George Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Day to launch a surprise attack on Hessian defenders at Trenton. (Emmanuel Leutze, The Metropolitan Museum of Art )
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There have been numerous times throughout history when battles have coincided with major holidays or simply steamrolled through days and nights that would otherwise have been festive. Although it would be an impossible task to chronicle all of them, Historynet has made a selection of some particularly memorable battles that occurred on holidays.

1. Cold christmas: washington crosses the delaware

On Dec. 25, 1776, Hessian forces celebrating Christmas in Trenton, New Jersey, were treated to an unforgettable holiday surprise when Continental Army Gen. George Washington and his forces crossed the Delaware River by night and attacked the next morning. The Hessians surrendered, and the inspiration for Emmanuel Leutze’s famous 1851 painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” was born.

2. not that kind of easter egg hunt: marines land on okinawa

On April 1, 1945 — both Easter Sunday and April Fool’s Day that year — the first 60,000 U.S. Army and Marine troops stormed ashore on Okinawa, with 120,000 more troops and the Fifth Fleet backing them up.

3. july fourth fireworks: saladin defeats the second crusade

Admittedly, it was several centuries before Americans began celebrating their Independence Day with barbecues and fireworks, but on July 4, 1187, Saladin destroyed the Second Crusade at the Horns of Hattin, setting the stage for his retaking of Jerusalem in October.

4. no valentine’s day roses for spain: the british win twice

On Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 1780, British forces under Adm. Sir George Rodney defeated a Spanish squadron off Cape St. Vincent. On the same day — and at the same location — years later in 1797, the British under Adm. Sir John Jervis won a more remarkable victory over the Spanish, in which a certain Capt. Horatio Nelson got noticed.

5. bombs, not bunnies: north vietnam’s easter offensive

On March 30, 1972, North Vietnam launched the Spring-Summer Offensive (Chien dich Xuan he 1972), which became known to Americans as “the Easter Offensive.” Attacking in relentless waves, the communists aimed to overrun the entirety of South Vietnam in one sweep, but South Vietnamese troops supported by U.S. air power held them off. Additionally President Richard Nixon hit North Vietnam with a campaign called Operation Linebacker I.

6. nixon’s big bag of coal: the christmas bombings

In December 1972, Nixon, frustrated with lack of progress in negotiations with North Vietnam, unleashed Operation Linebacker II, also known as “the Christmas Bombings,” to exert pressure on communist leadership. The operation took a heavy toll in human lives and remains the subject of controversy.


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7. unholy holy day: the yom kippur war

On Oct. 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched attacks on Israel on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. The attacks marked the beginning of the Yom Kippur War, which saw a counteroffensive launched by Israel and an eventual ceasefire on Oct. 25. Given that the conflict also coincided with Ramadan, it has also been called “The Holy Day War.”

8. new year’s FRAY: the battle of galveston

On New Year’s Day in 1863, Confederates swept to victory at the Battle of Galveston, courtesy of Maj. Gen. John Bankhead Magruder. Magruder, nicknamed “Prince John,” was also known for his devious cunning in duping Union Gen. George McClellan into believing Confederate forces were stronger than they actually were during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign — although how easy it was to spook the infamously skittish Gen. George McClellan remains open to interpretation. At war’s end, Magruder distinguished himself by fleeing to Mexico.

9. boxing day broadsides: the british sink the scharnhorst

On Boxing Day, Dec. 26, 1943, capital ships traded broadsides for the second-to-last time as the British Royal Navy caught and sank the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst during the Arctic campaign at the Battle of the North Cape

10. independence day backfire: the battle of helena

On July 4, 1863, the Confederates tried and failed to divert Union forces from Vicksburg with the Battle of Helena in Arkansas, and instead brought about an epic failure. Vicksburg surrendered on the same day and the battle effectively backfired on the Confederates, opening the road to Little Rock to the Northerners.

11. new year’s eve irresolution: the battle of the barents sea

On New Year’s Eve on Dec. 31, 1942, the British inflicted an embarrassing thrashing on the Germans in the Battle of the Barents Sea. In the sublimely understated words of British Adm. John “Jack” Tovey: “That an enemy force of at least one pocket battleship, one heavy cruiser and six destroyers … should be held off for four hours by five destroyers, and driven from the area by two 6-inch cruisers is most creditable and satisfactory.”

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