1314: First day of the two-day Battle of Bannockburn, a major victory of Robert the Bruce over England’s Edward II. Bruce distinguished himself at the outset of the battle when he was surveying the potential battleground alone on horseback, un-armoured and armed only with an axe. Paraphrasing from Wikipedia: “He was identified by Henry de Bohun, nephew of the Earl of Hereford, who immediately lowered his lance and charged the Scottish king. As the great war-horse thundered toward him, Bruce stood his ground, watched with mounting anxiety by his own army. With the Englishman only feet away, Bruce turned aside, stood in his stirrups and hit the knight so hard with his axe that he split his helmet and head in two. This small incident became in a sense a symbol of the war itself: the one side heavily armed but lacking agility; the other highly mobile and open to opportunity. Rebuked by his commanders for the enormous risk he had taken, the king only expressed regret that he had broken the shaft of his axe.”
1639: Birth of Massachusetts Puritan minister Increase Mather (d.1723), a key figure in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, where he preached moderation in the use of “spectral evidence” and other non-standard items in the increasingly frenzied trials.
1756: One hundred forty-six captured English and Anglo-Indian soldiers are stuffed into a stiflingly small guardroom in the old Fort William in Calcutta, where 123 of them die overnight of suffocation and heat stroke. The Black Hole of Calcutta galvanized the British public against the dangers of losing control of the Raj. On the Indian side, the memorial stones erected by the British became a cause célèbre as a central rallying point for nationalist agitation for independence from Britain.
1763: Birth of Wolfe Tone (d.1798), leader of the United Irishmen, widely considered the founding father of the Irish independence movement. He was one of the key conspirators in scheme to allow revolutionary French armies to land in Ireland as a staging point for an invasion of England, but the plan foundered when the Irish people never rose in revolt against their English overlords. He was eventually arrested, tried at court-martial and convicted of treason, and sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead. Rather than hang, he attempted suicide in his cell by cutting his throat with a pen-knife; the doctor who bound his wound with a bandage warned him that if he talked at all, his wound would open and he’d bleed to death. Tome agreed: he said “So be it,” and did.
1788: The Commonwealth of Virginia becomes the 10th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
1812: Having subdued virtually the entire continent of Europe under his rule, Napoleon invades Russia.
1837: 18 year old Alexandrina Victoria ascends to assume the title, By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India. She reigns for 63 years and 7 months, and until Elizabeth II in 2016, longer than any British monarch before or since, and the longest serving female monarch in history.
1840: Samuel F.B. Morse receives a patent for his electrical telegraph system.
1850: Birth of Herbert Kitchener (d.1916), who rose to prominence in British arms after capturing the Sudan at the Battle of Omdurman, near Khartoum. As second in command during the Boer War he planned and executed a literal scorched earth campaign against Boer farmers, which included the round-up and internment of their families in concentration camps, where the death rate approached 35% . At the turn of the century he became Commander-in-Chief, India, after which he became Council-General of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. At the start of the Great War Kitchener was brought back to England as Secretary of State for War, focusing his attention on recruitment for the struggle that lay ahead. His is the face behind the famous recruiting poster, “Your Country Wants You”.
1876: Under the leadership of George Armstrong Custer, the United States Army Seventh Cavalry suffers a shattering defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The coalition of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes under Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Chief Gall annihilated 5 of the Seventh’s companies, killing all its key leadership including Custer himself. US casualties numbered 268 killed of approximately 700 engaged; Indians suffered approximately 130 killed of the nearly 1500 engaged. The battle is carefully studied to this day by students at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA.
1898: Three months into the “Splendid Little War” with Spain, the United States captures the Spanish Pacific island of Guam in a bloodless takeover. The US force, led by Captain Henry Glass, USN, consisted of the cruiser USS Charleston and three auxiliary ships. Stopping in Honolulu enroute between San Francisco and Manila, Captain Glass received the following sealed orders:
Washington, May 10, 1898.
Upon the receipt of this order, which is forwarded by the steamship City of Pekin to you at Honolulu, you will proceed, with the Charleston and the City of Pekin in company, to Manila, Philippine Islands. On your way, you are hereby directed to stop at the Spanish Island of Guam. You will use such force as may be necessary to capture the port of Guam, making prisoners of the governor and other officials and any armed force that may be there. You will also destroy any fortifications on said island and any Spanish naval vessels that may be there, or in the immediate vicinity. These operations at the Island of Guam should be very brief, and should not occupy more than one or two days. Should you find any coal at the Island of Guam, you will make such use of it as you consider desirable. It is left to your discretion whether or not you destroy it. From the Island of Guam, proceed to Manila and report to Rear-Admiral George Dewey, U.S.N., for duty in the squadron under his command.
JOHN D. LONG
[to]Commanding Officer U.S.S. Charleston
Steaming into Apra harbor, Charleston fired 17 rounds at the Spanish fort guarding the entrance, and receiving no return fire, dropped anchor in preparation for a landing party. A boatload of Spanish officials immediately rowed out to cruiser, apologizing for not having any powder with which to return the salutes. They were astonished to learn that the US and Spain were actually at war, their last communication with Spain having been in early April before hostilities began. The next day the governor and 67 officials surrendered and the US flag was raised over the fort. Captain Glass designated Guamanian native and naturalized American Francisco Portusach as Acting Governor. Portusach supervised the US ships’ complete re-bunkering with coal, and on the 22nd , the squadron steamed away to join Commodore Dewey in Manila.
1900: Birth of Louis “Dickie” Mountbatten (d.1979), last Viceroy of India. Uncle of Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, and mentor to Charles, Prince of Wales; killed by an Irish Republican Army bomb while boating at an Irish resort.
1905: Birth of Jean-Paul Sarte (d.1950), one of the key 20th century expositors of the Existentialist philosophy.
1915: First operational flight of the radical Fokker Eindecker. The German fighter’s single wing, powerful engine, and its highly innovative synchronization cam (that allowed its guns to shoot through the arc of the spinning propeller) gave the Germans a technical step up that proved devastating to the Allied air forces.
1919: German Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, after surrendering the German High Seas Fleet to the Royal Navy in Scapa Flow anchorage in the Orkney Islands, scuttles the entire fleet under the noses of the British. 52 of the 74 interned vessels go to the bottom, and 9 German sailors are killed by British fire as they try to halt the sinking.
1942: A Japanese submarine surfaces and fires multiple rounds at Fort Stevens, at the mouth of the Columbia River, one of a handful of such attacks on the US mainland during WWII.
1942: A new German Focke-Wulf 190 fighter mistakenly lands at RAF Pembrey, in Wales. You may correctly assume that the Allies thoroughly tested its flight characteristics.
1944: Second and final day of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, otherwise known as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. The U.S. Fifth Fleet under Admiral Raymond Spruance decimates the main striking force of the Imperial Japanese Navy, sinking three carriers and shooting down over 600 Japanese planes, with a corresponding American loss of 123 planes, 80 crew of which were recovered alive.
1945: Final day of the 82 day Battle of Okinawa, one of the most costly of all WWII battles in both theaters. Japanese casualties numbered over 100,000; Japanese civilian casualties numbered 142,000, with a large proportion being suicides induced by Japanese propaganda on the expected results of coming in contact with Americans. US casualties topped 50,000, including over 12,000 KIA. Okinawa also saw the use of large-scale kamikaze attacks: 1465 of them during this battle caused massive damage to the US fleet. The tenaciousness of the Japanese defenses and the scale of the casualties in taking this outlying Japanese home island figured strongly in the planning underway for Operation Olympic later in the year and Operation Coronet in 1946.
1948: As post-war tensions between the victorious Allies continue to mount, the Soviet Union establishes a land blockade of West Berlin in an attempt to force the western Allies to accept Soviet supply of the western zones of the city, thus giving them de facto control of the entire capital. The plan does not work: instead of Western capitulation, the Russians watch as the Berlin Airlift moots their initiative.
1997: On the 40th anniversary of the arrival of aliens to earth, the United States Air Force releases a 231 page report entitled “The Roswell Report, Case Closed.” Sure it is…
2006: Death of Harriet (b.1830 (correct)), the Galapagos tortoise collected by Charles Darwin on his famous voyage aboard Beagle, and long-time resident of the Australia Zoo.
2016: Britons awake (if they slept at all) to find that they overwhelmingly approve of a motion to invoke Article 50 of the European Union Charter and actually resign their membership in the European Union. The vote is a stunning rebuke to the concept of trans-nationalism, open borders, and most particularly the reality of being subject to the whims and diktat of a supra-national governing body with zero accountability to the populations over which they purport to rule. A vocal portion of the “remain” side of the plebiscite almost immediately blames the result on racism, xenophobia and economic ignorance… pretty much proving the case of the “leave” voters that the condescension of the ruling elites is more a reflection of their insulation from reality than with reality itself.