Sunday, February 16, 2014
FEBRUARY 16 = "The Most Bold and Daring Act of the Age!"
So wrote Lieutenant Stephen Decatur on February 16, 1804 in a dispatch to Captain Edward Preble. Earlier that evening, Decatur had lead a team of sailors and U.S. Marines into the harbour at Tripoli, and the team managed to board and destroy the recently captured frigate U.S.S. Philadelphia before she could be put to use by the Barbary Pirates. When news of the success of this daring commando raid leaked out, it electrified the world. Horatio Nelson, the hero of the British navy called it "the most bold and daring act of the age.."
The Barbary Pirates
By this point in time, the coast of North Africa was home to four states, Morroco, Algeria, Tunis, and Tripoli. The head of each of these states was a semi-hereditary monarch called “the Dey”, or "the bashaw". These states had for years been allowing their ships to raid the commerce of the entire Mediterranean Sea for plunder, and for the purpose of taking the sailors of the merchant ships hostage in return for tremendous ransom payments. The major powers of France, Spain, Portugal and Great Britain all had the necessary naval muscle to put an end to this, but they were continuously at war with each other, so they let it go on, each to make life difficult for the other. While we were a set
The U.S.S. Philadelphia Runs Aground and is Captured
Stephen Decatur Leads a Raid on the Philadelphia
While the capture of this magnificent U.S. vessel was a tremendous blow to U.S. prestige, it was worse: the Dey of Tripoli immediately began trying to sell her to one of his neighbors because he lacked the skilled crew necessary to use her effectively. But the U.S. had no intention of having to fight one of her own ships. By mid-December Preble, in consultation with the captured Bainbridge (communicating with his commander from captivity via the use of lime juice mixed with water - invisible ink!!) had decided that attempting to board the Philadelphia and sail her out would be too difficult. She would have to be destroyed. He had at hand just the man to lead such a mission. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur Jr. (below) was the Maryland born son of a veteran of naval service during the Revolution. Decatur, one of two brothers in the U.S. Squadron, had early on acquired a reputation as a duelist, and a daring adventurer. He was commanding the U.S. sloop of war, the U.S.S. Enterprise when the plan to re-take the Philadelphia was hatched and naturally volunteered for the mission.
Suddenly, the blood curdling cry of "AMERICANOS!!" pierced the darkness. One of the Tripolitan guards finally recognized what was happening. But it was too late. The Ameicans poured out of hiding and swiftly invaded the deck of the Philadelphia. Midshipman Ralph Izard wrote:
"...we then hauled up alongside her and about 50 of our men and officers boarded her instantly. The Tripolitans on board were dreadfully alarmed when they found out who we were. Poor fellows! About 20 of them were cut to pieces & the rest jumped overboard. We set fire to her in less than 15 minutes from the time we first borded her, the flames were bursting out of her ports."
Decatur himself further recorded:
In the words of historian Joseph Wheelan:
"With seamless precision, the Americans had captured and destroyed a frigate in an enemy harbour, within range of 115 fortress guns and two warships and escaped -- all inside twenty-five minutes with only one man slightly wounded. They had killed at least twenty enemy soldiers and taken one prisoner. The exploit would have embroidered the record of any commando unit in any era."
And, I have to think that today's Navy Seal teams could not possibly have done it better. As we can see, the tradition which resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden was begun way back in 1804!
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by Joseph Wheelan, Carroll & Graf Publishers, new York, 2003.
A Picture History of the U.S. Navy by Theodore Roscoe & Fred Freeman Bonanza Books, New York, 1956
"Regime Change in Tripoli? Part 1" - by Brian T. Bolten
http://suite101.com/article/regime-change-in-tripoli--part-one-a385921 = You can go ahead and click on this link, but it will only take you to a page wherein the usurious crew at "Suite101" will suggest to you that the page may never have existed. This is mere cyber-nonsense for the fact that these clowns re-arranged their page and cut me out of their picture, taking my articles with them. Happily I have copies of all but one of them, and about that more later. Let it suffice to say that THIS particular item will appear on this Blogpage's sister site "Today in History II" soon.... just you wait "Suite101", just you wait...
The burning of the Philadelphia =
The capture fo the Philadelphia =
Stephen Decatur =
Decatur on board the Philadelphia =