This Day in History (28-Nov-1943) – US President Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Churchill and Soviet Chairman Stalin meet for the Tehran Conference

During World War II, in November 1943, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met together in Teheran, Iran, to discuss military strategy and post-war Europe, in a conference codenamed Eureka. Ever since the Soviet Union had entered the war, Stalin had been demanding that the Allies open-up a second front in Europe. Stalin, who always favoured in offensive strategy, believed that there were political, as well as military reasons for the Allies’ failure to open up a second front in Europe. Stalin was still highly suspicious of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt and was worried about them signing a peace agreement with Adolf Hitler. The foreign policies of the capitalist countries since the October Revolution had convinced Stalin that their main objective was the destruction of the communist system in the Soviet Union. Stalin was fully aware that if Britain and the USA withdrew from the war, the Red Army would have great difficulty in dealing with Germany on its own.

At Teheran, Joseph Stalin reminded Churchill and Roosevelt of a previous promise of landing troops in Western Europe in 1942. Later they postponed it to the spring of 1943. Stalin complained that it was now November and there was still no sign of an allied invasion of France. After lengthy discussions, it was agreed that the Allies would mount a major offensive in the spring of 1944. Roosevelt and Churchill also accepted Stalin’s demands regarding Poland’s post-war boundaries, which would give the Soviets Lwów, Wilno, and Poland’s eastern Kresy territory occupied by Stalin under his 1939 alliance with Nazi Germany. Churchill proposed that Poland, in return, be compensated with a corresponding slice of Germany. They all agreed that they would continue to make available to the Government of Iran economic assistance as may be possible, having regard to the heavy demands made upon them by their world-wide military operations.

The D-Day landings in June, 1944 took the pressure off the Red Army and from that date they made steady progress into territory held by Germany bringing World war II to end.


This Day in History (11-Nov-1918) – World War I Ends at the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was shot to death with his wife by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for settling the problem of Slavic nationalism once and for all. As Russia supported Serbia, an Austro-Hungarian leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention.

On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers collapsed. On July 29, Austro-Hungarian forces began to shell the Serbian capital, Belgrade, and Russia, Serbia’s ally, ordered a troop mobilization against Austria-Hungary. France, allied with Russia, began to mobilize on August 1. France and Germany declared war against each other on August 3. After crossing through neutral Luxembourg, the German army invaded Belgium on the night of August 3-4, prompting Great Britain, Belgium’s ally, to declare war against Germany.  Most patriotically assumed that their country would be victorious within months.

By summer of 1918, assaults by the British and French rolled back the German opposition. As September ended, it became clear to German officers that the time to sue for peace had come. On November 9th, Kaiser Wilhelm officially stepped down from the German throne as part of the conditions for the cease-fire. Orders were soon shipped through to commanders near the front lines on both sides: fighting would officially come to an end at November 11, 1918 at 11am. The end of combat operations was greeted with cheers from all angles.

World War I had resulted in an estimated 30 million deaths and injuries among the troops, with an additional 10 million civilian casualties. The advent of new technologies to deal death — tanks, airplanes equipped with bombs, mustard gas — wreaked destruction on unprecedented levels. Saddling the Germans with heavy responsibility and extensive financial obligations, the Treaty of Versailles announced on June 28, 1919, triggered the World War II.



This Day in History (7-Nov-1917) – The October Revolution of 1917

February Revolution in 1917 overthrew the Tsarist autocracy and established a provisional government in Russia composed predominantly of former nobles and aristocrats. In April 1917, Lenin and other revolutionaries returned to Russia from exile. Lenin galvanized the small and theretofore cautious Bolshevik party into action. The courses he advocated were simplified into the powerful slogans “end the war,””all land to the peasants,” and “all power to the soviets.”

The provisional government and the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary leaders in the soviet lost support from the impatient soldiers and workers, who turned to the Bolsheviks. Although the Bolsheviks were a minority in the first all-Russian congress of soviets (June), they continued to gain influence. Conservative and even some moderate elements, who wished to limit the power of the soviets, rallied around General Kornilov, who attempted to seize Petrograd by force. At Kerensky’s request, the Bolsheviks and other socialists came to the defense of the provisional government and the attempt was put down. From mid-September on the Bolsheviks had a majority in the Petrograd soviet, and Lenin urged the soviet to seize power.

On the night of Nov. 6, the Bolsheviks staged an coup, engineered by Trotsky; aided by the workers’ Red Guard and the sailors of Kronstadt, they captured the government buildings and the Winter Palace in Petrograd. A second all-Russian congress of soviets met and approved the coup after the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries walked out of the meeting. A cabinet, known as the Council of People’s Commissars, was set up with Lenin as chairman, Trotsky as foreign commissar, Rykov as interior commissar, and Stalin as commissar of nationalities.

The second congress immediately called for cessation of hostilities, gave private and church lands to village soviets, and abolished private property. Old marriage and divorce laws were discarded, the church was attacked, workers’ control was introduced into the factories, the banks were nationalized, and a supreme economic council was formed to run the economy. October revolution was followed by civil war finally leading to the creation of ‘Soviet Union’.



This Day in History (19-Oct-1812) – Napoleon Retreats from Russia

Throughout Napoleon’s career as a General, he built a reputation for conceiving ambitious battle plans and somehow managing to pull them off. By 1812, the French Empire had far outgrown the borders that existed when Napoleon took the reins of the army in 1796. On hearing news of revolt in Russia, Napolean built an army of as many as 500,000 men, the largest army in Europe,  and launched forward for a 600-mile march from Poland to Moscow, with supply wagons carrying 30 days of food. Entering Russia Napolean realized that road network was very bad, unlike Europe, causing discomfort on all the fronts.

Knowing his soldiers would be unable to overcome the invaders in direct confrontation, Russian General Mikhail Kutuzov managed to avoid a frontal assault altogether. Acting in a hit-and-run manner while pulling off an organized retreat, his troops burned everything in sight as they slowly pulled within the city of Moscow in early September. Following the Russians through burned out forests, the French would find the land bereft of resources, leaving them hungry and fatigued by the time they made camp. The situation was just as bad for the horses. Grazing along the road or in a meadow was not adequate to maintain a healthy horse. On September 7th, the Russians stepped forward to face the French at the Battle of Borodino, near a village on the outskirts of Moscow. The two armies clashed in a fierce, day-long engagement that left almost 80,000 dead, possibly the bloodiest day Europe has ever seen. Napoleon marched his army in assuming he would find ample supplies and downtrodden citizens. He saw neither as Russians had burned everything and left. After spending four weeks in the city, Napoleon realized he would not be welcoming a Russian party suing for peace. It was also a bone-chilling below zero cold that few had experienced before. The weak soldiers died of winter. Naplean opted to march home. Lumbering to the southwest, the French suddenly found the Russians eager for a fight. Starving and weary, Napoleon’s soldiers were easy targets for relentless attacks. After leading most of his soldiers across the Morava River in modern Slovakia, an impatient Napoleon burned the bridges with some 10,000 waiting to cross. Two months after leaving Moscow, the French army made it to safety on December 14th, with just 100,000 survivors, only 1 in 5 of the men who had left returned.



This Day in History (8-May-1945) – World War II Officially Ends in Europe, Leading to Massive “V-E Day” Celebrations

Following the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, it seemed as if the Nazi war machine would be nearly unstoppable for almost four years. In battle after battle, Hitler’s soldiers vanquished every foe in front of them in every direction. Early in 1943, the Soviets began to roll the Germans back along the Eastern Front after the Battle of Stalingrad, benefitting from superior manpower and shorter supply lines, not to mention the foolishness of Hitler’s battle plans. By mid-April 1945, the situation was bleak for the Nazis: the Soviets had pushed to within a few dozen miles of Berlin and the Allies were moving rapidly through western Germany.

On April 30th, as the Red Army pelted the German capital, Hitler committed suicide in his personal bunker, leaving Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz to make the decision of when to begin negotiating peace. Seven days later, soldiers of the Third Reich were ordered to put down their weapons and surrender to Allied forces at Reims. On Monday May 7th at 02.41, German General Jodl signed the unconditional surrender document at Reims, France; that formally ended war in Europe. At 19.40 the UK Ministry of Information made a short announcement: “In accordance with arrangements between the three great powers, tomorrow, Tuesday, will be treated as Victory in Europe Day and will be regarded as a holiday.”

After nearly six years at war, Europe was finally able to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Millions of people gathered in cities all over the world to celebrate the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. With more than 16 million soldiers and at least 23 million citizens killed in Europe alone — approximately 1 of every 10 people — World War II had taken a tremendous toll. While Europe was awash with street parties and bonfires to celebrate VE Day, thousands of miles away, British and Commonwealth Armed Forces were still fighting in Burma, Singapore and Thailand. Japan finally surrendered on 15 August 1945 – VJ (Victory over Japan) Day.



This Day in History (28-Apr-2001) – Dennis Tito, becomes the first space tourist by joining the crew of Soyuz TM-32 aboard the International Space Station

After a successful career at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dennis Tito, engineer byprofession,  lost his job during massive budget cutbacks NASA suffered in the early 1970s. He went on to study finance at the University of California, Los Angeles. Tito then formed the investment firm Wilshire Associates, where he applied the computer modeling and mathematical analysis he learned as a rocket scientists to the stock market. Tito’s investments made him a wealthy man. During this time, MirCorp , the America-based company had signed a lease to commercialize the Russian space station Mir. It was looking for wealthy clients to become the world’s first space tourists. Tito had earned enough money and wanted to visit space since NASA days. He quickly signed for it.

But due to lack of funding Mir space station was discarded. However Russians had other ideas. They agreed to sell Tito the third seat on a replacement Soyuz spacecraft heading for the International Space Station (ISS) for a reported $20 million. Another American company, Space Adventures, took over responsibility for arranging the flight. NASA officials refused to let Tito train with the cosmonauts stating the timing of the flight was premature. The Russians didn’t budge, and five days later NASA relented. Tito agreed to release NASA from any liability in case anything went wrong and to pay for any damages he caused to the station. He also agreed to stay in the Russian part of ISS.

Launch day came on April 28, 2001. The Soyuz rocket was launched from Kazakhstan. Two days later, Tito’s Soyuz TM-32 spacecraft docked safely at the space station. Tito had become the first space tourist. Tito spent most of the eight-day flight taking pictures, enjoying the weightless environment of space, and performing several experiments. At the end of the stay, Tito and his crew mates climbed aboard the Soyuz TM-31 spacecraft and landed safely. “It was paradise,” Tito said, “I just came back from paradise.”



This Day in History (26-Apr-1986) – Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (Russia) Experiences a Meltdown

The Chernobyl Power Complex, lying about 130 km north of Kiev, Ukraine, consisted of four nuclear reactors of the RBMK-1000 design. On 25 April, prior to a routine shutdown, the reactor crew at Chernobyl 4 began preparing for a test to determine how long turbines would spin and supply power to the main circulating pumps following a loss of main electrical power supply.  A series of operator actions, including the disabling of automatic shutdown mechanisms, preceded the attempted test early on 26 April. By the time that the operator moved to shut down the reactor, the reactor was in an extremely unstable condition. The crew initiated an emergency shutdown in response. However the amount of power generated actually rocketed up and blew the seals on the reactor vessel.

Firefighters were on the scene within minutes to contain the blaze, with additional ground teams and helicopters arriving from as far away as Kiev in two hours. By 6:35am, the external fires were extinguished and only the inferno inside Unit 4 continued to burn, as it would for another two weeks. From the second to tenth day after the accident, some 5000 tonnes of boron, dolomite, sand, clay and lead were dropped on to the burning core by helicopter in an effort to extinguish the blaze and limit the release of radioactive particles. Many citizens reported feeling ill by morning, coughing and vomiting involuntarily. It would not be until 2:00pm the following day — nearly 37 hours after the explosion — that officials began moving citizens out of the area. In a matter of hours, the town was empty.

The morning of April 28th, workers nearly 700 miles away at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden were stopped when trace amounts of radioactive material were found on their clothes. Swedish administrators discovered by midday that the isotopes were from another location. In time, the fallout would reach as far away as the mountainous regions of Scotland, exposing Europeans to harmful radiation largely without their knowledge — and, until the Swedes brought their information onto the national stage, without a Soviet admission of guilt.