Year
1985

The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

In Auckland harbor in New Zealand, Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior sinks after French agents in diving gear plant a bomb on the hull of the vessel. One person, Dutch photographer Fernando Pereira, was killed. The Rainbow Warrior, the flagship of international conservation group Greenpeace, had been preparing for a protest voyage to a French nuclear test site in the South Pacific.

Two days after the incident, French authorities denied responsibility in the bombing and continued to do so even after New Zealand police arrested two French secret service agents in Auckland. Under pressure from New Zealand authorities, the French government formed an inquiry to investigate the incident and after several weeks concluded that the French agents were merely spying on Greenpeace. Later in the year, however, a British newspaper uncovered evidence of French President Francois Mitterrand’s authorization of the bombing plan, leading to several top-level resignations in Mitterrand’s cabinet and an admission by French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius that the agents had sunk the vessel under orders.

In Auckland, the two agents pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of manslaughter and willful damage and were each sentenced to 10 years in prison. Following negotiations with the French government, New Zealand released them a year later. In 1992, President Mitterrand ordered a halt to French nuclear testing, but in 1995 it was resumed, and Greenpeace sent The Rainbow Warrior II to French Polynesia to protest and disrupt the tests.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Jazz great Jelly Roll Morton dies

On this day in 1941, Jelly Roll Morton—a native of New Orleans who became the first great jazz pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader—dies in Los Angeles, California. Born Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe in New Orleans (his year of birth is recorded variously as 1885 and 1890), he ...read more

Allies land on Sicily

On July 10, 1943, the Allies begin their invasion of Axis-controlled Europe with landings on the island of Sicily, off mainland Italy. Encountering little resistance from the demoralized Sicilian troops, the British 8th Army under Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery came ashore ...read more

U.S. Patent issued for three-point seatbelt

The United States Patent Office issues the Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin a patent for his three-point automobile safety belt “for use in vehicles, especially road vehicles” on this day in 1962.Four years earlier, Sweden’s Volvo Car Corporation had hired Bohlin, who had previously ...read more

Monkey Trial begins

In Dayton, Tennessee, the so-called “Monkey Trial” begins with John Thomas Scopes, a young high school science teacher, accused of teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law.The law, which had been passed in March, made it a misdemeanor punishable by fine to “teach ...read more

The Battle of Britain begins

On this day in 1940, the Germans begin the first in a long series of bombing raids against Great Britain, as the Battle of Britain, which will last three and a half months, begins.After the occupation of France by Germany, Britain knew it was only a matter of time before the Axis ...read more

U.S. women win World Cup

On July 10, 1999, the U.S. women’s soccer team defeats China to win their second Women’s World Cup. The game ended in a 5-4 shootout after 120 scoreless minutes: 90 tightly played minutes of regulation dictated by the United States and 30 tense minutes of overtime largely ...read more

Millard Fillmore sworn in as president

On this day in 1850, Vice President Millard Fillmore is sworn in as the 13th president of the United States. President Zachary Taylor had died the day before, five days after falling ill with a severe intestinal ailment on the Fourth of July. Fillmore’s manner of ascending to the ...read more

Alice Munro is born

Canadian short story writer Alice Munro is born in Wingham, Ontario, on this day in 1931.Munro was raised on a fox and turkey farm. Her parents encouraged her to read, and she decided to become a writer during her childhood. She attended the University of Western Ontario but ...read more

Dam collapses in Switzerland, kills 70

On this day in 1887, a dam breaks in Zug, Switzerland, killing 70 people in their homes and destroying a large section of the town. The dam at Zug was 80 feet high and made of concrete. When the dam was built, concrete-making and setting techniques were not as advanced as they ...read more

Siege on Battery Wagner begins

On this day, Union troops land on Morris Island near Charleston, South Carolina, and prepare for a siege on Battery Wagner, a massive sand fortress on the island. In the summer of 1863, Union General Quincy Gillmore waged an unsuccessful campaign to capture Charleston. Although ...read more