February 2nd 1943: Battle of Stalingrad ends
On this day in 1943, German troops surrendered to the Soviet Red Army in Stalingrad, thus ending the 5 months of fighting. The Battle of Stalingrad is among the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare, with nearly 2 million casualties. The Germans had attempted to invade Russia and capture Stalingrad, but the Russians fought back and cut off and surrounded the German army. The Russian winter soon set in, with sub-zero temperatures weakening the German forces. Eventually, the remaining army surrendered, and 91,000 were taken prisoner (including 22 generals). The German failure at Stalingrad was a key turning point in the Second World War, as the army never recovered from their defeat.
August 27th 1896: Anglo-Zanzibar War
On this day in 1896, the shortest war in history was fought between the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate. The war lasted only 40 minutes. The conflict was caused by the death of pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini the day before. The British wanted the successor to be another sultan who would support Britain. The new sultan Khalid bin Barghash refused to stand down and barricaded himself inside his palace. British forces bombarded the sultan’s palace between 09.02 and 09.40, when the attack and thus the war ended. The sultan’s forces suffered 500 casualties, whilst the British only had one soldier wounded. The British were then able to put their preferred sultan in power in Zanzibar.
July 29th 1899: First Hague Convention signed
On this day in 1899, the First Hague Convention was signed at the international peace conference at The Hague in the Netherlands. Together with the Second Hague Convention in 1907, these two conventions make up the foundation of international laws regarding the conduct of war. The first conference was called at the suggestion of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and the second by US President Theodore Roosevelt. Most of the provisions of the Hague Conventions were violated during the First World War.
July 3rd 1863: Battle of Gettysburg ends
On this day in 1863 during the American Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg ended. The battle was a key turning point in the war with its decisive Union victory under George Meade which turned the tide in the Union’s favour. The Confederacy, led by Robert E. Lee, were defeated and thus Lee’s invasion of the North was ended. The last day of the battle also saw Pickett’s Charge, a Confederate cavalry charge which was repulsed by Union fire and thus led to many Confederate deaths. The battle was the bloodiest of the war, and President Lincoln famously honoured the fallen with his Gettysburg Address.
May 27th 1941: Bismarck sunk
On this day in 1941 during World War Two, the German battleship Bismarck was sunk in the North Atlantic. Of the 2,200-man crew, only 200 survived. The ship was named after Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the driving force behind German unification in 1871. Despite suffering heavy damage in the previous days, the cause of the ship’s sinking is disputed; some claim it was due to British torpedoes, others claim the crew deliberately sunk it. The wreck of the Bismarck was discovered in 1989 by Robert Ballard who, just four years earlier, had discovered the wreck of the Titanic.
October 25th 1854: Charge of the Light Brigade
On this day in 1854 during the Crimean War at the Battle of Balaclava, Lord Cardigan led a fatal British cavalry charge against the Russians. Almost 300 British men were killed or injured in the futile charge against Russian artillery. The event occurred due to a miscommunication between British commander Lord Raglan and Cardigan. It was the subject of the famous poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate, and epitomises the incompetence of the British leadership during the Crimean War.
"When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!”
- Last stanza of Tennyson’s poem
October 13th 1943: Italy switches sides
On this day in 1943 during World War Two, the new government of Italy switches sides to the Allies from the Axis powers and declares war on Germany. Italy, when under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, had sided with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany (see picture). However, following the Allied invasion of Italy and the fall of Mussolini, the new leader General Pietro Badoglio joined the Allies to expel invading German forces from Italy.
August 23rd 1942: Battle of Stalingrad begins
On this day in 1942 the battle between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union for the control of Stalingrad began. The Germans, despite having the initial advantage, struggled against the determined Soviet soldiers. Many Germans died following the onset of the Russian winter, as most lacked winter clothing. The Russians eventually defeated the remaining Germans in February 1943. The ordeal severely weakened the German army, and was a major factor in the Allies gaining the advantage which allowed them to win World War Two. The battle was one of the bloodiest in history, with around 1.5 million casualties.
December 24th 1914: Christmas Truce
On this day in 1914, troops across the Western Front during the First World War laid down their arms. Soldiers from all sides participated in the widespread, unofficial ceasefires for the Christmas period. Troops, mostly German and British, exchanged Christmas greetings, songs and even gifts. Both sides also held joint burials where they mourned both their dead. They met in ‘no man’s land’, an area which was usually deadly. The truce began on this day in 1914 when German troops near Ypres decorated their trenches and sang carols, which led to responses from the British troops. As the war progressed, and the violence increased, suspicion grew between the two sides and superiors were stricter about ‘fraternisation with the enemy’ and so less truces were held. However, the truces of 1914 serve as a poignant example of humanity and peace in a horrific and violent situation.
August 2nd 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait
On this day in 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, and this act of aggression led to the First Gulf War/Operation Desert Storm. The war saw a UN coalition force made up of 34 countries including Kuwait, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Kingdom fight Iraq. Iraqi forces were led by the President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. The war was a victory for the UN coalition, who succeeded in liberating Kuwait and lasted until 28th February 1991.
July 26th 1948: Desegregation of US military
On this day in 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 to abolish racial discrimination in the military. This led to the desegregation of the military. Full civil desegregation in the United States did not begin until after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education which ruled segregation unconstitutional.
June 6th 1944: D-Day
On this day in 1944, the D-Day landings began on the beaches of Normandy as part of the Allied ‘Operation Overlord’. It was the largest amphibious military operation in history. 155,000 Allied troops landed in France and quickly broke through the Atlantic Wall and pushed inland. In charge of the operation was General Dwight Eisenhower and leading the ground forces was General Bernard Montgomery. It was a decisive Allied victory and a key moment in the Second World War as the Allies gained some ground on the continent following the fall of France to the Nazis in 1940.
“You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.”
- Eisenhower’s message to the Allied Expeditionary Force
March 6th 1779: Jomini born
On this day in 1779, the French general Antoine-Henri Jomini was born in Switzerland. He served in the French army during the Napoleonic Wars and later joined the Russian army. Jomini is famous for his military theory and extensive writings on strategy which continued to be used in military academies years after his death in 1869. Together with Carl von Clausewitz he is considered one of the leading figures in military theory.
October 21st 1805: Battle of Trafalgar
On this day in 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars, a British naval fleet led by Lord Horatio Nelson aboard HMS Victory defeated a French and Spanish fleet off the coast of Spain. The battle was a decisive turning point in the wars, ending French naval supremacy and turning the tide against Napoleon’s army. Lord Nelson was killed in the battle, and he and the battle are commemorated in London’s Trafalgar Square which includes Nelson’s Column.
August 30th 1914: Battle of Tannenberg ends
On this day in 1914 during World War One, the Germans defeated the Russians at the Battle of Tannenberg. The battle devastated the Russian army, with them suffering 170,000 casualties to the Germans’ 12,000. The Germans used superior tactics, including large turning movements by train. The leading Russian general, Alexander Samsonov, committed suicide rather than report the loss to Tsar Nicholas II.