27 January 1951

Nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site starts.

‘Able’ was the first air-dropped nuclear device to be exploded on American soil. The test took place on 27 January 1951 at Frenchman Flat, a dry lakebed in the Nevada Test Site. The 1-kiloton explosion launched the fourth U.S. nuclear test series code-named ‘Ranger’, which consisted of five air-dropped nuclear tests in early 1951.

The initial post-war U.S. nuclear tests – including the similarly named Able test on 1 July 1946 at the Bikini atoll – had been conducted at remote atolls in the Pacific Ocean, far from U.S. mainland. With the first Soviet nuclear test in 1949, the United States had lost its monopoly on nuclear weapons. The United States decided to significantly expand nuclear testing programme and chose the Nevada Test Site as the main location for subsequent tests.

Troops participated in nuclear testing with little or no protective clothing.
The Able test was followed by about 100 more atmospheric nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site. By the end of the 1950s, the grave effects of radioactivity on personnel involved in the testing and the surrounding population became evident. Public outrage helped to conclude the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, which banned all nuclear tests above ground, in the atmosphere, underwater and in outer space. Nuclear weapon testing underground, though, not only continued but increased in numbers. A total of 928 nuclear tests were conducted at the Nevada Test Site, more than anywhere else.

27 January 1944

The 900 day Siege of Leningrad is lifted.

The Siege of Leningrad, also known as the Leningrad Blockade, was a prolonged military blockade undertaken from the south by the German Army Group North, Spanish Blue Division and the Finnish Army in the north, against Leningrad, historically and currently known as Saint Petersburg, in the Eastern Front theater of World War II. The siege started on 8 September 1941, when the last road to the city was severed. Although the Soviets managed to open a narrow land corridor to the city on 18 January 1943, the siege was only lifted on 27 January 1944, 872 days after it began. It is regarded as one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history. It was possibly the costliest in terms of casualties.

Leningrad’s capture was one of three strategic goals in the German Operation Barbarossa and the main target of Army Group North. The strategy was motivated by Leningrad’s political status as the former capital of Russia and the symbolic capital of the Russian Revolution, its military importance as a main base of the Soviet Baltic Fleet, and its industrial strength, housing numerous arms factories. By 1939, the city was responsible for 11% of all Soviet industrial output. It has been reported Adolf Hitler was so confident of capturing Leningrad that he had invitations printed to the victory celebrations to be held in the city’s Hotel Astoria.

Although various theories have been put forward about Germany’s plans for Leningrad, including renaming the city Adolfsburg and making it the capital of the new Ingermanland province of the Reich in Generalplan Ost, it is clear Hitler’s intention was to utterly destroy the city and its population. According to a directive sent to Army Group North on 29 September, “After the defeat of Soviet Russia there can be no interest in the continued existence of this large urban center. Following the city’s encirclement, requests for surrender negotiations shall be denied, since the problem of relocating and feeding the population cannot and should not be solved by us. In this war for our very existence, we can have no interest in maintaining even a part of this very large urban population.” Hitler’s ultimate plan was to raze Leningrad to the ground and give areas north of the River Neva to the Finns.

27 January 1996

Germany first observes the ‘International Holocaust Remembrance Day’.

On the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1995, many in Germany used the occasion to remember the horrors of the Holocaust. But the day itself had no official name or sanction. That changed the following year—exactly 20 years ago Wednesday—when Germany became the first European country to declare the date as an official day of remembrance for the victims of Naziism.

In her book History, Memory, and Trans-European Identity, Aline Sierp suggests that the timing of Germany’s decision to make the day official was linked to its recent reunification. With the Cold War still fresh, the newly joined East and West aimed to show the world that it was a modern nation willing to reckon with its dark history under both Naziism and Communism. Sierp notes that it’s unusual for a nation to establish an official day of remembrance for a negative part of its history, but then-President Roman Herzog said, in proclaiming the observance, that the day “must continue to remind future generations to be vigilante” and to “find a form of memory that reaches towards the future.”