Monthly Archives: April 2019

International Military Tribunal indicts Hideki Tojo, wartime premier of Japan

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/international-military-tribunal-indicts-hideki

On this day in 1946, Hideki Tojo, wartime premier of Japan, is indicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East of war crimes. In September 1945, he tried to commit suicide by shooting himself but was saved by an American physician who gave him a transfusion of American blood. He was eventually hanged by the Americans in 1948 after having been found guilty of war crimes.

World War II monument opens in Washington, D.C.

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/world-war-ii-monument-opens-in-washington-d-c

On April 29, 2004, the National World War II Memorial opens in Washington, D.C., to thousands of visitors, providing overdue recognition for the 16 million U.S. men and women who served in the war. The memorial is located on 7.4 acres on the former site of the Rainbow Pool at the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The Capitol dome is seen to the east, and Arlington Cemetery is just across the Potomac River to the west.

The granite and bronze monument features fountains between arches symbolizing hostilities in Europe and the Far East. The arches are flanked by semicircles of pillars, one each for the states, territories and the District of Columbia. Beyond the pool is a curved wall of 4,000 gold stars, one for every 100 Americans killed in the war.An Announcement Stone proclaims that the memorial honors those “Americans who took up the struggle during the Second World War and made the sacrifices to perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us: A nation conceived in liberty and justice.”

Though the federal government donated $16 million to the memorial fund, it took more than $164 million in private donations to get it built. Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who was severely wounded in the war, and actor Tom Hanks were among its most vocal supporters. Only a fraction of the 16 million Americans who served in the war would ever see it. Four million World War II veterans were living at the time, with more than 1,100 dying every day, according to government records.

The memorial was inspired by Roger Durbin of Berkey, Ohio, who served under Gen. George S. Patton. At a fish fry near Toledo in February 1987, he asked U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur why there was no memorial on the Mall to honor World War II veterans. Kaptur, a Democrat from Ohio, soon introduced legislation to build one, starting a process that would stumble along through 17 years of legislative, legal and artistic entanglements. Durbin died of pancreatic cancer in 2000.

The monument was formally dedicated May 29, 2004, by U.S. President George W. Bush. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it received some 4.4 million visitors in 2005.

U.S. Army liberates Dachau concentration camp

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/dachau-liberated

On April 29, 1945, the U.S. Seventh Army’s 45th Infantry Division liberates Dachau, the first concentration camp established by Germany’s Nazi regime. A major Dachau subcamp was liberated the same day by the 42nd Rainbow Division.

Established five weeks after Adolf Hitler took power as German chancellor in 1933, Dachau was situated on the outskirts of the town of Dachau, about 10 miles northwest of Munich. During its first year, the camp held about 5,000 political prisoners, consisting primarily of German communists, Social Democrats, and other political opponents of the Nazi regime. During the next few years, the number of prisoners grew dramatically, and other groups were interned at Dachau, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies, homosexuals, and repeat criminals. Beginning in 1938, Jews began to comprise a major portion of camp internees.

Prisoners at Dachau were used as forced laborers, initially in the construction and expansion of the camp and later for German armaments production. The camp served as the training center for SS concentration camp guards and was a model for other Nazi concentration camps. Dachau was also the first Nazi camp to use prisoners as human guinea pigs in medical experiments. At Dachau, Nazi scientists tested the effects of freezing and changes to atmospheric pressure on inmates, infected them with malaria and tuberculosis and treated them with experimental drugs, and forced them to test methods of making seawater potable and of halting excessive bleeding. Hundreds of prisoners died or were crippled as a result of these experiments.

Thousands of inmates died or were executed at Dachau, and thousands more were transferred to a Nazi extermination center near Linz, Austria, when they became too sick or weak to work. In 1944, to increase war production, the main camp was supplemented by dozens of satellite camps established near armaments factories in southern Germany and Austria. These camps were administered by the main camp and collectively called Dachau.

With the advance of Allied forces against Germany in April 1945, the Germans transferred prisoners from concentration camps near the front to Dachau, leading to a general deterioration of conditions and typhus epidemics. On April 27, 1945, approximately 7,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, were forced to begin a death march from Dachau to Tegernsee, far to the south. The next day, many of the SS guards abandoned the camp. On April 29, the Dachau main camp was liberated by units of the 45th Infantry after a brief battle with the camp’s remaining guards.

As they neared the camp, the Americans found more than 30 railroad cars filled with bodies in various states of decomposition. Inside the camp there were more bodies and 30,000 survivors, most severely emaciated. Some of the American troops who liberated Dachau were so appalled by conditions at the camp that they machine-gunned at least two groups of captured German guards. It is officially reported that 30 SS guards were killed in this fashion, but conspiracy theorists have alleged that more than 10 times that number were executed by the American liberators. The German citizens of the town of Dachau were later forced to bury the 9,000 dead inmates found at the camp.

In the course of Dachau’s history, at least 160,000 prisoners passed through the main camp, and 90,000 through the subcamps. Incomplete records indicate that at least 32,000 of the inmates perished at Dachau and its subcamps, but countless more were shipped to extermination camps elsewhere.

First African-American college chartered

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-african-american-college-chartered

By an act of the Pennsylvania legislature, Ashmun Institute, the first college founded solely for African-American students, is officially chartered.

Established in the rolling farmlands of southern Chester County, Pennsylvania, Ashmun Institute was named after Jehudi Ashmun, the U.S. agent who helped reorganize and preserve the struggling African-American colony in Africa that later grew into the independent nation of Liberia. The Ashmun Institute, chartered to give theological, classical, and scientific training to African Americans, opened on January 1, 1857, and John Pym Carter served as the college’s first president. In 1866, the institution was renamed Lincoln University.

Joan of Arc relieves Orleans

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/joan-of-arc-relieves-orleans

During the Hundred Years’ War, the 17-year-old French peasant Joan of Arc leads a French force in relieving the city of Orleans, besieged by the English since October.

At the age of 16, “voices” of Christian saints told Joan to aid Charles, the French dauphin, in gaining the French throne and expelling the English from France. Convinced of the validity of her divine mission, Charles furnished Joan with a small force of troops. She led her troops to Orleans, and on April 29, as a French sortie distracted the English troops on the west side of the city, Joan entered unopposed by its eastern gate. Bringing needed supplies and troops into the besieged city, she also inspired the French to a passionate resistance and through the next week led the charge during a number of skirmishes and battles. On one occasion, she was even hit by an arrow, but after dressing her wounds she returned to the battle. On May 8, the siege of Orleans was broken, and the English retreated.

During the next five weeks, Joan led French forces into a number of stunning victories over the English, and Reims, the traditional city of coronation, was captured in July. Later that month, Charles VII was crowned king of France, with Joan of Arc kneeling at his feet.

In May 1430, while leading another military expedition against the English occupiers of France, Bourguignon soldiers captured Joan and sold her to the English, who tried her for heresy. She was tried as a heretic and witch, convicted, and on May 30, 1431, burned at the stake at Rouen. In 1920, Joan of Arc, already one of the great heroes of French history, was recognized as a Christian saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

Riots erupt in Los Angeles after police officers are acquitted in Rodney King trial

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/riots-erupt-in-los-angeles

In Los Angeles, California, four Los Angeles police officers that had been caught beating an unarmed African-American motorist in an amateur video are acquitted of any wrongdoing in the arrest. Hours after the verdicts were announced, outrage and protest turned to violence as the L.A. riots began. Protestors in south-central Los Angeles blocked freeway traffic and beat motorists, wrecked and looted numerous downtown stores and buildings, and set more than 100 fires.

On March 3, 1991, paroled felon Rodney King led police on a high-speed chase through the streets of Los Angeles County before eventually surrendering. Intoxicated and uncooperative, King resisted arrest and was brutally beaten by police officers Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseno, and Timothy Wind. Unbeknownst to the police, a citizen with a personal video camera was filming the arrest, and the 89-second video caught the police beating King with their batons and kicking him long after he was capable of resistance. The video, released to the press, caused outrage around the country and triggered a national debate on police brutality.

Rodney King was released without charges, and on March 15 Sergeant Stacey Koon and officers Powell, Wind, and Briseno were indicted by a Los Angeles grand jury in connection with the beating. All four were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force. Though Koon did not actively participate in the beating, as the commanding officer present at the scene he was charged with aiding and abetting. Powell and Koon were also charged with filing false reports.

Because of the uproar in Los Angeles surrounding the incident, the judge, Stanley Weisberg, was persuaded to move the trial outside Los Angeles County to Simi Valley in Ventura County. On April 29, 1992, the 12-person jury issued its verdicts: not guilty on all counts, except for one assault charge against Powell that ended in a hung jury. The acquittals touched off the L.A. riots, which grew into the most destructive U.S. civil disturbance of the 20th century.

Violence first erupted at the intersection of Florence Boulevard and Normandie Avenue in south-central Los Angeles. Traffic was blocked, and rioters beat dozens of motorists, including Reginald Denny, a white truck driver who was dragged out of his truck and nearly beaten to death by three African-American men. A news helicopter, hovering over the street, recorded the gruesome event. Los Angeles police were slow to respond, and the violence radiated to areas throughout the city. California Governor Pete Wilson deployed the National Guard at the request of Mayor Tom Bradley, and a curfew was declared. By the morning, hundreds of fires were burning across the city, more than a dozen people had been killed, and hundreds were injured.

Rioting and violence continued during the next 24 hours, and Korean shop owners in African-American neighborhoods defended their businesses with rifles. On May 1, President George Bush ordered military troops and riot-trained federal officers to Los Angeles and by the end of the next day the city was under control. The three days of disorder killed more than 60 people, injured almost 2,000, led to 7,000 arrests, and caused nearly $1 billion in property damage, including the burnings of more than 3,000 buildings.

Under federal law, the four officers could also be prosecuted for violating Rodney King’s constitutional rights. On April 17, 1993, a federal jury convicted Koon and Powell for violating King’s rights by their unreasonable use of force under color of law. Although Wind and Briseno were acquitted, most civil rights advocates considered the mixed verdict a victory. On August 4, Koon and Powell were sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Britain’s Prince William weds Kate Middleton

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/britains-prince-william-weds-kate-middleton

On this day in 2011, Great Britain’s Prince William marries his longtime girlfriend Catherine Elizabeth “Kate” Middleton at Westminster Abbey in London. Some 1,900 guests attended the ceremony, while another 1 million spectators lined the streets of London and an estimated 2 billion people around the world watched on television.

The 29-year-old bride and 28-year-old groom, second in line (behind his father) to the throne, met in 2001 as students at the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland. Middleton, the eldest of three children, was raised in the English village of Bucklebury. Her parents, former flight attendants, became millionaires running a successful party-supply business. Middleton majored in art history at St. Andrews and went on to do a stint as an accessories buyer for a British clothing chain. Prince William, the elder of two sons born to Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales, embarked on a military career after college, eventually becoming a helicopter search-and-rescue pilot with the Royal Air Force (RAF). His parent’s lavish 1981 wedding was a media sensation witnessed by a global television estimated as high as 750 million; however, in December 1992, it was announced the couple was separating. The couple, who publicly admitted to infidelities during their marriage, officially divorced in 1996. Diana died in a car crash in Paris the following year.

After dating for eight years, William and Kate became engaged in October 2010 while vacationing in Kenya, Africa. Their engagement was publicly announced the following month, on November 16, ending years of media speculation about whether they ever would tie the knot—and immediately kicking off a new wave of speculation about the wedding details, including the guest list and the bride’s dress.

At their Friday morning marriage ceremony on April 29, the bride wore a gown designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, a British fashion house, while the groom donned the scarlet tunic of an Irish Guards officer. Middleton’s younger sister, Pippa, served as maid of honor, while William’s brother, Prince Harry, was best man. The nuptials were presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury, with world leaders and celebrities including Elton John and David and Victoria Beckham in attendance. After the ceremony, the newlyweds kissed twice on a Buckingham Palace balcony before hundreds of thousands of cheering fans. Overhead, RAF planes made a ceremonial flyby. An afternoon reception at the palace presided over by Queen Elizabeth for some 650 guests followed, and that evening, Prince Charles hosted a dinner dance at the palace for 300 people.

The couple, who once married became the duke and duchess of Cambridge, honeymooned in the Seychelles, before returning to Wales, where William resumed his duties as a helicopter pilot.

On July 22, 2013, the duchess gave birth to the couple’s first child, George, who is third in line to the throne.

Benito Mussolini executed

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/benito-mussolini-executed

On this day in 1945, “Il Duce,” Benito Mussolini, and his mistress, Clara Petacci, are shot by Italian partisans who had captured the couple as they attempted to flee to Switzerland.

The 61-year-old deposed former dictator of Italy was established by his German allies as the figurehead of a puppet government in northern Italy during the German occupation toward the close of the war. As the Allies fought their way up the Italian peninsula, defeat of the Axis powers all but certain, Mussolini considered his options. Not wanting to fall into the hands of either the British or the Americans, and knowing that the communist partisans, who had been fighting the remnants of roving Italian fascist soldiers and thugs in the north, would try him as a war criminal, he settled on escape to a neutral country.

He and his mistress made it to the Swiss border, only to discover that the guards had crossed over to the partisan side. Knowing they would not let him pass, he disguised himself in a Luftwaffe coat and helmet, hoping to slip into Austria with some German soldiers. His subterfuge proved incompetent, and he and Petacci were discovered by partisans and shot, their bodies then transported by truck to Milan, where they were hung upside down and displayed publicly for revilement by the masses.

Charles de Gaulle resigns as leader of France

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/de-gaulle-resigns-as-leader-of-france

Following the defeat of his proposals for constitutional reform in a national referendum, Charles de Gaulle resigns as president of France.

A veteran of World War I, de Gaulle unsuccessfully petitioned his country to modernize its armed forces between the wars. After Henri Petain and other French leaders signed an armistice with Nazi Germany in June 1940, he fled to London, where he organized the Free French forces and rallied French colonies to the Allied cause. His forces fought successfully in North Africa, and in June 1944 he was named head of the French government in exile. On August 26, following the Allied invasion of France, de Gaulle entered Paris in triumph. Three months later, he was unanimously elected provisional president of France.

He resigned in January 1946, however, claiming he lacked sufficient governing power. De Gaulle formed a new political party that had only moderate electoral success, and in 1953 he retired. However, five years later, a military and civilian revolt in Algeria created a political crisis in France, and he was called out of retirement to lead the nation. A new constitution was passed, and in late December he was elected president of the Fifth Republic.

During the next decade, President de Gaulle granted independence to Algeria and attempted to restore France to its former international stature by withdrawing from the U.S.-dominated NATO alliance and promoting the development of French atomic weapons. However, student demonstrations and workers’ strikes in 1968 eroded his popular support, and in 1969 his proposals for further constitutional reform were defeated in a national vote. On April 28, 1969, Charles de Gaulle, 79 years old, retired for good. He died the following year.

Mutiny on the HMS Bounty

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mutiny-on-the-hms-bounty

Three weeks into a journey from Tahiti to the West Indies, the HMS Bounty is seized in a mutiny led by Fletcher Christian, the master’s mate. Captain William Bligh and 18 of his loyal supporters were set adrift in a small, open boat, and the Bounty set course for Tubuai south of Tahiti.

In December 1787, the Bounty left England for Tahiti in the South Pacific, where it was to collect a cargo of breadfruit saplings to transport to the West Indies. There, the breadfruit would serve as food for slaves. After a 10-month journey, the Bounty arrived in Tahiti in October 1788 and remained there for more than five months. On Tahiti, the crew enjoyed an idyllic life, reveling in the comfortable climate, lush surroundings, and the famous hospitality of the Tahitians. Fletcher Christian fell in love with a Tahitian woman named Mauatua.

On April 4, 1789, the Bounty departed Tahiti with its store of breadfruit saplings. On April 28, near the island of Tonga, Christian and 25 petty officers and seamen seized the ship. Bligh, who eventually would fall prey to a total of three mutinies in his career, was an oppressive commander and insulted those under him. By setting him adrift in an overcrowded 23-foot-long boat in the middle of the Pacific, Christian and his conspirators had apparently handed him a death sentence. By remarkable seamanship, however, Bligh and his men reached Timor in the East Indies on June 14, 1789, after a voyage of about 3,600 miles. Bligh returned to England and soon sailed again to Tahiti, from where he successfully transported breadfruit trees to the West Indies.

Meanwhile, Christian and his men attempted to establish themselves on the island of Tubuai. Unsuccessful in their colonizing effort, the Bounty sailed north to Tahiti, and 16 crewmen decided to stay there, despite the risk of capture by British authorities. Christian and eight others, together with six Tahitian men, a dozen Tahitian women, and a child, decided to search the South Pacific for a safe haven. In January 1790, the Bounty settled on Pitcairn Island, an isolated and uninhabited volcanic island more than 1,000 miles east of Tahiti. The mutineers who remained on Tahiti were captured and taken back to England where three were hanged. A British ship searched for Christian and the others but did not find them.

In 1808, an American whaling vessel was drawn to Pitcairn by smoke from a cooking fire. The Americans discovered a community of children and women led by John Adams, the sole survivor of the original nine mutineers. According to Adams, after settling on Pitcairn the colonists had stripped and burned the Bounty, and internal strife and sickness had led to the death of Fletcher and all the men but him. In 1825, a British ship arrived and formally granted Adams amnesty, and he served as patriarch of the Pitcairn community until his death in 1829.

In 1831, the Pitcairn islanders were resettled on Tahiti, but unsatisfied with life there they soon returned to their native island. In 1838, the Pitcairn Islands, which includes three nearby uninhabited islands, was incorporated into the British Empire. By 1855, Pitcairn’s population had grown to nearly 200, and the two-square-mile island could not sustain its residents. In 1856, the islanders were removed to Norfolk Island, a former penal colony nearly 4,000 miles to the west. However, less than two years later, 17 of the islanders returned to Pitcairn, followed by more families in 1864. Today, around 40 people live on Pitcairn Island, and all but a handful are descendants of the Bounty mutineers. About a thousand residents of Norfolk Island (half its population) trace their lineage from Fletcher Christian and the eight other Englishmen.