Lost Battalion Dispatch #30

A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting Historical
Occurrences with occasional contributions
by Ian S. McCaskie

This Week in History we meet the grandmother of Europe, defend Rorke’s drift, and remember the crew of Challenger.


The Lost Battalion Dispatch #30 for the Week of January 22, 2023

1877 Portrait of Victoria
Her Majesty Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom, Empress of India, and Head of the Commonwealth died on January 22, 1901. Her death did not exactly coincide with the so-called Victorian Era. World War I put an end to that. When she came to the throne in 1837, she inherited a nation that had risen to prominence as a result of its success in defeating Napoleon. The British navy ruled the sea allowing British commerce to thrive around the world. She presided over the Industrial Revolution And guided a country that saw more scientific, technological, medical, and engineering advances than any era since that of Ancient Greece.

These advances brought with them challenges. Migrations of the rural population to cities for factory work radically changed the class structure and caused drops in food production which, combined with poor harvest brought on famines in the decade called the Hungry Forties. Political challenges came in Parliamentary reforms, how Catholics were treated, and efforts to deal with an increasing problem of poverty in the cities.

It was during Victoria’s reign that England truly became an empire on which the sun never set both through conquest and colonization and a network of free trade protected by the British navy.

Through her nine children and 42 grandchildren, she became the “grandmother of Europe.” When World War I broke out many of the leaders of Europe were connected to Victoria by blood or marriage:

· King George V of the United Kingdom (Victoria’s grandson via Albert Edward/Edward VII)

· Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany (Victoria’s grandson via her daughter Vicky)

· King Haakon VII of Norway (husband of Victoria’s granddaughter Maud)

· Ferdinand I of Romania (husband of Victoria’s granddaughter Marie)

· Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (husband of Victoria’s granddaughter Alexandra)

· King Constantine I of Greece (husband of Victoria’s granddaughter Sophia)

· Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden (husband of Victoria’s granddaughter Margaret)

· King Alfonso XIII of Spain (husband of Victoria’s granddaughter Victoria Eugenie)

Even today five of the world’s 28 remaining monarchies are held by descendants of Victoria.

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Defense of Rorke’s Drift
The Battle of Rorke’s Drift ended on January 23, 1879. Just over 150 British regulars and a few civilians held off 3000 to 4000 Zulu warriors at a Swedish mission station that had been converted into a hospital in Natal Province, South Africa for two days. Upon hearing of the Zulu’s approach, Lt. John Chard and Lt. Gonville Bromhead determined that it would be impossible for their small column to transport the wounded to safety and that the best course would be to fortify and defend the mission. A defensive perimeter was constructed of mealie bags and loopholes cut in the missions existing structures. An additional barricade of biscuit boxes was constructed in the middle of the enclosure to allow continued defense should part of the compound be overrun.

The initial Zulu attack came against the south wall but suffered heavily from disciplined British firepower. Most of the Zulus then moved around to the north where they succeeded in breaking through and entering the hospital. The soldiers assigned to defend the hospital held off the attackers long enough to dig a hole in the wall and drag the patients out. Nine of the 11 wounded survived the retreat to the biscuit box barricade.

The Zulus continued a fierce assault until after midnight. The fighting slacked off around 2 AM. By that time the British supply of 20,000 rounds of ammunition had been reduced to 900. At dawn, the British saw the Zulus had withdrawn. They had a brief scare when another band of warriors marched by around 7 AM causing them to man their defenses. At 8 AM a relief column led by Lord Chelmsford arrived. 351 Zulu bodies were counted on the field. 17 defenders were killed.

The battle scene from the 1964 movie Zulu, starring Michael Caine, can be seen here.

James Marshall discovered gold in a small settlement on the American River about 30 miles from Sacramento on January 24, 1848. News of the find spread quickly and sparked the California Gold Rush. Forty-niners, named so after the peak year of the Gold Rush, poured into the area by ship and overland. The influx of population propelled California rapidly to statehood in 1950. The 10 billion dollars of gold produced reinvigorated the US economy which had suffered a series of recessions during the 1840s.
Replica of Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California
Black Brant XII Research Rocket
Boris Yeltsin had the nuclear briefcase open and was prepared to launch a strike on January 25, 1995. The Russian military mistook the launch of a Black Brant XII sounding rocket in Norway as that of a submarine-launched Trident missile. Soon after Yeltsin had his keys in the box and was ready to authorize a strike, it was determined that the missile was headed out to sea and the crisis was averted. The scientists in charge of the project had notified thirty countries, including Russia, of the high-altitude launch mission, but the Russian Foreign Ministry failed to pass the notification along to the military.
In the early hours of January 26, 1531, an earthquake struck Lisbon, Portugal, killing an estimated 30,000 people. The quake had been predicted for Pope Clement VII by Solomon Molcho, a Messianic Jew. Molcho had been petitioning the pope for permission to raise a Christianized Jewish army to liberate the Land of Israel from the Ottoman Empire in preparation for the return of the Messiah. Molcho also predicted, from his Kabbalistic studies, that the Messiah’s return would take place in 1540. Clement was so impressed by the earthquake prediction that he allowed Molcho to preach in Rome and publish his sermons.

It ended badly for Molcho however when he traveled to German to persuade Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to provide arms for his expedition. Charles found him to be inadequately orthodox. He turned him over to the Inquisition and he was burned at the stake.

Pope Clement VII
The 8th Air Force dropped its first bombs on German soil on January 27, 1943. Ninety-one bombers took part in the raid. Fifty-eight B-17s and B-24s reached their target, the U-boat pens and support facilities at Wilhelmshaven, where they dropped 137 tons of bombs. They claimed 22 enemy fighters were shot down, but the official post-war tally was a more realistic sum of seven. Only three bombers were lost to enemy action during the daring daylight mission even though 50-75 Luftwaffe fighters engaged them.
B-24 Liberators Inbound to Wilhelmshaven
Shortly after 11:30 EST on January 28, 1986, the STS-511 a mission flown by the Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off from Kennedy Space Center. Just over a minute into the flight a faulty seal on the booster rocket allows flames to melt a hole into the external tank causing a catastrophic release of fuel that created a huge fireball. The failure of the craft’s structures caused it to plummet out of the sky. The entire crew was of 7 killed upon impact including, Christine McAufflie, a schoolteacher who planned to teach lessons from space as part of NASA’s Teachers in Space Program.
The Crew of STS-511
Spend an Afternoon as Master and Commander

Enemy in Sight lets you relive the Age of Fighting Sail. Send your ships of the line into harm’s way, deliver a broadside that sets the enemy afire, and try to stay off that lee shore. Get a copy today by clicking here.

About the Lost Battalion Dispatch

This weekly newsletter is brought to you by Cher Ami, the homing pigeon whose heroic flight helped bring relief from a barrage of friendly fire to the First Battalion, 308th Infantry of 77th New York Infantry Division and alerted high command that over 500 American troops were holding out against all odds while surrounded in the Argonne Forest during World War One.

At Lost Battalion Publishing we take inspiration from the historical Lost Battalion that never gave up, never lost hope, and persevered despite a series of devastating setbacks.

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