On the 15th November 1917, Georges Clemenceau was appointed Prime Minister of France for the second time. His appointment was something of a surprise, especially as it was made by President Raymond Poincare with whom he had a particularly frosty relationship. Clemenceau had previously held the position until 1909, after which he spent much of his time criticising the government in his own radical newspaper. However, within the first three years of the war three separate Prime Ministers had served and Poincare recognised that Clemenceau’s desire to defeat Germany made him the best replacement.
As 1917 wore on, the French government had become increasingly divided over whether to negotiate peace with Germany. Clemenceau was a fierce critic of this approach, having held a deep-seated hatred of Germany since France’s loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War five years before he was first elected to parliament. His appointment therefore heralded a marked change in government as he sought to consolidate French support behind its troops.
In a speech three days after his appointment, Clemenceau declared, “Nothing but the war. Our armies will not be caught between fire from two sides. Justice will be done. The country will know that it is defended.” This coincided with a clampdown on pacifist opponents and suspected traitors, and he continued to speak in favour of ‘war until the end’ until Germany’s surrender in November 1918. Victory was a double-edged sword: he now needed to negotiate the terms of the peace treaty with Wilson and Lloyd-George, which he described a like being “between Jesus Christ on the one hand, and Napoleon Bonaparte on the other.”
On the 11th November 1918, fighting on the First World War’s Western Front ended when representatives from the Allies and Germany signed the Armistice of Compiègne. Named after the location in which it was signed, the armistice was agreed at around 5:00 a.m. in a railway carriage that was part of Allied supreme commander Ferdinand Foch’s private train. Designed to come into effect at 11:00 a.m. Paris time, the armistice was extended three times before the Treaty of Versailles finally came into force on the 10th January 1920.
President Woodrow Wilson of the USA had outlined his war aims in the Fourteen Points that he announced in a speech in January 1918. These provided a framework for peace, and were a key factor in encouraging Germany to enter negotiations.
By the end of September, the German High Command had realised that the German cause on the Western Front was doomed. The Kaiser was informed of the situation on the 29th September, and by the 5th October the German government had contacted President Wilson of the United States to begin preparations for negotiating an armistice. However, the two sides didn’t come together until the 8th November because Britain, France and Italy were unwilling to enter discussing based on the 14 Points. By this point the German Revolution was about to result in the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
The negotiation wasn’t really a negotiation: the German delegation was presented with the terms and had no option but to sign. The railway carriage in which they did so was later used by Hitler for France’s surrender to Nazi Germany in 1940.
On the 1st November 1911, the first aerial bombing took place when Italian Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti dropped four grenades on Turkish troops in Libya. Although unmanned balloons had been used by Austrian troops to carry bombs in their war against in Venice in 1849, Gavotti was the first to drop explosives from a manned aeroplane. The four 4-pound grenades that he dropped caused no injuries, but his action was still widely condemned by the international community. Despite this, within three years aerial bombing had become an established part of modern warfare.
The weakness of the Ottoman Empire demonstrated by Italy’s victory in the Italo-Turkish War is seen by some historians as a contributor to the rise of Balkan nationalism that preceded the First World War. Indeed the First Balkan War was launched while Turkey was still fighting the Italians in Libya. The Italo-Turkish War was also significant for its impact on the use of aircraft for military purposes. As well carrying out as the world’s first aerial bombing, the Italians were also responsible for conducting the first ever aerial reconnaissance mission a week earlier.
Gavotti himself was flying a reconnaissance mission when he decided to drop the four grenades from his Taube monoplane. Although nobody was injured during the attack, the Ottoman Empire complained that aerial bombing contravened the Hague Convention of 1899. However, Italy argued that the agreement specifically stated that bombs could not be dropped from balloons and said nothing about bombs dropped from aircraft. However, it’s probably worth pointing out that the aeroplane hadn’t even been invented when the agreement in question was signed.
At 9:00 am on the 28th October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended when Soviet Premier Khrushchev agreed to remove Russian nuclear missiles from the island of Cuba. Although the missiles were identified by American reconnaissance on October 15th, the Thirteen Days of the crisis officially began when President John F. Kennedy was informed on the morning of the 16th.
Cuban President Fidel Castro had met with Khrushchev in July 1961, where the two men had agreed to station short-range nuclear missiles on Cuba. America already had a number of nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey that threatened the USSR, and had supported the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba in April 1961.
Threatened by the discovery of the missiles on Cuba, which lay barely 90 miles from the coast of Florida, the USA responded by enforcing a naval blockade around the island in an attempt to stop any more missiles being delivered. Although the Soviet Union initially refused to recognize the blockade, the ships carrying missiles turned back while Kennedy and Khrushchev continued a series of tense negotiations.
Eventually an agreement was struck in which the USSR would publicly remove the missiles from Cuba while the USA would secretly remove its own from Turkey and Italy. The Soviet Union broadcast its intention to remove the missiles on Radio Moscow on the morning of the 28th October, and the first dismantled missiles were shipped out of Cuba on the 5th November.
Because America’s part of the agreement was kept secret, Khrushchev appeared to have ‘lost’. The reality is that both sides made concessions.
On the 26th October 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi met with Victor Emanuel II, the King of Sardinia, at Teano and handed him control of southern Italy. Hailing him as King of Italy, Garibaldi’s surrender of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies effectively ended any hope for an Italian republic but was one of the most significant events in the unification of the peninsula.
Garibaldi landed with his ‘Thousand’ – better known as the Redshirts – on the island of Sicily on the 11th May. The number of troops under his command quadrupled within just three days and so, on the 14th, Garibaldi proclaimed himself dictator of Sicily in the name of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy.
Within a fortnight he had besieged the Sicilian capital of Palermo, where many of the inhabitants joined with him and began to attack the Neapolitan garrison. Despite the arrival of 25,000 reinforcements the Neapolitans surrendered the city following an armistice facilitated by a British admiral, but not before the city had been virtually reduced to rubble.
Further difficult battles followed, but by the start of September Garibaldi had crossed to the mainland and taken control of Naples after the king fled with his army. However, he was not yet defeated, and still had the support of around 25,000 soldiers. At the Battle of Volturno, Garibaldi’s Redshirts were only successful against them thanks to the arrival of the Piedmontese Army who made it clear that they would not allow Garibaldi to march on Rome. When Victor Emmanuel arrived on the 26th October therefore, Garibaldi handed over his territory and retired to the island of Caprera.
The Italian government of Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti launched its invasion of Libya in order to formalise its influence in the provinces of Tripolitana and Cyrenaica amidst the declining power of the Ottoman Empire. Having sent an ultimatum to the Ottoman government that was not accepted in full, war was declared on 29 September 1911.
Carlo Piazza formally qualified as a pilot in April 1911, and soon took control of the Royal Italian Army air detachment having proved himself as a talented racing pilot. When the Italo-Turkish War broke out later that year, the Italian military transported its entire fleet of nine aircraft to Tripoli following the prediction of aviation theorist Giulio Douhet that aircraft would cause significant problems for the enemy.
Having arrived in Libya by steamship, the Italian aircraft were brought on shore after the 20,000 ground troops began disembarking their ships on 10 October. The Italians soon found that the Ottoman defence was stronger than they had expected and, during a standoff near Benghazi, Piazza made history’s first reconnaissance flight when he observed the Turkish lines from a Blériot XI aircraft. This type of machine, powered by a 25-horsepower, three-cylinder engine, had famously made the first flight across the English Channel in a heavier-than-air aircraft in 1909.
Barely a week later the Italo-Turkish War would also see the first ever aerial bombing, when Italian Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti dropped four grenades from his Taube monoplane. Later in the conflict, the Turkish military was the first to shoot down an aircraft with rifle fire.
On the 22nd September 1980, the longest conventional war of the 20th Century began when Iraq launched an invasion of Iran. The Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, dubbed it the ‘Whirlwind War’ in which he expected Iran to be defeated relatively swiftly. However the war persisted for nearly 8 long and bloody years, and an estimated half a million soldiers and the same number of civilians were killed.
Having become President of Iraq in 1979, Saddam Hussein was keen to consolidate the power of his minority Sunni Muslim Ba’ath government. However, at almost exactly the same time, Ayatollah Khomeini came to power through the Iranian Revolution, installing a Shi’ite Muslim theocracy in Iraq’s neighbor and calling for the overthrow of Saddam’s regime. Unsurprisingly, this was met with hostility in Iraq, especially after Shia militants assassinated 20 party officials in April 1980.
Iraq also wanted to push Iran back from the Shatt Al-Arab waterway in order to secure its own oil exports. If the army was successful, they could even increase their oil reserves by capturing some of Iran’s oil fields. Iran was poorly prepared for war as its army had recently been purged of officers and soldiers loyal to the former Shah. Furthermore, the country’s economy was in tatters as a result of western countries boycotting trade due to the ongoing hostage crisis at the American Embassy.
Despite Saddam’s expectations of a quick and easy victory, Iran mobilised its revolutionary population who voluntarily streamed to the front lines and pushed the Iraqis back to their own border. The war raged for an unprecedented eight years.
On the 18th September 1931, the Manchurian Crisis – also known as the Mukden Incident –began when Japanese soldiers blew up a section of their own railway in the Chinese region of Manchuria. Although it caused only minimal damage, the explosion was blamed on Chinese rebels and led to the Japanese using it as an excuse to invade.
The South Manchuria Railway had been controlled by Japan since the end of the Russo-Japanese War, but the relationship between the Japanese military who guarded the line and the local Chinese population was tense. Following the onset of the Great Depression, some renegade members of the Japanese Kwantung Army believed that a conflict in the area would be beneficial for Japan.
A small quantity of dynamite was detonated near the tracks at around 10.20pm on the evening of the 18th September. The explosion caused such little damage that a train was able to go over the section of track ten minutes later without incident, but within hours the resident Japanese forces had driven the nearby Chinese garrison from their barracks in retaliation for the alleged attack.
Over the next few days the Japanese army took control of towns and cities along the entire railway line, acting independently of the government in Tokyo. The politicians, unable to reign in the army, eventually lent support to the invasion and sent additional troops to support the invasion.
The Chinese government appealed to the League of Nations for assistance, which promptly passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Japanese troops. Japan ignored the League, and ruled Manchuria as a puppet state.
On the 22nd August 1485, King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth and the forces of Henry Tudor brought the Plantagenet dynasty to an end. Henry secured his reign soon afterwards by later marrying Elizabeth of York, the niece of Richard III and daughter of Edward IV, and united the two warring houses through the symbolism of the Tudor rose.
Wishing to capitalise on Richard’s diminishing support following the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and the death of his wife, Henry Tudor prepared to invade England from his base in Brittany and fight Richard for the throne. Funded by Charles VIII of France, and supported by three times as many French mercenary soldiers as his own troops, Henry set sail on the 1st August with 2,000 men. Landing at the Welsh port of Milford Haven, Henry secured the support of the influential Welsh landowner Rhys ap Thomas, on his march to England.
Richard’s army gathered in Leicester from the 16th August and, on the night of the 21st, camped on Ambion Hill near the town of Market Bosworth with 10,000 men. The next morning, facing Henry and his force of around 5,000 soldiers, the Yorkists were defeated when the Stanley family switched sides and surrounded and killed Richard after the king chose to break ranks and target Henry himself. Henry was crowned under an oak tree near the site.
Richard’s body was taken to Leicester by the Lancastrians where it was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars church. The body was only found again in 2012.
On the 7th August 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed by the United States Congress. The joint resolution granted powers to President Lyndon B. Johnson to use military force to assist countries in Southeast Asia facing so-called “communist aggression”. Many critics of the war condemned Congress for granting Johnson a “blank cheque” to escalate American military involvement in the Vietnamese conflict. At the time, however, it passed unanimously through the House of Representatives and only two Senators opposed the resolution.
The Resolution was a response to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident that had taken place just a few days earlier, in which the North Vietnamese Navy was blamed for attacking US ships on two separate occasions. While it is accepted that the USS Maddox did exchange fire with three enemy torpedo boats on the 2nd August, the claim that it was attacked again on the 4th August is now known to be false.
Even at the time it was acknowledged that the second attack may not have actually happened. Captain John J. Herrick, the commander of the Maddox, had spent four hours firing at enemy ships picked up on radar. However, he sent a message just a few hours later saying that no enemy boats had actually been sighted and so the radar may have malfunctioned. However, the President was not informed of this before going on television to announce that US ships had been attacked. Johnson’s desire to retaliate led to the Resolution, and this in turn led to the USA escalating its involvement in the Vietnam War.