Thursday, February 28, 2013

This Day in History: Feb 28, 1916: German Cameroons surrenders to Allied forces

On this day in 1916, Allied forces complete their conquest of the Cameroons, a German protectorate on the coast of western Africa.

Drawn by the rich trade of slaves, ivory and rubber established in the 17th century, German and British settlers began to explore inland Africa beginning around 1860. In 1884, Germany established a protectorate over the Douala region; Britain did not dispute the claim. By the early 20th century, Germany had built roads, begun the construction of a railroad and cultivated large plantations of cacao, palm and rubber in the region. They had also built a city, Douala, on the Atlantic coast, which by 1914 served as the principal port and wireless station in the Cameroons.

The British launched their campaign in the German Cameroons in late summer 1914, just after the outbreak of World War I; it would last 18 months. The British failed to anticipate the German strategy: knowing the formidable strength of the British navy, the Germans decided not to concentrate on defending the coast, but instead to withdraw inland and use the rough interior of the continent to fortify their resistance. Thus, although British forces earned quick successes—they secured Douala by September 27, 1914, without firing a shot—they were not able to fully take control of the Cameroons until the following February.

The West African Frontier Force, fully committed in the Cameroons until March 1916, was one of two sets of "local" troops that the British turned to in Africa; the other was the South African Defense Force, which concentrated on the campaign in German Southwest Africa (now Namibia). African soldiers in World War I were generally compelled to enlist or were mercenaries. Some served on both sides during the war.

In 1919, during the Versailles peace conference, Britain was given a mandate over one-fifth of the former German Cameroons; the rest was assigned to France. A mandate was a commission granted by the newly created League of Nations allowing member states of the League to establish their own governments in former German territories. Both the British and French Cameroons were made trust territories of the United Nations after World War II. The French Cameroons gained their independence in 1960 as the Republic of Cameroon. The following year, after a U.N. plebiscite was conducted in the British Cameroons, the southern half of the territory joined the Republic of Cameroon, while the Northern Cameroons became part of Nigeria.

Cameroon 1901–1972
  German Kamerun
  British Cameroons
  French Cameroun
  Republic of Cameroon

Taken from: [28.02.2013]
Pictures from:

Source: via Juan on Pinterest

Source: via Juan on Pinterest

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

This Day in History: Feb 27, 1881: The Battle of Majuba Hill, South Africa

The Battle of Majuba Hill (near Volksrust, South Africa) on 27 February 1881 was the main battle of the First Boer War. It was a resounding victory for the Boers. Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley occupied the summit of the hill on the night of February 26–27, 1881. His motive for occupying the hill remains unclear. The Boers believed that he may have been attempting to outflank their positions at Laing's Nek. The hill was not considered scale-able by the Boers for military purposes and thus it may have been Colley's attempt to emphasize British power and strike fear into the Boer camp.[1]

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The bulk of the 405 British soldiers occupying the hill were 171 men of the 58th Regiment with 141 men of the 92nd (Gordon) Highlanders, and a small naval brigade from HMS Dido. Besides the Gordons, most of his troops were inexperienced and their regiments had not seen action since the Crimean War. General Colley had brought no artillery up to the summit, nor did he order his men to dig in against the advice of several of his subordinates, expecting that the Boers would retreat when they saw their position on the Nek was untenable. However, the Boers quickly formed a group of storming parties, led by Nicolas Smit, from an assortment of volunteers from various commandos, totaling at least 450 men, maybe more, to attack the hill.
Source: via Juan on Pinterest

By daybreak at 4:30, the 92nd Highlanders covered a wide perimeter of the summit, while a handful occupied Gordon's Knoll on the right side of the summit. Oblivious to the presence of the British troops until the 92nd (Gordon) Highlanders began to yell and shake their fists, the Boers began to panic fearing an artillery attack.[2] Three Boer storming groups of 100-200 men each began a slow advance up the hill. The groups were led by Field Cornet Stephanus Roos, Commandant D.J.K. Malan and Commandant Joachim Ferreira. The Boers, being the better marksmen, kept their enemy on the slopes at bay while groups crossed the open ground to attack Gordon's Knoll, where at 12:45 Ferreira's men opened up a tremendous fire on the exposed knoll and captured it. Colley was in his tent when he was informed of the advancing Boers but took no immediate action until after he had been warned by several subordinates of the seriousness of the attack.[1]

Over the next hour, the Boers poured over the top of the British line and engaged the enemy at long range, refusing hand-to-hand combat action and picking off the British one by one. The Boers were able to take advantage of the scrub and long grass which covered the hill, something that the British were not trained to do. It was at this stage that British discipline began to wane and panicky troops began to desert their posts, unable to see their opponents and being given very little in the way of direction from officers. When more Boers were seen encircling the mountain, the British line collapsed and many fled pell-mell from the hill. The Gordons held their ground the longest, but once they began to rout the battle was over. The Boers were able to launch an attack which shattered the already crumbling British line.

Amidst great confusion and with casualties amongst his men rising, Colley attempted to order a fighting retreat, but was shot and killed by Boer marksmen. The rest of the British force fled down the rear slopes of Majuba, where more were hit by the Boer marksmen, who had lined the summit in order to shoot at the retreating foe. An abortive rearguard action was staged by the 15th The King's Hussars and 60th rifles, who had marched from a support base at Mount Prospect, although this made little impact on the Boer forces. Two hundred and eighty-five Britons were killed, captured or wounded, including Captain Cornwallis Maude, son of Government Minister Cornwallis Maude, 1st Earl de Montalt.[1]
As the British were fleeing the hill, many were picked off by the superior rifles and marksmen of the Boers. Several wounded soldiers soon found themselves surrounded by Boer soldiers and gave their accounts of what they saw. Many of them were simply farm boys armed with rifles. It was thus a major hit on British prestige to have been defeated by a group of Dutch farm boys with a hand full of older soldiers leading them. Britain would never recover from the injury to its honor.[1]
Although small in scope, the battle is historically significant for three reasons:
Some notable British historians, although not all agree, claim that this defeat marked the beginning of the decline of the British Empire. Since the American Revolution, Great Britain had never signed a treaty on unfavorable terms with anyone and had never lost the final engagements of the war. In every preceding conflict, even if the British suffered a defeat initially, they would retaliate with a decisive victory. The Boers showed that the British were not the invincible foe the world feared.[1]

  1. ^ a b c d e Farwell, Byron (2009). Queen Victoria's Little Wars. Pen & Sword Books. ISBN 9781848840157.
  2. ^ Martin Meredith, Diamonds Gold and War, (New York: Public Affairs, 2007):162

This Day in History: Feb 27, 1964: Leaning Tower needs help

Source: via Juan on Pinterest

On February 27, 1964, the Italian government announces that it is accepting suggestions on how to save the renowned Leaning Tower of Pisa from collapse. The top of the 180-foot tower was hanging 17 feet south of the base, and studies showed that the tilt was increasing by a fraction every year. Experts warned that the medieval building--one of Italy's top tourist attractions--was in serious danger of toppling in an earthquake or storm. Proposals to save the Leaning Tower arrived in Pisa from all over the world, but it was not until 1999 that successful restorative work began.

On August 9, 1173, construction began on the Leaning Tower, which was to house the bells of the vast cathedral of the Piazza dei Miracoli, the "Place of Miracles." Pisa at the time was a major trading power and one of the richest cities in the world, and the bell tower was to be the most magnificent Europe had ever seen. However, when the tower was just over three stories tall, construction stopped for an unknown reason. It may have been because of economic or political strife, or the engineers may have noticed that even then, the tower had begun to sink down into the ground on one side.

In recent years, it has been determined that the tower's lean is caused by the remains of an ancient river estuary located under the building. The ground is made up in large part of water and silty sand, and one side of the heavy marble building began gradually sinking into the ground as soon as the foundation was laid.
The 95-year pause in construction allowed the building to settle somewhat, and the new chief engineer sought to compensate for the tower's visible lean by making the new stories slightly taller on the short side. In 1278, workers reached the top of the seventh story, and construction was halted again. By that time, the southward tilt was nearly three feet.

In 1360, work began on the bell chamber, the eighth and final story, and workers attempted to compensate for the lean by building the chamber at a slight slant with the rest of the tower. The tower was officially completed about 1370. Despite its growing lean, the building was acclaimed as an architectural wonder, and people came from far and wide to admire its 200 columns and six external arcades.

The lean grew a little every year, but this only increased interest in the tower. A measuring from 1550 showed the top was 12 feet south of the base. In 1838, an architect was given permission to excavate the base of the tower, a portion of which had sunk into the ground. As he dug, water came sprouting out of the ground, and the tower tilted another few inches south.

In 1934, Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, decided that the Leaning Tower was an inappropriate symbol for masculine Fascist Italy. In an attempt to reverse the tilt, engineers drilled holes into the foundation of the tower, and some 200 tons of concrete was poured in. The tower abruptly lurched another few inches south.
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In the 1950s, the heavy medieval bells in the tower were locked tight. In 1964, the Italian government publicly asked for suggestions on how to save the tower from what they believed was a forthcoming collapse. Two years later, a restorative attempt involving drilling was aborted when the tower tilted another fraction south. In 1985, another boring attempt likewise caused an increase in the lean. In 1990, the Italian government closed the Leaning Tower's doors to the public out of safety concerns and began considering more drastic proposals to save the tower.

In 1992, in an effort to temporarily stabilize the building, plastic-coated steel tendons were built around the tower up to the second story. The next year, a concrete foundation was built around the tower in which counterweights were placed on the north side. The use of these weights lessened the tilt by nearly an inch. In 1995, the commission overseeing the restoration sought to replace the unsightly counterweights with underground cables. Engineers froze the ground with liquid nitrogen in preparation, but this actually caused a dramatic increase in the lean and the project was called off.

Finally, in 1999, engineers began a process of soil extraction under the north side that within a few months was showing positive effects. The soil was removed at a very slow pace, no more than a gallon or two a day, and a massive cable harness held the tower in the event of a sudden destabilization. Within six months, the tilt had been reduced by over an inch, and by the end of 2000, nearly a foot. The tower was reopened to the public in December 2001, after a foot-and-a-half reduction had been achieved. It is thought that those 18 inches will give another 300 years of life to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Source: via Juan on Pinterest

Source: via Juan on Pinterest

Source: via Juan on Pinterest


  • On January 5, 1172, Donna Berta di Bernardo, a widow and resident of the house of dell'Opera di Santa Maria, bequeathed sixty soldi to the Opera Campanilis petrarum Sancte Marie. The sum was then used toward the purchase of a few stones which still form the base of the bell tower.[9]
  • On August 9, 1173, the foundations of the Tower were laid.
  • Nearly four centuries later Giorgio Vasari wrote : "Guglielmo, according to what is being said, in [this] year 1174 with Bonanno as sculptor, laid the foundations of the bell tower of the cathedral in Pisa."
  • Another possible builder is Gerardo di Gerardo. His name appears as a witness to the above legacy of Berta di Bernardo as "Master Gerardo", and as a worker whose name was Gerardo.
  • A more probable builder is Diotisalvi, because of the construction period and the structure's affinities with other buildings in Pisa. But he usually signed his works, and there is no signature by him in the bell tower.
  • Giovanni di Simone was heavily involved in the completion of the tower, under the direction of Giovanni Pisano, who at the time was master builder of the Opera di Santa Maria Maggiore. He could be the same Giovanni Pisano who completed the belfry tower.
  • Giorgio Vasari indicates that Tommaso di Andrea Pisano was the designer of the belfry between 1360 and 1370.
  • On December 27, 1233, the worker Benenato, son of Gerardo Bottici, oversaw the continuation of the construction of the bell tower.[10]
  • On February 23, 1260, Guido Speziale, son of Giovanni, a worker on the cathedral Santa Maria Maggiore, was elected to oversee the building of the Tower.[11]
  • On April 12, 1264, the master builder Giovanni di Simone and 23 workers went to the mountains close to Pisa to cut marble. The cut stones were given to Rainaldo Speziale, worker of St. Francesco.[12]
 Taken from: [27.02.2013]