15 June 1864

The Second Battle of Petersburg begins during the American Civil War.

During the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia collide for the last time as the first wave of Union troops attacks Petersburg, a vital Southern rail center 23 miles south of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. The two massive armies would not become disentangled until April 9, 1865, when Lee surrendered and his men went home.

In June 1864, in a brilliant tactical maneuver, Grant marched his army around the Army of Northern Virginia, crossed the James River unopposed, and advanced his forces to Petersburg. Knowing that the fall of Petersburg would mean the fall of Richmond, Lee raced to reinforce the city’s defenses. The mass of Grant’s army arrived first. On June 15, the first day of the Battle of Petersburg, some 10,000 Union troops under General William F. Smith moved against the Confederate defenders of Petersburg, made up of only a few thousand armed old men and boys commanded by General P.G.T. Beauregard. However, the Confederates had the advantage of formidable physical defenses, and they held off the overly cautious Union assault. The next day, more Federal troops arrived, but Beauregard was reinforced by Lee, and the Confederate line remained unbroken during several Union attacks occurring over the next two days.

By June 18, Grant had nearly 100,000 at his disposal at Petersburg, but the 20,000 Confederate defenders held on as Lee hurried the rest of his Army of Northern Virginia into the entrenchments. Knowing that further attacks would be futile, but satisfied to have bottled up the Army of Northern Virginia, Grant’s army dug trenches and began a prolonged siege of Petersburg.

Finally, on April 2, 1865, with his defense line overextended and his troops starving, Lee’s right flank suffered a major defeat against Union cavalry under General Phillip Sheridan, and Grant ordered a general attack on all fronts. The Army of Northern Virginia retreated under heavy fire; the Confederate government fled Richmond on Lee’s recommendation; and Petersburg, and then Richmond, fell to the Union. Less than a week later, Grant’s massive army headed off the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Station, and Lee was forced to surrender, effectively ending the Civil War.

15 June 1936

The first flight of the Vickers Wellington bomber.

The Wellington, which served Bomber Command so well in the early years of World War II, is remembered by the RAF and the people of Britain as the ‘Wimpey’ – a nickname derived from an American cartoon character possessing the proud name J. Wellington Wimpey. It was designed to meet an Air Ministry requirement for a long-range medium bomber under Specification B.9/32 and evolved as a mid-wing monoplane with a fuselage of oval cross-section. Both of these major structures were of the geodetic construction which Barnes Wallis had introduced in the Wellesley. But experience with the latter and development of the geodetic concept made it possible for the individual components (which were built up into the ‘basket-weave’ structure) to be smaller and lighter in weight without any loss of structuial integrity by comparison with the Wellesley. Wings, fuselage and tail unit were fabric-covered; power plant comprised two wing-mounted engines; and the tailwheel-type landing-gear units were hydraulically retractable.

‘Heavy’ defensive armament – comprising five machine-guns in nose and tail turrets and a ventral dustbin – would, it was believed, enable a flight of these aircraft to put up such a curtain of fire that fighter escort would be superfluous. Those who held such beliefs (as for the Boeing B-17 Fortress developed in America) were to discover their error very quickly.

The prototype Wellington made its first flight on 15 June 1936, but it was not until October 1938 that production aircraft began to enter RAF service. Less than one year later (on 4 September 1939) Wellingtons were in action against targets in Germany. Early deployment on daylight raids showed that these and other British bomber aircraft were extremely vulnerable to fighter attack. Following the loss of ten Wellingtons from a force of 24 despatched on an armed reconnaissance of Wilhelmshaven on 18 December 1939, the type was withdrawn from daylight operations. As a night bomber, however, the Wellington proved an invaluable weapon during the early years of Bomber Command’s offensive against Germany.