World War Two Daily: April 2020

Sunday, April 12, 2020

March 21, 1942: Germans Attack Toward Demyansk

Saturday 21 March 1942

German troops attacking toward Demyansk, 21 March 1942
The German relief force attacking toward the Demyansk pocket, 21 March 1942.
Eastern Front: Having made a rapid shift of forces, primarily Luftwaffe planes, from the successful Volkhov operation, the Wehrmacht opens a vital relief attack toward the encircled garrison at Demyansk. Operation Brueckenschlag ("Bridge-building") begins at daylight through a wilderness of trees and snow. The Soviet defenders are taken by surprise and in some spots fall back in confusion. The Germans have four divisions to cover the 25 miles to the pocket and must cross the Lovat River five miles from it. The trapped men in the pocket are barely holding off the Soviet attacks and cannot hold out much longer.

The Red Army fights desperately to open a supply corridor to the 130,000 troops now trapped on the west side of the Volkhov River due to the Germans' Operation Raubtier. The Soviets manage to open a small corridor for a short time, through which General Kirill A. Meretskov (undoubtedly under orders) personally enters the pocket to take command of the 2nd Shock Army. The Red Army troops in the pocket end their offensive toward Lyuban and Chudovo and prepare to defend the ground where they stand. The Soviets know better than to break out to the East without orders, as troops that did that during the Winter War were disciplined and sometimes executed. Stalin has not issued orders to retreat.

In Crimea, operations have ceased again as both sides have failed in recent attempts to end the stalemate on the Parpach Narrows. General Kozlov, commander of the Soviet forces, is building up his forces for a third attempt on the strong German base at Koi-Asan. General Manstein, meanwhile, is helped by a continuing Luftwaffe building as units return from the Reich after badly needed refits.

German troops using a captured Soviet T-60 tank at the Kholm pocket 1942
Germans using a captured Soviet T-60 light tank in defense of the Kholm pocket (Kampfgruppe Scherer) during spring 1942 (Muck, Richard, Federal Archive Figure 183-J19893). 
Battle of the Pacific: General MacArthur and his party, including his wife and young son, arrive at Adelaide on 21 March 1942. Among those greeting MacArthur are the Australian Minister for the Army, Frank Forde, and senior US officers including Brigadier-General Patrick Hurley of the US Army. MacArthur now has supreme command of all Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific. MacArthur's escape has attracted worldwide attention by both sides. Incidentally, MacArthur already has made his famous "I Shall Return" speech while changing trains on the 20th, and he has nothing remotely as consequential to add today. MacArthur now changes to a special carriage on the Adelaide Express for the final run into Melbourne, where he will arrive on the 22nd.

MacArthur quickly sets to work establishing his General Headquarters (GHQ) Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA). He staffs it with his fellow escapees from Corregidor, and they become known as the "Bataan Gang." This headquarters becomes known for its fanatical loyalty to MacArthur and its insularity. Lieutenant (junior grade) John D. Bulkeley, who led the PT boats that brought MacArthur out of the Philippines, goes on to a brilliant US Navy career and becomes MacArthur's biggest cheerleader, calling him "the greatest general as well as statesman since George Washington."

Brooklyn Eagle 21 March 1942
The Brooklyn Eagle, 21 March 1942. General MacArthur's escape receives worldwide attention.
MacArthur learns officially (he already has been told this unofficially at Batchelor Airfield) that he has little to work with. There is not a single tank in Australia and only 32,000 Allied troops - and most of these service troops. The only combat-ready unit is one brigade of the Australian 6th Division. Official Australian strategy in the event of a Japanese invasion is to withdraw immediately to the "Brisbane Line" in order to hold the populated areas along the eastern and southern coasts. In other words, Darwin is ripe for the taking. MacArthur calls this his greatest shock and surprise of the entire war.

At Taungoo, Burma, about 60 Sikh sowars of the Burma Frontier Force make a desperate and futile cavalry charge against advancing Japanese infantry. This is the last British cavalry charge in history. The Japanese 112th Regiment is still assembling its forces for a major attack on the Oktwin position. The Chinese 200th Division today complete their defenses at Oktwin and Toungoo, helped by the time gained by the sacrificial cavalry charges. The Japanese, having finally overcome these delaying tactics, today close up on the 200th Division outposts at Oktwin and prepares for a set-piece attack. In a formality, the Chinese Expeditionary Force under Lt. General Joseph Stilwell and Chinese Lt. General Lin Wie officially becomes operational today.

Japanese aircraft raid the Magwe Airdrome at 14:30 and destroy nine RAF Blenheim Mk IV bombers and three American Volunteer Group P-40s on the ground, and three Hawker Hurricane Mk. II fighters in the air. Magwe now is the home base of the AVG "Flying Tigers." The defending AVG shoots down two "Nate" bombers.

Opening Ceremony of Warship Week, 21 March 1942
"The Lord Mayor of London (back to camera) inspecting the Naval Guard of Honour at the opening ceremony." Warship Week Opening Ceremony in Trafalgar Square, 21 March 1942 (© IWM A 7981). 
The Japanese have been raiding northern Australia repeatedly recently. Today, they send a Mitsubishi Ki-15 Army Type 97 Command Reconnaissance aircraft from Koepang, Timor, over Darwin to scout out new targets. A US Army Air Force P-40 of the 9th Pursuit Squadron shoots it down after an alert from a coast watcher on Bathurst Island. Later in the day, the Japanese bomb Katherine, Australia, about 200 miles (322 km) south of Darwin, with little result.

Before invading Australia, the Japanese want to completely secure New Guinea. The RAAF today sends four Curtiss Kittyhawks Mk. IAs of RAAF No. 75 Squadron to help defend Port Moresby there. However, nervous antiaircraft gunners there mistake the planes for Japanese attackers and open fire. Three of the four planes are damaged, one irreparably, but manage to land at Seven Mile Aerodrome.

In the Philippines, the Allied forces on the Bataan Peninsula continue to hold out against the Japanese following MacArthur's escape. Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright, commander of U.S. Forces in the Philippines (USFIP), organizes his command on Corregidor Island. He appoints Major General Lewis Beebe his chief of staff. Major General Edward P. King, Jr., is named commander of Luzon Force. Today, General Yamashita sends a surrender demand to General Wainwright that is ignored. The US forces make a small raid on Mindanao to keep the Japanese busy.

Opening Ceremony of Warship Week, 21 March 1942
The Warship Week opening ceremony in Trafalgar Square, 21 March 1942. Note that nobody seems particularly concerned about air attack. © IWM A 7980.
European Air Operations: An extended lull in operations on the Channel Front continues today. RAF Bomber Command sends one Wellington bomber to attack Essen, but it returns early due to weather conditions.

Battle of the Atlantic:  U-124 (Kptlt. Johann Mohr), on its eighth patrol out of Lorient, continues a very successful patrol off of the East coast of the United States by torpedoing two ships:
  • 7934-ton US tanker Esso Nashville
  • 11,355-ton US tanker Atlantic Sun
These add to the Allies' miseries of losing many tankers recently. However, neither tanker sinks completely. Esso Nashville, hit at 06:08 by one torpedo about 16 miles northeast of Frying Pan Lightship Buoy, breaks in two, with the bow section sinking but the stern section towed into Morehead City (it ultimately is repaired and returned to service). Atlantic Sun, carrying a full load of crude oil, suffers only minor damage from one torpedo fired under non-ideal circumstances and makes it to Beaufort, North Carolina, under its own power.

The weather in the Atlantic is rough today, causing 598-ton Panamanian Lumberboat Vamar to capsize off Port Saint Joseph, Florida, in 25 feet of water. The ship was carrying building materials for the Naval Base to be built at Guantanamo Bay. This wreck becomes a favorite spot for sport divers known as the "Lumberboat" or "Lumbership wreck." Previously named Eleanor Boling, the Vamar had served as Admiral Byrd's research vessel and supply ship during his quest to circumnavigate the South Pole in 1928. During this service, the ship brought the first mechanized vehicles (converted Model T Fords) to Antarctica.

German Kriegsmarine submarine commissionings continue to outpace the occasional losses. Today, U-442 (F.Kapt. Hans-Joachim Hesse) and U-517 (Kptlt. Paul Hartwig) are commissioned. The new boats have longer range and capabilities than most of the submarines the Reich began the war with. The new submarines are sent to training flotilla to work up.

Adolf Hitler and General Erwin Rommel at Rastenburg, 21 March 1942
Adolf Hitler personally gives General Erwin Rommel the Oak Leaves with Swords to the Cross of the Iron Cross at Rastenburg on 21 March 1942 (they were awarded on 20 January 1942, but Rommel was busy in North Africa). Rommel is the 10th recipient of this award.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The Italians have become aware of the Royal Navy supply convoys heading for Malta from both east and west. To stop them, Italian Vice Admiral Angelo Iachino sails from Taranto, Italy, aboard battleship Littorio accompanied by four destroyers. In addition, Rear-Admiral Angelo Parona sets sail from Messina with the heavy cruisers Gorizia and Trento, the light cruiser Bande Nere, and four destroyers. The plan is to intercept the British ships sailing west from Alexandria near the Gulf of Sirte. The British Force H, meanwhile, launches 16 Spitfires for Malta from the convoy heading east from Gibraltar.

In a continuing effort to distract the Germans from events at sea, the British Eighth Army launches more harassing attacks against Axis forces near Benghazi. This keeps the Axis reconnaissance aircraft occupied over the land rather than scouting out at sea where they might spot the numerous British ships. However, Italian submarines Onice and Platino both spot British convoy MW 10 and report its position. The Axis command in Rome orders Italian submarines Perla, Acciaio, and Galatea and German submarines U.73, U-205, and U-403 to the area. Commando Supremo also readies the Italian 4th Air Fleet and German II Air Corps for attacks. The Axis air forces get their first victim when 6 Italian Fiat CR-42 bombers sink British motor launch boat ML-129 between Gibraltar and Malta. There are seven deaths.

Axis air attacks on Malta continue today without let-up. The main German target, the RAF field at Ta Qali, suffers repeated attacks, as do the communities near it. Dozens of people are killed.

Battle of the Black Sea: German aircraft sink 2482-ton Soviet transport ship SS Georgi Dimitrov (Георгий Димитров) in Sevastopol Harbor. There are no casualties.

A Bristol Bombay being transported in Northern Ireland, 21 March 1942
"Bristol Bombay in a street in Hollywood, Northern Ireland, after a forced landing at Clandeboye." 21 March 1942 (© IWM HU 110308).
Partisans: Václav Morávek, a Czech officer, has been a member of the "Three Kings" partisan movement. He has had a reputation for daring, even foolhardy, exploits against the occupying Germans. Today, that comes to an end when the Gestapo arrests his colleague Václav Řehák. Morávek tries to intervene and the Gestapo guns him down. He is not forgotten, however, as he is posthumously promoted to Brigadier General and becomes famous in a Czech television series about the Three Kings. The death of Václav Morávek basically ends the Three Kings.

Despite the loss of the Three Kings, the Czechs have real trouble brewing for the Germans. The British SOE has had agents embedded in the Prague vicinity since late December looking for an opportunity to assassinate Gauleiter Reinhard Heydrich. This is Operation Anthropoid.

US/Chinese Relations: The United States agrees to provide US$500 million in aid to China. This is a very strategic move as Chinese troops now are carrying most of the burden of fighting in Burma as the battered British forces there try to regroup.

The New Yorker, 21 March 1942
The New Yorker, 21 March 1942.
US Military: The Assam-Burma-China Ferry Command is activated. It commands 25 Pan-American World Airways DC-3 transports. Their main mission is to take supplies to China over the Himalayas (the "Hump") but first they must supply the Allied troops under pressure in Burma.

Japanese Military: In a curious incident, Rear Admiral Sosa Tanetsuga writes an article in the Japan Times warning of the vulnerability of the Japanese homeland to air attack from the Aleutian Island chain. The Aleutians have been watched closely by both sides for the same reason - their possible use for air attack - but why a Japanese officer chooses a newspaper to broadcast this is a mystery.

German Government: Fritz Sauckel, one of Hitler's old "street fighter" comrades, is appointed Reich Plenipotentiary General for Labor Mobilization. Sauckel's portfolio includes the power, in Hitler's name, to ship laborers from all across occupied Europe to Reich labor squads by any means necessary. This includes "shanghaiing" men off the streets. However, Sauckel cannot (under current practices) use the thousands of Jews now being deported from Eastern Galicia to the new death camp at Belzec (this will change in the near future). Sauckel, whose appointment is a sign of German recognition that the war in the Soviet Union is going to be harder and longer than anticipated, will receive the death penalty at Nuremberg for his treatment of laborers.

Winnipeg Tribune, 21 March 1942
The Winnipeg Tribune reports in its 21 March 1942 edition that the "Women's Land Army Has 21,000 Workers Throughout The Counties of England."
American Homefront: "Secret Agent of Japan" from 20th Century Fox premieres at the Globe Theater in New York City. It is the first motion picture to depict the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor - which, for most Americans, is still shrouded in secrecy and misinformation. "Secret Agent of Japan," directed by Irving Pichel, is a typical wartime espionage thriller starring Preston Foster and Lynn Bari.

Future History: Ali Abdullah Saleh is born in Al-Ahmar, Yemen He will serve as the 1st President of Yemen from 22 May 1990 to 25 February 2012. Notable for developing deeper ties with Western powers, particularly in the war on terror, Saleh passes away on 4 December 2017.

Françoise Dorléac is born in Paris, France. The sister of famous actress Catherine Deneuve, Françoise also becomes an actress primarily in Europe. Françoise Dorléac dies tragically on the cusp of stardom on 26 June 1967 in a car accident.

The Australian Women's Weekly, 21 March 1942
The Australian Women's Weekly, 21 March 1942.


Saturday, April 4, 2020

March 20, 1942: "I Shall Return," Says MacArthur

Friday 20 March 1942

MacArthur at Terowie, 20 March 1942
The MacArthur family (Jean, Arthur, and Douglas) at the Terowie train station on 20 March 1942 (Photo - Terowie Citizens' Ass. Inc.).
Battle of the Pacific: During his seemingly endless train ride from Alice Springs to Melbourne, General Douglas MacArthur seizes a chance at Terowie railway station north of Adelaide, Australia, to make a speech on 20 March 1942.
The President of the United States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines and proceed from Corregidor to Australia for the purpose, as I understand it, of organizing the American offensive against Japan, a primary object of which is the relief of the Philippines. I came through and I shall return.
The phrase "I shall return" becomes a battle cry for many in the Pacific Theater of Operations. MacArthur does not spend much time at Terowie, where he and his party are only changing trains, but his remarks are broadcast around the world. He has had a long, lonely ride to think up what to say, and he does it right.

Wavell and Hutton, 20 March 1942
"Burma. 20 March 1942. General Sir Archibald Wavell (right) is greeted by General T. J. Hutton, General Officer Commanding in Chief of Burma, upon his arrival at an RAF airfield." Australian War Memorial P02491.106.
Elsewhere, the Japanese remain on the attack. In Burma, the Battle of Yunnan-Burma Road continues with the beginning of the Battle of Oktwin. The Japanese 143rd Regiment, reinforced with cavalry units of the 55th Division, attacks the positions of the Chinese 5th Army Cavalry Regiment north of the Kan River. The Chinese quickly pull back to the north of Toungoo, leaving only one company to keep tabs on the advancing Japanese. There is little to delay the Japanese advance on Toungoo, but the 200th Chinese Division now has had enough time to build defensive positions in the Toungoo area which may be useful. The Japanese have the fresh 18th and 56th divisions, which just arrived by sea at Rangoon over the past few days, available.

The Japanese attempt to neutralize the strong Allied air power in Burma by attacking the American Volunteer Group (AVG) base at Magwe. They also attack "Burwing" (the RAF command in Burma). The British pull back from Tharrawaddy.

Brooklyn Eagle, 20 March 1942
The 20 March 1942 Brooklyn Eagle is full of optimism due to the stirring words of General MacArthur in Australia.
In the Philippines, Major General Jonathan Wainwright learns that he has been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General. He now is given command of all U.S. forces in the Philippines (USFIP).

Japanese Mitsubishi G4M Navy Type 1 "Betty" bombers attack Broome Airfield in Western Australia. They attack from high altitude and do not cause any damage because most of the bombs miss the airfield completely. One nearby aboriginal is killed by a bomb splinter.

USS South Dakota (BB-57) is commissioned in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It will see heavy action in the Pacific during the second half of 1942 and later serve in the Atlantic for a while before returning to the Pacific.

USS Grunion, 20 March 1942
"USS_Grunion (SS-216), stern view at rest. March 20, 1942, at the Electric Boat Co., Groton, CT. In a little less than 6 months, the boat and all her crew would be M.I.A." (U.S. Navy).
Eastern Front: General Erich von Manstein, commander of the German 11th Army in Crimea, launches a minor counterattack to recover ground lost during the recent Soviet offensives on the Parpach Narrows. The attack is aimed to recover Korpech', a German strongpoint which was the only major Red Army gain in the recent battles. The spearhead of the German/Romanian advance is the 22nd Panzer Division, which is inexperienced and equipped with weak Czech-built Panzer 38(t)s.

The attack goes wrong right from the start, with some of the panzers running into a minefield and others being slowed by thick fog. The Red Army reacts quickly and blocks the advance with a battalion of T-26 tanks and four heavy KV-1 tanks of the 55th Tank Brigade. After losing 32 of 152 tanks damaged or destroyed, Manstein calls off the attack. The one success of the attack is that it disrupts the Soviets' own planned attack in the same area, so it serves as an unintended spoiling attack.

Mitsubishi Raiden, 20 March 1942
The first flight of Mitsubishi J2M1 Raiden "Jack" was on 20 March 1942. It will make its combat debut in June 1944 at the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The Raiden became a mainstay of the Japanese Air Force in the last year of the war.
On the Volkhov River, the Germans participating in Operation Raubtier have cut off 130,000 Soviet troops to the west. The Red Army finally realizes the danger and General Kirill A. Meretskov’s Volkhov Front launches a determined attempt to relieve the pocket. This bears some fruit and a small opening is achieved through which a limited number of men and supplies can be funneled. However, the Germans are determined to seal their victory and the fierce battle along the river continues. The Soviet relief attempt is insufficient for the trapped Soviet forces to escape, and, in any event, they do not have permission to retreat back across the Volkhov even were that possible.

With Operation Raubtier having accomplished its main mission, the Wehrmacht quickly shifts to the next operation on the docket. This is Operation Brueckenschlag ("Bridge-building"), an attempt to relieve the Demyansk pocket.  There is some doubt whether the trapped men in the Demyansk Pocket can hold out through the Spring thaw ("Rasputitsa"), which is fast approaching, so every day is precious. German resources, especially in the air, are so light that they cannot do even these small operations contemporaneously, but only in sequence. Adolf Hitler personally is ordering these shifts from East Prussia, keeping a close eye on daily developments. The Luftwaffe spends today shifting its units from the Volkhov to the Demyansk area, and Generalmajor Walter von Seydlitz-Kurzbach shifts his attack units into position on the X Corps line. The relief attack is scheduled to begin at daylight on the 21st.

British anti-aircraft gunner, 20 March 1942
"Seaman James Sweeney with his Lewis gun." A gunner on board the trawler HMS Cornelian, 20 March 1942. © IWM (A 8009).
European Air Operations: A prolonged lull in operations continues today on the Channel Front. During the day, RAF Bomber Command sends 13 Manchesters and 6 Lancasters to lay mines in the Frisian Islands. Due to poor weather, only 11 manage to lay their mines in the proper area. The RAF also sends two bombers to attack Essen, but they return without completing their mission due to weather conditions.

"Plan for Initiation of U.S. Army Bombardment Operations in the British Isles" is released by the US Army Air Force. It spells out an agenda of using the British Isles to bomb German infrastructure on the Continent. Major General Ira C Eaker submits a report to Major General James E Chaney, requested on 25 February 1942, analyzing the best methods for this air offensive. It concludes that an effective campaign can be waged by combining USAAF daylight precision bombing with RAF night area bombing. The effects of the bombing campaign can be enhanced by close coordination between the two air forces.

Launching of USS Birmingham, 20 March 1942
"Launch of the U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-62) at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company shipyard, Newport News, Virginia (USA), on 20 March 1942." US Naval History and Heritage Command NH 75592.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-71 (Kptlt. Walter Flachsenberg), on its fifth patrol out of St. Nazaire, uses its machine gun to stop 5766-ton US freighter Oakmar about 300 miles east of Cape Hatteras. Oakmar is unarmed, so the U-boat's machine gun alone is sufficient to force the crew to abandon ship (the seas are too rough to use the deck gun). Flachsenberg then fires a torpedo that misses due to the rough seas, but a second at 21:39 hit forward of the bridge, causing the ship to sink. There are six dead and 30 survivors, with several of the crew lost due to the rough weather.

Italian submarine Enrico Tazzoli (Cmdr Carlo Fecia di Cossato) spots British tanker Davila while heading back to Bordeaux but cannot attack because of previous war damage on its patrol. However, the crew of the Davila spots the submarine and decides to attack it. Cossata dives when the Davila begins firing at him. Both ships escape without damage. This is a rare instance of a tanker attacking a submarine instead of vice versa.

Norwegian 823-ton freighter Risøy is attacked by three aircraft and sunk near Trevose Head, Cornwall, England. There is one death.

British tanker Davila, 20 March 1942
British tanker Davila, which attacked the Italian submarine Enrico Tazzoli on 20 March 1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: U-652 (Oblt. Georg-Werner Fraatz), on its eighth patrol out of Salamis, Greece, when its crew spots 1050-ton British destroyer HMS Heythrop (L 85) about 40 miles northeast of Bardia. At 10:54, Fraatz fires four torpedoes, one of which hits destroyer Heythrop. HMS Eridge (L 68) takes Heythrop in tow, but it sinks on the way to Alexandria. There are 16 dead and 150 survivors.

The Royal Navy is running another major convoy operation to Malta from Gibraltar. Force H brings a flight of Spitfires to replace the planes lost in the recent Luftwaffe onslaught on the island. This is operation MG 1. A separate convoy of four freighters, MW-10, also departs from Alexandria bound for Malta. The Royal Navy positions six submarines in the Gulf of Taranto in case the Italian Fleet decides to intervene. With all of these ships in motion, the possibility of a major battle is likely, and this leads eventually to the Second Battle of Sirte.

British destroyer Heythrop, sunk on 20 March 1942
British destroyer Heythrop, sunk by U-652 off Bardia on 20 March 1942.
As a decoy for the naval operations, the British Eighth Army is tasked with drawing German attention to land operations. It launches raids against German landing grounds in the Derna and Benghazi area after dark.

Malta itself remains under heavy air attack. Bombs land all over the island, and there are several mass air raids involving many dozens of Luftwaffe aircraft. The Germans also increasingly are strafing civilian areas with cannon fire. Ta Qali airfield is so badly damaged that the Army must be called to repair it.

Rhodesian pilot Douglas Leggo, KIA on 20 March 1942
Rhodesian Pilot Officer Douglas Leggo, shown here before his commission, was shot down and perished on 20 March 1942. The message on the plane is written in Shona (Media Drum World).
Partisans: Operation Munich, an anti-partisan operation in the Yelnya-Dorogobuzh area that began on 19 March, continues today. The partisans sometimes make a stand and fight ferociously, but more often they just melt away into the forests and towns and blend in with innocent townspeople. The Red Army has reinforced the partisan forces with trained soldiers who provide organizational and weapons skills.

At the Polish town of Zgierz, the German occupation forces decide to enforce draconian new rules for taking reprisals against partisans. The Germans round up 100 Poles from a nearby labor camp and execute them in front of an assembled crowd of 6000 from Zgierz and the surrounding area.

US tanker Oakmar, sunk on 20 March 1942
US tanker Oakmar, sunk by U-71 on 20 March 1942.
Soviet/Japanese Relations: While both nations are engaged in fights to the death, Japan and the USSR maintain eerily normal relations. Today, their representatives sign an extension of the 1928 Russo-Japanese Fishing Convention in Kuibyshev (the location of most of the bureaucracy of the Soviet government).

US Military: New US Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) arrives in San Diego after transiting the Panama Canal. It will soon begin carrier qualifications. The Hornet has been experimenting with launching B-25B bombers in anticipation of a bombing raid on a target yet to be disclosed to anyone on board the ship. Sixteen B-25s are being prepared for this mysterious mission by stripping them of everything not deemed essential.

British Government: Sir Stafford Cripps, on his way to India to talk to Mahatma Gandhi and other Indian nationalists, stops off in Cairo to receive a briefing.

Railroad Magazine, March 1942
Railroad Magazine, March 1942.
Holocaust: Adolf Hitler discusses the Final Solution with Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels at Rastenburg. Goebbels notes in his diary:
Here, the Fuhrer is as uncompromising as ever. The Jews must be got out of Europe, if necessary by applying the most brutal methods.
It is not only the Jews, of course, who are the recipients of the "most brutal methods." Hitler's first objective, though, is to obtain slave laborers for the Reich's war needs.

An English translation of a dispatch in which the Chilean consul in Prague, Gonzalo Montt Rivas discusses the Holocaust winds up in American files by 20 March 1942. This is the earliest proof that American authorities had reason to know the Holocaust was in progress. In the memo, Rivas tells his colleagues about a German decree that Jews living abroad could no longer be German subjects and that their property would be confiscated. Writing in Spanish, Rivas says:
The Jew [residing abroad] loses German nationality immediately... The fortune which the Reich obtains in this manner will serve to solve the questions in connection with Jews
Rivas notes that "The German triumph [in the war] will leave Europe freed of Semites."

The first mass transport of Jews to the Auschwitz death camp begins on 20 March 1942. Occupation authorities in Poprad, Slovakia, tell local unmarried Jewish women and girls to assemble at the local school at 8 a.m. to be taken to do war work. The Hlinka guard, the military arm of Catholic priest Jozef Tiso’s First Slovak Republic, loads them into windowless cattle cars. The car is empty save for a vegetable tin to serve as a toilet. Within a week, the 800 victims, joined by others along the way, are inmates at Auschwitz.

American Homefront: With fuel rationing in effect, companies are finding creative ways to get their employees to work. Today, the Chief of Transportation at Redstone Ordnance Plant (later Redstone Arsenal) in Madison County, Alabama, establishes a Share-A-Ride program. The Army provides gasoline to drivers with cars who are willing and able to drive other employees to and from work. A growing fraction of these employees, incidentally, are women.

Lil Abner, 20 March 1942
''Li'l Abner'' Comic Strip From 20 March 1942 Featuring Li'l Abner & Mammy Yokum -- Drawn & Signed by Al Capp.


Friday, April 3, 2020

March 19, 1942: Soviets Encircled on the Volkhov

Thursday 19 March 1942

Spitfire on HMS Eagle, 19 March 1942
A Supermarine Spitfire on board HMS Eagle, ca. 19 March 1942. The Spitfires are being taken to Malta with Force H (© IWM (A 9580)).
Eastern Front: The German I Corps and XXXVIII Corps, pushing into the base of a Soviet salient across the Volkhov River from the north and south, respectively, meet late in the day on 19 March 1942. This threatens to trap 130,000 Red Army troops to the west that have been trying to take Lyuban. The most significant Soviet outfit in the salient is the 2nd Shock Army, led by General Andrei Vlasov. This follows a typical pattern early in the war when the Red Army basically shrugs off these kinds of German tactics, usually to the Soviets' eventual detriment.

The Wehrmacht advance has been difficult because there are no north-south roads in the area, requiring a difficult route through snow and trees in frigid weather. The battle is not over, and the Soviets will reopen a small gap, but this encirclement in Operation Raubtier is the first major German success in the USSR since the fall.

In Crimea, General Erich von Manstein is preparing an attack on the Soviet line in the Parpach Narrows. He wishes to recover the small amount of territory lost in the recent Soviet attacks. However, the Soviets also are building up their own forces for a renewed attack. The only question is which side attacks first. Manstein's offensive, which he has prepared hurriedly and that relies on inexperienced troops using sketchy Czech tanks, is scheduled for the morning of 20 March 1942.

Bombs at Port Moresby, New Guinea, 19 March 1942
Battle of the Pacific: The Japanese score their first success in the Battle of Yunnan-Burma Road that began on 18 March when they win the Battle of Tachiao in the Sittang Valley. The 143rd Regiment of the 55th Division advances about 12 miles north and takes Pyu. The next Japanese objective is to attack the defenses of the Chinese Army Cavalry Regiment north of the Kan River. These will become known as the Battles of Toungoo and Oktwin, the main defensive position of the Chinese forces in the area.

Toungoo, now under Japanese attack, is the original training base of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) aka the "Flying Tigers." The AVG pilots and ground crew have had to "bug out" to northern India and China. Lieutenant General William J. Slim, former General Officer Commanding 10th Indian Division in Syria, arrives in Burma to take command of Imperial troops. Slim wants to hold the current Prome-Toungoo defensive line, which is good defensive terrain due to the presence of heavy jungles.

Map of Burma as of 19 March 1942
The situation in Burma as of 19 March 1942 (Charles F. Romanus, Riley Sunderland).
The Chinese troops in Burma are commanded by US Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell, and communication issues arise between the different allied forces. While experienced fighters, the Chinese divisions are the size of British brigades. The British troops are all defeated remnants of the previous Japanese advance across Burma, but Slim does have a potent tank force in the 7th Armored Brigade.

Seven Japanese bombers raid Darwin city, Myilly Point, and Larrakeyah in the Northern Territory of Australia. The 9th Fighter Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group, USAAF scrambles from Batchelor Field (where General MacArthur landed recently) to intercept them, but they arrive after the bombers have left.

The Border Watch of Mount Gambier, Australia, 19 March 1942
The Mount Gambier, Australia, The Border Watch of 19 March 1942 trumpets General MacArthur's arrival on the front page. 
General Douglas MacArthur, recently arrived in Australia from the Philippines, and his party continues the long train ride from Alice Springs to Melbourne, Australia. MacArthur's journey is closely watched in the media, but the trip is arduous, lasting several days. Their railroad coach is tiny, with hard wooden seats running lengthwise that prevent movement within the train between coaches. In addition, the air is full of flies and this is a sheepherding region, with the train stopping once to aid a stricken sheepherder. The journey will require a change of trains at Terowie on the 20th, where MacArthur will make his famous "I shall return" speech. The party could fly, but Mrs. MacArthur refuses.

Japanese submarine HIJMS I-25 launches a Yokosuka E14Y1 "Glen" to reconnoiter Suva on Viti Levu Island, Fiji. As with all similar Japanese reconnaissance missions of the sort, this one goes unobserved by the Allies.

Following the path taken by General MacArthur, Philippine President Manuel Quezon and 13 members of his party use motor torpedo boat PT-41 to evacuate threatened Dumaguete, Negros Island. They sail the 240 miles to Oroquito, Mindanao Island, where the US Army still maintains an airbase.

Tempo magazine, 19 March 1942
Italian magazine Tempo features a cover story on "Surveillance aircraft at work upon enemy positions" in its issue for 19 March 1942.
European Air Operations: An extended lull in operations continues on the Channel front. RAF Bomber Command sends one Wellington bomber to Essen during the day, but weather conditions force its early return to base.

Battle of the Atlantic: The U-boat fleet has been sinking tankers almost every day recently. This has caused great concern in London and Washington and has led to fuel rationing in the United Kingdom. The situation only gets worse today as more tankers go down.

U-124 (Kptlt. Georg-Wilhelm Schulz), on its eighth patrol out of Lorient, continues a very successful patrol off the east coast of the United States when it torpedoes and sinks two U.S. tankers about 15 miles southwest of Cape Lookout:
  • 5939-ton tanker Papoose (2 dead, 32 survivors)
  • 7076-ton tanker W.E. Hutton (13 dead, 23 survivors)
Schulz puts two torpedoes into Papoose beginning at 04:31. He then follows up by hitting the W.E. Hutton at 05:38. The men of both ships are rescued during the day by other passing freighters.

SS Liberator, 19 March 1942
SS Liberator, one of the ships lost on 19 March 1942.
U-332 (Kptlt. Johannes Liebe), on its third patrol out of La Pallice, torpedoes and sinks 7,720-ton US freighter Liberator about three miles west of the Diamond Shoals Buoy off Cape Hatteras. The ship is carrying 11,000 tons of sulfur, which ignites and creates fumes that force the crew to quickly abandon ship. There are five dead. The 30 survivors are picked up within an hour by USS Umpqua (AT 25), which witnesses the attack. This concludes U-332's patrol, during which it has sunk 25,125 tons of shipping off the east coast.

US tanker W.E. Hutton, sunk on 19 March 1942
U.S. tanker W.E. Hutton, lost on 19 March 1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The sustained Axis air assault on Malta continues on 19 March. The list of sites hit is extensive:
  • 1 JU 88 - 4 x 250kg (Ta Qali Aerodrome)
  • 4 ME 109 - 4 x 250kg (Grand Harbour)
  • 5 JU 88 - 20 x 250kg; 30 x 50kg (Grand Harbour)
  • 6 JU 88 - 24 x 500kg (Marsaxlokk)
  • 10 JU 88 - 8 x 500kg; 15 x 250kg; 36 x 50kg (Ta Qali Aerodrome)
  • 3 JU 88 - 12 x 250kg; 24 x 50kg (Luqa and Safi strip)
  • 6 JU 88 - 20 x 500kg (West of Luqa)
  • 13 JU 88 - 44 x 250kg; 100 x 50kg (South Malta)
Despite the air attacks, Malta remains in operation as a supply base for Royal Navy submarines. Today, HMS Unbeaten departs on patrol after a quick resupply turnaround, and Upright heads to Gibraltar and then the US for a refit.

Royal Navy submarine Upholder (Lt.Cdr. M.D. Wanklyn) uses its deck gun to sink 22-ton Italian auxiliary minesweeper B-14 (Maria) about 20 nautical miles south of Brindisi, Italy. There is no record of casualties.

US tanker Papoose, sunk on 19 March 1942
U.S. tanker Papoose, sunk on 19 March 1942.
Partisans: The Soviet partisan movement is becoming a serious problem for the Wehrmacht. The Third Panzer Army war diary states during late March:
There are indications that the partisan movement in the region of Velikye Luki, Vitebsk, Rudnya, Velizh, is now beiing organized on a large scale. The fighting strength of the partisans hitherto active is being bolstered by individual units of regular troops.
Some of the partisans are soldiers trapped during the rapid start of Operation Barbarossa. Others are Red Army troops flown in and dropped behind the German lines specifically to engage in partisan operations. The German troops sometimes see these Red Air Force planes landing in the distance to their rear and know exactly what is going on. As usual, the German response to this problem involves a massive application of force.

The Germans launch Operation Munich. This is a combined air/ground operation in the Yelnya/Dorogubuzh region against Soviet partisans. The Germans also are preparing and begin a similar anti-partisan action in the area of Hlusk District-Pariczi-Oktiabrskij to the south of Bobrujsk, in the eastern Polesie. This latter operation, more widely known, is Operation Bamberg.

In Serbia and Croatia, the Axis occupation authorities issue a draconian directive calling for the destruction of any village suspected of harboring or aiding partisans:
Removal of the population to concentration camps can also be useful. If it is not possible to apprehend or seize partisans, themselves, reprisal measures of a general nature may be in order, for example, the shooting of male inhabitants in nearby localities.
The directive specifies as an example of these "reprisal measures" that 100 local inhabitants be shot for every German that is killed, with 50 to be shot for every wounded Wehrmacht soldier. This is severe even by German standards.

USS Juneau in New York, 19 March 1942
"USS Juneau (CL-52), March 1942. Light cruiser at New York (also known as Brooklyn) Navy Yard, New York City, New York, March 19, 1942. U.S. Bureau of Ships Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/02/18)." National Museum of the U.S. Navy 19-LCM-31285.
US Military: Admiral King sends a memo to President Roosevelt in which he claims that it is "not at all sure that the British are applying sufficient effort to bombing German submarine bases and building (repair) yards." He adds that "It seems that the R.A.F. is not fully cooperative in complying with the views of the Admiralty in this (and other) matters relative to the selection of military objectives." He suggests "a directive from 'higher authority'" to remedy this situation. There is a constant tension throughout the war as different allied services request priority in the choice of bombing targets.

US Military Intelligence warns that the Japanese may seize the Aleutian Islands soon. The Aleutian Islands have been a preoccupation by both sides since the 1920s, with both the US and Japan worried they will be used for bombing operations against their respective homelands. The Intelligence position is that the Japanese also would use the islands to interrupt US/Soviet communications. Soviet-flagged ships continue to pass between the United States and the USSR in the North Pacific area because Japan is not at war with the Soviet Union.

HMS Wallace, 19 March 1942
"Ratings aboard HMS WALLACE being issued with free gift cigarettes. Lieut Cdr J P Reid, RNVR, the CALO at Rosyth is handing out the gifts." 19 March 1942 (© IWM (A 7999)).
British Government: In Parliament, PM Winston Churchill announces various appointments. These include the appointment of R.G. Casey, the Australian Minister of Washington, as Minister of State in Cairo and a member of the British War Cabinet. Australian Prime Minister Curtin objects to this appointment, which he makes clear to Churchill in a testy exchange by message.

British home secretary Herbert Morrison accuses the London paper The Daily Mirror of "reckless indifference to the national interest" for its practice of publishing stories with an antiwar slant. This has been a continuing theme of the Winston Churchill government during the war, as Churchill expects nothing but cheerleading from the British press.

US Government: Congress is busy working on the relocation of people along the west coast of the United States for defense reasons. The Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration issues a report today recommending the imposition of a penalty of a $5,000 fine and misdemeanor conviction with the possibility of up to one-year imprisonment for persons violating restriction orders related to the military zones. This passes quickly, with little debate or discussion.

Holocaust: A new gas van, driven by two junior SS officers, Götz and Meyer, is used for the first time in Belgrade to address the "Jewish problem." These first victims of the gas van are staff and patients at the two Jewish hospitals in the city. The victims are loaded in groups of 80 and 100 and then driven through Belgrade. The vehicle exhaust is fed into the truck, killing the occupants within 15 minutes. The 800 dead in the two-day operation that concludes today are driven to Jajinci, a village at the base of mount Avala, south of the city. There, seven Serbian prisoners bury the dead in mass graves.

Spitfire on HMS Eagle, 19 March 1942
A Spitfire taking off from HMS Eagle, 19 to 23 March 1942 (© IWM (A 9586)).


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

March 18, 1942: Japan Attacks In Burma

Wednesday 18 March 1942

Royal Navy patrol boat 18 March 1942
"HMT ADRONIE CAMIEL with a barrage balloon above her." 18 March 1942 in Milford Haven and Fishguard. © IWM (A 7908).
Battle of the Pacific: In Burma, the two-day Battle of Tachiao begins on 18 March 1942 when about 200 Japanese reconnaissance troops on motorbikes are ambushed while advancing toward a critical bridge 35 miles south of Toungoo and 12 miles south of Pyu. The Japanese lose 30 dead and much equipment but resume their advance as the main body of troops arrives. This conflict begins the Battle of Yunnan-Burma Road which will last until early June 1942.

The American Volunteer Group (AVG), or "Flying Tigers," are still causing the Japanese problems in Burma. At 07:55, they attack the Japanese airfield at Moulmein and destroy three bombers, two transport planes, and 11 fighters on the ground. The Japanese realize they need to beef up their air presence in Burma. So, during the day, the Japanese transfer 420 aircraft from recently conquered Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies to reinforce their forces in Burma.

Royal Navy Minesweeper 18 March 1942
"Motor Minesweeper J514." 18 March 1942. © IWM (A 9738).
After spending the night in Alice Springs, Australia, General MacArthur's party boards a three-car wooden train drawn by a steam locomotive that General Brett has commandeered from the Australians and heads for Melbourne via Adelaide. This journey will take several days and involve numerous stops and changes of trains. MacArthur is traveling by train because his wife, Jean, is tired of flying.

The United States' presence in Australia is still very light. Today, the US Army Air Force has a strength of 213 combat aircraft. This includes a dozen B-17 Flying Fortresses, 27 A-24 Dauntless dive bombers, various other medium and light bombers, 33 P-39 and 52 Bell P-400 Aircobras (export version of the P-39), 92 P-40 fighters, and assorted other transport and trainer aircraft.

USAAF pilot Paul Bateman enlists on 18 March 1942
Let's take a look at an average pilot. "Lt. Paul H. Bateman enlisted on 18 March 1942 at Fort Bragg, NC. Assigned to the 370th Fighter Squadron in April 1943, he completed his combat tour of duty in July 1944 with 301-1/2 hours and 1-3/4 aerial victories and 1-1/3 ground. Aircraft included P-51B CS-O 42-106926." American Air Museum UPL 38438.
Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht scores a minor victory in Operation Raubtier when elements of I Corps advancing from the north cut a Soviet supply road into the large salient on the western side of the Volkhov River. With the "Erika" lane in their possession, the Germans continue driving from both north and south toward the remaining supply lane, codenamed "Dora." The Red Army has 130,000 troops to the west whose only source of communications to the east is along the Dora lane, which now is in severe jeopardy.

European Air Operations: The RAF is in the midst of an extended lull in operations. RAF Bomber Command sends five Wellington bombers to Essen but they return without attacking due to weather conditions.

SS Kassandra Louloudis, lost on 18 March 1942
SS Kassandra Louloudis, lost on 18 March 1942.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-124 (Kptlt. Johann Mohr) has a big day off the east coast of the United States. It sinks two unarmed US tankers. First, at 01:14, Mohr spots and sinks independent 5106-ton Greek tanker Kassandra Louloudis (Master Themistokles Mitlas) about seven miles off Diamond Shoals, Cape Hatteras. All 35 men on board survive. At 08:27, Mohr spots and sinks independent 9647-ton US tanker E.M. Clark (Master Hubert L. Hassell) about 22 miles southwest of the Diamond Shoals Lighted Buoy. Two torpedoes hit, and the tanker sinks ten minutes later. There are one death and 40 survivors.

British 1547-ton freighter Ebro, carrying a load of fish from Reykjavik (Iceland) to Hull (GB), runs aground in Strathberg Bay, 2 nm NW of Rattray Lighthouse (Scotland, UK) and is written off. There is no report of any casualties.

U-653 (Kptlt. Gerhard Feiler), on its second patrol out of Brest, is lurking along the North Atlantic route near Convoy SL-119 when it is spotted by a patrolling Liberator aircraft of Squadron 120/F.  The submarine crew realizes it has been spotted and quickly dives, but it leaves one man topside who is lost. The U-boat sustains damage during the attack and barely makes it back to Brest on 30 April.

Italian submarine Tricheco, lost on 18 March 1942
Italian submarine Tricheco, shown being launched in 1931, was lost on 18 March 1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Royal Navy submarines continue their recent streak of sinking Italian submarines in the Mediterranean today. HMS Upholder (Lt.Cdr. Malcolm David Wanklyn) spots Italian submarine Tricheco sailing from Augusta, Sicily, to Brindisi and pumps a torpedo into it. The Tricheco splits into two pieces and sinks within seconds. There are 38 deaths and three survivors, including the captain.

The Luftwaffe continues its daily raids on Malta today. Junkers Ju 88s begin the barrage at around 08:00, and air battles continue over the island throughout the day. Both sides suffer losses, and the Germans succeed in further damaging Hal Far Airfield and other key points.

Rear Admiral Robert Lindsay Burnett,18 March 1942
"Rear Admiral Robert Lindsay Burnett, OBE, addressing the ship's company of HMS ASHANTI. On the right just below the Admiral is the ship's captain, Commander R G Onslow, RN." 18 March 1942. © IWM (A 7972).
Anglo/US Relations: President Roosevelt sends Winston Churchill promising to send "one new battleship, two heavy cruisers, one carrier, five or six destroyers" to form a large part of Admiral Ghormley's European command. These forces, however, will "be under operational orders of CINC Home Fleet," meaning British command. This suggests that Ghormley is more of an administrator than a commander.

US/Chinese Relations: The United States Navy leases its river gunboat Tutuila to the Chinese government for the duration.

US/Australian Relations: General Brett, now technically General MacArthur's deputy even though MacArthur is still en route from Darwin, announces that the USAAF and Australian Air Force (RAAF) will fly together as a combined force.

British Military: Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten is named Chief of Combined Operations.

US Military: Two companies of the 182nd Infantry Regiment and a company of engineers arrive on Efate Island in the New Hebrides to construct an airfield.

An Auschwitz victim executed on 18 March 1942
Polish Jew Abraham Weinberger (No. 25986) of Tarnów, a political prisoner, was executed at Auschwitz on 18 March 1942.
US Government: President Roosevelt signs Executive Order No. 9102. This creates the War Relocation Authority (WRA), which handles the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The order directs in part:
Take all people of Japanese descent into custody, surround them with troops, prevent them from buying land, and return them to their former homes at the close of the war.
Milton S. Eisenhower (the brother of Dwight) is appointed as the first director despite the fact that he is largely against the whole internment scheme. He writes his former boss, Agriculture Secretary Claude Wickard:
When the war is over, and we consider calmly this unprecedented migration of 120,000 people, we, as Americans, are going to regret the unavoidable injustices that we may have done.
Eisenhower, unable to cut back the program as he desires, will resign on 18 June 1942. However, during his brief tenure, he does manage to implement some reforms, such as raising wages for the interned people and establishing an internee advisory council.

The WRA's main objective is to take internees from their temporary "assembly centers" established by the military's Wartime Civilian Control Administration (WCCA) and move them into permanent camps. This is done successfully at ten camp locations, most of which are on tribal land, though often the arriving internees themselves have to help with the camp construction.

American Homefront: "Reap the Wild Wind," directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring John Wayne and Ray Milland, hits theaters today. While one of Wayne's lesser-known films, "Reap the Wild Wind" is very successful and helps to cement his status as a major Hollywood star. It also is one of Wayne's more unusual films in that he plays a very dark character that is very similar to his later role in "Wake of the Red Witch" (1948). Paulette Goddard also stars.

Female aircraft workers in England, 18 March 1942
"Two women workers sit inside the cockpit of an aircraft as they wire up the pilot's instrument panel, at a factory somewhere in Britain. According to the original caption, one woman is a GTC (Government Training Centre) trainee, and the other has been recently transferred from the canteen." 18 March 1942. © IWM (L 346).