Today in History: March 26-28

Bangladesh declares independence, Ragnar Lodbrok (maybe) sacks Paris, and more!

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March 26, 1344: The kingdom of Castile captures the key port city of Algeciras from its Moroccan and Granadan defenders after a roughly 21 month siege. This was the third of four times Algeciras came under siege during the “Reconquista”—it would return to Granadan control after the fourth, in 1369, and the Granadans would subsequently destroy it rather than lose it to Castile again. Algeciras was rebuilt in 1704 by refugees displaced by the British conquest of nearby Gibraltar.

March 26, 1830: The Book of Mormon goes on sale for the very first time at the bookshop owned by printer Egbert Bratt Grandin in Palmyra, New York. Considering that it started with a first run of 5000 copies and has since been printed over 150 million times, I would have to say it was a success.

March 26, 1913: A joint Bulgarian and Serbian army captures Edirne (Adrianople), after a siege that began in November of the previous year. The siege proved to be the final major engagement of the First Balkan War, which ended in May with the Ottoman Empire ceding most of its remaining European territory to the Balkan League. The Ottomans were able to take back the city during the Second Balkan War, which followed the breakup of the Balkan League over resistance to Bulgaria’s growing power, and it remains part of Turkey today.

March 26, 1945: One of the most celebrated battles of World War II’s Pacific Theater, the Battle of Iwo Jima, ends with a US victory. Remembered primarily for the famous photograph it produced of a group of Marines raising the US flag atop Mount Suribachi, the battle itself has been regarded as a waste of resources and particularly of lives, as some 25,000 combatants (around three-quarters of them Japanese) were killed over the course of the month-long battle. Iwo Jima’s airfield was regarded as an important way station for long range US fighters, but its use in this capacity proved so impractical that only a handful of US aircraft ever stopped there. Depriving Japan of the facility did degrade its military capabilities, but only marginally.

March 26, 1971: Bangladeshi (or “East Pakistani” at the time) leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman issues a declaration of independence from Pakistan (“West Pakistan”), an act that marks the start of the Bangladesh Liberation War. That conflict ended in December, after an Indian intervention, with Bangladesh a newly independent state, and March 26 is annually commemorated as Bangladeshi Independence Day.

March 26, 1979: The governments of Egypt and Israel conclude a peace treaty with a signing ceremony at the White House. This was the culmination of the negotiating process that had begun about six months earlier at Camp David.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, US President Jimmy Carter, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin doing a weird three way hand stacking contest after the signing; it appears Begin won (US Library of Congress)

March 27, 1918: The National Council of the Moldavian Democratic Republic proclaims Bessarabia’s union with Romania. I realize that’s a lot to process, but the summary is that the National Council of Bessarabia declared independence and the formation of the Moldavian Democratic Republic after the 1917 Russian Revolution. It then declared a merger with Romania in March 1918, though it didn’t become official until December. The newly augmented Romania survived that way until 1940, when under the terms of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact the Soviet Union rolled into Bessarabia while Romania’s German ally did nothing. Bessarabia is today mostly in Moldova and partly in Ukraine, but not in Romania.

March 27, 1941: Elements of the Yugoslav Royal Army Air Force undertake a successful (well, briefly) coup, overthrowing the pro-Axis regency led by Prince Paul Karađorđević in favor of a government nominally led by 11 year old King Peter II in his own right, alongside a junta led by new Prime Minister Dušan Simović. The Axis in short order invaded Yugoslavia and drove Peter and his government into exile before carving Yugoslavia up into a Croatian puppet state and several protectorates that were either effectively or actually annexed by Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, and Italy. The Yugoslav Partisans, a predominantly communist group led by Josip Broz Tito, resisted Axis occupation and, with Soviet help, had driven the Germans and Italians out of Yugoslavia by May 1945.

March 28, 845: A Viking raiding party possibly under the command of the maybe real-maybe mythical hero Ragnar Lodbrok sacks Paris. The Vikings were bought off by Frankish King Charles the Bald to leave the city, but they didn’t come cheap. Charles had to give them 7000 French pounds of gold and silver, which works out to over 2550 kilograms. If you assume that the “Ragnar” mentioned in Frankish sources about the sack is in fact Ragnar Lodbrok, this is one of the strongest historical attestations for a figure who isn’t all that well attested otherwise, but there’s no historical consensus around that assumption.

March 28, 1737: The expanding Maratha Empire deals a significant defeat to the past-its-peak Mughal Empire in a battle near Delhi. The outcome wasn’t decisive, as the Maratha Peshwa (think grand vizier or perhaps prime minister) Baji Rao I subsequently withdrew in the face of a large Mughal relief army, but it stands as one of the first definitive signs that the Mughals were being eclipsed as the dominant power in India. Subsequent battles would see the Mughals forced to cede territory and pay tribute to the Marathas.

March 28, 1939: Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces successfully capture Madrid after a nearly two and a half year siege. Franco’s initial assault on the city began in November 1936 and was beaten back by its Republican defenders, so he settled in for a long siege and steady bombardment that eventually wore the defenders down. Franco entered the city and declared victory just days later, on April 1, bringing an end to the Spanish Civil War.