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Today in History: January 4-6
The Chinese army captures Seoul, Harold Godwinson is crowned king, and more
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January 4, 1878: The Battle of Sofia, part of the 1877-1878 Russian-Ottoman War, ends with a Russian victory and the Ottoman loss of the city. In the course of the battle the Ottoman Orkhanie Army was completely destroyed, a loss the empire couldn’t afford to put it very mildly. The capture of Sofia and the Russian victory in the war secured the autonomy (and effective independence) of Bulgaria after five centuries under Ottoman control.
January 4, 1948: Under the terms of the Burma Independence Act, which passed the UK parliament the previous December, the Union of Burma becomes an independent state. Commemorated today as Independence Day in Myanmar.
January 4, 1951: A combined Chinese-North Korean army enters Seoul, having forced the South Korean army, the United Nations Command, and most of the city’s population to evacuate the previous day. Their defeat in what’s known as the Third Battle of Seoul brought the US/UN force close to evacuating the Korean Peninsula altogether, but in the long run the outcome proved somewhat detrimental to the Chinese-North Korean war effort. UN support for South Korea intensified and the People’s Volunteer Army found itself overextended and vulnerable to counterattack. Which is what happened—the UN Command recaptured Seoul in “Operation Ripper,” which started in early March and ended about a month later.
January 5, 1912: The 6th All-Russian Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party begins in Prague. This otherwise relatively unremarkable event became quite historically significant when, during the multi-day conference, party bigwig Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik supporters broke away to form their own party, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolshevik). That breakaway faction of course eventually became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.
January 5, 1941: Allied forces capture the eastern Libyan port city of Bardia after a three day battle with its Italian defenders. A key engagement in the British military’s “Operation Compass” campaign, the capture of Bardia allowed the Allies to push deeper into Libya, eventually seizing all of the Cyrenaica region. It also prompted the Nazi German government to intervene in North Africa to bolster the faltering Italians. Bardia changed hands several times, with the Germans taking it in April 1941, the Allies taking it back in January 1942, the Axis taking it again in June 1942, and the Allies capturing it for good after the Second Battle of El Alamein in November 1942. This battle is also notable for being the first World War II engagement to feature soldiers from Australia, who made up the bulk of the Allied force with an Australian general, Iven Mackay, in overall command.
January 5, 1957: US President Dwight Eisenhower promulgates the doctrine that comes to bear his name, calling for US intervention in the Middle East to prevent the region from coming under Soviet domination. I haven’t checked lately but I’m sure this worked out really well for everyone involved.
January 6, 1066: An English noble named Harold Godwinson is crowned King of the English following the death of Edward the Confessor and a vote of the Anglo-Saxon nobility. Like the aforementioned All-Russian Conference of 1912, in itself this was a relatively unremarkable event. It became significant only in hindsight, after Godwinson (or “Harold II” if you prefer) became the last Anglo-Saxon ruler in English history. Edward died without naming a successor. According to the biographical work Vita Ædwardi Regis just before dying he charged Harold with “protecting” the kingdom but there’s no confirmation this took place and no sense of what he actually would have meant by “protection.” Harold’s election by the nobles made the question of Edward’s wishes irrelevant, though that didn’t stop Duke William II of Normandy, a kinsman of Edward, from claiming the “rightful” succession. Harold’s estranged brother, Tostig, also convinced Norwegian King Harald Hardrada to invade England to seize the throne. Harold was able to defeat the Norwegian invasion at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in September, but was killed in battle with William and his Normans at Hastings in mid-October. William succeeded him as king.
January 6, 1449: Constantine XI Palaiologos is crowned Byzantine Emperor. Here, too, what would otherwise have been an unremarkable event is noteworthy in that Constantine XI was the last Byzantine (and, thus, Roman) Emperor, falling in battle (though his body was never identified) during the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Legend has it that he was miraculously turned into marble and will return one day as the ruler of a restored Roman Empire. At this point I’m starting to wonder what’s taking him so long.
January 6, 1809: A joint Portuguese-British army attacks the city of Cayenne, capital of French Guiana. This operation was part of a larger British campaign to attack French colonies all over the Americas, which were being used by French privateers to interfere with British commerce. The mostly Portuguese force succeeded in capturing French Guiana, though the colony was returned to French control after Napoleon’s removal from power.
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