Year
1942

French scuttle their fleet

On this day in 1942, French Admiral Jean de Laborde sinks the French fleet anchored in Toulon harbor, off the southern coast of France, in order to keep it out of German hands.

In June 1940, after the German invasion of France and the establishment of an unoccupied zone in the southeast, led by Gen. Philippe Petain, Adm. Jean Darlan was committed to keeping the French fleet out of German control. At the same time, as a minister in the government that had signed an armistice with the Germans, one that promised a relative “autonomy” to Vichy France, Darlan was prohibited from sailing that fleet to British or neutral waters. But a German-commandeered fleet in southern France, so close to British-controlled regions in North Africa, could prove disastrous to the Brits, who decided to take matters into their own hands by launching Operation Catapult: the attempt by a British naval force to persuade the French naval commander at Oran to either break the armistice and sail the French fleet out of the Germans’ grasp—or to scuttle it. And if the French wouldn’t, the Brits would.

And the British tried. In a five-minute missile bombardment, they managed to sink one French cruiser and two old battleships. They also killed 1,250 French sailors. This would be the genesis of much bad blood between France and England throughout the war. General Petain broke off diplomatic relations with Great Britain.

But two years later, with the Germans now in Vichy and the armistice already violated, Admiral Laborde finished the job the British had started. As the Germans launched Operation Lila, the attempt to commandeer the French fleet, Laborde ordered the sinking of 2 battle cruisers, 4 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, 1 aircraft transport, 30 destroyers, and 16 submarines. Three French subs managed to escape the Germans and make it to Algiers, Allied territory. Only one sub fell into German hands. The marine equivalent of a scorched-earth policy had succeeded.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Nehru appeals for disarmament

Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru makes an impassioned speech for nuclear disarmament in New Delhi.Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first prime minister, was born in Allahabad, India, in 1889. He was educated in England and in 1912 returned to India to become a lawyer. ...read more

Jimi Hendrix born

Guitar legend Jimi Hendrix is born in Seattle. Hendrix grew up playing guitar, imitating blues greats like Muddy Waters as well as early rockers. He joined the army in 1959 and became a paratrooper but was honorably discharged in 1961 after an injury that exempted him from duty ...read more

Pope Urban II orders first Crusade

On November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II makes perhaps the most influential speech of the Middle Ages, giving rise to the Crusades by calling all Christians in Europe to war against Muslims in order to reclaim the Holy Land, with a cry of “Deus vult!” or “God wills it!”Born Odo of ...read more

Pentagon calls for troop increase

The Pentagon informs President Johnson that if General Westmoreland is to conduct the major sweep operations necessary to destroy enemy forces during the coming year, U.S. troop strength should be increased from 120,000 to 400,000 men.Also on this day: The Viet Cong release two ...read more

Gordie Howe scores his 600th goal

On November 27, 1965, Detroit Red Wing Gordie Howe scores his 600th goal in a game against the Montreal Canadiens. He was the first (and the last, until Wayne Gretzky) NHL player to score 600 times in his career. He’d broken the previous record–544 goals, set by the legendary ...read more

Custer massacres Cheyenne on Washita River

Without bothering to identify the village or do any reconnaissance, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer leads an early morning attack on a band of peaceful Cheyenne living with Chief Black Kettle.Convicted of desertion and mistreatment of soldiers earlier that year in a ...read more

Robert Burns postpones emigration to Jamaica

On this day in 1786, Robert Burns decides not to emigrate to Jamaica, as he had planned, and heads for Edinburgh instead.Burns, the son of a poor farmer, received little formal schooling, though he was well-read. A restless, dissatisfied spirit, he fell in love with Jean Armour ...read more

Bruce Lee born

On this day in 1940, the actor and martial-arts expert Bruce Lee is born in San Francisco, California. In his all-too-brief career, Lee became a film star in Asia, and a pop-culture icon, posthumously, in America.Lee was born while his father, a Chinese opera star, was on tour in ...read more

Freak storm dissipates over England

On this day in 1703, an unusual storm system finally dissipates over England after wreaking havoc on the country for nearly two weeks. Featuring hurricane strength winds, the storm killed somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people. Hundreds of Royal Navy ships were lost to the ...read more

Alger Hiss released from prison

After 44 months in prison, former government official Alger Hiss is released and proclaims once again that he is innocent of the charges that led to his incarceration. One of the most famous figures of the Cold War period, Hiss was convicted in 1950 of perjury for lying to a ...read more

“The Chancellor” is born

On this day in 1746, Robert R. (or R.R.) Livingston—later known as “the Chancellor”—becomes the first of nine children eventually born to Judge Robert Livingston and Margaret Beekman Livingston in their family seat, Clermont, on the Hudson River in upstate New York.The Livingston ...read more