Friday, March 22, 2019

December 21, 1941: The Bogdanovka Massacre

Sunday 21 December 1941

Bogdanovka Massacre 21 December 1941
The site of the Bogdanovka massacre, where executions of over 40,000 people were carried out from 21 December 1941 to 9 January 1942 (The National Archives for Photos and Films, Kiev, copy Yad Vashem Archive, Photo Collection 4147/18).
Battle of the Pacific: About 20 miles off Monterey Bay, California, Japanese Navy submarine I-23 surfaces on 21 December 1941 and fires eight or nine shells at 6771-ton Richfield Oil Company tanker Agwiworld. The captain of the Agwiworld manages to evade the shells using a zigzag pattern and makes it to port.

Courier-Journal, 21 December 1941
As shown in the 21 December 1941 headline of The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky, the Japanese submarine attacks off the California coast have become a new problem for the US Navy.
In the Philippines, the Japanese increase their military presence by sending three convoys from Formosa and the Pescadores bearing troops of the 14th Army assault group. The convoys carry 43,110 men of the 48th Division and one regiment of the 16th Division, supported by about 90 light tanks and artillery. They land at three points in Lingayen Gulf on the northeast coast of Luzon during the night of 21/22 December 1941.

Los Angeles Times, 21 December 1941
The LA Times for 21 December 1941 headlines the Japanese submarines operating off the California coast.
The US attempt to counterattack with a few B-17s flying all the way from Australia and also some submarines in the vicinity, but they accomplish nothing. General Wainwright sends the 11th and 71st Divisions of the Philippine Army to launch counterattacks on 22 December. A bit further north at Bacnotan, the Japanese forces that landed earlier advance down the coast and make contact with the Filipino 11th Division. Another Japanese invasion force which left from Taiwan is at sea heading toward Lamon Bay on the eastern shore of Manila, south of Manila. It is obvious to all that the Japanese are heading for Manila, so local naval defense commander Rear Admiral F.W. Rockwell transfers his headquarters to the fortress island of Corregidor.

Camp Roberts, California, 21 December 1941
Texas soldier Juan Lugo Martinez at Camp Roberts, California, 21 December 1941. He enlisted after Pearl Harbor and entered active service on 10 December 1941. Mr. Martinez survived the war and passed away in 1999. (Voces).
At Wake Island, the last plane to leave, a PBY-5 Catalina, departs at 07:00. It carries Major Walter J. Bayler of Marine Aircraft Group 21, who comes to be known as the "last man off Wake." Shortly after, at 08:50, Japanese aircraft carriers Hiryu and Soryu launch 29 bombers escorted by 18 Zero fighters to attack the Marines holding out on the island. Around noontime, 33 "Nell" bombers from Roi Aerodrome on Kwajalein, Marshall Islands also attack. Meanwhile, US Navy Task Force 14 is approaching Wake Island from the southeast but is still 600 nautical miles away.

U-567 in St. Nazaire, 21 December 1941
U-552 - U-567 and U-93 St. Nazaire in September 1941. U-567 is sunk on 21 December 1941 in the North Atlantic north-east of the Azores by Royal Navy sloop HMS Deptford and corvette Samphire. All 47 men aboard perish. 
US Naval Task Force 14 has overwhelming firepower that includes aircraft carriers USS Lexington and Saratoga and heavy cruisers Astoria, Minneapolis, and San Francisco, but nobody knows where the Japanese fleet is and the task force comprises a large fraction of remaining US seapower in the Pacific. Thus, risking it at this stage of the war in an unknown situation concerns Vice Admiral William S. Pye, the temporary commander of the Pacific Fleet. However, at this time Pye allows TF 14 and nearby Task Force 11 (Admiral Frank Fletcher) to continue their attempt to relieve the Marines on Wake.

U-boat ace Engelbert Endrass, KIA 21 December 1941
U-boat ace Engelbert Endrass, commander of U-567, KIA 21 December 1941.
On the Malay Peninsula, the Indian 11th Division (Major-General David Murray-Lyon) assumes command over all Commonwealth troops west of the Perak River, including those on the Grik road. The division orders a general withdrawal behind the Perak River. With units widely dispersed across the peninsula in dense jungles, many units do not receive the order or otherwise have great difficulty retreating.

Flyin Jenny comic strip, 21 December 1941
The Flyin' Jenny (Virginia Dare) comic strip from the Baltimore Sun, 21 December 1941. This strip was the creation of Russell Keaton.
Eastern Front: The disarray within the Wehrmacht continues on 21 December 1941. In the morning, General Adolf Strass, commander of Ninth Army northwest of Moscow between Kalinin and Staritsa, flies to the Army Group Center headquarters in Smolensk. He pleads with the commander of Army Group Center, Guenther von Kluge, to permit continued withdrawals past Staritsa. His plan is to form a defensive line he dubs the "K-Line" (Koenigsberg Line) on a line including Rzhev, Gzhatsk, Orel, and Kursk. This is the same line that recently deposed army group commander Field Marshal Fedor von Bock had proposed. Kluge denies the request, referring to Hitler's "definitive" order to stand fast at Staritsa. On the other side, Soviet General Leytenant I.I. Maslennikov, Commanding General, 39th Army, deploys two divisions east of Staritsa to join a planned offensive toward Rzhev. Maslennikov also has an additional six divisions in reserve to exploit any initial successes.

Sky Harbour pilot class, 21 December 1941
A picture that was taken of a pilot class at the airfield at Sky Harbour, Ontario (Goderich Airport) on 21 December 1941 (Huron County Museum via Flickr).
Holocaust: At the Bogdanovka, Domanovka, and Acmecetca concentration camps on the Southern Bug river, in the Golta district, Transnistria, the German adviser to the Romanian administration of the district and the Romanian District Commissioner order an Aktion. They are concerned about sickness at the camps, which are unheated and poorly provisioned. The camps are located about 200 km northeast of Odessa. The Bogdanovka Massacre is the organized execution of more than 40,000 primarily Jewish inmates evacuated from Odessa and Romania that extends to 9 January 1942. The Aktion is carried out by Romanian soldiers, gendarmes, Ukrainian police, civilians from the district, and local ethnic Germans (Selbstschutz) under the commander of the Ukrainian regular police, Kazachievici, and the Romanian prefect of the area, Modest Isopescu. Some of the inmates are locked in two stables which are then set afire, while others are executed by the standard practice of forcing them to march to ravines outside of town and shot there. Some others are forced to dig pits in the nearby forest with their bare hands and bury corpses before they, too, are executed.

NFL Championship Game ticket dated 21 December 1941
This Pass Out Check will get you into the 21 December 1941 NFL Championship Game.
American Homefront: In the NFL Championship Game held at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the Chicago Bears beat the New York Giants 37-9. The audience is only 13,341, the smallest ever to attend an NFL championship game.

Alaska Territorial Governor Ernest Gruening orders all Alaskan flags to fly at half-mast today in honor of Ketchikan native Navy Ensign Irvin Thompson, 24. Ensign Thompson perished aboard battleship USS Oklahoma during the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was the first Alaskan serviceman casualty of World War II.

NFL Championship Game programme, 21 December 1941
The official ggame program for the 21 December 1941 NFL Championship Game held at Wrigley Field between the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants. The Bears defeat the Giants, 37-9.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

December 20, 1941: Flying Tigers in Action

Saturday 20 December 1941

Tanker Emidio sinks off California, 20 December 1941
Tanker Emidio sinking at Blunt's Reef off Point Mendocino, California, 20 December 1941.
Battle of the Pacific: Japanese submarines are lurking off the U.S. west coast. On 20 December 1941, I-17 torpedoes, shells, and sinks 6912-ton U.S. tanker Emidio about twenty miles west of the California coast at Blunt's Reef (off Cape Mendocino). The attack is made on the surface and in daylight. There are five crew deaths. The survivors reach the Blunt's Reef lightship and are later rescued by Coast Guard cutter Shawnee. A Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat searches for the submarine to no avail. The Emidio is the first US tanker definitely known to be torpedoed and lost in World War II (the Astral was lost in November 1941, but exactly how is not known with absolute certainty). The ship is abandoned and there is some hope of salvaging her, but the Emidio drifts onto the rocks off Crescent City and is wrecked. The is the closest to date that the war has gotten to the continental United States.

Tanker Emidio sinks off California, 20 December 1941
Another view of the sinking Emidio.
At Hong Kong Island, the invading Japanese advance through the Wong Nai Chung Gap from the north to the south coast and split the island in two. British Commonwealth troops hold out on the Stanley Peninsula east of the gap and in the western part of the island. The Japanese troops capture the island's water reservoir, making a British surrender virtually inevitable.

James Montgomery Flagg, 20 December 1941
American artist and cartoonist James Montgomery Flagg and his daughter Faith in Philidelphia, Pennsylvania, December 20, 1941.
In Burma, the recently relocated American Volunteer Group (AVG, aka "Flying Tigers") enter their first combat east of Rangoon in their distinctive P-40B Tomahawk fighters. The unit is not officially part of the US Army Air Force and the pilots (aside from leader Major General Claire Chennault) do not hold commissions. This provides an unusual free-wheeling aspect to the operation, including $500 bounties for every Japanese plane the pilots shoot down. This date, 20 December 1941, is considered the "birth" of the Flying Tigers.

Flying Tiger Bob Layher, 20 December 1941
AVG Flight Leader Bob Layher, 1941-42.
The Japanese make landings on Mindanao, the Philippines. For the first time, the Japanese take heavy casualties as well-placed Filipino machine gunners of the 101st Regiment pin down the invaders. The Japanese ultimately prevail by calling in shore bombardments by 5-inch naval guns. It is a striking mirror image of events later in the war. At Clark Field, the air echelon of the 30th Bombardment Squadron, 19th BG (Heavy), no longer has any bombers to service, as they all have been sent to Australia. Thus, they are sent to Batchelor Field, given rifles, and told to serve as infantry with the 5th Interceptor Command (Provisional).

Star Weekly, 20 December 1941
"The Joy of a Father's Homecoming," December 20, 1941, The Toronto Star Weekly.
At Wake Island, US Navy Task Force 11 (Admiral Frank Fletcher) and Task Force 14 (Admiral Wilson Brown) are sailing toward Wake Island. At Pearl Harbor, Vice Admiral William S. Pye - the Acting Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet - is very leery of the operation and keeps a close eye on any indications of a strong Japanese fleet presence in the area. A US Navy Catalina arrives at Wake bringing official mail and news of the relief expedition. The plane makes a quick turnaround and evacuates Major Walter J. Bayles, who comments:
I looked at our flag, still snapping in the breeze at the to of the pole where it had been hoisted on December 8. I looked at the cheerful, grinning faces and the confident bearing of the youngsters on the dock. As I waved a last good-bye and took my seat in the plane, my smile was as cheerful as theirs. I knew all would go well with Wake Island.
Nobody else will escape the island.

Fairey Albacore lands on HMS Victorious, 20 December 1941
"A Fairey Albacore about to land on the deck of HMS VICTORIOUS during flying operations at Scapa Flow." 20 December 1941 (© IWM (A 6745)).
Eastern Front: Adolf Hitler, having assumed direct command of the German Army, instructs OKH chief of operations General Franz Halder how the situation around Moscow is to be handled. The troops would require a "fanatical will to fight," and this would have to be enforced by "all, even the most severe, means." Soldiers would have to "tolerate breakthroughs" and fight where they stood, as nobody had any "contracts" limiting their efforts to logistics or anything else. Winter clothing could be taken from Soviet civilians or dead Red Army soldiers. He emphasizes, "Every man must defend himself where he is."

Mrs. Paul Titus, 20 December 1941
Mrs. Paul Titus of Bucks County, Pennsylvania poses on 20 December 1941. She had signed up as an air-raid spotter on 8 December 1941. Mrs. Titus is ready to defend Pennsylvania, declaring, "I can carry a gun any time they want me to."
In the morning, General Guderian boards a light plane to fly to Fuehrer headquarters in East Prussia. The new commander of Army Group Center, Field Marshal Guenther von Kluge, receives a string of messages from his armies which suggest utter hopelessness. For instance, Fourth Army reports:
Enemy attacking in the army's deep flank, aiming toward Kaluga. Army has no more forces at its disposal. Combat strength sinking. Holding present positions not possible in the long run.
General Hoepner's Fourth Panzer Group sends a desperate message:
The Commanding Generals of 46 and 5 Corps have reported they cannot hold. Heavy losses of trucks and weapons in recent days. They had to be destroyed for lack of gasoline. Weapons now 25-30 percent of requirements. Only course to give orders to hold to the last man. The troops will then be gone and there will be a hole in the front.
General Strauss at Ninth Army is equally pessimistic:
Present battle area wooded and has poor visibility. If it has to hold there the army is likely to be broken through and smashed.
It is a bleak picture, but the front is holding for the time being.

Courier-Journal, 20 December 1941
The Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal of 20 December 1941 is getting closer to a realistic portrayal of the war than it and other papers had in the week following the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, its announcement of the "first big Philippine landing" is over a week late.
The desperate situation gives von Kluge a chance to settle some old scores. After dark, he calls Halder and unloads his feeling about Guderian, who has clashed with Kluge throughout the campaign (as, to be fair, Guderian has done with several other generals). Kluge reports that he has learned that Guderian has been secretly moving troops to the Oka River, which is 40 miles east of where he is supposed to be. Halder immediately calls the Fuehrer Headquarters, where Guderian already is talking to Hitler. This leads to an immediate row, with Hitler screaming at Guderian that he has planned "an insane scheme." To Guderian's face, Hitler orders Guderian to hold his line right where it is and forget about further withdrawals. It is almost surprising that Guderian returns to the front still holding his command.

The Carolina Times, 20 December 1941
The 20 December 1941 (North) Carolina Times seems to be reporting on a completely different war than the one overseas. 
US Military: The US Navy continues its reorganization following the disaster at Pearl Harbor. Admiral Ernest J. King, the Atlantic Fleet commander, is designated Commander in Chief United States Fleet with headquarters in the Navy Department, Washington, D. C. While King is elevated from the Atlantic command, he maintains a fierce effort throughout the war to give adequate resources to the Pacific Theater.

German Homefront: Belatedly, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels announces a winter relief drive for the troops on the Eastern Front, "Winterhilfswerk für Wehrmacht." The public is encouraged to donate warm clothing in a gesture of "solidarity with the troops." It is never made clear how desperate the situation is, but disturbing reports reach the homefront despite the government's rather casual handling of a very real crisis.

USS Tillman, 20 December 1941
USS Tillman (DD-641) and USS Beatty (DD-640) on the ways in Charleston, South Carolina Navy Yard on 20 December 1941. They are about to be launched. USS Tillman (DD-641) is commissioned 9 June 1942, and USS Beatty (DD-640) is commissioned 7 May 1942.
American Homefront: Glenn Miller and His Orchestra hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart with "Elmer's Tune." It is the song's only week at the top spot.  It has Ray Eberle (who later joins the military) on lead vocals and the Modernaires on backing vocals. The song is named after the music composer, Elmer Albrecht.

Charles Lindbergh writes to Chief of Army Air Forces Henry H. "Hap" Arnold requesting a commission in the military. President Roosevelt is extremely angry at Lindbergh's efforts on behalf of the America First Committee and tells Arnold to deny the request.

Tanker Emidio sinks off California, 20 December 1941
The Emidio sinks off the California coast.


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

December 19, 1941: Brauchitsch Goes Home

Friday 19 December 1941

Panzer in North Africa 19 December 1941
Mechanics repair the tread on a panzer in North Africa on 19 December 1941 (Gemini, Ernst A., Federal Archive Picture 101I-438-1191-24).
Eastern Front: The pace of command changes in the Wehrmacht accelerates on 19 December 1941 as more senior officers head home from the Eastern Front to Germany. Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch has been ignored by virtually everyone for days despite holding the senior post in the entire German Army, especially Hitler. This finally has broken Brauchitsch's spirit, and, having submitted his resignation as a form of protest, Hitler perhaps unexpectedly accepts it. In addition, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, commander of Army Group Center, also turns his command over to one of his army commanders, Field Marshal Guenther von Kluge. Both leave ostensibly on medical grounds, and Brauchitsch has been recovering from a heart attack for some time. However, there is little doubt in anyone's mind that Hitler has dismissed them simply because they have become redundant as his confidence in his own powers of command has grown.

Menschen Im Sturm, released 19 December 1941
The German film "Menschen Im Sturm," set in Yugoslavia in March 1941, is released on 19 December 1941. It portrays ethnic Germans in pre-war Yugoslavia being persecuted, a common theme for wartime films of the Third Reich. The fascist NDH government in Croatia led by Ante Pavelic supports the lavish production and even visits the film set in Croatia. Quite popular throughout Occupied Europe, Yugoslavia understandably bans the film after the war. 
To announce the change of command, Hitler later releases a proclamation:
Soldiers of the Army and the Waffen SS! Our struggle for national liberation is approaching its climax! Decisions of world importance are about to be made! The Army bears the primary responsibility for battle! I have therefore as of this day myself taken command of the Army! As a soldier who fought in many World War battles, I am closely tied to you in the will to victory.
The order contains the usual shaky grasp of reality that emanates from Hitler's speeches, as the "decisions of world importance" already have been made and now the Wehrmacht soldiers trudging through icy weather are bearing the brunt of them. However, Hitler assuming personal command of the German Army removes the last vestige of independence that it enjoyed, though (as events will prove) individual generals still feel the right to override direct orders when they see fit.

Sergeant-Major John Robert Osborn, VC, KIA 19 December 1941
Sergeant-Major John Robert Osborn, VC, KIA 19 December 1941.
Battle of the Pacific: On Hong Kong Island, the invading Japanese forces expand their beachhead. They surround the West Brigade headquarters and kill its commander Canadian Brigadier John Lawson when he attempts a breakout. The British attempt a counterattack at the Wong Nai Chung Gap that fails. This leaves the Japanese in possession of an easy route toward the southern part of the island. Canadian Sergeant Major John Robert Osborn of the 1st Battalion, Winnipeg Grenadiers, is part of an attempt to recapture Mount Butler when a grenade lands near him. Osborn leaps on the grenade to save other men. John Robert Osborn receives the Victoria Cross posthumously.

SS King Haakon being launched in Glasgow, 19 December 1941
"SS KING HAAKON VII going down the slipway into the water." King Haakon of Norway is present at the launch in Glasgow, Scotland, 19 December 1941 (© IWM (A 6707)). 
On the Malay Peninsula, the RAAF pulls its last bombers back to Singapore and reequips No. 62 Squadron with Hudsons. The advancing Japanese close up on the new Commonwealth line at the Krian River and the Grik Road and repel a counterattack by the Indian III Corps. On the eastern end of the British line, Indian 9th Division abandons the Kuala Krai railway station and withdraws back toward Singapore.

The US Navy sends Vice Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey, Jr. and his Task Force 8 from Pearl Harbor toward Johnston Island south of Midway. Aboard USS Enterprise, Halsey is to cover an attempt by Task Force 11 under Admiral Frank Fletcher and Task Force 14 to relieve Wake Island. Seas are heavy and destroyer Craven is damaged and forced to return to Pearl Harbor.

Fort Macon is reactivated on 19 December 1941
A 1940 view from the ramparts of Fort Macon, North Carolina. Fort Macon is a national park in 1941 due to its use during the Civil War but on 19 December 1941 the U.S. Army activates the installation for coastal defense use (Thomas T. Waterman/Library of Congres).
In the Philippines, the Japanese force advancing from Legaspi toward Manila reaches Sipoco and continues on toward Daet. The Japanese now have fighters operating in the Philippines and send a dozen of them to attack Del Monte Airfield on Mindanao. They destroy three US Army Air Force B-18 Bolos bombers which had just arrived from Luzon en route to Australia. The Japanese send transports carrying about 5000 troops from Palau, Caroline Islands, with plans to landing at Davao early on the 20th.

In Burma, Japanese forces advancing from Thailand reach Bokpyin, a village about 100 miles north of Victoria Point. In Rangoon, a US official demands that the Government of Burma impound Lend-Lease material before it is captured by the Japanese. The government complies and loads a great deal of equipment on the USS Tulsa. This becomes known as the "Tulsa Incident" and takes a great deal of time and effort to sort out. Meanwhile, General Claire L. Chennault sets up new headquarters for his American Volunteer Group (AVG) "Flying Tigers" about 150 miles (241 km) east of Rangoon and begin operations that last until 4 July 1942.

Italian "pig" midget submarines are used on 19 December 1941
An Italian "Torpedo to run slow," initial SLC, also known as "pig." The pig is a midget submarine that runs like a torpedo. It has been adapted to carry two frogmen wearing SCUBA gear whose goal is to secretly apply explosive charges to enemy warships that are moored in a harbor.
Battle of the Mediterranean: In the early hours of 19 December, a Royal Navy force composed of three cruisers and four destroyers runs into a minefield about 20 miles (32 km) off Tripoli. The British have been searching for the Axis convoy that led to the First Battle of Sirte. Cruiser HMS Neptune hits four mines and sinks quickly. Destroyer Kandahar, coming to Neptune's aid, also hits a mine and is scuttled later in the day. Two other cruisers, Aurora and Penelope, also hit mines but manage to limp back to Malta (illustrating yet another advantage of retaining that island). The British incur 830 deaths from this disaster, which causes greater losses than most battles.

Louisville Courier-Journal, 19 December 1941
The Louisville Courier-Journal of 19 December 1941 highlights the agreement with the Vichy French authorities in Martinique that neutralizes the French fleet there.
Meanwhile, Italian submarine Sciré has had several aborted missions to transport Luigi Durand De La Penne (Italian frogmen) of the Xª Flottiglia MAS of the Royal Italian Navy to Royal Navy bases for purposes of destroying Royal Navy ships. Today, just as several British ships hit mines off Tripoli, the Italian frogmen penetrate Alexandria Harbor, the main Royal Navy base in the eastern Mediterranean. Attaching mines that explode just after 06:00 on 19 December 1941, the frogmen damage battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth and Valiant, destroyer Jervis, and 7554-ton Norwegian freighter Sagona. The six Italian frogmen disappear and presumably perish. HMS Queen Elizabeth is taken to Virginia for repairs that last until June 1943, while Valiant is taken to Durban for repairs which also last until 1943. It is a devastating night for the Royal Navy which drastically impairs its ability to undertake large-scale operations in the Mediterranean. However, because the Valiant does not actually sink, the Royal Navy is able to maintain the impression that suffered no damage, thereby preventing any Italian naval adventurism for the time being.

US Military: Congress extends the draft ages to all men aged 20-44.

German conductor Paul Lincke with fans, 19 December 1941
In Berlin, celebrity conductor Paul Lincke signs autographs for his devoted female fans (Hoffmann, Federal Archive Picture 183-B06424).


Monday, March 18, 2019

December 18, 1941: Hitler Lays Down the Law

Thursday 18 December 1941

The Japanese 10th Independent Artillery Brigade attacking North Point Power Station, Hong Kong, on December 18, 1941.
Eastern Front: After two days of deliberation and introspection, Adolf Hitler on 18 December 1941 issues an order to Army Group Center which sets for how the Wehrmacht shall respond to the unrelenting Soviet counteroffensive. The order reads:
The Fuehrer has ordered: Larger evasive movements cannot be made. They will lead to a total loss of heavy weapons and equipment. Commanding generals, commanders, and officers are to intervene in person to compel the troops to fanatical resistance in their positions without regard to enemy broken through [sic] on the flanks or in the rear. This is the only way to gain the time necessary to bring up the reinforcements from Germany and the West that I have ordered. Only if reserves have moved into rearward positions can thought be given to withdrawing to those positions.
This is not the order that the commanders at the front desired. The entire front is in motion, and the question now becomes whether it can even be stopped, much less hold a new line where it is.

Adolf Hitler hosts a Christmas party for German soldiers at the Lowenbraukeller restaurant in Munich on 18 December 1941. There is some doubt whether this series of pictures is from 1941 and not actually from the 1930s, but they are identified in the original sources as being from 1941, so that is why they are placed here (Photographer Hugo Jaeger dated these photos as being from 18 December 1941).
Field Marshal Fedor von Bock sends the order along to his army commands without comment. When General Erich Hoepner protests that the order cannot be followed, von Bock curtly tells him to "hold your fist in the backs of these people." General Guderian responds to the Army Group Center chief of staff:
The situation is more serious than one could imagine. If something does not happen soon, things will occur that the German armed forces have never before experienced. I will take these orders and file them. I will not pass them on even under threat of court-martial. I want at least to give my career a respectable ending.
Guderian then arranges a flight to the Wolfsschanze to argue his case directly with Hitler. Von Bock himself has fallen out of favor at the Fuehrer headquarters, which directs him to submit an immediate request for medical leave and relinquish his command to Field Marshal Günther von Kluge. Von Bock remains in good standing and will be put on the "Fuehrer Reserve" (Führerreserve) for future assignment.

The New Castle News of New Castle, Pennsylvania is full of good war news on 18 December 1941.
Battle of the Pacific: Late in the day, Japanese forces cross the waterway to the north shore of Hong Kong Island and land on the island's northeastern shoreline. They consolidate their position and prepare to advance inland in the morning. They capture about 20 Commonwealth gunners of the Sai Wan Battery (5th Anti-Aircraft Battery of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defense Corps) and also roughly the same number of medical staff in the Salesian Mission on Chai Wan Road and execute almost all of them on the morning of the 19th.

While the Third Reich celebrated Christmas, they renamed it Julfest and claimed that its origins predated Jesus Christ and in fact simply celebrated the winter solstice. In any event, at this Christmas party, Hitler seems pensive and out of sorts, as do others at the party, such as Reich Commissioner for Social House-Building Robert Ley sitting next to him. 18 December 1941 (Hugo Jaeger).
On Borneo, the Japanese landing forces begin to fan out from their beachhead positions. The Dutch send Martin B-10 Bombers to slow them down. The Japanese apparently don't know where the Dutch Singkawang II airfield is, so it remains in Dutch possession despite the nearby Japanese forces.

Attendees at Hitler's 18 December 1941 Christmas party in Munich (Hugo Jaeger).
On the Malay Peninsula, the Indian 11th Division completes its withdrawal behind the Krian River and proceeds to the Taiping region. The British plan on making a stand along the river and the Grik road, but commanding Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur E. Percival contemplates another withdrawal to the Perak River. The Japanese consolidate their advances and occupy Penang, which the British abandoned on the 17th. The RAAF orders all planes that can fly to proceed to Singapore.

In the Philippines, the Japanese advance from Legaspi, southeast of Manila, continues. The troops reach Naga after brushing off light resistance from the Filipino Army.

A typical 1941 blood chit. This would be pinned to the back of a pilot's flight jacket.
In China and Burma, the American Volunteer Group (AVG, or "Flying Tigers") are fighting hard. However, the American pilots are concerned about how they will be treated by Chinese civilians if they are forced to parachute to safety. These concerns have been exacerbated by difficulties encountered by pilot Eriksen Shilling and local Chinese fighters who treat him roughly. The Chinese Intelligence Service allays these concerns by printing pictures on silk and then stitching these onto the back of the pilots' jackets. These are called "blood chits" and have pictures such as the flag and a promise of a reward for safe return to authorities of the pilot.

Attendees at Hitler's 18 December 1941 Christmas party in Munich seem ill at ease, perhaps because the Fuehrer himself seems preoccupied (Hugo Jaeger).
American Homefront: Just as happened during the Civil War, the government asserts broad new authoritarian powers over citizens and companies. These powers are in the War Powers Act of 1941 and, among other things, they permit censorship of all communications entering and leaving the United States. The director of censorship, Byron Price, generally follows a laissez-faire approach to censorship, relying on the threat of censorship to do his work for him. However, Price does not hesitate to intervene at times, such as when his office bars publication of photographs of US military war dead.

The decorations at the 18 December 1941 Christmas Party celebrate the Third Reich more than Christmas (Hugo Jaeger).
President Roosevelt signs an executive order, No. 8984, establishing the Roberts Commission. This commission will be headed by Supreme Court Associate Justice Owen J. Roberts and will investigate the defenses of Pearl Harbor prior to its attack on 7 December 1941. The order provides that the Roberts Commission is to:
ascertain and report the facts relating to the attack made by the Japanese armed forces upon the Territory of Hawaii on 7 December provide bases for sound decisions whether any derelictions of duty or errors of judgment on the part of United States Army or Navy personnel contributed to such successes as were achieved by the enemy on the occasion mentioned; and if so, what these derelictions or errors were, and who were responsible therefor.
Recently fired Admiral Husband Kimmel and General Short, in command at Hawaii, will be star witnesses before the Roberts Commission.

Hitler can't seem to take his mind on the festivities at his 18 December 1941 Christmas party (Hugo Jaeger).
The US State Department announces that all French possessions in the Caribbean have been neutralized. The French have large naval forces based at Martinique in the French West Indies. Rear Admiral Frederick J. Horne and Admiral Georges Robert, French High Commissioner at Martinique, reach this agreement which prevents the need for any military intervention there by the United States Navy.

"Woody Herman In Disco Order, Volume 12" features recordings between 5 September 1941 and 18 December 1941.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

December 17, 1941: US Military Shakeup

Wednesday 17 December 1941

Japanese patrol boats off Hong Kong, 17 December 1941
Imperial Japanese boats patrolling off Hong Kong Island during the battle of Hong Kong on December 17, 1941.
U.S. Military: In a move that he knew was coming, CINCUS Admiral Husband E. Kimmel is relieved of command at Pearl Harbor by US Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on 17 December 1941. While a suitable permanent replacement is found, Admiral William S. Pye, currently the commander of Battle Force, Pacific Fleet, replaces him on an acting basis as CINCPACFLT. This impacts operations because Kimmel has been planning a quick relief expedition to Wake Island under Admiral Frank Fletcher's Task Force 11. However, Pye judges it to be too risky and ultimately cancels the operation. The new CINCUS is Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief, US Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANTFLT). King gets a new acronym, COMINCH, for Commander in Chief, United States Fleet. Also relieved of command is the U.S. military commander responsible for the defense of U.S. military installations in Hawaii, Lieutenant General Walter Short, who suffers the further indignity of reduction in rank to his permanent rank of major general. Both men are ordered to return to Washington, where their actions prior to the Pearl Harbor attack will be investigated by the Roberts Commission under the direction of US Supreme Court Associate Justice Owen J. Roberts.

Downed Japanese bomber in Hawaii, 17 December 1941
Local Hawaiian boys at the wreckage of a Japanese bomber on December 17, 1941. The plane was shot down by a United States P-40 plane during the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor (AP Photo).
Battle of the Pacific: While they prepare their forces for an invasion of Hong Kong Island, the last remaining British Commonwealth holdout in the area, the Japanese issue a surrender ultimatum. The local commander, Lieutenant General Sano Tadayoshi, commander of the 38th Division, does this by sending a captured British civilian woman along with her two dogs across to the island carrying his message. This is their second surrender offer, the first having been offered on 13 December. The British know their position is hopeless, but Governor Sir Mark Young responds that he "declines absolutely to enter into negotiations for the surrender of Hong Kong." The Japanese continue their invasion preparations.

Poughkeepsie Eagle-News headlines, 17 December 1941
After its initial hysteria during the first ten days of the war, the US media finally is beginning to return from fantasy to reality in its war coverage. The 17 December 1941 Poughkeepsie (New York) Eagle-News does not report any sinkings of phantom Japanese battleships. It also correctly headlines the Japanese shelling of Maui. Of course, the shelling was only a few perfunctory shells fired by a Japanese submarine at Maui that did no damage, but at least this is close to what is actually happening in the Pacific Theater.
In Malaya, the Commonwealth forces briefly contest the Grik road but fall back under pressure. Indian III Corps begins a retreat to the Perak River line, where the British improvise the "Perak Flotilla" to prevent landings. Elsewhere, the Indian 12th Brigade Group proceeds to Kuala Kangsar. The British evacuate all Europeans from Penang, leaving behind extensive supplies, ships, and even a working radio station. It is a precipitous move that alienates the local population. Some consider this move the beginning of the end of British rule in the entire region.

Cleaning up wreckage on Hawaii, 17 December 1941
Hawaiian civilians working with wreckage caused by the attack on Pearl Harbor, 17 December 1941 (AP Photo).
In the Philippines, the Japanese invasion force at Legaspi, southeast of Manila, advances toward the capital. While moving along Route 1 toward Naga, it runs into advance Filipino Army units around Ragay. This is the first real contact between opposing forces in the Philippines. The US Army Air Force, already having abandoned Clark Field, begins withdrawing its 14 remaining B-17 bombers from Manila and flies them to Australia. The last bomber is gone by 20 December. Meanwhile, off Corregidor Island near Manila, 1881-ton US freighter Corregidor, loaded with Filipino refugees and troops heading for the southern Philippines, hits a U.S. mine late on the 16th and sinks during the early morning hours of the 17th. The number of casualties is unknown but is believed to be somewhere around a thousand people.

Preparing for Christmas on board HMS Victorious, 17 December 1941
Aboard HMS Victorious at Scapa Flow, Christmas preparations are in full swing. "The Rev G W Dixon, MA, RN, who with other officers takes his turn as Censor Duty Officer, is well occupied handling the huge outgoing Christmas mail." (© IWM (A 6688)).
The US Navy reinforces Midway Island by flying seventeen SB2U-3 Vindicators of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 231 direct from Hawaii. While Midway is part of the Hawaiian Island chain, it is 1035 miles (1665 km) away. The flight takes 9 hours and 45 minutes, a record for single-engine aircraft. A PBY-4 Catalina of Patrol Squadron 21 leads the Vindicators there. The same Vindicators had been aboard USS Lexington (CV-2) en route to Midway Island on 7 December 1941, but the carrier turned back due to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The US Fleet now considers it too dangerous to expose the precious aircraft carriers to unknown dangers, so they remain behind at Hawaii.

The Niihau Zero, 17 December 1941
The remains of Mitsubishi Zero fighter BII-120 that was shot down on Niihau north of Honolulu on 7 December 1941. This photo was taken on 17 December 1941. The plane was the plane involved in the famous "Niihau Incident" in which a Japanese fighter pilot briefly survived after crash-landing on the island (Pearl Harbor Memorial).
The Australian military sends "Gulf Force" from Darwin to Ambon Island, Netherlands East Indies. The force is transported in three Dutch freighters, escorted by an Australian light cruiser and corvette. On Borneo, the Dutch send B-10 bombers based at Miri on Tarakan (base Singkawang II) against Japanese shipping offshore but score no hits. Later, three Dornier Do 24K flying boats renew the attack, but they lose one plane. However, one of the flying boats hits Japanese destroyer HIJMS Shinonome with two bombs and has a third make a near miss. The explosions blow the Shinonome apart and it sinks within minutes, taking all 229 crew with it. This is the first Dutch success in the Pacific Theater.

The Evening Star, 17 December 1941
Not all US newspapers are reflecting reality. The Washington, D.C. Evening Star on 17 December 1941 announces in its headline that "Americans Pound Jap[anese] On Sea And In Air," which is a part wishful thinking and part fantasy. 
About 222 nautical miles southeast of Honolulu (108 miles southeast of Hawaii), HIJMS I-175 torpedoes and sinks 3,253-ton US freighter Manini. There are two deaths, with the survivors being picked up by US destroyers on 27 and 28 December.

Fieseler Storch in North Africa, 17 December 1941
A Luftwaffe reconnaissance Fieseler Storch lands in North Africa near Mechili on 17 December 1941.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Early in the day, an Italian reconnaissance aircraft spots a Royal Navy unit heading west near Sidi Barrani. The Italian Navy is at sea escorting a convoy to Tripoli and heads toward the British force. The Axis sends planes to attack, but they score no hits. Italian Admiral Angelo Iachino heads for the British ships, secure in his superior firepower. Rear-Admiral Philip Vian in HMS Naiad withdraws, but Iachino pursues them and opens fire at 32,000 meters (35,000 yards). Vian then lays smoke and heads for the Italian ships, causing Iachino to break off the action after 15 minutes and head back to protect the convoy. The action is inconclusive, with the Italians only scoring one near-miss on destroyer HMS Kipling that kills one rating. Seeing the Italians heading west, Vian turns around and heads back to Alexandria. While neither side achieves much during the brief battle, the Italian convoy gets through to give General Erwin Rommel badly needed supplies.

Cyclotron under construction in California, 17 December 1941
The 184-inch cyclotron under construction at the Berkeley Lab on 17 December 1941 (Donald Cooksey, The U.S. National Archives).
Applied Science: The United States Navy is busy working on airborne radar, still in its infancy but making huge strides. The Naval Research Laboratory takes a huge leap forward today by demonstrating the feasibility of duplex antennae which use a single antenna for both transmission and reception of a radar pulse/echo. This greatly enhances the practicality of using airborne radar, which is extremely useful to the USN for locating U-boats while they are on the surface.

National Christmas tree lighting ceremony, 17 December 1941
The National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony across the street from the White House on 17 December 1941 (White House Twitter).


Saturday, March 16, 2019

December 16, 1941: Japan Invades Borneo

Tuesday 16 December 1941

Japanese forces land in the Philippines, 16 December 1941
Japanese troops landing in the Philippines, 16 December 1941.
Battle of the Pacific: As of 16 December 1941, the brunt of the fighting by US forces against the advancing Japanese has been carried out in the air. Even there, the successes have been few and far between, but at least there have been some successes and even outright heroism. Today, 1st Lieutenant Boyd D. Wagner of the 17th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor), 24th Pursuit Group (Interceptor), becomes the first US Army Air Force "Ace" of World War II. Wagner accomplishes this during a dive-bombing raid on the Japanese airfield at Vigan, the Philippines.

The Lima, Ohio News, 16 December 1941
The Lima (Ohio) News trumpets that "U.S. Takes Offensive in Luzon." As with many headlines at this stage of the war, this is complete fantasy. The Japanese remain on the offensive and are advancing on Manila. However, the rest of the front page is much more accurate. 
At dawn in Borneo, part of the Japanese 16th Division lands at Miri and Seria. Later in the morning, forces also land at Lutong. The Japanese invasion forces are not large, but they don't need to be - there is virtually no opposition. The first objective of all three landings are some nearby airfields where the Japanese want to base their aircraft. Dutch forces in the area retain control of their airfield near Miri and have relatively large aerial forces there that plan to bomb the Japanese land positions and offshore naval support on the 17th. This begins the Battle of Borneo.

On the Malay Peninsula, the tenuous British line anchored at Gurun dissolves after only a day or two of fighting. the 11th Indian Division under the command of Major-General Murray-Lyon resumes its march south toward Singapore with the Japanese 5th Infantry Division (Takuma Nishimura) in hot pursuit.

At Hong Kong, the Japanese control the mainland while the Commonwealth forces are completely isolated on Hong Kong Island. The Japanese prepare to make landings on the island in a couple of days. The British know their position is essentially hopeless, but they have nowhere to go and Her Majesty's Government expects its possessions to be defended.

The Louisiana Times-Picayune, 16 December 1941
Having just returned from a brief visit to Hawaii, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox reveals to reporters a few more details of the wreckage at Pearl Harbor. Overall, however, the media has little real news to report and the government is keeping the full extent of damage a secret. Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), 16 December 1941.
Battle of the Mediterranean: General Erwin Rommel oversees a withdrawal by Afrika Korps from the Gazala line to El Agheila. The 15th Panzer Division, down to eight tanks, moves quickly enough to block an attempt by the British 4th Armored Brigade to cut off their retreat from the south. The British do have opportunities to advance anyway, but they only send a small unit north which finds 15th Panzer's rear echelon troops but not the main force. The rest of the British tanks head south to refuel, giving the panzers just enough time to get in position to block any further British attempts to block the retreat. With the Axis retreating in good order to a new line between Ajedabia and El Haseia and the British unable to pursue, this is generally considered the end of British Operation Crusader. It has been a close-run and limited success which achieved its main objective of relieving Tobruk but failed to trap and destroy the Afrika Korps despite several tempting chances to do so. General Rommel, meanwhile, has had to abandon large German forces near the frontier at Bardia and Sollum which continue to hold out but whose situation is hopeless. It is the first real British land victory over the Afrika Korps.

The big issue on land for the Axis is whether convoys can successfully supply Rommel's panzers and bring reinforcements. To this end, a major Italian supply convoy departs from Naples bound for Axis headquarters in Tripoli. Aerial reconnaissance has spotted two British battleships in Grand Harbor at Malta, so the Italian fleet swings into action. The force includes a massive (but fairly distant) escort of four battleships, five cruisers, and 21 destroyers - one of the largest Italian fleet movements of the entire war. In command is Admiral Iachino. As with most Axis convoys to North Africa, the first stop is Palermo, Sicily.

SS Corregidor, which sinks on 16 December 1941
S.S. Corregidor hits a mine late on 16 December 1941 and sinks in the early morning hours of 17 December near its namesake Corregidor Island. There is a great loss of life estimated at 900-1200 (about 150 survivors), but the incident receives very little media attention and is never investigated due to the Japanese invasion. The passengers are Filipino citizens trying to escape to the southern Philippines and members of the Visayan-Mindanao Force of the Philippine Army. The U.S. minefield at the entrance to the harbor was well known, but the ship's captain fails to ask for clearance to leave the harbor and accidentally strayed into it. There is widespread speculation that the seaward defense commander, Colonel Paul Bunker, intentionally allowed the ship to blunder into the minefield (he could have ordered the electrically controlled mines disarmed) in order to "teach the Filipinos a lesson" about asking for permission to enter and exit the channel - a lesson which was well-learned and taken to heart after this.
Eastern Front: After a fairly long stay in Berlin, Adolf Hitler returns to the Wolfsschanze in East Prussia. Field Marshal Ritter von Leeb, commander of Army Group North, is there to meet him. Hitler uncharacteristically gives von Leeb permission to withdraw from the entire Tikhvin salient and blames the retreat on bad advice from the OKH. At noon, Hitler turns his attention to Army Group Center. He has General Franz Halder, OKH Operations Chief, telephone Field Marshal Fedor von Bock at Smolensk and also give Ninth Army, Third Panzer Group, and Fourth Panzer Group permission to retreat. One thing is made abundantly clear to everyone: Army Commander Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch is no longer in the chain of command, and Hitler personally is making all the decisions. Rather than contact von Brauchitsch, von Bock from now on is to communicate with Hitler's aide, Generalmajor Rudolf Schmundt. Schmundt privately tells von Bock's chief of staff, General Greiffenberg, that Hitler is "taking everything into his own hands."

HMS Illustrious, 16 December 1941
Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious showing damage sustained during a moderate storm from a collision with sister ship HMS Formidable, 16 December 1941. Illustrious sustains the damage during its return to England following lengthy repairs in Norfolk, Virginia. Illustrious continues on to England despite the damage and requires repairs at Cammell Laird's shipyard in Birkenhead lasting until late February 1942.
After his conversation with von Bock, Schmundt calls Hitler and gives him a full picture of the front. At midnight, Hitler, at his evening conference, calls von Bock and changes all previous orders. From now on, the Army Group Center is:
not to go a step back to close the gaps and hold.
Hitler promises infantry and air reinforcements. Von Bock knows that such promises are easy to make but hard to keep and protests that it may take too long for any help to arrive and the front "could rip open at any hour." The Fuehrer replies:
I will have to take that chance into the bargain.
Hitler then hangs up.

Look magazine, 16 December 1941
Look magazine for 16 December 1941 is completely bereft of war news, perhaps the last major publication to miss war coverage. The cover photo features The Flexible Flyer "Airline" sleds, the standard sled for decades to come.