Greetings fellow history enthusiasts, and welcome to the first entry of “This Week in History” for the fall semester! This week we will cover a few momentous events that have occurred throughout human history which retain remarkable impacts in the modern world. So without further ado, let’s jump in!
When you think of the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States, it seems a resounding American triumph. After all, the first human to step foot on the Moon was Neil Armstrong, an American astronaut. Yet, on Sept. 12, 1959, the Soviet Union arguably achieved a feat just as significant. Luna 2 — a rather strange spherical spacecraft — would be the first manmade object to not only make contact with the Moon, but with any extraterrestrial object in space.
Fortunately, there were no human occupants in the craft as it detonated on landing. The main goals of this expedition were to check for radiation or any magnetic belts around the Moon, neither of which were found by its sensors. This was a huge shock for the American space effort, which at this point had never landed on the moon; the closest expedition was 23,000 miles away.
Returning to Earth — this week would see the miraculous story of the ORP Orzeł, a Polish submarine serving in the Second World War. September in 1939 was a brutal month for the Polish armed forces. Nearly unstoppable German offensives forced Poland to capitulate before the end of the month, resulting in the remnants of the military — particularly the navy — attempting to flee the country and head to free shores.
One such vessel, the ORP Orzeł, left port in Poland and sailed into the Baltic sea, hoping to find safety in neutral Estonia. Once docked in Estonia on Sept. 14, 1939, Germany pressured the Estonian government to intern the crew of the Orzeł, taking all of their navigation equipment and wireless communication devices. With both a disarmed ship and an interned crew, the story of the Orzeł should have ended. Yet for the crew, this was just the beginning.
Late in the night on Sept. 18, the crew escaped from their Estonian captors, reboarding the ship and taking two prisoners. This escape must have been quite a spectacle, as the Estonians sprayed machine gun fire over the submarine, while the Captain mistakenly ran into a sandbar. Despite the setbacks, the Orzeł made it out to sea.
Now free in the Baltic Sea, the crew released the Estonian prisoners, giving them clean clothes and money to find a way back home. All the while, the vessel blindly made its way towards England. Seen as an enemy by both Allied and German ships since there was no way of identifying which side the Orzeł was on, the ship narrowly navigated based on the lighthouses spotted along shores. Spectacularly, the Orzeł would make it safely to the shores of Scotland, a shock to the English who thought she had sunk weeks prior.
While there is much more to cover about the Orzeł, including Soviet cover-ups and an entire campaign in Norway, another event occurred this week nearly 21 years ago that remains vivid in the memories of many today. The attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, were a tragic and unimaginable occurrence, affecting the lives of millions in both the United States and throughout the world.
Rather than focus on the event itself, a solemn and unifying moment would occur two days later, known as the “National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of the Terrorist Attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.” First declared by President George W. Bush, the day was intended not solely as a religious observance, but to encourage peace and remembrance between those mourning across the globe.
Bush would state, “I invite the people of the world who share our grief to join us in these solemn observances.”
In 2002, the day would become a recurring national holiday, known as “Patriot Day” (later expanded to the “National Day of Service and Remembrance”).
This week has seen many momentous events throughout history, and while certainly less impactful on the world, it seems worth mentioning that it is also the first week that I author the column! My name is Ben, I am a sophomore majoring in History at UConn’s Waterbury Campus!
As the previous writer, Gino Giansanti said in his final submission, “I can only hope that another hesitant freshman will find their way into The Daily Campus building, and find a place where they can develop their talents that make the big UConn campus a little homier.”
I am so thrilled to follow in both his and his predecessor Seamus McKeever’s footsteps. It is an honor to be that “hesitant freshman” and see the column continue. And with that, I will see you next week!