle. A scoutmaster position brought him in contact with adolescents looking to lend their labor. These younger participants included Black and Clemon Jimerson, who had yet to turn 15 years old. Still, the injustice Jimerson endured dismayed him. “I always wanted to go on the beach, and didn’t know why I couldn’t,” he said. “Whenever we took the city bus, we had to enter through the front door and pay. Then we had to get off again, and go to the back door. We couldn’t just walk down the aisle. That worried and bothered me.”

For Jimerson, the protest was a family affair: his mother, stepfather, uncle and sister took part, too. Jimerson was so ebullient about participating, he purchased an ensemble for the occasion: beach shoes, bright shirt and an Elgin watch.

Low attendance at the initial protest on May 14, 1959, wade-in hardly suggested a coming groundswell. Still, Mason Jr. noted: “Every wade-in revealed something. The first protest was to see what exactly would be the true police response.” The response was forcible removal of all nine participants, including both Masons. Mason Sr. himself was the lone attendee at the second Biloxi protest—on Easter 1960, a week before Bloody Sunday, and in concert with a cross-town protest led by Dr. Felix Dunn in neighboring Gulfport. Mason’s Easter arrest roused the community into a more robust response.

Before the third wade-in, Mason directed protesters to relinquish items that could be construed as weapons, even a pocketbook nail file. Protesters split into groups, stationed near prominent downtown locales: the cemetery, lighthouse and hospital. Mason shuttled between stations, monitoring proceedings in his vehicle.

Some attendees, like Jimerson, started swimming. The band of beachgoers held nothing but food, footballs, and umbrellas to shield them from the sun’s glint. Wilmer B. McDaniel, operator of a funeral home, carried softball equipment. Black and Jimerson anticipated whites swooping in—both had braced for epithets, not an arsenal. “They came with all kinds of weapons: chains, tire irons,” said Black, now a pastor in Biloxi. “No one expected the violence that erupted. We weren’t prepared for it. We were overwhelmed by their numbers. They came like flies over the area.”

Dr. Gilbert Mason, shown here being escorted by police to a Biloxi, Mississippi courthouse, led the black community in a series of "wade-in" protests to desegregate Biloxi's twenty-six-mile-long shoreline. (AP Images)

The bloody history of April 20 and the days leading up to it

The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla., following the 1995 bombing. Jon Hersley

T.S. Eliot wrote ‘‘April is the cruelest month,’’ and April 20 stands out if you want to zero in on a specific date besieged with bad news.

Across American history and beyond, this particular spot on the calendar is blood-soaked, marked by significant catastrophe and upheaval. Some of the negative energy coiled around the date stems from the fact that Adolf Hilter was born on April 20 in 1889. For militia groups and anti-government types, the middle of the month is also significant as the beginning of colonial America’s fight against the British following the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775.

‘‘It’s a question we talk about all the time,’’ Heidi Beirich, a domestic terrorism expert at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Washington Post’s Michael S. Rosenwald in 2016. ‘‘It’s a really strange phenomenon. We sometimes refer to April as the beginning of the killing season.’’

The radioactive nature of the time period has even prompted watch groups to issue warnings to law enforcement about possible violence. ‘‘April is a month that looms large in the calendar of many extremists in the United States, from racists and anti-Semites to anti-government groups,’’ the Anti-Defamation League cautioned in 2005.

But a deep-dive into the history books proves the month has regularly seen violence beyond what can be pinned on the Nazi leader or the iconography of the American Revolution. And although any date will yield a dark past if you drill far enough down into the timeline, April - specifically April 20 - has a particularly long, strange history of death and disaster, human violence and random accidents.

Full disclosure: April 20 is also this reporter’s birthday. Each year is a reminder of how the date has meant something else completely to many people across history.

The April days leading up to the 20th have their own grim record, too.

On April 15, 2013, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev launched their deadly attack on the Boston Marathon, leaving 3 dead and hundreds injured.

Police rushed to the scene of the first blast at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File

In 2007, 32 people were killed on the campus of Virginia Tech when Seung-Hui Cho opened fire on the campus on April 16. In West, Texas, a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant killed 15, injured 252, and damaged 500 buildings on April 17, 2013.

If another spot on the April calendar was in the running for the bloodiest day of the year, it would be April 19.

A 16-inch gun turret on the USS Iowa exploded in the water off Puerto Rico, killing 47, on April 19, 1989. The two most significant events tied to the 19th both center on anti-government sentiments. On April 19, 1993, federal agents stormed the Branch Davidians complex in Waco, Texas, following a 51-day standoff. The raid resulted in the deaths of 76 members of the religious sect, including women and children.

Two years later, Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 adults and children in the blast.

‘‘For many people who labor under the idea that the federal government is a tyrannical foreign oppressor like the British monarchy, Waco symbolizes a war of a government against its people,’’ Robert Blaskiewicz, a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, told CNN in 2011. ‘‘Nonetheless, in the mythology that has grown up around Waco and Oklahoma City among self-identified patriots, the 19th has become a sort of high holiday for those who think that they live under the thumb of a tyranny.’’

Flames engulfed the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas in 1993. Susan Weems/Associated Press/File

But the 20th has its own long strange history.

One of the earliest ugly moments on April 20 occurred in 1898. On that date, the U.S. Congress adopted a resolution spearheaded by President William McKinley declaring war on Spain. The conflict had been long-building thanks to the expansion of American interests across the world. But the main justification for war was the February sinking of the USS Maine (“Remember the Maine”). Hoping to sell newspapers, publishers - specifically William Randolph Hearst - alleged Spain was responsible for the disaster, an unsubstantiated claim at the time that has since been debunked.

‘‘In 1976, Adm. Hyman Rickover of the U.S. Navy mounted yet another investigation into the cause of the Maine disaster,’’ reported The Smithsonian. ‘‘His team of experts found that the ship’s demise was self- inflicted - likely the result of a coal bunker fire.’’

April 20, then, saw the declaration of the first ‘‘fake news’’ war.

Another American business titan was tied to the events of April 20, 1914. At the time, labor activists were striking at the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, a large mining operation owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr. On the 20th, members of the Colorado National Guard opened fire on the strikers at an encampment in Ludlow. At least 66 men, women, and children were killed in the attack and subsequent violence, making the massacre ‘‘one of the bloodiest episodes in the history of American industrial enterprise,’’ according to the New Yorker.

In 1961, April 20 marked the end of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, an ill-planned attack on Fidel Castro’s government organized by elements of the U.S. government. The botched invasion left 118 anti-Castro Cuban rebels dead and another 1,202 captured.

The date also marked a grim milestone in Northern Ireland. On April 20, 1974, the country’s ‘‘Troubles’’ - a violent conflict between Protestants, Catholics, and British soldiers - notched its 1,000 death when the body of James Murphy, a Catholic, was found dumped on a roadside.

In the United States, the most high-profile April 20 incident arrived in 1999, when high schoolers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold attacked the hallways and classrooms of Columbine High School. The pair, who committed suicide in the attack, had originally planned the shooting for April 19. The date was pushed back after a local drug dealer failed to provide them with ammunition on time, the Guardian has reported.

Six years later, on April 20, 2007, William Arthur Phillips Jr. walked into NASA’s Johnson Space Center with a gun. He killed a supervisor before taking his own life.

April 20, 2010 marked the start of one of the largest ecological disasters in U.S. history. On that date, an explosion tore through the Deepwater Horizon exploration rig in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 crew members. The blast caused 3.19 million barrels of crude oil to spill into the gulf over the next 87 days, the Post reported. The spill and cleanup would eventually cost BP $61.6 billion.

The latest catastrophes to fall on the date have happened overseas.

Bhoja Air flight from Karachi to Islamabad went down during its landing on April 20, 2012. The crash, blamed on the weather, claimed all 127 passengers and crew. A year later, a 6.6 magnitude earthquake hit China’s Sichuan province on April 20. More than 150 people were killed and 5,700 injured in the natural disaster.

And last year, a gunman attacked Paris police with an AK-47 on the Champs-Elysees on April 20. One officer died in the attack and two others were wounded before Karim Cheurfi took his own life. The shooter was reportedly inspired by the Islamic State.


The Origins Of The Bloody Mary Legend

Since her teen years, Mary had been plagued with terrible menstrual pains and irregularity in her cycles, which would be attributed to her eventual physical and psychological stress later in life.

She was also known to be struck with deep and frequent periods of melancholia, depressive spells which would stay with her throughout her relatively short life.

Despite all the odds and afflictions stacked against her, Mary did eventually take the throne in 1553 at the age of 37 and promptly married Philip of Spain in the hopes of conceiving an heir. It’s here where the origin of the Bloody Mary legend begins to take shape.

Starved for love and forever seeking the approval of her father, Mary would replay this codependent pattern with her new husband, whom she was “ready to lavish all her frustrated emotions on.”

Ten years her junior and in no way as excited to reciprocate her amorous feelings, Philip fulfilled the negotiated duties expected of a royal marriage, and two months later Mary’s greatest wish came true: She was with child.

Wikimedia Commons Mary I of England, the real person behind the Bloody Mary legend. Circa 1550s.

Despite displaying the usual symptoms of pregnancy, including a swelling of the breasts and an ever-growing abdomen, the public remained suspicious of the queen’s recent good fortune, and it didn’t take long for rumors of a false pregnancy to start spreading.

In a time without pregnancy tests and in which doctors could not examine a sitting monarch, only time would tell if these rumors bore any truth. Until then, the people of England and Spain kept tabs on Mary with a watchful eye.

And so they waited. In customary fashion, Mary went into a private chamber where she was confined for six weeks before her expected due date of May 9.

Although the big day arrived, the baby didn’t, and both she and the servants around her proposed that perhaps a miscalculation of delivery dates was to blame, now settling on a new one in June, a month later.

False reports almost immediately spread across the country, however, with some claiming their Queen had delivered a boy, and others stating she had simply died in childbirth, or that her swollen midsection were symptomatic of a tumor, rather than a pregnancy.

Despite the world of gossip growing around her, one thing could be confirmed: Around late May, Mary’s belly began to shrink.

Unable to explain or understand what was happening to her body, she continued to wait as those around her slowly lost hope.

June and July came and went as her doctors extended the birth date even further. By August, Mary finally left the confines of her chamber, childless and alone like never before.

She believed that God was punishing her for failing in a mission she set out to achieve just months earlier.

At the time of Mary’s pregnancy, the people of England were divided between Protestants and Catholics. Mary, determined to unite her people under “the true religion” of the land, took action by signing an act shortly before Christmas in 1554 that would result in the Marian Persecutions, in which an estimated 240 men and 60 women were sentenced as Protestants and burned at the stake, earning her the name “Bloody Mary” forevermore.


Chase and shootout

"It started as part of an ongoing investigation -- the FBI looking into a series of armored car heists, robbery and bank stickups in South Florida over the past several months," former Local 10 News reporter Susan Candiotti, who would later become a national correspondent for CNN, reports. "Agents spending the morning looking for suspected cars they had a line on in this neighborhood and they spotted one."

One of the agents on the scene that day is John Hanlon. He recalls hearing Grogan's call over the radio.

"We were in front of a bank perpendicular to Federal Highway, Route 1, in front of a bank they had robbed before," Hanlon says. "The homicide captain's son was sitting in a marked car and we were both at a light. Grogan and Dove were in front of us. And we took a right. We were going to set up at a bank. We made the right turn and that's when Ben came on the horn."

Late Miami journalist Bill Cooke posted the audio file of the FBI radio transmission on his Random Pixels blog. The recording is a chilling minute by minute account of what happens. Special Agent Grogan checks in with dispatch, then minutes later he reports that he spots the stolen Monte Carlo on South Dixie Highway. It would be the last time anyone would hear Ben Grogan's voice.

Operator: 11 April 1986, 9:20 a.m. Southwest frequency.

Grogan: Advise the area two units that the FBI is staking out the banks along the highway.

Operator: Attention area two units, the FBI is staking out banks along the highway.

Grogan: This is an FBI unit. We've got a black Chevy under surveillance going north on South Dixie Highway at about 120 Street, northbound lane. We believe that it's the black Chevy we've been looking for. Tag number is November Tango Juliet 891. We're gonna stop it.

Operator: It's got a hold on it for our robbery units.

Grogan: We believe it's maybe planned to be used in an armed 29 in the next few minutes.

Grogan and Dove are heading north on South Dixie Highway when they spot the black Monte Carlo. Grogan tells dispatch, "They are making a right turn on 117th Street, right on 117th." Matix is the driver and Platt is the passenger. The FBI report of the investigation, File No. 62-121996, tells much of the details: That the subjects become aware that they are being followed and then slowly begin driving on side streets that they know, and that Grogan and Dove activate their blue light and siren to signal a felony car stop. But the robbers are not phased.

Investigators learn later that the robbers are heavily armed, most likely because they are outfitted for another one of their morning hits at a nearby bank. Platt is armed with a .357 Magnum and Matix has a .357 Dan Wesson revolver. They have a Smith & Wesson 12-gauge shotgun and a Ruger Mini-12 semi-automatic assault rifle.

The chase weaves in an out of side streets in the neighborhood behind Dixie Highway.

GF Default - Imported ANS Video >

Special Agent Richard Manauzzi is following in another vehicle, as Special Agents Edmundo Mireles and John Hanlon pull up alongside of the subject's car. They all attempt to box in the Monte Carlo. As the cars speed down 82nd Avenue, Manauzzi slams the driver's side of the robbers' car. It ends up pinned between a parked car in a yard in front of 12203 SW 82nd Ave. A fifth agent, Gordon McNeill, pulls up to assist. At this point, the car that Grogan is driving with Dove as his passenger has made a U-turn and is parked behind the back of the stolen Monte Carlo.

Mireles recalls what happens just before the Monte Carlo is forced to come to a stop.

"Ben is in front of them trying to slow them down to keep them from speeding away, and I think they saw that," Mireles says. "I guess they were trying to push us off the road so they could make a U-turn. That's the only thing I can think of. One thing leads to another, we lost contact with the car and we ended up crashing up against the wall on the right side of the street. They lost control of the car temporarily and they ended up on the left side of the street and they made a U-turn. I don't even think their car ever stopped moving. And then Manauzzi … I spoke to him after the incident. He said, 'You know, I rammed them from behind. I already damaged the car so I had nothing to lose. So, when I saw them making a U-turn, I said what the heck? I already hit them once. I should just hit them a second time and keep them from escaping.' So he rammed them a second time. That's how they ended up pinned up against a tree."

"There was a point when all the cars came to rest. Manauzzi pinned them in. Jammed in there. And Gordon comes in from the north and parks next to Manauzzi's car. There was a time there, I couldn't tell you if it was a second or five seconds, a point where everything was silent. No cars. No RPMs. No engines revving. No crashing. No tires spinning. Or anything else. Everything was just dead silent. And I spoke to Gordon and he said that when he came out of his car to take a cover position behind Manuazzi's car, he said he was yelling, 'Police, FBI, put your hands up, put your hands up.' He was giving commands. And as soon as he got into a position where the two subjects inside the Monte Carlo could see him clearly, there was this God-awful gunshot blast that sounded from inside the car. He said it was a huge weapon, a huge blast. When he told them to put their hands up, their response was to fire. To shoot. And that was the beginning of the gunfight right there."

Operator: Attention all units. I have shots fired with machine guns at 120 Street, 82 Avenue.

The battle takes place behind the Dixie Belle shopping center. Workers in offices nearby and neighbors call 911, frantic to report what they hear.

"There's a gunfight going on outside my office window," one caller tells the operator. "They have guns and machine guns. A car knocked down a tree."

The operator says she can hear gunfire in the background.

"They are still shooting," the caller says as gunshots can be heard. "It's right outside of the Florida Power & Light substation on 82nd Avenue."

Another caller: "There's someone shooting a gun off here. At least if it's not a gun, it sounds like one. Like rapid fire. I can't be sure, but I'm not going outside."

A man breathing rapidly calls 911.

"There's some kind of a gunfight going on outside of my house at 12203 SW 82nd Ave. There's a lot of gunfire going on. It's right outside my front door."

Another caller says: "I am in an office building on Southwest 124th Street. Someone says there are bodies in the street. What's going on?"

Cars in the neighborhood make their way around the shooting scene, merely slowing down. Witnesses say they didn't stop because they thought it was the filming of a scene from the popular TV program "Miami Vice," which was shot in and around the city from 1984 to 1989.

"Eyewitness say that while the shooting was going on, unsuspecting people were still driving through the area and FBI agents were trying to hold their fire," former Local 10 News reporter Peggy Lewis says at the time.

When all is said and done, Grogran and Dove are dead and five other agents are wounded. The bad guys? Both riddled with bullets, Matix shot six times and Platt shot 12.


A daring governor shows his mettle in a bloody April 29, 1700 pirate battle

HAMPTON — Gov. Francis Nicholson was nothing if not a man of action.

Long before coming to Virginia in 1698, he'd shown his mettle time and time again, fighting Moors in North Africa, English rebels at the battle of Sedgemoor and hostile Indians in New York and New England.

Still, no one would have raised an eyebrow had he hesitated on the afternoon of April 28, 1700 - when a Royal Navy officer interrupted him at a prominent Hampton home with news of pirates .

Even the other navy captain in the room - who'd stopped to pay his respects - had no doubts about leaving the protesting governor behind as he rushed to the King Street docks and readied his ship for battle.

By 10 p.m, however, Nicholson had not only alerted the militia on the south side of the James but made his way across the dark waters on a rowboat to board the HMS Shoreham.

By 7 a.m. the next day, he was standing on the Shoreham's quarterdeck, firing his pistols at close range in a bloody, 10-hour clash that defined him as one of the era's great pirate hunters.

"I can't think of any other battle like it," says Mark G. Hanna, a University of California-San Diego historian who studied colonial piracy at the College of William and Mary's Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.

"Nicholson went toe to toe with the pirates - and ended up being a huge story in London. He was a hero."

Nicholson's daring and resolve may have been born of frustration.

Just nine months earlier, the small, inadequately armed HMS Essex Prize had been outgunned and outsailed in a humiliating Chesapeake Bay clash with a pirate pretending to be the dreaded Capt. William Kidd.

And while the newly arrived Shoreham - with its 32 guns - introduced a larger, far more potent warship as the sentinel of the Chesapeake - Capt. William Passenger had been forced to make do with a short-handed crew weakened still more by inexperienced and underage sailors.

Still, the captives scooped up by French pirate Louis Guittar as he bore down on the Virginia capes from the West Indies knew nothing about this recent change of guard.

Not until his ship had overwhelmed eight rich merchant vessels - including one carrying an intoxicating cargo of strong beer and red wine - did a tortured carpenter finally reveal the potential challenge waiting on the other side of Hampton Roads.

Emboldened by their successes and the alcohol, however, Guittar and the 150-man crew of the 20-gun La Paix scoffed at the threat and focused instead on plundering the small fleet of prizes they'd anchored off Lynnhaven Inlet.

They were still groggy from drink when the Shoreham sent a shot across their bow just after dawn, setting the stage for what would become a murderous battle.

"It was a tough, close fight with severe casualties. Peter Heyman - the Hampton customs collector - was killed by a volley from the La Paix as he stood next to Nicholson firing from the Shoreham's deck," Colonial Williamsburg historian Carson Hudson says.

"At times, they were blasting away at each other from pistol range - only 20 to 30 yards - and the pirate ship was shot to pieces."

Knowing they would be hanged if taken, Guittar and his crew fought for their lives, firing broadside after broadside as they attempted to maneuver in and board their outnumbered foe for a more favorable fight at close quarters.

But time after time, Passenger rallied his crew of boys in a heroic display of courage and seamanship, maintaining his distance and his advantage on the windward side of the clash even as his short-handed gunners struggled to answer the pirates ' volleys.

Spectators watched from the shore as the grisly fight wore on, felling so many pirates they clogged the decks and had to be thrown overboard. Others looked on from Old Point Comfort as the Shoreham's mainmast fell in the thunderous cannon fire and gunpowder smoke filled the approach to Hampton Roads.

Not until late afternoon did the Royal Navy's slow but superior fire finally prevail. Consuming nearly 30 barrels of powder, its guns fired 1,671 rounds in a determined attack that "shot all his masts, yards, sailes, rigging all to shatters, unmounted several guns and hull almost beaten to pieces," an observer reported.

The end came soon after the Shoreham's guns blasted the La Paix's rudder, leaving the floating wreck helplessly grounded. But as the pirates lowered their blood-red flag, their captain played one last gambit.

Priming 30 barrels of explosives with a trail of gunpowder, Guittar vowed to blow up his ship and 50 captives if not given quarter. Nicholson replied with the pirates ' threats of "Broil! Broil! Broil!" ringing in his ears, scrawling a note that promised to "referr him and his men to the mercy of my Royal Master King William the third . "

Of the 124 buccaneers who surrendered, 111 were manacled and transported from Hampton to London, where they were tried and condemned to death.

Three others were convicted in an admiralty court at Hampton and hanged on the beaches overlooking the scene of the battle.


Bloody Sunday

Marchers marching from Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church to Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, March 7, 1965 (Bloody Sunday).

The early spring of 1965 became the turning point in the tensely-waged struggle for voting rights throughout Alabama and the “deep South.” For many months, organizers of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee had conducted a series of non-violent marches and mass meetings in preparation for major activities in the key central Alabama counties of Green, Hale, Wilcox, Perry, Dallas, Lowndes and Montgomery. A court injunction intended to curtail their marching in Selma failed in January and the increased involvement of a broader spectrum of participants now enlarged the scope of civil rights activities.

On February 18, 1965 , a groundbreaking night march in Marion in Perry County conducted by SNCC was met with elevated brutality from state troopers and Marion police. In the terse melee that followed, youth leader Jimmie Lee Jackson was killed as he sought to protect his mother and grandfather from attack. After being refused medical attention in Marion , Jackson was transported twenty miles to the Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma , where he died seven days later.

In the days that followed, a variety of responses to Jackson’s murder was considered by the SCLC and SNCC leadership. The most provocative was to march to Montgomery and place the martyr’s body on the steps of the state capitol building. While this idea in part was rejected, the concept of the march to the state capitol was inspirational. A concerted plan was developed by the key organizations involved to conduct a profoundly overt act that would decisively weigh the scales on favor of voting rights. The plan was to march the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery where a rally would be held on the steps of the state capitol and where movement leaders intended to meet with Gov. George Wallace.

Approximately at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 7, 1965 , 300 protestors, led by Hosea Williams, John Lewis, Albert Turner and Bob Mants, gathered at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma and proceeded through town to the Edmund Pettus Bridge. At that point, the number of the marchers had swelled to 600 as they crossed the span from Selma toward their date with destiny. At the end of the bridge stood Alabama State Troopers and a hastily-organized vigilante band mounted on horses under the direction of Maj. John Cloud. Refusing to speak to Williams, Cloud ordered the marchers to disperse, after which gas canisters were thrown into the crowd. Troopers and horsemen armed with clubs assaulted the protestors who then fled back to Selma .

During the pandemonium that reigned throughout the afternoon, hundreds of non-violent protestors were injured. They were treated at Good Samaritan Hospital and a local clinic. The remaining protestors gathered for a rally at Brown Chapel.

Captured on film and broadcast across the nation, this event galvanized the forces for voting rights and increased their support. “Bloody Sunday” became a landmark in American history and the foundation for a successful campaign culminating with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


Bloody Culloden, 1746

On a frigid, rainy day in mid-April, on a windswept, boggy moor five miles east of Inverness, Scotland, some 5,000 exhausted soldiers waited. Their kilted front-liners wielded broadswords and dirks along with their muskets 250 cavalrymen and a dozen small cannon backed them. In prior months they had proved a ferocious and successful force, but they now stood hungry and exhausted after a fruitless all-night march.

Across the moor about 500 yards northeast stood a modern, disciplined, well-equipped and, on this day, well-rested army. It was a far larger and better-organized force and, perhaps most important, possessed superior artillery. The terrain favored its commander’s strategy of remaining on the defensive and letting the cannon do much of the killing.

The Scots on the leading edge of the Jacobite force would rely on a time-tested tactic: the full-throated Highland charge, a fearsome wave of flashing steel that had cowed more than a few enemies into breaking ranks to live another day. British government troops, despite their superior numbers and firepower, had faltered in the face of this tactic earlier in the uprising led by Charles Edward Stuart (aka “Bonnie Prince Charlie”), who hoped to restore his royal line to the joint throne of England and Scotland.

But on this day the British front-line troops, backed by devastating artillery fire and armed with a new close-quarters defensive ploy, would stand their ground against those weary Jacobites who managed to make it through the bog and the fusillades of grapeshot. The opposing forces ripped into one another in savage hand-to-hand combat. The bloody clash was over in less than an hour.

The April 16, 1746, Battle of Culloden marked the last pitched battle on British soil and was the final clash of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. The rebel ranks— composed largely of Highland Scots but which included Lowland Scots and English Jacobites as well as foreign soldiers in the French service—may have stepped forward with some trepidation that day, staring across the moor at the crisp and prodigious British army arrayed before them. In the months leading up to this fight, however, they’d kept mostly on the offensive.

The uprising was variably rooted in politics, religion, nostalgia and greed. In 1689, following the exile to France of James II of England and VII of Scotland, the thrones of both nations had passed from the Roman Catholic House of Stuart to the Protestant House of Orange under James’ eldest daughter, Mary II, and her husband, Dutch-born William III. In 1702, following their deaths, the crown passed to Mary’s sister Anne, considered the last monarch of the House of Stuart. In 1707, through mutual Acts of Union, the parliaments of England and Scotland unified Anne’s realm as the Kingdom of Great Britain. When Anne died in 1714 without an heir, the kingdom passed to the House of Hanover under her German cousin George I, her closest Protestant relative.

Though the unified throne ultimately improved the economies of both England and Scotland, particularly the latter, many remained opposed to the chosen line of rule. The fault lies with Parliament. The 1701 Act of Settlement prohibited Catholics from inheriting the throne, and Acts of Union negotiators had ensured succession of the Hanoverian royal house. Many Scots and English instead demanded restoration of the Stuart line. Known as Jacobites (from Jacobus, the Latinized form of James), they launched rebellions in 1715 and 1719, both of which fell apart. Still, support for the cause remained strong, particularly in France and the Scottish Highlands—the House of Stuart had historically been pro-French and supported the clan chiefs.

In late 1743 France, then at war with Britain in the labyrinthine War of the Austrian Succession, hatched a plot to invade England in early 1744, and Louis XV brought the youngest of the exiled Stuarts, 22-year-old Charles (grandson of the exiled James II and VII), to France to accompany the landing force. The plan was to overthrow George II and install Bonnie Prince Charlie’s father, James Stuart, on the throne, thus turning Britain into a de facto client state. But in February 1744 storms devastated the invasion fleet, and the French abandoned the effort.

Late that year Charles met with French-allied Irish Catholic privateers and begged and borrowed to fund a Jacobite landing in Scotland with two ships. Loaded with Irish volunteers, arms and money, the ships sailed from France in July 1745. Following a run-in with a Royal Navy ship of the line, the larger of the privateer ships—carrying the troops and most of the weapons—was forced to turn back. The one carrying Charles did make it to Scotland, however, and the prince, alluding to French assurances, convinced several Highland chiefs to join his cause. Charlie soon claimed a small army of 1,200 men and on August 19 at Glenfinnan publicly announced his intentions to seize the crown in his father’s name. His promise of French assistance was an empty one Louis had made no such pledge. But the Jacobites, marching south essentially unopposed, managed to occupy Edinburgh on September 17. Four days later they met a British army of equal size just to the east at Prestonpans.

Arriving on the field on September 20, Sir John Cope’s government troops had secured a position overlooking marshy ground, ensuring that any Jacobite charge would mire down before their guns. But a Scottish lieutenant with knowledge of the area led the Jacobites on an overnight march around the British left flank. At first light on the 21st, through the early morning mist, the Highlanders charged down on the British with a bloodcurdling battle cry. According to a study published by the United Kingdom’s Battlefields Resource Centre, each side was able to fire only one volley of artillery before the front lines closed on one another. The largely untested government troops faltered, and many broke and fled. Those that remained fired a single volley as the Highlanders charged across the gap. Then, employing the classic Highland tactic, the Jacobites returned fire, dropped their muskets, drew their broadswords and swept over their foe.

In a matter of minutes Cope’s roughly 2,300 troops suffered some 700 killed or wounded and 1,400 captured. Fewer than 200 escaped the field. Jacobite losses numbered just 34 killed and fewer than 80 wounded. The clash, according to the Battlefields Resource Centre study, “was a dramatic demonstration of the effectiveness of a Highland charge in the face of well-equipped troops using the current best military practice.”

The Prestonpans victory boosted morale and raised hopes among the Jacobites. French money and weapons began to trickle in, and Charlie’s army grew to more than 5,000 as it marched farther south. In early November the Jacobites crossed the border into England, soon occupying several northern cities unopposed.

A few days’ march from London, however, some of the Stuart prince’s own war chiefs began to suffer from cold feet —an attack on England’s capital would be madness, after all, as they would have to defeat no fewer than three large British armies in succession. The hoped-for broad support of English Jacobites hadn’t materialized, nor had any significant assistance from the French. In early December, against Charlie’s wishes, the chiefs forced a retreat into Scotland, where they might consolidate their forces, recruit more soldiers and rally. The British initially sent Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and son of King George II, in pursuit of the Jacobites, but the fresh threat of a French invasion pulled the bulk of the government forces back south. The Jacobites reached Glasgow by Christmas and soon drew several thousand willing volunteers.

After several indecisive skirmishes, on Jan. 17, 1746, a British rear guard met Charlie’s main army at Falkirk. Responding to the Jacobite siege of Stirling Castle, Lt. Gen. Henry Hawley had led a 7,000-man British force west out of Edinburgh. When he halted his army at Falkirk and showed no desire to advance farther, Lord George Murray marched east from Bannockburn, where Charlie had set up headquarters. The Jacobite army, boasting some 8,000 men, approached Falkirk from the west on an open, sloping field that perfectly suited the Highland charge.

The Jacobite lines were arrayed as usual with the Highlanders out front, the Lowland infantry next, and cavalry and a small body of professional French troops in reserve. Caught napping, Hawley hadn’t properly deployed his forces. But his men, unlike those at Prestonpans, were seasoned veterans who could squeeze off two musket rounds a minute. He deployed them two deep, with his inexperienced militia troops in reserve.

Hawley’s dragoons rode in first to attack the Jacobite right but fell back in the face of controlled Jacobite fire. The fleeing horsemen disrupted the government infantry, prompting a headlong Highland charge. Both lines on the British left broke and ran. Only the government right, protected from the front by a deep ravine, held position, and those disciplined infantrymen poured fire into the attackers’ flank, halting them. Approaching darkness ended the fight.

While the Jacobites had won the field at Falkirk—in the process inflicting some 700 casualties, capturing enemy baggage, ammunition and artillery pieces and winning the propaganda battle—their victory was strategically hollow. The action had exposed their primary weaknesses: poor command and control and the reckless Highlanders’ vulnerability to massed, accurate musket fire.

In the wake of Falkirk, Cumberland arrived in Scotland to take command of British forces. He spent the rest of the winter and early spring in Aberdeen, regrouping his army and adding some 5,000 Hessian mercenaries. Meanwhile, as Bonnie Prince Charlie was running short on funds and food, the scattered Jacobite factions darted about the Highlands, trying to capture government forts and supplies. By early April the weather had improved, and Cumberland broke camp. The stage was set for a showdown.

Cumberland’s 9,000-man army marched steadily west toward the Jacobite stronghold at Inverness and on April 15 camped just outside Nairn. The Jacobites ventured out as far as Drummossie Moor, near Culloden, some 12 miles shy of Nairn. There, on the advice of his adjutant, Charlie chose to make his stand. By then his men were in a weakened state, so hungry that by one estimate a third of the Jacobite army had dispersed in search of food. Meanwhile, the well-provisioned British troops spent the day feasting and drinking.

That evening, taking a page from their earlier success at Prestonpans, Jacobite commanders decided to march their men through the night to launch a flank attack on their foe at dawn. Marching cross-country so as to avoid British sentries, the starving rebels trudged over difficult terrain for hours until, nearing dawn with the objective still miles away, the Jacobite commanders canceled the attack and marched the men back to Culloden. The well-lubricated British remained sound asleep, oblivious to their close call. Several hours and many hard miles later the Jacobites arrived back in camp exhausted and disorganized. Many collapsed into sleep. Others continued the desperate search for food.

Such was the sorry state of affairs when at 10:30 a.m. pickets spotted the approaching British. The ragtag rebels spent the next hour forming up on the southwest side of the moor, placing themselves between the British and Inverness.

The Jacobite forces numbered little more than 5,000, while Cumberland’s red-jacketed army was stronger by 4,000 men and far more capable in terms of cavalry and artillery. About 500 yards separated the two forces. Between them lay boggy ground uniquely unsuited to the Highland charge. Driving rain and sleet blew directly into the faces of the rebel army. Given the conditions and the odds, the Jacobite commanders could not really have chosen a better killing ground—for their own men.

“The morning was cold and stormy as we stood on the battlefield—snow and rain blowing against us,” recalled Jacobite Donald Mackay of Acmonie in later years. “Before long we saw the [British], in battle formation, in front of us, and although the day was wild and wet, we could see the red coats of the soldiers and the blue tartans of the Campbells in our presence.” (Clan Campbell fought on the government side.)

There is no definitive record of who fired first, though most accounts claim the government artillery opened up around 1 p.m., answered by sporadic Jacobite fire. At that moment the stormy weather ceased.

“Just as the enemy began to fire their cannon, it grew a fine day,” Edward Linn, a government soldier with the 21st Royal Scots Fusiliers, wrote in a letter to his wife. “The wind was strong on our back and the enemies face so that we could hardly see them for our smoke.”

The Jacobites got the worst of it. “Many of the gunners had wandered with others in search of provisions and had not returned,” wrote Peter Anderson in his 1920 history of the battle, “and their places had to be supplied by men unaccustomed to such practice, while the duke’s cannon made dreadful havoc.”

The Highlanders were champing at the bit, but the Bonnie Prince held them back, waiting for Cumberland to make the first move. Meanwhile, the rebel ranks were rapidly thinning. “The pellets came at us like hailstones,” Mackay recalled. “The big guns were thundering and causing frightful breakup among us.”

History doesn’t conclusively record who gave the order to charge—Charlie, who had fallen back after a cannonball decapitated a servant or Donald Cameron of Lochiel, in the center of the line or Lord George Murray, on the Jacobite right. In any case, the hornet-mad Highlanders finally charged. But it was a ragged effort the line of attack was oblique, and the lines didn’t advance en masse. The boggy center of the moor, dotted with gorse and heather, slowed the advance, exposing even greater numbers of the attackers to the murderous grapeshot poured out by British cannoneers. But still the rebels came.

At roughly 80 paces from the British lines the Highlanders on the Jacobite right, still stubbornly out front, stopped to fire their muskets, tossed them aside, hefted their claymores overhead and swept in screaming for the kill.

The regiments fronting the British left—the 4th and 37th Regiments of Foot—took the brunt of the attack. Men on the front line waited with fixed bayonets. Meanwhile, the troops in the second line and others who had maneuvered to the extreme left, outside the line of charge, held their fire. Just as the ranks closed, these infantrymen fired well-aimed volleys, breaking much of the attackers’ momentum. There followed a terrible clash of steel on steel. The defensive tactic on which the government troops had been drilled was a counterintuitive move requiring both a high degree of discipline and complete trust in the man to one’s left. The soldiers in the first rank thrust their bayonets at the attacking rebels to their right, targeting the side of the Scots’ bodies unprotected by the light Highland shield known as the targe.

Despite the bloody gauntlet, many Highlanders survived to exact their revenge.

“We ran forward and—oh dear! oh dear!—what cutting and slicing there was, and many the brave deeds performed by the Gaels,” Mackay wrote. “I saw Iain Mor MacGilliosa cutting down the English as if he was cutting corn, and Iain Breac Shiosallach killing them as though they were flies.”

The slashing Highlanders partially broke the first line only to find themselves trapped between the first and second lines. While one British regiment moved to plug the gap, two others counterattacked, some soldiers moving left to pour flanking fire into the attackers. As the Highlanders lost ground, dragoons swept around and behind them to cut off their escape. Meanwhile, the center and left of the lagging Jacobite line —slowed by the boggy ground, punished by the British guns and disheartened at the sight of their reeling right—began falling back and never came into contact with the British lines.

“We were on the left of our army, and at the distance of about 20 paces from the enemy,” wrote James Johnstone, a Jacobite officer, “when the rout commenced to become general before even we had made our charge.…To the increase of my horror I beheld the Highlanders around me turning their backs to fly. I remained for a time motionless and lost in astonishment I then, in a rage, discharged my blunderbuss at the enemy and immediately endeavored to save myself like the rest but having charged on foot and in my boots, I was so overcome by the marshy ground, the water of which reached to the middle of my legs, that instead of running, I could barely walk.”

As the Jacobites broke, government cavalry and mounted infantry swarmed into the fight.

“The horse and dragoons who were placed in the wings flanked the right and left and met in the center of the rebel army, and then it became a universal rout,” William Warden of Gargunnock wrote to a cousin nine days after the battle.

“Immediately our horse that were upon our right and left wings pursued with sword and pistol and cut a great many of them down so that I never saw a small field thicker of dead,” Linn recalled.

Only the courageous covering fire of the Jacobite-allied Irish Picquets prevented a complete massacre.

In less than an hour of bitter fighting upward of 1,500 of Charlie’s troops lay dead or wounded, and 376 were taken prisoner. The toll on Cumberland’s men was 50 killed and fewer than 300 wounded.

“There never was a more complete victory obtained,” wrote Donald Campbell of Airds, a Highland officer with the government army’s Argyll Militia. “We got all the enemy’s cannon, ammunition and a good part of their baggage.”

The death toll climbed as the Redcoats either finished off the Jacobite wounded or left them to die. In the ensuing months Britain sought to crush any inclination for the Jacobites to rise again, and Cumberland was their instrument of “pacification.” His soldiers systematically hunted down fugitive Jacobites and other Highlanders, imprisoning thousands and banishing or executing hundreds more, while he personally ordered their settlements burned and livestock driven off. His ruthlessness earned the hated duke the moniker “Butcher of Culloden.”

It was a turning point in British history, ending more than a half-century of Jacobite uprisings and accelerating the end of the fading, traditional clan system that persisted in the Highlands even as the rest of Scotland was undergoing what writer Arthur Herman calls “an explosion of cultural and economic activity.” In a final indignity Parliament passed an act of proscription that summer, banning the possession of “warlike weapons” and the wearing of tartan and Highland dress—powerful symbols of the clans.

Today the National Trust of Scotland continues its efforts to restore the Culloden battlefield .org.uk/culloden/home] even as modern technology has enabled researchers to better plot the course of the conflict. A 2001 to its 1746 appearance, [www.nts metal-detector survey of the debris field, for example, proved that the Jacobite and British lines converged nearly 100 yards farther south than originally believed. More recent surveys with ground-penetrating radar have identified previously unknown and unmarked burial pits.

A visit to this meticulously preserved site is an engaging step back in time. The interactive visitor center provides a clear understanding of the events leading up to the battle, while a four-minute film projects the clash on four walls, enveloping viewers with a startling sense of immediacy. The GPS-activated battlefield tour leads visitors in the footsteps of both rebel and Redcoat as they envision what transpired that bloody day on the moor.

For further reading William McMichael suggests The ’45: Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Untold Story of the Jacobite Rising, by Christopher Duffy Culloden: 1746, by Stuart Reid and Culloden: The History and Archaeology of the Last Clan Battle, edited by Tony Pollard.

Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.


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