1625: English invasion thwarted by a booze up


In 1625 two English military commanders (George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and Sir Edward Cecil) sought royal approval for a war against Spain. A successful campaign, they told Charles I, would weaken the Spanish Empire and revive the glory of 1588, when the English repelled the Armada. Villiers and Cecil also hoped to line their pockets by plundering Spanish ships returning from the Americas laden with cash and cargo. Their plan was backed by Charles I but not parliament, which was unwilling and probably unable to provide financial support. In the summer of 1625 Cecil moved to Devon to assemble his invasion force but he was plagued by a shortage of funds and other difficulties. He secured almost 120 English and Dutch ships but many were poorly maintained. Cecil’s land force consisted of 15,000 men, most of whom were pressed into service in and around Plymouth. Cecil’s expedition was also poorly stocked: he was able to obtain provisions for scarcely a fortnight abroad.

booze
Edward Cecil’s failed Cadiz expedition… well it seemed a good idea at the time.

The fleet sailed on October 5th 1625 but returned the following day after striking bad weather. It sailed again two days later but suffered damage in heavy weather off the Spanish coast. The English encountered several Spanish ships filled with cargo but dithering allowed them to escape. The expedition landed near Cadiz on October 24th but Cecil, having noticed the city’s fortifications, abandoned his plans to attack it. Instead, Cecil marched his men in the opposite direction. With night approaching he allowed his invasion to stop at village in the wine-producing region of Andalusia. Unfortunately for Cecil, this village housed a large quantity of the local product. His ‘army’ quickly fell apart, thanks to:

“…the misgovernment of the soldiers who, by the avarice or negligence of their commanders, were permitted to fill themselves so much with the wine they found in the cellars and other places they plundered, that they became more like beasts than men… if the Spaniards had had good intelligence they might have all been cut off.”

Cecil’s men were so hopelessly drunk that their officers abandoned plans for capturing major cities – or indeed smaller ones. The soldiers were herded back onto the ships. For a time they sailed aimlessly along the Spanish coast, looking for treasure ships to plunder. But poor hygiene and lack of supplies soon took their toll on the men, who began to die, “many each hour”. In mid November the expedition was abandoned and the ships, scattered at sea, began to limp back to England. Cecil was the last to return: his own ship was blown off course and became lost, landing on the south coast of Ireland in mid December. His return ended one of the worst executed military campaigns in English history.


Source: Sir Richard Baker, A Chronicle of the Kings of England &c., 1684. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1942: LBJ wins Silver Star for “coolness”


In 1942 future United States president Lyndon Johnson was awarded a Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest military decoration – for showing “coolness” during a plane ride. Johnson was elected to the House of Representatives in 1937, weeks before his 29th birthday. When Pearl Harbour was bombed in December 1941 Johnson rushed to enlist in the Naval Reserve, probably thinking that military service would enhance his political prospects. In mid 1942 Johnson, by then sporting the rank of lieutenant commander, travelled to the Pacific theatre as an observer. There he became friendly with Douglas MacArthur, who allowed Johnson to ‘sit in’ on an aerial bombing raid against Japanese targets. On June 9th Johnson arrived at an airstrip in Port Moresby, New Guinea and boarded a B26 Marauder dubbed the Wabash Cannonball. Needing to “take a leak”, Johnson left the aircraft for a few minutes. On his return he found the seats occupied by other officers, forcing LBJ onto another B26, the Heckling Hare. As it turns out Johnson’s full bladder saved his life: the Wabash Cannonball was shot down over water near Lae, killing all on board.

Johnson’s plane also came under attack from numerous Japanese Zeros and was forced to abandon its bombing mission. While the pilot, Lieutenant Walter Greer, struggled to evade the Zeros, and the air crew manned the guns, Johnson watched the whole show from his window seat. The attack lasted less than 13 minutes before the Heckling Hare slipped its pursuers and headed back to Moresby on one engine. Despite playing no active part in the mission Johnson was awarded the Silver Star – apparently for showing “coolness”:

“While on a mission of obtaining information in the Southwest Pacific area, Lieutenant Commander Johnson, in order to obtain personal knowledge of combat conditions, volunteered as an observer on a hazardous aerial combat mission over hostile positions in New Guinea. As our planes neared the target area they were intercepted by eight hostile fighters… The plane in which Lieutenant Commander Johnson was an observer developed mechanical trouble and was forced to turn back alone, presenting a favourable target to the enemy fighters, [and] he evidenced marked coolness in spite of the hazards involved.”

The Heckling Hare’s other crew members – including Lieutenant Greer, whose brilliant flying had saved Johnson’s life – were awarded no medal of any kind. Greer was not even aware of Johnson’s Silver Star until reading of it in the press. The men who died on the first B26, the Wabash Cannonball, received only the lower rated Purple Heart. As for Johnson he showed some initial embarrassment about his Silver Star, telling a Washington reporter he didn’t deserve the medal and drafting a letter declining to accept it. But accept it and wear it he did. When Johnson returned to the campaign trail in Texas his Silver Star, perhaps the least deserved military decoration in American history, became one of the most worn and referenced. Johnson continued to wear the Silver Star citation in the Senate, as vice president and during his tenure in the White House.


Source: Silver Star citation, General Orders No. 12, Southwest Pacific Area, June 18th 1942. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.