John’s Believe It Or Not… June 14th

In 1919 – Alcock and Brown leave St. John’s on the first nonstop transatlantic flight. In 1777 Congress adopts the Stars and Stripes. In 1954 First US nationwide civil defense drill held. In 1951 UNIVAC computer dedicated. In 1982 Falkland Islands War ends.

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John Fioravanti teaching at the blackboard.

Happy Flag Day to the USA! Did you know…

* 1919 – Alcock and Brown leave St. John’s on the first nonstop transatlantic flight. (In 1913, the British newspaper the Daily Mail offered a prize of 10,000 pounds sterling (about $1.1 million in today’s money) to the first aviator to cross the Atlantic. But World War I intervened the following year before anybody could make an attempt, and the competition was suspended. In late 1918, the competition to fly across the Atlantic resumed and stipulated the flight must be made in less than 72 hours. With fighting still fresh in the minds of the British, a new rule prevented teams of “enemy origin” to enter. The Vickers Vimy was a large airplane for the time. The twin-engine bomber was developed for use in World War I, but it wasn’t ready until after the war had ended, and it never saw combat over Europe. With a wingspan of more than 67 feet, the biplane was powered by a pair of 12-cylinder Rolls-Royce engines producing 360 horsepower each. The airplane used for the record-setting attempt was modified by removing the bomb racks and adding extra fuel tanks so it could carry 865 gallons for the flight. The pilot and navigator sat in an open cockpit at the front of the airplane. 

It was not an easy flight. The overloaded aircraft had difficulty taking off the rough field and only barely missed the tops of the trees. At 17:20 the wind-driven electrical generator failed, depriving them of radio contact, their intercom, and heating. An exhaust pipe burst shortly afterward, causing a frightening noise which made conversation impossible without the failed intercom.

At 5.00 pm they had to fly through thick fog. This was serious because it prevented Brown from being able to navigate using his sextant. Blind flying in fog or cloud should only be undertaken with gyroscopic instruments, which they did not have, and Alcock twice lost control of the aircraft and nearly hit the sea after a spiral dive. Alcock also had to deal with a broken trim control that made the plane become very nose-heavy as fuel was consumed. At 12:15 am Brown got a glimpse of the stars and could use his sextant, and found that they were on course. Their electric heating suits had failed, making them very cold in the open cockpit, but their coffee was spiked with whiskey. Then at 3:00 am, they flew into a large snowstorm. They were drenched by rain, their instruments iced up, and the plane was in danger of icing and becoming unflyable. The carburetors also iced up; it has been said that Brown had to climb out onto the wings to clear the engines, although he made no mention of that.

They made landfall in County Galway at 8:40 a.m. on 15 June 1919, not far from their intended landing place, after less than sixteen hours’ flying time. The aircraft was damaged upon arrival because of an attempt to land on what appeared from the air to be a suitable green field, but which turned out to be a bog, near Clifden in County Galway in Ireland, but neither of the airmen was hurt. Brown said that if the weather had been good they could have pressed on to London.)

Picture of Vickers Vimy Bomber
(stephenesherman.com)

* 1777 Congress adopts the Stars and Stripes. (During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress adopts a resolution stating that “the flag of the United States be thirteen alternate stripes red and white” and that “the Union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.” The national flag, which became known as the “Stars and Stripes,” was based on the “Grand Union” flag, a banner carried by the Continental Army in 1776 that also consisted of 13 red and white stripes. According to legend, Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross designed the new canton for the Stars and Stripes, which consisted of a circle of 13 stars and a blue background, at the request of General George Washington. Historians have been unable to conclusively prove or disprove this legend. With the entrance of new states into the United States after independence, new stripes and stars were added to represent new additions to the Union. In 1818, however, Congress enacted a law stipulating that the 13 original stripes be restored and that only stars be added to represent new states. On June 14, 1877, the first Flag Day observance was held on the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the Stars and Stripes. As instructed by Congress, the U.S. flag was flown from all public buildings across the country. In the years after the first Flag Day, several states continued to observe the anniversary, and in 1949 Congress officially designated June 14 as Flag Day, a national day of observance.)

Mythical depiction of Betsy Ross with Major Ross, Robert Morris and George Washington, explaining how she cut the stars for the American flag.
(rebelswithacause.us)

* 1954 First US nationwide civil defense drill held. (Over 12 million Americans “die” in a mock nuclear attack, as the United States goes through its first nationwide civil defense drill. Though American officials were satisfied with the results of the drill, the event stood as a stark reminder that the United States—and the world—was now living under a nuclear shadow. The June 1954 civil defense drill was organized and evaluated by the Civil Defense Administration and included operations in 54 cities in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Alaska, and Hawaii. Canada also participated in the exercise. The basic premise of the drill was that the United States was under massive nuclear assault from both aircraft and submarines and that most major urban areas had been targeted. At 10 a.m., alarms were sounded in selected cities, at which time all citizens were supposed to get off the streets, seek shelter, and prepare for the onslaught. Each citizen was supposed to know where the closest fallout shelter was located; these included the basements of government buildings and schools, underground subway tunnels, and private shelters. Even President Dwight D. Eisenhower took part in the show, heading to an underground bunker in Washington, D.C. The entire drill lasted only about 10 minutes, at which time an all-clear signal was broadcast and life returned to normal. Civil Defense Administration officials estimated that New York City would suffer the most in such an attack, losing over 2 million people. Other cities, including Washington, D.C., would also endure a massive loss of life. In all, it was estimated that over 12 million Americans would die in an attack. Despite those rather mind-numbing figures, government officials pronounced themselves very pleased with the drill. Minor problems in communication occurred, and one woman in New York City managed to create a massive traffic jam by simply stopping her car in the middle of the road, leaping out, and running for cover. In most cities, however, the streets were deserted just moments after the alarms sounded and there were no signs of panic or criminal behavior. A more cautious assessment came from a retired military officer, who observed that the recent development of the hydrogen bomb by the Soviet Union had “outstripped the progress made in our civil defense strides to defend against it.”)

Black and white photograph of women with civil defense home first aid kit display, 1954
Black and white photograph of women with civil defence home first aid kit display, 1954 (MNopedia)

* 1951 UNIVAC computer dedicated. (On June 14, 1951, the U.S. Census Bureau dedicates UNIVAC, the world’s first commercially produced electronic digital computer. UNIVAC, which stood for Universal Automatic Computer, was developed by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, makers of ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic digital computer. These giant computers, which used thousands of vacuum tubes for computation, were the forerunners of today’s digital computers.  Following the success of ENIAC, Eckert and Mauchly decided to go into private business and founded the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation. They proved less able businessmen than they were engineers, and in 1950 their struggling company was acquired by Remington Rand, an office equipment company. On June 14, 1951, Remington Rand delivered its first computer, UNIVAC I, to the U.S. Census Bureau. It weighed 16,000 pounds, used 5,000 vacuum tubes, and could perform about 1,000 calculations per second. On November 4, 1952, the UNIVAC achieved national fame when it correctly predicted Dwight D. Eisenhower’s unexpected landslide victory in the presidential election after only a tiny percentage of the votes were in. UNIVAC and other first-generation computers were replaced by transistor computers of the late 1950s, which were smaller, used less power, and could perform nearly a thousand times more operations per second. These were, in turn, supplanted by the integrated-circuit machines of the mid-1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, the development of the microprocessor made possible small, powerful computers such as the personal computer, and more recently the laptop and hand-held computers.)

The Remington Rand Univac
The Remington Rand Univac (Time Magazine)

* 1982 Falkland Islands War ends. (After suffering through six weeks of military defeats against Britain’s armed forces, Argentina surrenders to Great Britain, ending the Falkland Islands War. The Falkland Islands, located about 300 miles off the southern tip of Argentina, had long been claimed by the British. British navigator John Davis may have sighted the islands in 1592, and in 1690 British Navy Captain John Strong made the first recorded landing on the islands. He named them after Viscount Falkland, who was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. In 1764, French navigator Louis-Antoine de Bougainville founded the islands’ first human settlement, on East Falkland, which was taken over by the Spanish in 1767. In 1765, the British settled West Falkland but left in 1774 for economic reasons. Spain abandoned its settlement in 1811. In 1816, Argentina declared its independence from Spain and in 1820 proclaimed its sovereignty over the Falklands. The Argentines built a fort on East Falkland, but in 1832 it was destroyed by the USS Lexington in retaliation for the seizure of U.S. seal ships in the area. In 1833, a British force expelled the remaining Argentine officials and began a military occupation. In 1841, a British lieutenant governor was appointed, and by the 1880s a British community of some 1,800 people on the islands was self-supporting. In 1892, the wind-blown Falkland Islands were collectively granted colonial status. In March 1982, Argentine salvage workers occupied South Georgia Island, and a full-scale invasion of the Falklands began on April 2. Argentine amphibious forces rapidly overcame the small garrison of British marines at the town of Stanley on East Falkland and the next day seized the dependent territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich group. Under orders from their commanders, the Argentine troops inflicted no British casualties, despite suffering losses to their own units. Nevertheless, Britain was outraged, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher assembled a naval task force of 30 warships to retake the islands. As Britain is 8,000 miles from the Falklands, it took several weeks for the British warships to arrive. On April 25, South Georgia Island was retaken, and after several intensive naval battles fought around the Falklands, British troops landed on East Falkland on May 21. After several weeks of fighting, the large Argentine garrison at Stanley surrendered on June 14, effectively ending the conflict. Britain lost five ships and 256 lives in the fight to regain the Falklands, and Argentina lost its only cruiser and 750 lives. Humiliated in the Falklands War, the Argentine military was swept from power in 1983, and civilian rule was restored. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher’s popularity soared after the conflict, and her Conservative Party won a landslide victory in 1983 parliamentary elections.)

The Union flag flies over Port Howard, West Falkland in June 1982 for the first time in more than two months - signifying the end of the Falklands conflict
The Union flag flies over Port Howard, West Falkland in June 1982 for the first time in more than two months – signifying the end of the Falklands conflict
(dailymail.co.uk)

Acknowledged Sources:

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* This Day In History – What Happened Today    http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/

* Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia                    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transatlantic_flight_of_Alcock_and_Brown

* WIRED                                                               https://www.wired.com/2010/06/0615alcock-brown-fly-atlantic/ 

 

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

16 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… June 14th”

  1. I never knew how Flag Day came about. Extremely interesting, John. And I had no idea that the U.S. once held Civil Defense drills. So many tidbits tucked away in history books. Thanks for today’s class! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

          1. John, this has me really excited. I love historical fiction, and with your background and passion for history, I really see you producing something exceptional. Please go for it! This could be your niche! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I did not realize that Flag Day began in 1949. Seems like that should have happened long before that date! America didn’t have an official national anthem until the 1930’s. Equally as surprising. Great post, John.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Jennie. The first observance was in 1877 – and some States observed the day after that, but Congress didn’t make it a national day of observance until 1949 – likely due to the heightened feelings of nationalism sparked by World War II and the Cold War. I appreciate your observations, Jennie.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Thanks for your kind words, Jennie. There are too many people in every country who think history is irrelevant. Sigh. I believe we cannot possibly grasp the significance of the events of the present without the context of the past.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Another great blog, John. I didn’t know about the Vickers Vimy but it is a reminder how battle prompts advancements – sadly. I remember the Falkland Islands War, though I did not understand it until your explanation. An attack that has always baffled me is the U.S. attack on Grenada. Why?! Can you help me with that one? 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t know about this contest and the Vickers Vimy either – but you’re right, warfare has always brought on technical advancements – sadly is right. I’ll do a more thorough job on the Grenada invasion in October – but a Stalinist group seized power in Grenada and Reagan decided not to let a communist regime survive in the Caribbean. Basically, it was a winnable Vietnam scenario. Thanks for your insights and question, Gwen!

      Liked by 2 people

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