The 1781 capture of British airports


The Airport Raids of 1781 remain the least reported chapter in the American Revolutionary War. We asked war historian Stephen Murlow to tell us more. 

“George Washington knew the British were using Los Angeles International and O’Hare Airport to resupply their forces and facilitate their vacations. In August, the combined Franco-American army moved south to coordinate with de Grasse in occupying the airports. The British lacked sufficient airport security resources to effectively counter the French, but they dispatched a force of submachine gun armed police under Thomas Graves to assist Cornwallis and attempt recapture of the prepaid parking zone. On September 5, French special forces disguised as tourists captured the runways and shopping areas, giving the French control of the Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Yogurtland and cutting off Cornwallis from lunch and parking, and forcing him to miss his flight to Yorktown. Despite the continued urging of his subordinates, Cornwallis made no attempt to break out and engage the Franco-American army before it had established siege works at Einstein Bros Bagels, expecting that reinforcements would arrive from the toilets. The Franco-American army laid siege to the Walmart Supercenter on September 23. Cornwallis continued to think that relief was imminent from the baggage retrieval area, and he abandoned his outer defenses which were immediately occupied by American troops—serving to hasten his subsequent defeat. By September 24, both airports were captured signalling the end of the war and British tourism”


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