American vessel sunk by sperm whale

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/american-vessel-sunk-by-sperm-whale

The American whaler Essex, which hailed from Nantucket, Massachusetts, is attacked by an 80-ton sperm whale 2,000 miles from the western coast of South America.

The 238-ton Essex was in pursuit of sperm whales, specifically the precious oil and bone that could be derived from them, when an enraged bull whale rammed the ship twice and capsized the vessel. The 20 crew members escaped in three open boats, but only five of the men survived the harrowing 83-day journey to the coastal waters of South America, where they were picked up by other ships. Most of the crew resorted to cannibalism during the long journey, and at one point men on one of the long boats drew straws to determine which of the men would be shot in order to provide sustenance for the others. Three other men who had been left on a desolate Pacific island were saved later.

The first capture of a sperm whale by an American vessel was in 1711, marking the birth of an important American industry that commanded a fleet of more than 700 ships by the mid 18th century. Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick (1851) was inspired in part by the story of the Essex.

Princess Elizabeth marries Philip Mountbatten

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/princess-elizabeth-marries-philip-mountbatten

In a lavish wedding ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London, Princess Elizabeth marries her distant cousin, Philip Mountbatten, a dashing former prince of Greece and Denmark who renounced his titles in order to marry the English princess.

Princess Elizabeth, heir to the British throne, was 21 years old. Philip Mountbatten, age 26, had fought as a British naval officer during World War II and was made the duke of Edinburgh on the eve of his wedding to Elizabeth. The celebrations surrounding the wedding of the popular princess lifted the spirits of the people of Britain, who were enduring economic difficulties in the aftermath of World War II.

On February 6, 1952, the death of King George VI sent Elizabeth to the throne, and Philip ended his naval career to concentrate on his new duties as consort of the British monarch. Elizabeth and Philip eventually had four children–Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward.

American consul in China held “hostage” by communists

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/american-consul-in-china-held-hostage-by-communists

In what begins as a fairly minor incident, the American consul and his staff in Mukden, China, are made virtual hostages by communist forces in China. The crisis did not end until a year later, by which time U.S. relations with the new communist government in China had been seriously damaged.Mukden was one of the first major trade centers in China to be occupied by Mao’s communist forces in October 1948 during the revolution against the Nationalist Chinese government. In November, American Consul Angus Ward refused to surrender the consulate’s radio transmitter to the communists. In response, armed troops surrounded the consulate, trapping Ward and 21 staff members. The Chinese cut off all communication, as well as water and electricity. For months, almost nothing was heard from Ward and the other Americans.The U.S. response to the situation was to first order the consulate closed and call for the withdrawal of Ward and his staff. However, Ward was prevented from doing so after the Chinese communists, in June 1949, charged the consulate with being a headquarters for spies. With the situation worsening, the United States tried to exert diplomatic pressure by calling upon its allies to withhold recognition of the new communist Chinese government. Chinese forces thereupon arrested Ward, charging him and some of his staff with inciting a riot outside the consulate in October 1949. President Harry Truman was incensed at this action and met with his military advisors to discuss the feasibility of military action. Secretary of State Dean Acheson bluntly and angrily informed the new People’s Republic of China that no U.S. recognition would ever be forthcoming until the Americans at Mukden were released. On November 24, 1949, Ward and his staff were allowed to leave the consulate. Ward and four other Americans had actually been found guilty of the inciting-to-riot charge and were ordered deported. Together with the other Americans, they left China in December. The Chinese actions, which are still difficult to explain or understand, no doubt damaged any possibilities that might have existed for U.S. recognition of the People’s Republic of China. Truman, already under heavy attacks at home for not “saving” the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, could ill-afford to show weakness in dealing with the Chinese communists, particularly after the arrest of Ward and the other Americans so angered the American public.

Chaplain Charles Watters receives Medal of Honor

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For action this date, Chaplain (Major) Charles Watters of the 173rd Airborne Brigade is awarded the Medal of Honor. Chaplain Watters was serving with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry when it conducted an attack against North Vietnamese forces entrenched on Hill 875 during the Battle of Dak To. The Catholic priest from New Jersey moved among the paratroopers during the intense fighting, giving encouragement and first aid to the wounded. At least six times he left the defensive perimeter with total disregard regard for his own personal safety to retrieve casualties and take them for medical attention. Once he was satisfied that all of the wounded were inside the perimeter, he busied himself helping the medics, applying bandages, and providing spiritual strength and support. According to reports filed by survivors of the battle, Father Watters was on his knees giving last rites to a dying soldier when an American bomber accidentally dropped a 500-pound bomb onto the group of paratroopers. Father Watters was killed instantly. He was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor on November 4, 1969, in a ceremony at the White House.

Also on this date: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passes a resolution to curb the commitment of U.S. armed forces and a resolution urging the President Johnson to take the initiative to have the Vietnamese conflict brought before the United Nations Security Council.

Pele scores 1,000th goal

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/pele-scores-1000th-goal

Brazilian soccer great Pele scores his 1,000th professional goal in a game, against Vasco da Gama in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium. It was a major milestone in an illustrious career that included three World Cup championships.

Pele, considered one of the greatest soccer players ever to take the field, was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in Tres Coracos, Brazil, in 1940. He acquired the nickname Pele during his childhood though the name has no meaning in his native Portuguese. When he was a teenager, he played for a minor league soccer club in Bauru in Sao Paulo state and in 1956 joined the major league Santos Football Club in the city of Sao Paulo, playing inside left forward. Two years later, he led the Brazilian national team to victory in the World Cup. Pele, who was only 17 years old, scored two goals to defeat Sweden in the final.

Pele was blessed with speed, balance, control, power, and an uncanny ability to anticipate the movements of his opponents and teammates. Although just five feet eight inches tall, he was a giant on the field, leading Santos to three national club championships, two South American championships, and the world club title in 1963. Under Pele’s leadership, Brazil won the World Cup in 1958, 1962, and 1970. In 1970, Brazil was granted permanent possession of the World Cup’s Jules Rimet Trophy as a tribute to its dominance. On November 19, 1969, Pele scored his 1,000th goal on a penalty kick against Vasco da Gama. Eighty thousand adoring fans in Maracana stadium cheered him wildly, even though Santos was the opposing team.

Pele announced his retirement in 1974 but in 1975 accepted a $7 million contract to play with the New York Cosmos. He led the Cosmos to a league championship in 1977 and did much to promote soccer in the United States. On October 1, 1977, in Giants Stadium, he played his last professional game in a Cosmos match against his old team Santos.

During his long career, Pele scored 1,282 goals in 1,363 games. In 1978, Pele was given the International Peace Award and in 1993 he was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Since retiring, he has acted as an international ambassador for his sport and has worked with the United Nations and UNICEF to promote peace and international reconciliation through friendly athletic competition.

Sadat visits Israel

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In an unprecedented move for an Arab leader, Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat travels to Jerusalem to seek a permanent peace settlement with Israel after decades of conflict. Sadat’s visit, in which he met with Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and spoke before the Knesset (Parliament), was met with outrage in most of the Arab world.

Despite criticism from Egypt’s regional allies, Sadat continued to pursue peace with Begin, and in 1978 the two leaders met again in the United States, where they negotiated a historic agreement with President Jimmy Carter at Camp David, Maryland. The Camp David Accords, signed in September 1978, laid the groundwork for a permanent peace agreement between Egypt and Israel after three decades of hostilities. The final peace agreement–the first between Israel and one of its Arab neighbors–was signed in March 1979. The treaty ended the state of war between the two countries and provided for the establishment of full diplomatic and commercial relations.

Sadat and Begin were jointly awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. However, Sadat’s peace efforts were not so highly acclaimed in the Arab world, and he was assassinated on October 6, 1981, by Muslim extremists in Cairo. Despite Sadat’s death, the peace process continued under Egypt’s new president, Hosni Mubarak. In 1982, Israel fulfilled the 1979 peace treaty by returning the last segment of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Egyptian-Israeli peace continues today.

Soviet counterattack at Stalingrad

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The Soviet Red Army under General Georgi Zhukov launches Operation Uranus, the great Soviet counteroffensive that turned the tide in the Battle of Stalingrad.

On June 22, 1941, despite the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, Nazi Germany launched a massive invasion against the USSR. Aided by its greatly superior air force, the German army raced across the Russian plains, inflicting terrible casualties on the Red Army and the Soviet population. With the assistance of troops from their Axis allies, the Germans conquered vast territory, and by mid October the great Russian cities of Leningrad and Moscow were under siege. However, the Soviets held on, and the coming of winter forced the German offensive to pause.

For the 1942 summer offensive, Adolf Hitler ordered the Sixth Army, under General Friedrich von Paulus, to take Stalingrad in the south, an industrial center and obstacle to Nazi control of the precious Caucasus oil wells. In August, the German Sixth Army made advances across the Volga River while the German Fourth Air Fleet reduced Stalingrad to burning rubble, killing more than 40,000 civilians. In early September, General Paulus ordered the first offensives into Stalingrad, estimating that it would take his army about 10 days to capture the city. Thus began one of the most horrific battles of World War II and arguably the most important because it was the turning point in the war between Germany and the USSR.

In their attempt to take Stalingrad, the German Sixth Army faced General Vasily Zhukov leading a bitter Red Army employing the ruined city to their advantage, transforming destroyed buildings and rubble into natural defensive fortifications. In a method of fighting the Germans began to call the Rattenkrieg, or “Rat’s War,” the opposing forces broke into squads eight or 10 strong and fought each other for every house and yard of territory. The battle saw rapid advances in street-fighting technology, such as a German machine gun that shot around corners and a light Russian plane that glided silently over German positions at night, dropping bombs without warning. However, both sides lacked necessary food, water, or medical supplies, and tens of thousands perished every week.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was determined to liberate the city named after him, and in November he ordered massive reinforcements to the area. On November 19, General Zhukov launched a great Soviet counteroffensive out of the rubble of Stalingrad. German command underestimated the scale of the counterattack, and the Sixth Army was quickly overwhelmed by the offensive, which involved 500,000 Soviet troops, 900 tanks, and 1,400 aircraft. Within three days, the entire German force of more than 200,000 men was encircled.

Italian and Romanian troops at Stalingrad surrendered, but the Germans hung on, receiving limited supplies by air and waiting for reinforcements. Hitler ordered Von Paulus to remain in place and promoted him to field marshal, as no Nazi field marshal had ever surrendered. Starvation and the bitter Russian winter took as many lives as the merciless Soviet troops, and on January 21, 1943, the last of the airports held by the Germans fell to the Soviets, completely cutting off the Germans from supplies. On January 31, Von Paulus surrendered German forces in the southern sector, and on February 2 the remaining German troops surrendered. Only 90,000 German soldiers were still alive, and of these only 5,000 troops would survive the Soviet prisoner-of-war camps and make it back to Germany.

The Battle of Stalingrad turned the tide in the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. General Zhukov, who had played such an important role in the victory, later led the Soviet drive on Berlin. On May 1, 1945, he personally accepted the German surrender of Berlin. Von Paulus, meanwhile, agitated against Adolf Hitler among the German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union and in 1946 provided testimony at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. After his release by the Soviets in 1953, he settled in East Germany.

Lincoln delivers Gettysburg Address

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincoln-delivers-gettysburg-address

On November 19, 1863, at the dedication of a military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln delivers one of the most memorable speeches in American history. In just 272 words, Lincoln brilliantly and movingly reminded a war-weary public why the Union had to fight, and win, the Civil War.

The Battle of Gettysburg, fought some four months earlier, was the single bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Over the course of three days, more than 45,000 men were killed, injured, captured or went missing. The battle also proved to be the turning point of the war: General Robert E. Lee’s defeat and retreat from Gettysburg marked the last Confederate invasion of Northern territory and the beginning of the Southern army’s ultimate decline.

Charged by Pennsylvania’s governor, Andrew Curtin, to care for the Gettysburg dead, an attorney named David Wills bought 17 acres of pasture to turn into a cemetery for the more than 7,500 who fell in battle. Wills invited Edward Everett, one of the most famous orators of the day, to deliver a speech at the cemetery’s dedication. Almost as an afterthought, Wills also sent a letter to Lincoln—just two weeks before the ceremony—requesting “a few appropriate remarks” to consecrate the grounds.

At the dedication, the crowd listened for two hours to Everett before Lincoln spoke. Lincoln’s address lasted just two or three minutes. The speech reflected his redefined belief that the Civil War was not just a fight to save the Union, but a struggle for freedom and equality for all, an idea Lincoln had not championed in the years leading up to the war. This was his stirring conclusion: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Reception of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was initially mixed, divided strictly along partisan lines. Nevertheless, the “little speech,” as he later called it, is thought by many today to be the most eloquent articulation of the democratic vision ever written.

Sandy Koufax retires

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/sandy-koufax-retires

On November 18, 1966, Sandy Koufax, the ace pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, retires from baseball. He was just 30 years old, and he was retiring after a great season–he’d led the Dodgers to a National League pennant and won his third Cy Young award. But he had chronic arthritis in his pitching arm, and he was afraid that if he kept playing baseball, eventually he wouldn’t be able to use his left hand at all. “In those days there was no surgery,” he said much later. “The wisdom was if you went in there, it would only make things worse and your career would be over, anyway. Now you go in, fix it, and you’re OK for next spring.”

Koufax entered the majors in 1955, when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. He didn’t do much for the Bums at the beginning of his career–his arm was powerful but he didn’t have much control over his pitches–but after the team moved to Los Angeles, Koufax began to settle down and throw much more consistently. In a game against the Giants in 1959, he tied the major league strikeout record (18); the next season, though he only won eight games, he struck out 197 batters in 175 innings.

In 1961, Koufax really hit his stride: He went 18-13 and led the majors in strikeouts, something he would do four times between 1961 and 1966. Meanwhile, during those six seasons he led the league three times in wins and shutouts, and twice he threw more complete games than any other pitcher. He set a new major-league season strikeout record–382–in 1965. (Only Nolan Ryan has since struck out more batters in a single season.) Koufax threw one no-hitter every year from 1962 to 1965, and in 1965 he threw a perfect game. His pitches were notoriously difficult to hit; getting the bat on a Koufax fastball, Pittsburgh’s Willie Stargell once said, was like “trying to drink coffee with a fork.”

But what Sandy Koufax is perhaps most famous for is his refusal, in 1965, to pitch the first game of the World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. (Don Drysdale pitched instead, and gave up seven runs in the first three innings; “I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too,” he said when the team’s manager pulled him out of the game.) In 1971, the 36-year-old Koufax became the youngest person ever to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Nixon appeals to Congress for funds for Cambodia

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nixon-appeals-to-congress-for-funds-for-cambodia

President Nixon asks Congress for supplemental appropriations for the Cambodian government of Premier Lon Nol. Nixon requested $155 million in new funds for Cambodia—$85 million of which would be for military assistance, mainly in the form of ammunition. He also asked for an additional $100 million to restore funds taken from other foreign appropriations during the year by “presidential determination” and given to Cambodia. Nixon wanted the funds to provide aid and assistance to Lon Nol to preclude the fall of Cambodia to the communist Khmer Rouge and their North Vietnamese allies. Lon Nol was a Cambodian general who had overthrown the government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk in March 1970. He and his army, the Forces Armees Nationale Khmer (FANK), were engaged in a desperate struggle with the communists for control of the Cambodian countryside. The Nixon administration had initiated a program of aid to Lon Nol in April 1970 with $7.5 million in arms and supplies. This aid did not have an immediate impact as the government forces reeled under heavy communist attacks. Besides trying to get additional funds for more military aid for Cambodia, Nixon also committed U.S. aircraft in direct support of Cambodian government troops and initiated a program whereby U.S. Army Special Forces would train Lon Nol’s troops.

With this U.S. support, Lon Nol was able to successfully withdraw most of his forces (which numbered over 200,000 troops) from the rural areas to the larger urban centers, where they were able to hold out against the communist attacks. The fighting continued, but generally a stalemate prevailed so that neither side gained the upper hand. This situation changed in 1973 after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. Under the provisions of that agreement, the United States withdrew its forces from South Vietnam and both the Cambodians and South Vietnamese found themselves fighting the communists alone.

Without U.S. support, Lon Nol’s forces succumbed to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975. During the five years of bitter fighting, approximately 10 percent of Cambodia’s 7 million people died, but the suffering of the Cambodian people did not end with the communist takeover. The victorious Khmer Rouge evacuated Phnom Penh and set about to reorder Cambodian society, which resulted in a killing spree and the notorious “killing fields.” During this period, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died from murder, exhaustion, hunger, and disease.