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Al Nofi's CIC
  Issue #18, January 17, 2001  
  This Issue...
  • Infinite Wisdom
  • la Triviata
  • Briefing - George Washington Attacks New York: 1781?

 

Infinite Wisdom

"In all of the far-flung operations of our own Armed Forces the toughest job has been performed by the average, easy-going, hard-fighting young American who carries the weight of battle on his own young shoulders. It is to him that we and all future generations of Americans must pay grateful tribute."

--Franklin Delano Roosevelt

 

La Triviata

  • Only 4% of U.S. fighters and fighter-bombers shot down over North Vietnam were lost in combat with enemy aircraft and only 5% succumbed to surface-to-air missiles, while fully 91% were lost to anti-aircraft gunfire directed by that old reliable, Eye-Ball Mark I.
  • Nearly half of the officers in the Italian Army in 1866 were former enlisted men.
  • Measured by the number of ships engaged, the Battle of Dan-no-ura, near Shimonoseki in Japan, fought in 1186, was probably the greatest naval battle of all time, with some 700 vessels of the Minamoto clan defeated about 500 ships of the Taira clan
  • In the Fall of 1942 Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief-of-Naval Operations during World War II, chewed his security staff when he learned that 61 naval offices in Washington had knowledge of the pending Allied landings in North Africa, only to apologize when he learned that 1,324 Army officers in the capitol has similar knowledge.
  • By one estimate, it cost the Allies $36,485.48 to kill a single enemy soldier during World War I, while the Central Powers spent only $11,344.77 for each Allied soldier slain.
  • The Italian Renaissance mercenary Giovanni Serbelloni is said to have once lost a battle because he refused to read a dispatch that omitted some of his numerous titles.

 

Briefing - George Washington Attacks New York: 1781?

For most of the American Revolution George Washington spent his time within about 100 miles of New York City. This was because the Big Apple (which wasn't very big in those days) was the principal British base in the colonies from the time they captured it in mid-1776. The Campaign of '76 turned out to be the largest of the war in terms of number of troops engaged, and Washington's green American Army had not done well, a rump of it barely escaping intact in order to keep the flame of revolution alive. After that disaster Washington's army rarely numbered more than about 8,500 men, as it marched and countermarched across New Jersey and southern New York State, posing a constant threat to the British position in New York City, thereby pinning down 12,000-17,000 men, a sizable chunk of the King's troops in America. Meanwhile, a lot of fighting was going on elsewhere. By end of the 1770s that elsewhere was primarily in the South.

In the Spring of 1781, frustrated at being unable to run Nathanael Greene's tiny patriot army to ground in Georgia and the Carolinas, Lord Cornwallis, the British commander in the South, decided to launch an invasion of Virginia. In May, he sent his troops into Virginia, hoping to strike at the heart of the insurgent-held territories. American forces under the youthful Marquis de Lafayette promptly led Cornwallis a merry chase all over the eastern parts of the state. As a result, by August 4th, Lafayette had succeeded in pinning Cornwallis and 8,000 British troops down at Yorktown on the Chesapeake Bay. Normally, a British army in a fortified position with its back to the sea was virtually invincible, for the Royal Navy could support or evacuate it as necessity dictated. But such was not the case in 1781. At about the time Cornwallis found himself cornered at Yorktown, Washington learned that the French Comte de Grasse was sailing from the Caribbean with a powerful fleet and 3,000 troops to support the American cause. After conferring with the Comte de Rochambeau, who commanded a 5,500 strong French expeditionary force based in Rhode Island, Washington resolved upon a bold undertaking.

For several years Washington had made no secret of the fact that he wanted to recapture New York. In fact, only a year or so earlier, he concentrated upwards of 12,000 Continentals and militiamen in anticipation of such an attempt. However, upon closer examination of the British defenses, Washington had thought better of the venture, and sent many of the troops home. Even with Rochambeau's aid the place seemed too strong. So Washington decided to use the fact that the British knew he cherished the thought of an offensive against New York to mask an even more daring operation.

Soon troops began to move, some 4,000 Frenchmen from Rhode Island marched westwards towards New York, while Washington drilled his Continentals harder than ever and ordered the militia to turn out in great numbers, equipped for several weeks' service. With these additional forces he was able to increase the number of troops in the lines around New York City. Harassment of isolated British posts around New York was intensified, and some small places in what is now the Bronx and along the New Jersey side of the Hudson were seized from the enemy, while raids across the Long Island Sound were intensified. Meanwhile, orders were given to collect supplies and boats and to expand the number of army bakeries. All seemed in readiness for a major assault on the city. But on August 21st, leaving behind some 3,000 regulars plus thousands of militiamen, Washington and Rochambeau began a rapid march south from West Point, the main American base, with about 7,000 troops, while a French naval squadron sailed from Rhode Island with Rochambeau's heavy artillery. As Washington's army marched south, the British in New York prepared to meet a major offensive, one which never came. For the three Franco-American forces (the army and the two fleets) rendezvoused in the Chesapeake Bay. On September 18th Washington debarked in Virginia and promptly went to Lafayette's aid before Yorktown. A siege ensued, which, aided by the successful outcome of a fleet engagement between the French and the British, resulted in Cornwallis' surrender with 7,000 men on October 19, 1781. With that the War of the American Revolution was effectively over.

Washington's cover plan for the Yorktown operation is a classic example of deception. Not only was an assault on New York City a plausible operation, indeed it was one in which Washington had several times expressed an interest, but it provided a convenient mask for the concentration of Rochambeau's army on his own. The skirmishes and raids tended to alert the British to possibility of such an attack, as did the gathering of supplies, the building of additional bread ovens in the principal American camps, and the collection of boats. Perhaps the finishing touch was when Washington called out the militia, for the militia was notoriously unwilling to serve for very long, and the move suggested that action was imminent. Altogether a neat, tidy, and highly successful deception.

 

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