Archivos para abril, 2012

Adolf Hitler commits suicide

On this day in 1945, holed up in a bunker under his headquarters in Berlin, Adolf  Hitlercommits suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule and shooting himself in the head. Soon after, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces, ending Hitler’s dreams of a “1,000-year” Reich.

Since at least 1943, it was becoming increasingly clear that Germany would fold under the pressure of the Allied forces. In February of that year, the German 6th Army, lured deep into the Soviet Union, was annihilated at the Battle of Stalingrad, and German hopes for a sustained offensive on both fronts evaporated. Then, in June 1944, the Western Allied armies landed at Normandy, France, and began systematically to push the Germans back toward Berlin. By July 1944, several German military commanders acknowledged their imminent defeat and plotted to remove Hitler from power so as to negotiate a more favorable peace. Their attempts to assassinate Hitler failed, however, and in his reprisals, Hitler executed over 4,000 fellow countrymen.

In January 1945, facing a siege of Berlin by the Soviets, Hitler withdrew to his bunker to live out his final days. Located 55 feet under the chancellery, the shelter contained 18 rooms and was fully self-sufficient, with its own water and electrical supply. Though he was growing increasingly mad, Hitler continued to give orders and meet with such close subordinates as Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler and Josef Goebbels. He also married his long-time mistress Eva Braun just two days before his suicide.

In his last will and testament, Hitler appointed Admiral Karl Donitz as head of state and Goebbels as chancellor. He then retired to his private quarters with Braun, where he and Braun poisoned themselves and their dogs, before Hitler then also shot himself with his service pistol.

Hitler and Braun’s bodies were hastily cremated in the chancellery garden, as Soviet forces closed in on the building. When the Soviets reached the chancellery, they removed Hitler’s ashes, continually changing their location so as to prevent Hitler devotees from creating a memorial at his final resting place. Only eight days later, on May 8, 1945, the German forces issued an unconditional surrender, leaving Germany to be carved up by the four Allied powers.

Joan of Arc relieves Orleans

During the Hundred Years’ War, the 17-year-old French peasant Joan of Arc leads a French force in relieving the city of Orleans, besieged by the English since October.

At the age of 16, “voices” of Christian saints told Joan to aid Charles, the French dauphin, in gaining the French throne and expelling the English from France. Convinced of the validity of her divine mission, Charles furnished Joan with a small force of troops. She led her troops to Orleans, and on April 29, as a French sortie distracted the English troops on the west side of the city, Joan entered unopposed by its eastern gate. Bringing needed supplies and troops into the besieged city, she also inspired the French to a passionate resistance and through the next week led the charge during a number of skirmishes and battles. On one occasion, she was even hit by an arrow, but after dressing her wounds she returned to the battle. On May 8, the siege of Orleans was broken, and the English retreated.

During the next five weeks, Joan led French forces into a number of stunning victories over the English, and Reims, the traditional city of coronation, was captured in July. Later that month, Charles VII was crowned king of France, with Joan of Arc kneeling at his feet.

In May 1430, while leading another military expedition against the English occupiers of France, Bourguignon soldiers captured Joan and sold her to the English, who tried her for heresy. She was tried as a heretic and witch, convicted, and on May 30, 1431, burned at the stake at Rouen. In 1920, Joan of Arc, already one of the great heroes of French history, was recognized as a Christian saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

From http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/joan-of-arc-relieves-orleans

Benito Mussolini executed

On this day in 1945, “Il Duce,” Benito Mussolini, and his mistress, Clara Petacci, are shot by Italian partisans who had captured the couple as they attempted to flee to Switzerland.

The 61-year-old deposed former dictator of Italy was established by his German allies as the figurehead of a puppet government in northern Italy during the German occupation toward the close of the war. As the Allies fought their way up the Italian peninsula, defeat of the Axis powers all but certain, Mussolini considered his options. Not wanting to fall into the hands of either the British or the Americans, and knowing that the communist partisans, who had been fighting the remnants of roving Italian fascist soldiers and thugs in the north, would try him as a war criminal, he settled on escape to a neutral country.

He and his mistress made it to the Swiss border, only to discover that the guards had crossed over to the partisan side. Knowing they would not let him pass, he disguised himself in a Luftwaffe coat and helmet, hoping to slip into Austria with some German soldiers. His subterfuge proved incompetent, and he and Petacci were discovered by partisans and shot, their bodies then transported by truck to Milan, where they were hung upside down and displayed publicly for revilement by the masses.

From http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/benito-mussolini-executed

Magellan killed in the Philippines

After traveling three-quarters of the way around the globe, Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan is killed during a tribal skirmish on Mactan Island in the Philippines. Earlier in the month, his ships had dropped anchor at the Philippine island of Cebu, and Magellan met with the local chief, who after converting to Christianity persuaded the Europeans to assist him in conquering a rival tribe on the neighboring island of Mactan. In the subsequent fighting, Magellan was hit by a poisoned arrow and left to die by his retreating comrades.

Magellan, a Portuguese noble, fought for his country against the Muslim domination of the Indian Ocean and Morocco. He participated in a number of key battles and in 1514 asked Portugal’s King Manuel for an increase in his pension. The king refused, having heard unfounded rumors of improper conduct on Magellan’s part after a siege in Morocco. In 1516, Magellan again made the request and the king again refused, so Magellan went to Spain in 1517 to offer his services to King Charles I, later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

In 1494, Portugal and Spain, at the prompting of Pope Alexander VI, settled disputes over newly discovered lands in America and elsewhere by dividing the world into two spheres of influence. A line of demarcation was agreed to in the Atlantic Ocean–all new discoveries west of the line were to be Spanish, and all to the east Portuguese. Thus, South and Central America became dominated by the Spanish, with the exception of Brazil, which was discovered by the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral in 1500 and was somewhat east of the demarcation line. Other Portuguese discoveries in the early 16th century, such as the Moluccas Islands–the Spice Islands of Indonesia–made the Spanish jealous.

To King Charles, Magellan proposed sailing west, finding a strait through the Americas, and then continuing west to the Moluccas, which would prove that the Spice Islands lay west of the demarcation line and thus in the Spanish sphere. Magellan knew that the world was round but underestimated its size, thinking that the Moluccas must be situated just west of the American continent, not on the other side of a great uncharted ocean. The king accepted the plan, and on September 20, 1519, Magellan set sail from Spain in command of five ships and 270 men.

Magellan sailed to West Africa and then to Brazil, where he searched the South American coast for a strait that would take him to the Pacific. He searched the Rio de la Plata, a large estuary south of Brazil, for a way through; failing, he continued south along the coast of Patagonia. At the end of March 1520, the expedition set up winter quarter at Port St. Julian. On Easter day at midnight, the Spanish captains mutinied against their Portuguese captain, but Magellan crushed the revolt, executing one of the captains and leaving another ashore when his ship left St. Julian in August.

On October 21, he finally discovered the strait he had been seeking. The Strait of Magellan, as it became known, is located near the tip of South America, separating Tierra del Fuego and the continental mainland. Only three ships entered the passage; one had been wrecked and another deserted. It took 38 days to navigate the treacherous strait, and when ocean was sighted at the other end Magellan wept with joy. He was the first European explorer to reach the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic. His fleet accomplished the westward crossing of the ocean in 99 days, crossing waters so strangely calm that the ocean was named “Pacific,” from the Latin word pacificus,meaning “tranquil.” By the end, the men were out of food and chewed the leather parts of their gear to keep themselves alive. On March 6, 1521, the expedition landed at the island of Guam. Ten days later, they reached the Philippines–they were only about 400 miles from the Spice Islands.

After Magellan’s death, the survivors, in two ships, sailed on to the Moluccas and loaded the hulls with spice. One ship attempted, unsuccessfully, to return across the Pacific. The other ship, the Victoria, continued west under the command of the Basque navigator Juan Sebastian de Elcano. The vessel sailed across the Indian Ocean, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at Seville on September 9, 1522, becoming the first ship to circumnavigate the globe.

 

From http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/magellan-killed-in-the-philippines

Nazis test Luftwaffe on Guernica

During the Spanish Civil War, the German military tests its powerful new air force–the Luftwaffe–on the Basque town of Guernica in northern Spain.

Although the independence-minded Basque region opposed General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, Guernica itself was a small rural city of only 5,000 inhabitants that declared nonbelligerence in the conflict. With Franco’s approval, the cutting-edge German aircraft began their unprovoked attack at 4:30 p.m., the busiest hour of the market day in Guernica. For three hours, the German planes poured down a continuous and unopposed rain of bombs and gunfire on the town and surrounding countryside. One-third of Guernica’s 5,000 inhabitants were killed or wounded, and fires engulfed the city and burned for days.

The indiscriminate killing of civilians at Guernica aroused world opinion and became a symbol of fascist brutality. Unfortunately, by 1942, all major participants in World War IIhad adopted the bombing innovations developed by the Nazis at Guernica, and by the war’s end, in 1945, millions of innocent civilians had perished under Allied and Axis air raids.

From http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nazis-test-iluftwaffei-on-guernica?catId=6

Ground broken for Suez Canal

At Port Said, Egypt, ground is broken for the Suez Canal, an artificial waterway intended to stretch 101 miles across the isthmus of Suez and connect the Mediterranean and the Red seas. Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French diplomat who organized the colossal undertaking, delivered the pickax blow that inaugurated construction.

Artificial canals have been built on the Suez region, which connects the continents of Asia and Africa, since ancient times. Under the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, a channel connected the Bitter Lakes to the Red Sea, and a canal reached northward from Lake Timsah as far as the Nile River. These canals fell into disrepair or were intentionally destroyed for military reasons. As early as the 15th century, Europeans speculated about building a canal across the Suez, which would allow traders to sail from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea, rather than having to sail the great distance around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.

The first serious survey of the isthmus occurred during the French occupation of Egypt at the end of the 18th century, and General Napoleon Bonaparte personally inspected the remains of an ancient canal. France made further studies for a canal, and in 1854 Ferdinand de Lesseps, the former French consul to Cairo, secured an agreement with the Ottoman governor of Egypt to build a canal. An international team of engineers drew up a construction plan, and in 1856 the Suez Canal Company was formed and granted the right to operate the canal for 99 years after completion of the work.

Construction began in April 1859, and at first digging was done by hand with picks and shovels wielded by forced laborers. Later, European workers with dredgers and steam shovels arrived. Labor disputes and a cholera epidemic slowed construction, and the Suez Canal was not completed until 1869–four years behind schedule. On November 17, 1869, the Suez Canal was officially inaugurated in an elaborate ceremony attended by French Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III. Ferdinand de Lesseps would later attempt, unsuccessfully, to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. He died in 1894.

When it opened, the Suez Canal was only 25 feet deep, 72 feet wide at the bottom, and 200 to 300 feet wide at the surface. Consequently, fewer than 500 ships navigated it in its first full year of operation. Major improvements began in 1876, however, and the canal soon grew into the one of the world’s most heavily traveled shipping lanes. In 1875, Great Britain became the largest shareholder in the Suez Canal Company when it bought up the stock of the new Ottoman governor of Egypt. Seven years later, in 1882, Britain invaded Egypt, beginning a long occupation of the country. The Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 made Egypt virtually independent, but Britain reserved rights for the protection of the canal.

After World War II, Egypt pressed for evacuation of British troops from the Suez Canal Zone, and in July 1956 Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal, hoping to charge tolls that would pay for construction of a massive dam on the Nile River. In response, Israel invaded in late October, and British and French troops landed in early November, occupying the canal zone. Under pressure from the United Nations, Britain and France withdrew in December, and Israeli forces departed in March 1957. That month, Egypt took control of the canal and reopened it to commercial shipping.

Ten years later, Egypt shut down the canal again following the Six Day War and Israel’s occupation of the Sinai peninsula. For the next eight years, the Suez Canal, which separates the Sinai from the rest of Egypt, existed as the front line between the Egyptian and Israeli armies. In 1975, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat reopened the Suez Canal as a gesture of peace after talks with Israel. Today, an average of 50 ships navigate the canal daily, carrying more than 300 million tons of goods a year.

From http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ground-broken-for-suez-canal

The Bandung Conference concludes

The Afro-Asian Conference–popularly known as the Bandung Conference because it was held in Bandung, Indonesia–comes to a close on this day. During the conference, representatives from 29 “non-aligned” nations in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East met to condemn colonialism, decry racism, and express their reservations about the growing Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Bandung Conference grew out of an increasing sense of frustration and alienation among the so-called “non-aligned” nations of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. These were nations that preferred to remain neutral during the Cold War, believing that their interests would not be served by allying with either the United States or the Soviet Union. In April 1955, representatives from 29 of these nations, including Egypt, Indonesia, India, Iraq, and the People’s Republic of China, met to consider the issues they considered most pressing. Various speeches and resolutions condemned colonialism and imperialism and called for the freedom of all subjugated peoples. Racism in all forms was likewise criticized, with the apartheid system of South Africa coming in for particularly harsh denunciations. The assembled nations also called for an end to the nuclear arms race and the elimination of atomic weapons. The fundamental message of many of the sessions was the same: the Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union had little meaning to nations battling for economic development, improved health, and better crop yields, and fighting against the forces of colonialism and racism.

The United States government was generally appalled by the Bandung Conference. Although invited to do so, it refused to send an unofficial observer to the meetings. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was already on record as equating neutralism in the fight against communism as close to a mortal sin. For the United States, the issue was black and white: join America in the fight against communism or risk being considered a potential enemy. This unfortunate policy brought the United States into numerous conflicts with nations of the underdeveloped world who were struggling to find a middle road in the Cold War conflict.

From http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-bandung-conference-concludes