Friday the 13th is more than just a classic movie series. It’s estimated that 17-21 million people are affected by Paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th. This fear has its roots in biblical history, referencing the thirteen people present at Jesus’ last supper on the 13th day on the night before his death on Good Friday. Another legend links the superstition to the liquidation of the Knights Templar by French king Philip IV.
No matter its origin, in Western culture, the 13th day of the month falling on a Friday has been an unlucky day for at least 200 years. Around the Western world, businesses take an estimated $800-900 million hit on Friday the 13th. A 1993 study in the British Medical Journal even revealed “a significant level of traffic-related incidences on Friday the 13th as opposed to a random day.” Maybe it’s just superstition, maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, maybe it’s not a bad idea to stay in bed. Warfighters aren’t exempt. These five events added more than a few warriors to the ranks of the paraskevidekatriaphobic:
1. The Aztecs get pwned by Cortes
Stubbing your toe on Friday the 13th is bad luck. Losing your entire empire is literally the end of the world. At least, YOUR world. Losing your empire despite outnumbering a bunch of foreigners 200 to 1 is almost tragic.
On Friday the 13th, 1521, Conquistador Hernán Cortés captured Tenochtitlán with 1,500 Spaniards against 300,000 Aztecs after a two month siege. They chained the Emperor of the Aztec Empire and then tortured the city’s aristocracy, looking for hidden treasure. They held him as a slave for four years before executing him. Bad luck.
2. Robert E. Lee accidentally loses the Civil War
One of the famed general’s officers wrapped a copy of Lee’s Special Order 191, the secret instructions for the invasion of Maryland, around three cigars in his camp. The order was a detailed, ten-part instruction for units involved in the rebel invasion. Somehow, the paper was dropped in an abandoned campsite and spotted by a Union scout, who picked it up on Friday, September 13, 1862 and sent it up the chain. It would affect every Confederate invasion of the North for the rest of the war.
Knowing the entire set of instructions, Union forces were able to beat the Confederates at the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single battle of the entire war, and the bloodiest day in American military history. It ended Lee’s first invasion of Union territory. It allowed President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which would be instrumental in keeping foreign powers out of the war, and set the stage for Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
3. The King of England gets a up-close view of WWII
Nazi Germany was relentlessly bombing London during the Blitz, a period of intense aerial attacks on Britain where the Nazis dropped 100 tons of high explosives on the city. Just a week after the Blitz began, King George VI and Elizabeth the Queen Mother (not the current Queen Elizabeth, but rather her mom) were having tea when the Luftwaffe dropped bombs on Buckingham Palace. Elizabeth recalled “battling” to remove an eyelash from the King’s eye, when they heard the “unmistakable whirr-whirr of a German plane” and then the “scream of a bomb”.
The King and Elizabeth only had time to look foolishly at each other before the bombs exploded nearby. The King and his wife were as stiff-lipped as the rest of the British people, refusing to flee London, which won them the respect of the British people. The bomb destroyed a glass ceiling and the palace chapel.
4. Japanese admiral decides to have an actual “Battle of Friday the 13th”
Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto led a 39-ship task force against the small American presence around Guadalcanal on Friday, November 13th, 1942. The idea was to land 7,000 Japanese troops on the island and retake the strategically-located Henderson Field (though that’s probably not what the Japanese called it).
Yamamoto lost two battleships, three destroyers, a heavy cruiser, and seven fully-loaded troop transports sunk and four destroyed on the beach. The Japanese also lost 64 aircraft and nearly 2,000 killed. The Americans lost seven destroyers, two light cruisers, 36 aircraft and more than 1,700 men, including Admirals Daniel Callaghan and Norman Scott, the highest ranking officers to die in combat during the war. The American win cemented the Guadalcanal campaign in U.S. favor.
5. The Cold War in the Baltic teeters on becoming ballistic
Soviet Fighter planes shot down a Swedish military C-47 Dakota cargo plane over international waters on Friday, June 13, 1952. The plane was unarmed and all eight crewmen died in the attack. The Swedes send out two PBY Catalina aircraft to search for the missing plane. One of those is intercepted and shot down as well. The crew of the rescue plane survived, but Moscow denied the incident until 1991.
After the incident, Swedish authorities discovered a life raft with remnants of a Soviet shell. The Swedes would later admit the first plane was conducting signals intelligence. The name of the rescue plane lent itself to color the name of the event, which became known as the “Catalina Affair.” In 2003, both aircraft were located in the Baltic Sea and when the first plane was raised from the ocean, the bullet holes showed the it was shot down by a MiG15. The clock in the cockpit read the exact time the plane went down and all eight crewmen’s remains were recovered.