Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Somali Pirates Experience a Twist of Historic Fate

Somali pirates got a taste of what it might mean to mess with American flagged vessels today. The American crew on the first American flagged ship to be hijacked disabled their vessel before retreating to safe areas where they re-grouped and then over powered the pirates. While the pirates escaped the ship in a life raft with the captain, a US Navy warship is now on the scene.

What I have heard on the news is that it is the USS Bainbridge.

Here is the ironic twist of historic fate.

The first US ship to be taken by pirates was the frigate USS Philadelphia, captained by Captain William Bainbridge (which is who the USS Bainbidge is named for). This was 1804 in the Mediterranean and the pirates were the Barbary Pirates.

In attempts to evade the pirates, the Philadelphia ran aground on a sand bar. After a day of futile attempts at dislodging the ship and a motionless night at sea, Captain Bainbridge decided to surrender. His crew and the Marine detachment on board were dismayed. Journal accounts from those Marines say that the Marine commander tried to talk Bainbridge out of surrendering. But when the pirates brought in ships with cannon and started firing closer and closer to the ship, Bainbridge raised the white flag. He and his crew were taken prisoner, along with the ship, that the pirates had no problem dislodging from the sand bar. All were held ransom.

Then, President Jefferson, refused to pay the ransom and sent in the Marines. What results is a victory at Derna, Lt. Presley O'Bannon becoming one of the first bonafide Marine Corps legends and the birth of the Mameluke sword tradition. In addition, the pirates left the Americans alone, European powers saw that our young country would stand up and fight for its rights, and the US never paid any tribute to the pirates.

I do realize this was the abbreviated version of things. If it is true that the USS Bainbridge is the vessel responding to the modern day pirates, boy, what a full circle of things.


Wendylicious said...

Wow, that is very interesting...I never knew that.

Dana Graham said...

Close, but not quite. The Philadelphia, part of a squadron commanded by Edward Preble, had been sent over by the Jefferson Admin to address the issue of US-flag vessels being taken by the Tripolitan pirates and, while operating outside Tripoli harbor, ran aground on a sand bar. When the Tripolitans re-floated her, the implications for her use against US ships caused Jefferson to send Navy Lt Stephen Decatur with a larger fleet and, with the assistance of Marine Lt Presley O'Bannon, burned the Philadephia to the water line. Thus "to the shores of Tripoli" in the Marine Hymn.

Bainbridge's real fame came when, in command of the USS Constituion during the War of 1812, he sank HMS Java.

Dana Graham said...

Ooops -- sorry. I just saw the rest of your original post. I actually have a post about this on my blog: