2014 WAS A BANNER YEAR for for military history. The 70th anniversary of D-Day drew huge crowds to Normandy, France in June. Later that same month, thousands of Scottish nationalists descended onto Bannockburn to commemorate their country’s famous victory against the English 700 years earlier. In September, Americans marked the bicentennial of the writing of the Star Spangled Banner, a song that was inspired by the 1814 British bombardment of Fort McHenry. There was also the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, events marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War One dominated the headlines for much of the year. But if somehow that wasn’t enough, 2015 promises to be even more jam-packed with historic anniversaries. Here are some of the highlights to watch for over the next 12 months.
Jan. 8 — Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial
American history buffs will be gathering next week in the Big Easy to mark the bicentennial of the last major engagement of the War of 1812. Fought in Louisiana bayou country, the one-day dust-up saw British redcoats cut down by the hundreds as they advanced in parade-square perfection straight at army of American regulars, backwoodsmen and pirates. Ironically, the bloody contest unfolded after both sides’ governments had already agreed to suspend hostilities; news of the Treaty of Ghent, signed on Christmas Eve 1814, didn’t arrive until after the guns fell silent. The clash at New Orleans was the last major battle in history fought between the United States and Great Britain.
Jan. 19 — 100th Anniversary of the First Zeppelin Raid on England
Germany inaugurated its two-year airship bombing campaign of the British Isles with a nighttime raid on the North Sea coastal towns of Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn and Sheringham on Jan. 19, 1915. The attack, which was conducted by two hydrogen-filled Zeppelins, killed four civilians and wounded 16. The incident touched off a period of mass hysteria in England. Airships would continue to raid England until 1917. Gotha bombers pounded the country into the war’s final year.
Feb. 19 — Iwo Jima Commemorations
Seventy years ago this February, U.S. Marines and Japanese troops fought a bitter five-week campaign for control of the tiny volcanic island of Iwo Jima. The battle is perhaps best known for the iconic photograph of American troops raising the Stars and Strips atop Mount Suribachi. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the image. More than 18,000 Japanese troops died defending the island; America lost nearly 7,000 men on Iwo Jima. The battle will be commemorated in a series of stateside events in February.
April 9 — Appomattox Sesquicentennial
The de facto conclusion of the American Civil War unfolded in the living room of Virginia famer Wilmer McLean on April 9, 1865. That’s where a war-weary Robert E. Lee, head of an exhausted Confederate army, finally capitulated to Union general Ulysses S. Grant in a brief ceremony. The landmark surrender will be marked this spring at the restored McLean Homestead at Appomattox, Virginia. The gathering will cap four-years of CivilWar150 commemorations that have marked anniversaries of the conflict’s many milestones since 2011.
April 22 — Gas! Gas! Gas!
Watch for coverage of the anniversary of the first major gas attack of the World War One this spring. At 5 p.m. on April 22, 1915, the Germans released 160 tons of chlorine onto a 6.5 km (4 mile) section of the Allied lines near Gravenstafel as a prelude to an offensive along the Ypres Salient. Canadian and French African troops bore the brunt of the attack. The thick yellow cloud rolled across No Man’s Land burning and asphyxiating everyone in its path. The attack created utter chaos in the trenches. “Plainly something terrible was happening,” reported one officer who recalled seeing soldiers writhing in agony, clawing at their throats and foaming at the mouths. More than 12,000 casualties were reported. Tragically, poison gas would soon become an all-too-common part of the First World War.
April 25 — The Gallipoli Centenary
For 100 years, Australians and New Zealanders have marked the anniversary of their disastrous landings at Gallipoli. Part of a wider British gambit to knock the Ottoman Empire out of World War One, the Dardanelles campaign eventually claimed the lives of a quarter million Allied troops. Every year since, the entire debacle has been soberly commemorated Down Under on ANZAC Day – a national day of remembrance. In Turkey, the battle is regarded as a source of pride. The 100th anniversary will see a number of events taking place in Australia, New Zealand and Turkey too.
April 30 — Saigon Falls
America’s ten-year misadventure in South East Asia famously ended with the April 1975 evacuation of Saigon. With communist tanks closing in on the city from all sides, Washington hurriedly ordered the withdrawal of its last military advisors, diplomats and their dependents from the rooftop of the U.S. embassy in the South Vietnamese capital. The images of the evacuation served as a humiliating conclusion to America’s most divisive and controversial war.
May 7 — Lusitania Disaster at 100
Just after 2 p.m. local time on May 7, 1915, a single German torpedo slammed into the starboard hull of the Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania. The vessel, which was steaming less than 20 miles off the south coast of Ireland en route to its homeport of Liverpool, went down in less than 20 minutes. Nearly 1,200 of the 1,959 people aboard downed, including 128 Americans. The disaster was one of several factors that eventually drew the United States into World War One in 1917. Expect to see commemorations take place in County Cork all along the very coastline where bodies from the Lusitania washed ashore 100 years ago.
May 8 — VE Day Plus 70 Years.
This spring will also witness bittersweet commemorations to mark the end of the Second World War in Europe. While many will toast the collapse of Hitler’s hateful Nazi regime, VE Day 70 celebrations will be coloured by knowledge that the six-year conflict claimed an almost incomprehensible 80 million lives and paved the way for the five-decade Cold War. Watch for a barrage of wartime retrospectives as May draws nearer.
June 18 — Waterloo 200
Bookshelves are already filling with a gamut of new releases commemorating the 1815 Battle of Waterloo — the fiery conclusion to the two decade Napoleonic Wars. The 10-hour contest between Bonaparte and Britain’s Duke of Wellington saw the Corsican conqueror’s hopes to rekindle his imperial grandeur dashed once and for all. Commemorations, which are already building, will reach a crescendo in June as thousands of reenactors in period costumes gather in a field on the outskirts of Brussels to recreate the historic battle.
Aug. 2 — 25th Anniversary of the ‘Line in the Sand’
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein surprised the world in the summer of 1990 when he ordered his battle-hardened Republican Guard into the small Persian Gulf emirate of Kuwait. U.S. president George H.W. Bush was quick to condemn the invasion and together with British prime minister Margaret Thatcher famously declared that the aggression “would not stand”. After a five-month military build-up in the region, a coalition of powers unleashed a torrent of firepower on Iraq beginning on Jan. 17, 1991. Within six weeks, Kuwait was liberated and Saddam’s army had been decimated.
Aug. 6 – The Dawn of the Nuclear Age
The world will reflect on yet another grim moment in history this summer as Japan marks 70 years since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As many as 200,000 civilians were vapourized in the two blasts or died afterwards of the effects of radiation. Watch for additional commemorations marking the anniversary of Japan’s final surrender in Tokyo Harbor aboard the USS Missouri.
Sept. 15 – “Their Finest Hour”
Preparations are already underway throughout the U.K. to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The three-month Nazi campaign to conquer the skies over England in advance of a full-scale invasion of the British Isles reached its peak on Sept. 15, 1940 when the Luftwaffe sortied more than 1,200 aircraft. Britain scrambled every fighter it could to meet the threat – 630 planes in all. Germany took grievous losses throughout the daylong onslaught – more than 60 fighters and bombers were brought down. A host of summer events by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust as well as the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight throughout the late summer, while RAF Northholt near London will host one of the biggest post-war fly ins of working Hawker Hurricanes and Spitfires in recent memory.
Oct. 15 – Agincourt at 600
Six centuries ago this coming October, England’s king Henry V won one of the most stunning victories of the Middle Ages at Agincourt. The one-day battle, which was later immortalized in a play by William Shakespeare, saw a beleaguered army of just 5,000 English and Welsh soldiers butcher more than 30,000 Frenchmen in a field near Calais. France lost nearly 10,000 men in the brief engagement, including dozens of nobles. English losses were negligible: just over 100 killed.
Nov. 14 — First Blood in Vietnam
America’s long nightmare in South East Asia began in earnest 50 years ago this November, when 1,000 U.S. Army Air Cav troopers fought a force of NVA regulars nearly twice as large for control of a series of landing zones in the Ia Drang Valley. The battle raged for three days beginning on Nov. 14, 1965. It was America’s first major engagement of the Vietnam War. Over the next decade, the United States would lose nearly 60,000 men in the conflict before withdrawing from the region. More than 1 million Vietnamese also died.