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Leyte Gulf and National Mole Day

OK, here we go with another 23 October.  Famous in song and story…well, sort of.  You see, it was on 23 October in the year 4004 BC that the universe as we know it was created, according to the 17th century Ussher Chronology.  But after that momentous event, the battle of Philippi on the Ionian Peninsula, killing off the old Roman republic, making Octavian the first Roman Emperor and driving the suicide of Brutus. 23 October 425 AD saw the Byzantine Emperor Valentinian III seated: he was six years old.  In 1642, the first battle of the (last) English Civil War was fought at Edgehill. In 1749 the War of Jenkin’s Ear began (a real thing: England declared war on Spain because some diplomat’s ear got lopped off in a sea battle).  The first plastic surgery was performed in England on this day in 1814: a nose reconstruction. On 23 October 1942 the British El Alamein offensive began in Egypt just as the Germans were capturing the Red October Tractor Works in Stalingrad, and just as the first US Navy convoy for the Torch invasion of North Africa was departing Norfolk, Virginia. Also, in 1983 a truck bomb destroyed the US Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 307 people (241 Americans) and wounding another 75. And in 2003, Madame Chiang Kai-shek died on 23 October at the age of 103.   Today is also Ipod Day (first hit the shelves on 23 October in 2001), National Boston Cream Pie Day (no idea), and National TV Talk Show Day (really?) which was designated because it’s also Johnny Carson’s birthday in 1922.  But today, we talk about the naval war in the Pacific in WWII, and Avogadro’s number, whatever that is.

This was Sho-Go-1, another over-complicated Japanese plan to win all in a single swoop.  It would result in the Battles of Leyte Gulf, the largest single naval action the world has ever seen, and likely will ever see.  

By late 1944, there had been momentous changes in the fortunes of the Navy of the Greater Japanese Empire (Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun) since the heady days of 1941 and early 1942.  Most Japanese aircraft carriers had been sunk, their precious aircrews and irreplaceable maintainers drowning with them; the surface fleet was outnumbered, outclassed and outranged, their Type 93 torpedoes unable to compensate for American radar and numbers; the land-based, long-range air fleets had been decimated and worn out.  As the Americans stormed ashore on Leyte on 20 October, the Japanese were preparing what they felt was the supreme trap: luring the American covering forces away from the beaches, enabling the surface forces to destroy the American transports and driving them away.  This was Sho-Go-1, another over-complicated Japanese plan to win all in a single swoop.  It would result in the Battles of Leyte Gulf, the largest single naval action the world has ever seen, and likely will ever see.  I say Battles because there were really six: Palawan Passage (off the left lower corner of area 1 on the map below), Sibuyan Sea (area 1), San Bernardino Strait (to the left of area 1 and below the lower left corner of area 3), Surigao Strait (area 2), Samar (area 4), and Cape Engano (area 3).

Battles of Leyte Gulf
By Map_of_Battle_of_Leyte_Gulf.jpg: United States Army derivative work: Gdr at en.wikipedia – Map_of_Battle_of_Leyte_Gulf.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62371

And it all started on the night of 23 October 1944, when two American submarines spotted five Japanese battleships (including both Yamato and Musashi), ten heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and fifteen destroyers sailing through the Palawan Passage (off the map, but to the left of area 1) from their fuel sources in the Dutch East Indies.  The two engaged the Japanese at daybreak, sinking two heavy cruisers and heavily damaging a third.  Though the fleet continued on, Musashi was sunk by carrier aircraft the next day, there was very little punch (or fuel) left in by the time they fought the Taffy escort group destroyers, escorts and jeep carriers off Samar on 25 October before turning back the way they came.

It was literally the death ride of the Japanese Navy.

As confused as it looks, (and it really is) many scholars have made excellent descriptions of this huge gunfight at sea that I won’t try to paraphrase.  By the end of it on 26 October the Japanese had lost over 12, 000 more men, four aircraft carriers with about 300 aircraft, pilots and maintainers, and 24 surface combat vessels.  It was literally the death ride of the Japanese Navy.  Though William Halsey, commanding the Third Fleet, has been criticized for being baited away from the support of Thomas Kincaid’s Seventh Fleet, one primary objective of the naval forces in the area was to destroy Japanese air capabilities, which he did.  Kurita Takeo, commanding the big battleship force called the Center Force, had also been roundly and soundly critiqued and criticized.  However, Kurita was not yet of the mindset that Japan was finished, and felt it necessary to preserve as much of his strength as he could.


One of the best things about doing a blog like this is I occasionally get to talk about subjects that I know absolutely nothing of, yet I get to find out as I do my research.  National Mole Day is celebrated by chemists, physicists and others of their ilk between 6:02 AM and 6:02 PM annually on 23 October, and it has nothing to do with the little insectivores that my dog wants to dig up all the time.  No, this is probably one of the most contrived “holidays” that anyone could have ever dreamed up.  You see:

  • 6.02 x 10 to the 23rd power (no, I couldn’t figure out how to create a superscript in here) is Avogadro’s number;
  • Amedeo Avogadro was an Italian scientist who came up with a law of science that says that equal volumes of gases under the same conditions will contain the same number of molecules, and the value therein derived is named after him;
  • Avogadro’s number roughly defines the number of particles in one mole (a derivative of molecule but molecules and atoms comprise moles) of substance;
  • The mole is one of the seven basic building blocks for the SI (“metric”) system of metrology.

National Mole Day was first proposed by a now-retired Wisconsin chemistry teacher in 1991.  It is a part of National Chemistry Week, which spans the Sunday through Saturday in which 23 October falls, meaning it’s happening right now this year (2017); hopefully you were prepared.  The American Chemical Society supports this effort in schools to encourage students interested in STEM subjects.  Fascinating, huh?


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As many of you know, and many don’t, the new JDBCOM.COM website is up and running, for everyone to be able, of course, read my fascinating bits of trivia and wisdom, and hopefully buy my books, which are being listed there as fast as I can make it possible.  I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m a greedy capitalist who wants as much money as I can legally and ethically lay my hands on.  Tell all your friends; come back and buy gifts for everyone you know.  But, above all, stay tuned for more blogs to come.

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3 November: Emperors and Cars and Frozen Peas

Normal people, of which I am not one, wouldn’t deign to put these topics together in a single blog entry, but…

On this day on 1852 a son named Mutsuhito was born in Japan who, in 1867, would ascend to the Chrysanthemum throne as the Emperor Meiji.  The tremendous structural changes that his reign would oversee would bring Japan from an isolated, agricultural, semi-feudal island state to world power status, defeating China and Russia in clockwork-like conflicts that thrust Japan onto the world stage.  By the time of his death in 1912, Japan had a manufacturing base unrivaled in Asia.

On 3 November 1900, the first ever automobile show ever held in the US opened in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.  About 150 different motor cars were on display from American pioneers now gone from the scene that included Duryea, Winton, Locomobile, Stanley, Columbia and Electric, as well as the more familiar Ford and Oldsmobile.  These were mostly steam and electric powered, but with a scattering of diesels and gasoline engines.  The show was well enough attended, but sales were not spectacular.  The modern  infrastructure for automobiles of any kind was still under construction, and would be decades before it was ready to support a large population of automobiles, regardless of how cheap they got.

Swiss race car driver Louis Chevrolet founded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company, with financing by Will Durant and William Little on 3 November 1911.  Starting with the Classic Six, Chevy grew to be the best-known passenger car brand by the end of the 20th century,  Able to manufacture roughly an automobile a second worldwide by 1960, Chevrolet, part of the General Motors Corporation since 1916, has been called the consumer-fueled rock upon which the foundation of the automotive industry rests.

Clarence Birdseye seems an unlikely character to join this list, but on this day in 1952 the company he started introduced the first flash-frozen peas to the US consumer market.  Peas were harder to flash-freeze than other vegetables, their form already somewhat mushy.  Birdseye had formed the firm in the 1920s and developed his flash-freezing methods first for fish and then for vegetables.  His active mind had moved on to other interests by the time frozen peas hit the market.

Other than the date, what connects these seemingly disparate events?  The Meiji presided over the expansion of Japan’s economy, and the superficial modernization of its society.  Unfortunately, he was unable to restrain or even modify the virulently nationalistic attitudes of the members of the former samurai class, which migrated into the army and the navy.  When he introduced his constitution to Japan, it was hailed as a landmark of moderation, but in practice it was a licence for the samurai to dominate.

At the same time, the United States was growing its automotive industry and developing its infrastructure based on consumer demand for inexpensive cars, and with it a manufacturing base unsurpassed by any other on earth, ever.  The Duryeas and Locomobiles fell out, but the General Motors’ kept on providing not only cars and trucks, but a pool of manufacturing and engineering knowledge that, come 1941, would eventually decide the contest in the Pacific that the Meiji would enable.  And the American forces, as they crossed vast oceans, were the best fed military organizations in history, provided in no small part by flash-frozen foods preserved by a process developed by a college dropout named Clarence Birdseye.