Thursday, February 28, 2019

December 5, 1941: Soviets Counterattack at Kalinin

Friday 5 December 1941

Soviet tanker in Iran, 5 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
As originally published, this photo had the following caption: "Boy gunner of Soviet armored car: A boy gunner of a Soviet armored car peers from the turret during the occupation of Teheran, Iran." The photograph is dated December 5, 1941. Iran is extremely important as a route for Allied Lend-Lease supplies to Russia that the Axis cannot stop.
Eastern Front: Following a night of frigid weather that sees temperatures hit -25 °F, on the morning of 5 December 1941 the Soviet forces of 29th Army counterattack the most advanced German positions at Kalinin. Advancing across the frozen Volga River, they break into the German Ninth Army lines west of Kalinin. The German Third Panzer Army (General Hoepner) attempts to counterattack in turn at Krasnaya Polyana and Moscow-Volga Canal, but it gets nowhere because much of the equipment is frozen and must be called back.

Destroyed German column near Volokolamsk, 5 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A Soviet propaganda shot of a wrecked German column destroyed on the Volokolamsk Highway in the opening thrust of the Moscow counteroffensive on 5 December 1941 (Russian International News Agency).
This is the opening stage of the grand counteroffensive proposed on 30 November by Soviet General Georgy Zhukov. Other fronts remain normal, and at Tula south of Moscow, General Guderian continues attacking. However, as the day shows massive Soviet troop concentrations right behind the front, Guderian has a change of heart. As he later writes in his memoirs:
On account of the threats to our flanks and rear and of the immobility of our troops due to the abnormal cold, I made the decision during the night of December 5-6 to break off this unsupported attack and to withdraw my foremost units into defensive positions along the general [river line] Upper Don-Shat-Upa. This was the first time during the war that I had to make a decision of this sort, and none was more difficult.
It is unclear if the Second Panzer Army even has the ability to completely evacuate its salient at Tula and retreat to the Don and Shat rivers. It has exposed forces well to the east of Tula that will have to make good their escape quickly if they want to see Germany again.

Norwegian freighter Island, sunk on 5 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Royal Navy submarine HMS Sealion torpedoes and sinks 638-ton Norwegian freighter Island (shown) in Vestifjord off northern Norway on 5 December 1941.
The Soviets are preparing to expand the offensive on 6 December. The Stavka sends orders today to the West Front armies to join in then. However, the objective is not to chase the Germans out of Russia. Instead, it is just to get a little breathing room around Moscow. At First Shock Army, for instance, General Kuznetsov is ordered simply to clear an area around Dednevo and Fedorovka while "in the longer run" preparing an advance "in the direction of Klin." The West Front as a whole is exhorted to unleash "blows" on the Germans and to "smash" their flanks. It is very cold for both sides. Which side has a numerical advantage at this point is unclear and that question never is resolved to everyone's satisfaction (boosters of each side forever insist that the other has the advantage). However, the key difference is that the Germans are not used to these extreme conditions, whereas the Soviets grew up in them, designed their weapons systems and supply trains around them, and have advantages such as undamaged rear areas and the glory of fighting for their homeland. What is clear is that the Germans suddenly realize that things have changed for their forces, and definitely not for the better. Operation Typhoon is over.

HMAS Yarra, 5 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
HMAS Yarra, shown above in August 1941, and HMS Flamingo are bombed and damaged on 5 December 1941 as they attempt to resupply embattled Tobruk. Yarra suffers only minor damage from near misses, while Flamingo has to be towed into the port (Australian Navy).
Battle of the Mediterranean: General Rommel senses a developing victory over the British Eighth Army on 5 December 1941. He has turned the British Operation Crusader into a confusing mess where the bulk of the British forces have had to retreat toward the Egyptian border. The Afrika Korps panzers, however, are strung out in exposed positions with tenuous supply lines, but they still pack a powerful punch. Today, when 11th Indian Brigade attacks an Italian Young Fascist garrison, it has some success during the day. However, at dusk, the panzers of 15th Panzer Division, combined with the Italian Ariete armored forces, strike back. They route the Indian troops, which has to be withdrawn and replaced by 22nd Guards Brigade overnight. After this success, German General Crüwell withdraws his forces to the west due to fear of a British armored riposte and thereby cedes valuable and hard-won ground.

Captured Soviet KV-2 tank near Leningrad, 5 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
German soldiers with a captured Soviet KV-2 tank near Pulkovo, Leningrad on 5 December 1941. The Germans have put a little flag, not the typical Balkenkreuz but a reasonable facsimile, on the tank in order to use it themselves as a Beutepanzer. 
Japanese Military: The Japanese carrier strike force, Kido Butai, continues its journey east toward Hawaii. Other Japanese forces board transports and head south from China heading for Malaya. Seven more troop transport ships leave Saigon in French Indochina and rendezvous with the troop transports coming down from China, swelling the invasion force with seasoned soldiers of the 56th Division. Japanese destroyer Uranami comes across an unsuspecting Norwegian freighter, 1515-ton MV Halldor, about five miles off Saigon and the Japanese board it, smashing its radio. The Norwegians then are released to proceed willingly to Hong Kong, where the Japanese later seize the ship.

Kawanishi E15K Shiun makes its maiden flight on 5 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The Kawanishi E15K Shiun makes its maiden flight on 5 December 1941. It has some issues with its novel retractable stabilizing floats which never are solved. Only 15 are completed during the war, including six prototypes.
Conducting a war across the vast stretches of the Pacific Ocean requires constant reconnaissance, and the most efficient way to achieve that is with floatplanes and flying boats which can land at isolated spots, refuel, and continue their patrols. Today, the Imperial Japanese Air Force makes the first flight of the Kawanishi E15K Shiun was a single-engined Japanese reconnaissance floatplane. The Allies will give this the reporting name "Norm," named in honor of Squadron Leader Norman O. Clappison of the RAAF, a member of the Allied Technical Air Intelligence Unit (ATAIU) who first spots it.

Amrita Sher-Gil, died 5 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Amrita Sher-Gil, a renowned Hungarian-Indian painter who passes away mysteriously at age 28 on 5 December 1941 in Lahore, India (later Pakistan).

2019

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

December 4, 1941: Soviets Plan Counteroffensive

Thursday 4 December 1941

USS Ranger and Vought Vindicator 4 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"A U.S. Navy Vought SB2U Vindicator (42-S-17) of Scouting Squadron 42 (VS-42) returning to the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4) on 4 December 1941. Ranger was escorting a convoy in the Atlantic." (US Navy).
Eastern Front: There have been many Soviet counteroffensives on the Eastern Front since the Germans invaded in June. On the whole, they have been futile, though one or two, such as at Yelnya in September, pushed the Wehrmacht back a bit. General Georgy Zhukov now has come up with one of the more ambitious plans, an attack by Red Army units both north and south of Moscow to drive the Germans back about 60 miles, but it requires Stalin's approval. In his memoirs, General Vasily Danilovich Sokolovsky, chief of staff of the Western Front, recalls that the final Stavka decision to mount this counteroffensive is made on 4 December 1941. As Zhukov recalls, the decision is made in a very off-handed way. Zhukov has a late-night telephone conversation with Joseph Stalin about general matters during which Stalin "reminds" Zhukov that the Kalinin Front would be going over to the counteroffensive on the 5th, while Southwest Front would follow the next day. This is the first that Zhukov, who more-or-less has been running the Red Army's operations, hears of it. And that is how the Moscow counteroffensive comes about.

British exercise aboard HMS Winchester Castle, 4 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"An anti-aircraft gunners at Action Stations during a mock air raid, while stores are being loaded from a transport." During combined landing exercises held on 3 and 4 December 1941 at Skipness, Scotland and aboard transport ship Winchester Castle. © IWM (A 6495).
Conditions are ripe for a Soviet counteroffensive at Moscow. The German troops have lost their momentum and they and their weapons are suffering from the extreme cold. While it is cold for the Soviet troops as well, they and their equipment are better prepared for it. In the morning, there are heavy snowfalls everywhere from the day and night before and the temperature stands at -4 °F, and Field Marshal Fedor von Bock records in his diary that it is "icy cold." After dark, the temperature drops to -25 °F, and a German regiment on a night march records over three hundred frostbite casualties and several wounded men freezing to death. In such conditions, the equipment that the Germans have used to get to Moscow and which for many serves as their home-on-wheels freeze. Their engines won't turn over, the guns won't fire because lubricants congeal, and hot food is impossible to serve in outdoor canteens. The Red Army has very small, but telling, advantages in all of these areas in part because the Germans are inhabiting areas that have been destroyed by fighting and supplied over unreliable lines of communication. The Red Army, on the other hand, holds positions that have not yet been fought over and which are served by longstanding and intact supply lines. So, the colder and frostier it gets, the more the balance of power swings to the Soviets.

RAF officers with British tank, 4 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"Western Desert, North Africa. 4 December 1941. Aircrew members of an RAF Squadron operating Glenn Martin Maryland bomber aircraft climb all over a British tank to examine it. Co-operation between the Allied air and land forces in the North African offensive has been excellent." (Australian War Memorial MED0155).
Battle of the Mediterranean: The winner of the multi-week battle begun by the British Operation Crusader remains uncertain as of 4 December 1941. After some brilliant maneuvering by General Erwin Rommel, the German Afrika Korps has managed to push the bulk of the British Eighth Army back toward the Egyptian border. The British are far from defeated, however, and British 30th Corps to the south of Rommel's most advanced positions near Tobruk remains a deadly threat. Rommel spends the morning dividing his forces, sending 15th Panzer Division and Italian Ariete Division south toward the border while sending other troops against the British entrenched to the north at Ed Duda.

British landing exercise in Scotland, 4 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"Unloading petrol by means of a roller runway." Combined landing exercise held at Skipness, Scotland and aboard transport ship Winchester Castle. © IWM (A 6505).
Neither attack succeeds. The British 70th Division's 14th Infantry Brigade at Ed Duda does not yield. The attack to the south alarms British Eighth Army headquarters, which orders British 4th Armored Brigade to the east (and weakens the British effort around Tobruk. However, the German/Italian attack stops after only a small advance at Gasr el Arid. At this point, Rommel decides to concentrate his forces in the south in order to hold off the main British power base. While the British at Ed Duda south of Tobruk remain a problem, he figures that if Afrika Korps can push the British back into Egypt, the Tobruk pocket will still be a pocket, albeit a much bigger one. That can be dealt with later. Meanwhile, the Italian Pavia and Trento Divisions on the Tobruk perimeter launch their own counterattacks against the 70th Division at Ed Duda which gain ground at the "Plonk" and "Doc" bunkers.

Italian aircraft crash in North Africa, 4 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"Western Desert, North Africa. 4 December 1941. Remains of an Italian aircraft shot down near Qur el Beid being searched by a large number of Allied troops. The aircraft had been shot down during the second British Libyan offensive - Operation Crusader." (Australian War Memorial MED0153). 
US Military: United States aircraft carrier USS Enterprise concludes a ferry operation to Wake Island, launching from 175 miles offshore to the north of Wake Island the last F4F Wildcats that it has brought to the island. It then turns back toward Hawaii, planning to arrive at Pearl Harbor on 6 December. Another dozen F4F-3 fighters of US Marine Squadron 211 also arrive at Wake Island today. The Americans don't know it, but the Japanese carrier striking force, Kido Butai, is steaming toward the east even further to the north of Wake Island and has its own aircraft nearby secretly observing the US air activities there. In the Philippines, General MacArthur orders General Lewis Hyde Brereton, the commander of the Far East Air Force who has just returned from twelve days in Australia, to institute air patrols north of Luzon. Brereton does this using short-range fighter planes which cannot patrol very far.

RAF officer with American journalist in North Africa, 4 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"Western Desert, North Africa. 4 December 1941. An RAF flying officer with a bandaged right arm, returned from a battle over Libya in which he shot down an Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM79 Sparviero bomber aircraft and a German Messerschmitt Bf109 fighter aircraft, with American correspondent Miss Morley Brook Lister." (Australian War Memorial MED0157).
Japanese Military: A US PBY Catalina has been patrolling over French Indochina. Yesterday, it observed 30 Japanese troop transport ships in Cam Ranh Bay. Today, it sees none. The Japanese are heading south. In fact, Japanese forces leave today from many ports in order to get in position to invade multiple landing beaches in Malaya and Thailand.

Admiral Chuichi Nagumo's carrier striking force, Kido Butai, continues heading east in foul weather. The conditions help to keep the massive fleet safe from prying eyes. Kido Butai is following a virtually unused route to Hawaii that is far from the usual lanes to the south. Nagumo eventually will have to turn to the southeast in order to park about 200 miles north of Oahu. He plans on one more stop to refuel before making this turn.

Cartoon in Australian Sydney Daily Telegraph, 4 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"A Step In Front," a cartoon by Bill Mahony in the 4 December 1941 Sydney Daily Telegraph. It shows a bulldog sitting on a step (Singapore) looking out to sea under darkening skies. The Royal Navy is based at Singapore and is considered Australia's first line of defense.
US Government: Congress adjourns as usual for the weekend. President Roosevelt is debating how to make one last plea to the Japanese to restart the moribund peace negotiations. Ambassadors Nomura and Kurusu continue meeting with Secretary of State Cordell Hull, but no progress at all is made.

Holocaust: At the newly opened Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia, Adolf Eichmann, leader of the RSHA section IV B 4 (Jewish affairs), begins making the camp more efficient for its purpose as a transit camp. The German Generalplan Ost provides that all Jewish citizens of the Reich are to be sent to the East through processing camps such as Theresienstadt. Today, Eichmann appoints Prague native Jacob Edelstein, one of the early arrivals, to be the chairman of the Council of Jewish Elders (Judenrat) at Theresienstadt.

F4F-3 aircraft that land on Wake Island on 4 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
These are three of the twelve F4F-3 aircraft launched from USS Enterprise to land on Wake Island on 4 December 1941. While they are painted in peacetime conditions in this photo, during the journey to Wake they are repainted in a military scheme (US Naval History and Heritage Command).

2019

Monday, February 25, 2019

December 3, 1941: Hints of Trouble in the Pacific

Wednesday 3 December 1941

German POWs 3 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
German soldiers who had captured a British Matilda tank and were using it to cross Allied lines are captured by New Zealand troops on 3 December 1941. They have painted a Balkencreuz (straight-armed cross) and Swastika on the tank, which makes them prisoners - without the markings, they could be shot as spies.
Eastern Front: The waning German offensive against Moscow continues to show just enough indications that it is succeeding on 3 December 1941 for some generals to continue supporting it. However, doubts are growing daily. Today, Fourth Army commander Field Marshal Hans von Kluge, who is not known for challenging orders (he is known as "kluge Hans," or clever Hans, for his slippery demeanor), asks Field Marshal Fedor von Bock for permission to end the offensive. Bock himself also has doubts, but he tells von Kluge to wait a few days to see if things improve.

HMS Glasgow at Singapore, 3 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"HMS GLASGOW, while acting as escort to a convoy carrying troops, steamed close by and played her band for them." 3 December 1941. © IWM (A 6789).
The day's events on the battlefield, however, are not promising. The German 258th Infantry Division, which scored an unexpected breakthrough in recent days to the west of the Soviet capital, is surrounded and has to fight its way out to the west. To the northwest, at Yakhroma, Third Panzer Army is making no progress against First Shock Army. South of Moscow, a blizzard hits during a German attack by the 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions along with Grossdeutschland and the panzers manage to cut the Tula-Serpukhov-Moscow Highway and also sever the Tula-Moscow rail line near Revyakino. It is small advances like this that give the Wehrmacht some confidence that its decision to continue attacking is the right one - even though the gains are minor and isolated.

Sinking Soviet transport Josif Stalin in the Gulf of Finland, 3 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The Soviet transport "Josif Stalin," engaged in the evacuation of Hanko, Finland on 3 December 1941, has its bow blown off and sinks after running into the Corbetha minefield in the Gulf of Finland. While the men on board appear calm, most are about to die. About 4000 of the nearly 6000 men on board perish. Once you are in the icy water in your winter gear, you die quickly.
The retreat from Rostov-on-Don ordered by General Ewald von Kleist in the southern section of the front appears to have worked in preserving the German forces there. As OKH operations chief General Franz Halder notes in his war diary:
In Army Group South, enemy pressure only against our combat outposts on the southern wing; on other portions of the Front, the enemy is moving closer to the rearguards still forward of the new position [the Mius River line]. The enemy may still be preparing a major concentration of forces opposite the Italian Corps. Railroad movements, possibly troops, from Stalingrad.
If nothing else, this entry is interesting for its mention of Stalingrad. The retreat from Rostov that cost Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt his position as commander of the Army Group. One thing is for certain: the Red Army always has more troops to throw into the mix all along the front, and not just at Moscow.

Jawaharlal Nehru, 3 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Jawaharlal Nehru, shown here in prison, is released on 3 December 1941 from Dehradun Jail. He was jailed on 21 October 1940 by the British and sentenced to four years' "Rigorous Imprisonment" for anti-government activities.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The day begins with both sides believing that they have the upper hand on the very fluid fighting that has resulted from the British Operation Crusader. The British and New Zealand forces, for the most part, have been pushed back but not defeated. The Germans do, at least temporarily, retain the initiative. General Erwin Rommel has sent the Geissler Advance Guard and the Knabe Advanced Guard battalion groups to the southeast in order to reestablish contact with isolated German garrisons along the border. However, the 5th New Zealand Brigade stops the Geissler advance on the Bardi road near Menastir and sends it reeling, while the Knabe battalion advancing toward Capuzzo ends in a standoff with the Central India Horse reconnaissance regiment "Goldforce." Rommel is undeterred by these setbacks and orders a resumption of the Afrika Korps attack for 4 December.

US Army Transport Monterey, A Matson liner, 3 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The US Army Transport Monterey, A Matson liner. It is chartered on 3 December 1941 to transport troops to Manila, Philippine Islands. On this date, the Monterey is in San Francisco Harbor and being loaded with cargo for the trip. Note the anti-aircraft gun that has been added to the forecastle.
Spy Stuff: The Allied intelligence services are beginning to pick up hints that something big is afoot in the Pacific. The British in Manila, Philippines send a cable to their counterparts in Hawaii:
We have received considerable intelligence confirming following developments in Indo-China. A. 1. Accelerated Japanese preparations of air fields and railways. 2. Arrival since Nov. 10 of additional 100,000 repeat 100,000 troops and considerable quantities fighters, medium bombers, tanks and guns (75 mm). B. Estimate of specific quantities have already been telegraphed Washington Nov. 21 by American military intelligence here. C. Our considered opinion concludes that Japan envisages early hostilities with Britain and U.S. Japan does not repeat not intend to attack Russia at present but will act in South.
At Pearl Harbor, US Naval Intelligence services are asked to report on the location of major Japanese naval units but have no information on that - which itself should raise suspicions.

Wake Island, 3 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Aerial view of Wake Island taken on 3 December 1941. The Morrison-Knudsen construction company has had hundreds of men working on the atoll throughout 1941 to construct a camp for 1,221  Pacific Naval Air Base contract workmen. The official name for this installation is Naval Air Station, Peale Island. There currently is a small group of US Marines and 360 civilian workmen on the island. Camp Two is visible at top center, to the right of the channel (US Air Force).
A US Army Air Force PBY Catalina on patrol off Cam Ranh Bay reports the addition of ten Japanese troop transport ships to the 20 already known to be there. President Roosevelt orders Admiral Hart to send US Navy yacht "Isabel" to the coast of French Indochina to investigate. Hart briefs the commander of the yacht, Lieutenant John Walker Payne, Jr., personally and assigns the ship to the Defensive Information Patrol before it sets sail late in the day.
A German guard outside the Reichskanzlei, 3 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A guard in front of the New Reich Chancellery, 3 December 1941 (Federal Archive Bild 183-R98169).
Anglo/US Relations: President Roosevelt meets with British Ambassador Lord Halifax and suggests that the United States will declare war on Japan if they attack British territory but not American outposts. There is nothing put in writing, however.

US/Turkish Relations: The covert battle between Axis and Allied governments to sway Turkey to join the war on one side or another continues. President Roosevelt announces that the United States will send Lend-Lease supplies to Turkey. Since these are free, there is no reason for Turkey to turn them down. Hitler, meanwhile, has been trying to entice Turkey into the war for many months in order to pave the way for a grand encirclement of the British Middle East command based at Cairo.

Japanese Military: Kido Butai, the Japanese strike force that is currently in the mid-Pacific Ocean, resumes its journey east toward the Hawaiian Islands after refueling on 2 December. Its commander, Admiral Nagumo, now has standing orders to attack the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 local time. These orders will be carried out unless an order rescinding them is sent by Tokyo.

HMS Repulse at Singapore, 3 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"HMS REPULSE steams down the line of a great convoy so that troops can get a close view of the battlecruiser." Repulse only arrived in Singapore on 2 December as part of Force Z along with battleship Prince of Wales. This photo was taken on 3 December 1941 from one of the approaching merchantmen. © IWM (A 6791).

2019

December 2, 1941: Climb Mount Niitaka

Tuesday 2 December 1941

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"HMS 'Prince of Wales', flagship of Force Z, approaching her berth at the Singapore naval base, 2 December 1941." The Prince of Wales was the victor in the North Atlantic against the Bismarck, and the Admiralty has sent it to Singapore along with cruiser Repulse in a show of force. This is Task Force Z under the command of Vice Admiral Tom Phillips. © IWM (FE 485). 
Japanese Military: The Japanese carrier strike force is proceeding east toward the United States on a course that is well to the north of established trade routes. So far, this has been successful in maintaining the fleet's secrecy from any passing ships. As it refuels in the North Pacific at 42°N 170°E, about a third of the way to Hawaii, Admiral Yamamoto aboard battleship Nagato in Tokyo Bay radios Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, the commander of Kido Butai. The message is:
Climb Mount Niitaka.
Nagumo does not have to look at his codebook to know what this means. It provides official authorization to proceed with the attack on Pearl Harbor as planned.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"It was an event of first-class importance when key men from England, Australia, China, Thailand, Malaya, and the Far East Command met in conference at Singapore. These representatives were Sir Robert Brooke-Popham (Commander-in-Chief, Far East); Mr Alfred Duff Cooper (England); Sir Earle Page (Australia); Sir Archibald Clarke-Kerr (British Ambassador, Chungking); Sir Shenton Thomas (Governor of Malaya); Sir Geoffrey Layton (Commander-in-Chief, China Station); and Sir Josiah Crosby (British Minister to Thailand). They are here pictured (in the above order) before the conference. Sir Josiah Crosby being temporarily absent." 2 December 1941. © IWM (K 1253).
The message as decoded states that the attack on Pearl Harbor, Operation Z, is authorized to take place any time after midnight on 7 December 1941. The fleet is maintaining Tokyo time, which is a day ahead of local Hawaiian time, and ignoring progressive time changes as it proceeds east (sunsets are happening earlier and earlier, so the men are going to sleep well after dark sleeping well into the daylight). The strike thus may take place at the earliest sometime early on 7 December 1941 according to United States time zones. If the attack takes place soon after the window of authorization opens, it would be in the middle of the night as experienced by the Japanese pilots even though it mid-morning for locals.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Japanese battleship Nagato, from which the message to attack Pearl Harbor was sent on 2 December 1941. When the war ends, it will be the only Japanese battleship afloat.
The strike force does not break radio silence to confirm the order. Later, at 20:00, the Nagato sends the further code "Niitaka Yama Noboru 1208," which indicates that the strike is to take place on 8 December 1941 Tokyo time and 7 December 1941, i.e., on the first day planned. Since the attack has been planned to take place at or shortly after dawn, this means that hostilities will commence on the morning of 7 December 1941. The die is now cast unless a recall order is sent by Tokyo.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"New Zealand infantry greets a Matilda tank crew after the meeting of the Tobruk garrison and relieving forces, 2 December 1941." © IWM (E 6920).
Battle of the Mediterranean: With weather conditions deteriorating rapidly on the all-important Eastern Front, Adolf Hitler issues Fuehrer Directive No. 38. This provides in general for reinforcement of Axis air power in the Mediterranean theater, which was stripped in June in preparation for Operation Barbarossa. The order states in part:
I order, in agreement with The Duce, that part of the German Airforce no longer required in the east be transferred to the southern Italian and North African areas, in the strength of about one Air Corps with the necessary antiaircraft defenses.
The order also appoints Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, recently transferred from the Eastern Front to Rome, Commander-in-Chief South. Kesselring has only his Luftflotte 2 staff and does not bring the entire Air Fleet with him. He will operate with this small staff until January 1943 to control all Axis operations in the entire Mediterranean theater. While the Directive is very general about his responsibilities ("paralyze enemy traffic through the Mediterranean Sea"), Kesselring's primary at this time is to get supplies through to General Erwin Rommel's forces in Libya, which are struggling against the British Eighth Army. An unstated but likely important objective is to rein in General Rommel, who has been operating virtually as a crusading baron with no oversight from anyone.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"After some of the heaviest fighting of the North African campaign, the infantry of the 2nd New Zealand Division link up with Matilda tanks of the Tobruk garrison. The New Zealanders had fought along the coast road to relieve Tobruk and end the eight-month siege." 2 December 1941. © IWM (E 6918).
In Libya, the British Operation Crusader is now exactly two weeks old. The ultimate outcome remains very much in doubt, with the British having established a corridor to Tobruk early on 27 November but lost contact again on 1 December. Today, Rommel sends armored forces (the Geissler Advance Guard and the Knabe Advanced Guard battalion groups) southeast to reestablish his pre-battle line and relieve some border strongpoints. This extends his forces and opens them up to British counter-attack because the Eighth Army tanks have been pushed back but not eliminated. The 5th New Zealand Brigade is waiting for them along the Bardia road near Monastir, but contact is not made until 3 December. The 2nd New Zealand Division, meanwhile, links up again with the Tobruk garrison on the coast road, reflecting the chaotic nature of the North African situation in early December. However, depending upon Rommel's further moves, the New Zealanders may just be cut off along with Tobruk garrison.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
British troops in North Africa look over a captured Junkers Ju 87R-2 Stuka (T6+AN) of 5/StG 2 which was captured after making an emergency landing during December 1941.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-43 (Kptlt. Wolfgang Lüth), on its ninth patrol out of Lorient, is operating with Wolfpack Steuben (named somewhat ironically after Baron von Steuben, a top general in George Washington's Continental Army during the War of Independence) near the Azores in the North Atlantic. It is a full moon, and Captain Lüth spots an "independent" tanker just after midnight. An initial salvo of torpedoes misses. The tanker immediately picks up speed and begins zig-zagging. Lüth then spends hours maneuvering into a better attack position, and at 09:24 he tries again. This time, U-43's two torpedoes hit the tanker, one in the stern and one amidships, and sink it within minutes. The tanker is 7,542-ton tanker Astral. All 37 aboard (including 8 officers) perish. U-575 (Kptlt. Günther Heydemann) had spotted the Astral on the 1st, but let it go after seeing the painted US flag on its side. Lüth either did not see the flag or did not care. The Astral is the third of four US merchantmen sunk by U-boats prior to war being declared.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A mobile kitchen in Chatham, England, 2 December 1941. © IWM (A 6443).
Manhattan Project: German theoretical physicist Klaus Fuchs, who applied to become a British citizen in August 1939 (not granted until 7 August 1942), has been working on the British atomic bombs research project. This operation has been known to date as the "Tube Alloys" programme. Today, Fuchs arrives in New York along with 14 other atomic scientists for information exchanges. Thus, Klaus Fuchs is in at the very inception of the Manhattan Project (though it is not known by that name yet). Fuchs will return to Edinburgh in January 1942 to resume his work. Unknown to everyone, Fuchs will develop a secret allegiance to the Soviet Union and serve as their inside spy on the Manhattan Project, but this will not become known until 1949.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Louis "Lepke" Buchalter in a New York court for sentencing, 2 December 1941. Buchalter will be executed in "Old Sparky" in Sing Sing Prison on 4 March 1944 after a final appeal to the US Supreme Court (319 U.S. 427 (1943) fails 7-0 with two abstentions. He is buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, Queens. 

2019

Saturday, February 23, 2019

December 1, 1941: Hitler Fires von Rundstedt

Monday 1 December 1941

German POW, 1 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A Wehrmacht soldier surrender at Solnechnogorsk, northwest of Moscow, on 1 December 1941 (Samaryi Guraryi).
Eastern Front: After stewing about the unauthorized retreat from Rostov for 36 hours and trying in vain to stop the troops in their tracks, Adolf Hitler fires the Army Group South commander, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, early on 1 December 1941. Named as his replacement in the teletype to the Army Group headquarters is the commander of Sixth Army, Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau, who is present on the scene and able to take over quickly. In a pattern that repeats itself throughout the course of the war on the Eastern Front, the new commander immediately ratifies the decisions taken by his predecessor and even expands upon them. In the evening, after paying lip service to what Hitler wants, Reichenau allows the fleeing troops to continue west to the new Mius River line. Field Marshal von Rundstedt, meanwhile, departs from his headquarter with his rank intact aboard his personal command train, his reputation and esteem intact despite his dismissal.

Red Army soldiers on Gorky Street in Moscow, 1 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Soviet troops marching on Gorky Street, Moscow, Russia, 1 December 1941. Credit: RIAN, Oleg Ignatovich.
While the firing of von Rundstedt is not a decisive event in the course of Operation Barbarossa, it is a very significant sign of deeper troubles in the German invasion. Von Rundstedt is the first army group commander to be relieved, but the other two - Fedor von Bock at Army Group Center and Ritter von Leeb at Army Group North - also are in peril. All three have faced the same extremely difficult decisions about trying to bring overly aggressive operations in line with dwindling capabilities as winter closes in. Stopped at Leningrad, von Leeb has ordered his advance troops at Tikhvin to march north to Lake Ladoga, but today the Red Army stops this advance as well at Volkhov, 35 miles south of the Lake. Field Marshal von Bock, for his part, sends Germany Army commander Field Marshal Walter von Brauchitsch a teletype early in the morning reiterating his concerns expressed in a telephone conversation on 30 November and adds the conclusion that they could expect an impending Red Army collapse "a fantasy." Furthermore, Operation Typhoon, the final offensive on Moscow, had lost "all sense and purpose" and it was time to end it because the troops were exhausted. The bottom line, he concludes, is that that Army Group North was going to be forced to spend the winter out in the open "at the gates of Moscow" and this was a very real problem which had to be addressed.

General Anders (right) and General Sikorski (second from left) at a conference in Moscow, 1 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
General Anders (right) and General Sikorski (second from left) at a conference in Moscow on 1 December 1941. They are negotiating a joint declaration of friendship between the Polish government in exile and the Soviet Union. This is a relationship that goes through many severe twists and turns throughout World War II and thereafter. Visible in the background are (from left to right) M. Kot, Polish Ambassador in Russia, M. Vyshinsky, Deputy People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs and M. Kalinin, the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (Rickard, J (8 April 2008), General Anders and General Sikorski in Moscow, 1 December 1941).
The Soviet generals at the Stavka also are seeing a shift in the balance of power and spend 1 December 1941 drafting up plans for a counteroffensive. However, the pleas of the German generals are undercut somewhat by some meager gains on the ground. To the west of Moscow, Fourth Army's 25th Infantry Division makes a sudden breakthrough south of the Moscow-Smolensk highway. General Guderian to the south of the Soviet capital also is planning one last attempt to shatter the so-far solid Red Army defenses at Tula and resume his drive north. He orders the 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions along with Grossdeutschland to attack early on the 2nd. Thus, despite their growing problems all across the front, German commanders continue to hold out hope that the sheer superiority of Wehrmacht weapons and willpower can overpower a very stubborn enemy.

A British Matilda tank and crew near Tobruk, 1 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"A Matilda tank crew overhauling their vehicle in preparation for the next phase of battle near Tobruk, 1 December 1941." © IWM (E 6864).
Battle of the Mediterranean: Following General Erwin Rommel's orders, 15th Panzer Division jumps off at 06:15 toward Belhamed. Their objective is to cut the lifeline the British have established to Tobruk during Operation Crusader. The Germans only have about 40 panzers left, but they quickly overrun the weary troops of the 2nd New Zealand Division. The British quickly move the 7th Armored Division forward to Belhamed, and they support the withdrawal of the New Zealand troops to Zaafran, about five miles east of Belhamed and northeast of Sidi Rezegh. New Zealand commander General Bernard Freyberg orders a further withdrawal to the east based upon his assessment that the British are not fully committed to holding the supply corridor to Tobruk. After resupplying, 15th Panzer combines with the Italian Trieste division to finally cut the Tobruk corridor at 16:30. The New Zealand force takes heavy casualties but withdraws its 3500 troops and 700 vehicles in good order to British lines. At this moment, it appears that British Operation Crusader has failed and that General Rommel's Afrika Korps somehow has prevailed in a dramatic defensive victory despite being woefully undersupplied and understrength. However, the battle is not yet over and the British retain a formidable concentration of forces near the Egyptian border.

HMS Harvester stops USS Excalibur, 1 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Royal Navy destroyer HMS Harvester (left) closes in on USS Excalibur, a freighter, west of Gibraltar, on 1 December 1941. The captain of Harvester wants to check the freighter's papers, which are in order. This photo was taken from destroyer HMS Blackney (© IWM (A 6922)).
Japanese Government: In Tokyo at the Imperial Conference held on 1 December 1941, Emperor Showa reviews the decisions made at the Liaison Conference of 29 November. Prime Minister Tojo presides over this conference, which formalizes the decisions already made by the military. The meeting record recites:
Our negotiations with the United States regarding the execution of our national policy, adopted 5 November, have finally failed. Japan will open hostilities against the United States, Great Britain, and the Netherlands.
While Hirohito has broken established rules of Imperial protocol at previous meetings to question the wisdom of war, he does not do so at this conference. His complete silence is an assent to the outbreak of war. It is decided that there will be no declaration of war, only an ambiguous note given to the United States shortly before hostilities begin breaking off relations. The date set for the attack is 8 December 1941, Japanese Standard Time, which would be 7 December 1941 in the United States.

Life magazine featuring a US Army Air Force bomber on its cover, 1 December 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Life magazine, 1 December 1941.

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




2019

Friday, February 22, 2019

November 30, 1941: Japan Sets the Date for its Attack

Sunday 30 November 1941

Gotha 145 in Switzerland, 30 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
This picture was taken on 30 November 1941 Basel-Firsfelden Airfield in Switzerland shows a Luftwaffe Gotha Go-145A (Work no. 1455/1937, H4 + VA) piloted by Gefreite Erwin Lange which was forced to land at Basel-Birsfelden after running low on fuel during a flight from Hildesheim to Freiburg im Breisgau. It is a staff aircraft of Airborne Squadron I, based in Hildesheim. The Swiss allow the plane to return to the Reich on 3 December 1941 after the weather clears.
Eastern Front: Furious at having been excluded from the process by which German troops were ordered to retreat from Rostov-on-Don, Adolf Hitler on 30 November 1941 berates Germany Army commander Walther von Brauchitsch at the Wolfsschanze. Army Group South commander Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt receives the order and refuses to comply, so the retreat continues. The commander of First Panzer Army, General Ewald von Kleist, retains his command despite the fact that the retreat was his idea and von Rundstedt merely ratified his orders. With the matter decided, von Kleist acts swiftly during the morning and orders III Panzer Corps not just to set up a defensive line outside Rostov, but to retreat the entire 45 miles east to the Mius River. He has been trying to get approval for this move for a week, and now that Hitler has selected his scapegoat von Kleist temporarily has a free hand.

The Honolulu Advertiser headline, 30 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"Kurusu Bluntly Warned Nation Ready For Battle," blares the headline of the 30 November 1941 The Honolulu Advertiser.
At Army Group Center, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock is worried, and not about events at Rostov. The German intelligence services have been consistently under-estimating Red Army capabilities, and they continue to do so. During the day, the operations branch chief at the OKH, Colonel Adolf Heusinger, called von Bock on the telephone and with instructions that presupposed a quick and easy capture of Moscow. Von Bock then calls up von Brauchitsch to complain that there insufficient forces to encircle Moscow, much less capture it and proceed on to other objectives. To this, von Brauchitsch has no reply, and, in fact, von Bock has to ask him several times if he is even still on the telephone. Late in the day, Von Bock confides to his diary that "something does not add up."

Soviet T-60 tank with T-30 turret, 30 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A Soviet T-60 tank with a T-30 turret sometime in November 1941. The Red Army is desperate for tanks and is mixing and matching parts. The T-60 itself was a rush job but became the most numerous small tank in history.
Field Marshal von Bock is correct. The German military intelligence services remain completely ignorant of actual Red Army strengths, and basing decisions on their estimates is ludicrous. Many German generals understand this, and the intelligence service confessed this itself at the Orsha Conference held on 14 November. The Soviets, in fact, are about to launch a counteroffensive. Today in the Kremlin, General Georgy Zhukov submits a formal plan to the Stavka for an attack against the Wehrmacht forces both north and south of Moscow. The essence of the plan is to strike past Klin and Solnechogorsk in the north to push the German spearheads back about sixty miles. A similar attack in the south would drive the Germans away from Tula and send them past Stalingorsk to the Upa River. However, even this seems wildly optimistic, and the acting chief of the General Staff, General Vasilevskiy, cautions Ivan Konev, commander of Kalinin Front, that:
We can only halt the German attack toward Moscow and thereby... lay the groundwork for beginning to inflict a serious defeat on the enemy by active operations with a decisive aim. If we do not do that in the next few days, it will be too late.
The Stavka approves Zhukov's plan, but its members show in many of their own orders that they only view it is another in a long line of attempts to disrupt the current German offensive, nothing greater.

Hilo Tribune-Herald of 30 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
War jitters are high in Hawaii. The headline on the 30 November 1941 Hilo Tribune-Herald blares, "Japan May Strike Over Weekend." This headline is a typical talking point in arguments that the United States knew in advance of the planned Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and intentionally did nothing about it.
German/Japanese Relations: In Berlin, Japanese Ambassador Hiroshi Oshima receives instructions to inform his counterpart, German Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop, that war with the United States is imminent. He also is instructed to get Ribbentrop to sign a document promising that Germany will declare war on the United States if war breaks out between Japan and the US. Such a declaration is not strictly required by the Tripartite Pact which forms the foundation of Germany's military alliance with Japan, but certainly would express the spirit of the alliance. For his part, Ribbentrop already has expressed his preference on behalf of the Reich that Japan should attack the Soviet Union, not the United States, British, or Dutch. However, the Japanese have rejected that option. Whether or not Ribbentrop will sign such a document, and whether Hitler will honor it, remains an open question.

US Government: Having journeyed to his holiday home in Warm Springs, Georgia only yesterday, President Roosevelt hurriedly returns to Washington, D.C. by car and his private train. The war news is troubling and the media, especially in Hawaii, is full of news of an imminent attack. The British, through Ambassador Lord Halifax, also want assurances that the United States will support their forces in the Pacific if the Japanese attack Singapore and/or Hong Kong but not also the United States. The British assume this will happen due to Roosevelt's vigorous support against Hitler to date, but there is nothing in writing codifying the relationship to depend upon.

Fairey Swordfish flying from HMS Victorious, 30 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"A Fairey Fulmar as seen from HMS VICTORIOUS while carrying out flying exercises at sea en route to Scapa Flow." The date is given as sometime between 25 and 30 November 1941 (© IWM (A 6440))
Battle of the Mediterranean: The final outcome of British Operation Crusader remains very much in doubt. The British have established a supply corridor to Tobruk, but it is weak and large German panzer forces threaten it. There are both small and large actions which show mixed results. Two companies of 2/13th Australian Infantry Battalions launch a bayonet charge against Italian positions on the night of 29/30 November. This attack succeeds, and the Australians take 167 prisoners at the cost of 2 dead and five wounded. General Rommel, meanwhile, orders 15th Panzer Division to attack between Sidi Rezegh and Belhamed. The panzers overrun the New Zealand 24th and 26th Battalions, but the 25th Battalion stands firm against the Italian Ariete Division. As with all battles in the desert, the Italians are fighting hard, but their positions somehow always turn into the weak link in the Axis line. The day ends with Panzer Korps Afrika in a slightly better position, but a decisive victory still eludes Rommel.

French women collecting shellfish on the seashore, 30 November 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Women in northern France scouring the shoreline for edible shells, November 1941 (Leo, Federal Archive Bild 101I-597-B0510-22A).

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




2019