Today in History: December 3-5
India and Pakistan go to war, Sweden and Denmark fight one of the bloodiest battles in European history, and more
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December 3, 1920: The revolutionary Turkish government and the government of then-independent (well, not exactly) Armenia sign the Treaty of Alexandropol, ending the Turkish Armenian War after a bit over two months of fighting. That conflict was part of the Turkish War of Independence, and the Turkish victory forced Armenia to surrender a substantial chunk of Anatolian territory it had been given in the post-World War I Treaty of Sèvres. As it happens, Alexandropol was rendered null and void almost as soon as it was signed, as Soviet Russia occupied Armenia and rendered the Armenian government obsolete. But its terms were incorporated into the March 1921 Treaty of Moscow between the Turks and the Russians and were later re-validated in the October 1921 Treaty of Kars, between the Turks and the Soviet governments of the three Caucasian states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia).
December 3, 1971: The Pakistani military undertakes preemptive airstrikes against several Indian military installations, beginning the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, itself the final phase of the Bangladesh Liberation War. India was preparing to enter the war on Bangladesh’s side anyway, so these strikes were preemptive in the true meaning of the term. The war, to put it mildly, was a complete disaster for the Pakistanis, who were forced to surrender a scant 13 days later and had to give up their claims on “East Pakistan” (Bangladesh) while suffering around a third of their military killed, wounded, or captured.
December 3, 1984: A Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, spews toxic methyl isocyanate gas overnight, resulting in the deaths of between 3800 and 16,000 people and causing injury to at least 558,000 more. Union Carbide maintains that the leak was caused by deliberate sabotage, though Indian courts subsequently found several officials at the plant guilty of negligence. The “Bhopal Disaster” remains one of the worst industrial catastrophes in history and its adverse effects are still being felt by people in that region to the present day.
December 4, 1676: A Swedish army under King Charles XI defeats an invading Danish army at the Battle of Lund. Though a relatively small battle in terms of the number of soldiers involved, in percentage terms this is one of the bloodiest battles in European history. Of the 21,000 or so soldiers involved on both sides, roughly two-thirds were killed or wounded. The Swedish victory thwarted the Danish invasion and is therefore considered a turning point in the 1675-1679 Scanian War.
December 4, 1976: Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the president/dictator of the Central African Republic, proclaims himself Emperor Bokassa I of the new “Central African Empire.” The practical difference between Bokassa’s heavily authoritarian dictatorship and his imperial rule was pretty negligible. The French government engineered Bokassa’s ouster in 1979 in favor of his predecessor as president, David Dacko, and the empire went out the door with him.
December 5, 1757: At the Battle of Leuthen, Prussian King Frederick II (“the Great”) wins one of the most impressive victories of his storied military career, using a diversionary attack and a sophisticated oblique maneuver to rout an Austrian army under Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine that was twice the size of his force. Fully a third of the 66,000 man Austrian army was killed, wounded, or captured. Frederick’s victory enabled him to move on to besiege the city of Breslau (Wrocław) in mid-December. Breslau’s fall left Prussia largely in control of Silesia and all but ensured its victory in the Third Silesian War, one of the many conflicts within the larger Seven Years’ War.
December 5, 1941: The Red Army under Georgy Zhukov begins a major counteroffensive against the Nazi Wehrmacht in the Battle of Moscow. The combination of the Soviet military and a brutally cold Russian winter crippled the German forces, and the offensive ended on January 7, 1942 with the exhausted Red Army having driven the Nazi line back some 150 miles from the Soviet capital.
December 5, 1945: Flight 19, a group of five US Navy Grumman TBM Avenger planes on a training flight, disappears off the east coast of Florida along with all 14 crew members. Subsequently a Martin PBM Mariner sent out to search for the planes was lost along with all 13 crew members. No wreckage has ever been found and there’s only speculation as to what caused the disappearances, but the pair of incidents became probably the most famous episode in the popular legend of the “Bermuda Triangle.”