On this day in history, February 16

A little-known desperate and brave defence.

A little-known desperate and brave defence.

Published Feb 16, 2024


More than just dates and boring facts

600 Pope Gregory the Great decrees that ‘God bless You’ is the correct response to a sneeze. At the time, bubonic plague was ravaging Europe and a sneeze often heralded death, with it being the first sign.

1796 Colombo in Ceylon falls to the British, completing their invasion of the island.

1877 Chief Sekukuni of the Bapedi signs a peace treaty with the Boers in the Transvaal.

1898 Spain’s ‘reconcentrado’ policy in Cuba – a forerunner of the British concentration camps of the Anglo-Boer War and the Nazi death camps 40 years later – becomes known.

1917 The first synagogue in 425 years opens in Madrid.

1920 South Africans Pierre van Ryneveld and Quintin Brand take off from Brooklands, Surrey, in their Vickers Vimy bomber, Silver Queen, hoping to become the first airmen to fly from England to Cape Town. After wrecking two of the biplanes – the first in Egypt and the second at Bulawayo – they arrive in Cape Town in an ‘Imperial Gift’ aircraft on March 20.

1939 Ichthyologist Professor JLB Smith sees the ‘extinct’ coelacanth – caught seven weeks earlier near East London – for the first time.

1942 In one of World War II’s most brilliant but overlooked delaying actions, on hearing the order, ‘Mount up!’, the battered and exhausted men of the 26th US Cavalry, aka Philippine Scouts, climb astride their horses and fling themselves, once again, against the blazing gun muzzles of Japanese tanks. To the shock of the cavalrymen and the Japanese commanders alike, they scattered and drove back the armoured squadrons during their ‘hell-bent-for-leather’ strike, but they did pay a terrible toll, and their mounts suffered worst.

1992 The remains of former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie are found on the grounds of the imperial palace – beneath the private lavatory of dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, who had overthrown Selassie.

2006 The last Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) is decommissioned by the US army.

2018 More than 100 000 orangutans have been killed in Borneo since 1999.

2020 The ‘ghost ship’ cargo vessel MV Alta washes up on the Irish coast near Ballycotton by Storm Dennis, after drifting across the Atlantic from Bermuda.

2021 Athens and parts of Greece covered in unusual heavy snowfall.

2023 The US Naval History and Heritage Command confirms the identity of the wreck USS Albacore, a submarine lost in 1944. It was found by a University of Tokyo sonar team off Hokkaidō, Japan, in 2022.