Sunday, March 24, 2019

December 23, 1941: Wake Island Falls to Japan

Tuesday 23 December 1941

Wake Island 23 December 1941
Wrecked US Marine Corps Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters at Wake Island on or after 23 December 1941. There are about seven planes in this view. Following standard practice at all forward airfields, parts from damaged planes were used to repair other planes. The plane in the foreground is "211-F-11," Captain Henry T. Elrod's mount which he used to sink Japanese destroyer Kisaragi (National Archives via US Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-179006).
Battle of the Pacific: With Vice Admiral William S. Pye, Acting Commander in Chief US Pacific Fleet, having recalled the relief force for Wake Island, there is little hope for the US Marines and civilian contractors stranded there on 23 December 1941. At 02:35, about 1500 Japanese marines land after a powerful preliminary bombardment. Supported by air strikes from aircraft carriers Hiryu and Soryu, the Japanese marines overwhelm the garrison.

Wake Island 23 December 1941
A 1943 aerial photograph of Wake Island marked to show key points during the 23 December 1941 invasion of the island. The two Japanese destroyers used as landing craft are still beached off the island, and the Japanese have constructed an airfield (using US civilian contractors captured during the raid) nearby.
The US marines destroy Japanese landing craft Patrol Boat No. 32 and Patrol Boat No. 33, which are beached, but they have no air support and their artillery quickly is silenced. The fighting rages through the morning, but the situation is hopeless. The US Marines have 49 dead, two missing, and 49 wounded overall during the siege. In addition, over 70 US civilian contractors perish and a dozen are wounded. Overall, the Japanese capture 433 American men at a cost of 144 Japanese casualties. A huge fraction of the US civilian contractors will be executed by the Japanese during the war.

Wake Island 23 December 1941
HIJMS Patrol Boat No.32 (left) and Patrol Boat No.33 (right), badly damaged during the invasion of Wake Island on 23 December 1941 but which managed to reach shore and beach themselves (United States Navy or United States Marine Corps).
While a major propaganda victory, the Japanese gain little by occupying Wake Island. They force the captured Americans to fortify the island, including bringing in an 8-inch (200 mm) naval gun, but the isolated location offers so few possibilities that the US Navy makes no plans to recapture it. In fact, its location on the route from Pearl Harbor toward Japanese possessions further west turns Wake into the perfect live-fire training ground for US naval airmen and gunners. With so many US Navy ships in the vicinity, the Japanese find it impossible to supply the small garrison there with food, much less with airplanes or other offensive weapons. As an ideal training for US Navy pilots like future President George H.W. Bush, the US Pacific Fleet is content to simply keep an eye on it while pumping a few shells at the Japanese installations as ships pass on to more important destinations. The Japanese flag flies at Wake Island until 4 September 1945.

Wake Island 23 December 1941
"Wake Island, December 23, 1941. Japanese troops pay homage to a memorial erected to unit commander Uchida, who was killed in the landing on Wake Island, 23 December 1941. Copied from a Japanese picture book. U.S. Marine Corps photograph." (National Museum of the U.S. Navy #USMC 315175).
In Manila, Lieutenant General Douglas MacArthur, Commanding General US Army Forces Far East and a Field Marshal in the Filipino Army, notes the Japanese invasion force that landed just north of Manila on the 22nd and declares it an open city. The Japanese in Rosario advance ten miles (16 km) south toward Manila by dusk. The US forces begin withdrawing south into the Bataan peninsula. This is an easily defended region where the US Army has stored nearly one million US gallons of gasoline. The retreat is orderly and not made under Japanese pressure. Late in the day, a 7000-man Japanese force from the Ryukyu Islands lands in Lamon Bay. The US Army Air Force still has some B-17 Flying Fortresses at Del Monte Field on Mindanao, and they attack Japanese shipping in Lingayen Gulf, damaging a destroyer and a minesweeper. The Japanese send troops from Mindanao Island to land on Jolo Island in the Sulu Archipelago, indicating that they aren't too worried about the remaining US presence in the Philippines.

Curtiss Tomahawk fighter in the Western Desert, 23 December 1941
"Western Desert. Armorers working on a [Curtiss] Tomahawk fighter aircraft of No 3 Squadron RAAF." 23 December 1941 (Australian War Memorial 010926)
Japanese submarine attacks on US shipping off the west coast continue, with I-21 torpedoing and sinking 8272-ton US tanker Montebello four miles off of Cambria, California and later using its deck gun to damage 6418-ton tanker Idaho. Submarine I-17 uses its deck gun to damage 7038-ton American tanker Larry Doheny about 62 nautical miles southwest of Eureka, California. As experience in the Atlantic has proven, tankers are extremely difficult to sink due to their compartmentalized construction. In addition, Japanese submarines I-71 and I-72 shell US-held Palmyra Island, which is about 960 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu.

Japanese artillery at Hong Kong, 23 December 1941
Japanese artillery based on Jardine's Lookout in action, with Wong Nei Chong Gap in front of them. Late December 1941 (©IWM SIT3571).
On Hong Kong Island, the Japanese have split the island in two and are gradually restricting the remaining British presence. The Canadian Royal Rifles, a unit that had only embarked for the territory on 27 October 1941, withdraws into Hong Kong's Stanley Peninsula to make a last stand. The fighting is extremely savage, and there are reports of Japanese atrocities.

HMAS Karangi, commissioned on 23 December 1941
HMAS Karangi. Commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy on 23 December 1941, the Karangi was the third Boom Defence Vessel constructed by Cockatoo Island Dockyard. It serves in the Australian Navy until 1964.
The British remove Major-General David Murray-Lyon of the Indian 11th Infantry Division from his command on 23 December 1941 due to the unit's rocky withdrawal south toward Kuala Lumpur. He thus becomes the campaign's first scapegoat, but not the last. The Indian III Corps completes its withdrawal behind the Perak River after dark. The Japanese aircraft in the region shift their attention from attacking British airfields north of Singapore, all of which have been abandoned, to assisting ground troops.

Wake Island 23 December 1941
One of the two Japanese landing craft beached at Wake Island on 23 December 1941.
The war at sea is picking up quickly. On Borneo, the Dutch naval forces detect a Japanese naval convoy sailing from Miri for Kuching and send submarines to intercept it. HNLMS K XIV sinks Japanese Army transports Hiyoshi Maru and Katori Maru, while Hokkai Maru is beached to prevent it from sinking. Most of the Japanese troops get through to the target, however, and they take Kuching by mid-afternoon. The 15th Punjab Regiment retreats up the nearby river. During the night, Dutch submarine HNLMS K XVI torpedoes and sinks Japanese destroyer Sagiri about 30 miles north of Kuching, notching the first Allied submarine victory over a Japanese warship. However, the crew of K XVI doesn't have long to celebrate, as Japanese submarine I-66 spots it and sinks it with all hands shortly thereafter. Off Badoc, US submarine SEAL sinks 856-ton Japanese freighter Soryu Maru.

Japanese raid on Rangoon, 23 December 1941
Japanese photo showing the bombing of Rangoon on 23 December 1941.
In Burma, 80 Japanese Mitsubishi Ki-21 bombers escorted by 30 fighters bomb Mingaladon and downtown Rangoon for the first time. Casualties are unknown but there are an estimated 2000 civilian deaths. The American Volunteer Group (AVG aka "Flying Tigers") and Royal Air Force Brewster Buffaloes intervene but cannot prevent the attack. The Japanese use both high explosive and incendiary bombs. Combined with a similar attack on 25 December 1941, the Japanese destroy 60% of the wooden buildings in the entire downtown area from Pazundaung to Ahlone. This bombing begins a desperate flight from Rangoon of Indians, Burmese, Anglo-Burmese, Europeans, Chinese, Karens, and others.

Soviet scouts near Krasnaya Polyana, 23 December 1941
Soviet scouts outside Moscow near Yasnaya Polyana, December 1941. The Red Army advance often involved soldiers like this attacking isolated German outposts where the Germans had taken over peasant buildings. Notice how well the Red Army men are dressed for operating outdoors, with felt boots and caps with earflaps. General Guderian had his headquarters in Yasnaya Polyana.
Eastern Front: German withdrawals continue around Moscow. In General Guderian's Second Panzer Army, the 296th Infantry Division escapes from a potential encirclement and by falling back to the Oka River at Belev. Its neighbor, the 167th Infantry Division, is not as fortunate and is smashed by the Soviets. Guderian requests permission to take his entire front behind the Oka River, but Field Marshal Guenther von Kluge denies the request because of Hitler's "stand fast" order and cautions that further retreats cannot be made "under any circumstances" without the Fuehrer's permission.

Graveyard of the Stukas, 23 December 1941
Western Desert, Libya. 23 December 1941. This is known as 'Graveyard of the Stukas', some of the German dive bomber aircraft destroyed by the Allied Air Forces (Australian War Memorial MED0220).
Battle of the Mediterranean: Much of the action is taking place at sea along the Axis supply routes to the Afrika Korps in Libya and the British convoys to Tobruk. The Royal Navy sends Convoy AT-5 to Tobruk, and that leads to a lot of action. U-559 torpedoes and sinks 3059-ton British freighter Shuntien east of Tobruk. It is carrying 850 mostly Italian prisoners of war and has a crew of seventy. Casualties are unclear because corvette HMS Salvia, which rescues as many people as it can, is lost itself on 24 December and virtually everyone on it perishes. So, ultimately, very few people on board the Shuntien ever set foot on land again. Meanwhile, convoy escorts Hasty and Hotspur use depth charges to sink U-79 off Bardia about 69 nautical miles (129 km) east of Tobruk. The U-boats crew is fortunate, however, as the Captain, three officers, and forty ratings and nobody perishes.

SS Shuntien, sunk on 23 December 1941
SS Shuntien, sunk on 23 December 1941 with great loss of life off Tobruk.
On land, the British advance by XIII Corps comes to a halt due to stiffening Axis resistance and supply issues. The Germans are gradually consolidating their position in western Libya, so Indian 4th Division takes Barce. The Germans at Antelat retreat to Agedabia under pressure from British 7th Armored Division.

Production of Douglas Aircraft C-47 Skytrain transports, 23 December 1941
An early production model of the C-47 Skytrain transport under production at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant at Long Beach ca. 1941. Douglas produced 13 C-47s a dat at this facility. (Library of Congress).
US Military: Today is the first flight of the first C-47 Skytrain, 41-7722, the first DC-3 variant built specifically as a military transport. It flies at Daugherty Field, Long Beach, California. The US Army Air Force already has purchased hundreds of DC-3-type airplanes, most notably as the personal transport of the Chief of Staff of the USAAF, General Henry "Hap" Arnold, but those were civilian versions. The military version has a cargo door on the left side of the fuselage, a strengthened cargo floor, a navigator's astrodome, and provisions for glider towing. The C-47 Skytrain generally is considered the most successful military transport ever.

SS Montebello, sunk on 23 December 1941
SS Montebello at her launching at Eat San Pedro in 1921. Japanese submarine I-21 hits the Montebello, which had departed from Port San Luis early in the morning, with one torpedo on 23 December 1941 near Piedras Blancas Point (off Cambria, California). All 39 crewmen take to the boats as I-21 surfaces and fires with its deck gun. The tanker finally sinks bow first. Everyone survives.
French Military: In a rare military land action in North America, Free French forces land on St. Pierre and Miquelon and seize them without much trouble. Vichy officials have been governing the islands off of Newfoundland until now. This eliminates the last Vichy French military presence in the Americas, as the French outpost at Martinique already has entered into an armistice agreement with the United States.

American Homefront: Californians feel increasingly threatened by the recent spate Japanese attacks just off the coast, and there aren't many US Army troops defending the coastline. Lieutenant General John DeWitt, Commanding General Fourth Army and also Commanding General Western Defense Command, decides it is time to impose some discipline. He induces California Governor Culbert Olson to ban the sale of liquor to any person in uniform except during "Happy Hour" and the evening, from 1800-2200.

Sculpture in the Paris Park des Les Buttes Chaumont, removed by the Germans on or before 23 December 1941
A 1930s postcard showing a bronze statue by Louis Auguste Hiolin in the Park des Les Buttes Chaumont called "Au Loop." The statue portrays a young shepherd chasing a wolf away from his lambs. A 23 December 1941 article in Figaro notes that the Germans had seized the statue to melt it down. The Hiolin statue has never been replaced but the pedestal remains in place, empty. It is a very pretty spot and many park goers enjoy sitting on the pedestal.


Saturday, March 23, 2019

December 22, 1941: Major Japanese Landings North of Manila

Monday 22 December 1941

Italian POWs in North Africa, 22 December 1941
"Italian troops surrendering to a patrol of the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifles Brigade on the road south-west of Gazala, Libya, 22 December 1941. One of the prisoners even brought his bicycle with him." © IWM (E 7301).
Battle of the Pacific: In the Philippines, the Japanese make their main landings on the east coast of Lingayen Gulf during the morning of 22 December 1941. The Japanese have 43,110 troops of the 48th Division and a regiment of the 16th Division, supported by about 90 light tanks and artillery. US commander General Wainwright sends the 11th and 71st Filipino Divisions in a futile counterattack. The Japanese win a brief battle at the coastal town of Rosario against the 26th Cavalry Division of the Filipino Army, which withdraws south toward Manila. Offshore, US submarine USS S-38, sailing out of Manila, torpedoes 5445-ton Japanese transport Hayo Maru. The transport quickly sinks in the Lingayen Gulf. This is S-38's first war patrol and the first US submarine success of the war.

Life magazine article on how to tell Japanese and Chinese apart, 22 December 1941
Life Magazine's 22 December 1941 issue provides a guide to telling Japanese and Chinese citizens apart.
A US Navy relief operation to Wake Island was organized by Admiral Husband Kimmel before his dismissal. On 22 December 1941 Task Force 14 (Admiral Wilson Brown), supported by Task Force 14 (Admiral Frank Fletcher) is approaching the beleaguered US Marines there. However, at 21:00, the acting commander in chief of the US Pacific Fleet, Vice Admiral William S. Pye, recalls Task Force 11. He bases this on reconnaissance that reveals the presence of two Japanese aircraft carriers and two battleships around the island. While there aren't any battleships, there definitely are two modern aircraft carriers, but the real opponent at this stage of the war is simply the unknown. The Americans don't know where all the Japanese carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor went, and the remaining US carriers are too precious to risk with naval forces so vastly reduced by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Pye instead plans on sending F2A Brewster Buffaloes from USS Saratoga at extreme range to land on the island on the 23rd, supported by a quick run to the island by seaplane tender USS Tangier. However, it is unclear how long the island can hold out against vastly superior Japanese forces.

On Wake Island itself, the US Marines suffer from two Japanese raids launched from carriers Hiryu and Soryu. There are only two operational USMC F4F Wildcats left on the island, and one is shot down and the other badly damaged.

Time magazine, 22 December 1941
"Japan's Aggressor, Admiral Yamamoto" is the cover story for the 22 December 1941 Time Magazine. The cover portrait by Arthur Szyk shows Yamamoto as vaguely human but definitely menacing.
On the Malay Peninsula, fierce air battles develop over Kuala Lumpur. Sergeant Malcolm Neville Read of RAAF No. 453 Squadron rams his Brewster Buffalo fighter into a Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscar" fighter of 64th Sentai and perishes. The Indian 11th Division continues its retreat behind the Perak River, while the Indian 9th Division establishes a strong position around Kuantan airfield that also protects the east flank of the 11th Division.

The situation in Burma is deteriorating rapidly, with Japanese forces making good progress in the extreme south. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek realizes that his best supply route runs through Burma, so he gives General Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief, India, ground forces. He sends the Chinese 6th Army's 93rd Division and a regiment of the 49th Division, with the promise of more to come. The American Volunteer Group (AVG, aka "Flying Tigers") are operating east of Rangoon, but there is a serious lack of Allied ground troops in the country which Chiang can remedy faster than the British.

USAT Willard H. Holbrook, 22 December 1941
USAT Willard H. Holbrook arrives in Brisbane, Australia, 22 December 1941. It is part of the United States Navy's "Pensacola" Convoy that includes heavy cruiser USS Pensacola, gunboat Niagara, naval transports Chaumont and Republic, Army transports Holbrook and Meigs, and three freighters. They carry the first US troop units to arrive in Australia from the United States.
A Japanese convoy leaves Miri, Borneo for Kuching. A Dutch flying boat X-35 radios a warning to HNLMS K XIV (Lt. Cdr. Carel A.J. van Groeneveld), which heads to intercept it on the 23rd.

Newsweek, 22 December 1941
Newsweek, 22 December 1941, features Navy dive bombers.
About 15 nautical miles off the coast of California southwest of Lompoc, Japanese submarine I-19 uses its deck gun against 10,763-ton American tanker H.M. Storey. The recent spate of Japanese submarine attacks off the coast have attracted a great deal of attention, and a US Navy aircraft swiftly arrives and drops a depth charge. This provides enough of a distraction for the tanker to escape.

A Quad artillery tractor towing a 25-pounder gun, 22 December 1941
"A 25-pdr field gun and 'Quad' artillery tractor, 22 December 1941" North Africa. (© IWM (E 7245)).
Battle of the Mediterranean: In North Africa, the British Commonwealth forces continue pressing against the Afrika Corps, which has retreated to Beda Fomm and now is evacuating from Benghazi. The Germans have received some reinforcements from Tripoli and manage to stop the British by deploying 30 panzers. General Erwin Rommel, commander of Panzer Group Africa, sends a battle report to German General Headquarters in Rome for translation to Mussolini which notes "the extraordinarily strong enemy air superiority."

Universal carrier of 40th Royal Tank Regiment, 22 December 1941
"Universal carrier of 40th Royal Tank Regiment, 8th Armoured Division being recovered from a hole at Warren Camp, Crowborough in Sussex, 22 December 1941. The regiment was about to embark for the Middle East, hence the desert camouflage." © IWM (H 16283).
Eastern Front: Having taken a somewhat leisurely drive from his former headquarters in Smolensk to East Prussia, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock arrives at the Fuhrer Headquarters in Rastenburg. After a brief visit with Hitler, during which the Fuehrer assures him that he understands the dire situation at the front, von Bock continues on to Berlin. It is an odd interlude because von Bock is not actually sick, but Hitler tells him to report back when he is "recovered."

I-15 fighters being repaired in Moscow, 22 December 1941
Four Polikarpov I-15 biplanes ("Chaika," or seagull) under repair in Moscow, 22 Dec 1941.
At the front around Moscow, things are not quite so pleasant. In a driving snowstorm, Soviet 49th Army attacks at Tarusa and scores a quick breakthrough against the German Fourth Army. This separates German 43rd Corps from the rest of the army and sets up a possible encirclement. The Army Group commander, Field Marshal Guenther von Kluge, follows standing orders and tells the corps to stand fast. However, von Kluge warns Fuehrer Headquarters of the danger. At Chekalin, Soviet sled troops surprise a German construction unit, which cannot be reinforced because of the snow and push it back. General Guderian spends the day at the front south of Moscow and is dismayed. He finds that the Soviets have broken through 296th Infantry Division at several points. He also warns Fuehrer Headquarters that he will lose the division entirely if it is required to hold its position.

Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, 22 December 1941
President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in Washington, D.C., 22 December 1941.
US/British Relations: The Arcadia Conference ("Arcadia" being the official code name for it), also known as the First Washington Conference, begins in Washington, D.C. on 22 December 1941. This is a meeting of top British and United States political and military leaders. Winston Churchill makes the hazardous ten-day journey across the Atlantic in battleship HMS Duke of York. This is the first of many military conferences between the two powers while both are at war. The conference lasts until 14 January 1942 and establishes the defeat of Germany as the top priority of the alliance. This comports with the established US military Rainbow 5 plan which already is in effect. Other agreements reached at the Arcadia Conference include establishing a Combined Chiefs of Staff, based in Washington, limiting resources to be sent to the Pacific Theater, and a "Declaration by United Nations" which establishes the principle of no separate peace with the Axis. The Arcadia Conference projects the first combined offensive action by the two powers as an invasion of North Africa, creates a unified American/British/Dutch/Australian Command (ABDA) in the Far East, and establishes that military resources will be combined for the common benefit in the European Theater of Operations (ETO).

Smashed Luftwaffe planes in North Africa, 22 December 1941
"Western Desert, Libya. 22 December 1941. The fierce attacks upon enemy aerodromes by the Allied Air Forces destroyed many aircraft which never had a chance of taking the air." Australian War Memorial MED0221.


Friday, March 22, 2019

December 21, 1941: The Bogdanovka Massacre

Sunday 21 December 1941

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

December 20, 1941: Flying Tigers in Action

Saturday 20 December 1941

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

December 19, 1941: Brauchitsch Goes Home

Friday 19 December 1941

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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