On this day on 12th October

On this day in 1518 Pope Leo X's ambassador interrogates Martin Luther. This attempt to keep Luther quiet had the opposite effect. Luther now started issuing statements about other issues. For example, at that time people believed that the Pope was infallible (incapable of error). However, Luther was convinced that Leo X was wrong to sell indulgences. Therefore, Luther argued, the Pope could not possibly be infallible. During the next year Martin Luther wrote a number of tracts criticising the Papal indulgences, the doctrine of Purgatory, and the corruptions of the Church. "He had launched a national movement in Germany, supported by princes and peasants alike, against the Pope, the Church of Rome, and its economic exploitation of the German people."

Martin Luther
Georg Pencz, portrait of Martin Luther (1533)

On this day in 1871 President Ulysses Grant condemns Ku Klux Klan. This was in response to Radical Republicans in Congress such as Benjamin Butler urged President Grant to take action against the Ku Klux Klan. He instigated an investigation into the organization and the following year a Grand Jury reported that: "There has existed since 1868, in many counties of the state, an organization known as the Ku Klux Klan, or Invisible Empire of the South, which embraces in its membership a large proportion of the white population of every profession and class. The Klan has a constitution and bylaws, which provides, among other things, that each member shall furnish himself with a pistol, a Ku Klux gown and a signal instrument. The operations of the Klan are executed in the night and are invariably directed against members of the Republican Party. The Klan is inflicting summary vengeance on the colored citizens of these citizens by breaking into their houses at the dead of night, dragging them from their beds, torturing them in the most inhuman manner, and in many instances murdering."

Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly (24th October 1874)
Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly (24th October 1874)

On this day in 1914 the First Battle of Ypres begins. Ypres, a medieval town in Belgium, was taken by the German Army at the beginning of the war. However, by early October, 1914, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was able to recapture the town. The first major German attempt to regain Ypres took place on 15th October. Experienced BEF riflemen held their positions but suffered heavy losses. German attacks took place for the next four weeks but with the arrival of the French Army the line was held. With the weather deteriorating, the Germans decided to abandon the Ypres offensive on the 22nd November. It is estimated that about 135,000 Germans were killed or badly wounded during the offensive. The BEF lost around 75,000 men and was effectively destroyed as a professional army.

William Barnes Wollen, Battle of Ypres (1914)
William Barnes Wollen, Battle of Ypres (1914)

On this day in 1920 the Bolsheviks signed a peace agreement with Poland. Leon Trotsky was now able to transfer the majority of their combat troops against the southern Whites. Nestor Makhno contributed a brigade from his insurgent army, the majority mounted on horses. In all, there were 188,000 infantry, cavalry and engineers with 3,000 machine-guns, 600 artillery pieces and 23 armoured trains. General Peter Wrangels army consisted of 23,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry. Wrangel was able to hold out for six months but defeat was inevitable. On 11th November, 1920, he ordered his troops to disengage and fall back to the assigned ports for evacuation from the Crimean ports at Eupatoria, Sevastopol, Yalta, Theodosia and Kerch. It is believed that 126 ships had been commandeered to take 145,693 members of the White Army into exile.

David Bullock, the author of The Russian Civil War (2008) has argued that no one has been able to calculate accurately the cost in human life attributable to the Civil War. "Reasoned estimates have placed the number of dead from battle and disease in the Red Army as low as 425,000 and as high as 1,213,000. Numbers for their opponents range from 325,000 to 1,287,000." Another 200,000-400,000 died in prison or were executed as a result of the "Red Terror". A further 50,000 may have been victims of the corresponding "White Terror". Another 5 million are believed to have died in the ensuing famines of 1921-1922, directly caused by the economic disruption of the war. Bullock concludes that in total between 7 and 14 million died as a result of the Russian Civil War.

Alexander Apsit, Imperialist Attack on Soviet Russia (1918)
Alexander Apsit, Imperialist Attack on Soviet Russia (1918)

On this day in 1933 John Dillinger escapes from jail in Allen County, Ohio. This escape caused a national sensation. Dillinger's obtained more publicity when his gang broke into two Indiana police stations to obtain fresh supplies of guns and bullet-proof vests. On 23rd October the Dillinger gang robbed the Central National Bank of $75,000. The following month the gang got $27,000 from the American Bank in Racine. In early January 1934, they robbed another bank in East Chicago, Indiana, and during a gun-fight, killed a police officer. Dillinger and his gang were arrested in Tucson, Arizona, and imprisoned in Chicago. However, while waiting to be tried for murder at Crown Point Prison, on 3rd March, 1934, Dillinger escaped from prison. With a new gang, including Baby Face Nelson, Dillinger robbed banks in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Chicago police persuaded Anna Sage, a local prostitute, to befriend Dillinger and lead him into a trap. On 22nd July, 1934, Sage, known as the "Lady in Red", went to the Biograph Theatre. As Dillinger left the theatre, a team of police officers were waiting for him. One of them called out "John" and as he turned round the officers opened fire and Dillinger was killed in a hail of bullets.

John Dillinger
John Dillinger

On this day in 1940 Adolf Hitler postpones Operation Sealion. Hitler told Admiral Erich Raeder that: "The invasion of Britain is an exceptionally daring undertaking, because even if the way is short this is not just a river crossing, but the crossing of a sea which is dominated by the enemy... For the Army forty divisions will be required; the most difficult part will be the continued reinforcement of military stores. We cannot count on supplies of any kind being available to us in England. The prerequisites are complete mastery of the air, the operational use of powerful artillery in the Straits of Dover and protection by minefields. The time of the year is an important factor too. The main operation will therefore have to be completed by 15 September... If it is not certain that preparations can be completed by the beginning of September, other plans must be considered."

Operation Sea Lion was finally cancelled in January 1941. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt later recalled: "The military reasons for its cancellation were various. The German Navy would have had to control the North Sea as well as the Channel, and was not strong enough to do so. The German Air Force was not sufficient to protect the sea crossing on its own. While the leading part of the forces might have landed, there was the danger that they might be cut off from supplies and reinforcements."

Operation Sealion
Operation Sealion

On this day in 1941 Joseph Stalin moved his government from Moscow to Volga as Nazis forces close in on Moscow. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt commented "the vastness of Russia devours us". They were conquering huge territories, yet the horizon seemed just as limitless.The Red Army had lost over two million men during Operation Barbarossa, yet still more Soviet armies appeared. General Franz Halder wrote in his diary: "At the outset of the war, we reckoned on about 200 enemy divisions. Now we have already counted 360."

Field Marshal Heinrich Brauchitsch, Commander in Chief of the German Army, wanted to concentrate on the Moscow line of advance - not for the sake of capturing the capital but because they felt that this line offered the best chance of destroying the mass of Russia's forces which they "expected to find on the way to Moscow". In Hitler's view that course carried the risk of driving the Russians into a general retreat eastwards, out of reach. Brauchitsch agreed this was a danger but thought it was a risk worth taking as Moscow was not only the capital of the Soviet Union, but was a major centre for communications and the armaments industry."

Ferdor von Bock, the Commander-in-Chief of the Centre Army Group and his two panzer commanders, Heinz Guderian and Hermann Hoth, also supported Brauchitsch, in his view that they should concentrating not dispersing, the German effort against the Soviet Union. This was rejected by Adolf Hitler, who insisted on ordering part of Bock's mobile forces to assist the northern army group's drive on Leningrad and the rest to wheel south and support the advance into the Ukraine.

Three German soldiers in the Soviet Union in 1941
Three German soldiers in the Soviet Union in 1941

On this day in 1946 Joseph Stilwell died of stomach cancer. General George Marshall, who had been impressed with Stilwell when he was head of the tactical section of the Infantry School, arranged for him to become commander of the 7th Infantry Division in July 1940. The following year he became head of the 3rd Corps. Promoted to the rank of lieutenant general, he was sent to establish American Army Forces, China, Burma and India (CBI). By the time he had arrived in India on 25th February 1942, Singapore and Burma had both been invaded by the Japanese Army . He immediately began talks with Chaing Kai-Shek, the military leader in China. Eventually Kai-Shek gave permission for Stilwell to take command of Chinese forces in Burma.

In August 1944 Stilwell was promoted to full general and two months later was recalled to the United States and was replaced by General Albert Wedemeyer. He was appointed as head of Armed Ground Forces until given the task of replacing General Simon Buckner as commander of the 10th Army. Stilwell arrived at Okinawa on 23rd June but by that time the battle was virtually over and the following month he took over from Chester Nimitz as military governor of the Ryukyus. Considered to be temperamentally unsuitable for this job he was recalled to Washington in October 1945.

Major General Frank Merrill and General Joseph Stilwell (1943)
Major General Frank Merrill and General Joseph Stilwell (1943)

On this day in 1973 US President Richard Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to replace Spiro Agnew as Vice President. In 1968 Richard Nixon selected Agnew as his vice presidential candidate. After the defeat of Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic Party candidate, Agnew developed a reputation as a hard-liner against anti-Vietnam War protesters. Agnew was re-elected as vice-president in 1972 but the following year it was announced he was being investigated for extortion, bribery and income-tax violations while governor of Maryland. On 10th October, 1973 resigned as vice-president. Found guilty of incorrectly filling in his income-tax returns, Agnew was fined $10,000 and sentenced to three years probation.

Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon
Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon