Saturday, January 19, 2019

October 31, 1941: USS Reuben James Sunk

Friday 31 October 1941

Portraits of Stalin and Churchill in Brisbane, 31 October 1941
Portraits of Stalin and Churchill hung in Brisbane, Australia in an event concerning Australian troops at Tobruk, 31 October 1941.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-552 (Kptlt. Erich Topp), on its sixth patrol out of St. Nazaire, is operating with Wolfpack Stosstrupp on 31 October 1941 and shadowing Convoy HX-156 southwest of Iceland and west of Eire. At 08:34, Kptlt. Topp fires two torpedoes at a warship guarding the convoy. At least one of the torpedoes hits the ship in the forward area and explodes. It is the USS Reuben James (DD-245, LtCdr Heywood Lane Edwards, USN), part of US Escort Group 4.1.3.

USS Reuben James, 31 October 1941
USS Reuben James sinks, 31 October 1941 (US National Archives).
The explosion, assisted by a magazine exploding within the Reuben James, breaks the ship's back. Both sections sink within five minutes, the forward section virtually immediately. As the stern section sinks, depth charges break loose and explode, killing men in the water. Seven officers - all aboard - and 90 enlisted men perish in the sinking (some sources say an even 100 are killed), and one of the 46 survivors (some say 45) succumbs to his wounds on 2 November. This is the first United States Navy ship lost in World War II and the sinking is quickly memorialized by Woody Guthrie in a popular song.

Aerial view of Sevastopol in the Crimea, 31 October 1941
A Luftwaffe aerial reconnaissance map of the port of Sevastopol in the Crimea taken on 31 October 1941. General von Manstein's 11th Army nears the city on 31 October and effectively puts it under a state of siege. Many Red Army soldiers who escaped from Odesa are in Sevastopol. They are numerous but poorly armed following their seaborne escape (Federal Archives Bild 168-278-010). 
Soviet Government: The Wehrmacht is within 200 km of the center of Moscow on three main axes of their attack on 31 October 1941 - from the northwest, west, and south - and Joseph Stalin faces a crisis. It is not the first crisis, and it will not be his last crisis, but if there is one thing that Stalin knows how to handle, it is a crisis. One word sums up Stalin's attitude to a crisis: ruthlessness. He has been ordering executions of top lieutenants, such as the elimination of his "Hero of the Soviet Union" former air force commanders on 28 October, but those were just the tip of the iceberg. A secret report today within the highest reaches of the Soviet government reveals just how ruthless Stalin can be.

USS Reuben James, 31 October 1941
USS Reuben James in Chinese waters before World War II. It was one of the "flush deck," "4-stack," "four-pipe" destroyers which started entering the US Navy during World War I. You can tell this is a pre-war photo, look how spotless the ship is (US Navy photo).
Major General Solomon Rafailovich Milshtein, chief of the Investigative Unit of the NKVD (Soviet state security apparatus, akin to the Gestapo and forerunner of the KGB), delivers the report to his superior, Lavrentiy Beria. Milshtein is one of Beria's closest associates, one who can be entrusted with the most sensitive reports. A Vilnius of humble means and Jewish descent, Milshtein met Beria when both joined the Transcaucasian Cheka during the early days of the Bolshevik Revolution. Beria had Milshtein control the railways and use them for such secret activities as the Katyn Forest massacre and other liquidations. The topic of Milshtein's report reflects one of Stalin's favorite paranoias: sedition and treason.

Barrage balloon at Greenock and Gourock, 31 October 1941
"Balloons being transferred from the balloon launch to merchant ships." Greenock and Gourock, 31 October 1941. © IWM (A 6176).
The report states that, from the start of the Russo-German war through 10 Oct 1941, 657,364 troops were arrested for falling back without authorization, 249,969 of whom by agents of the Special Department Directorate in the NKVD (UOO NKVD USSR, a predecessor of SMERSH) and 407,395 by other agents of NKVD. The majority of those arrested were returned to the front, but 10,201 were executed. To set an example, 3,321 of those executed were done so in front of their units.

Soviet Evacuation train in 1941
As the NKVD man in charge of the railways, Milshtein would have supervised industrial evacuation trains such as this one from Leningrad in 1941.
Beria's and Milshtein's influence grows throughout 1941 and 1942. Stalin is convinced during these years that his Red Army soldiers are disloyal, from the very bottom ranks to the very highest. For instance, he questions why so many tanks break down, something he attributes to sabotage rather than inferior Soviet manufacturing processes. While the NKVD is active at all times in the Soviet state, it gains particular supremacy in those areas designated as in a state of emergency. That covers broad swathes of the country in late October 1941, including Leningrad, Moscow, and the entire Crimea. In essence, Beria and Milshtein are running a ruthless police state at Stalin's orders and do it competently and without any recourse whatsoever for the victims.

U-83 on patrol in the fall of 1941
U-83 during its second wartime patrol out of Brest. This patrol lasted from 28 September 1941 to 31 October 1941 under the command of Oblt. Hans-Werner Kraus. During this patrol, U-83 sank one Portuguese ship of 2044 tons, Corte Real, and damaged one ship of 6746 tons, Royal Navy fighter catapult ship HMS Ariguani (F-105). The Ariguani, wich U-83 torpedoed on 26 October, was protecting Convoy HG-75. While badly damaged and abandoned, the Ariguani refused to sink and ultimately was towed to Gibraltar. The Ariguani was decommissioned but later repaired and returned to service as a freighter in January 1944. U-83 was sunk on 4 March 1943. Incidentally, the photographer of this shot obviously was a brave man, many men were swept off the decks of U-boats in rough weather like this. 
Japanese Military: Admiral Yamamoto has been having his subordinates draft a plan for an attack on Pearl Harbor since early September. Today, the Japanese High Command approves the plan. Negotiations with the United States continue, but Prime Minister Tojo is preparing for war with Emperor Hirohito's lukewarm approval.

Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum at Mount Rushmore, 31 October 1941
Mount Rushmore is completed on 31 October 1941. This appears to be a photo of Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln.
American Homefront: Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota is dedicated on 31 October 1941 - Halloween. Conceived by Doane Robinson, the project was begun in 1927 and realized by Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum. Gutzon passed away in March 1941, and Lincoln put the finishing touches on it before operations halted for the winter. Due to a lack of funding and other issues, the project was terminated with some portions left uncompleted. However, the important parts - the Presidents' 60-foot tall faces - were what really mattered and they were completed to become an iconic image. The visitor's center which offers a view of the monument is named after Lincoln, who remained the memorial's first superintend until 31 May 1944 and who passed away on 27 January 1986. Incidentally, work continues sporadically on Mount Rushmore, with the Hall of Records being completed in 1998.

October 1941

October 1, 1941: Germans and Finns Advance in USSR
October 2, 1941: Operation Typhoon Broadens
October 3, 1941: Air Battles Near Moscow
October 4, 1941: Stalin Contemplates Defeat
October 5, 1941: Hoth Goes South
October 6, 1941: First Snowfall After Dark
October 7, 1941: Stalin Gets Religion
October 8, 1941: FDR Promises Stalin Aid 
October 9, 1941: FDR Orders Atomic Bomb Research
October 10, 1941: Reichenau's Severity Order
October 11, 1941: Tank Panic in Moscow
October 12, 1941: Spanish Blue Division at the Front
October 13, 1941: Attack on Moscow
October 14, 1941: Germans Take Kalinin
October 15, 1941: Soviets Evacuate Odessa
October 16, 1941: Romanians Occupy Odessa
October 17, 1941: U-568 Torpedoes USS Kearny
October 18, 1941: Tojo Takes Tokyo
October 19, 1941: Germans Take Mozhaysk
October 20, 1941: Germans Attack Toward Tikhvin
October 21, 1941: Rasputitsa Hits Russia
October 22, 1941: Germans Into Moscow's Second Defensive Line
October 23, 1941: The Odessa Massacre
October 24, 1941: Guderian's Desperate Drive North
October 25, 1941: FDR Warns Hitler About Massacres
October 26, 1941: Guderian Drives Toward Tula
October 27, 1941: Manstein Busts Loose
October 28, 1941: Soviet Executions
October 29, 1941: Guderian Reaches Tula
October 30, 1941: Guderian Stopped at Tula
October 31, 1941: USS Reuben James Sunk

November 1941

November 1, 1941: Finns Attack Toward Murmansk Railway
November 2, 1941: Manstein Isolates Sevastopol
November 3, 1941: Japan Prepares to Attack
November 4, 1941: German Advances in the South
November 5, 1941: Last Peace Effort By Japan
November 6, 1941: Stalin Casts Blame in an Unexpected Direction
November 7, 1941: Stalin's Big Parade
November 8, 1941: Germans Take Tikhvin
November 9, 1941: Duisburg Convoy Destruction
November 10, 1941: Manstein Attacks Sevastopol
November 11, 1941: Finland's Double Game Erupts
November 12, 1941: T-34 Tanks Take Charge
November 13, 1941: German Orsha Conference
November 14, 1941: German Supply Network Breaking Down
November 15, 1941: Operation Typhoon Resumes
November 16, 1941: Manstein Captures Kerch
November 17, 1941: Finland Halts Operations
November 18, 1941: British Operation Crusader
November 19, 1941: Sydney vs. Kormoran Duel
November 20, 1941: The US Rejects Final Japanese Demand
November 21, 1941: Germans Take Rostov
November 22, 1941: Kleist in Trouble at Rostov
November 23, 1941: Germans Take Klin, Huge Battle in North Africa
November 24, 1941: Rommel Counterattacks
November 25, 1941: HMS Barham Sunk
November 26, 1941: Japanese Fleet Sails
November 27, 1941: British Relieve Tobruk
November 28, 1941: Rostov Evacuated, German Closest Approach to Moscow
November 29, 1941: Hitler Furious About Retreat
November 30, 1941: Japan Sets the Date for its Attack


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