Rasputin is one of the legends of the Twentieth Century. He was definitely real, but has been imputed with supernatural powers since at leat 1890. A popular preacher in his native Russia, he came to international prominence in 1905 when he was summoned to the imperial palace to heal Prince Alexei. His success in doing so led to him having great influence over the Tsarina, and, it was rumoured, the Tsar.
There were rumblings against him from quite early on, but they only became truly serious as it became clear that Russia’s involvement in World War One was becoming increasingly disastrous. A group of aristocrats led by Prince Felix Yusupov, were alleged to have poisoned him with a dose of cyanide large enough to kill five people, then shot him in the head. Still not dead, Rasputin attacked Yusupov, and the conspirators clubbed him, tied him up and dumped the body in the Neva river.
It is unclear how much truth there is to this – the poisoning in particular has been disputed. He was definitely shot in the forehead and dumped in the river, and he definitely died. But his death, like his life, remains controversial and disputed.
The big German push on Stalingrad and points east was originally intended to begin earlier, but finally got underway on June 28, 1942. Ironically, the push towards Stalingrad was primarily a flanking maneuver, intended to provide cover for the main objective of Case Blue (the official name for the offensive), which was the oil fields of the Baku region (in what is now the Republic of Azerbaijan).
The offensive initially proceeded well for the Germans, but unexpectedly strong resistance at Stalingrad (combined with tactical withdrawals by the Soviet Army which allowed in to resupply and find better defensive positions) led to the drive on Baku stalling as Stalingrad consumed the attention and resources of Case Blue’s commanders. In the end, Stalingrad would be the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war, lasting nearly six months altogether, and the site of the first major German defeat on the Eastern front.
Combined with the near simultaneous defeat of the German North African army at El Alamein, the German forces had precious few victories and were steadily pushed back on all fronts.
The combined German and Russian invasions of Poland in September 1939 were disastrous for the Polish people. The Germans invaded on September 2, and the Poles fell back before the onslaught at first. (The Germans did not actually practice blitzkrieg in Poland, but the invasion was still a swift one.) The Poles ceded some territory, and fell back to defensive positions further east…
…and then, on the 17th of September, and without any formal declaration of war, the Soviets invaded from the east. Caught between two armies, either of which by itself was numerically superior to the Polish army, there was little chance of victory. Although Britain, France and their respective allies had entered the war on the Polish side, they could not deploy in time to give any assistance to their beleagured ally. The Poles fought hard, and inflicted great casualties on the Germans and Russians, but the result was never truly in doubt.
Although some units fought on, the war in Poland largely came to an end with the fall of Warsaw on September 27, 1939, and the Polish government in exile was officially formed on the following day.
It was the opening gambit of World War Two in Europe. After trying to press its geographical claims (especially to the Danzing corridor) through political means, Hitler decided to go ahead with an invasion of Poland.
Two weeks later, in accordance with the provision of a secret agreement between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, Stalin’s forces invaded Poland from the east, and within a month, the nation was conquered entirely, and partitioned between the two invaders.
But the war wasn’t over. Poland had allies – France, Britain and Britain’s Empire all declared war on Germany on September 3. World War Two had begun in Europe.
It is possibly the most notorious defeat in military history, a textbook example of strategic and logistical errors: Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, in the chilly Winter in 1812. This day, December 14, marks the date upon which the French were finally expelled from Russian territory.
A combination of factors – worsening weather, an over-extended supply chain, the scorched-earth policy of the Russian peasantry and the guerilla tactics of the Russian military being the most well-known – came together to make the French position in Moscow untenable. When Napoleon left the army to shore up his political position in France, the already poor morale of the French army sank lower still, and the remaining commanders ordered a retreat, most likely in order to prevent a mutiny.
Thus began one of the most infamous and fatal retreats the world has ever seen. In addition, the defeat was the beginning of the end for Napoleon, whose fortunes declined over the next few years, finally culminating in his defeat in the battle of Waterloo in 1815