Today in History - October 20th
October 20, 1899 - Battle of Talana Hill, Boer War
The Battle of Talana Hill was the first major clash of the Second Boer War. A hasty frontal attack by British infantry drove Boers from a hilltop position, but they suffered heavy casualties including their commanding general in the process.
Major General Penn Symons commanded a brigade (four infantry battalions, part of a cavalry regiment and some mounted infantry, three field artillery batteries) which occupied the coal mining town of Dundee. He disdained to fall back on the major British force at Ladysmith. On the evening of October 19, two Boer forces each of 4000 men under General Erasmus and Lukas Meyer were closing in on Dundee.
Before dawn on October 20, Erasmus's force occupied Impati Mountain north of Dundee at Meyer's men occupied the low Talana Hill east of the town at, and dragged several Krupp field guns to the top. As dawn broke and the British spotted the Boers on Talana Hill, these guns opened fire, ineffectually.
The British field batteries galloped to within range and opened fire, causing about 1000 Boers to run away. The British infantry rushed forward to make a frontal attack, and reached the foot of the hill, but were pinned down in a eucalyptus plantation by heavy rifle fire. Symons went forward to urge them on, and was mortally wounded. Under Symon's successor, Colonel Yule, the British infantry charged up the hill with the bayonet, suffering casualties from their own artillery as they reached the top.
Lukas Meyer's forces mounted their ponies and made off. The British mounted troops tried to cut off their retreat, but most of the British horsemen strayed onto the slopes of Impati. Erasmus had so far played no part in the battle (partly because Impati was still shrouded in fog), but his men surrounded the British mounted detachment and forced them to surrender.
The British had won a tactical victory at high cost. They could have suffered a disastrous defeat had Meyer and Erasmus in particular not been cautious and indecisive commanders.
Yule's men were unable to contemplate attacking Impati Mountain, which held Dundee's water supply. They marched and countermarched beneath the hill for two days under intermittent shellfire. Other Boer forces had cut the British line of supply and retreat. Finally, despairing of help, the British force retreated across country at night. After a four-day march of 64 miles, they reached the temporary safety of Ladysmith.
October 20, 1914, Battle of the Yser, WWI
The entire Belgian Army was deployed to defend the front. The troops were exhausted and low on ammunition after two months of fighting and retreat. France reinforced the Belgians with 6,000 Marines and an infantry division.
The first skirmishes started on 16 October 1914. The town of Diksmuide was attacked but the Germans were repelled by French marines and Belgian artillery. The following day German troops (consisting of trained conscripts, reservists and untrained students) moved southwards from Bruges and Ostend in the direction of the Yser river. It became clear that the German Fourth Army was to take the line from Nieuwpoort to Ypres.
On 18 October the German offensive started. It initially overran the frontal defense positions of the Belgian, British and French armies along a line stretching from Nieuwpoort down to Arras in France. The objective was to defeat the Belgian and French armies and to deprive the British of access to the harbours of Calais, Boulogne and Dunkerque.
It took four days of heavy fighting for the German troops to drive the allies back and reach the borders of the river Yser. On 21 October, the Germans were able to establish a small bridgehead on the other side of the river. The last bridge over the Yser was blown up on 23 October. Diksmuide bore the brunt of repeated German offensives and bombardments yet the town was still not taken.
The French high command planned to inundate large parts of their territory with water as a defensive measure. This would have made that the Belgian Army would have been between the water and the Germans or to abandon the last part of, unoccupied, Belgium. This plan was postponed since the Belgian has started to prepare themselves inundations between the river Yser and the canals. On 25 October the pressure upon the Belgian army had grown so large that the decision was made to inundate the entire Belgian front line. After an earlier failed experiment on 21 October during the nights of 26 October to 29 October the Belgian army managed to open the Nieuwpoort drainage channels to sea water, steadily raising the water level until an impassable flooded marshland up to a mile wide as far south as Diksmuide was created. Karel Cogge and Hendrik Geeraerts became (Belgian) national heroes for their decisive role in the inundations (see reference book "In Flanders Flooded Fields"). On 29 October Diksmuide finally fell into German hands. For 30 October, the Germans had planned another decisive attack. The attack broke through the Belgian second defense line but faced with Belgian and French counterattacks in front and the flooding in their backs, the attack was called off and the front stabilized
October 20, 1944 - D-Day at Leyte Island
The Leyte invasion was the largest amphibious operation mounted by American and Allied forces to date in the Pacific theater. Gen. MacArthur was designated as supreme commander of sea, air, and land forces drawn from both the Southwest and Central Pacific theaters of operation. Allied naval and air support forces consisted primarily of the U.S. Seventh Fleet under Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid. With 701 ships, including 157 warships, Kinkaid's fleet would transport and put ashore the landing force. The Royal Australian Navy forces seconded to the Seventh Fleet included five warships, three landing ships and five auxiliary vessels.
The U.S. Sixth Army under Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger was the main combat force, which consisted of two corps of two divisions each. Maj. Gen. Franklin C. Sibert's X Corps included the 1st Cavalry Division and the 24th Infantry Division, minus the 21st RCT. Maj. Gen. John R. Hodge's XXIV Corps included the 7th Infantry Division and the untested 96th Infantry Division. The 32nd and 77th Infantry Divisions and the 381st RCT (of the 96th) were the reserve forces. Supplementary units included the 6th Ranger Battalion, tasked to secure outlying islands and guide naval forces to the landing beaches. The new 6th Army Service Command under Maj. Gen. Hugh J. Casey was responsible for organizing the beachhead, supplying units ashore, and constructing or improving roads and airfields. In all, Gen. Krueger had under his command 202,500 ground troops. On Leyte, some 3,000 Filipino guerrillas under Lt. Col. Ruperto Kangleon awaited the landing forces.
The Sixth Army mission of securing Leyte was to be accomplished in three phases. The first would begin on 17 October, three days before and some fifty miles (80 km) east of the landing beaches, with the seizure of three islands commanding the eastern approaches to Leyte Gulf. On A-Day, 20 October, the X and XXIV Corps would land at separate beaches on the east coast of Leyte, the former on the right (north), the latter fifteen miles (24 km) south. The X Corps would take Tacloban City and its airfield north of the corps beachhead, secure the strait between Leyte and Samar Islands, then push through Leyte Valley to the north coast. The XXIV Corps was to secure southern Leyte Valley for airfield and logistical development. Meanwhile, the 21st RCT would come ashore to secure the strait between Leyte and Panaon Islands. In the third phase, the two corps would take separate routes through the mountains to clear the enemy from Ormoc Valley and the west coast of the island, at the same time placing an outpost on the island of Samar some thirty-five miles (56 km) north of Tacloban.
Preliminary operations for the Leyte invasion began at dawn on 17 October with minesweeping operations and the movement of the 6th Rangers toward three small islands in Leyte Gulf. Although delayed by a storm, the Rangers were on Suluan and Dinagat islands by 12:30. On Suluan, they dispersed a small group of Japanese defenders and destroyed a radio station, while they found Dinagat unoccupied. On both, the Rangers proceeded to erect navigation lights for the amphibious transports to follow three days later. The next day, the third island Homonhon, was taken without opposition. Meanwhile reconnaissance by underwater demolition teams revealed clear landing beaches for assault troops on Leyte.
Following four hours of heavy naval gunfire on A-day, 20 October, Sixth Army forces landed on assigned beaches at 10:00. The X Corps pushed across a four-mile (6.5 km) stretch of beach between Tacloban airfield and the Palo River. Fifteen miles (24 km) to the south, XXIV Corps units came ashore across a three-mile (5 km) strand between San José and the Daguitan River. Troops found as much resistance from swampy terrain as from Japanese fire. Within an hour of landing, units in most sectors had secured beachheads deep enough to receive heavy vehicles and large amounts of supplies. Only in the 24th Division sector did enemy fire force a diversion of follow-up landing craft. But even that sector was secure enough by 13:30 to allow Gen. MacArthur to make a dramatic entrance through the surf and announce to the populace the beginning of their liberation: "People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil."
By the end of A-day, the Sixth Army had moved two miles (3 km) inland and controlled Panaon Strait at the southern end of Leyte. In the X Corps sector, the 1st Cavalry Division held Tacloban airfield, and the 24th Infantry Division had taken the high ground commanding its beachheads Hill 522. In the XXIV Corps sector, the 96th Infantry Division held the approaches to Catmon Hill. The 7th Infantry Division took the town of Dulag, which forced Gen. Makino to move his command post ten miles (16 km) inland to the town of Dagami. The initial fighting was won at a cost of 49 killed, 192 wounded, and 6 missing.