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
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
"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
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
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.
Japanese Government: In Tokyo at the Imperial Conference held on 30 November 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.

Fairey Swordfish flying from HMS Victorious, 30 November 1941
"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
Women in northern France scouring the shoreline for edible shells, November 1941 (Leo, Federal Archive Bild 101I-597-B0510-22A).


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

November 29, 1941: Hitler Furious About Retreat

Saturday 29 November 1941

General Erwin Rommel in North Africa, 29 November 1941
General Erwin Rommel with officers at the front in North Africa south of Tobruk, 29 November 1941 (Vielmetti, Hugo, Federal Archive Picture 183-1989-0630-502).
Eastern Front: After a week in Berlin to attend to diplomatic affairs and high-profile funerals, Adolf Hitler steps off his command train "Amerika" at Rastenburg in East Prussia early on 29 November 1941 and soon learns very unpleasant news. For the first time in the war, the Wehrmacht is retreating from a major objective. The commander of Army Group South, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, has authorized General Ewald von Kleist to order a planned withdrawal from Rostov-on-Don. General Franz Halder, chief of operations at OKH, has to lamely admit in his war diary:
The reports on  Rostov confirm the picture obtained yesterday. The numerically weak forces of First Panzer Army had to give way before the concentric attack launched in very great strength from the south (here apparently main effort), west, and north. On the morning of 29 Nov., SS Adolf Hitler was taken back into the new defense position west of Rostov, the withdrawal of Sixteenth Motorized Division is still in progress.
In his evening update, Halder notes the "violence with which the enemy pressed on behind our forces" and concedes that "one wonders whether we  might not have to withdraw further still." In Berlin, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels is forced to announce for the first time that the Germans are retreating in Russia. However, Goebbels reassures the press of the Reich's allies that it is only a "temporary pause" in operations - which does not appear to be the case.

Royal Tank Regiment officers at a briefing, 29 November 1941
"Royal Tank Regiment officers and men being briefed on proposed operations in Tobruk, 29 November 1941." © IWM (E 6852).
While Goebbels maintains an air of nonchalance, Hitler at the gloomy Wolfsschanze is furious about the retreat from Rostov and orders it to stop. However, Army Group South commander Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt knows a trap when he sees one and refuses to countermand his orders to Kleist. SS General Sepp Dietrich, in command of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) holding Rostov, is an old friend of "Adi" (as he always calls Hitler) and eventually calms Hitler down by explaining that the retreat was necessary. In fact, the retreat from Rostov is necessary under the circumstances, as the German advance to it has become an indefensible projection into Soviet territory that could be easily encircled. Kleist's and Rundstedt's decision to retreat ultimately preserve the Wehrmacht's position in southern Russia better than anywhere else on the front. This retreat from Rostov is the main reason that Rundstedt later is relieved of his command, but Hitler eventually realizes the wisdom of the move. He will re-employ von Rundstedt and, later, promote von Kleist to Field Marshal. Hitler often shows respect toward generals who stand up to him for the right reasons, though they may suffer in the short run. This ultimately becomes one of those instances.

Briefing during Operation Crusader, 29 November 1941
"Western Desert, North Africa. 29 November 1941. Informal group portrait of airmen of an Army co-operation squadron receiving a brief lecture while digesting their midday meal. They are told the position on the battlefront of the second British Libyan offensive - Operation Crusader, so they know what is happening and what to do." Australian War Memorial MED0145.
To the northwest of Moscow, things are a bit brighter for the Germans, but only a little bit. Seventh Panzer Division has held a small bridgehead across the Moscow-Volga canal at Yakhroma. However, the combat is so fierce that panzers cannot survive in the bridgehead, so the Germans abandon it and redirect their effort west to Krasnaya Polyana. German Third Panzer Army and Fourth Army make small gains, but a breakthrough eludes them. On the Soviet side, General Zhukov reassures Stalin that the German offensive has stalled in this area. Stalin then turns over First Shock, Twentieth, and Tenth Armies to Zhukov for a counterattack.

Warship Week, 29 November 1941
"Inverkeithing, North Queensbury, and Hillend Warship Week. 29 November 1941, Inverkeithing and Rosyth." © IWM (A 6417).
While the Germans continue grinding away, it is obvious to them as well that the attack on Moscow has stalled for the time being. Army Group Center commander Field Marshal Feder von Bock telephones Halder and unloads his deepening doubts about the situation. As Halder records in his diary:
Concerning the allegation that the Army Group lacks definite objectives (Goering's unconsidered opinion), the Army Group knows exactly what it is after. However, if the current attack on Moscow from the north is unsuccessful, he fears the operation will become another Verdun, i.e., a brutish, chest-to-chest battle of attrition (soulless frontal confrontation).
The situation around Moscow, Halder concludes, does not permit the capture of the Soviet capital at this time:
In any event, it can be stated even now that at most Army Group Center will be able to push the northern wing to the Moscow line, while Guderian may clear the enemy out of the Oka salient northwest of Tula, to gain the area for winter quarters.
So, from this point forward, the best that can be achieved is a slightly better positioning in order to wait for spring in order to resume the offensive.

German supply column near Moscow, 29 November 1941
German infantrymen marching alongside their horse-drawn supply vehicles near Moscow, November 1941. Most supplies are brought forward by wagon like this, as trucks are in short supply and many are worn down because they do not have any antifreeze and the roads are terrible (AP Photo).
Japanese Government: The Japanese government has set today, 29 November 1941, as the deadline for a decision on how to move forward with the United States, either diplomatically or militarily. The Cabinet meets with senior statesmen at the Liaison Conference in the Imperial Palace and the end result is a decision to terminate diplomatic relations with the United States. It will be left to the Army and Navy to decide when this diplomatic note should be delivered to the Americans so that it will not interfere with their offensive plans. There will be no formal declaration of war, the somewhat ambiguous diplomatic note will suffice. The conclusions of the Liaison Conference are to be ratified at the largely ceremonial Imperial Conference scheduled for 1 December.

RAF B-17 in North Africa, 29 November 1941
"Western Desert, North Africa. 29 November 1941. One of the American Boeing Flying Fortress bomber aircraft, code no. WP, serial no. AN532, operating in the Middle East campaign on the ground. These giant Boeing four-engined bombers carry a bomb load of 8,000 lbs over 2,000 miles and are capable of climbing to 41,000 feet. The comment of an RAF pilot flying a Fortress was 'she had no vices'." Australian War Memorial MED0141.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The British Eighth Army and German Afrika Korps have been locked in a death grip south of Tobruk. The main objective of the British Operation Crusader, the relief of Tobruk, has been achieved. However, the corridor to the port is narrow and the Germans remain determined to cut it. In the morning, German 15th Panzer Division moves forward to attack the corridor. Italian units also move forward during the day, and during the afternoon, the Ariete Division defeats the 21st Battalion of New Zealanders at a key height, Point 175. As one of the New Zealand unit's officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Howard Kippenberger, later notes:
About 5:30 p.m. damned Italian Motorized Division (Ariete) turned up. They passed with five tanks leading, twenty following, and a huge column of transport and guns, and rolled straight over our infantry on Pt. 175.
The German attack is hampered by trouble at the 21st Panzer Division, which was supposed to participate in the attack. However, the British capture its commander, General Johann von Ravenstein, leading to its absence from the battle during the day while Ravenstein is out on a reconnaissance. He becomes the first German general captured by the Allied forces during World War II. However, otherwise things are looking up for the Germans, and General Erwin Rommel's decision to gamble on a wild counterattack without logistical supply lines appears on the verge of paying off.

Colliers featuring a motorcycle on the cover, 29 November 1941
Colliers, 29 November 1941. This photograph is adopted by Harley-Davidson for the covers of its own publications, including its repair manuals.


November 28, 1941: Rostov Evacuated, German Closest Approach to Moscow

Friday 28 November 1941

Hitler, Milch, Bormann, Schaub, Brandt at Molders funeral, 28 November 1941
At the funeral for Colonel Werner Mölders on 28 November 1941, Adolf Hitler leads a delegation at the Reich Aviation Ministry. In the main group are, right to left, Field Marshal Erhard Milch (carrying baton), Hitler's attending physician SS Sturmbannführer Dr. Karl Brandt, Adolf Hitler, Hitler's Adjutant SS Gruppenführer Julius Schaub, and Reich Minister and Chief of the Reich Chancellery SS Obergruppenführer Martin Bormann (Federal Archive Figure 183-H0422-0502-001).
Eastern Front: The events of 28 November 1941 are decidedly mixed for the Wehrmacht. With Adolf Hitler in Berlin attending the funeral of Luftwaffe ace Colonel Werner Mölders, the Wehrmacht leaders in the Army Group South sector make their move to evacuate Rostov-on-Don. While German III Panzer Corps, commanded by General der Kavallerie Eberhard von Mackensen, has not yet been forced out of the city, everyone realizes that may not last very long. Soviet South Front, led by General Yakov Cherevichenko, has brought in twenty-one divisions and obviously is planning something. The German corps has only two divisions in Rostov, 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (Sepp Dietrich) and the 13th Panzer Division, and Mackensen already has reported that they are worn out from endless fighting. The divisions are at only half to two-thirds of their normal strength. In addition, the German supply situation is catastrophic and the divisions are short of everything. Accordingly, during the day First Panzer Army commander General Ewald von Kleist orders Mackensen to evacuate the city. This is accomplished by nightfall.

Hitler 28 November 1941
Adolf Hitler arriving at the funeral of Colonel Werner Mölders on 28 November 1941. Hitlers is in his Mercedes Cabriolet and is passing the military band (Federal Archive Figure 101I-597-B0526-17).
Hitler does not learn of the withdrawal from Rostov on the 28th, most likely because the Wehrmacht does not go out of its way to tell him. After the Mölders funeral, Hitler boards his command train "Amerika" and begins the journey back to his headquarters in East Prussia. While traveling through the night, Hitler does not receive any communications about the withdrawal and has no reason to think that one is being made. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, commander of Army Group South, understands that Hitler may not approve the order but tells von Kleist's to order Mackensen to withdraw anyway. Since Hitler is unaware of the order to withdraw, he is not able to countermand it before it is executed. Everything is planned as much around Hitler's unavailability as it is the situation in Rostov. It is a perfectly timed operation... against both the Red Army and the Fuehrer.

Light Tank Mk VIB at Tobruk, 28 November 1941
"The crew of a Light Tank Mk VIB looking for any movement of the enemy near Tobruk, 28 November 1941." General Rommel's panzers are southeast of Tobruk skirmishing with British tanks. © IWM (E 6822).
The Soviets are counterattacking all around Moscow in order to disrupt German plans, and those battles are having the intended effect. West of Moscow, Soviet Western Front launches a powerful counterattack against German 4th Army (Field Marshal Günther von Kluge). Von Kluge's forces are able to stop the Red Army, but this scrambles its own plans to launch an offensive against the Soviet capital beginning on 2 December. South of Moscow, at Tula, General Leo Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg’s XXIV Motorized Corps moves forward to attack Tula from the north and east while XLII Army Corps attacks from the west. However, von Schweppenburg's troops have to make a move parallel to the front along a narrow corridor to get into position for the attack and are subjected to fierce artillery fire from the city. The Soviets also are attacking the exposed German position north of Moscow at Tikhvin with the 52nd and 54th Armies by attacking the flanks of the long salient to the city in an attempt to cut off the garrison. Continuing Soviet counterattacks are not dislodging the German troops anywhere, but the endless pressure is definitely wearing them down.

O-21, 28 November 1941
Dutch submarine O-21, shown, sinks U-95 (Kptlt. Gerd Schreiber) on 28 November 1941 near Gibraltar. Captain Schreiber and 11 of his men survive the sinking, are rescued by O-21, and spend the rest of the war in POW camps (© IWM (A 7083)).
Northwest of Moscow, the German attack is going better than elsewhere. Early in the morning, the Seventh Panzer Division (General Baron von Funck), led by Hasso von Manteuffel's rifle regiment, captures and crosses the Jakhroma (Yakhroma) bridge across the Moscow/Volga canal. A sergeant in Manteuffel's unit later remarks:
I was participating in the assault across the Moscow-Volga canal near Jakhroma and withessed our "little one" (Manteuffel) switch off the Muscovites' power in the ower station of Jakhroma. He was the first in the attack and the last to retreat.
The sergeant's comment about the "retreat" is telling because the German forces do not remain in place for very long. While Manteuffel's men hold a bridgehead throughout the day, some panzers that cross the bridge to support them are driven back to the other side by 10:00. The Soviet defenders of 1st Shock Army unleash a torrent of fire that includes air attacks and Katyusha rocket launchers. Now within about 20 miles of the Kremlin, this is the closest that the Wehrmacht gets.

Eagle Squadron pilots of RAF No. 121 Squadron,r 28 November 1941
Two Eagle Squadron pilots, Sgt John J "Jack" Mooney (left) and P/O Donald W "Mac" McLeod, at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey on 28 November 1941. They are in  RAF No 121 Squadron, the second Eagle Squadron, formed with volunteer pilots from the United States in May.
US/Japanese Relations: With no active proposals on the table from either side, negotiations have broken down between the United States and Japan. The Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo sends a coded message to Ambassador Nomura in Washington, who has suggested submitting another peace proposal:
Well, you two Ambassadors have exerted superhuman efforts but, in spite of this, the United States has gone ahead and presented this humiliating proposal. This was quite unexpected and extremely regrettable. The Imperial Government can by no means use it as a basis for negotiations. Therefore, with a report of the views of the Imperial Government on this American proposal which I will send you in two or three days, the negotiations will be de facto ruptured. This is inevitable. However, I do not wish you to give the impression that the negotiations are broken off. Merely say to them that you are awaiting instructions and that, although the opinions of your Government are not yet clear to you, to your own way of thinking the Imperial Government has always made just claims and has borne great sacrifices for the sake of peace in the Pacific. Say that we have always demonstrated a long-suffering and conciliatory attitude, but that, on the other hand, the United States has been unbending, making it impossible for Japan to establish negotiations. Since things have come to this pass, I contacted the man you told me to in your #1180 and he said that under the present circumstances what you suggest is entirely unsuitable. From now on do the best you can.
The United States military "Magic" decoding unit is reading the Japanese diplomatic codes almost in real time, so both sides understand that the situation is extremely grave. The Japanese fleet is at sea and heading toward Hawaii, but the Americans do not know this.

Hitler and Grand Mufti, 28 November 1941
Adolf Hitler meets with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem on 28 November 1941 (Hoffmann, Federal Archive Picture 146-1987-004-09A).
German/Arab Relations: Since he is staying in Berlin today to attend Oberst Mölders' funeral anyway, Hitler meets with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al Husseini. The Grand Mufti was in Iraq when the British invaded earlier in the year and only reached Berlin after a very difficult and roundabout journey. He professes his loyalty to the German cause and offers to enlist Arab soldiers to fight beside the Wehrmacht. Hitler, in turn, promises that the Arabs can have Palestine once it is conquered by the Wehrmacht after breaking through the Caucasus and turning southwest into the Middle East. Both parties are united in their goal of eradicating any Jewish element in the region.

Australian Group Captain Roy King, KIA 28 November 1941
Group Captain [Elwyn] Roy King, DFC DSO of  No. 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (AFC). Captain King died suddenly on 28 November 1941 (Australian War Memorial A03717).


Monday, February 18, 2019

November 27, 1941: British Relieve Tobruk

Thursday 27 November 1941

Tanks in North Africa, 27 November 1941
A British tank passes a burning German Panzer IV in North Africa in this nicely colorized shot. See details of this shot below.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The British relieve Tobruk on 27 November 1941 when the 6th New Zealand Brigade overcomes the Italian 9th Bersaglieri Regiment at Ed Duda and the 32nd Tank Brigade and accompanying units create a small corridor to the port. This action technically justifies the British Operation Crusader, but the British have suffered severe tank losses as German General Erwin Rommel sent his main panzer forces into the British rear. After three days of deliberation, British Commander-in-Chief Middle East Command General Claude Auchinleck makes the very hard decision to relieve Eighth Army commander Lieutenant-General Alan Cunningham and replace him with Lieutenant-General Neil Ritchie. This is a very rare case of a general being sacked at the very moment that he achieves his main objective. Thus, in some sense, Operation Crusader has become a Pyrrhic victory for the British, at least so far.

Tanks in North Africa, 27 November 1941
This is the original of the shot above. "A Crusader tank passes a burning German PzKpfw IV tank, 27 November 1941." (Davies, L.B. Lt., © IWM (E 6752)).
General Rommel, meanwhile, is fighting a completely different campaign to the southeast. He sends 15th Panzer Division to Bir el Chleta, where it runs into 22nd Armored Brigade. The sides are roughly equal in tanks at about 50 until 4th Armored Brigade rushes up from the northeast. In conjunction with the RAF Desert Air Force, the British tankers wreak havoc on the panzers. However, after darkness falls, the British forces inexplicably move to the south to regroup, leaving the surviving German forces free to threaten the narrow British corridor to Tobruk to the northeast. During the night, General Rommel confers with Afrika Corps commander General Crüwell and, while Rommel wants the panzers to cut the corridor, Crüwell convinces Rommel to instead attack the British tanks to the south. Once this is done, the men agree that 15th Panzer can be resupplied and have a better chance of once again isolating Tobruk.

Tanks in North Africa, 27 November 1941
"The Axis Offensive 1941 - 1942: A British Crusader tank passes a burning German Pzkw Mk IV tank during Operation Crusader." 27 November 1941. It is fairly obvious from comparing this picture to the ones above that the Crusader tank and crew have been carefully posed while the photographer takes multiple shots of this "action scene" from different angles. Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not, propaganda shots are taken by all armies and they create a good historical record. (Davies, L.B. Lt., © IWM (E 6751)).
Eastern Front: The German commanders in the Army Group South section of the front prepare for the final evacuation of Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia. General Ewald von Kleist's First Panzer Army will withdraw toward Taganrog and the Mius River, which is considered an easily defensible winter line. It will be an unforced withdrawal, and thus all units can be expected to reach the safety of the Mius River in good order. There, they can enter winter quarters and await the spring to retake Rostov and advance into the oil-rich Caucasus.

Jewish residents of Würzburg being deported to Riga, Latvia, 27 November 1941
Jews were for the first time deported from Würzburg toward the East on 27 November 1941. These deportees will wind up Riga, Latvia in a few days to become residents of the Jungfernhof concentration camp (Yad Vashem Photo Archives 7900/58, Courtesy of the State Archives in Würzburg (Staatsarchiv Würzburg)).
The Wehrmacht at this point has only occupied Rostov for six days, but the local commanders knew virtually from the day that they took Rostov that it was indefensible. Soviet 37th Army is waiting to march into Rostov after the Germans leave. While Army Group South commander Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt does not have permission to withdraw, Adolf Hitler is in Berlin attending to other affairs. He is out of touch with developments at the front and thus is not available to countermand any orders. Hitler could return to the Wolfsschanze headquarters in East Prussia any day now, though, so if the withdrawal is to be completed without his interference, it will have to be done soon. Everyone knows that Hitler's standard response to any difficult military situation is to not retreat and that ordering a withdrawal without his permission will displease him, so there likely will be consequences. This is accepted by the commanders on the spot.

SS Lurline departing on 27 November 1941
SS Lurline sets sail on 27 November 1941. It makes regular voyages from San Francisco to Honolulu, Hawaii and is at sea on 7 December 1941 between those two ports.
In the Crimea, General Erich von Manstein decides to postpone his offensive against Sevastopol until 17 December. He is concerned about supply difficulties - four out of five railway locomotives have broken down due to frost and road transport has been reduced by 50% - and the Soviet units holding the port show no signs of cracking. Hitler still wants the entire Crimea, including Sevastopol, taken as soon as possible, but Manstein feels he isn't ready. However, on the other side, General Petrov, the Red Army commander at Sevastopol, figures that holding out at Sevastopol will help divert German forces from Moscow. So, for the time being, both sides just try to maintain the status quo. Advantage Soviets.

Sailor Harold Dunn aboard HMAS Parramatta, KIA,27 November 1941
Ordinary Seaman Harold Clyde Dunn aboard HMAS Parramatta. KIA 27 November 1941 (Australian War Memorial).
US Military: Negotiations with the Japanese have broken down completely, so President Roosevelt meets with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General George Marshall and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold Stark. The consensus is that the Japanese will attack somewhere, but it is unknown where and Japanee intentions "cannot be forecast." Marshall and Stark submit a memo to the President today which states in part:
The most essential thing, from the United States point of view, is to gain time... [Military action should be avoided] so long as consistent with the national policy... [Military action should be contemplated] only if Japan attacks or directly threatens the United States, British, or Dutch territory.
The War Council meets later in the day and, at the urging of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, drafts and sends a war warning for Hawaii, Panama, San Francisco, and the Philippines. The warning cautions local commanders to let the Japanese make the "first overt act" but to "undertake such reconnaissance and other measures" as necessary. The operative plan in case of attack is Rainbow 5, which assume that the United States will be allied with Britain and France and contemplates offensive operations by American forces in Europe, Africa, or both. The major assumption of Rainbow 5 is that the United States will follow a "Europe first" policy while temporarily going on the defensive in the Pacific.

Celebratory handshake after relief of Tobruk garrison in North Africa, 27 November 1941
Ceremonial handshake between the Eighth Army relief force commander and the commander of the garrison at Tobruk on 27 November 1941. Original caption: "Relief of Tobruk. Join up of 8th Army and Tobruk garrison, 27 November 1941. Lieutenant-Colonel S F Hartnell is on the left. British official photograph. Notes on back of file print include 'Prob 19 NZ Bn [?] at Ed Duda. NZ Officer - Lt/Col S F Hartnell. Tobruk - Link up - 2 Libyan Campaign. 19 NZ Bn - Ed Duda. 32 Army Tank Bde - Ed Duda.'"


November 26, 1941: Japanese Fleet Sails

Wednesday 26 November 1941

Panzer IV 26 November 1941
"Two soldiers holding up a swastika flag found in a captured German PzKpfw IV tank in the Western Desert, 26 November 1941." (Vanderson, William George, © IWM (E 6740)).
Battle of the Pacific: The Japanese Carrier Striking Force or 1st Air Fleet, aka Kidō Butai, departs on 26 November 1941 from its assembly point at Tankan Bay, Iturup Island, South Kuril Islands for its first mission of the coming war. Its destination is a point to the north of Pearl Harbor, the site of the main United States Pacific Fleet. This force includes five aircraft carriers:
  • Hiryu
  • Kaga
  • Shokaku
  • Soryu
  • Zuikaku
Accompanying the six fleet aircraft carriers are two battlecruisers (Hiei and Kirishima), three cruisers, nine destroyers, and three submarines. There also are eight tankers and supply ships. Separately, Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo aboard aircraft carrier Akagi departs from Hitokappu Bay in the Kurile Islands. Light cruiser Naka departs from Terashima Strait at Sasebo, Japan. All three of these groups plan to rendezvous at sea and together carry out the "Hawaii Operation" at or about dawn at 7 December 1941 Hawaiian time and date.

Pearl Harbor, 26 November 1941
"Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii: Vertical aerial photograph, taken from a U.S. Army plane at 1100 hrs., 26 November 1941. The Navy Yard is at the left, with the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) alongside 1010 Dock. Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor, on Ford Island, is in the upper center and right." (NH 96615 Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, Naval History and Heritage Command). 
US/Japanese Relations: In Washington, D.C., Secretary of State Cordell Hull presents the latest draft of a proposed modus vivendi agreement with Japan to prevent a war. The modus vivendi proposal has been worked up by the State Department in conjunction with the War Council. It proposes minor Japanese concessions in French Indochina and a commitment to refrain from aggressive action in exchange for a resumption of limited trade with the United States. The proposal is to last for three months, which styles it as a virtual ceasefire even though there are no hostilities. President Roosevelt agrees with Hull that the modus vivendi proposal smacks of appeasement and rejects it. Instead, Roosevelt instructs Hull to submit a 10-point reply to the latest Japanese peace offer, Proposal B, that contains no counterproposal and simply reiterates the standing United States demands. After his meeting with the President, Hull hands Ambassador Nomura this reply which effectively terminates negotiations between the two powers.

Panzer IV 26 November 1941
A captured German PzKpfw IV tank in North Africa. 26 November 1941 (cropped from © IWM (E 6734))
Spy Stuff: The United States military intelligence service begins to receive clues that the Japanese military is active. There are troop movements in French Indochina, for instance. Joseph Rochefort, a top cryptanalyst with the United States Navy's cryptographic and intelligence operations and the officer in charge of Station Hypo (for Hawaii), reports that the Japanese Fleet also is active. The assumption by US intelligence is that the Japanese are planning some type of action in the South Pacific. The Japanese, in fact, are planning quite a bit of action in the Pacific, and Japanese leaders are meeting today on Formosa to plan the conquest of the Philippines, but the US intelligence service does not see foresee anything imminent.

German POWs, 26 November 1941
"A member of the Royal Tank Regiment acts an escort to prisoners being brought down from the forward areas in the Western Desert, 26 November 1941." © IWM (E 6743).
Battle of the Mediterranean: British Operation Crusader, the attempt to relieve Tobruk, has degenerated into a wild melee with both sides attacking in different directions. The Afrika Korps panzers have advanced to the southeast of Tobruk, threatening the rear of the most advanced British positions, but their dramatic advance to the southeast has left them overextended. General Rommel today orders 21st Panzer Division at Bardia to turn northwest toward Tobruk while 15th Panzer Division cleans out the border area between Fort Capuzzo and Sidi Omar. The panzers have outrun their supply lines, so General Walter Neumann-Silkow, commanding 15th Panzer Division, decides to take Sidi Azeiz where he believes he can find a British supply dump. The Germans now have the initiative, but which side can best satisfy its logistical needs in this fluid battle is bound to be the ultimate victor. Meanwhile, outside Tobruk, members of the Tobruk garrison take the important Italian strong point at El Duda.

Admiral Somerville aboard HMS Hermione, 26 November 1941
"Vice Admiral Sir James Somerville (center) visits HMS HERMIONE to congratulate Captain G N Oliver (left) and Lieut J B Wainright (navigator) on their receiving the DSO. Both officers were decorated for sinking an Italian U-boat, by ramming." 26 November 1941 © IWM (A 6409).
Eastern Front: A fierce battle for Istra, near the Volokolamsk/ Moscow highway, finally ends when 10th Panzer Division pushes Manchurian troops from Khabarovsk out of the town. However, the Soviet troops pushed out of the town launch furious counterattacks in the -4 Degrees Fahrenheit weather which give the Germans no rest. The 2nd SS Division "Das Reich" advances to support this advanced position and blasts through the 78th Siberian Rifle Division to capture a fortress on the western outskirts of Istra, with two SS infantry regiments, "Deutschland" and "Der Fuehrer," advancing into the town from the south. While capturing this major strong point is a success, every advance by the Wehrmacht now requires a major effort from multiple directions that includes vicious street fighting. Elsewhere on the Moscow front, the Germans make few if any advances as the Wehrmacht regroups for one more major effort to take the Soviet capital.

Mascot "Convoy" resting on HMS Hermione, 26 November 1941
"Sailors surround the ship's cat "Convoy" asleep in a miniature hammock on board HMS HERMIONE, Gibraltar, 26 November 1941." © IWM (A 6410).
British/Finnish Relations: Finland is not at war with anyone but the Soviet Union and it wants to keep it that way. However, both the United States and Great Britain have been threatening a "crisis" in diplomatic relations if Finnish land or troops are used to interdict Lend-Lease supplies to Russia along the Murmansk railway. This has caused Finland to discontinue all offensives which otherwise might be bearing fruit. Today, the British government issues a formal ultimatum to Finland to cease all offensive operations by 3 December 1941 or it will declare war.

USS Atlanta, 26 November 1941
USS Atlanta (CL-51) running trials off Rockland, Maine, 26 November 1941. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
American Homefront: Following years of confusion during which the different states of the United States celebrated Thanksgiving on different days, President Roosevelt tries to end the controversy by signing a joint resolution which establishes a fixed date every year for the federal holiday. This bill provides that Thanksgiving will be celebrated every year on the last Thursday in November. That makes tomorrow, 27 November 1941, the legal holiday of Thanksgiving for the entire country. This does not quite end the controversy completely, however, as future congressional action will change the date from the last Thursday of November to the fourth Thursday of November (some Novembers have five Thursdays).

Franksgiving in 1939, 26 November 1941
A map of the United States (Hawaii and Alaska have yet to become states) showing the different days on which different states celebrated Thanksgiving in 1939. Some states celebrated "Franksgiving" on 23 November, others celebrated Thanksgiving on 30 November, and some states celebrated the holiday on both days. On 26 November 1941, President Roosevelt tries to end the dispute over the proper day to celebrate Thanksgiving, but it's not quite over yet.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

November 25, 1941: HMS Barham Sunk

Tuesday 25 November 1941

German Panzer IV tanks attacking near Moscow, 25 November 1941
German Panzer IV tanks and armored personnel carriers attacking a Soviet-held village in the vicinity of Istra on the Moscow-Riga railway on 25 November 1941 (Tannenberg, Hugo, Federal Archive Figure 183-B17220).
Battle of the Mediterranean: The British Operation Crusader, an offensive whose goal is to liberate Tobruk, has been going badly since its start on 21 November. British 7th Armored Division of Eighth Army has been pummeled by General Erwin Rommel's panzers and fierce artillery fire by well-sited Italian gunners. On 24 November Rommel decided to launch a counteroffensive, and today, 25 November 1941, he sets in motion more forces whose aim is to relieve a trapped German garrison at Bardia and threaten British lines of communication back into Egypt. This is known as General Rommel's "dash to the wire" because it sends Afrika Korp panzers behind the British outposts to the area of the Egyptian/ Libyan border where a wire barricade stretches inland from the coast.

HMS Barham sinking, 25 November 1941
Battleship HMS Barham ((Capt G.C. Cooke, RN)), covered with sailors, explodes in the Mediterranean north off Sidi Barrani, Egypt after being hit with three torpedoes by U-331 (Kptlt. Hans-Diedrich Freiherr von Tiesenhausen) on 25 November 1941. Total casualties number 56 officers and 806 men.
With part of Afrika Korps and the Italian Ariete Division already heading toward Sidi Omar, 15th Panzer Division today heads northeast toward Sidi Azeiz. To their shock, the German tankers find no enemy to be seen and their only opponents the omnipresent RAF Desert Air Force. The 5th Panzer Division of the 21st Panzer Division hits the 7th Indian Brigade at Sidi Omar, but are fought off with great difficulty by the 1st Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery. The German tanks try again, but the Royal Artillery picks the panzers off over open sights at 500 meters and destroys or damages almost all of them. It is a brilliant defensive victory by the British caused by their valor and the overconfidence of the panzer commanders. The rest of the 21st Panzer Division heads unmolested to the border at Halfaya, the key to the vital coastal road.

HMS Barham sinking, 25 November 1941
HMS Barham listing to port shortly after being hit by three torpedoes. Barham becomes the only Royal Navy battleship to be sunk by a submarine during World War 11. This photo was taken from HMS Valiant.
The Germans reach the area west of Sidi Azeiz by sunset, but they have taken heavy tank losses during the day. They have only 53 panzers remaining with no possibility of reinforcement. The 5th New Zealand Brigade is located further up the coast between the panzers and their closest supply dumps, posing a logistical problem. The Germans camp here for the night and prepare to bypass the New Zealanders on the 26th in order to liberate Bardia and resupply.

B-36 prototypes ordered, 25 November 1941
HMS Barham.
One of the paradoxes of the war in North Africa is that it is actually won at sea. The Royal Navy has done a very efficient job of disrupting supplies sent from Naples to Tripoli. Today, however, the Germans take their revenge when  U-331 (Kptlt. Hans-Diedrich Freiherr von Tiesenhausen) somehow evades the Royal Navy destroyer screen and pumps three torpedoes into battleship HMS Barham. The Barham sinks quickly and takes the better part of 1000 men with her.

Mine Recovery and Disposal Squadron towing a mine, 25 November 1941
"Members of the Mine Recovery and Disposal Squad towing away a naval mine from the beach at Tayport with the aid of a Bren gun carrier being operated by troops of the 1st Polish Corps, 25 November 1941." © IWM (A 6427).
Eastern Front: General Guderian's men continue to put pressure on the Red Army units defending Tula, but it is an increasingly hopeless battle. Today, the 17th Panzer Division (Brig. Gen. Rudolf Eduard Licht) approaches Kashira, about 50 km north of Venev, which looks impressive on the map as it is a great deal closer to Moscow than Tula. However, Lictht's advance causes as many problems as it solves, because it is extremely difficult to supply his panzers. Meanwhile, the bulk of Guderian's forces are making no progress at all on the direct road to Moscow through Tula. The Germans only control the territory within reach of their guns, with large stretches in between their isolated forces virtually undefended. This gives the Red Army units the ability to cross between the different Wehrmacht positions. The 239th Siberian Rifle Division, for instance, escapes from the 29th Motorized Division near Epifan, southeast of Tula, simply by driving around the German units. Lacking strong infantry support, the German effort south of Moscow is turning into the equivalent of tank raids rather than a full-fledged offensive.

A dog named Mosquito, 25 November 1941
"An early Christmas present for a member of the crew, the dog's name is 'Mosquito'." This photo was taken aboard a Royal Navy torpedo boat at Naval Base Granton. © IWM (A 6380).
North of Moscow, German 18th Army continues to hold the strategically important city of Tikhvin despite brutal winter weather and increasing Red Army attacks. The commander of the 18th Army, Colonel General Georg von Küchler, accepts the inevitable after his men have made no progress since taking the city and orders them to cease all offensive operations. This leaves the most advanced German troops isolated at the tip of a dead schwerpunkt (spearhead) with long supply lines that are open to Soviet assault from both the north and south.

HMS Barham sinking, 25 November 1941
HMS Barham exploding in a fireball, 25 November 1941.
US/Japanese Relations: For several days, United States Secretary of State Cordell Hull has been preparing a modus vivendi agreement to restart stalled peace talks with the Japanese. This is a counter-proposal to the Japanese Proposal B submitted on 21 November which was completely unacceptable to the Americans. The modus vivendi would prohibit "any advance by force" in the Pacific - an obvious restriction on Japanese ambitions - and require a Japanese withdrawal from southern French Indochina. In exchange, the United States would resume limited trade with the Japanese to the extent of $600,000 worth of cotton, oil "for civilian needs" and medical supplies. The agreement by its terms would only last for three months and would be a stop-gap measure to reach a longer-lasting agreement.

Der Adler, 25 November 1941
Der Adler, 25 November 1941 (Heft 24, 25. November 1941.: Deutsches Reichsluftfahrtministerium).
The US War Council debates this very mild counterproposal on the 25th and decides that would make sense to submit this modus vivendi to the Japanese. The obvious alternative is war, and the Army and Navy want more time to prepare for that. However, the decision to submit this counterproposal to the Japanese - who it is expected would take it - does not lie with the US War Council. Only one man can make that decision. Hull, who personally thinks the modus vivendi is pointless, schedules a meeting with President Roosevelt for the 26th.

B-36 Peacemaker prototypes ordered, 25 November 1941
The proposed B-36 bomber would feature dramatically greater bombload, range, and service ceiling in addition to its unprecedented size. Two prototypes are ordered from Consolidated on 25 November 1941.
US Military: The US Army Air Force contracts with Consolidated Aircraft (later Consolidated Vultee and then Convair) to produce two prototypes of a new experimental bomber. Consolidated is an experienced military plane manufacturer, having built the successful B-24 Liberator heavy bomber and the PBY Catalina. The overall wing area of the new plane is to encompass just under 5000 square feet and hold six engines placed at the back of the wings to push its 163-foot fuselage. This is a massive design that dwarfs current bombers, and the plane is designed to be able to fly from the continental United States, bomb targets in Europe, and then return without landing or refueling. The fixed fee payable to Consolidated is approximately $800,000 for each prototype and the first plane is scheduled to be ready by mid-1944. This plane ultimately is developed and becomes the B-36 Peacemaker.

"MS of HMS Barham listing heavily to port, towards the camera - her secondary 6-inch guns already underwater. MLS off the port bow as she begins to roll over. The capsizing ship suddenly blows up in a huge explosion, only her bows remaining visible, steeply canted at the edge of the smoke pall. Debris from the explosion rains into the sea. Various shots emphasize the extent of the smoke pall remaining after the ship has disappeared. The Film then cuts to a MS off the starboard quarter of Barham steaming in quarter line with HMS Queen Elizabeth - the Queen Elizabeth fires after 4.5-inch AA. Final shot reverts to the sinking - Barham is shown listing, Queen Elizabeth in the background." © IWM.

HMS Barham sinking, 25 November 1941
HMS Barham right before it explodes and sinks. This apparently is a capture taken from a film made of the sinking. If one looks closely, men clinging for their lives are seen on the upraised hull and the decks.

Captain C. E. Morgan, commanding nearby HMS Valiant, gave an account of the sinking of HMS Barham:

"Our battleships were proceeding westwards line ahead, with the Valiant immediately astern the Barham and with a destroyer screen thrown out ahead of the battlefleet. At 4.23 p.m., carrying out a normal zigzag, we turned to port together, thus bringing the ships into echelon formation.

Suddenly, at 4.25, I heard a loud explosion, followed by two further explosions a couple of seconds later. Fountains of water and two enormous columns of smoke shot skywards. The smoke formed an enormous mushroom, gradually enveloping the whole of the Barham, except the after part, which was subsequently also blotted out as the ship slid into a vast pall of smoke.

As the explosions occurred the officer on watch gave the command “ Hard to port,” to keep clear of the Barham.

Fifteen seconds later I saw a submarine break the surface, possibly forced there by the explosion. Passing from left to right, the submarine was apparently making to cross the Valiant’s bows between us and the Barham. He was only about seven degrees off my starboard bow and 150 yards away, though he must have fired his torpedoes from about 700 yards.

As the periscope and then the conning tower appeared I ordered “ Full speed ahead, hard starboard.” But, with the helm already hard to port, I was unable to turn quickly enough to ram him before he crash-dived only 40 yards away on our starboard side. The submarine was visible for about 45 seconds, and, simultaneously with our ramming efforts, we opened fire with our starboard pom-poms. He was so close, however, that we were unable to depress the guns sufficiently and the shells passed over the conning-tower.

I then gave the order “Amidships” again to avoid turning into the Barham, which was still underway with her engines running but listing heavily to port. As we came upon her beam she heeled further about 20 or 30 degrees, and through the smoke, I could see all her quarter-deck and forecastle. Men were jumping into the water and running up on the forecastle.

The Barham was rolling on a perfectly even keel with neither bows nor stern sticking into the air. For one minute she seemed to hang in this position; then, at 4.28, she suddenly rolled violently, her mainmast striking the’ surface of the sea sharply a few seconds later.

I saw water pouring into her funnels. There followed a big explosion amidships, from which belched black and brown smoke intermingled with flames. Pieces of wreckage, Hung high into the air, were scattered far and wide, the largest piece being about the size of my writing-desk.

I immediately ordered “ Take cover ” as the wreckage started flying, and that was the last we saw of the Barham, which had run almost’ a mile since the moment she was hit. When the smoke cleared the only signs left were a mass of floating wreckage.

The 35,000-ton ship disappeared with unbelievable suddenness; it was only 4 minutes 35 seconds exactly from the moment the torpedoes struck until she had completely disappeared."


November 24, 1941: Rommel Counterattacks

Monday 24 November 1941

German troops near Leningrad, 24 November 1941
German troops on the outskirts of Leningrad, 24 November 1941 (AP).
Eastern Front: German 1st Panzer Army expended tremendous effort and took many chances to capture Rostov-on-Don only a few days ago, but on 24 November 1941 the local commanders on the scene decide to evacuate it. The drive to Rostov required the Wehrmacht to open a long corridor to the city which is wide open to attack from the north. Soviet 9th and 37th Armies seize the opportunity and attempt to cut off the German spearhead in the city, but General Ewald von Kleist recognizes the danger and plans with Army Group South commander Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt to pull his troops out before he loses them. This withdrawal will require Adolf Hitler's permission, which he is unlikely to give - unless it is presented to him as a fait accompli. Figuring out how to do this will require a lot of thought and planning.

Indian troops in North Africa find a German flag, 24 November 1941
"Men of the 4th Indian Division with a captured German flag at Sidi Omar, North Africa." © IWM (E 6940).
Hitler wants Rostov held at all costs. The city is considered the "gateway to the Caucasus," and holding it would somewhat salvage the lofty goals for Operation Barbarossa in the spring. For the time being, III Corps in the city can hold out, but not for long. At OKH headquarters, General Franz Halder more-or-less agrees with the Fuhrer:
The situation north of Rostov is serious but not critical at the moment. At some points, the enemy is pressing against our new positions. The right wing of Seventeenth Army [just to the north of 1st Panzer Army] has to fight off serious attacks. The Italians are still doing nothing.
The danger is that the Soviets break through the Seventeenth Army front and then wheel down to the coast of Azov, cutting 1st Panzer Army's only line of retreat. So far, that hasn't happened - but it still might. It will be the first time that the Wehrmacht has been forced to retreat from a major objective so the decision cannot be taken lightly.

HMS Dunedin, 24 November 1941
HMS Dunedin, sunk by U-124 on 24 November 1941.
Battle of the Atlantic: Kriegsmarine U-boat U-124 (Kptlt. Johann Mohr), on its seventh patrol out of Lorient, is operating roughly midway between Natal, Brazil and Monrovia, Liberia when it spots 4800-ton Royal Navy cruiser HMS Dunedin (Captain Richard Stratford Lovatt, RN). Dunedin has been searching the South Atlantic for German raider Atlantis as part of a three-cruiser task force. U-124 is on its way to refuel from supply ship Python but can't pass up the opportunity to attack. Dunedin's lookouts spot U-124's periscope but lose track of it again. After much maneuvering, Mohr pumps two out of three torpedoes into the cruiser's starboard side, causing it to sink quickly. There are about 250 men in the water, but Mohr only surfaces, circles the area, and then leaves without offering any aid. By the time U.S. freighter Nishmaha passes by three days later, only 72 men are left on six floats. Another five men perish from exposure on the way to port at Trinidad. A total of four officers and 63 ratings survive to see land again.

Exploding mines in Plymouth Sound, 24 November 1941
"Blowing up British mines which had been in the water for months. The mines exploding just off the breakwater." Plymouth Sound off Cawsand Bay, 24 November 1941. © IWM (A 6370).
Battle of the Mediterranean: The British Operation Crusader in North Africa that began on 21 November has turned into a wild melee with the outcome completely in doubt. British 7th Armored Division of Eighth Army has taken horrendous tank losses, and overall the British have lost about 350 tanks and had another 150 severely damaged. General Erwin Rommel has a couple of advantages over German generals everywhere else in the Wehrmacht:
  1. He has complete freedom of action and the Allies cannot predict his movements by decoding his radio transmissions;
  2. The Italian troops under his command are fighting hard and effectively.
Rommel has freedom of action because the Wehrmacht is focused on the Eastern Front and considers the North Africa Theater to be an unimportant sideshow. How he manages to get vital assistance from his Italian allies, though, is unclear.

Midway Island, 24 November 1941
Midway Atoll. "Aerial photograph, looking just south of west across the southern side of the atoll, 24 November 1941. Eastern Island, then the site of Midway's airfield, is in the foreground. Sand Island, the location of most other base facilities, is across the entrance channel. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives."
Today, after several brilliant attacks that have blunted the British offensive, Rommel counterattacks hard by sending elements of Afrika Corps and the Italian Ariete Division toward Sidi Omar. This is known as "The Dash to the Wire" because the panzers are heading toward the wire barrier at the border. The main goal of the attack is to relieve trapped German troops at Bardia and then destroy British lines of communication from Egypt. Rommel plans to broaden the attack on the 25th by adding the 15th Panzer Division. Operation Crusader thus has turned into two separate offensives going in opposite directions, one by the British to the west and the other by the Axis forces to the east. Both can't be successful, so a potentially decisive moment is brewing at the Egyptian/Libyan border.

Indian troops in North Africa, 24 November 1941
"Indian troops move forward in lorries, supported by Matilda tanks, 24 November 1941." © IWM (E 3720E).
Holocaust: The SS establishes a new camp at the fortress town of Terezin in occupied Czechoslovakia (called the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia since its formal incorporation into the Greater Reich). The camp, called Theresienstadt, is intended as a hybrid transit point and long-term Ghetto for Holocaust victims. It is euphemistically called a "retirement settlement" for Jewish elders and, at least at first, is a "show camp" for the Red Cross and others. The first trainload of residents, 342 young Jewish men, arrive today, the first of thousands, and make the 1.5-mile (2.4 km) walk from the train station. Conditions are brutal, the inmates are terribly mistreated, and people die as a matter of course even though technically Theresienstadt is not an extermination camp.

Admiral Thomas Hart on the cover of Time magazine, 24 November 1941
Admiral Thomas Hart, commander of the US Asiatic Fleet operating out of the Philippines,  on the cover of Time magazine on 24 November 1941.