Year
1887

Monty is born

On this day in 1887, Bernard Law Montgomery, British general and one of the most formidable Allied commanders of the war, as well as one of the most disliked, is born in London.

A graduate of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Montgomery fought in World War I with distinction, leading an infantry platoon in an attack at Ypres, Belgium, the site of three major battles and many British casualties. Between wars, Montgomery stayed in the army as an instructor, rising in reputation as a tough-minded leader.

During the Second World War, Montgomery took command of the 3rd Army Division as part of the British Expeditionary forces in France, but had to be evacuated at Dunkirk. Two years later, in August 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave Montgomery command of the British 8th Army, which had been pushed across North Africa into Egypt by German General Erwin Rommel. Needless to say, British morale was low-but not for long. “We will stand and fight here. If we can’t stay here alive, then let us stay here dead,” Monty declared in his typical braggadocio style, and proceeded to push Rommel into retreat at the Battle of el-Alamein–all the way to Tunisia. Rommel was finally recalled to Europe, and the Germans surrendered their position in North Africa altogether in May 1943.

It was during preparations for Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of France, that Montgomery’s prickly personality ran straight into Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of the operation. Montgomery and his 21st Army Group performed admirably in France, keeping the Germans turned in one direction as American forces attacked from the other. But Eisenhower often rejected many of Monty’s strategic proposals, deeming them overly cautious (he was unwilling to move until all the resources and men necessary for optimum results were in place). Ike also thought Montgomery unable and unwilling to strain every last bit of advantage from every strategic gain.

Monty, for his part, did little to hide a haughty disdain for Eisenhower-not to mention his desire to take complete control of land forces. After receiving the surrender of the German northern armies in 1945, Monty held a press conference in which he all but took credit for salvaging a disintegrating American-led operation. He was almost removed from his command for this outrageous, and groundless, contention. By war’s end, virtually no American commanding officer, including Generals Omar Bradley and George Patton, was speaking to Montgomery.

After the war, Monty was made a viscount and a knight of the garter. Among the offices he held was deputy commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers in Europe. He also went on to write a number of treatises on warfare, as well as his Memoirs (1958). He died in 1976 at the age of 88. He would be remembered as one of the most gifted British commanders of the war-but more by his troops than by his American counterparts.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Verdi’s first opera opens

Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi’s first opera, Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio, debuts in Milan. The premiere was held at La Scala, Italy’s most prestigious theater. Oberto was received favorably, and the next day the composer was commissioned by Bartolomeo Merelli, the impresario ...read more

Suez Canal opens

The Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean and the Red seas, is inaugurated in an elaborate ceremony attended by French Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III. In 1854, Ferdinand de Lesseps, the former French consul to Cairo, secured an agreement with the Ottoman governor of ...read more

Elizabethan Age begins

Queen Mary I, the monarch of England and Ireland since 1553, dies and is succeeded by her 25-year-old half-sister, Elizabeth. The two half-sisters, both daughters of King Henry VIII, had a stormy relationship during Mary’s five-year reign. Mary, who was brought up as a Catholic, ...read more

My Lai trial begins

The court-martial of 1st Lt. William Calley begins. Calley, a platoon leader in Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade (Light) of the 23rd (Americal) Division, had led his men in a massacre of Vietnamese civilians, including women and children, at My ...read more

The Heidi Bowl

On November 17, 1968, the Oakland Raiders score two touchdowns in nine seconds to beat the New York Jets–and no one sees it, because they’re watching the movie Heidi instead. With just 65 seconds left to play, NBC switched off the game in favor of its previously scheduled ...read more

Nixon insists that he is not a crook

On this day in 1973, in the midst of the Watergate scandal that eventually ended his presidency, President Richard Nixon tells a group of newspaper editors gathered at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, that he is “not a crook.” Nixon made the now-famous declaration during a ...read more

U.S. establishes Fort Buchanan

On this day, the United States buttresses its control over the Gadsden Purchase with the establishment of Fort Buchanan. Named for recently elected President James Buchanan, Fort Buchanan was located on the Sonoita River in present-day southern Arizona. The U.S. acquired the bulk ...read more

Thousands die in massive flood

On this day in 1421, a storm in the North Sea batters the European coastline. Over the next several days, approximately 10,000 people in what is now the Netherlands died in the resulting floods. The lowlands of the Netherlands near the North Sea were densely populated at the ...read more

Washington, D.C., sniper John Muhammad convicted

On this day in 2003, ex-soldier John Muhammad is found guilty of one of a series of sniper shootings that terrorized the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area and dominated national headlines in October 2002. Police charged that Muhammad and his 17-year-old accomplice, Lee Boyd ...read more

A wealthy heiress is murdered by her son

Wealthy socialite Barbara Baekeland is stabbed to death with a kitchen knife by her 25-year-old son, Antony, in her London, England, penthouse. When police arrived at the scene, Antony was calmly placing a telephone order for Chinese food. Antony’s great-grandfather, Leo ...read more

SALT I negotiations begin

Soviet and U.S. negotiators meet in Helsinki to begin the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). The meeting was the climax of years of discussions between the two nations concerning the means to curb the Cold War arms race. Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency ...read more

Siege of Knoxville, Tennessee, begins

On this day in 1863, Confederate General James Longstreet places the city of Knoxville, Tennessee, under siege. After two weeks and one failed attack, he abandoned the siege and rejoined General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The Knoxville campaign began in November ...read more

“Day One” for DaimlerChrysler on NYSE

On this day in 1998, the brand-new DaimlerChrysler began trading its shares on the New York Stock Exchange. The company had formed five days earlier, when the American Chrysler Corporation merged with the German conglomerate Daimler-Benz AG. As a result of the merger, ...read more