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British 18-pounder field gun battery near Boesinghe

3 chaotic historical events that took place in July 

Image: British 18-pounder field gun battery near Boesinghe | Public Domain

As we move into the summer months, we try to make the most of the July weather, enjoying the sunshine and spending time outdoors. But rather than a month of relaxation, for many in history, July was a month of turbulent events that changed the world. So, let's go over some of the most significant (and chaotic) events that took place in July.

1. La Noche Triste (1st July 1520)

On 1st July 1520, in the city of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), the tempers of the Aztec people flared to a fever pitch. Since November 1519, the Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernan Cortes, had been invited into the Aztec capital by their emperor, Moctezuma II. While Moctezuma had done this to learn the Spaniards’ weaknesses, he was placed under arrest by the invaders.

The situation was tense. While Moctezuma continued to act as emperor, the Spanish had largely taken over governance of the empire. This unrest escalated into an outright revolt on 1st July. Cortes demanded Moctezuma speak to his citizens to calm them down.

Instead, Moctezuma died during his attempts to quell the revolt. Spanish sources claim the emperor was killed by projectiles thrown from the crowd, while the Aztecs believed the Spanish murdered him. Either way, the Spanish found themselves under siege in the Imperial palace with no chance of regaining control of the city.

The Spanish chose the Western causeway to escape, it being the shortest route out of the city and back to the mainland. However, their escape was noticed, and Aztec warriors emerged from their homes to attack the fleeing Spaniards. While Cortes and his people managed to escape, between 600 and 1,000 Spanish soldiers and non-combatants were killed along with around 1,000 native allies.

It was a temporary victory for the Aztecs, as they were later decisively beaten at the Battle of Otumba which was followed by the Siege of Tenochtitlan and the final destruction of the Aztec Empire.

2. The American Heat Waves (4th July 1911)

While Americans may celebrate 4th July as their national independence day, this date also marks the country’s worst ever heatwaves and one of the worst tragedies in American history.

June had been as pleasant as expected in New England in the year 1911, with moderately high temperatures warming the usually chilly northern corners of the USA. Yet the coming of July brought with it warm winds from the southern plains and temperatures in excess of 40°C. In some areas, people saw an 11-degree increase in temperature in just half an hour. Without the luxury of air-conditioning, the people of New England suffered horribly under the merciless sun. Many took to rivers and lakes to escape the heat, with 17 deaths from drowning occurring in the first two days.

New England’s industry was brought to a halt, rail lines began to melt and bend, and many people slept on pavements and roofs rather than attempting to sleep in their beds. With the unrelenting heat and many hours of sleep stolen away from them, residents were driven to the brink. There are several reported incidents of people taking their own lives to end their suffering in the heat.

After 11 infernal days, up to 2,000 lives were lost due to drowning, heat-related sickness, dehydration and suicide. But the suffering finally ended on 15th July when clouds blocked out the sun and a thunderstorm began.

3. Start of the Battle of Pilckem Ridge (31st July 1917)

From deadly sunshine to the rain-soaked, artillery-battered mires of the battlefields of Belgium. The Battle of Passchendaele (or the Third Battle of Ypres) is one of the most significant and famous battles of World War I.

The Allies’ plan for the battle was to strike at Germany’s over-stretched defences in Belgium, either forcing a retreat or making the Germans reinforce with troops from other defensive lines. The first moves of the battle were made by the British Fifth Army and French First Army to take Pilckem Ridge. Before them, three layers of German defences with fields of barbed wire, enemy snipers and artillery as extra deterrents for any attacker.

Of course, a head-on attack with infantry would have resulted in disaster. As such, at 3:50am on 31st July, British heavy guns opened fire on the German positions to destroy barbed-wired and defensive structures.

It was planned for tanks to support the infantry advance; however, the unusual levels of rainfall made it almost impossible for the armoured behemoths to move forward. The weather also forced the Allies to cancel their air attack, with only some reconnaissance planes being used to support the infantry.

What followed was a back-and-forth slog through terrible terrain. By the end of the day, 31,850 British and colonial soldiers lay dead (something lauded as a great achievement as it was much lower than in previous attacks). On the other side, around 30,000 Germans were killed and 5,626 taken prisoner. It was but one small operation in the massive battle of Passchendaele and demonstrates the levels of mass suffering brought upon the men on the ground during World War I.