December 31, 2018 all-day
Day in History - Dec 31

On this day in history:

408 – – – – Vandals, Alans and Suebians cross the Rhine, beginning the invasion of Gaul.

870 – – – – Battle of Englefield – The Vikings clash with ealdorman Ethelwulf of Berkshire.  The invaders are driven back to Reading (East Anglia) now the English county of Berkshire – many Danes are killed. This battle was one of a series with “honors” to both sides.  Following the invasion of the then kingdom of Wessex by the Danes during which the Danes had established a camp at Reading.  Three days after their arrival in Reading, a party of Danes, led by two of their earls, rode out toward Englefield where Ethelwulf had mustered a force and was waiting for them.  During the battle many Danes and one of the earls were killed and the rest driven back to Reading.  The Saxon victory however, did not last long.  Four days late the West Saxon army, led by King Ethelred and his brother, Alfred the Great, attacked the main Danish encampment at Reading and were bloodily repulsed.  Among the many dead on both sides was Ethelwulf.  More battles followed including the Battle of Ashdown, when Alfred led the Saxons to victory, and the Battle of Basing, where the Danes prevailed.  In April 871, Ethelred died to be succeeded by Alfred.  Much of King Alfred’s 28-year reign was taken up with the on-going Danish conflict.

1225 – – – The Ly dynasty of Vietnam ends after 216 years by the enthronement of the boy emperor Tran Thai Tong, husband of the last Ly monarch, Ly Chieu Hoang, starting the Tran dynasty.

1229 – – – James I of Aragon the Conqueror enters Medina Mayurga (now known as Palma, Spain) thus consummating the Christian conquest of Majorca.

1600 – – – The British East India Company is chartered.

1660 – – – James II of England is named Duke of Normandy by Louis XIV of France.

1687 – – – The first Huguenots set sail from France to the Cape of Good Hope.  Huguenots – the term has its origin in early 16th century France.  It was frequently used in reference to those of the Reformed Church of France from the time of the Protestant Reformation. Huguenots were French Protestants who held to the Reformed tradition of Protestantism, while populations of Alsace, Moselle and Montbeliard were mainly German Lutherans.  Huguenot numbers peaked near an estimated two million by 1562, concentrated mainly in the southern and western parts of the Kingdom of France.  As Huguenots gained influence and more openly displayed their faith, Catholic hostility grew.  A series of religious conflicts followed, known as the French Wars of Religion, fought intermittently from 1562 to 1598.  The Huguenots were led by Jeanne d’Albret, her son, the future Henry IV (who would later convert to Catholicism to become king) and the princes of Conde.  The wars ended with the Edict of Nantes, which granted the Huguenots substantial religious, political and military autonomy.  Huguenot rebellions in the 1620 prompted the abolition of their political and military privileges.  They retained the religious provisions of the Edict of Nantes until the rule of Louis XIV, who gradually increased persecution of Protestantism until he issued the Edict of Fontainebleau (1685), ultimately ending any legal recognition of Protestantism in France and forcing the Huguenots either to convert or flee in a wave of violent dragonnades.  Louis XIV laid claim that the French Huguenot population was reduced from about 800,000 to 900,000 adherents down to just 1,000 to 1,500, although he overexaggerated the reduction, the dragonnades certainly were devastating for the French Protestant community. Nevertheless, remaining Huguenots faced continued persecution under Louis XV.  And, at the time of Louis XV’s death in 1774, Calvinism had been nearly eliminated from France. Persecution of Protestants officially ended with the Edict of Versailles, signed by Louis XVI in 1787.  Two years later, with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, Protestants gained equal rights as citizens.  The bulk of Huguenot emigres relocated to Protestant states such as England and Wales, the Channel Islands, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and the Dutch Republic, as well as majority Catholic but Protestant-controlled Ireland.

1757 – – – Empress Elizabeth I of Russia issues her ukase incorporating Konigsberg into Russia. During the Seven Years War parts of Prussia briefly came under Russian control and were governed by Russian governors.

1759 – – – Arthur Guinness signs a 9,000 year lease at 45 pounds per annum and starts brewing Guinness.

Crane Street Gate (see photo above)

1775 – – – American Revolution – Battle of Quebec – British forces repulse and attack by Continental Army General Richard Montgomery.

1857 – – – Queen Victoria chooses Ottawa, then a small logging town, as the capital of Canada.

1862 – – – American Civil War – Abraham Lincoln signs an act that admits West Virginia to the Union, thus dividing Virginia in two.

1879 – – – Thomas Edison demonstrates incandescent lighting to the public for the first time in Menlo Park, New Jersey

1907 – – – The first New Year’s Eve celebration is held in Times Square (then known as Longacre Square) in Manhattan.

1944 – – – (a) World War II – Hungary declares war on Germany. (b) Operation Nordwind, the last major German offensive on the Western front begins. In a briefing at his military command complex at Adlerhorst, Adolf Hitler declared in his speech to his division commanders on 28 December 1944 (three days prior to the launch of Operation Nordwind): “This attack has a very clear objective, namely the destruction of the enemy forces. There is not a matter of prestige involved here. It is a matter of destroying and exterminating the enemy forces wherever we find them.” The goal of the offensive was to break through the lines of the American Seventh Army and French 1st Army in the Upper Vosges mountains and the Alsatian Plain, and destroy them, as well as the seizure of Strasbourg, which Himmler had promised would be captured by 30 January. This would leave the way open for Operation Dentist (Unternehmen Zahnarzt), a planned major thrust into the rear of the American Third Army which would lead to the destruction of this army. On this day in 1944 the German Army Group G—commanded by Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz—and Army Group Oberrhein (“Upper Rhein”)—commanded by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler—launched a major offensive against the thinly stretched, 68 mile-long front line held by the U.S. 7th Army. Operation Nordwind soon had the understrength U.S. 7th Army in dire straits. The 7th Army—at the orders of U.S. General Eisenhower—had sent troops, equipment, and supplies north to reinforce the American armies in the Ardennes involved in the Battle of the Bulge. On the same day that the German Army launched Operation Nordwind, the Luftwaffe committed almost 1,000 aircraft in support. This attempt to cripple the Allied air forces based in northwestern Europe was known as Operation Bodenplatte, which failed without having achieved any of its key objectives. The initial Nordwind attack was conducted by three Corps of the German 1st Army of Army Group G, and by 9 January, the XXXIX Panzer Corps was heavily engaged as well. By 15 January at least seventeen German divisions were engaged in the fighting. Another smaller, attack was made against the French positions south of Strasbourg, but it was finally stopped. The U.S. VI Corps—which bore the brunt of the German attacks—was fighting on three sides by 15 January.

The 125th Regiment of the 21st Panzer Division under Colonel Hans von Luck aimed to sever the American supply line to Strasbourg, by cutting across the eastern foothills of the Vosges at the northwest base of a natural salient in a bend of the River Rhine. Here the Maginot Line ran east-west, and now “showed what a superb fortification it was”. On January 7 Luck approached the Line south of Wissembourg at the villages of Rittershoffen and Hatten. Heavy American fire came from the 79th Infantry Division, the 14th Armored Division, plus elements of the 42nd Infantry Division. On January 10 Luck reached the villages. Two weeks of heavy fighting followed. Germans and Americans each occupying parts of the villages while civilians sheltered in cellars. Luck later said that the fighting around Rittershoffen had been “one of the hardest and most costly battles that ever raged.” Eisenhower, fearing the outright destruction of the U.S. 7th Army, had rushed already battered divisions hurriedly relieved from the Ardennes, southeast over 62 miles, to reinforce the 7th Army. But their arrival was delayed, and on 21 January with supplies and ammunition short, Seventh Army ordered the much-depleted 79th and 14th Divisions to retreat from Rittershoffen and fall back on new positions on the south bank of the Moder River. On 25 January the German offensive was halted, after the US 222 Infantry Regiment stopped their advance near Haguenau, and earning the Presidential Unit Citation in the process. This was the same day that the reinforcements began to arrive from the Ardennes. The German offensive was a failure, failing to destroy the enemy’s forces.

1946 – – – President Truman officially proclaims the end of hostilities in World War II.

1951 – – – Cold War – The Marshall Plan expires after the United States had distributed more tan $13.3 billion in foreign aid to rebuild Western Europe.

1991 – – – All official Soviet Union institutions have ceased operations by this date five days after the Soviet Union officially dissolved. Of course, as we now know, lurking in the blood-soaked shadows of the Soviet past there was this little, strutting KGB colonel maneuvering to gain control of the Kremlin and attempt the recreation of the Soviet Union by any means.

1999 – – – (a) First President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, resigns from office, leaving Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the acting president and successor.  The little colonel breaks out of the shadows. (b) The United States hands control of the Panama Canal (as well all the adjacent land to the canal known as the Panama Canal Zone) to Panama.

Composed by Robert A. McConnell

Any opinions expressed herein are solely those of the writer and not necessarily those of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. 



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