British renew attacks in Battle of Festubert

On May 20, 1915, British, Canadian and Indian troops launch a new round of attacks against a reinforced German line around the village of Festubert, located in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front.

The Battle of Festubert formed part of the large-scale Artois Offensive spearheaded by Joseph Joffre, commander in chief of the French forces. Launched by British commander Sir Douglas Haig after pressure applied to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) by Joffre, Festubert marked the BEF’s second attack of the offensive, after a largely unsuccessful assault on May 9 at Neuve Chapelle.

A four-day-long artillery bombardment of the German positions by over 400 Allied guns firing over 100,000 shells preceded the attack on Festubert. Although the bombardment failed to cause significant damage to the German front line, the initial attack, conducted by two predominately Indian divisions in fair weather conditions on the night of May 15, advanced rapidly, as the German Sixth Army (commanded by Crown Prince Rupprecht) retreated to positions directly in front of the village of Festubert.

The British 2nd and 7th divisions continued the attacks on May 16, but within two days had to be withdrawn due to heavy losses. On May 18, under heavy rain, Canadian troops began another onslaught, but were forced to retreat under heavy German artillery fire. The Allied troops hurried to build trenches to consolidate the small gains made so far, as the German command sent a fresh injection of reserves to reinforce their lines.

On May 20, the Allies renewed the attacks at Festubert; over the next four days, they were able to capture the village from the Germans, a position that would be held by the Allies until the final German spring offensive in 1918. Still, by the time the Allied command called off the attacks on May 27, the Battle of Festubert had resulted in gains of less than one kilometer of territory—at a cost of 16,000 Allied casualties.


Spirit of St. Louis departs

At 7:52 a.m., American aviator Charles A. Lindbergh takes off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York, on the world’s first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean and the first ever nonstop flight between New York to Paris. Lindbergh, a daring young airmail pilot, more

Vasco da Gama reaches India

Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama becomes the first European to reach India via the Atlantic Ocean when he arrives at Calicut on the Malabar Coast. Da Gama sailed from Lisbon, Portugal, in July 1497, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and anchored at Malindi on the east coast of more

The Homestead Act

In a milestone in the settlement of the American West, President Abraham Lincoln signs into law the Homestead Act, a program designed to grant public land to small farmers at low cost. The act gave 160 acres of land to any applicant who was the head of a household and 21 years or more

Christopher Columbus dies

On May 20, 1506, the great Italian explorer Christopher Columbus dies in Valladolid, Spain. Columbus was the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings set up colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland in the 10th century. He explored the West Indies, South America, and more

Battle for Hamburger Hill ends

After 10 days and 10 bloody assaults, Hill 937 in South Vietnam is finally captured by U.S. and South Vietnamese troops. The Americans who fought there cynically dubbed Hill 937 “Hamburger Hill” because the battle and its high casualty rate reminded them of a meat grinder. more

Sunday Silence wins Preakness by a nose

On May 20, 1989, Sunday Silence edges by Easy Goer to win the closest race in the 114-year history of the Preakness Stakes by a nose. Sunday Silence had already beaten Easy Goer in the Kentucky Derby by two-and-a-half lengths, putting the horse one victory away from winning the more

Lincoln signs Homestead Act

On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signs the Homestead Act, which opens government-owned land to small family farmers (“homesteaders”). The act gave “any person” who was the head of a family 160 acres to try his hand at farming for five years. The individual had to be more

Plane crashes at Cairo airport

A Pakistan Airways Boeing 707 arriving from Pakistan crashes upon landing at the airport in Cairo, Egypt, killing 124 people on this day in 1965. The accident came just as pilots were complaining about poor conditions at the Cairo airport. In 1965, the International Pilots more