June 24, 1812: French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte embarks on an ill-fated invasion of Russia which will eventually decimate his much lauded Grande Armée (see graph). Napoleon led more than half a million soldiers gathered from the French Empire in Europe across the Neman river at the start of the campaign. Only around 22,000 would make the return trip. The smaller Russian army beat a constant retreat, burning everything in their wake to prevent Napoleon’s men and horses from finding supplies. Napoleon eventually entered Moscow on September 14 to find a city that was largely deserted and stripped of food, shelter and other useful resources. That night fires ravaged what was left of the city and after waiting a month for a Russian surrender that never came, Napoleon started a long and arduous retreat through barren land, a severe Russian winter and regular Cossack ambushes. The failure of the campaign destroyed Napoleon’s aura of invincibility and many historians regard it as the beginning of the end of Napoleonic dominance in Europe. The invasion inspired Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Also on June 24: Scottish forces defeat the English at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314); first performance of Canada’s national anthem ‘O Canada’ (1880); South Africa beat New Zealand in the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup in Johannesburg (1995).
Born on June 24: Juan Manuel Fangio (1911), Claude Chabrol (1930), Lionel Messi (1987)