Rolls-Royce co-founder dies

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rolls-royce-co-founder-dies

Frederick Henry Royce, who with Charles Stewart Rolls founded the luxury British automaker Rolls-Royce, dies on this day in 1933 at the age of 70 in England.

Royce was born on March 27, 1863, near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England. He grew up in a family of modest means and worked a variety of jobs, eventually becoming an electrician. In the mid-1880s, he founded a business that made electric cranes and electrical generators. In the early 1900s, after purchasing his first car, Royce began designing cars of his own, deciding he could build something better. Royce met British automotive dealer Charles Rolls, who agreed to sell Royce’s cars; the two men later formed a company, Rolls-Royce Limited. Royce, who was known for his attention to detail and perfectionism, served as head engineer. The six-cylinder Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, which debuted in 1906, was dubbed by the British press the world’s “best car.”

In 1910, Charles Rolls died at the age of 32 while piloting his own plane. Royce continued on with their company and during World War I, designed aircraft engines for the Allied forces. Following the war, Rolls-Royce returned to making cars, launching the Phantom I , a vehicle that was “powered by an all-new, pushrod-operated overhead valve engine with detachable cylinder heads–cutting-edge technology for its time,” according to the automotive information Web site Edmunds.com. In 1931, Rolls-Royce acquired rival luxury automaker Bentley. Frederick Henry Royce died on April 22, 1933, at West Wittering, West Sussex, England.

In 1950, Rolls-Royce introduced the powerful and highly exclusive Phantom IV. Only 18 of these cars were produced, according to Edmunds.com, and they all went to royalty and other VIPs. The automaker continued to thrive during the 1950s and 1960s; however, in 1971, Rolls-Royce Ltd. declared bankruptcy after financial troubles related to the development of a jet engine. The company was restructured into two separate businesses: automotive and aircraft. In 1980, the auto company was acquired by a British defense business, Vickers. The following year, the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, a car designed to attract a new generation of buyers, launched.

In the late 1990s, when Vickers decided to sell Rolls-Royce, German automakers Volkswagen and BMW each made a play for the business. VW ended up acquiring the Rolls-Royce production facilities in Crewe, England, while BMW got the rights to the Rolls-Royce car brand. BMW licensed the Rolls-Royce name to VW until the end of 2002, then BMW began producing Rolls-Royce cars in 2003. VW continued to make Bentleys at the Crewe plant.

Germans introduce poison gas

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/germans-introduce-poison-gas

On April 22, 1915, German forces shock Allied soldiers along the western front by firing more than 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas against two French colonial divisions at Ypres, Belgium. This was the first major gas attack by the Germans, and it devastated the Allied line.

Toxic smoke has been used occasionally in warfare since ancient times, and in 1912 the French used small amounts of tear gas in police operations. At the outbreak of World War I, the Germans began actively to develop chemical weapons. In October 1914, the Germans placed some small tear-gas canisters in shells that were fired at Neuve Chapelle, France, but Allied troops were not exposed. In January 1915, the Germans fired shells loaded with xylyl bromide, a more lethal gas, at Russian troops at Bolimov on the eastern front. Because of the wintry cold, most of the gas froze, but the Russians nonetheless reported more than 1,000 killed as a result of the new weapon.

On April 22, 1915, the Germans launched their first and only offensive of the year. Known as the Second Battle of Ypres, the offensive began with the usual artillery bombardment of the enemy’s line. When the shelling died down, the Allied defenders waited for the first wave of German attack troops but instead were thrown into panic when chlorine gas wafted across no-man’s land and down into their trenches. The Germans targeted four miles of the front with the wind-blown poison gas and decimated two divisions of French and Algerian colonial troops. The Allied line was breached, but the Germans, perhaps as shocked as the Allies by the devastating effects of the poison gas, failed to take full advantage, and the Allies held most of their positions.

A second gas attack, against a Canadian division, on April 24, pushed the Allies further back, and by May they had retreated to the town of Ypres. The Second Battle of Ypres ended on May 25, with insignificant gains for the Germans. The introduction of poison gas, however, would have great significance in World War I.

Immediately after the German gas attack at Ypres, France and Britain began developing their own chemical weapons and gas masks. With the Germans taking the lead, an extensive number of projectiles filled with deadly substances polluted the trenches of World War I. Mustard gas, introduced by the Germans in 1917, blistered the skin, eyes, and lungs, and killed thousands. Military strategists defended the use of poison gas by saying it reduced the enemy’s ability to respond and thus saved lives in offensives. In reality, defenses against poison gas usually kept pace with offensive developments, and both sides employed sophisticated gas masks and protective clothing that essentially negated the strategic importance of chemical weapons.

The United States, which entered World War I in 1917, also developed and used chemical weapons. Future president Harry S. Truman was the captain of a U.S. field artillery unit that fired poison gas against the Germans in 1918. In all, more than 100,000 tons of chemical weapons agents were used in World War I, some 500,000 troops were injured, and almost 30,000 died, including 2,000 Americans.

In the years following World War I, Britain, France, and Spain used chemical weapons in various colonial struggles, despite mounting international criticism of chemical warfare. In 1925, the Geneva Protocol of 1925 banned the use of chemical weapons in war but did not outlaw their development or stockpiling. Most major powers built up substantial chemical weapons reserves. In the 1930s, Italy employed chemical weapons against Ethiopia, and Japan used them against China. In World War II, chemical warfare did not occur, primarily because all the major belligerents possessed both chemical weapons and the defenses–such as gas masks, protective clothing, and detectors–that rendered them ineffectual. In addition, in a war characterized by lightning-fast military movement, strategists opposed the use of anything that would delay operations. Germany, however, did use poison gas to murder millions in its extermination camps.

Since World War II, chemical weapons have only been used in a handful of conflicts–the Yemeni conflict of 1966-67, the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88–and always against forces that lacked gas masks or other simple defenses. In 1990, the United States and the Soviet Union signed an agreement to cut their chemical weapons arsenals by 80 percent in an effort to discourage smaller nations from stockpiling the weapons. In 1993, an international treaty was signed banning the production, stockpiling (after 2007), and use of chemical weapons. It took effect in 1997 and has been ratified by 128 nations.

Peruvian President Fujimori orders assault on Japanese ambassador’s home

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/fujimori-orders-assault-on-japanese-ambassadors-home

In Lima, Peru, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori orders a commando assault on the Japanese ambassador’s home, hoping to free 72 hostages held for more than four months by armed members of the Tupac Amaru leftist rebel movement.

On December 16, 1996, 14 Tupac Amaru terrorists, disguised as waiters and caterers, slipped into the home of Japanese Ambassador Morihisa Aoki, where a reception honoring the birthday of the Japanese emperor was being held. The armed terrorists took 490 people hostage. Police promptly surrounded the compound, and the rebels agreed to release 170 women and elderly guests but declared they would kill the remaining 220 if their demands were not met.

The Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) was founded in 1984 as a militant organization dedicated to communist revolution in Peru. A few days after the hostage crisis at the Japanese ambassador’s home began, the rebels released all but 72 hostages and demanded the release of 400 MRTA members imprisoned in Peru. Among the important officials held hostage in the Japanese ambassador’s home were the brother of President Fujimori, Foreign Minister Francisco Tudela; supreme court judges; members of the ruling party; and a number of foreign ambassadors from Japan and elsewhere. President Fujimori, who was known for taking a hard-line stance against leftist guerrillas in Peru, did not give in to the key points of the rebels’ demands and in April 1997 ordered an assault on the complex by a 140-man special forces team.

After secretly warning the hostages 10 minutes before the attack, the special forces team set off a blast in a tunnel underneath the building, which surprised the rebels and killed eight of the 14 immediately. The rest of the elite soldiers attacked from several other directions, overwhelming the remaining terrorists. All 14 rebels were killed in the assault, including the leader, Nestor Cerpa, who was shot multiple times. Only one hostage, Supreme Court Justice Carlos Giusti, was killed in the attack, and of the several soldiers wounded during the rescue operation, two later died from their injuries.

German flying ace, “Red Baron,” killed in action

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/red-baron-killed-in-action-2

In the well-trafficked skies above the Somme River in France, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the notorious German flying ace known as the Red Baron,” is killed by Allied fire on April 21, 1918.

Richthofen, the son of a Prussian nobleman, switched from the German army to the Imperial Air Service in 1915. By 1916, he was terrorizing the skies over the Western Front in an Albatross biplane, downing 15 enemy planes by the end of the year, including one piloted by British flying ace Major Lanoe Hawker. In 1917, Richthofen surpassed all flying-ace records on both sides of the Western Front and began using a Fokker triplane, painted entirely red in tribute to his old cavalry regiment. Although only used during the last eight months of his career, it was this aircraft with which Richthofen was most commonly associated and that led to an enduring English nickname for the German pilot—the Red Baron.

On April 21, 1918, with 80 victories under his belt, Richthofen led his squadron of triplanes deep into Allied territory in France on a search for British observation aircraft. The flight drew the attention of an Allied squadron led by Canadian Royal Air Force pilot Captain Arthur Roy Brown. As Richthofen pursued a plane piloted by Brown’s compatriot, Wilfred R. May, the Red Baron ventured too far into enemy territory and too low to the ground. Two miles behind the Allied lines, just as Brown caught up with Richthofen and fired on him, the chase passed over an Australian machine-gun battery, whose riflemen opened fire. Richthofen was hit in the torso; though he managed to land his plane alongside the road from Corbie to Bray, near Sailley-le-Sac, he was dead by the time Australian troops reached him. Brown is often given credit for downing Richthofen from the air, though some claimed it was actually an Australian gunner on the ground who fired the fatal shot; debate continues to this day.

Manfred von Richthofen was buried by the Allies in a small military cemetery in Bertangles, France, with full military honors. He was 25 years old at the time of his death. His body was later moved to a larger cemetery at Fricourt. In 1925, it was moved again, at the behest of his brother, Karl Bolko, this time to Berlin, where he was buried at Invaliden Cemetery in a large state funeral. In a time of wooden and fabric aircraft, when 20 air victories ensured a pilot legendary status, the Red Baron downed 80 enemy aircraft and went down in history as one of the greatest heroes to emerge from World War I on either side of the conflict.

Red Army overruns German High Command as it approaches the capital

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/red-army-overruns-german-high-command-as-it-approaches-the-capital

On this day in 1945, Soviet forces fighting south of Berlin, at Zossen, assault the headquarters of the German High Command. The only remaining opposing “force” to the Russian invasion of Berlin are the “battle groups” of Hitler Youth, teenagers with anti-tank guns, strategically placed in parks and suburban streets. In a battle at Eggersdorf, 70 of these Hitler teens strove to fight off a Russian assault with a mere three anti-tank guns. They were bulldozed by Russian tanks and infantry.

Also on this day in 1945, British Guardsman Edward Charlton wins the last Victoria Cross of the war for saving the lives of several men trapped in their tank during a battle in the German village of Wistedt. He is so badly wounded during his act of heroism that he dies shortly after being taken prisoner. A total of 182 Victoria Crosses—Britain’s highest honor for valor—were finally awarded for World War II.

Rome founded

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rome-founded

According to tradition, on April 21, 753 B.C., Romulus and his twin brother, Remus, found Rome on the site where they were suckled by a she-wolf as orphaned infants. Actually, the Romulus and Remus myth originated sometime in the fourth century B.C., and the exact date of Rome’s founding was set by the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro in the first century B.C.

According to the legend, Romulus and Remus were the sons of Rhea Silvia, the daughter of King Numitor of Alba Longa. Alba Longa was a mythical city located in the Alban Hills southeast of what would become Rome. Before the birth of the twins, Numitor was deposed by his younger brother Amulius, who forced Rhea to become a vestal virgin so that she would not give birth to rival claimants to his title. However, Rhea was impregnated by the war god Mars and gave birth to Romulus and Remus. Amulius ordered the infants drowned in the Tiber, but they survived and washed ashore at the foot of the Palatine hill, where they were suckled by a she-wolf until they were found by the shepherd Faustulus.

Reared by Faustulus and his wife, the twins later became leaders of a band of young shepherd warriors. After learning their true identity, they attacked Alba Longa, killed the wicked Amulius, and restored their grandfather to the throne. The twins then decided to found a town on the site where they had been saved as infants. They soon became involved in a petty quarrel, however, and Remus was slain by his brother. Romulus then became ruler of the settlement, which was named “Rome” after him.

To populate his town, Romulus offered asylum to fugitives and exiles. Rome lacked women, however, so Romulus invited the neighboring Sabines to a festival and abducted their women. A war then ensued, but the Sabine women intervened to prevent the Sabine men from seizing Rome. A peace treaty was drawn up, and the communities merged under the joint rule of Romulus and the Sabine king, Titus Tatius. Tatius’ early death, perhaps perpetrated by Romulus, left the Roman as the sole king again. After a long and successful rule, Romulus died under obscure circumstances. Many Romans believed he was changed into a god and worshipped him as the deity Quirinus. After Romulus, there were six more kings of Rome, the last three believed to be Etruscans. Around 509 B.C., the Roman republic was established.

Another Roman foundation legend, which has its origins in ancient Greece, tells of how the mythical Trojan Aeneas founded Lavinium and started a dynasty that would lead to the birth of Romulus and Remus several centuries later. In the Iliad, an epic Greek poem probably composed by Homer in the eighth century B.C., Aeneas was the only major Trojan hero to survive the Greek destruction of Troy. A passage told of how he and his descendants would rule the Trojans, but since there was no record of any such dynasty in Troy, Greek scholars proposed that Aeneas and his followers relocated.

In the fifth century B.C., a few Greek historians speculated that Aeneas settled at Rome, which was then still a small city-state. In the fourth century B.C., Rome began to expand within the Italian peninsula, and Romans, coming into greater contact with the Greeks, embraced the suggestion that Aeneas had a role in the foundation of their great city. In the first century B.C., the Roman poet Virgil developed the Aeneas myth in his epic poem the Aeneid, which told of Aeneas’ journey to Rome. Augustus, the first Roman emperor and emperor during Virgil’s time, and Julius Caesar, his great-uncle and predecessor as Roman ruler, were said to be descended from Aeneas.

Chinese students begin protests at Tiananmen Square

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/chinese-students-begin-protests-at-tiananmen-square

Six days after the death of Hu Yaobang, the deposed reform-minded leader of the Chinese Communist Party, some 100,000 students gather at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to commemorate Hu and voice their discontent with China’s authoritative communist government. The next day, an official memorial service for Hu Yaobang was held in Tiananmen’s Great Hall of the People, and student representatives carried a petition to the steps of the Great Hall, demanding to meet with Premier Li Peng. The Chinese government refused such a meeting, leading to a general boycott of Chinese universities across the country and widespread calls for democratic reforms.

Ignoring government warnings of violent suppression of any mass demonstration, students from more than 40 universities began a march to Tiananmen on April 27. The students were joined by workers, intellectuals, and civil servants, and by mid-May more than a million people filled the square, the site of communist leader’s Mao Zedong’s proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. On May 20, the government formally declared martial law in Beijing, and troops and tanks were called in to disperse the dissidents. However, large numbers of students and citizens blocked the army’s advance, and by May 23 government forces had pulled back to the outskirts of Beijing.

On June 3, with negotiations to end the protests stalled and calls for democratic reforms escalating, the troops received orders from the Chinese government to reclaim Tiananmen at all costs. By the end of the next day, Chinese troops had forcibly cleared Tiananmen Square and Beijing’s streets, killing hundreds of demonstrators and arresting thousands of protesters and other suspected dissidents. In the weeks after the government crackdown, an unknown number of dissidents were executed, and communist hard-liners took firm control of the country.

The international community was outraged at the incident, and economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries sent China’s economy into decline. However, by late 1990, international trade had resumed, thanks in part to China’s release of several hundred imprisoned dissidents.

Red Baron killed in action

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/red-baron-killed-in-action

In the skies over Vauz sur Somme, France, Manfred von Richthofen, the notorious German flying ace known as “The Red Baron,” is killed by Allied fire.

Richthofen, the son of a Prussian nobleman, switched from the German army to the Imperial Air Service in 1915. By 1916, he was terrorizing the skies over the western front in an Albatross biplane, downing 15 enemy planes by the end of the year, including one piloted by British flying ace Major Lanoe Hawker. In 1917, Richthofen surpassed all flying ace records on both sides of the western front and began using a Fokker triplane, painted entirely red in tribute to his old cavalry regiment. Although only used during the last eight months of his career, it is this aircraft that Richthofen was most commonly associated with and it led to an enduring English nickname for the German pilot–the Red Baron.

On April 21, 1918, with 80 victories under his belt, Richthofen penetrated deep into Allied territory in pursuit of a British aircraft. The Red Baron was flying too near the ground–an Australian gunner shot him through his chest, and his plane crashed into a field alongside the road from Corbie to Bray. Another account has Captain A. Roy Brown, a Canadian in the Royal Air Force, shooting him down. British troops recovered his body, and he was buried with full military honors. He was 25 years old. In a time of wooden and fabric aircraft, when 20 air victories ensured a pilot legendary status, Manfred von Richthofen downed 80 enemy aircraft.

Texas militia routes Mexicans in the Battle of San Jacinto

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-battle-of-san-jacinto

During the Texan War for Independence, the Texas militia under Sam Houston launches a surprise attack against the forces of Mexican General Santa Anna along the San Jacinto River. The Mexicans were thoroughly routed, and hundreds were taken prisoner, including General Santa Anna himself.

After gaining independence from Spain in the 1820s, Mexico welcomed foreign settlers to sparsely populated Texas, and a large group of Americans led by Stephen F. Austin settled along the Brazos River. The Americans soon outnumbered the resident Mexicans, and by the 1830s attempts by the Mexican government to regulate these semi-autonomous American communities led to rebellion. In March 1836, in the midst of armed conflict with the Mexican government, Texas declared its independence from Mexico.

The Texas volunteers initially suffered defeat against the forces of Santa Anna–Sam Houston’s troops were forced into an eastward retreat, and the Alamo fell. However, in late April, Houston’s army surprised a Mexican force at San Jacinto, and Santa Anna was captured, bringing an end to Mexico’s effort to subdue Texas. In exchange for his freedom, Santa Anna recognized Texas’s independence; although the treaty was later abrogated and tensions built up along the Texas-Mexico border.

The citizens of the so-called Lone Star Republic elected Sam Houston as president and endorsed the entrance of Texas into the United States. However, the likelihood of Texas joining the Union as a slave state delayed any formal action by the U.S. Congress for more than a decade. Finally, in 1845, President John Tyler orchestrated a compromise in which Texas would join the United States as a slave state. On December 29, 1845, Texas entered the United States as the 28th state, broadening the irrepressible differences in the U.S. over the issue of slavery and igniting the Mexican-American War.

“Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” tops the U.S. pop charts and creates a cultural phenomenon

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/tie-a-yellow-ribbon-round-the-old-oak-tree-tops-the-u-s-pop-charts-and-creates-a-cultural-phenomenon

The yellow ribbon has long been a symbol of support for absent or missing loved ones. There are some who believe that the tradition of the yellow ribbon dates back as far as the Civil War era, when a yellow ribbon in a woman’s hair indicated that she was “taken” by a man who was absent due to service in the United States Army Cavalry. But research by professional folklorists has found no evidence to support that story. The Library of Congress itself traces the cultural ubiquity of this powerful symbol to the well-known song by Tony Orlando and Dawn: “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” which topped the U.S. pop charts on this day in 1973.

“Tie a Yellow Ribbon” was a massive international hit, holding the top spot on both the U.S. and U.K. charts for four consecutive weeks and earning upwards of 3 million radio plays in 1973. It was sung from the perspective of a man returning home after three years in prison and looking anxiously for an agreed-upon sign that the woman he loves would welcome his return. Songwriters Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown got the idea for the song from a story they’d heard while in the Army. New York newspaper columnist Pete Hamill sued Levine and Brown for copyright infringement because he believed they took the idea from a 1971 column of his relating a very similar story as fact. Hamill dropped his suit, however, when researchers uncovered multiple versions of the same general tale dating back at least as far as the 1950s. “Probably the story is one of these mysterious bits of folklore that emerge from the national subconscious to be told anew in one form or another,” Hamill said at the time. To use a more familiar term, it was an urban legend.

Fast-forward to January 1981, when the Library of Congress was inundated by press inquiries over the historical roots of the yellow ribbon. What prompted the sudden interest in the origins of the “tradition” was the spontaneous appearance all around the country of yellow ribbons welcoming the U.S. hostages home after 444 days in captivity in Iran. The Library’s experts heard assertions of connections to the 1949 John Wayne film She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and they found a 1917 song called “”Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon (For her Lover Who Is Fur, Fur Away),” but they found no actual evidence of anyone ever actually wearing yellow ribbons or tying them to trees, lampposts, etc. Instead, the Library of Congress ruled that the most compelling evidence explaining the origin of the yellow-ribbon “tradition” was to be found in a television interview with Penelope Laingen, wife of the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Tehran, whose ribbon-bedecked Maryland home appears to have started the trend in 1981. “It just came to me,” she said, “to give people something to do, rather than throw dog food at Iranians. I said, ‘Why don’t they tie a yellow ribbon around an old oak tree.’ That’s how it started.” Her reported inspiration: the Tony Orlando song that reached #1 on this day in 1973.