April 5 in Russian history

1242: Battle of the Ice. With the stupidity that deserves a better use, the law of the Russian Federation "On the days of the glory" orders to celebrate this date on April 18. In the autumn of 1240, the knights of the Teutonic order, assuming that Russians were weakened by Swedish and Tatar raids, attacked the Republic of Novgorod. Poor guys who miserably failed in the Holy Land thought that the northern savages would be an easier prey than the southern ones. After the initial successes against Prussians, Poles, Livonians and Estonians, they decided to christianize the Russian christians. They succeeded in occupying Russian cities of Pskov, Izborsk and Koporye and moved towards Novgorod. In 1241, knyaz Alexander Yaroslavich (who had already earned his name Alexander Nevsky after defeating the Swedes in 1240) drove them off and took Pskov and Koporye. Alexander led his army to Izborsk, but during the march one of the reconnaissance detachments was defeated by the knights. This allowed Alexander to determine the position and number of the Teutonic forces, which were moving towards a narrow straight between Chudskoye and Pskovskoye lakes (the lakes are known in English as one lake Peipus, from the Estonian name Peipsi). Alexander retreated in order to start the battle on a position that would be favorable for the Russian forces. The troops of the Teutonic Order included around 1,000-2,000 people, of whom about 500-700 were mounted knights. The number of Russians was about 4,000-5,000 people, including Alexander's druzhina, professional soldiers of the Novgorod garrison, militia from the "ends" of Novgorod and its prigorods and members of private militarized forces of boyars and merchants. About 800 of them were cavalry. The mounted knights followed by foot soldiers attacked the centre of the Novgorod army in their typical wedge-shaped "boar's head" formation and caused severe damages, but could not disrupt the order or get through the rows of the soldiers. Some time later, when the Teutonic troops began to grow tired, Alexander ordered the left and right wings to flank the enemy. The Novgorod archers killed many foot soldiers and forced the knights to flee. Heavy mounted knights stepped onto the ice, hoping to make to the opposite coast, but ice collapsed and many of them drowned. Russian chronicles reported of 500 killed knights, but the whole Order was smaller than that. A more reasonable estimation is that about 400 Germans (including 20 knights) were killed and 90 (including 6 "brothers") were captured. The losses of Novgorodians are unclear. Some historians, for example I.Danilevsky, assume that the importance of the battle was overestimated, but, after all, the Order never attempted serious attacks on Russian lands any more.

1797: Emperor Pavel I prohibits the land-lords to force the serfs to work on Sundays.

1941: Yugoslavia and USSR sign the friendship and non-aggression treaty. Only some days earlier, on March 25, Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact joining the Axis. The decision was not easy and resulted into resignment of four members of the cabinet of ministers. What is more important is that the Yugoslavians did not support the alliance. Immediately after the pact was signed, mass demonstrations began in Belgrade and the Yugoslavians overthrew the pro-fascist government and regent prince Paul. Peter II became the king of Yugoslavia and signed the friendship treaty with the USSR. On the very next day, on April 6, the Nazi Luftwaffe began furious attacks on Belgrade. What amazes me most is the reaction of the Yugoslavians. A lot of European countries either happily elected fascist governments or inclined to support nationalist dictatorships of a rather fascist-like type. For example, Bulgaria, Hungary and Italy, who invaded Yugoslavia after the German bombardments, or Romania, Lithuania, Estonia, Greece, etc. The reaction of the Yugoslavians to the alliance with the Axis was so strongly negative that it seems that they had some kind of immunity to fascism. This reaction was not limited to certain groups of population, but was rather universal: army, trade-unions, peasants and even clerics opposed any relationships with the Nazis. Of course, they had their own fascist-like movements, but the general rejection of the ideology is remarkable, IMHO.

The pilots of Normandie-Niemen

1943: The first aerial battle of the fighter squadron Normandie-Niemen. The squadron comprised French pilots who came to the USSR to fight against the Nazi Germany. The idea of such a detachment belonged to Charle de Gaulle. The squadron was formed in September 1942 and departed to the front after some months of training on March 22, 1943, under commandment of Jean Tulasne (died on July 17, 1943). On April 5, the first German Fw 190 was shot down by Albert Préziosi (died on July 28, 1943 near Orel) and the second one by Albert Durand (died on September 1, 1943 near Yelna). The squadron was so successful that Wilhelm Keitel issued an order to execute all captured French pilots. During the war, the pilots of Normandie-Niemen shot down 273 German planes and damaged more than 80. 42 members of the squadron were killed during the war. In 1956, a memorial was built in Moscow with the names of all killed pilots. There are two squadrons named Normandie-Niemen in the Air Forces of France and Russia

1945: About 800 Georgian members of the Georgian Legion, ex-Soviet army soldiers, who were captured during the war and agreed to serve the Nazis, begin a rebellion on the Dutch island Texel. They expected the Allies to land on the island, but the Allies had other priorities. The Georgians failed to capture the artillery batteries on the coasts and Germans managed to land on the island and forced the Georgians to split into small groups and begin a guerilla-style war. The fighting did not stop after the capitulation of Germany and continued till May 20. Probably, neither Germans, nor Georgians would stop the battle because of hatred and fear of immediate execution. During the battle, about 800 German occupants were killed. 565 members of the Georgian battalion and 120 Dutch civilians were killed, too. For the natives of Texel, used to the comfort of the German occupation, the events were absolutely unexpected and frightening. However, they assisted the Georgians and after the war built a monument in the memory of this rebellion. 228 survivors returned to the USSR and, like many other POWs, were sent to the Gulag camps.

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