Jul 15, 1918: Second Battle of the Marne begins with final German offensive On this day in 1918, near the Marne River in the Champagne region of France, the Germans begin what would be their final offensive push of World War I. Dubbed the Second Battle of the Marne, the conflict ended several days later in a major victory for the Allies. The German general Erich Ludendorff, convinced that an attack in Flanders, the region stretching from northern France into Belgium, was the best route to a German victory in the war, decided to launch a sizeable diversionary attack further south in order to lure Allied troops away from the main event. The resulting attack at the Marne, launched on the back of the German capture of the strategically important Chemin des Dames ridge near the Aisne River on May 27, 1918, was the latest stage of a major German offensive—dubbed the Kaiserschlacht, or the "kaiser's battle"—masterminded by Ludendorff during the spring of 1918. On the morning of July 15, then, 23 divisions of the German 1st and 3rd Armies attacked the French 4th Army east of Reims, while 17 divisions of the 7th Army, assisted by the 9th Army, attacked the French 6th Army to the west of the city. The dual attack was Ludendorff's attempt to divide and conquer the French forces, which were joined by 85,000 U.S. troops as well as a portion of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), most of which were located in Flanders. When the Germans began their advance after an initial artillery bombardment, however, they found that the French had set up a line of false trenches, manned by only a few defenders. The real front line of trenches lay further on, and had scarcely been touched by the bombardment. This deceptive strategy had been put in place by the French commander-in-chief, Philippe Petain. As a German officer, Rudolf Binding, wrote in his diary of the July 15 attack, the French "put up no resistance in front...they had neither infantry nor artillery in this forward battle-zone...Our guns bombarded empty trenches; our gas-shells gassed empty artillery positions....The barrage, which was to have preceded and protected [the attacking German troops] went right on somewhere over the enemy's rear positions, while in front the first real line of resistance was not yet carried." As the Germans approached the "real" Allied front lines, they were met with a fierce barrage of French and American fire. Trapped and surrounded, the Germans suffered heavy casualties, setting the Allies up for the major counter-attack they would launch on July 18. Jul 15, 1919: Iris Murdoch is born Irish Murdoch, author of 26 intellectually rigorous novels, is born on this day in Dublin. Murdoch's family moved to London when she was still an infant. Her father, who worked in the civil service, encouraged her to read and discuss books, and she resolved at an early age to become a writer. After earning her degree at Oxford, she worked for the British Treasury and the United Nations until the end of World War II, then returned to academia to become a philosophy professor. She began teaching at Oxford in 1948, where she met her future husband, John Bayley. Several years younger than Murdoch, Bayley fell in love with her at first sight as she rode by his room on a bicycle one day. The pair married in 1956. Murdoch published her first book, a philosophical study of Sartre, in 1953, and her first novel, Under the Net, was published the following year. She wrote two dozen novels as well as numerous scholarly works and several plays. She won the Booker Prize for The Sea, the Sea (1978). Many of her works were turned into plays. Murdoch was named a Dame of the Order of the British Empire in 1987 and won many other awards during four decades of writing. In the mid-1990s, Murdoch was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and died in 1999; not long after, Bayley published Elegy for Iris, a critically acclaimed memoir of their marriage and her decline. Jul 15, 1941: Garbo makes an appearance On this day in 1941, master spy Juan Pujol Garcia, nicknamed "Garbo," sends his first communique to Germany from Britain. The question was: Who was he spying for? Juan Garcia, a Spaniard, ran an elaborate multiethnic spy network that included a Dutch airline steward, a British censor for the Ministry of Information, a Cabinet office clerk, a U.S. soldier in England, and a Welshman sympathetic to fascism. All were engaged in gathering secret information on the British-Allied war effort, which was then transmitted back to Berlin. Garcia was in the pay of the Nazis. The Germans knew him as "Arabel," whereas the English knew him as Garbo. The English knew a lot more about him, in fact, than the Germans, as Garcia was a British double agent. None of Garcia's spies were real, and the disinformation he transmitted to Germany was fabricated—phony military "secrets" that the British wanted planted with the Germans to divert them from genuine military preparations and plans. Among the most effective of Garcia's deceptions took place in June 1944, when he managed to convince Hitler that the D-Day invasion of Normandy was just a "diversionary maneuver designed to draw off enemy reserves in order to make a decisive attack in another place"—playing right into the mindset of German intelligence, which had already suspected that this might be the case. (Of course, it wasn't.) Among the "agents" that Garcia employed in gathering this "intelligence" was Donny, leader of the World Aryan Order; Dick, an "Indian fanatic"; and Dorick, a civilian who lived at a North Sea port. All these men were inventions of Garcia's imagination, but they leant authenticity to his reports back to Berlin—so much so that Hitler, while visiting occupied France, awarded Garcia the Iron Cross for his service to the fatherland. That same year, 1944, Garcia received his true reward, the title of MBE—Member of the British Empire—for his service to the England and the Allied cause. This ingenious Spaniard had proved to be one of the Allies' most successful counterintelligence tools Jul 15, 1953: A notorious English killer is executed John Christie, one of England's most notorious killers, is executed. Four months earlier, on March 25, the police and a tenant at 10 Rillington Place in West London made an awful discovery: the bodies of four women in an empty apartment, three in a hidden cupboard and one more beneath the floorboards. Christie, who used to live at the house, was apprehended a week later and confessed to the murders. Since one of the dead women had been identified as Christie's wife, Ethel, police knew where to begin their search for the killer. The three other victims were young women, all of whom had been sexually assaulted. Detectives soon found additional bodies buried in the yard behind the house. Strangely enough, two of the women had not been murdered by Christie, but had died as the result of botched, illegal abortions conducted by another man. Christie had been plagued his whole life with impotence, which caused the rage that eventually sparked his murder spree. Stories of the grisly discoveries at the soon-to-be infamous house at 10 Rillington Place filled the London tabloids for weeks and fueled the call for Christie's quick execution. Jul 15, 1964: Goldwater nominated for president Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona) is nominated by the Republican Party to run for president. During the subsequent campaign, Goldwater said that he thought the United States should do whatever was necessary to win in Vietnam. At one point, he talked about the possibility of using low-yield atomic weapons to defoliate enemy infiltration routes, but he never actually advocated the use of nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia. Although Goldwater later clarified his position, the Democrats very effectively portrayed him as a trigger-happy warmonger. This reputation, whether deserved or not, was a key factor in his crushing defeat at the hands of Lyndon B. Johnson, who won 61 percent of the vote to Goldwater's 39 percent. Jul 15, 1965: Mariner 4 studies Martian surface The unmanned spacecraft Mariner 4 passes over Mars at an altitude of 6,000 feet and sends back to Earth the first close-up images of the red planet. Launched in November 1964, Mariner 4 carried a television camera and six other science instruments to study Mars and interplanetary space within the solar system. Reaching Mars on July 14, 1965, the spacecraft began sending back television images of the planet just after midnight on July 15. The pictures--nearly 22 in all--revealed a vast, barren wasteland of craters and rust-colored sand, dismissing 19th-century suspicions that an advanced civilization might exist on the planet. The canals that American astronomer Percival Lowell spied with his telescope in 1890 proved to be an optical illusion, but ancient natural waterways of some kind did seem to be evident in some regions of the planet. Once past Mars, Mariner 4 journeyed on to the far side of the sun before returning to the vicinity of Earth in 1967. Nearly out of power by then, communication with the spacecraft was terminated in December 1967. Jul 15, 1971: Nixon announces visit to communist China During a live television and radio broadcast, President Richard Nixon stuns the nation by announcing that he will visit communist China the following year. The statement marked a dramatic turning point in U.S.-China relations, as well as a major shift in American foreign policy. Nixon was not always so eager to reach out to China. Since the Communists came to power in China in 1949, Nixon had been one of the most vociferous critics of American efforts to establish diplomatic relations with the Chinese. His political reputation was built on being strongly anti-communist, and he was a major figure in the post-World War II Red Scare, during which the U.S. government launched massive investigations into possible communist subversion in America. By 1971, a number of factors pushed Nixon to reverse his stance on China. First and foremost was the Vietnam War. Two years after promising the American people "peace with honor," Nixon was as entrenched in Vietnam as ever. His national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, saw a way out: Since China's break with the Soviet Union in the mid-1960s, the Chinese were desperate for new allies and trade partners. Kissinger aimed to use the promise of closer relations and increased trade possibilities with China as a way to put increased pressure on North Vietnam--a Chinese ally--to reach an acceptable peace settlement. Also, more importantly in the long run, Kissinger thought the Chinese might become a powerful ally against the Soviet Union, America’s Cold War enemy. Kissinger called such foreign policy 'realpolitik,' or politics that favored dealing with other powerful nations in a practical manner rather than on the basis of political doctrine or ethics. Nixon undertook his historic "journey for peace" in 1972, beginning a long and gradual process of normalizing relations between the People's Republic of China and the United States. Though this move helped revive Nixon’s sagging popularity, and contributed to his win in the 1972 election, it did not produce the short-term results for which Kissinger had hoped. The Chinese seemed to have little influence on North Vietnam's negotiating stance, and the Vietnam War continued to drag on until U.S. withdrawal in 1973. Further, the budding U.S.-China alliance had no measurable impact on U.S.-Soviet relations. But, Nixon's visit did prove to be a watershed moment in American foreign policy--it paved the way for future U.S. presidents to apply the principle of realpolitik to their own international dealings.