PT-109 sinks; Lieutenant Kennedy is instrumental in saving crew

Year
1943
Month Day
August 01

On August 1, 1943, a Japanese destroyer rams an American PT (patrol torpedo) boat, No. 109, slicing it in two. The destruction is so massive other American PT boats in the area assume the crew is dead. Two crewmen were, in fact, killed, but 11 survived, including Lt. John F. Kennedy.

Japanese aircraft had been on a PT boat hunt in the Solomon Islands, bombing the PT base at Rendova Island. It was essential to the Japanese that several of their destroyers make it to the southern tip of Kolombangara Island to get war supplies to forces there. But the torpedo capacity of the American PTs was a potential threat. Despite the base bombing at Rendova, PTs set out to intercept those Japanese destroyers. In the midst of battle, Japan’s Amaqiri hit PT-109, leaving 11 crewmen floundering in the Pacific.

READ MORE: The Navy Disaster That Earned JFK Two Medals for Heroism

After five hours of clinging to debris from the decimated PT boat, the crew made it to a coral island. Kennedy decided to swim out to sea again, hoping to flag down a passing American boat. None came. Kennedy began to swim back to shore, but strong currents, and his chronic back condition, made his return difficult. Upon reaching the island again, he fell ill. After he recovered, the PT-109 crew swam to a larger island, what they believed was Nauru Island, but was in fact Cross Island. They met up with two natives from the island, who agreed to take a message south. Kennedy carved the distress message into a coconut shell: “Nauru Is. Native knows posit. He can pilot. 11 alive need small boat.”

The message reached Lieutenant Arthur Evans, who was watching the coast of Gomu Island, located next to an island occupied by the Japanese. Kennedy and his crew were paddled to Gomu. A PT boat then took them back to Rendova. Kennedy was ultimately awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, for gallantry in action.

PT-109, a film dramatizing this story, starring Cliff Robertson as Kennedy, opened in 1963.

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Beer Hall Putsch begins

Year
1923
Month Day
November 08

Adolf Hitler, president of the far-right Nazi Party, launches the Beer Hall Putsch, his first attempt at seizing control of the German government.

After World War I, the victorious allies demanded billions of dollars in war reparations from Germany. Efforts by Germany’s democratic government to comply hurt the country’s economy and led to severe inflation. The German mark, which at the beginning of 1921 was valued at five marks per dollar, fell to a disastrous four billion marks per dollar in 1923. Meanwhile, the ranks of the nationalist Nazi Party swelled with resentful Germans who sympathized with the party’s bitter hatred of the democratic government, leftist politics, and German Jews. In early November 1923, the government resumed war-reparation payments, and the Nazis decided to strike.

Hitler planned a coup against the state government of Bavaria, which he hoped would spread to the dissatisfied German army, which in turn would bring down the central, democratic government in Berlin. On the evening of November 8, Nazi forces under Hermann Goering surrounded the Munich beer hall where Bavarian government officials were meeting with local business leaders. A moment later, Hitler burst in with a group of Nazi storm troopers, discharged his pistol into the air, and declared that “the national revolution has begun.” Threatened at gunpoint, the Bavarian leaders reluctantly agreed to support Hitler’s new regime.

In the early morning of November 9, however, the Bavarian leaders repudiated their coerced support of Hitler and ordered a rapid suppression of the Nazis. At dawn, government troops surrounded the main Nazi force occupying the War Ministry building. A desperate Hitler responded by leading a march toward the center of Munich in a last-ditch effort to rally support. Near the War Ministry building, 3,000 Nazi marchers came face to face with 100 armed policemen. Shots were exchanged, and 16 Nazis and three policemen were killed. Hermann Goering was shot in the groin, and Hitler suffered a dislocated elbow but managed to escape.

Three days later, Hitler was arrested. Convicted of treason, he was given the minimum sentence of five years in prison. He was imprisoned in the Landsberg fortress and spent his time writing his autobiography, Mein Kampf, and working on his oratorical skills. Political pressure from the Nazis forced the Bavarian government to commute Hitler’s sentence, and he was released after serving only nine months. In the late 1920s, Hitler reorganized the Nazi Party as a fanatical mass movement that was able to gain a majority in the Reichstag in 1932. By 1934, Hitler was the sole master of a nation intent on war and genocide.

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Battle of the Somme begins

Year
1916
Month Day
July 01

At 7:30 a.m., the British launch a massive offensive against German forces in the Somme River region of France. During the preceding week, 250,000 Allied shells had pounded German positions near the Somme, and 100,000 British soldiers poured out of their trenches and into no-man’s-land on July 1, expecting to find the way cleared for them. However, scores of heavy German machine guns had survived the artillery onslaught, and the infantry were massacred. By the end of the day, 20,000 British soldiers were dead and 40,000 wounded. It was the single heaviest day of casualties in British military history. The disastrous Battle of the Somme stretched on for more than four months, with the Allies advancing a total of just five miles.

When World War I broke out in August 1914, great throngs of British men lined up to enlist in the war effort. At the time, it was generally thought that the war would be over within six months. However, by the end of 1914 well over a million soldiers of various nationalities had been killed on the battlefields of Europe, and a final victory was not in sight for either the Allies or the Central Powers. On the Western Front—the battle line that stretched across northern France and Belgium—the combatants had settled down in the trenches for a terrible war of attrition. Maimed and shell-shocked troops returning to Britain with tales of machine guns, artillery barrages, and poison gas seriously dampened the enthusiasm of potential new volunteers.

READ MORE: Why Was the Battle of the Somme So Deadly?

With the aim of raising enough men to launch a decisive offensive against Germany, Britain replaced voluntary service with conscription in January 1916, when it passed an act calling for the enlistment of all unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 41. After Germany launched a massive offensive of its own against Verdun in February, Britain expanded the Military Service Act, calling for the conscription of all men, married and unmarried, between the ages of 18 and 41. Near the end of June, with the Battle of Verdun still raging, Britain prepared for its major offensive along a 21-mile stretch of the Western Front north of the Somme River.

For a week, the British bombarded the German trenches as a prelude to the attack. British Field Marshal Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, thought the artillery would decimate the German defenses and allow a British breakthrough; in fact, it served primarily to remove the element of surprise. When the bombardment died down on the morning of July 1, the German machine crews emerged from their fortified trenches and set up their weapons. At 7:30 a.m., 11 British divisions attacked at once, and the majority of them were gunned down. The soldiers optimistically carried heavy supplies for a long march, but few made it more than a couple of hundred yards. Five French divisions that attacked south of the Somme at the same time fared a little better, but without British success little could be done to exploit their gains.

After the initial disaster, Haig resigned himself to smaller but equally ineffectual advances, and more than 1,000 Allied lives were extinguished for every 100 yards gained on the Germans. Even Britain’s September 15 introduction of tanks into warfare for the first time in history failed to break the deadlock in the Battle of the Somme. In October, heavy rains turned the battlefield into a sea of mud, and on November 18 Haig called off the Somme offensive after more than four months of mass slaughter.

READ MORE: Life in the Trenches of World War I

Except for its effect of diverting German troops from the Battle of Verdun, the offensive was a miserable disaster. It amounted to a total gain of just 125 square miles for the Allies, with more than 600,000 British and French soldiers killed, wounded, or missing in the action. German casualties were more than 650,000. Although Haig was severely criticized for the costly battle, his willingness to commit massive amounts of men and resources to the stalemate along the Western Front did eventually contribute to the collapse of an exhausted Germany in 1918.

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Battle of Petersburg begins

Year
1864
Month Day
June 15

During the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia collide for the last time as the first wave of Union troops attacks Petersburg, a vital Southern rail center 23 miles south of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. The two massive armies would not become disentangled until April 9, 1865, when Lee surrendered and his men went home.

In June 1864, in a brilliant tactical maneuver, Grant marched his army around the Army of Northern Virginia, crossed the James River unopposed, and advanced his forces to Petersburg. Knowing that the fall of Petersburg would mean the fall of Richmond, Lee raced to reinforce the city’s defenses. The mass of Grant’s army arrived first. On June 15, the first day of the Battle of Petersburg, some 10,000 Union troops under General William F. Smith moved against the Confederate defenders of Petersburg, made up of only a few thousand armed old men and boys commanded by General P.G.T. Beauregard. However, the Confederates had the advantage of formidable physical defenses, and they held off the overly cautious Union assault. The next day, more Federal troops arrived, but Beauregard was reinforced by Lee, and the Confederate line remained unbroken during several Union attacks occurring over the next two days.

By June 18, Grant had nearly 100,000 at his disposal at Petersburg, but the 20,000 Confederate defenders held on as Lee hurried the rest of his Army of Northern Virginia into the entrenchments. Knowing that further attacks would be futile, but satisfied to have bottled up the Army of Northern Virginia, Grant’s army dug trenches and began a prolonged siege of Petersburg.

Finally, on April 2, 1865, with his defense line overextended and his troops starving, Lee’s right flank suffered a major defeat against Union cavalry under General Phillip Sheridan, and Grant ordered a general attack on all fronts. The Army of Northern Virginia retreated under heavy fire; the Confederate government fled Richmond on Lee’s recommendation; and Petersburg, and then Richmond, fell to the Union. Less than a week later, Grant’s massive army headed off the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Station, and Lee was forced to surrender, effectively ending the Civil War.

READ MORE: 7 Reasons Ulysses S. Grant Was One of America’s Most Brilliant Military Leaders

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Battle of Midway ends

Year
1942
Month Day
June 07

On June 7, 1942, the Battle of Midway—one of the most decisive U.S. victories in its war against Japan—comes to an end. In the four-day sea and air battle, the outnumbered U.S. Pacific Fleet succeeded in destroying four Japanese aircraft carriers with the loss of only one of its own, the Yorktown, thus reversing the tide against the previously invincible Japanese navy.

In six months of offensives, the Japanese had triumphed in lands throughout the Pacific, including Malaysia, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, and numerous island groups. The United States, however, was a growing threat, and Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sought to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet before it was large enough to outmatch his own. A thousand miles northwest of Honolulu, the strategic island of Midway became the focus of his scheme to smash U.S. resistance to Japan’s imperial designs. Yamamoto’s plan consisted of a feint toward Alaska followed by an invasion of Midway by a Japanese strike force. When the U.S. Pacific Fleet arrived at Midway to respond to the invasion, it would be destroyed by the superior Japanese fleet waiting unseen to the west. If successful, the plan would eliminate the U.S. Pacific Fleet and provide a forward outpost from which the Japanese could eliminate any future American threat in the Central Pacific.

READ MORE: How Codebreakers Helped Secure U.S. Victory in the Battle of Midway

Unfortunately for the Japanese, U.S. intelligence broke the Japanese naval code, and the Americans anticipated the surprise attack. Three heavy aircraft carriers of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were mustered to challenge the four heavy Japanese carriers steaming toward Midway. In early June, U.S. command correctly recognized a Japanese movement against Alaska’s Aleutian Islands as a diversionary tactic and kept its forces massed around Midway. On June 3, the Japanese occupation force was spotted steaming toward the island, and B-17 Flying Fortresses were sent out from Midway to bomb the strike force but failed to inflict damage. Early in the morning on June 4, a PBY Catalina flying boat torpedoed a Japanese tanker transport, striking the first blow of the Battle of Midway.

Later that morning, an advance Japanese squadron numbering more than 100 bombers and Zero fighters took off from the Japanese carriers to bomb Midway. Twenty-six Wildcat fighters were sent up to intercept the Japanese force and suffered heavy losses in their heroic defense of Midway’s air base. Soon after, bombers and torpedo planes based on Midway took off to attack the Japanese carriers but failed to inflict serious damage. The first phase of the battle was over by 7:00 a.m.

In the meantime, 200 miles to the northeast, two U.S. attack fleets caught the Japanese force entirely by surprise. Beginning around 9:30 a.m., torpedo bombers from the three U.S. carriers descended on the Japanese carriers. Although nearly wiped out, they drew off enemy fighters, and U.S. dive bombers penetrated, catching the Japanese carriers while their decks were cluttered with aircraft and fuel. The dive-bombers quickly destroyed three of the heavy Japanese carriers and one heavy cruiser. The only Japanese carrier that initially escaped destruction, the Hiryu, loosed all its aircraft against the American task force and managed to seriously damage the U.S. carrier Yorktown, forcing its abandonment. At about 5:00 p.m., dive-bombers from the U.S. carrier Enterprise returned the favor, mortally damaging the Hiryu. It was scuttled the next morning.

READ MORE: 5 Things You Might Not Know About the Battle of Midway 

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto still had numerous warships at his command, but without his carriers and aircraft he was forced to abandon his Midway invasion plans and begin a westward retreat. On June 5, a U.S. task force pursued his fleet, but bad weather saved it from further destruction. On June 6, the skies cleared, and U.S. aircraft resumed their assault, sinking a cruiser and damaging several other warships. After the planes returned to their carriers, the Americans broke off from the pursuit. Meanwhile, a Japanese submarine torpedoed and fatally wounded the Yorktown, which was in the process of being salvaged. It finally rolled over and sank at dawn on June 7, bringing an end to the battle.

At the Battle of Midway, Japan lost four carriers, a cruiser, and 292 aircraft, and suffered 2,500 casualties. The U.S. lost the Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hammann, 145 aircraft, and suffered 307 casualties. Japan’s losses hobbled its naval might–bringing Japanese and American sea power to approximate parity–and marked the turning point in the Pacific theater of World War II. In August 1942, the great U.S. counteroffensive began at Guadalcanal and did not cease until Japan’s surrender three years later.

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Battle of Buena Vista begins


Year
1847
Month Day
February 22

During the Mexican-American War, Mexican General Santa Anna surrounds the outnumbered forces of U.S. General Zachary Taylor at the Angostura Pass in Mexico and demands an immediate surrender. Taylor refused, allegedly replying, “Tell him to go to hell,” and early the next morning Santa Anna dispatched some 15,000 troops to move against the 5,000 Americans. The superior U.S. artillery was able to halt one of the two advancing Mexican divisions, while Jefferson Davis’ Mississippi riflemen led the defense of the extreme left flank against the other Mexican advance. By five o’clock in the afternoon, the Mexicans begin to withdraw.

The Mexican-American War began with a dispute over the U.S. government’s 1845 annexation of Texas. In January 1846, President James K. Polk, a strong advocate of westward expansion, ordered General Taylor to occupy disputed territory between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers. Mexican troops attacked Taylor’s forces, and in May 1846 Congress approved a declaration of war against Mexico.

At Buena Vista in February 1847, and at Monterrey in September, Taylor proved a brilliant military commander, earning the nickname “Old Rough and Ready” while emerging from the war a national hero. He won the Whig presidential nomination in 1848 and defeated the Democratic candidate, Lewis Cass, in November. The other hero of the Battle of Buena Vista, Jefferson Davis, became secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce in 1853 and president of the Confederate States of America in 1861.

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Battle of Agincourt

Year
1415
Month Day
October 25

During the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, Henry V, the young king of England, leads his forces to victory at the Battle of Agincourt in northern France.

Two months before, Henry had crossed the English Channel with 11,000 men and laid siege to Harfleur in Normandy. After five weeks the town surrendered, but Henry lost half his men to disease and battle casualties. He decided to march his army northeast to Calais, where he would meet the English fleet and return to England. At Agincourt, however, a vast French army of 20,000 men stood in his path, greatly outnumbering the exhausted English archers, knights, and men-at-arms.

The battlefield lay on 1,000 yards of open ground between two woods, which prevented large-scale maneuvers and thus worked to Henry’s advantage. At 11 a.m. on October 25, the battle commenced. The English stood their ground as French knights, weighed down by their heavy armor, began a slow advance across the muddy battlefield. The French were met by a furious bombardment of artillery from the English archers, who wielded innovative longbows with a range of 250 yards. French cavalrymen tried and failed to overwhelm the English positions, but the archers were protected by a line of pointed stakes. As more and more French knights made their way onto the crowded battlefield, their mobility decreased further, and some lacked even the room to raise their arms and strike a blow. At this point, Henry ordered his lightly equipped archers to rush forward with swords and axes, and the unencumbered Englishmen massacred the French.

Almost 6,000 Frenchmen lost their lives during the Battle of Agincourt, while English deaths amounted to just over 400. With odds greater than three to one, Henry had won one of the great victories of military history. After further conquests in France, Henry V was recognized in 1420 as heir to the French throne and the regent of France. He was at the height of his powers but died just two years later of camp fever near Paris.

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Balloon crosses the Atlantic

Year
1978
Month Day
August 17

The Double Eagle II completes the first transatlantic balloon flight when it lands in a barley field near Paris, 137 hours after lifting off from Presque Isle, Maine. The helium-filled balloon was piloted by Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman and flew 3,233 miles in the six-day odyssey.

Human flight first became a reality in the early 1780s with the successful development of the hot-air balloon by French papermaking brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier. Soon balloons were being filled with lighter-than-air gas, such as helium or hydrogen, to provide buoyancy. An early achievement of ballooning came in 1785 when Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American John Jeffries became the first to cross the English Channel by air. In the 18th and 19th centuries, balloons were used more for military surveillance and scientific study than for transport or sport. As a mode of air travel, the balloon was supplanted by the self-propelled dirigible–a motorized balloon–in the late 19th century.

In the early 20th century, however, interest in sport ballooning began to grow, and an international trophy was offered annually for long-distance flights. Belgian balloonists dominated these early competitions. After World War II, new technology made ballooning safer and more affordable, and by the 1960s the sport enjoyed widespread popularity. The transatlantic flight, first accomplished by aircraft and dirigible in 1919, remained an elusive goal of elite balloonists.

From 1859 until the flight of the Double Eagle II in 1978, there were 17 unsuccessful transatlantic balloon flights, resulting in the deaths of at least seven balloonists. In September 1977, Ben Abruzzo and Maxie Anderson made their first attempt in the Double Eagle I but were blown off course and forced to ditch off Iceland after traveling 2,950 miles in 66 hours. Abruzzo took several months to recover from frostbite suffered during the ordeal, but by 1978 he and Anderson were ready to make the attempt again. They added Larry Newman as a third pilot, and on September 11, 1978, the Double Eagle II lifted off from Presque Isle, Maine.

The 11-story, helium-filled balloon made good progress during the first four days, and the three pilots survived on hot dogs and canned sardines. The only real trouble of the trip occurred on August 16, when atmospheric conditions forced the Double Eagle II to drop from 20,000 feet to a dangerous 4,000 feet. They jettisoned ballast material and soon rose to a safe height again. That night, they reached the coast of Ireland and on August 17 flew across England en route to their destination of Le Bourget field in Paris, site of Charles Lindbergh’s landing after flying solo in a plane across the Atlantic in 1927. Over southern England, their wives flew close enough to the balloon in a private plane to blow kisses at their husbands.

Blown slightly off course toward the end of the journey, they touched down just before dusk on August 17 near the hamlet of Miserey, about 50 miles west of Paris. Their 137-hour flight set new endurance and distance records. The Americans were greeted by family members and jubilant French spectators who followed their balloon by car. That night, Larry Newman, who at 31 was the youngest of the three pilots, was allowed to sleep with his wife in the same bed where Charles Lindbergh slept after his historic transatlantic flight five decades before.

In 1981, Ben Abruzzo, Larry Newman, Ron Clark, and Rocky Aoki of Japan flew from Nagashimi, Japan, to Mendocino National Forest in California in the first transpacific flight. American Joe Kittinger made a solo transatlantic balloon flight in 1984. In 1995, American Steve Fosset accomplished a solo transpacific flight. One of the last frontiers of ballooning was conquered in 1999, when Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland and Englishman Brian Jones completed the first nonstop trip around the world in a hybrid helium and hot-air balloon. They flew from the Swiss Alps, circumnavigated the globe, and landed in Egypt, having traveled more than 29,000 miles in 20 days.

Then, in 2002, American adventurer Steve Fossett became the first man in history to fly around the world solo in a hot-air balloon.

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Columbus lands in South America

Year
1498
Month Day
August 01

Explorer Christopher Columbus sets foot on the American mainland for the first time, at the Paria Peninsula in present-day Venezuela. Thinking it an island, he christened it Isla Santa and claimed it for Spain.

Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. Little is known of his early life, but he worked as a seaman and then a sailing entrepreneur. He became obsessed with the possibility of pioneering a western sea route to Cathay (China), India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia. At the time, Europeans knew no direct sea route to southern Asia, and the route via Egypt and the Red Sea was closed to Europeans by the Ottoman Empire, as were many land routes. Contrary to popular legend, educated Europeans of Columbus’ day did believe that the world was round, as argued by St. Isidore in the seventh century. However, Columbus, and most others, underestimated the world’s size, calculating that East Asia must lie approximately where North America sits on the globe (they did not yet know that the Pacific Ocean existed).

With only the Atlantic Ocean, he thought, lying between Europe and the riches of the East Indies, Columbus met with King John II of Portugal and tried to persuade him to back his “Enterprise of the Indies,” as he called his plan. He was rebuffed and went to Spain, where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella also rejected him at least twice. However, after the Spanish conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada in January 1492, the Spanish monarchs, flush with victory, agreed to support his voyage.

READ MORE: The Ships of Christopher Columbus Were Sleek, Fast—and Cramped

On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain, with three small ships, the Santa María, the Pinta and the Niña. On October 12, the expedition sighted land, probably Watling Island in the Bahamas, and went ashore the same day, claiming it for Spain. Later that month, Columbus sighted Cuba, which he thought was mainland China, and in December the expedition landed on Hispaniola, which Columbus thought might be Japan. He established a small colony there with 39 of his men. The explorer returned to Spain with gold, spices, and “Indian” captives in March 1493 and was received with the highest honors by the Spanish court. He was given the title “admiral of the ocean sea,” and a second expedition was promptly organized. He was the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings set up colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland in the 10th century.

Fitted out with a large fleet of 17 ships with 1,500 colonists aboard, Columbus set out from Cádiz in September 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. Landfall was made in the Lesser Antilles in November. Returning to Hispaniola, he found the men he left there slaughtered by the natives, and he founded a second colony. Sailing on, he explored Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and numerous smaller islands in the Caribbean. Columbus returned to Spain in June 1496 and was greeted less warmly, as the yield from the second voyage had fallen well short of its costs.

Isabella and Ferdinand, still greedy for the riches of the East, agreed to a smaller third voyage and instructed Columbus to find a strait to India. In May 1498, Columbus left Spain with six ships, three filled with colonists and three with provisions for the colony on Hispaniola. This time, he made landfall on Trinidad. He entered the Gulf of Paria in Venezuela and planted the Spanish flag in South America on August 1, 1498. He explored the Orinoco River of Venezuela and, given its scope, soon realized he had stumbled upon another continent. Columbus, a deeply religious man, decided after careful thought that Venezuela was the outer regions of the Garden of Eden.

Returning to Hispaniola, he found that conditions on the island had deteriorated under the rule of his brothers, Diego and Bartholomew. Columbus’ efforts to restore order were marked by brutality, and his rule came to be deeply resented by both the colonists and the native Taino chiefs. In 1500, Spanish chief justice Francisco de Bobadilla arrived at Hispaniola, sent by Isabella and Ferdinand to investigate complaints, and Columbus and his brothers were sent back to Spain in chains.

He was immediately released upon his return, and Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to finance a fourth voyage, in which he was to search for the earthly paradise and the realms of gold said to lie nearby. He was also to continue looking for a passage to India. In May 1502, Columbus left Cádiz on his fourth and final voyage to the New World. After returning to Hispaniola, against his patrons’ wishes, he explored the coast of Central America looking for a strait and for gold. Attempting to return to Hispaniola, his ships, in poor condition, had to be beached on Jamaica. Columbus and his men were marooned, but two of his captains succeed in canoeing the 450 miles to Hispaniola. Columbus was a castaway on Jamaica for a year before a rescue ship arrived.

In November 1504, Columbus returned to Spain. Queen Isabella, his chief patron, died less than three weeks later. Although Columbus enjoyed substantial revenue from Hispaniola gold during the last years of his life, he repeatedly attempted (unsuccessfully) to gain an audience with King Ferdinand, whom he felt owed him further redress. Columbus died in Valladolid on May 20, 1506, without realizing the great scope of his achievement: He had discovered for Europe the New World, whose riches over the next century would help make Spain the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.

READ MORE: Christopher Columbus: How The Explorer’s Legend Grew—and Then Drew Fire

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Chechen separatists storm Russian school

Year
2004
Month Day
September 01

On September 1, 2004, an armed gang of Chechen separatist rebels enters a school in southern Russia and takes more than 1,000 people hostage. The rebels demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from the disputed nearby region of Chechnya. September 1 was the first day of a new school year for millions of students across Russia, a day of celebration in schools that both parents and students traditionally attend. Nearly 340 people, about half of them children, died in the ensuing three-day ordeal.

The rebels stormed the school at 9:30 a.m., just after a ceremony celebrating the new school year had ended. They initially held more than 1,000 hostages, though some were released later that day. The hostages were crowded into the school’s gym, where they were surrounded by mines and bombs to prevent them from escaping. The rebels placed children along the room’s windows to discourage Russian authorities from storming the building and randomly shot off their guns to intimidate the hostages. Temperatures quickly rose in the overcrowded gym, forcing the hostages to strip nearly naked to stay cool. The captors refused to allow food or drink into the school; some hostages were forced to drink their own urine to keep from dehydrating in the hot building.

Finally, on the morning of September 3, the rebels allowed Russian emergency workers in to retrieve the bodies of those who had been killed in their initial assault on the school. Soon after, two bombs in the gym were accidentally detonated, one of which caused the gym’s roof to collapse. In the subsequent chaos, some hostages escaped. When the rebels began to shoot children, Russian special forces stormed the school. Over the course of the next few hours, the Russian troops secured the building, killing all but one of the 32 attackers. Rescue workers found hundreds of bodies in the debris of the burned-out former school gym. More than 700 others were wounded.

The secondary school was located in Beslan, North Ossetia, near Chechnya in the war-torn North Caucasus region of Russia. The people of North Ossetia are predominately Christian and have strong ties to Russia. Chechens, on the other hand, are mainly Muslim. Chechen separatists have demanded their freedom from Russia since soon after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and have increasingly turned to terrorist tactics to further their cause. Chechnya is important to the Russian economy because of several oil and gas pipelines that run through Chechen territory. It is estimated that at least 200,000 people have been killed in the ongoing Chechen-Russian conflict.

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