19 October 1914

The First Battle of Ypres begins.

On October 19, 1914, near the Belgian city of Ypres, Allied and German forces begin the first of what would be three battles to control the city and its advantageous positions on the north coast of Belgium during the First World War.

After the German advance through Belgium and eastern France was curtailed by a decisive Allied victory in the Battle of the Marne in late September 1914, the so-called “Race to the Sea” began, as each army attempted to outflank the other on their way northwards, hastily constructing trench fortifications as they went. The race ended in mid-October at Ypres, the ancient Flemish city with its fortifications guarding the ports of the English Channel and access to the North Sea beyond.

After the Germans captured the Belgian city of Antwerp early in October, Antwerp’s remaining Belgian forces along with troops of the British Expeditionary Force, commanded by Sir John French, withdrew to Ypres, arriving at the city between October 8 and 19 to reinforce the Belgian and French defenses there. Meanwhile, the Germans prepared to launch the first phase of an offensive aimed at breaking the Allied lines and capturing Ypres and other channel ports, thus controlling the outlets to the North Sea.

On October 19, a protracted period of fierce combat began, as the Germans opened their Flanders offensive and the Allies steadfastly resisted, while seeking their own chances to go on the attack wherever possible. Fighting continued, with heavy losses on both sides, until November 22, when the arrival of winter weather forced the battle to a halt. The area between the positions established by both sides during this period—from Ypres on the British side to Menin and Roulers on the German side—became known as the Ypres Salient, a region that over the course of the next several years would see some of the war’s bitterest and most brutal struggles.

18 October 1648

Boston Shoemakers form first American trade labor organization.

Today in 18 October 1648, Boston shoemakers and “coopers” barrel-makers formed what are considered the first American trade unions.

The colonies had till then failed to import the English tradition of guilds, whereby craftsmen would band together to establish prices, quality standards, apprentice programs and charitable programs. The guilds in England also supported members who had retired or were beset by health or other challenges.

But these two 1648 quasi-guilds were limited to ensuring quality. The Massachusetts General Court prohibited “The Company of Shoomakers” from offering educational or charitable programs, or from fixing prices or settling disputes.

More than a century later, the independence shown by the Boston shoemakers surfaced, as one of them has been credited with starting the Boston Tea Party.

The Philadelphia carpenter’s union, formed some years after 1648, was more aggressive on behalf of its workers, and its printers and shoemakers were also aggressive at an early stage in the city’s history. According to the History of Trade Unionism in the United States by Perlman and Selig: “The earliest recorded genuine labor strike in America, in 1786, was over wages paid to Philadelphia printers, who ‘turned out’ to demand a minimum wage of $6 per week.” The second strike on record, in 1791, was also in Philadelphia, by house carpenters who struck for a ten-hour day.

In 1796 local shoemakers in Philadelphia organized the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers shoemakers working with Cordovan leather. Three years later the organization staged a 10-week, successful strike for higher wages, the first strike in the newcounry sanctioned by a union.

17 October 1814

Eight people die in the London Beer Flood.

On Monday 17th October 1814, a terrible disaster claimed the lives of at least 8 people in St Giles, London. A bizarre industrial accident resulted in the release of a beer tsunami onto the streets around Tottenham Court Road.

The Horse Shoe Brewery stood at the corner of Great Russell Street and Tottenham Court Road. In 1810 the brewery, Meux and Company, had had a 22 foot high wooden fermentation tank installed on the premises. Held together with massive iron rings, this huge vat held the equivalent of over 3,500 barrels of brown porter ale, a beer not unlike stout.

On the afternoon of October 17th 1814 one of the iron rings around the tank snapped. About an hour later the whole tank ruptured, releasing the hot fermenting ale with such force that the back wall of the brewery collapsed. The force also blasted open several more vats, adding their contents to the flood which now burst forth onto the street. More than 320,000 gallons of beer were released into the area. This was St Giles Rookery, a densely populated London slum of cheap housing and tenements inhabited by the poor, the destitute, prostitutes and criminals.

The flood reached George Street and New Street within minutes, swamping them with a tide of alcohol. The 15 foot high wave of beer and debris inundated the basements of two houses, causing them to collapse. In one of the houses, Mary Banfield and her daughter Hannah were taking tea when the flood hit; both were killed.

In the basement of the other house, an Irish wake was being held for a 2 year old boy who had died the previous day. The four mourners were all killed. The wave also took out the wall of the Tavistock Arms pub, trapping the teenage barmaid Eleanor Cooper in the rubble. In all, eight people were killed. Three brewery workers were rescued from the waist-high flood and another was pulled alive from the rubble.

London Beer Flood – 19th century etching
19th century engraving of the event

All this ‘free’ beer led to hundreds of people scooping up the liquid in whatever containers they could. Some resorted to just drinking it, leading to reports of the death of a ninth victim some days later from alcoholic poisoning.

‘The bursting of the brew-house walls, and the fall of heavy timber, materially contributed to aggravate the mischief, by forcing the roofs and walls of the adjoining houses.‘ The Times, 19th October 1814.

Some relatives exhibited the corpses of the victims for money. In one house, the macabre exhibition resulted in the collapse of the floor under the weight of all the visitors, plunging everyone waist-high into a beer-flooded cellar.

The stench of beer in the area persisted for months afterwards.

The brewery was taken to court over the accident but the disaster was ruled to be an Act of God, leaving no one responsible.

The flood cost the brewery around £23000 approx. £1.25 million today. However the company were able to reclaim the excise duty paid on the beer, which saved them from bankruptcy. They were also granted ?7,250 ?400,000 today as compensation for the barrels of lost beer.

This unique disaster was responsible for the gradual phasing out of wooden fermentation casks to be replaced by lined concrete vats. The Horse Shoe Brewery was demolished in 1922; the Dominion Theatre now sits partly on its site.

16 October 1964

China detonates its first nuclear weapon.

On 16 October 1964, the People’s Republic of China conducted its first nuclear test, making it the fifth nuclear-armed state after the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France. China had initiated its nuclear weapons programme in the mid-1950s, after the Korean war. At the outset, its efforts were backed by substantial Soviet assistance, including advisors and technical equipment. Research on nuclear weapon design began at the Institute of Physics and Atomic Energy in Beijing, and a uranium enrichment plant was constructed in Lanzhou to produce weapon-grade uranium.

Mao and Khrushchev
With the cooling of Sino-Soviet relations in the late 1950s, the Soviet Union withdrew all assistance. In June 1959, Nikita Khrushchev decided to refuse the provision of a prototype bomb to the Chinese. This rupture prompted China to embark on its own nuclear testing project, code-named 59-6 after the month in which it was initiated.

Map of Lop Nor
Operation 59-6 was carried out at the Lop Nur test site in the Gobi desert of Xinjiang province, Western China, close to the ancient Silk Route. An implosion-type device was mounted from the top of a steel tower, producing a yield of 22 kilotons. It was the first of a total of 45 Chinese nuclear tests, all of which were conducted at Lop Nur. Twenty three of these tests were atmospheric and 22 underground, the yields ranging from 1 kiloton to 4 megatons. On 17 June 1967, just three years after operation 59-6 – faster than other nuclear weapon possessors – China detonated its first hydrogen bomb.

Soldiers rode on horseback towards the mushroom clouds.
The effects of China’s nuclear testing on human health, animals and the environment are largely unexplored due to the lack of publically available official data. The Xinjiang region is the largest Chinese administrative division and home to 20 million people of different ethnic backgrounds. A study carried out by the Japanese physicist Professor Jun Takada suggests that peak levels of radioactivity from China’s large-yield tests exceeded that of the 1986 Chernobyl reactor accident and seriously affected local populations.

In 2008, China started to pay undisclosed subsidies to personnel involved in nuclear testing. Compensation, however, has not been extended to civilian residents of the Xinjiang area, downwind of the Lop Nur test site.

China signed the CTBT on the very day it opened for signature, but has yet to ratify.
China conducted its last test on 29 July 1996, only two months prior to signing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty CTBT on 24 September 1996. However, it has yet to ratify the CTBT, a step that is mandatory for the Treaty’s entry into force. Ratifications of seven other nuclear-capable states are also missing: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Israel, Iran, Pakistan and the United States.

15 October 1894

Alfred Dreyfus is arrested for spying.

Alfred Dreyfus 9 October 1859 – 12 July 1935) was a French Jewish artillery officer whose trial and conviction in 1894 on charges of treason became one of the most tense political dramas in modern French history with a wide echo in all Europe. Known today as the Dreyfus affair, the incident eventually ended with Dreyfus’s complete exoneration.

Born in Mulhouse, Alsace in 1859, Dreyfus was the youngest of nine children born to Raphaël and Jeannette Dreyfus née Libmann. Raphaël Dreyfus was a prosperous, self-made, Jewish textile manufacturer who had started as a peddler. Alfred was 10 years old when the Franco-Prussian War broke out in the summer of 1870, and his family moved to Paris following the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by Germany after the war.

The childhood experience of seeing his family uprooted by the war with Germany prompted Dreyfus to decide on a career in the military. Following his 18th birthday in October 1877, he enrolled in the elite École Polytechnique military school in Paris, where he received military training and an education in the sciences. In 1880, he graduated and was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in the French army. From 1880 to 1882, he attended the artillery school at Fontainebleau to receive more specialized training as an artillery officer. On graduation he was assigned to the Thirty-first Artillery Regiment, which was in garrison at Le Mans. Dreyfus was subsequently transferred to a mounted artillery battery attached to the First Cavalry Division (Paris), and promoted to lieutenant in 1885. In 1889, he was made adjutant to the director of the Établissement de Bourges, a government arsenal, and promoted to captain.

On 18 April 1891, the 31-year-old Dreyfus married 20-year-old Lucie Eugénie Hadamard 1870–1945. They had two children, Pierre 1891–1946 and Jeanne 1893–1981. Three days after the wedding, Dreyfus learned that he had been admitted to the École Supérieure de Guerre or War College. Two years later, he graduated ninth in his class with honorable mention and was immediately designated as a trainee in the French Army’s General Staff headquarters, where he would be the only Jewish officer. His father Raphaël died on 13 December 1893.

At the War College examination in 1892, his friends had expected him to do well. However, one of the members of the panel, General Bonnefond, felt that “Jews were not desired” on the staff, and gave Dreyfus poor marks for cote d’amour French slang: attraction; translatable as likability. Bonnefond’s assessment lowered Dreyfus’s overall grade; he did the same to another Jewish candidate, Lieutenant Picard. Learning of this injustice, the two officers lodged a protest with the director of the school, General Lebelin de Dionne, who expressed his regret for what had occurred, but said he was powerless to take any steps in the matter. The protest would later count against Dreyfus. The French army of the period was relatively open to entry and advancement by talent, with an estimated 300 Jewish officers, of whom ten were generals. However, within the Fourth Bureau of the General Staff, General Bonnefond’s prejudices appear to have been shared by some of the new trainee’s superiors. The personal assessments received by Dreyfus during 1893/94 acknowledged his high intelligence, but were critical of aspects of his personality.

In 1894, the French Army’s counter-intelligence section, led by Lieutenant Colonel Jean Sandherr, became aware that information regarding new artillery parts was being passed to the Germans by a highly placed spy, most likely on the General Staff. Suspicion quickly fell upon Dreyfus, who was arrested for treason on 15 October 1894. On 5 January 1895, Dreyfus was summarily convicted in a secret court martial, publicly stripped of his army rank, and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. Following French military custom of the time, Dreyfus was formally degraded by having the rank insignia, buttons and braid cut from his uniform and his sword broken, all in the courtyard of the École Militaire before silent ranks of soldiers, while a large crowd of onlookers shouted abuse from behind railings. Dreyfus cried out: “I swear that I am innocent. I remain worthy of serving in the Army. Long live France! Long live the Army!”

In August 1896, the new chief of French military intelligence, Lieutenant Colonel Georges Picquart, reported to his superiors that he had found evidence to the effect that the real traitor was a Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. Picquart was silenced by being transferred to the southern desert of Tunisia in November 1896. When reports of an army cover-up and Dreyfus’s possible innocence were leaked to the press, a heated debate ensued about anti-Semitism and France’s identity as a Catholic nation or a republic founded on equal rights for all citizens. Esterhazy was found not guilty by a secret court martial, before fleeing to England. Following a passionate campaign by Dreyfus’s supporters, including leading artists and intellectuals such as Émile Zola, he was given a second trial in 1899 and again declared guilty of treason despite the evidence in favor of his innocence.

However, due to public opinion, Dreyfus was offered and accepted a pardon by President Émile Loubet in 1899 and released from prison; this was a compromise that saved face for the military’s mistake. Had Dreyfus refused the pardon, he would have been returned to Devil’s Island, a fate he could no longer emotionally cope with; so officially Dreyfus remained a traitor to France, and pointedly remarked upon his release:

The government of the Republic has given me back my freedom. It is nothing for me without my honor.

For two years, until July 1906, he lived in a state of house-arrest with one of his sisters at Carpentras, and later at Cologny.

On 12 July 1906, Dreyfus was officially exonerated by a military commission. The day after his exoneration, he was readmitted into the army with a promotion to the rank of major Chef d’Escadron. A week later, he was made Knight of the Legion of Honour, and subsequently assigned to command an artillery unit at Vincennes. On 15 October 1906, he was placed in command of another artillery unit at Saint-Denis.

14 October 1805

France defeats Austria in the Battle of Elchingen.

The Battle of Elchingen, fought on 14 October 1805, saw French forces under Michel Ney rout an Austrian corps led by Johann Sigismund Riesch. This defeat led to a large part of the Austrian army being invested in the fortress of Ulm by the army of Emperor Napoleon I of France while other formations fled to the east. Soon afterward, the Austrians trapped in Ulm surrendered and the French mopped up most of the remaining Austrians forces, bringing the Ulm Campaign to a close.

In late September and early October 1805, Napoleon carried out a gigantic envelopment of the Austrian army in Bavaria led by Karl Mack von Lieberich. While the Austrian army lay near Ulm, south of the Danube River, the French army marched west on the north side of the river. Then Napoleon’s troops crossed the river east of Ulm, cutting the Austrian retreat route to Vienna. Finally waking up to his danger, Mack tried to break out on the north side of the river, but a lone French division blocked his first attempt.

Realizing that his enemies might escape the trap, Napoleon ordered Ney to cross to the north bank of the river. Ney’s larger corps attacked Riesch’s corps at Elchingen on the north bank. The French captured the heights and drove the Austrian soldiers west toward Ulm, forcing many of them to surrender. While a body of Austrians remained at large on the north bank, the near destruction of Riesch’s command meant that the bulk of Mack’s army was hopelessly surrounded in Ulm.

13 October 1972

An Aeroflot Ilyushin Il-62 crashes, killing 174.

Aeroflot Flight 217 was a non-scheduled international passenger flight from Orly Airport in Paris to Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, with a stopover at Shosseynaya Airport now Pulkovo Airport in Leningrad now Saint Petersburg. On 13 October 1972, the Ilyushin Il-62 airliner operating the flight crashed on approach to Sheremetyevo, with the loss of all 164 passengers and crew of 10. At the time, it was the world’s worst aviation disaster, until it was surpassed by the Kano air disaster in 1973. As of 2016, the accident remains the second-deadliest one involving an Il-62, after LOT Flight 5055, and the second-deadliest on Russian soil, after Aeroflot Flight 3352.

Shortly before the expected landing, the plane was flying at the altitude of 1200 m and received the ATC instructions to descend to 400 m. The crew confirmed and started to descend, but later there was no action to return to the horizontal flight. The plane passed the 400 m mark with 20 m/s vertical velocity, no expected report to ATC and engines still running at low thrust. It crashed shortly afterwards, with landing gear up, spoilers retracted and horizontal speed about 620 km/h.

The cause of the crash could not be determined. Investigators did believe the most probable cause was the ‘psycho-physiological incapacitation of the crew for reasons unknown’. Somewhere at the 500 – 600 m. elevation, 30 – 25 seconds before impact, the pilots either have been incapacitated or lost control of the plane.