This week in history: 2nd – 8th February

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2nd February, 1943: Germans surrender at Stalingrad.

In the summer of 1942, the Battle of Stalingrad began with the German 6th Army under Friedrich Von Paulus and part of the 4th Panzer Army under Ewald Von Kleist attacking the major industrial centre. By mid October, the Germans had encircled the city but could not break passed the determined defences of the Soviet 62nd Army. From November, things took a turn for the worse for the Germans as a result of Russian guerrilla tactics, the extreme cold and diminishing resources.

After a major counter offensive involving a massive artillery bombardment followed by ground attacks, the situation for the Germans became unwinnable. Despite this, Hitler declared; “Surrender is out of the question. The troops will defend themselves to the last! …. The 6th Army will hold its position to the last man and the last round.” By the time the last of the German forces surrendered on the 2nd February 1943, around 140,000 German troops were dead or dying and around 91,000 were sent to Soviet prisoner of war camps.

3rd February, 1959: Pop singers killed in plane crash.

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson were all killed when their plane crashed just minuets after taking off in Mason City, Iowa. The plane had been charted by Holy and his band, the Crickets, who were at number one in the charts with, ‘That’ll be the Day’, and were using it for transportation on their ‘Winter Dance Party Tour’. Richardson was suffering from a cold so had talked Cricket band member Waylon Jennings to give up his seat on the plain and Valens won a coin toss to secure his place on the doomed flight.

4th February, 1974: Patty Hearst abducted by the Symbionese Liberation Army.

The Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a radical activist group led by Donald DeFreeze, kidnapped and demanded a ransom for Patty Hearst, the 19 year old daughter of publishing Billionaire William Randolph Hurst. The SLA demanded that Hearst distribute $2 million worth of food to the poor to secure his daughters release but the distribution was a disaster and riots broke out when more that 10,000 people showed up for a share. The SLA then demanded a further $6 million give away, and refused to release Patty when their demands were not met.

Two months later, Patty was clearly shown on surveillance cameras at a bank robbery touting a machine gun and later claimed via a tapped message that she had joined the SLA. The group were involved in a gun battle with law enforcement officers in May 1974 and DeFreeze and 5 others were killed, Patty was not present at the time.

In September 1975, she was finally caught and tried and convicted for armed robbery. She claimed she had been forced to join the group, who had subjected her to rape, isolation and brainwashing. At the trail, despite a lack of any real evidence, she was found guilty and sentenced to prison. After almost two years served, President Carter commuted the sentenced and she gained a full pardon from President Clinton in January 2001.

5th February, 1783: Southern Italy devastated by earthquake.

A devastating earthquake hit Southern Italy and triggered a tsunami and landslides, destroying 180 communities and claiming 34,000 lives. The quake was an estimated 8.0 magnitude and struck the Calabria province, literally wiping out some villages leaving no survivors and no remaining standing structures. It was so powerful it changed the layout of the area, causing cracks in the earth, in one case a mile long. Two mountains on opposite sides of a valley were reported to have moved and joined together and rivers had there courses changed causing new lakes to appear across the region.

Throughout the winter, food supplies were diminished causing yet more deaths and another quake on the 28th March killed a further 2000 people. An estimated 80,000 people died as a result of earthquakes that year, including from aftershocks and indirect effects of the disaster.

6th February, 1958: Manchester United players killed in plane crash.

On a return flight after qualifying for the European Cup in Belgrade, a plain carrying the Manchester United team crashed killing 23 people including 8 of the team. The plane had stopped off in Munich for refuelling when a snowstorm hit the city, making conditions less than ideal for flying. After two failed attempts at take off due to engine trouble, the plane failed to get enough lift and crashed at the end of the runway, first hitting a fence then an empty house.

The pilot was charged with criminal negligence after it appeared that he had ignored an icy build up on the wings. However the investigation reviled that this was not the case and the plane had been hindered by slush on the runway, which made a proper take off impossible. Despite this, he was not cleared until 1968; the same year that Manchester United won their first European Cup title, with a team that included two players who survived the crash.

7th February, 1992: European Union established.

On the 7th February, 1992 the Maastricht Treaty of European Union was signed. The treaty brought about economic integration, common foreign and security policies and cooperation on issues such as crime, terrorism and immigration. By the time the Maastricht Treaty took effect in 1993, it had been ratified by 12 nations: Great Britain, France, Germany, the Irish Republic, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Since then, Austria, Bulgaria, Finland, Sweden, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia have also joined the union.

8th February, 1725: Peter the Great died.

Peter the Great became emperor of Russia in 1696 and was responsible for a series of reforms in the military, political, economical and cultural arenas turning Russia into a major European power. He extended the Russian empire with victories over the Persians and the Ottoman Empires and established direct access to the Baltic see by defeating Sweden in the Great Northern War, establishing at the same time the new Russian capitol St Petersburg. After his death in 1725, he was succeeded by his wife Catherine.

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