Monday, April 22, 2019

January 15, 1942: U-Boat Off NYC

Thursday 15 January 1942

Snows in Russia, 15 January 1942
A man and his horse pulling a Panje cart in Russia, 15 January 1942 (Lachman, Hans, Federal Archive Picture 183-B15084).
Battle of the Atlantic: Having already sunk two freighters on its Operation Drumbeat patrol to the east coast of the United States, U-123 (Kptlt Reinhard Hardegen) cruises on the surface to New York Harbor. The U-boat arrives in the early morning hours of 15 January 1942. The crew, having grown accustomed to the blacked out conditions in Europe, is dazzled by the bright lights of New York City. Hardegen records:
I cannot describe the feeling in words, but it was unbelievable and beautiful and great. . . We were the first to be here, and for the first time in this war, a German soldier looked out on the coast of the USA.
Hardegen is in position to lob a few shells from his deck at Coney Island (as Japanese submarines have been doing to Hawaii) just for the heck of it and to make a statement. However, he decides not to do that because it would give his position away for little profit. Instead, Hardegen uses the Americans' lack of preparedness to do a little real business. Before the night is out, he spots 6768-ton British tanker Coimbra. It is easy to spot, as the city lights behind the tanker are blotted out as it moves east to join the convoys heading for Great Britain. Hardegan torpedoes the tanker, which explodes in a massive fireball that rises 650 feet into the air. There are 36 deaths (ten perish in the lifeboats) and six survivors. People in the Hamptons, 27 miles directly to the north, see the explosion and report it. Hardegen is astounded that the US military does not respond at all to the sinking. He sails away on the surface looking for more prey, now with three solid victories during the patrol.

North Atlantic convoy, 15 January 1942
A North Atlantic convoy seen as a storm lashes shipping off Hvalfjordur, Iceland, 15 January 1942. Seen from USS Albemarle (AV-5).
Even aside from U-123, Admiral Doenitz's U-boat fleet has a mixed day in the Atlantic on a very stormy day in the northern latitudes. There are several other successes:
  • U-552 sinks 4133-ton British freighter Dayrose just south of easternmost Newfoundland
  • U-203 sinks 623-ton Portugues trawler Catalina southeast of Newfoundland
  • U-553 torpedoes 8106-ton British tanker Diala, also southeast of Newfoundland. The tanker is badly damaged and ultimately sinks after a tug attempts to tow it. There are 57 deaths and 8 survivors.
However, on her seventh patrol from St. Nazaire, U-93 (Oblt.z.S. Horst Elfe) is sunk between Portugal and the Azores about 219 nautical miles (406 km) northeast of the Madeira Islands during a depth charge attack by HMS Hesperus (H-57). U-93 was a member of Wolfpack Seydlitz, which was tracking Convoy HG 78 out of Gibraltar. There are 6 deaths and 40 survivors. U-93 winds up its career with a total of eight ships sunk totaling 43,392 gross register tons. The war at sea already is heating up again after a brief quiet period during the winter. Another four U-boats are closing in on the east coast of the United States as part of Operation Drumbeat, so more successes are likely to occur soon.

Junkers Ju 87 Stuka captured in North Africa, 15 January 1942
"Benina, Cyrenaica, Libya. 15 January 1942. Obbedire...Combattere...Dux. 'Obey, fight, the Duce! says the large lettering on the hangar wall at Benina airfield. But the Axis mechanics, heedless of their instructions, fled incontinently leaving this German Junkers JU 87 dive bomber aircraft intact to fall into the hands of the advancing Allied forces." Australian War Memorial MED0289. In the Luftwaffe, it is considered a dishonor to allow your plane to fall intact to the enemy. There appears to be a Bf-109 virtually intact to the right, too.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Royal Navy Swordfish from RAF No. 815 Squadron use depth charges to sink U-577 (K.Kapt. Herbert Schauenburg) northwest of Mersa Matruh, Egypt. Everyone aboard perishes. U-577 was an unlucky boat, sailing on three patrols with no victories. On Malta, RAF personnel are being trained in ground combat out of fear that the Axis is about to invade.

Camden, New Jersey, News, 15 January 1942
The Camden (New Jersey) News, 15 January 1942. "Americans Holding Out," screams the main headline, but the other headlines recite positive but largely fake news.
Battle of the Pacific: Japanese submarine I-65 torpedoes and sinks 5102-ton Indian freighter Jalarajan northwest of Padang, West Sumatra in the Indian Ocean.

The Japanese increase their presence in Burma by sending the 55th Division across the border from Thailand north of Mergui (Myeik) in the middle of the southern sliver of the country. This protects the Japanese flank in the Malay Peninsula, though that is not under much of a threat. It also provides a potential launching pad for attacks to the north. The British have two divisions (one Burmese, one Indian) much further north to prevent a Japanese breakout into the heart of the country. However, already the Japanese have seized some very useful airfields in the south of the country, helping them to achieve local aerial supremacy.

Battle of Gemas, 15 January 1942
"At this stage the guns of "C" Troop, 30th Battery, 2/15th Australian Field Regiment, here depicted, are ahead of the infantry, firing at 300 yards at Japanese advancing through the rubber plantation. A few men of the 2/30th Australian Infantry Battalion, which was deployed in the rear of the guns, can be seen in the foreground, Gemas, Malaya." This depicts the action of 15 January 1942 near Gemas. The guns are 25-pounders. Australian War Memorial ART24498.
On the Malay Peninsula, the Japanese attack at a rubber plantation in the Gemas area in the morning. The Japanese troops, who suffered about 600 casualties at the Battle at Gemencheh Bridge on the 14th, are supported by dive-bombers and tanks. The artillery of 2/15th Australian Field Regiment and soldiers of Australian 2/30th Battalion, 27th Brigade, 8th Division, stop the attack and destroys six of eight tanks. The Australians, after holding for 24 hours, then withdraw after dark. The engagement is a costly Japanese victory, but at this stage of the war, they can afford such victories. On the west coast, the Japanese advance to the Muar River and establish a small bridgehead on the south bank between Muar and Batu Pahat. Indian 45th Brigade is defending this area, which is critical because an advance here would threaten British lines of communication to Singapore. In Singapore itself, the authorities impose martial law.

Stranded trawler Nordale, lost on 15 January 1942
British 181-ton fishing trawler Nordale is among the ships wrecked during the storms sweeping the North Atlantic, though the weather apparently is not the cause. Around dusk on the 14th, the Nordale hits the Carskey Rocks off the tip of Kintyre two miles southwest of Borgadelmore Point. The crew, unable to take to the boats, spends a perilous night aboard. At daylight on 15 January 1942, one crewman gets ashore to alert local authorities and they are rescued using a Breeches Buoy. Despite all of the 14 crew surviving the night, five men perish during the 15th due to exposure, drowning, or fatigue. A court of inquiry later finds the mate responsible.  
In the Philippines, the Japanese attack II Corps, which holds the eastern half of the line across the Bataan Peninsula. Despite fierce resistance by Filipino 41st and 51st Divisions, the Japanese secure a small foothold across the Balantay River. This is a very dangerous incursion into the Allies' main line of defense, and General MacArthur transfers several units east from I Corps to contain the Japanese and attempt to throw them back across the river. In the I Corps sector on the western half of the Peninsula, the Japanese advance closer to Moron along the coast. They are supported by powerful naval units just offshore.

Female war worker, 15 January 1942
"A female war worker fixes her hair and checks her appearance in the mirror in the bedroom she shares with another war worker at the hostel attached to ROF Bridgend. Her friend is looking for something in the wardrobe. Family photos and a vase of flowers help to brighten up the dressing table. According to the original caption, this was a "central-heated bedroom, fitted with wash-basin, wardrobe, and chest of drawers." January 1942. © IWM (D 6332).
The Netherlands East Indies are not yet a battlefield, but everyone knows it is only a matter of time before the Japanese attack. Pursuant to the recently concluded Arcadia Conference in Washington, D.C., British General Sir Archibald Wavell establishes his ABDA command assumes supreme oversight of all forces in the area. Wavell's deputy is Lieutenant General George H. Brett, USAAF, while Admiral Thomas C. Hart, USN, is to command naval forces. The Dutch have a very powerful naval squadron on hand under Rear Admiral Karel Doorman, who has his flag aboard light cruiser De Ruyter based at Surabaya. Doorman's orders are to use the ABDA Combined Striking Force to intercept and defeat invasion attempts.

British trawler Ocean Tide, lost on 15 January 1942
British 227-ton trawler Ocean Tide gets caught in the storms sweeping the North Atlantic on 15 January 1942 and runs aground at Mammal, Tiree, Inner Hebrides. The trawler, based at Ayr, is wrecked.
Eastern Front: The Soviet General Offensive continues unabated on 15 January 1942. Third Shock Army crosses the vital Kholm-Demyansk Road, threatening both cities with encirclement. With his entire position south of Lake Ilmen at risk, Field Marshal Ritter von Leeb of Army Group North issues Adolf Hitler with an ultimatum. Either give me the necessary freedom of action, Leeb demands, or relieve me. Hitler does not have to think about this very long and has OKH chief of staff General Franz Halder call Leeb's chief of staff - not Leeb - General Brennecke with a message:
[P]ut all of the powers of the General Staff in motion... and extirpate this mania for operating. The army group has a clear order to hold.
In the Wehrmacht at this point, "operating" is a synonym for "retreating," which pretty much encapsulate the entire situation on the Eastern Front. Leeb technically remains in command for the time being, but it is common practice within the Wehrmacht at this point to simply bypass a general who is soon to be relieved.

Churchill Mark IV infantry tanks, 15 January 1942
"Churchill Mark IV infantry tanks of the 16th Tank Brigade (1st Polish Corps) go into action during the 'Jay' Exercise. Fife, Scotland, 15 January 1942." © IWM (H 16628).
On the Crimea, both sides are gearing up for their own offensives to break the stalemate at the Parpach Narrows. Neither side believes the other is strong enough to launch its own attack, so neither adopts a defensive posture. The Soviets move first, landing 226 soldiers from destroyer Sposobnyi about 40 km southwest of Feodosia. This is intended as a diversion, but the Germans are not fooled and only divert one company of Panzerjäger to contain this small force. Red Army General Dmitry Kozlov, hearing reports of this incident and the seemingly desultory Wehrmacht response, wrongly concludes that the Germans have few troops nearby. In fact, the Germans have been transferring forces east from the perimeter at Sevastopol and have four full divisions at hand ready to launch their own offensive.

Polish troops using a 4.5-inch howitzer, 15 January 1942
"Gunners of the 1st Polish Corps preparing to repel a 'tank attack' with 4.5-inch howitzers during the 'Jay' Exercise. Fifeshire, Scotland, 15 January 1942." © IWM (H 16623).
Partisans: The Germans launch the first of many large-scale counter-insurgency operations, Operation Southeast Croatia (Unternehmen Südost Kroatien). It targets Yugoslav Partisans in eastern Bosnia, who call it the "Second Enemy Offensive."  The German 342nd Infantry Division pushes into the Drina Valley from the east while the 718th Infantry Division advances from the west near Sarajevo and Tuzla.

Allied Relations: In Brazil, representatives from 21 American republics meet in Rio de Janeiro for an Inter-American Conference. They unanimously agree to sever diplomatic relations with the Axis powers, but Argentina and Chile actually do not do this. The United States government already has prevailed upon high-profile ambassadors, including Walt Disney and Orson Welles, to drop all of their other projects and head south to Latin America. This is a public relations move to show unity with the country's southern neighbors. Disney and Welles gladly volunteer to help the war effort. While Welles' career suffers due to his absence from Hollywood, some believe that Walt Disney saves his studio by helping the war effort in this way following some disastrous losses from unsuccessful (financially) films such as "Pinocchio." This is because Walt Disney Studios earns substantial sums of money by making films for the government related to this endeavor such as "Saludos Amigos" (1942) and "Los Tres Caballeros" (1944).

Collision of USS Wichita with freighter West Nohno on 15 January 1942
Original caption: "A runaway freighter at Hvaljardur, Iceland, during the "big blow." This shows USS Wichita (CA-45), a heavy cruiser, colliding with freighter SS West Nohno in Hvalfjörður, Iceland, on 15 January 1942. The freighter (apparently, judging by the caption) broke loose from its moorings during a strong winter storm. Wichita not only hit freighter West Nohno but it also hit British trawler Ebor Wyke. The cruiser then ran aground off Hrafneyri Light but was quickly got off. The Wichita then turned around and made it to New York City for repairs, where Captain Alexander of the Wichita was relieved of his command. The Wichita, which had been at Iceland on a journey to join the British Home Fleet, ultimately made it to its destination, Scapa Flow, on 5 April 1942 (US Navy via the "USS Wichita (CA-45) 1939-1945 cruise book" at
US Military: The US Army Air Force activates the Alaskan Air Force at Elmendorf Field, Anchorage, Alaska. Lieutenant Colonel Everett S Davis is in command of the base, which is named in honor of Captain Hugh M. Elmendorf, killed on 13 January 1933, while flight testing the experimental Consolidated Y1P-25, fighter, 32-321, near Wright Field, Ohio. The base has been under construction since 8 June 1940 and is intended as a major and permanent military airfield. While the base is active, it does not yet have any USAAF units assigned to it. Elmendorf is perfectly situated to conduct operations over the Aleutian Islands, which both sides already are eyeing as strategically important locations due to their proximity to Japan. The 23rd Air Base Group, 18th Pursuit Squadron, and Eleventh Air Force all will be at Elmendorf soon.

US Secretary of War Henry Stimson projects that almost 2 million men will be inducted into the US military during 1942. The draft is in full swing, but many men are volunteering, too.

Maclean's, 15 January 1942
Maclean's, 15 January 1942.
Indian Government: Jawaharlal Nehru, recently released from prison by the British, succeeds Mohandas K. Gandhi as head of India's National Congress Party.

China: The third Battle of Changsha, which began on 24 December 1941, concludes after a successful Chinese counterattack. Three Japanese divisions which have crossed the Liuyang River flee back across it and are devastated by Chinese troops waiting there for them. Overall, the Japanese lose 1591 killed and 4412 wounded (according to the Japanese), while the Chinese suffer 29,217 total casualties. While the Chinese suffer more losses, they occupy the battleground, and this is the first land victory over the Japanese since Pearl Harbor. While the Japanese are hardly defeated in China and the battle is only a Chinese victory in the sense that they stopped a Japanse attack, the Battle of Changsha greatly enhances China's standing in the Allied community and earns Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek greatly enhanced prestige both abroad and at home.

Airmen training at Edmonton, Canada, 15 January 1942
"Edmonton, Alberta. 15 January 1942. Leading Aircraftman (LAC) H. J. Barker (front left), 405381 LAC Thomas Hector McNeill of No. 460 Squadron (middle), LAC E. R. (Blue) Freeman (right) at the passing out dinner. LAC Barker finished the war as a Squadron Leader and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for night photographs of Essen Dortmund and Dusseldorf and the Bar to DFC for continued enthusiasm and skill on sorties to Berlin after ninety operations over Europe, sixty with the Pathfinder Force. LAC McNeill was killed in action over Holland, in a flying battle. LAC Freeman survived fifty operations and was then awarded DFC for skill and fortitude in operations against the enemy." Australian War Memorial P03239.003.
American Homeland: President Franklin D. Roosevelt sends a "green light" letter to longtime Commissioner of Baseball Kenesaw Mountain Landis allowing Major League Baseball to play the 1942 season. He writes, "I honestly think it would be best for the country to keep baseball going." This comports with general US policy to keep important entertainment producers such as the film industry functioning during the war. While FDR also encourages more night baseball so as to allow war workers to attend the games or listen to them on radio, the Chicago Cubs already have dropped plans to install lights at Wrigley Field.

President Roosevelt's Greenlight letter to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, 15 January 1942
Franklin Roosevelt's "Greenlight" letter to Judge Landis, 15 January 1942 (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum).
General Motors produces its first "blackout" Cadillacs. These 1942 models lack items that contain materials banned by the government, such as spare tires (rubber), trim (chrome), and other normal accessories. Auto production at the major car factories now is taking place side-by-side with military production.

The Shadow magazine, 15 January 1942
The Shadow, "The Book of Death," 15 January 1942. This is considered one of the classic covers of The Shadow.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

January 14, 1942: Operation Drumbeat First Sinking

Wednesday 14 January 1942

U-123, 14 January 1942
U-123 readying its deck gun, January/February 1942 (Tölle, Alwin, Federal Archive Bild 101II-MW-4006-31).
Battle of the Atlantic: The Kriegsmarine has sent six U-boats (five of which actually make it across the Atlantic) to attack shipping along the east coast of the United States, and on 14 January 1942 they score their first victory there. This is the true beginning of Unternehmen Paukenschlag (Operation Drumbeat), which is intended to be a quick raid lasting only about a month. This is the beginning of the Second Happy Time for Admiral Doenitz's fleet, the first having begun in 1940 and lasted until March 1941.

Tanker Norness, sunk by U-123 on 14 January 1942
Panamanian tanker Norness, the first victim of U-boat Operation Drumbeat.
Shortly after midnight, the lookout on U-123 (Kptlt Reinhardt Hardegen) spots 9577-ton Panamanian tanker Norness southeast of Montauk, Long Island, and about 73 miles southwest of Nantucket Island. Hardegen pumps three torpedoes into the tanker, sinking it. The tanker crew is able to take to lifeboats, and later in the morning, a patrol blimp spots the survivors. There is one death, and US Coast Guard cutter Argo rescues six survivors and destroyer US Ellyson picks up 24 more. While U-123 already had sunk the freighter Cyclops on 11 January, that was on the voyage across the Atlantic and is not considered part of Operation Drumbeat. Following this attack, U-123 heads toward New York Harbor, where the 14 January 1942 morning newspapers have enough time to announce the sinking.

Japanese troops in Labuan, North Borneo, 14 January 1942
"Labuan, Borneo. 1942-01-14. Japanese troops march through the streets of Labuan Island, off the west coast of British North Borneo. Note the Japanese flags on the buildings." Australian War Memorial 127908.
Battle of the Pacific: On the Malay Peninsula, Japanese forces advancing toward Singapore reach Gemas on 14 January 1942, where they are ambushed by Australian 8th Division (Major-General Gordon Bennett). This marks the first large battle between Australian and Japanese troops on the peninsula. The site of the ambush is a wooden bridge across the Sungei Gemencheh river. The Japanese tanks have had virtually no opposition since taking Kuala Lumpur and reach the bridge at 16:00 when "B" Company 2/30th Battalion under Captain Desmond Duffy opens fire and blows up the bridge. The engagement lasts for only about 20 minutes and causes roughly 600 Japanese casualties, but the Japanese recover quickly and send the Australian troops into a quick retreat toward Gemas. Japanese engineers repair the bridge within six hours. The Japanese wind up battling for Gemas for the next two days, attempting to outflank the Australians to the west in the Battle of Muar, and lose six of their eight tanks while continuing their advance. The most significant outcome of the Battle of Muar is that it gives the Allies more time to retreat into the State of Johore, the final stop on the mainland north of Singapore.

Australian troops after a tough battle on the Malay Peninsula, 14 January 1942
Australian troops disembarking from a lorry after the 14 January 1942 battle at Gemas.
Japanese forces at Truk Lagoon embark transports which will take them to New Britain Island, where their goal is to capture the key Australian naval base at Rabaul. The naval task force is under the command of Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue and includes aircraft carriers Akagi and Kaga, seven cruisers, 14 destroyers, and many other vessels. The Australians know they are badly outnumbered and also know that they cannot expect reinforcement.

Japanese troops landing on Labuan Island, 14 January 1942
"Labuan, Borneo. 1942-01-14. Japanese troops land off the west coast of British North Borneo." Australian War Memorial 127907.
In the Philippines, the Japanese continue pressing against the western flank of II Corps, which defends the eastern half of the line across the neck of the Bataan Peninsula. Filipino 41st and 51st Divisions abandon the outpost line and retreat behind the Balantay River. In the I Corps sector on the western half of the line, the Japanese attack along the west coast toward Moron. Japanese naval vessels guard their sea flank and land some troops along the line of march. Lieutenant General Jonathan M. Wainwright recognizes the danger in the I Corps sector and quickly sends troops to Moron to block the Japanese advance.

Wrecks in Benghazi Harbor, 14 January 1942
"Benghazi, Cyrenaica, Libya. 14 January 1942. The harbor is a mass of sunken Axis shipping in Benghazi harbor following a sustained Allied bombing campaign." Australian War Memorial MED0288.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel is planning a counterattack in North Africa, but the front is quiet today. However, there is a lot going on to the north over Malta, where there are 17 air raid alerts in 24 hours. There are 61 Axis aircraft spotted during the daylight raids. There also are attacks at night, when the planes drop flares to illuminate their targets. The British defense is hampered by the RAF's inability to use its airfields at Hal Far and Ta Qali due to the wet ground from recent rain.

Winnipeg Free Press, 14 January 1942
The western media - here the Winnipeg Free Press - is full of good news about the war on 14 January 1942.
Eastern Front: Both sides are sending reinforcements to the Parpach Narrows on the Crimea in order to end the stalemate there. The Soviets wish to relieve Sevastopol, their original objective for their invasion, while the Germans wish to eliminate the Red Army presence on the Crimea so they can conquer Sevastopol. Neither side has local superiority, but the Luftwaffe has control of the air under the command of General Robert Ritter von Greim while the Soviets have a slight advantage at sea. The real question is which side will attack first, and whichever side that is may lose so many men in the attack that it may badly dilute their defense.

Gunner I.R. Mackintosh in the Auckland Weekly News, 14 January 1942
Gunner I.R. Mackintosh, a New Zealand soldier, in the 14 January 1942 Auckland Weekly News (Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19420114-29-21.).
Field Marshal von Leeb, commander of Army Group North, returns to the front after a discussion with Adolf Hitler at Rastenberg. He finds that the Red Army is approaching a critical road between Demyansk and Kholm. Large garrisons at the two towns are determined to hold out, but there are few Wehrmacht forces in between them and almost none behind them. Hitler has told Leeb to his face to hold his positions, so Leeb must watch helplessly as it appears certain that both garrisons will be surrounded. Field Marshal Keitel telephones the army group to emphasize the "unconditional necessity" of holding the army group's right flank in the Kholm/Demyansk/Staraya Russa area south of Lake Ilmen. Of the three towns, Staraya Russa is the most critical because it forms the tie-in with Lake Ilmen, but the loss of Demyansk and Kholm would leave it vulnerable to encirclement and capture.

Borger Daily Herald, 14 January 1942
Borger Daily Herald (Borger, Tex.), Vol. 16, No. 46, Ed. 1 Wednesday, January 14, 1942.
Allied Relations: The Arcadia Conference which began on 22 December 1941 in Washington, D.C., concludes. While The United States and Great Britain had been coordinating strategy for at least a year, this was the first time that actual military strategy was discussed. A tentative decision is made to invade French North Africa during 1942 (this becomes Operation Gymnast) and not western Europe as greatly preferred by Joseph Stalin. The overall conclusions from the Arcadia Conference are the policy of defeating Germany first, the formation of a Combined Chiefs of Staff, the establishment of a single military command for each theater of operations (including the ABDA Command in the Far East and the European Theater of Operations on the Western Front), a joint policy for supporting China (which is not represented at the conference), and continued cooperation in all shipping matters. It is important to remember that only the United States and Great Britain are involved in these decisions, and many different conclusions may have been reached had other powers such as the Soviet Union been given a voice.

Uncle Sam Brass Knuckles cartoon, 14 January 1942
An editorial cartoon from the 14 January 1942 Berkeley Gazette. It depicts Uncle Sam with "brass knuckles" that show budget projections for US military production in fiscal 1942 and 1943 (Berkeley Historical Society). 
Special Operations: The British Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) and the Special Operations Executive (SOE) conduct Operation Postmaster. This is a mission to steal British and Italian ships in the harbor of the Spanish island of Fernando Po (Bioko) off West Africa in the Gulf of Guinea. The British believe that the Italian ship is feeding military intelligence to the Axis, so its capture is the top priority. The Commandos aboard Brixham trawler Maid Honour, enter the harbor aboard two tugs, secure two vessels (8500-ton Italian freighter Duchessa d'Aosta and German tug Likomba), and take them out to be "captured" by the Royal Navy. The British tug towing the Likomba has engine trouble and thus that vessel does not make it out to the rendezvous, but the Italian ship is successfully taken. Operation Postmaster is a successful mission in the sense that a large freighter is captured, but it damages relations between Great Britain and neutral Spain (and those relations then remain poor for decades) and is used by the Germans for propaganda purposes. The British feel the mission was worth it to "act tough" and impress (or perhaps intimidate) other neutrals.

Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A aka USAAF R-4, 14 January 1942
The first flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A, US Army Air Force designation R-4, on 14 January 1942 at Stratford, Connecticut. Chief Test Pilot Charles Lester "Les" Morris is at the controls.
US Military: The United States Army Air Force has designated Igor Sikorsky's experimental VS-316 helicopter the XR-4 under its "Rotorcraft" designation. On 13 January 1942, the XR-4 makes its first flight, which lasts for about three minutes. Test pilot Les Morris makes five more flights during the day for a total of 25 minutes. The Army still has not accepted the XR-4 for production and use, but this is a major step. The Germans are far ahead in helicopter research but have had difficulties finding military uses for them. The other major powers also have placed great emphasis on autogyro development, but the United States military has not. Thus, the USAAF has a lot of catching up to do in rotorcraft development.

Sikorsky XR-4C 41-18874 that flew on 14 January 1942
The Sikorsky XR-4C 41-18874 that flew on 14 January 1942 is preserved at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM).
Holocaust: The Voćin massacre takes place in Voćin, Independent State of Croatia. The Ustaše Croatian fascist organization executes about 350 Serb civilians. This occurs on the Serbian New Year. The casualties are not limited to just one location but include virtually all of the male inhabitants of the villages Jorgići, Zubovići, Dobrići, Kometnik, and Sekulinci. The victims are buried in a mass grave east of Voćin, along the Voćinka river. There is a memorial to this massacre that was erected in 2007.

American Homefront: All enemy aliens are required to register with local authorities. The bulk of these people are on the west coast of the United States in California, Oregon, Washington, and the territory of Hawaii.

The Berkeley Daily Gazette (California) reports that:
After a holiday vacation of nearly six weeks, the University of California campus was thronged today with students and faculty in preparation for the opening of registration for the spring semester. Students returned with the knowledge that this may be the longest vacation they will have for ‘the duration’ since University officials are furthering plans to add another semester to the academic year to meet the demands of the war emergency.
Berkeley did add another semester.

Actress Lynn Bari, 14 January 1942
"The Hays-Approved Sweater." This refers to the motion picture industry's Hays Code, which mandated that everything films be innocent and pure. The caption reads, "Lynn Bari, always a gratifying subject, was snapped like this by a candid photographer on the outdoor set of Fox's "Ten Gentlemen from West Point." This promotional shot is from the 14 January 1942 Hollywood Star PM Daily. Lynn Bari was a top movie star during World War II. During 1941, she filmed "Sun Valley Serenade," which is considered a classic musical and is still played daily at the Sun Valley Lodge and Inn in Idaho. Incidentally, Bari was not in the final version of "Ten Gentlemen from West Point."


Friday, April 19, 2019

January 13, 1942: First Ejection Seat Use

Tuesday 13 January 1942

Heinkel He-280 prototype which crashes on 13 January 1942
Heinkel He 280 V-1 DL+AS with engine intake fairings. The jet engines are not available on 13 January 1942, so the Germans are only conducting glider tests.
Battle of the Atlantic: Operation Drumbeat (Unternehmen Paukenschlag) officially begins on 13 January 1942. The first of vie German U-boats begin arriving along the east coast of the United States during the day, though most are still making the transatlantic crossing. While U-123 (Kptlt Reinhardt Hardegen) already has sunk British freighter Cyclops on 11 January, that was on the outbound journey about 300 miles east of Cape Cod and was not officially part of Operation Drumbeat. Following that success, Hardegan continued west and today arrives along the coast. Not sure where he is, Hardegan proceeds southwest toward Rhode Island Sound. Hardegan then spots the Montauk Point lighthouse on the eastern tip of Long Island and quickly establishes his position. The U-boat commanders and crews are astonished to find U.S. shipping to be operating in peacetime conditions. Not only are the ships illuminated, but the cities and towns along the shore have not imposed blackouts, which makes spotting even darkened ships easy. There also are few if any naval patrols and no convoys. Air patrols are spotty, with some conducted by blimps. This is a huge change from conditions everywhere else in the world.

Plattsburgh Daily Republican, 13 January 1942
Plattsburgh Daily Republican, January 13, 1942 (Plattsburgh, N.Y.).
Battle of the Pacific: With the Japanese having closed up on the Allied outpost line across the neck of the Bataan Peninsula, General MacArthur decides to launch some spoiling attacks. On the east flank of II Corps (eastern half of the line), the Filipino 21st Infantry Division launches an attack at 06:00. Preceded by an artillery barrage, this attack clears a small area on the left flank of the Philippine Scouts 57th Infantry Division. As hoped, this sets back Japanese plans to launch their own attack there. Further west, however, the Filipino 51st Division is forced to withdraw from the outpost line to the main line along the Balantay River. These are all preliminary moves, with the Japanese not yet in a position to launch a set-piece attack to break the Allied defenses.

British fireboats, 13 January 1942
"A long line of fire pumps pouring out thousands of gallons of water a minute from fire fighting ships during the demonstration." Gourock, on the Clyde, 13 January 1942. © IWM (A 7248).
On the Malay Peninsula, General Archibald Lord Wavell, Commander in Chief Australian-British-Dutch- American (ABDA) Command, South West Pacific, visits the front. The Indian III Corps is withdrawing into Johore State, with vehicles routed through Segamat. Johore is the final tranche of land on the mainland north of Singapore. Wavell already has instructed local commander General Arthur Percival to build fortifications on Singapore Island to repel an invasion, but he has not done so. The Australian 8th Division, commanded by Major-General Gordon Bennett, replaces the 11th Indian Division on the front lines, as the 11th Division has been devastated in the battles further north.

Filipino checks dated 13 January 1942
Coupon checks issued by the Philippines government dated 13 January 1942. Despite the battle under way in Bataan, the business of government continues.
On Tarakan Island, the Dutch are retreating toward Kembes. However, their native soldiers are deserting, and Captain W.F.J. Kroon of Compagnie Menado is forced to surrender. The Japanese soon execute all of the Europeans (about 8) except for Kroon himself. The next Japanese objective in the region is Balikpapan.

In Burma, the Joint Military Council note the rapid advance of the Japanese into the country. The generals propose building a new supply road to the Nationalist Chinese through northern Burma which they have a better chance of holding against the Japanese invasion. This road, north of the current Burma Road, will run through Myitkyina and connect to the current Burma Road at Wandingzhen, Yunnan. This eventually is called the "Ledo Road." Its construction is a massive project through very rough terrain and depends on holding northern Burma, which is by no means certain. The Japanese are invading Burma, in fact, in large part to cut off such roads which enable Chiang Kai-shek to hold out in Chungking. The only alternative to a road from India to China is air supply, which requires a dangerous flight over the Himalayas (known as "the Hump"). However, the Allies at this time do not have aircraft for sustained use of this route.

Look magazine, 13 January 1942
The cover story in the 13 January 1942 Look magazine is "Our War With Japan."
Eastern Front: Generalmajor Maximilian Fretter-Pico now has four Axis Divisions in position for an attack on the new front in the Crimea at the Parpach Narrows. The objective will be the recapture of the port of Feodosia on the south coast and destruction of the Soviet 44th Army. The Luftwaffe has brought powerful units east from refittings in the Reich and the local command is led by General Robert Ritter von Greim. General Erich von Manstein's 11th Army still maintains a siege around Sevastopol in the west, but offensive operations there are unlikely while the Soviets maintain a presence based at Kerch.

Wrens practicing their typing on 13 January 1942
"Teleprinters in training concentrating on the job." Leonard House, Rosyth Command, 13 January 1942. © IWM (A 7041).
The situation west of Moscow continues to deteriorate for the Wehrmacht. During the morning, Soviet I Guards Cavalry Corps crosses the Rollbahn, the main road between Vyazma and Rzhev. Fourth Army is forced to evacuate Medyn, a key position just to the south. The critical railway that supplies several German armies lies just to the west, and the Germans manage to get one last train of supplies through before the Red Army cuts the line to Rzhev. At Sychevka just to the north, the Ninth Army headquarters comes under Soviet attack. General Strauss, the army's commander, stays in Sychevka but orders his staff south to Vyazma. At around dusk, he leaves also. The Germans have a plan to close the gap, but the loss of Medyn - one of the "corner posts" for the operation - renders that virtually unachievable. One thing is clear, however, and that is that the Germans have to reopen the railway line north to Rzhev or the position there is unsustainable. The prospect of losing entire armies is now becoming close to reality for the Germans.

Result of the Luftwaffe attack on Lowestoft on 13 January 1942
Damage caused by the Waller's raid of 13 January 1942 in Lowestoft. This view is from London Road north facing east.
Western Front: Just before dusk, a lone Dornier bomber bombs Lowestoft, England, during a heavy snowfall. Four bombs land in the main shopping area at tea time and kill 70 people, including 50 sailors. Many of the casualties are in Waller's restaurant, hence this is often called the Waller's raid. The town's largest cinema, the Odeon, is hit, and a complete block of shops is destroyed. The dead include the wife of the Superintendent of Police, a Mrs. Mills. Waller's orders thirty wreaths for the graves.

Officers of HMS Upholder, including Lt Cdr Wanklyn, 13 January 1942
'Officers of UPHOLDER. Left to right: Lieut F Ruck-Keene; Lieut Cdr Wanklyn, VC, DSO, RN; Lieut J R Drummond, RN; Sub Lieut J H Norman, RNVR." They are assembled at a submarine base in Lazzaretto, Mandel Island, Malta, on 13 January 1942 for Wanklyn to receive the Victoria Cross (© IWM (A 7295)). 
Allied Relations: In London, Representatives of nine German-occupied nations sign a declaration, approved by the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union, that vows punishment against those who order war crimes and those who participate in them. The document provides for:
the punishment, through the channels of organized justice, of those guilty of, or responsible for, these crimes, whether they have ordered them, perpetrated them, or participated in them.
Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski and French General Charles de Gaulle are among the signatories.

At the Arcadia Conference in Washington, which is in its final days, the Combined Chiefs of Staff agree to begin moving some United States Air Force units to the United Kingdom as soon as possible. The US Army V Corps already has a presence there.

Heinkel He-280 prototype which crashes on 13 January 1942
The prototype Heinkel He 280 V1, DL+AS, with engine intakes and exhausts faired over, that was lost 13 January 1942 when Helmut Schenk successfully ejected from it.
German Military: The Luftwaffe secretly has been developing ejection seats, and on 13 January 1942, they get their first successful use in a real-life crisis. While piloting the Heinkel He 280 prototype jet-engined fighter, which is equipped with an ejection seat that has never been used, test pilot Helmut Schenk finds that the plane's control surfaces have iced up and become inoperative. Schenk pulls the lever at 2400 meters (7875 feet) after severing his tow line to a pair of Bf 110C tugs (the plane's jet engines are not ready yet). Ernst Heinkel is developing the He 280 without official Luftwaffe support and it never goes into operation, but this successful use of an ejection seat is a world first for any plane. The Luftwaffe also is putting ejection seats into other fighters it is developing such as the Heinkel He 219 Uhu (Owl) night fighter. The Allies, however, have no ejection seats in development and no plans to do so.

US Military: Some sources place the first flight of the Igor Sikorsky USAAF R-4 helicopter on 13 January 1942. However, the better records suggest that it takes place on 14 January, so we discuss it there.

Heinkel He-280 prototype which crashes on 13 January 1942
The prototype He 280 V1 DL+AS being towed by a Heinkel He 111 bomber on a previous flight. 
British Homefront: A puzzle is printed in the 13 January 1942 edition of The Daily Telegraph. It had been created by W.A.J. Gavin, chairman of the Eccentric Club. It is very difficult because he thought the crossword puzzles in the publication were not hard enough. A small group of ordinary citizens is invited to the newsroom to try to solve the puzzle within a 12-minute deadline (five people manage to do this). Someone from the War Office takes down the names of some of the people and invites them to interview with Colonel Nichols of the General Staff. Several of the puzzle-solvers wind up working at Bletchley Park helping to decipher German military codes from the Enigma machine in the top-secret Ultra program. It turns out that many of the codebreakers, not just the Daily Telegraph people, are crossword fans.

Japanese-Canadians barred from fishing, 13 January 1942
Japanese-Canadians are barred from fishing, 13 January 1942.
Canada Homefront: War hysteria is reaching a crescendo all along the west coast of the United States and Canada. There are numerous reports of "suspicious activities" being printed in newspapers. Among other things, the Canadian government in Ottawa today prohibits fishing by Japanese-Canadians.

The Henry Ford soybean car, which receives its patent on 13 January 1942
Henry Ford, right, with his famous "plastic" soybean car.
American Homefront: The Ford Motor Company patents its idea of a body for cars made of plastic. Ford previously has built a car made of soybean, which it demonstrated on 13 August 1941, and some material derived from soybeans apparently is what is meant by "plastic." The "plastic" actually is a mixture of soybean fibers with resin and other binding agents (there is some doubt as to the exact formula). According to some accounts, hemp is included in the formula, but that is unproven. The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, lists the reasons for building such cars:
  • promote agriculture
  • improved safety of these cars
  • replace metals, which incidentally would aid the war effort.
The car is also a thousand pounds lighter than similar cars and thus much more fuel efficient, but that apparently is not one of the reasons for building it. The idea is decades ahead of its time. Filing the patent helps somewhat to dilute the heavy skepticism among some that the whole idea of non-metal cars is just a publicity stunt. To Henry Ford, though, this is a real goal, and he spends millions of dollars developing the idea. In any event, production of passenger cars, metal or otherwise, are about to be banned by the US government due to the war. However, Ford's research money does not go to complete waste, as it leads to the development of non-dairy whip toppings (first called "Delsoy") and other soybean-based products at Ford's Carver Laboratory during World War II. Rather than the dawn of a new era, however, the patent is a last gasp of the old one, as from this point forward the Ford Motor Company puts aside the idea of building such cars and focuses on the war effort.

Leningrad during the siege, 13 January 1942
Leningrad, 13 January 1942. Finding potable water, which is used to make soup for dinner. Someone has brought their sled, left, to make the daily ritual a bit easier.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt forms the U.S. War Production Board. Its chairman is Donald M. Nelson. The WPB replaces the Supply Priorities and Allocation Board. Nelson's main job is helping or forcing civilian factories (such as the major automobile factories in Detroit) to convert to war production.

Nineteen shipyards on the west coast go to continuous, around-the-clock, seven-day-a-week production schedules. The U.S. Maritime Commission faces a manpower crisis in the shipyards, many of which are newly built in areas without experienced workers. This leads to more employment by women and Africa-Americans. Major production yards are located at Oakland and San Francisco, California, Tacoma, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. Henry J. Kaiser is a major driving force behind ship construction on the west coast, and he has several yards for his Kaiser Permanente organization at Richmond, California.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York, the new exhibition is Latin-American Art. Among the artists featured are Diego Rivera, famous for his murals such as one in the lobby of Rockefeller Center, and Wifredo Lams. The United States is doing everything it can think of to tighten ties with Latin America during the early days of the war.

Wrens at work on 13 January 1942
"A Chief Petty Officer Wren in charge of Teleprinting Trainees checks results with a Wren Trainee Teleprinter operator." St. Leonard House, Rosyth Command, 13 January 1942 (© IWM (A 7043)).


Thursday, April 18, 2019

January 12, 1942: Rommel Plans Counterattack

Monday 12 January 1942

General Rommel meets with his commanders in North Africa on 12 January 1942
General Erwin Rommel, leader of Panzer Group Africa, with General Ludwig Cruwell, commander of Afrika Korps, near El Agheila on 12 January 1942. They are meeting with leaders of Italian Division "Pavia." Rommel begins planning a counteroffensive today (Gemini, Ernst A., Federal Archive Picture 183-1982-0927-503).
Battle of the Mediterranean: The 2nd South African Division forces the surrender of the German/Italian stronghold at Sollum on the Egyptian border early on 12 January 1942. The Sollum fortress provided an outlet to the sea for the 5,000 Italian troops holding out at Halfaya Pass, so now they are completely isolated (though the sea routes weren't very useful anyway due to Royal Navy control of the sea). The Italian defenders of the Halfaya position are dug in and determined to hold out, but they are running out of food and water and their position is hopeless. Hopeless, that is, unless Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel pulls off a miracle and stages a counteroffensive to relieve them. Such is the growing legend of Rommel that the Italians are willing to suffer extreme privations in the belief that miracles do happen and the panzers will suddenly appear on the horizon. Unbeknownst to the Italian defenders, Rommel does begin planning just such a counteroffensive today. Rommel, as is his common practice, does not inform either the Italian or German high commands. This prevents Allied codebreakers from learning of the plans. Whether the hard-pressed Italians at Halfaya can hold out until the Germans counterattack is doubtful.

SS Turkheim, sunk on 12 January 1942
German 1840-ton freighter Turkheim, torpedoed and sunk by Soviet submarine S-102 on 12 January 1942. The Turkheim was sunk near Hamningberg - Vardø in northern Norway.
Just east of Cape Spartivento, Italy, British submarine HMS Unbeaten (Cdr Edward "Teddy" Woodward) spots U-374 (Oblt.z.S. Unno von Fischel) on the surface. Damaged on 10 January 1942 by Royal Navy destroyer HMS Legion and Dutch destroyer Isaac Sweers, U-374 is unable to submerge. Commander Woodward torpedoes U-374, sinking it and killing 42 men. There is one survivor that Unbeaten takes prisoner.

German Battleship Tirpitz on 12 January 1942
In this photo taken on 12 January 1942, the German battleship Tirpitz leaves Kiel and sails through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal to return to Wilhelmshaven. The Germans are making big decisions about their big ships today
Battle of the Atlantic: Adolf Hitler is losing confidence in the ability of the Kriegsmarine to operate surface ships in the Atlantic. They also are not safe in their anchorage at Brest, France, because of massive RAF bombing raids which already have caused the ships some damage. Hitler, however, sees continued use for the surface ships in the far north of Norway to intercept Allied convoys to Russia and to aid in coastal defense. For them to operate in Norway, though, the ships first need to return past England to the Baltic. This can be done in either of two ways, either in a large, dangerous loop to the west of Great Britain or an even more dangerous, but much quicker, journey straight up the narrow English Channel. Hitler chooses the latter.

German Battleship Tirpitz on 12 January 1942
German battleship Tirpitz sails through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal during its return to Wilhelmshaven on 12 January 1942.
Hitler orders Admiral Raeder to prepare plans for a "surprise break through the Channel" to reach the German Atlantic port of Wilhelmshaven. Raeder today opposes the plan, at least if it uses the channel route, but agrees to prepare and execute the operation as long as Hitler himself gives the final order to execute it. The Luftwaffe also opposes the plan but agrees to execute it as Unternehmen Donnerkeil (Operation Thunderbolt). It is planned for right before a new moon in early February 1942. The entire Channel Dash is given the codename Operation Cerberus, apparently because Cerberus in mythology is a multi-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld, and several German heavy cruisers (Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen) are to make the journey.

German Battleship Tirpitz on 12 January 1942
German battleship Tirpitz sails through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal during its return to Wilhelmshaven on 12 January 1942.
Battle of the Pacific: US Navy Task Force 8.6, led by heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) and light cruisers Detroit (CL-8) and Raleigh (CL-7), escorts Amulet Force to a successful landing on Amchitka Island. This is 2,000 men under the command of Brigadier General Lloyd E. Jones. During the landing, a fierce storm hits which, along with a tricky current, causes destroyer Worden to hit a submerged rock. The destroyer loses power and it eventually drifts ashore and is broken up. There are fourteen dead, but its commanding officer, Cdr William G. Pogue, is hauled out of the water unconscious but alive.

German Battleship Tirpitz on 12 January 1942
Tugs assisting German battleship Tirpitz as it sails through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal during its return to Wilhelmshaven on 12 January 1942.
With the Japanese seizing control of a large portion of the southwest Pacific, the US Army Air Force establishes a new southern route from Hawaii to Australia south of the Philippines. Three USAAF B-17 bombers complete the first flight from Hawaii to Australia today. The Combined Chiefs of Staff approve plans to garrison a chain of islands along this route that will include American Samoa, Bora Bora, Canton Island, Christmas Island, the Fiji Islands, and Palmyra Island.

Life magazine of 12 January 1942
Life magazine on 12 January 1942 features "Pacific Coast Defense."
The limits of British air defenses at Singapore are amply demonstrated today when a flight of 27 Japanese bombers is chased by RAAF Brewster Buffaloes after completing a mission over the island. The Japanese pilots manage to outrun the obsolete fighters, causing a RAAF pilot to comment, ""Bombers outpacing fighters. You've got to bloody-well laugh." On land, the Japanese forces stream through Kuala Lumpur and head toward Johore, where the British are planning their last stand on the Malay Peninsula.

Time magazine of 12 January 1942
Time magazine for 12 January 1942 features Sir Henry Pownall, "Trustee of Singapore." Pownall was the commander-in-chief of the British Far East Command in South East Asia until January 942 when it was succeeded by the short-lived ABDACOM. He is currently chief of staff to General Sir Archibald Wavell. (Ernest Hamlin Baker).
In the Philippines, the Japanese have closed up to the Allied outpost line across the neck of the Bataan Peninsula and begin major attacks. Allied forces are divided into two Corps, I Corps in the west and II Corps in the east, with II Corps being slightly more powerful because it represents the "short route" for the Japanese forces coming from the east. The Japanese make gains against the Filipino 51st Division in the western portion of the II Corps area and the Filipino 41st Division in the center of the II Corps line. In the east portion of the II Corps line, the Japanese cross the Calaguiman River and establish bridgeheads on the south bank. In the I Corps area, the Japanese use boats to seize undefended Grande Island in Manila Bay.

London bomb damages, January 1942
"The destruction around St Paul's Cathedral caused by an air raid on London is softened by a heavy dusting of snow. A mobile crane and truck can be seen at work to clear up some of the debris." January 1942. © IWM (D 6412).
At Tarakan, a triangle-shaped island less than three miles off the Borneo coast, the Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, or KNIL) garrison surrenders in the morning of 12 January. The triumphant Sakaguchi Detachment and 2nd Kure Special Naval Landing Force drown 219 POWs as retaliation for losses they suffered during the Battle of Tarakan. Most of the Dutch ships based at Tarakan manage to escape, but Japanese destroyer Yamakaze and patrol boat P-38 sink Dutch minelayer Prins van Oranje as it attempts a run for safety.

Swedish freighter Yngaren, sunk by U-43 on 12 January 1942
U-43 (Kptlt. Wolfgang Lüth) torpedoes and sinks 5246-ton Swedish freighter Yngaren about 600 miles west of Ireland on 12 January 1942. The Yngaren was carrying a cargo of 4696 tons copra, 3000 tons manganese ore, and 80 tons trucks and 8 aircraft. There are 38 deaths and 2 survivors.
On Celebes (Sulawesi), the Battle of Manado ends in a Japanese victory. Japanese paratroopers are dropped at the airfield at Longoan. They suffer heavy casualties but secure the field. The local Dutch commander, Captain W.C. van den Berg, retreats with his forces inland and prepares to begin a guerilla campaign. Van den Berg's men are almost all retired men who are long past normal military age. There are a few more isolated Dutch outposts left to capture and the guerilla campaign poses some problems for the Japanese, but, for all intents and purposes, the battle for Celebes is over. The Japanese always have an ace card in these situations because they effectively hold civilians hostage (including women) and have no compunctions about executing them in retaliation for Allied raids.
Oberleutnant Erbo Graf von Kageneck, KIA on 12 January 1942
Oberleutnant Erbo Graf von Kageneck, a holder of the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and Staffelkapitän of the 9./JG 27 fighter unit. He dies of wounds suffered in North Africa at a Naples, Italy, hospital on 12 January 1942. Kageneck is posthumously promoted to Hauptmann and finishes with 67 victories. It is believed that Australian ace Clive Caldwell shot him down.
Eastern Front: The Soviet 51st Division on the Crimea deploys its two regiments along the new line that runs from north to south on the Parpach Narrows. The Germans have assembled four divisions for an attack on the Red Army's 51st and 44th Divisions and to recapture Feodosiya, the key port in the south. The Luftwaffe also is building up its forces to help the attack under newly formed Special Staff Crimea. It is commanded by General Robert Ritter von Greim.

British sappers disarm German mines in North Africa on 12 January 1942
"South African sappers making German Teller mines safe, 12 January 1942." © IWM (E 7602).
The Soviet advance toward Sychevka, a train stop on the critical rail line between Vyazma and Rzhev, becomes a critical problem as the day wears on. The Germans holding the town can distinctly hear the fighting just to the east. The large German presence anchored at Rzhev would become untenable if the railway line is cut, so holding Sychevka is critical. Ninth Army commander General Adolf Strauss has his headquarters at Sychevka and remains in the town. However, all telephone and telegraph lines have been cut, so the Germans in Sychevka are out of communication with the army's own units. The Soviets have broken through on both sides, but the German hope is that by holding Sychevka itself, the railway line can be secured. The railway line already is basically out of commission at this point anyway because of snow drifts and the disappearance of the Soviet civilians who have been operating the Soviet locomotives.

Reinhard Heydrich with Hermann Goering on 12 January 1942
Reinhard Heydrich speaking with Hermann Goering at Goering's birthday celebration, Jan. 12, 1942.
German Homefront: It is Hermann Goering's birthday, an event which is celebrated each year throughout the Reich. Among others, Reinhard Heydrich visits Goering at Karinhall, Goering's estate near Berlin.

American Homefront: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9017 establishing the National War Labor Board (NWLB). William Hammatt Davis is its first chairman. Its purpose is to prevent labor problems from interfering with the war effort. The NWLB sets wage controls for industries deemed vital to the war effort, including automobiles, shipping, railways, airlines, telegraph lines, and mining. The NWLB supersedes the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) established in 1935. The NLRB remains in existence for matters deemed less important to the war effort and eventually resumes its original mission after the NWLB is discontinued in 1945.

The US Office of Price Administration decrees that hot dogs from now on must be made from a mixture of meat and soy meal. These are to be called "victory sausages."

Having enlisted on 10 January, the day after his recent title fight against Buddy Baer, boxer Joe Louis reports for duty at Camp Upton amid a media blitz.

Children buying war stamps on 12 January 1942
Children emptying their piggy banks to buy war stamps. The Times of Munster, Indiana, 12 January 1942.