A number of very significant things happened in late January. During the Revolutionary War American rifles earned the respect of the British army. President Eisenhower issued his warning about the Military-Industrial Complex. The Tet Offensive occurred during the Vietnam War, and the Iran Hostage Crisis ended.
On 16 Jan 1991, at midnight in Iraq, the UN deadline for the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait expired, and the Pentagon prepared to commence offensive operations to forcibly eject Iraq from its five-month occupation of its oil-rich neighbor. At 4:30 pm, the first fighter aircraft launched from Saudi Arabia and off US and British aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf on bombing missions over Iraq. All evening, aircraft from the US-led military coalition pounded targets in and around Baghdad as the world watched the events transpire in television footage transmitted live via satellite from Baghdad and elsewhere. At 7:00 pm, Operation Desert Storm, the code-name for the massive US-led offensive against Iraq, was formally announced at the White House.
On 17 Jan 1781, during the Revolutionary War, relying upon strategic creativity, Brigadier General Daniel Morgan and a mixed Patriot force routed British Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton and a group of Redcoats and Loyalists at the Battle of Cowpens.
Commander of the Southern Army, Major General Nathaniel Greene decided to divide Patriot forces in the Carolinas in order to force the larger British contingent under General Cornwallis to fight them on multiple fronts—and because smaller groups of men were easier to feed. Daniel Morgan took 300 Continental riflemen and 740 militiamen to attack the British backcountry fort, Ninety-Six.
In response, Cornwallis dispatched Tarleton with 1,100 Redcoats and Loyalists to catch Morgan. Morgan prepared for the encounter with Tarleton by backing his men up to a river at Cowpens.
As Tarleton’s men attacked, Morgan instructed the militia to skirmish with them, but to leave the front line after firing two rounds. The British mistook the repositioning of the Americans as a rout and ran into an unexpected volley of concentrated rifle fire coupled with a cavalry charge and followed by the return of the militia. Tarleton escaped, but his army was decimated.
American rifles, scorned by Britain’s professional soldiers, proved devastatingly effective in this engagement. The British lost 110 men and over 200 were wounded, while an additional 500 were captured. The American losses totaled only 12 killed and 60 wounded in the first Patriot victory to demonstrate that the American forces could outfight a similar British force without any other factors—such as surprise or geography—to assist them.
On 17 Jan 1961, in his farewell address to the nation, President Dwight Eisenhower warned the American people to keep a careful eye on what he calls the “military-industrial complex” that has developed in the post-WWII years.
A fiscal conservative, Eisenhower had been concerned about the growing size and cost of the American defense establishment since he became president in 1953. In his last presidential address to the American people, he expressed those concerns in terms that frankly shocked some of his listeners.
Necessary though that development might be, Eisenhower warned, this new military-industrial complex could weaken or destroy the very institutions and principles it was designed to protect.
On 20 Jan 1981, minutes after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as the 40th president of the US, the 52 US captives held at the US embassy in Teheran, Iran, were released, ending the 444-day Iran Hostage Crisis.
On 4 Nov 1979, the crisis began when militant Iranian students, outraged that the US government had allowed the ousted shah of Iran to travel to New York City for medical treatment, seized the US embassy in Teheran. The Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s political and religious leader, took over the hostage situation, refusing all appeals to release the hostages, even after the UN Security Council demanded an end. However, two weeks after the storming of the embassy, the Ayatollah began to release all non-US captives, and all female and minority Americans, citing these groups as among the people oppressed by the US government. The remaining 52 captives remained at the mercy of the Ayatollah for the next 14 months.
President Jimmy Carter was unable to diplomatically resolve the crisis, and on April 24, 1980, he ordered a disastrous rescue mission in which eight US military personnel were killed and no hostages rescued. In November 1980, Carter lost the presidential election to Republican Ronald Reagan. Soon after, successful negotiations began between the US and Iran. On the day of
Reagan’s inauguration, the US freed almost $8 billion in frozen Iranian assets, and the hostages were released after 444 days.
On 21 Jan 1968, during the Vietnam War, one of the most publicized and controversial battles of the war began at Khe Sanh, 14 miles below the DMZ and six miles from the Laotian border.
Seized and activated by our Marines a year earlier, the base, which had been an old French outpost, was a staging area for forward patrols and was a potential launch point for future operations to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. The battle began with a brisk firefight involving the 3rd Bn, 26th Marines and a North Vietnamese battalion entrenched northwest of the base. The next day North Vietnamese forces overran the village of Khe Sanh and their long-range artillery opened fire on the base itself, hitting its main ammunition dump and detonating 1,500 tons of explosives.
An incessant barrage kept Khe Sanh’s Marine defenders pinned down in their trenches and bunkers. Because the base had to be resupplied by air, our high command was reluctant to put in any more troops and planned for massive artillery and air strikes. During the 66-day siege, US planes, dropping 5,000 bombs daily. The relief of Khe Sanh, called Operation Pegasus, began in early April as the 1st Cavalry (Airmobile) and a South Vietnamese battalion approached the base from the east and south, while the Marines pushed westward to re-open Route 9.
The siege was finally lifted on 6 April when the cavalrymen linked up with the Marines south of the airstrip. In a final clash a week later, the Marines drove enemy forces from Hill 881 North. Gen. William Westmoreland, commander of the US Military Assistance Command, contended that Khe Sanh played a vital blocking role at the western end of the DMZ, and asserted that if the base had fallen, North Vietnamese forces could have outflanked Marine defenses along the buffer zone.
It was a costly battle for both sides. The official casualty count was 205 Marines killed and over 1,600 wounded. Our headquarters estimated that the North Vietnamese lost between 10,000 and 15,000 men in the fighting.
On 23 Jan 1968, the US intelligence-gathering ship Pueblo was seized by North Korean naval vessels and charged with spying and violating North Korean territorial waters. Negotiations to free the 83-man crew dragged on for nearly a year, damaging the credibility of and confidence in the foreign policy of President Lyndon Johnson.
The capture of the ship and internment of its crew by North Korea was loudly protested by the US. Our government vehemently denied that North Korea’s territorial waters had been violated and argued the ship was merely performing routine intelligence gathering duties in the Sea of Japan. Some US officials believed the seizure was part of a larger communist-bloc offensive, since exactly one week later, communist forces in South Vietnam launched the Tet Offensive, the largest attack of the Vietnam War. The Johnson administration took a restrained stance toward the incident. Fully occupied with the Tet Offensive, Johnson resorted to quieter diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in North Korea.
In December 1968, the commander of the Pueblo, Capt. Lloyd Bucher, grudgingly signed a confession indicating that his ship was spying on North Korea prior to its capture. With this propaganda victory in hand, the North Koreans turned the crew and captain over to the US.
The Pueblo incident was a blow to the Johnson administration’s credibility, as the president seemed powerless to free the captured crew and ship. The crew’s reports about their horrific treatment at the hands of the North Koreans during their 11 months in captivity further incensed
American citizens, many of whom believed that Johnson should have taken more aggressive action to free the captive Americans.
On 30 Jan 1968, during the Vietnam War, in coordinated attacks all across South Vietnam, communist forces launched their largest offensive of the Vietnam War against South Vietnamese and US troops.
Dozens of cities, towns, and military bases–including the US embassy in Saigon–were attacked. The massive offensive was not a military success for the communists, but its size & intensity shook the confidence of many Americans who were led to believe, by President Lyndon Johnson, that the war would shortly be coming to a successful close.
On 30 Jan 1968-during the Tet holiday cease-fire in South Vietnam–an estimated 80,000 troops of the North Vietnamese Army & National Liberation Front attacked cities and military establishments throughout South Vietnam. The most spectacular episode occurred when a group of NLF commandos blasted through the wall surrounding the American embassy in Saigon and unsuccessfully attempted to seize the embassy building. Most of the attacks were turned back, with the communist forces suffering heavy losses.
Battles continued to rage throughout the country for weeks–the fight to reclaim the city of Hue from communist troops was particularly destructive. American & South Vietnamese forces lost over 3,000 men during the offensive. Estimates for communist losses ran as high as 40,000.
While the communists did not succeed militarily, the impact of the Tet Offensive on public opinion in the US was significant. The American people, who had been told a few months earlier that the war was successful & that US troops might soon be allowed withdraw, were stunned to see fighting taking place on the grounds of the US embassy.
In the wake of the Tet Offensive, support for the US effort in Vietnam began steadily to decline, and public opinion turned sharply against President Johnson, who decided not to run for re-election.