Saturday, April 2, 2011

US Bombardment of Tripoli (1804)

The bombardment of Tripoli by Commodore Preble's squadron, August 3rd 1804 (oil painting by Michele Corne)

The first United States military action overseas was the attack on Tripoli under overall command of Commodore Edward Preble.  The goal was to put an end to the piracy in that area.

First a blockade was set up, and a campaign of raids and attacks against hostile fleets. But in October 1803 Tripoli's fleet was able to capture the USS Philadelphia after the frigate ran aground while patrolling Tripoli harbour.
Map depicting the Battle of Tripoli Harbor during the First Barbary War

On the night of February 16, 1804, marines led by lieutenant Stephen Decatur was able to sail to the Philadelphia in a captured Tripolitan vessel renamed USS IntrepidDecatur's men stormed the vessel, overpowered the guards, and set fire to Philadelphia, denying her use to the enemy. 

Commodore Edward Preble

In July 1804 Preble attacked Tripoli outright in a series of inconclusive battles, including a courageous but unsuccessful attack by the fire ship USS Intrepid under Captain Richard Somers. The Intrepid, packed with explosives, was to enter Tripoli harbour and destroy itself and the enemy fleet. Unfortunately it was destroyed before achieving that goal, killing Somers and his crew.

Destruction of the Intrepid

The turning point in the war came when ground troops were deployed (April–May 1805). A mixed force of US marines and Greek, Arab, and Berber mercenaries marched across the desert from Alexandria, Egypt to assault and to capture the Tripolitan city of Derna. This was the first time in history that the United States flag was raised in victory on foreign soil.

next episode: Tripolitania

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