Friday, May 24, 2019

January 28, 1942: Rommel Takes Benghazi

Wednesday 28 January 1942

Bf-109F, which crashed on 28 January 1942
Bf 109 F-2 WNr. 8086 of Uffz Alfred Döllefeld "Gelbe 7", 9./JG 54, Notlandung 28.January 1942 at Gr. Machim due to engine damage (damage reported as 30%). Eastern Front, Winter 1941-1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: After a couple of days when operations were stopped by a desert sandstorm, Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps on 28 January 1942 once again approaches Benghazi. Rommel's forces also have been hampered by fuel shortages, enabling vulnerable British troops at Msus to escape. The Germans make good time, brushing aside British outposts at Ghemines on the coast along the line of approach, at Soluq just to the east of Ghemines, and at Regina, east of Benghazi. Some British and Commonwealth troops remain in the port but know they are in danger. Many already have escaped to the southeast or have been taken out by ship or plane. The panzers approach Benghazi from three directions, with the bulk of the Axis forces coming east from Msusu towards Bir Gerrari. A large part of 90th Light Division and XX Corps ride up the Via Balbia to envelop Benghazi from the south, and a fast mobile assault column heads past Benghazi to cut the coast road to Tobruk.

SS Ninuccia, sunk on 28 January 1942
SS Ninuccia, a 4583-ton Italian freighter sunk on 28 January 1942. Royal Navy submarine HMS Thorn (Lt. Cdr. R. G. Norfolk), operating just east of Mulo Island Lighthouse, Croatia, hits Nunuccia with one of five torpedoes. The Thorn also uses its deck gun to sink the freighter. 
The German fast mobile assault column makes the most dramatic move on the 28th, reaching Er Regina, east of Benina, in the morning and then moving to block as many land escape routes as possible. However, it is a large desert and the Axis forces are insufficient to throw a tight cordon around Benghazi. The British have had ample time to study their escape routes and elude the Germans and Italians. After dark, the last Allied contingent (Indian 7th Brigade) in Benghazi sneaks out to the south and the Axis troops immediately occupy the port city. However, 1,000 Allied troops remain to be taken prisoner along with 300 vehicles and vast quantities of supplies that the Germans put to good use. The fall of Benghazi comes only a day after Winston Churchill finally gave his lengthy victory speech in the House of Commons for Operation Crusader, whose gains are now in jeopardy of being completely erased. This is the fourth time Benghazi has changed hands during World War II.

Type 95 Ha-Go light tank, 28 January 1942
"One of the Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go [Type 2 Ka-M] light tanks halted by the Australians' deadly anti-tank gun fire." 28 January 1942. Australian War Memorial 011299.
Battle of the Pacific: The British abandonment of Johore already has been ordered for the end of January, but the Japanese have not gotten the memo and continue to attack all along the line. They reach Benut on the west coast and continue southward, attempting to cut off the Indian 11th Division. Using an opening along a railway line, the Japanese do manage to cut off the retreat route of the 22nd Brigade of the Indian 9th Division.

Spitfire downed on 28 January 1942 near Boulogne,
A Spitfire (shown) flown by RAF ace Robert Stanford Tuck that was shot down by anti-aircraft fire near Boulogne over northern France on 28 January 1942. Tuck was participating in a "Rhubarb raid" designed to draw up Luftwaffe fighters into combat. Tuck finishes his World War II flying career with 29 enemy aircraft destroyed, two shared destroyed, six probably destroyed, six damaged, and one shared damaged. Tuck is sent to Stalag Luft III at Żagań (Sagan), where he participates in the planning for the "Great Escape." Tuck passes away on 5 May 1987.
In Singapore, the British commanders study the defense of Singapore Island itself, apparently for the first time. Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, General Officer Commanding, Malaya Command, orders his subordinates to turn the island's 15-inch guns north. Only one is able to be used on land targets, however, and the ammunition is found to be decades old. There is little air support against the increasingly aggressive Japanese bomber runs, with only 21 Hawker Hurricane fighters out of the 51 that arrived on a freighter on 13 January still operational. There are no reserves in Singapore, so the beach defenses will have to be manned by troops that manage to cross the long causeway from Johore. The battle on the mainland thus takes on the character of a race for the bridge, a race that many Commonwealth troops lose.

MV Boelongan, sunk on 28 January 1942,
Dutch 1053-ton freighter MV Boelongan, sunk on 28 January 1942. Japanese aircraft bomb and sink it near Padang (Sumatra).
In the Philippines, the Allies settle into their new Main Line of Resistance (MLR) across the Bataan Peninsula but cannot fully seal it in time. The Japanese attack in the evening and cross the Tiawir River before being stopped. On the west coast, the Japanese shift their attack units east, away from US Army troops, to positions opposite the Filipino Army 1st Division sector. After dark, the Japanese here break through this part of the MLR and fan out to the east and west. However, the Allied troops close the breach and trap the Japanese. They are forced into two fortified defensive positions called the Big Pocket, about a mile behind the MLR, and the Little Pocket, only about 400 yards south of the MLR.

Wounded Filipino soldier on 28 January 1942
Original caption: "One of our Filipino boys, injured in the fighting on Bataan, January 28, 1942, being brought back to a first aid station by his comrades. Longoskawayan Point, West Coast."
The Japanese forces south of the MLR at Longoskawayan Point and Quinauan Point continue to hold out. Filipino Scouts of the 2d Battalion, 57th Infantry Regiment attack the former position and take about two-thirds of the Japanese territory. The 3d Battalion of the 45th Infantry Regiment attacks the Japanese at Quinauan Point but make little progress because the defenders are aided by dense jungles. Another Japanese bridgehead, at Anyasan Bay, easily fends off an attack by a motley collection of USAAF ground echelon troops recently converted to infantry and the untrained Philippine Constabulary unit.

Polish pilots on 28 January 1942
"Airmen of No. 306 Polish Fighter Squadron in front of one of their Spitfires at RAF Churchstanton, 26-28 January 1942." © IWM (CH 4791).
The Japanese land troops on Rossel Island, the easternmost point in the Louisade Archipelago. While the island itself is of little value, its geographical position about 490 miles southeast of Port Moresby, New Guinea, and 420 miles southwest of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands makes it ideal for Japanese plans. While the island is undeveloped, the Japanese quickly begin building an airfield to establish dominion over the ocean in this critical spot.

U-85, attacked unsuccessfully on 28 January 1942
A VP-82 PBO-1 Hudson flown by AMM1c Donald L. Mason attacks U-85 (shown) on 28 January 1942. The U-boat is operating near Argentia, Newfoundland. Mason signals to base that he has sunk the U-boat, but, in fact, he misses and the U-boat escapes to be sunk on 14 April 1942.
Eastern Front: The unexpected success by a small German force to relieve the trapped garrison at Sukhinichi leads Adolf Hitler to begin dreaming of bigger successes. He asks the Second Panzer Army to convert the relief operation, which barely reached the town, to continue to the northeast toward a Fourth Army garrison at Yukhnov. This, at least theoretically, would trap a large Red Army force to the west. The plan bears remarkable similarities to Hitler's desire to have Army Group North continue its advance past Tikhvin in November 1941. Second Panzer Army commander General Rudolf Schmidt has to explain to the Fuehrer that further advances are impossible until reinforcements arrive.

HMS Victorious on or about 28 January 1942
"The aircraft carrier HMS VICTORIOUS in Hvalfjord." 23-28 January 1942. © IWM (A 7320).
The Soviet Stavka (military command) creates the Crimean Front under Lieutenant General Dmitry Timofeyevich Kozlov. It includes the 44th, 47th, and 51st Armies. The Separate Coastal Army and Black Sea Fleet also come under Kozlov's control. General Kozlov is inexperienced and has been hastily promoted from a regimental command, and his staff also is inexperienced. The Stavka sends Lev Mekhlis to Kozlov's headquarters to help plan strategy, and the two agree to launch an offensive in mid-February to reconquer the entire Crimea. The Soviets in general and Kozlov, in particular, remain under the impression that the Red Army has military superiority in the Crimea when the opposite is true. In addition, the Kerch Peninsula has poor roads and the Luftwaffe has complete aerial superiority, making road movements in daylight extremely hazardous for the Soviets.

Luftwaffe ace Franz Eckerle shoots down three Red Air Force planes on 28 January 1942
Luftwaffe ace Franz Eckerle has a big day on 28 January 1942, shooting down three Soviet planes, an I-18 and two I-180s. Top Luftwaffe aces often had signed cards, much like American baseball players had cards. KIA 14 February 1942.
German Military: Adolf Hitler personally awards Luftwaffe ace General Adolf Galland with his 2nd Diamonds to the Knight's Cross as Oberst and Geschwaderkommodore of Jagdgeschwader 26 "Schlageter." Galland currently is servicing as the commander of all German fighter forces (General der Jagdflieger) in place of the deceased Werner Mölders. The Luftwaffe maintains aerial superiority in both East and West, so Galland is concentrating on offensive operations involving fighter-bomber attacks in England.

KV-2 Beutepanzer on 28 January 1942
A Soviet KV-2 captured by the Germans and put into use on the Kalininsky front. 28 January 1942. The Germans would sometimes use captured tanks as "Beutepanzers" ("booty tanks"). (Armes Militaria Magazine " Bataille pour Moscow").
US Military: Admiral Halsey orders his flagship, aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, to refuel after dark. This is the first time such a large ship attempts this. Beginning at 20:00, oiler USS Platte hooks up and accomplishes the novel feat without any difficulty. The refueling is done by 01:00 on 29 January 1942.

The USAAF activates Headquarters, US 8th Air Force, at Savannah AAB, Savannah, Georgia. Brigadier General Asa N. Duncan is in command. Various subordinate commands, such as the 96th Bombardment Group (Heavy) (currently the 96th Test Wing), also are constituted on 28 January 1942. At this time it is unclear where the new command will operate, but it is tentatively allocated to projected Operation Gymnast, the invasion of North Africa. Operation Gymnast was agreed to at the Arcadia Conference in early January 1942, but there currently is no schedule for its launch.

Construction of a US Navy base in Londonderry on 28 January 1942
Construction of a US naval base at Londonderry, Northern Island, 28 January 1942. "The piles used in the construction of the Western end of the wharf." © IWM (A 9561).


Thursday, May 23, 2019

January 27, 1942: Battle of Endau

Tuesday 27 January 1942

Polish pilots, 27 January 1942
"Flight Lieutenant Tadeusz Czerwiński, the CO of "A" Flight of No. 306 Polish Fighter Squadron, and Flight Lieutenant Stanisław Skalski, the CO of "B" Flight, with the Polish national emblem. RAF Churchstanton, 26-28 January 1942." Colorized from © IWM (CH 4793).
Battle of the Pacific: The Battle of Endau has been a disaster for the British both on land and in the air, but on 27 January 1942 they attempt to turn the tide at sea. Rear-Admiral Ernest Spooner, commander of naval forces at Singapore, has sent his only combat-ready warships, destroyers HMS Thanet and HMAS Vampire, to attack the Japanese invasion fleet off Endau. However, while the landings and related air battles resolved the situation during daylight hours on 26 January, the Royal Navy ships do not arrive until the early morning hours of 27 January.

Bristol Beaufort, 27 January 1942
A rare original color photograph from World War II. "A pilot, thought to be Flight Lieutenant A J H Finch, DFC, is about to settle into the cockpit of Bristol Beaufort I N102/'MW-S' of No 217 Squadron, Royal Air Force prior to flying for photographers at St Eval, Cornwall." © IWM (TR 25).
Commander William Moran, captain of destroyer Vampire, is the overall commander of the small force, which also includes destroyer Thanet (Commander Bernard Davies). The British figure the forces are roughly equal and that surprise at night will give them an advantage. The Japanese, meanwhile, have received erroneous reconnaissance reports of British ships operating to their north and thus shift their escorts in that direction, away from the approaching Royal Navy destroyers. The British could have mounted a much stronger effort if they still had battleship Prince of Wales and cruiser Repulse available, but those ships, of course, were sunk in December 1941.

Look magazine, 27 January 1942
Look magazine, 27 January 1942.
The two Royal Navy destroyers approach undetected and pass at least one Japanese ship without being spotted. At 02:37, Vampire firest two torpedoes at Japanese minesweeper W-4 but misses with both. Inexplicably, W-4's crew spots but does not report the two destroyers, and the British are free to continue searching for the Japanese transports. While this search is unsuccessful, at 03:18, the British spot and attack Japanese destroyer Shirayuki. However, despite launching a total of five torpedoes, the two British destroyers make no hits. Shirayuki spots the British but is unsure if they are friend or foe. After a period of indecision, Shirayuki opens fire at 03:31. Commander Moran returns fire but also orders both ships to withdraw. Destroyers Thanet and Shirayuki both sustain hits and are put out of action, but other Japanese ships quickly close. Destroyer Vampire makes its escape undamaged and reaches Singapore at 10:00, but Japanese ships Sendai, Fubuki, Asagiri, Amagiri, Hatsuyuki, and W-1 close on the immobile Thanet and sink it at 04:18.

Vice Admiral Sir C. Gordon Ramsey, 27 January 1942
"Commander in Chief Rosyth, Vice Admiral Sir C. Gordon Ramsey, KCB. 27 January 1942, Rosyth." © IWM (A 7246).
Destroyer Shirayuki rescues 31 men from Thanet, while 12 British sailors perish in the battle itself. Commander Davies and 65 other men manage to swim to shore and make it back to Singapore. The "rescued" British sailors are never seen again and are presumed to have been executed by the Japanese out of spite, contrary to the rules of war. The Japanese landings continue without interference. The British failures at the Battle of Endau are probably the most significant single event leading to the evacuation of Johore and the ultimate fall of Singapore. Commander Moran submits a report on the battle, however, in which - despite the loss of Thanet - he stresses how poorly the Japanese reacted to his attack. This gives the Allied navies a false sense of confidence which is greatly misplaced.

Iron workers in Leningrad, 27 January 1942
Female metal workers in Leningrad, January 1942. Tank construction continued in Leningrad throughout the siege, sometimes with factories in sight of the front.
In Singapore, Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, General Officer Commanding Malaya Command, sees the writing on the wall from the lost Battle of Endau. He requests and receives permission from General Archibald Wavell for the complete abandonment of the mainland. Percival immediately orders a general withdrawal through Johore Bahru and across the causeway to Singapore Island. This withdrawal is scheduled for the night of 30/31 January. There is one piece of good news for the defense of Singapore - the civilian workers who have refused to work on fortifications on the island's vulnerable north shore finally reach terms on a salary that they will accept and get to work. The British remain under the illusion that Singapore Island can hold out by itself without retaining a foothold on the mainland.

USS Cassin and Downes, 27 January 1942
USS Cassin (at right, DD-372) and Downes (DD-375). "Under salvage in Drydock Number One at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, 27 January 1942. They had been wrecked during the 7 December 1941 Japanese air raid." U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph Photo #: NH 54563.
In the Philippines, the Japanese launch a major assault against the Allied Main Line of Resistance (MLR) during the afternoon. The Japanese make quick gains into the MLR and secure a bridgehead across the Pilar River. The Allies in the western I Corp section have the most success in stopping the attack. However, they still have the annoyance of the Japanese landing far behind the MLR at Quinauan Point and Longoskawayan Point. Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright, Commanding General I Corps, sends troops from the 45th Infantry Regiment of the Philippine Scouts to attack the former and troops from the 57th Infantry Regiment of the Scouts to attack the latter. A fierce battle develops, but despite being backed up within 1000 yards of the beach, the Japanese continue to hold out. The Japanese successfully land a relief force north of the trapped Japanese, and the defending 1st Battalion of the 1st Philippine Constabulary quickly gives up. Thus, the Allied defenders are fighting two separate battles in opposite directions and are unable to win either of them.

German gliders, 27 January 1942
A photo from Luftwaffe magazine Der Adler, 27 January 1942, showing pilots who are training using gliders.
In Borneo, the Japanese continue expanding their hold. They take Ledo, Pemangkat, Sambas with its Naval Air Station, Singkawang, and Singkawang II airfield. Sinkawang is a small city on the northwestern coast about 145 km north of regional capital Pontianak. While not of much economic importance, Sinkawang is in a militarily useful location. Singkawang also is a regional center for Roman Catholic missionaries who maintain the "Apostolic Vicariate of Dutch Borneo," which includes a leprosy colony.

British troops arriving at Malta, 27 January 1942
"British Troops disembarking from tugs and lighters at Malta." Malta, 27 January 1942. © IWM (A 7325).
US Navy submarine USS Gudgeon (Lt. Cmdr. Elton W. "Joe" Grenfell), on its first war patrol, is returning to base from the first patrol by a US submarine along the Japanese coast when it spots a target. Grenfell fires three torpedoes and sinks Japanese submarine I-73 about 240 miles west of Midway Atoll. This is the first victory by a US submarine against an enemy warship (as opposed to an enemy freighter, already accomplished). Grenfell thinks that he has only damaged I-73, but Station HYPO (also known as Fleet Radio Unit Pacific (FRUPAC) intercepts and decodes Japanese fleet signals admitting the loss. So, Grenfell and the Gudgeon's crew have a welcome surprise in store for them when they return to Pearl Harbor.

HMS Maori at Malta, 27 January 1942
"HMS MAORI entering Grand Harbour." Malta, 27 January 1942. © IWM (A 7333).
The Gudgeon's victory is important for a much more important reason than just the sinking of one ship. Its torpedoes contain RDX/Torpex (RDX stands for Research Department Explosive), a powerful new explosive that is twice as powerful as TNT. Some people believe that RDX/Torpex is a major reason why the Allies win World War II, as it ultimately is used in a wide variety of munitions including air bombs, torpedoes, C-4 plastic explosives, anti-submarine "hedgehog" weapons, and even the trigger for the atom bomb "Fat Man" dropped on Nagasaki. Gudgeon's success proves the usefulness in combat conditions of this deadly substance.

German orders relating to the Holocaust, 27 January 1942
"German Beauftragte [Plenipotentiary] orders the Kiev City Administration to Allow a Ukrainian Woman to Purchase Furniture Owned by Jews, 27 January 1942." (EHRI Online Course in Holocaust Studies)
Eastern Front: The Red Army has a tremendous opportunity to destroy the German Army Group North on 27 January 1942. A major battle is brewing around Vyazma, on the main highway between Smolensk and Moscow. Through a series of operations, the Red Army has parachute troops south of Vyazma, General Yefremov's 33rd Army is approaching along the highway from the east, and XI Cavalry Corps has reached the highway fifteen miles west of Vyazma. The highway serves as the main supply route for German forces west of Moscow, and the German guards and drivers of the trucks bringing food and ammunition east have to fight off attacks. Nowhere except in the east do the Soviets have enough strength to truly the German forces in Vyazma, but they can isolate it. The German supply difficulties are compounded by the lack of trains and train crews able to run on the railway line just south of the highway. Because the rail lines are of a different gauge than the German rail system, Soviet trains must be run, and only Russian train crews can keep them running. Both are in short supply.

Luftwaffe ace Wilhelm Spies, KIA 27 January 1942
Wilhelm Spies, pointing to his 19th (of an ultimate 20) victory marking.
Hauptmann Wilhelm Spies, Staffelkapitän of the 1./ Zerstörergeschwader 26 "Horst Wessel," a 20-victory ace with over 300 sorties flown, is shot down and killed. Spies is shot down by anti-aircraft fire near Sukhinichi (Suchinitschi), Russia. A rare Luftwaffe ace whose victories were evenly divided between the Eastern and Western Fronts, Spies holds the Ritterkreuz at the time of his death and is posthumously promoted to Major and awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross. Losses of experienced pilots like Spies are difficult for the Luftwaffe to make good because he developed a wealth of combat experience beginning in the Spanish Civil War and continuing through all of the subsequent major campaigns.

New Zealand WAAF in a trainer, 27 January 1942
A WAAF of the RNZAF, Hobsonville, January 1942. She is sitting in what appears to be a Harvard trainer (Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library).
Partisans: German Fourth Army has been fighting desperately to keep its lifelines, the Rollbahn highway and nearby railway line running northeast from Roslavl to Yukhnov, open for two weeks. The difficulty for the Germans is that these lines run parallel to the front, meaning the understrength Wehrmacht units in the area have to defend the entire length. Both sides have brought up reinforcements in bitterly cold weather, and General Gotthard Heinrici, the 43 Corps commander who took over Fourth Army from General Ludwig Kübler on 21 January, has had some success. The Germans have kept their supply line open most of the time by turning every journey along the road and highway basically into a naval convoy using armored trains and troop escorts (or, to use another analogy, into a wagon train escorted by the US Cavalry in the Old West). The defense of the Rollbahn and the rail line, however, has come at the expense of giving up large areas behind them to partisans. On 27 January 1942, the Soviets complete a large movement across the Rollbahn by the Red Army's I Guards Cavalry Corps under General Nikolay Belov. The Rollbahn and railway are closed on 27 January due to Belov's activity, but the Germans have sufficient forces nearby to reopen it in a few days when absolutely necessary.

Luftwaffe ace Wilhelm Spies, KIA 27 January 1942
Luftwaffe ace Wilhelm Spies, KIA 27 January 1942.
Belov has no intention of trying to cut the German railway line and highway permanently and invite a desperate counterattack. Instead, once across them, he turns north to make contact with partisan units operating near Vyazma. It is a curious maneuver, as regular army units generally do not operate as partisans, but the front at this point is so confused that nobody is really sure where it is anyway. Belov also hopes to make contact with IV Airborne Corps, which has dropped southwest of Vyazma but accomplished little. The overall Red Army plan is to take Vyazma and cut the highway to Moscow which runs through there. These complicated Soviet plans pose a great risk to the Germans but in some ways also help them. Because the Germans are having difficulty keeping their supply lines open south of Vyazma, Belov probably has enough strength to shut them permanently - which might be enough to strangle German Fourth Army. As it is, though, by heading north into the middle of forests and open fields, Belov gives the Germans the time they need to reorient their forces and bring in reinforcements from the west. This may enable the German Fourth Army to survive. Spring is coming closer every day, so every day that it survives gives Fourth Army more hope. However, if the Red Army can take Vyazma, it would encircle Army Group North and compel a general German withdrawal.

Belfast Telegraph announces arrival of US Army, 27 January 1942
The Belfast Telegraph, 27 January 1942. This announces the first arrival of units of the US Army in the European Theater at Belfast - on page two.
German/Italian Relations: Hermann Goering is in Italy on Hitler's request that he "straighten out" the situation down there. Goering is considered the Reich's prime expert on Italy (because he visited it in the 1920s while virtually penniless) and considers it his personal domain (as opposed to other allies and occupied nations where Foreign Minister Ribbentrop represents Germany). However, Goering makes a poor impression upon this critical ally. Goering completely ignores Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano, who makes disparaging remarks in his personal diary about the Reichsmarschall. "In fact, ever since we bestowed that [diamond] collar on Ribbentrop, [Goering] has adopted an aloof air toward me," Ciano spitefully writes, referencing a story about Goering playing with jewels on the train ride over the Alps.

USS New York, 27 January 1942
New York on 27 January 1942, Norfolk Navy Yard. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph 19-N-27366, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.).
Goering is unusually candid with Mussolini about the turn of the war on the Eastern Front. He admits at the train station that "We are having a hard time." Today, however, Goering strikes an air of bravado at a formal meeting, saying:
Such difficulties [relating to the bitter winter] will not recur. Whatever happens in the coming year, the Fuehrer will halt and take up winter quarters in good time.
The main subject of the discussions, which last until 5 February, is the issue of getting supplies to General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps in Libya. Goering loftily suggests that Italian submarines make the supply missions, though they are almost all committed in the Atlantic and cannot possibly carry enough supplies.

HMS Breconshire at Malta, 27 January 1942
"HMS BRECONSHIRE entering Grand Harbour, Malta." 27 January 1942. © IWM (A 7330).
British Government: Prime Minister Winston Churchill makes a lengthy address on the war situation to the House of Commons. The gist of his message is that Operation Crusader in Libya was a success:
Whether you call it a victory or not, it must be dubbed up to the present, although I will not make any promises, a highly profitable transaction, and certainly is an episode of war most glorious to the British, South African, New Zealand, Indian, Free French and Polish soldiers, sailors and airmen who have played their part in it.
Churchill, of course, knows that the tide already has turned in North Africa (there are no operations today due to a sandstorm) and that General Rommel once again is on the offensive. However, this is a well-earned victory speech, if a bit tardy and outdated.

American Homefront: President Roosevelt announces rationing of all consumer goods and commodities until the war is won. It will be administered by the Office of Price Administration (OPA) using rationing books.


Sunday, May 19, 2019

January 26, 1942: GIs Land in Europe

Monday 26 January 1942

US troops arrive in Belfast, Ireland, 26 January 1942
The first US troops in the European Theater of Operations disembark at Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 26 January 1942.
Battle of the Pacific: On the Malay Peninsula, the Commonwealth troops continue to retreat south toward Singapore on 26 January 1942. The war off the coast is heating up as well as a Japanese convoy approaches Endau, Malaya. Endau is a small town in Mersing District, Johor, Malaysia, which lies on the northern tip of east Johor, on the border with Pahang. The defense of Endau is critical to the defense of Singapore because it would sever lines of communication with British forces farther north. For this reason, it becomes a major objective of the Japanese military.

British Ten-Pound note issued by the Bank Ireland, 26 January 1942
British Ten-pound banknotes issued by the Bank of Ireland in Northern Ireland, dated 26 January 1942, U/11 079069, with the signature of H.J. Adams
Two Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Lockheed Hudson reconnaissance aircraft on routine patrol spot a convoy of eleven Japanese troopships heading from Cam Ranh Bay, Indochina, toward Endau. During the afternoon, the RAF sends 12 Vickers Vildebeest and 9 Fairey Albacore torpedo bombers of No. 36 Squadron RAF and No. 100 Squadron RAF to attack the force. The RAF planes are all biplanes and no match for defending Japanese fighters, and in any event, the planes arrive long after the landings have begun.

Private Colin Spence, an Australian soldier wounded in Malaya by a Japanese soldier using a sword, 26 January 1942
"Studio portrait of NX33552 Private (Pte) Colin John Spence, 2/18 Battalion of Longueville, NSW (originally of Dunedin, NZ). On 26 January 1942 near Mersing in Malaya, a Japanese officer slashed Pte Spence with a sword, before Pte Spence killed the officer. Cut from his hip to his shoulder, Pte Spence required 150 stitches. He was then evacuated from Singapore on the last ship and admitted to hospital in Australia. Pte Spence was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for the leadership he displayed." Australian War Memorial P04154.005
The RAF planes strafe the beach and bomb two Japanese transport ships at the cost of five Vildebeests (the Japanese lose one Ki-27). At dusk, the RAF sends a second wave of nine Vildebeests and three Albacores of No. 3 Squadron, but they fare little better, losing five Vildebeests, two Albacores, and a defending Hurricane fighter. The RAF then sends in another wave of attacks, this time by six unescorted Hudsons of  No. 62 Squadron out of Palembang, Sumatra. Six Japanese Ki-27s set upon them and shoot two of them down. The RAF then sends off the fourth raid from Palembang, this time of five Bristol Blenheims of No. 27 Squadron, but it is too late and they turn back. While the RAF attacks demonstrate how seriously the British view the invasion, they accomplish nothing of value and the Japanese troops secure their lodgement areas. The British have not given up, however, and send two destroyers (HMS Thanet and HMAS Vampire) from Singapore to try to disrupt the landings. However, the ships do not arrive until early on the 27th.

US troops arrive in Belfast, Ireland, 26 January 1942
"Arriving: Private Milburn Henke, who was presented to the press as the 'first' United States soldier to step ashore, salutes as he lands at Dufferin Quay, Belfast, Northern Ireland. In reality, a whole contingent of GIs had come ashore without distinguished reception." © IWM (H 16847).
In the Philippines, the Allied troops are in disarray and trying to find a defensible line. Both I Corps and II Corps complete their withdrawal to the final defense line in the Bataan Peninsula, but it gives the American and Philippine troops no relief. The Japanese follow close behind. The main Allied advantage is that the Peninsula narrows as they retreat south, and it now is possible to form a complete line from coast to coast. This extends from Orion in the east to Bagac on the west coast, just to the south of the Pilar-Bagac road. The entire Allied military organization is revised, and the Headquarters, US Army Forces, Far East (USAFFE) takes advantage of the shortened line by taking the Philippine Division out of the line and putting it in reserve. The Japanese begin heading south on the West Road, with every step contested by the 91st Filipino Division. Further south, the Japanese keep their beachheads at Quinauan and Longoskawayan Points despite frantic Allied attacks that cause heavy casualties on both sides.

US troops arrive in Belfast, Ireland, 26 January 1942
A US GI and a British Tommy shake hands as the first US troops arrive in Europe at Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 26 January 1942 (Life magazine).
At Balikpapan, Borneo, the Japanese complete the capture of the City of Balikpapan and the surrounding area. This is the most economically significant success of the entire Japanese offensive to date, as the Balikpapan refinery is projected to provide almost a third of all Japanese oil requirements.

The New Zealand High Commissioner arrives in Portsmouth to inspect the troops, 26 January 1942
"Mr. W.J. Jordan, the High Commissioner for New Zealand, being greeted by the Commodore of the Royal Naval Barracks, Portsmouth, Captain E R Archer, RN, on his arrival at Portsmouth." 26 January 1942. © IWM (A 7228).
In Burma, Allied defenses near Moulmein on the Salween River in the eastern part of the country are under great strain. The main fight in the air is much further west, over Rangoon. Today, American Volunteer Group (AVG or "Flying Tigers") fighters of the 1st and 2nd Fighter Squadrons put up a stout defense over the capital, shooting down three Japanese Army fighters.

Time magazine cover featuring ter Poorten, 26 January 1942
"Ter Poorten of the Indies" is the cover story of the 26 January 1942 Time magazine. Hein ter Poorten is the Allied land forces commander in the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command on Java in January 1942.
The Allied Command (ABDA) is determined to defend the Netherlands East Indies, but they have to transfer troops from the Middle East to have any hope of that. The Australian government is understandably leery about the Japanese wave heading south toward them, so the British are transferring Australian troops from the North African front. Lieutenant General Sir John Lavarack, General Officer Commanding I Australian Corps, arrives

US Generals Chaney and Hartle in Belfast, Ireland, 26 January 1942
US Army officers Major General Chaney and Major General Hartle, in command of the troops arriving at Belfast, Northern Ireland on 26 January 1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The attack by Afrika Korps is held up by a fierce sandstorm. Behind the scenes on the Allied side, there is a flurry of activity as the Allied leaders try to digest the latest successes by the Germans in North Africa. General Sir Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, sends a telegram to Winston Churchill in which he notes that the British line has been pushed back and that he is in the process of evacuating Benghazi. General Sir Thomas Blamey, Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, the top Australian military official in the Middle East, sends Churchill a separate telegram indicating that Commonwealth forces have had to retreat in the vicinity of Antelat, Libya. Churchill is very put out by all of these developments and views the retreats as implying the "failure of Crusader and the ruin of Acrobat," which are the codenames for the recent operation that relieved Tobruk and a separate operation being considered against Tripoli. Everyone knows that the situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon because Australian and New Zealand troops need to return home to defend Australia.

US troops arrive in Belfast, Ireland, 26 January 1942
The first US GIs arriving in Europe at Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 26 January 1942. Note that the troops wear the standard Word War I helmets.
Eastern Front: The Stavka decides to increase its pressure on General Hermann Hoth's 17th Army, holding a stretch of the front on the Mius River northwest of Rostov. Marshal Timoshenko orders Ninth Army to join the attack alongside 57th Army. As with all of the Soviet offensive, the Red Army men are pushing the Wehrmacht troops back but not capturing much aside from forests and fields. The Soviet plan is to get behind the main German line on the river and then pivot to the south. This, Timoshenko hopes, will leverage the Germans off the entire Mius River line by threatening to cut them off when they reach the coast between Mariupol and Melitopol. On the German side, General Ewald von Kleist sees the danger and begins moving in from the south the 14th Panzer Division, the 100th Light Division, and Panzer Detachment 60. This force is called the "von Mackensen Group" after its commander, General von Mackensen, commander of III Panzer Corps. It has to battle fierce snowstorms to get into position, but the weather also slows down the Red Army attacks and this situation becomes a mixed blessing for both sides. Von Kleist also orders the very weak XI Corps to march west via Dnepropetrovsk. The importance of these ad hoc commands is growing on the German side because of the huge losses many units have taken. Disparate units that are the remnants of once-imposing units have to be cobbled together to form larger groupings from whatever odds and ends are in the vicinity. This is the only way to blunt the incessant Soviet attacks.

US troops arrive in Belfast, Ireland, 26 January 1942
US troops arriving at Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 26 January 1942.
Western Front: Under great secrecy, the first US soldiers arrive at Belfast, Northern Ireland to take up posts in the European Theater of Operations. They are members of the 133rd Infantry Regiment, 34th Division. About 4,000 men arrive in order to honor the "Germany First" principle agreed to at the Arcadia Conference in early January 1942.

British/New Zealand Relations: The Australians are not the only ones watching the Japanese approach with trepidity. On 26 January 1942, the Government of New Zealand sends British Prime Minister Winston Churchill a telegram requesting confirmation that New Zealand would have a voice at the Far East Council and influence over the affairs of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) troops. New Zealand also emphasizes that it requires direct communications on its own with the United States, which everyone realizes is the only Allied force in the Pacific capable of stopping the Japanese.

British Military: General Sir Archibald Wavell, Supreme Commander, South West Pacific, replies to a pointed inquiry from Winston Churchill about relations with China. Wavell denies that he has refused Chinese help and states that he has accepted the 49th and 93rd Chinese Divisions. Relations between China and the UK have been frayed since the Tulsa Incident in late December when local British authorities in Rangoon tried to divert US Lend-Lease supplies destined for China to British troops. Wavell does, however, note that it would be better to defend Burma with British troops rather than risk losing larger portions of China to the Japanese. Both men agree that British relations with China are extremely poor.

Life magazine feature the WAAFs, 26 January 1942
The 26 January 1942 Life magazine cover story is about the Women s Auxiliary Air Force ("WAAF").


Friday, May 17, 2019

January 25, 1942: Kholm Surrounded

Sunday 25 January 1942

Fairey Fulmars at Donibristle after a snowstorm, 25 January 1942
"Fairey Fulmar planes grounded in the snow after a storm." Royal Naval Air Station Donibristle, 25 January 1942. © IWM (A 7252).
Battle of the Pacific: Thailand, on 25 January 1942, declares war on the Allies, and Britain, New Zealand, and South Africa reciprocate. While Thailand does not have a particularly imposing military, it does have an extremely useful location for Japanese troops invading Burma. General Archibald Wavell, Commander in Chief Australian-British- Dutch-American (ABDA) Command, South West Pacific, visits Rangoon and finds the situation deteriorating rapidly. The battle line is west of the Salween River, opposite Moulmein, and Wavell orders Moulmein held. The Japanese are bringing up reinforcements via Thailand, however, and the unit tasked with holding Moulmein, the 16th Brigade, Indian 17th Division, is overmatched and at best can delay the Japanese.

Fairey Fulmars at Donibristle after a snowstorm, 25 January 1942
"Fairey Fulmar planes grounded in the snow after a storm."  Royal Naval Air Station Donibristle, 25 January 1942. © IWM (A 7251).
On the Malay Peninsula, Lieutenant General Arthur Percival orders a withdrawal in central Johore State. The British are unable to hold Batu Pahat after furious battles during the day, including attempts to reinforce the garrison with the British 53rd Brigade Group. Indian 3 Corps begins pulling out of the area after dark.

25-pounder in Malaya, January 1942
"Malaya. AIF artillerymen firing a 25 pounder gun from beside a rubber plantation." January 1942. Australian War Memorial 011303/30.
In Borneo, the Japanese expand their hold at Balikpapan, where they already are in possession of the critical refinery. Their advance southward is slow because the Dutch garrison has destroyed the bridges on the main coastal road. Late in the day, the Japanese reach Balikpapan City, which the Dutch have abandoned. The Japanese send their Surprise Attack Unit south of the Reservoir and head upriver toward the village of Banoeabaroe. The remaining Dutch troops in the area attempt to withdraw via the coast road, but the Surprise Attack Unit cuts them off. After that, the Surprise Attack returns to Balikpapan City and helps to complete its occupation.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, 25 January 1942
The Richmond Times-Dispatch for 25 January 1942 has timely news about the Battle of the Makassar Strait, an American victory.
In the Philippines, the eastern half of the Allied line controlled by II Corps pulls back under pressure. I Corps, in control of the western half of the line, also pulls back and abandons its defenses at Mauban south of Moron (Morong). The Japanese roadblock on West Road behind the main front line continues to be a thorn in the I Corps side, and the US command has to divert additional troops to it from the west. The small Japanese bridgehead far to the south at Quinauan and Longoskawayan Points also holds out against fierce Allied attacks, though it is being forced back against some cliffs. It is a bitter battle, with heavy casualties on both sides. The retreat down the Bataan Peninsula has progressed so far now that the southern beach areas now shift from the control of the Service Command Area to the military commanders of I and II Corps.

Warangoi River, New Britain, near Rabaul, 25 January 1942
"Warangoi River, New Britain. 1942-01. The Adler River, in the Bainings Mountains on the eastern side of the Gazelle Peninsula, an obstacle to the Australian troops retreating from Rabaul after the successful attack by Japanese forces. This is the point where at least two parties of retreating Australian troops crossed the Adler River. The first party of twenty-one men from the Anti-aircraft Battery Rabaul and the 17th Anti-tank Battery crossed here on 1942-01-26 securing a lawyer vine rope to cross the river. This image was taken in late January 1942 and shows some of the men of Sergeant L. I. H. (Les) Robbins' party fording the river as they make their way south toward Palmalmal Plantation and rescue in April 1942." The Japanese are in firm control of the port of Rabaul on 25 January 1942, but their grip on the rest of New Britain is tenuous. The retreating Australian troops have nowhere to go and little hope of rescue, but they can hide out in the jungles for as long as they can find food and water. Australian War Memorial P02395.012.
Sailors in the Japanese Navy continue to feel invulnerable and use their submarines to take potshots at US military installations. on 25 January 1942, Japanese submarine I-73 shells the US base on Midway Island. Meanwhile, I-59 enters Sabang Roads, Sumatra (Indonesia) and sinks a freighter and captures part of the crew.

General Rommel inspecting the front, January 1942
Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel on an inspection tour of the front, January 1942 (Gemini, Ernst A., Federal Archive Figure 183-H26262).
Battle of the Mediterranean: Panzer Group Africa continues its offensive and takes Msus. British 1st Armoured Division, 13 Corps, falls back on Mechili. Indian 4th Division evacuates Benghazi and Barce, protected by a small detachment of tanks from the 1st Armoured Division. British General Neal Ritchie, General Officer Commanding Eighth Army, then orders Indian 4th Division and 1st Armoured Division to prepare a counterattack.

U-123, 25 January 1942
U-123 (Kptlt. Reinhard Hardegen, shown here in January/February 1942, was the first U-boat operating off the east coast of the United States as part of Operation Drumbeat. On 25 January 1942, it sinks British freighter Culebra.
Battle of the Atlantic: Operation Paukenschlag (Drumbeat), the U-boat offensive off the east coast of the United States, continues claiming victims. U-125 (Kptlt. Ulrich Folkers) is on its third patrol out of Lorient attacks 7294-ton US tanker Olney off Cape Lookout, North Carolina. Attempting to escape, Olney's captain grounds the tanker. Olney later proceeds to port, its minor damage is repaired, and returns to service.

U-130 (KrvKpt. Ernst Kals) is on its second patrol out of Lorient. Today, it is operating off the coast of New Jersey and torpedoes and sinks 9305-ton Norwegian tanker Varanger. Everyone is rescued.

British freighter Culebra, sunk on, 25 January 1942
British freighter Culebra, sunk by U-123 on 25 January 1942.
U-123 (Kptlt. Reinhard Hardegen) is on its seventh patrol out of Lorient. It was the first U-boat to reach the US east coast and now is on its way back to France. Today, in the mid-Atlantic, it uses its deck gun to attack and sink 3044-ton British freighter Culebra, which was dispersed from Convoy ON-53 and is en route from London/Loch Ewe to Bermuda/Jamaica. There are no survivors. Captain Hardegan praises the crew of the Culebra in his log, noting their "astonishing cold-bloodedness" as the Culebra's crew puts up a heroic fight with its deck gun.

U-754 (Kptlt. Hans Oestermann) is on its first patrol out of Kiel. Today, it torpedoes and sinks 3876-ton Greek collier Mount Kitheron about two miles off St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. There are 12 deaths and 24 survivors.

German soldiers in southern Russia, 25 January 1942
German soldiers on the march in southern USSR, January 1942 (Grunewald, Federal Archive Picture 101I-539-0393-26A).
Eastern Front: The Red Army advance west of Moscow continues on 25 January 1942. The advancing Soviets encircle Kholm (south of Lake Ilmen). Isolated in the pocket are about 5500 German troops under the command of General Theodor Scherer, primarily of the 218th Infantry Division and the 553rd Regiment of the 329th Division, but with many other men from other units, too. Unlike in the larger Demyansk pocket nearby, there is not enough land for an airstrip, so all supplies must be air-dropped - which is hazardous for both the planes and the German soldiers who sometimes are enticed into going dangerously close to Soviet outposts to get the containers.

Greek freighter Mount Kitheron, sunk on 25 January 1942
Greek freighter Mount Kitheron, torpedoed off St. John's, Newfoundland, on 25 January 1942.
The Soviet troops are occupying vast swathes of territory during the Moscow counteroffensive, but it is not easy. They are struggling through snowdrifts and over icy roads, and the fact that they are encountering little opposition from the Wehrmacht, which is, for the most part, sitting tight in fortified towns, is cold comfort. Due to necessity, the Germans have adopted a strong-point strategy (also called a hedgehog defense) wherein they occupy isolated fortified towns and villages while basically conceding everywhere else to the Soviets. This has been put in motion not out of some kind of well-thought strategy, but because Hitler has ordered the troops to hold towns without regard to being surrounded. The hedgehog defense actually is very effective (it is "invented" by NATO in the 1970s), but flies in the face of 1942 military doctrine.

German soldiers unloading a Junkers Ju 52 in the Demyansk pocket, January 1942
German soldiers use sleds to unload a Junkers Ju 52 transport in the Demyansk pocket south of Lake Ilmen, January 1942 (Ullrich, Gerhard, Federal Archive Bild 101I-003-3446-21). 
On the Crimea Peninsula, Soviet General Kozlov continues sending reinforcements by sea to his small bridgehead at Sudak, which is far behind the main line. Kozlov is convinced that the Germans don't have the strength eliminate the bridgehead, but German General Fretter-Pico already is diverting troops from 30 Corps which will soon be in a position to attack with devastating superiority.

Hermann Goering and Mussolini at Furbara Airfield, 25 January 1942
Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering and Italian leader Benito Mussolini watch a demonstration of aircraft prototypes at Furbara Airfield, January 1942 (Federal Archive Picture 146-1979-155-22).
Australian Government: The Australian War Cabinet calls up for military service "all able-bodied white male British subjects" between the ages of 18 and 45 years old.

British telephone company repairing lines, 25 January 1942
"At the scene of the 'incident', telephone repair crews unroll new cables on a bomb-damaged London street in order to breach the gap in telephone supply caused by an air raid." London, January 1942 (© IWM (D 6445)).