13 December 2007

This day in history: 13 Dec

1577: Sir Francis Drake set out from Plymouth, England, with five ships - Pelican, Elizabeth, Swan, Marigold, and Benedict - on his round-the-world voyage. He would return to England with one ship (Pelican, which he had renamed Golden Hind) on 26 September 1580.

1636: The Massachusetts Bay Colony organized its militia into three regiments to defend the colony against the Pequot Indians. This is recognized today as the founding of the US National Guard.

1862: "It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it." The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia (General Robert E Lee) was attacked by the Union Army of the Potomac (Major General Ambrose Burnside) at Fredericksburg, Virginia. The Yankees made fifteen attacks against the Confederates, who were dug in on the heights behind the town, but to no avail, and Burnside withdrew on the 15th. 19 men were awarded the Medal of Honor for their service during the battle.*

1907: The seven-masted schooner Thomas W Lawson ran aground in a gale and sank near Hellweather's Reef, in the Scilly Isles. A pilot and 15 crewmembers died.

1914: HM Submarine B11 (Lieutenant Norman D Holbrook) went up the Dardanelles and through a minefield to torpedo and sink the Turkish battleship Messudiyeh. The sub then managed to return safely down the Dardanelles, despite coming under fire from shore batteries and enemy torpedo boats. B11 remained submerged for nine hours during this mission, a remarkable achievement for such a primitive craft. Holbrook was awarded the Victoria Cross - the first submariner to receive this award.

1937: The Chinese city of Nanking (pinyin Nanjing) fell to the Japanese. Japanese troops began carrying out several weeks of raping, looting, killing and destruction. An estimated 300,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians were killed, and 20,000 women were raped.

1939: German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee (Kpt z S Hans Langsdorff) met the Royal Navy's Force G (cruisers HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax and HMNZS Achilles, under Cdre Henry Harwood OBE) near the Rio de la Plata. Exeter was badly damaged, but Graf Spee was forced to flee to the nearby neutral port of Montevideo, Uruguay. Given the choice of having his ship interned, or leaving port to fight the British reinforcements that were on the way, Langsdorff ordered his ship scuttled on 17 December.**

1945: Eleven guards from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp - including commandant Josef Kramer ("The Beast of Belsen"), Irma Grese, Elizabeth Volkenrath and Juana Bormann - were hanged at Hameln for war crimes.

2006: The baiji, or Yangtze river dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer), was reported to be extinct.

Donatello (c 1386–1466), Alexander Selkirk (1676–1721), Thomas Watson (1854-1934), Grandma Moses (1860–1961), Raymond Spruance (1886-1969), Pigmeat Markham (1904-1981) and Zal Yanovsky (1944–2002) died on this date.

And happy birthday to Henry IV of France (1553–1610), Mary Todd Lincoln (1818–1882), Alvin York (1887–1964), Hans-Joachim Marseille (1919-1942), Dick Van Dyke (1925-TBD), Christopher Plummer CC (1929-TBD), Ted Nugent (1948-TBD), John Anderson (1954-TBD), Tamora Pierce (1954-TBD) and Johnny Whitaker (1959-TBD).

* The quote is from General Lee, speaking to Lieutenant General James Longstreet whilst watching the battle.

** Small photo shows Graf Spee; large photo shows HMS Exeter after the battle.

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