October 17: End of the Saratoga Campaign, USS Kearney Attacked by a German “Wolfpack,” and Other Events of the Date
A number of important events took place on October 17 in U.S. history. Here is our take on the most interesting and valuable of them.
1777 – American Revolutionary War; the end of the Saratoga Campaign.
The strategically important Hudson Valley — “the heart of young country — was never taken by British forces despite their numerous and ruthless attempts. The true turning point of the whole War of Independence happened on October 17, 1777, as the Convention Army under the command of British General John Burgoyne was captured after the series of battles we’ve already written about in previous chapters of “This Day in History” ended.
About 6,000 British troops, as well as their allied troops (including Canadian and German regiments) surrendered at the end of the Saratoga Campaign to the forces of American General Horatio Gates. The American victory over the Brits in the Saratoga Campaign was both an enormous morale boost to the fledgling nation, and, more importantly, it convinced France to enter the war in an alliance with the United States. From that time, France openly provided the young nation with money, soldiers, and munitions and was engaged in fighting a naval war against Great Britain.
Yet, “Saratoga” is more often refers not to the heroic series of battles fought by American patriots of the late-18th century, but to the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3), that saw action in WWII. By the way, another American aircraft carrier, USS Bennington (CV-20), was also named after the battle that was fought during this campaign.
1941 – USS Kearney attacked by a German “wolfpack”
We’ve already mentioned the situation in the U.S. a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor that eventually led to the beginning of the war in the Pacific between America and Japan. As a brief reminder, “isolationists” — the fraction that didn’t want any American involvement in the Second World War — was still strong at that time and considered any act of support for the nations fighting against Nazism in Europe (especially for the Soviet Union) as a provocation harmful for American interests.
Yet, sometimes these provocations didn’t depend on the will of “isolationists” and served as solid proof that the war was inevitable for the U.S. anyway. One of them occurred October 17, 1941, near the shores of Iceland, as one of the German “wolfpacks” attacked the neutral (for them) Benson-Livermore-class destroyer USS Kearney target. The exact sub that attacked the destroyer is also known: the U-568 (this sub later sunk in the Mediterranean Sea northeast of Tobruk on May 29, 1942).
The USS Kearney crew confined the flooding to the forward fire room. This helped the ship to escape the danger zone and get back to the shores of Iceland. As a result of this accident, 11 USS Kearney sailors were killed, while 22 others were injured.
The attack on the USS Kearney fueled the discussion on whether the U.S. should enter the war, and, for the first time, the “isolationists” had little to say in defense of their position, as the Axis threat became undeniable even for them.
Also on this date:
1919 – The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) is founded. At its height, RCA used to be the strongest and most powerful communications firm in the U.S.
1933 – One of the future “fathers of the nuclear weapon,” German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein flees Nazi Germany and settles in the U.S.
1966 – 23rd Street Fire in New York occurs. 12 firefighters were killed when the floor of a burning house collapsed, which was the deadliest loss for any U.S. Fire Department before 9/11.
These are the most notable events in U.S. history that occurred on October 17, at least in our view.