Thursday, May 9, 2019

January 23, 1942: Japan Takes Rabaul

Friday 23 January 1942

Funeral of Field Marshal von Reichenau, 23 January 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The funeral of Field Marshal von Reichenau in Berlin on 23 January 1942. Visible (among others) are Reich Minister Dr. Frick, Reichsleiter Bouhler, Generaloberst Fromm, Reich Minister Goebbels, Grossadmiral Raeder (in black), and Field Marshal Milch (at far right). Notably absent are Adolf Hitler and Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering (Schwahn, Ernst, Federal Archive Figure 183-J00243).
Battle of the Pacific: Around 5,300 Japanese troops sail directly into Rabaul's Simpson Harbor on New Britain before dawn on 23 January 1942. They quickly evict defending Australian Lark Force troops from the vicinity and take the critical port of Rabaul. The Japanese 144th Infantry Regiment under Colonel Masao Kusunose brushes the Australians defending Vulcan Beach aside after a brief fight, but most of the landings are unopposed and the invaders quickly move inland. By nightfall, the Japanese have secured Lakunai airfield and Australian commander Lieutenant Colonel John Scanlan orders his civilians and soldiers alike to disperse into the nearby forests. The Australian troops lose two officers, 26 other men, and control of both New Britain and New Ireland Islands.

Japanese invasion of Rabaul, 23 January 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Japanese troops take Rabaul, 23 January 1942.
Many beaten Australian defenders of Rabaul remain at large in the interior of the two islands for weeks and some for months. There is no way to supply the men, so guerilla operations on any kind of large scale are impossible. The RAAF manages to get is people off New Britain at the last minute in flying boats and a Hudson, but the vast majority of Australians, around 1000, ultimately surrender after the Japanese make additional landings in the southern portion of New Britain. In any event, the Japanese are happy to just hold the northern portion of New Britain along the line of the Keravat River which contains the port and airfield. Northern New Britain turns into a virtually impregnable position due to the geography of the island - aside from a large-scale direct invasion such as that mounted by the Japanese. The invasion of New Ireland and New Britain is the beginning of the New Guinea Campaign.

Japanese occupation of Kavieng on New Ireland, 23 January 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"New Ireland. Japanese troops occupy Kavieng (formerly Kawieng) [New Ireland] on 23 January 1942." Australian War Memorial 127910.
In Burma, the 1st and 2d Fighter Squadrons, American Volunteer Group (the "Flying Tigers") have been giving a very good account of themselves since they began operation in late December 1941. Japanese pressure is increasing, however, and there are fierce air battles over Rangoon. The American pilots have a good day, shooting down five "Nate" fighters at 10:30. They also destroy five "Mary" light bombers and seven Ki-27 fighters after dark. The Japanese troops continue making slow but steady progress into Burma from Thailand.

USS Cassin, 23 January 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Capsized USS Cassin (DD-372) being salvaged at Pearl Harbor, 23 January 1942 (Navsource).
On the Malay Peninsula, the Commonwealth troops evacuate Yong Peng after dark and head south. Some elements of the Indian 45th Brigade which escaped after the lost battle of the Parit Sulong Bridge manage to make it there through the jungles and swamps in the intervening five kilometers. British troops, the 2nd Loyals (North Lancashire), fight a desperate rear-guard action at Yong Peng against seven Japanese tanks which holds the road open just long enough for the fleeing 45th Brigade men to make it to safety. The British plan is to form a shortened line in the south to protect central Johore State, which serves as a buffer zone protecting Singapore. This line is projected to run Batu Pahat-Ayer Hitam-Kluang- Jemaluang. Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, General Officer Commanding Malaya Command, is under no illusions, however. He now sets in motion the first stages of withdrawal from the mainland to Singapore Island, where the British still have not begun building defensive fortifications along the vulnerable north coast.

Balikpapan Oil refinery, captured on 23 January 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The Balikpapan Oil refinery, which the Japanese capture on 23 January 1942 (Collectie Stichting Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen).
Japanese invasion forces moving south through the Makassar Strait and Molucca Passage land at Balikpapan, Borneo, and Kendari, Celebes Island, respectively. The Japanese troops at Balikpapan are in Major General Sakaguchi’s 56th Mixed Infantry Group and the No. 2 Kure SNLF. They quickly occupy the critical oil refinery which the Japanese project can supply a full third of their oil needs. The Dutch send air strikes which accomplish little. Some Allied planes are based at Palembang, Sumatra, and RAF reinforcements begin arriving there today. However, the Japanese are moving quickly and bomb that airfield for the first time today. A Japanese landing force also heads out after dark and lands north of Kendari, Celebes Island, where they seize Kendari Airfield. The US Navy has four destroyers, USS Parrott, John D. Ford, Pope, and Paul Jones, in the vicinity of Balikpapan and they stage a daring raid on the unsuspecting Japanese invasion fleet lying at anchor offshore. In the first such night action of the war, the US destroyers use torpedoes to sink four (empty) enemy transport ships and a torpedo boat before slipping away undetected in the dark.

USS Cassin and Downes, 23 January 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"USS Cassin (DD-372), at left, and USS Downes (DD-375), Under salvage in Drydock Number One at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, 23 January 1942. They had been wrecked during the 7 December 1941 Japanese air raid. Photographed from the foremast of USS Raleigh (CL-7), which was undergoing battle damage repairs in the drydock. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Photo #: NH 54562." Navsource.
In the Philippines, heavy fighting continues in the II Corps sector western flank on the Bataan Peninsula. The Japanese force II Corps to begin withdrawing after dark to the final prepared defensive line. In the I Corps sector in the western half of the peninsula, the Japanese blocking force on West Road continues to hold out despite desperate Allied attempts to dislodge them and free a line of communications to the U.S. troops north of them holding the front. The Japanese cause further problems when a battalion of the 16th Division makes small landings far behind the Allied lines at Longoskawayan Point and Quinauan Point. The local US forces are taken completely by surprise and, despite increasingly frantic attacks, are unable to dislodge them.

Zero taking off from Zuikaku, 23 January 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
An A6M2 Zero taking off from Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku on 23 January 1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel's "reconnaissance in force" is quickly developing into a full-scale offensive in Libya. The Afrika Korps panzers destroy 2 Armoured Brigade of 1 Armoured Division west of Saunnu on 23 January 1942. The British thus lose their only effective mobile formation. This opens the way for Rommel's forces to advance to Msus and thence on to Benghazi and Gazala.

Dwight Eisenhower with War Plans Division, 23 January 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Officers of the U.S. War Department War Plans Division, 23 January 1942. Left to right: Col. W. K. Harrison, Col. Lee S. Gerow, Brig. Gen. Robert W. Crawford, Brig. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Brig. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow, Chief, Col. Thomas T. Handy, Col. Stephen H. Sherrill.
Partisans: The Germans and Italians have been trying to recover territory lost to partisans in remote areas of Croatia since 15 January 1942. This is Operation Southeast Croatia (Unternehmen Südost Kroatien). It is part of a long-term battle against partisans throughout the Balkans. Operation Southeast Croatia concludes today due to the weather, but reduced operations continue into February 1942. The blizzards hamper operations and the operation "recovers" territory only temporarily. The partisans know the Germans are coming and simply melt away into the mountains or discard their weapons and "become locals." The Germans have suffered 25 dead, 131 wounded, one missing, and 300 cases of frostbite during Operation Southeast Croatia. The partisans lose 531 killed and about 1400 captured. The Yugoslavs come to call this the "Second Enemy Offensive" - the Germans being, of course, the enemy. Operation Southeast Croatia has an unintended long-term consequence for the partisans because Chetnik (royalist) troops in the region do not fight the Axis troops but instead quickly flee across the Drina River, while Josip Broz Tito's communist partisans do fight for a while. Technically, the Chetniks may have the right plan, but politically it is a disaster. Tito's men eventually slip through Italian formations in the south of the operation and form up again around Foča. This severs cooperation between the two partisan forces, which causes the partisan movement many more problems than anything the Axis troops do.

Polish troops on exercises in Great Britain, 23 January 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"Anti-aircraft Bren gun team stands guard as 4.5-inch howitzers of the 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment (1st Polish Corps), towed by Morris-Commercial 'Quad' artillery tractors, passing by in deep snow, Scotland." 23 January 1942. © IWM (H 16800).
The German security forces learn some valuable lessons during Operation Southeast Croatia, such as that their Croatian allies are of little help in the mountains due to poor equipment and training and the difficulty of operations in the mountains during winter. A more valuable lesson that could be learned but apparently is not is that encirclement tactics against partisans rarely work except against very large formations (such as those that have tanks and planes) because the partisans can act like locals and simply slip through almost any cordon. Surrounding a large area to "flush out" the partisans requires a vastly greater expenditure of troops and equipment than can ever be profitable for the small gains achieved. During Operation Southeast Croatia, for instance, the Germans use 20,000-30,000 troops, five panzer platoons, and an armored train. This is a vastly greater allocation of troops than the operation ever could have been worth even had it been entirely successful and cleared the target territory of its estimated 8000 partisans. Nothing of the sort results and partisans return as soon as the German security troops leave the vicinity - those that actually left in the first place, that is. The local German commanders can just point at a map and tell their commanders that they successfully cleared a large area - and who is to dispute them? They did - for a few weeks. So, the German authorities continue to believe that encirclement is a good tactic despite its ineffectiveness during Operation Southeast Croatia.

USS Curtiss Biplane, 23 January 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"A US Curtiss Biplane, used by the Royal Navy taking off for a patrol flight." On board HMS Victorious at Hvalfjord, Iceland, ca. 23 January 1942. © IWM (A 7311).
US Military: The Roberts Commission, formed following the attack on Pearl Harbor to study the circumstances surrounding the attack, concludes its investigation. The report assembles 2,173 pages of exhibits which form an invaluable resource for future students of the attack.

BBC Radio Times, 23 January 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
BBC Radio Times, Issue 956, 23 January 1942, covering the schedules from 25 January 1942 to 31 January 1942.

2019

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