This Day in History

June 29, 1941:

Germans advance in USSR.

https://www.quora.com/How-far-did-the-Nazis-get-into-Russia

One week after launching a massive invasion of the USSR, German divisions make staggering advances on Leningrad, Moscow and Kiev.

Despite his signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin knew that war with Nazi Germany–the USSR’s natural ideological enemy–was inevitable. In 1941, he received reports that German forces were massing along the USSR’s western border. He ordered a partial mobilization, unwisely believing that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler would never open another front until Britain was subdued. Stalin was thus surprised by the invasion that came on June 22, 1941. On that day, 150 German divisions poured across the Soviet Union’s 1,800-mile-long western frontier in one of the largest and most powerful military operations in history.

Aided by its far superior air force, the Luftwaffe, the Germans raced across the USSR in three great army groups, inflicting terrible casualties on the Red Army and Soviet civilians. On June 29, the cities of Riga and Ventspils in Latvia fell, 200 Soviet aircraft were shot down, and the encirclement of three Russian armies was nearly complete at Minsk in Belarus. Assisted by their Romanian and Finnish allies, the Germans conquered vast territory in the opening months of the invasion, and by mid-October the great Russian cities of Leningrad and Moscow were under siege.

However, like Napoleon Bonaparte in 1812, Hitler failed to take into account the Russian people’s historic determination in resisting invaders. Although millions of Soviet soldiers and citizens perished in 1941, and to the rest of the world it seemed certain that the USSR would fall, the defiant Red Army and bitter Russian populace were steadily crushing Hitler’s hopes for a quick victory. Stalin had far greater reserves of Red Army divisions than German intelligence had anticipated, and the Soviet government did not collapse from lack of popular support as expected. Confronted with the harsh reality of Nazi occupation, Soviets chose Stalin’s regime as the lesser of two evils and willingly sacrificed themselves in what became known as the “Great Patriotic War.”

The German offensive against Moscow stalled only 20 miles from the Kremlin, Leningrad’s spirit of resistance remained strong, and the Soviet armament industry–transported by train to the safety of the east–carried on, safe from the fighting. Finally, what the Russians call “General Winter” rallied again to their cause, crippling the Germans’ ability to maneuver and thinning the ranks of the divisions ordered to hold their positions until the next summer offensive. The winter of 1941 came early and was the worst in decades, and German troops without winter coats were decimated by the major Soviet counteroffensives that began in December.

In May 1942, the Germans, who had held their line at great cost, launched their summer offensive. They captured the Caucasus and pushed to the city of Stalingrad, where one of the greatest battles of World War II began. In November 1942, a massive Soviet counteroffensive was launched out of the rubble of Stalingrad, and at the end of January 1943 German Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus surrendered his encircled army. It was the turning point in the war, and the Soviets subsequently recaptured all the territory taken by the Germans in their 1942 offensive.

In July 1943, the Germans launched their last major attack, at Kursk; after two months of fierce battle involving thousands of tanks it ended in failure. From thereon, the Red Army steadily pushed the Germans back in a series of Soviet offensives. In January 1944, Leningrad was relieved, and a giant offensive to sweep the USSR clean of its invaders began in May. In January 1945, the Red Army launched its final offensive, driving into Czechoslovakia and Austria and, in late April, Berlin. The German capital was captured on May 2, and five days later Germany surrendered in World War II.

More than 18 million Soviet soldiers and civilians lost their lives in the Great Patriotic War. Germany lost more than three million men as a result of its disastrous invasion of the USSR.

Taken from: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/germans-advance-in-ussr

This Day in History

June 2, 1865:

The American Civil War ends.

In an event that is generally regarded as marking the end of the Civil War, Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi, signs the surrender terms offered by Union negotiators. With Smith’s surrender, the last Confederate army ceased to exist, bringing a formal end to the bloodiest four years in U.S. history.

The American Civil War began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate shore batteries under General Pierre G.T. Beauregard opened fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor. During 34 hours, 50 Confederate guns and mortars launched more than 4,000 rounds at the poorly supplied fort, and on April 13 U.S. Major Robert Anderson, commander of the Union garrison, surrendered. Two days later, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteer soldiers to help quell the Southern “insurrection.” Four long years later, the Confederacy was defeated at the total cost of 620,000 Union and Confederate dead.

Taken from: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/american-civil-war-ends

This Day in History

May 25, 2020:

George Floyd killed by police officer, igniting historic protests.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/george-floyd-was-very-loving-gentle-giant-friends-family-say-n1215611

On the evening of May 25, 2020, white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kills George Floyd, a Black man, by kneeling on his neck for almost 10 minutes. The death, recorded by bystanders, touched off what may have been the largest protest movement in U.S. history and a nationwide reckoning on race and policing.

The 46-year-old Floyd, a Houston native and father of five, had purchased cigarettes at a Minneapolis convenience store. After a clerk suspected that Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill in the transaction, the store manager called the police. When officers arrived, they pulled a gun on Floyd, who initially cooperated as he was arrested. However, Floyd resisted being placed in the police car, saying he was claustrophobic. Officers eventually pulled him from the car and Chauvin pinned him to the ground for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Floyd was unresponsive when an ambulance came and was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

After video of the incident was posted on Facebook, protests began almost immediately in Minneapolis and quickly spread across the nation. Demonstrators chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” took to the streets from coast to coast, and police departments around the country responded at times with riot-control tactics. Floyd’s murder came after protests over the killings of Ahmaud Arbery in Atlanta in February and of Breonna Taylor in Louisville in March, and also came in the third month of nationwide lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By early June, protests were so widespread that over 200 American cities had imposed curfews and half of the United States had activated the National Guard. Marches continued and spread throughout June, despite the restrictions on gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic and militarized resistance from federal and local law enforcement.

All told, more than 2,000 cities and towns in all 50 states saw some form of demonstration in the weeks after Floyd’s death, as well as major cities across the globe.

The protests set off local and national dialogue about the role and budgets of American police departments, as well as intense discussions in schools and corporations about how to end racism and create inclusivity, equality and equity.

Chauvin, who had at least 17 other misconduct complaints lodged against him prior to killing Floyd, was arrested on May 29, 2020 and charged with second-degree and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter. On April 20, 2021, after a trial, which was broadcast live online and on TV due to the pandemic, a jury found Chauvin guilty of all charges. He was later sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison. 

May 25, 1979:

American Airlines plane crashes in Chicago, killing all on board.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Airlines_Flight_191

Almost 300 people are killed on May 25, 1979 when an American Airlines flight crashes and explodes after losing one engine just after takeoff.

It was the beginning of Memorial Day weekend in 1979 when 277 passengers filled Flight 191 from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport bound for Los Angeles. The DC-10 jet took off normally but after rising to only 400 feet, stalled and then rolled to the left. The plane quickly plunged, crashing into Ravenswood Airport, which had been abandoned and was no longer in use.

The plane, loaded with fuel, exploded on impact, killing all 277 people on board instantly. The heat from the fire was so intense that firefighters could not approach the crash for close to an hour. The crash also caused a fire at a nearby mobile-home park and killed two bystanders on the ground. A Standard Oil gas storage facility was also nearly hit.

Following this crash, all DC-10s in the United States were impounded and grounded by judicial order because there was no immediate determination as to the cause of the crash and it was feared that it could have been caused by a problem common to the jet type. Ultimately, it was found that the left pylon, which supported the turbofan engine, came loose and took out the hydraulic lines. The left wing slats then retracted and the plane could not lift off properly. The American Airlines maintenance crew was found to be at fault—they had failed to follow the proper procedures when removing the engine and pylon during repairs and maintenance.

May 25, 1977:

“Star Wars” opens in theaters.

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/star-wars-leak-1977-theatrical-release-hd-restoration-george-lucas-a6878866.html

On May 25, 1977, Memorial Day weekend opens with an intergalactic bang as the first of George Lucas’ blockbuster Star Wars movies hits American theaters.

The incredible success of Star Wars–it received seven Oscars, and earned $461 million in U.S. ticket sales and a gross of close to $800 million worldwide–began with an extensive, coordinated marketing push by Lucas and his studio, 20th Century Fox, months before the movie’s release date. “It wasn’t like a movie opening,” actress Carrie Fisher, who played rebel leader Princess Leia, later told Time magazine. “It was like an earthquake.” Beginning with–in Fisher’s words–“a new order of geeks, enthusiastic young people with sleeping bags,” the anticipation of a revolutionary movie-watching experience spread like wildfire, causing long lines in front of movie theaters across the country and around the world.

With its groundbreaking special effects, Star Wars leaped off screens and immersed audiences in “a galaxy far, far away.” By now everyone knows the story, which followed the baby-faced Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as he enlisted a team of allies–including hunky Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and the robots C3PO and R2D2–on his mission to rescue the kidnapped Princess Leia from an Evil Empire governed by Darth Vader. The film made all three of its lead actors overnight stars, turning Fisher into an object of adoration for millions of young male fans and launching Ford’s now-legendary career as an action-hero heartthrob.

Star Wars was soon a bona-fide pop culture phenomenon. Over the years it has spawned several more feature films, TV series and an entire industry’s worth of comic books, toys, video games and other products. Two big-screen sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983), featured much of the original cast and enjoyed the same success—both critical and commercial—as the first film. 

Additional films and television spin-offs continue well into the 2020s.

Taken from: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history

This Day In History

May 24, 1941:

German battleship, the Bismarck, sinks Britain’s HMS Hood

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DKM_Bismark_vs_HMS_Hood_04.jpg

On May 24, 1941, Germany’s largest battleship, the Bismarck, sinks the pride of the British fleet, HMS Hood.

The Bismarck was the most modern of Germany’s battleships, a prize coveted by other nation’s navies, even while still in the blueprint stage (Hitler handed over a copy of its blueprints to Joseph Stalin as a concession during the days of the Hitler-Stalin neutrality pact). The HMS Hood, originally launched in 1918, was Britain’s largest battle cruiser (41,200 tons)-but also capable of achieving the relatively fast speed of 31 knots. The two met in the North Atlantic, northeast of Iceland, where two British cruisers had tracked down the Bismarck. Commanded by Admiral Gunther Lutjens, commander in chief of the German Fleet, the Bismarck sunk the Hood, resulting in the death of 1,500 of its crew; only three Brits survived.

During the engagement, the Bismarck‘s fuel tank was damaged. Lutjens tried to make for the French coast, but was sighted again only three days later. Torpedoed to the point of incapacity, the Bismarck was finally sunk by a ring of British war ships. Admiral Lutjens was one of the 2,300 German casualties.

Taken from: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-bismarck-sinks-the-hood

This Day in History

May 20, 1969:

The battle for “Hamburger Hill” ends after 10 grueling days.

After 10 days and 10 bloody assaults, Hill 937 in South Vietnam is finally captured by U.S. and South Vietnamese troops. The Americans who fought there cynically dubbed Hill 937 “Hamburger Hill” because the battle and its high casualty rate reminded them of a meat grinder.

Located one mile east of the Laotian border, Hill 937 was ordered taken as part of Operation Apache Snow, a mission intended to limit enemy infiltration from Laos that threatened Hue to the northeast and Danang to the southeast. On May 10, following air and artillery strikes, a U.S.-led infantry force launched its first assault on the North Vietnamese stronghold but suffered a high proportion of casualties and fell back. Ten more infantry assaults came during the next 10 days, but Hill 937’s North Vietnamese defenders did not give up their fortified position until May 20. Almost 100 Americans were killed and more than 400 wounded in taking the hill, amounting to a shocking 70 percent casualty rate.

The same day that Hamburger Hill was finally captured, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts called the operation “senseless and irresponsible” and attacked the military tactics of President Richard Nixon’s administration. His speech before the Senate was seen as part of a growing public outcry over the U.S. military policy in Vietnam. U.S. military command had ordered Hill 937 taken primarily as a diversionary tactic, and on May 28 it was abandoned. This led to further outrage in America over what seemed a senseless loss of American lives. North Vietnamese forces eventually returned and re-fortified their original position.

This Day in History:

May 19, 1943:

FDR and Winston Churchill plot D-Day.

https://www.army.mil/d-day/history.html

On May 19, 1943, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt set a date for the cross-Channel landing that would become D-Day—May 1, 1944. That date will prove a bit premature, as bad weather becomes a factor.

Addressing a joint session of Congress, Churchill warned that the real danger at present was the “dragging-out of the war at enormous expense” because of the risk that the Allies would become “tired or bored or split”—and play into the hands of Germany and Japan. He pushed for an early and massive attack on the “underbelly of the Axis.” 

And so, to “speed” things up, the British prime minister and President Roosevelt set a date for a cross-Channel invasion of Normandy, in northern France, for May 1, 1944, regardless of the problems presented by the invasion of Italy, which was underway. It would be carried out by 29 divisions, including a Free French division, if possible.

The D-Day invasion ended up taking place on June 6, 1944. 

Taken from: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/churchill-and-fdr-plot-d-day

This Day in History

May 18, 1863:

The siege at Vicksburg commences.

https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/vicksburg-campaign

On May 18, Union General Ulysses S. Grant surrounds Vicksburg, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, in one of the most brilliant campaigns of the war.

Beginning in the winter of 1862-63, Grant made several attempts to capture Vicksburg. In March, he marched his army down the west bank of the Mississippi, while Union Admiral David Porter’s flotilla ran past the substantial batteries that protected the city. 

They met south of the city, and Grant crossed the river and entered Mississippi. He then moved north to approach Vicksburg from its more lightly defended eastern side. In May, he had to split his army to deal with a threat from Joseph Johnston’s Rebels in Jackson, the state capital that lay 40 miles east of Vicksburg. After defeating Johnston’s forces, Grant moved toward Vicksburg.

On May 16, Grant fought the Confederates under John C. Pemberton at Champion Hill and defeated them decisively. He then attacked again at the Big Black River the next day, and Pemberton fled into Vicksburg with Grant following close behind. The trap was now complete and Pemberton was stuck in Vicksburg, although his forces would hold out until July 4.

In the three weeks since Grant crossed the Mississippi in the campaign to capture Vicksburg, his men marched 180 miles and won five battles. They took nearly 100 Confederate artillery pieces and nearly 6,000 prisoners, all with relatively light losses.

Taken from: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history

This Day In History

May 17, 1954:

Brown vs. Board of Education is decided.

https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/14/06/brown-60-milliken-40

May 17, 1954: In a major civil rights victory, the U.S. Supreme Court hands down an unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling that racial segregation in public educational facilities is unconstitutional. The historic decision, which brought an end to federal tolerance of racial segregation, specifically dealt with Linda Brown, a young African American girl who had been denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, because of the color of her skin.

In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that “separate but equal” accommodations in railroad cars conformed to the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. That ruling was used to justify segregating all public facilities, including elementary schools. However, in the case of Linda Brown, the white school she attempted to attend was far superior to her Black alternative and miles closer to her home. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took up Linda’s cause, and in 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka reached the Supreme Court. African American lawyer (and future Supreme Court justice) Thurgood Marshall led Brown’s legal team, and on May 17, 1954, the high court handed down its decision.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the nation’s highest court ruled that not only was the “separate but equal” doctrine unconstitutional in Linda’s case, it was unconstitutional in all cases because educational segregation stamped an inherent badge of inferiority on African American students. A year later, after hearing arguments on the implementation of their ruling, the Supreme Court published guidelines requiring public school systems to integrate “with all deliberate speed.”

Brown v. Board of Ed served to greatly motivate the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and ultimately led to the abolishment of racial segregation in all public facilities and accommodations.

Taken from: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history

This Day in History

May 16, 1929:

The first Academy Awards show is held.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academy_Awards

On May 16, 1929, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out its first awards, at a dinner party for around 250 people held in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, California.

The brainchild of Louis B. Mayer, head of the powerful MGM film studio, the Academy was organized in May 1927 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement and improvement of the film industry. Its first president and the host of the May 1929 ceremony was the actor Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Unlike today, the winners of the first Oscars—as the coveted gold-plated statuettes later became known—were announced before the awards ceremony itself.

At the time of the first Oscar ceremony, sound had just been introduced into film. The Warner Bros. movie The Jazz Singer—one of the first “talkies”—was not allowed to compete for Best Picture because the Academy decided it was unfair to let movies with sound compete with silent films. The first official Best Picture winner was Wings, directed by William Wellman. The most expensive movie of its time, with a budget of $2 million, the movie told the story of two World War I pilots who fall for the same woman. Another film, F.W. Murnau’s epic Sunrise, was considered a dual winner for the best film of the year. German actor Emil Jannings won the Best Actor honor for his roles in The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh, while 22-year-old Janet Gaynor was the only female winner. After receiving three out of the five Best Actress nods, she won for all three roles, in Seventh HeavenStreet Angel and Sunrise.

A special honorary award was presented to Charlie Chaplin. Originally a nominee for Best Actor, Best Writer and Best Comedy Director for The Circus, Chaplin was removed from these categories so he could receive the special award, a change that some attributed to his unpopularity in Hollywood. It was the last Oscar the Hollywood maverick would receive until another honorary award in 1971.

The Academy officially began using the nickname Oscar for its awards in 1939; a popular but unconfirmed story about the source of the name holds that Academy executive director Margaret Herrick remarked that the statuette looked like her Uncle Oscar. Since 1942, the results of the secret ballot voting have been announced during the live-broadcast Academy Awards ceremony using the sealed-envelope system. The suspense—not to mention the red-carpet arrival of nominees and other stars wearing their most beautiful or outrageous evening wear—continues to draw international attention to the film industry’s biggest night of the year.

Taken from: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history

This Day in History

May 13, 1846:

US Congress declares war on Mexico

https://www.britannica.com/event/Mexican-American-War

On May 13, 1846, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly votes in favor of President James K. Polk’s request to declare war on Mexico in a dispute over Texas.

Under the threat of war, the United States had refrained from annexing Texas after the latter won independence from Mexico in 1836. But in 1844, President John Tyler restarted negotiations with the Republic of Texas, culminating with a Treaty of Annexation. The treaty was defeated by a wide margin in the Senate because it would upset the slave state/free state balance between North and South and risked war with Mexico, which had broken off relations with the United States. But shortly before leaving office and with the support of President-elect Polk, Tyler managed to get the joint resolution passed on March 1, 1845. Texas was admitted to the Union on December 29. 

While Mexico didn’t follow through with its threat to declare war, relations between the two nations remained tense over border disputes, and in July 1845, President Polk ordered troops into disputed lands that lay between the Neuces and Rio Grande rivers. In November, Polk sent the diplomat John Slidell to Mexico to seek boundary adjustments in return for the U.S. government’s settlement of the claims of U.S. citizens against Mexico and also to make an offer to purchase California and New Mexico. After the mission failed, the U.S. army under Gen. Zachary Taylor advanced to the mouth of the Rio Grande, the river that the state of Texas claimed as its southern boundary.

Mexico, claiming that the boundary was the Nueces River to the northeast of the Rio Grande, considered the advance of Taylor’s army an act of aggression and in April 1846 sent troops across the Rio Grande. Polk, in turn, declared the Mexican advance to be an invasion of U.S. soil, and on May 11, 1846, asked Congress to declare war on Mexico, which it did two days later.

After nearly two years of fighting, peace was established by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848. The Rio Grande was made the southern boundary of Texas, and California and New Mexico were ceded to the United States. In return, the United States paid Mexico the sum of $15 million and agreed to settle all claims of U.S. citizens against Mexico.

Taken from: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history

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