Monday, February 25, 2019

December 2, 1941: Climb Mount Niitaka

Tuesday 2 December 1941

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941
"HMS 'Prince of Wales', the flagship of Force Z, approaching her berth at the Singapore naval base, 2 December 1941." The Prince of Wales was the victor in the North Atlantic against the Bismarck, and the Admiralty has sent it to Singapore along with cruiser Repulse in a show of force. This is Task Force Z under the command of Vice-Admiral Tom Phillips. © IWM (FE 485).
Japanese Military: The Japanese carrier strike force is proceeding east toward the United States on a course that is well to the north of established trade routes. So far, this has been successful in maintaining the fleet's secrecy from any passing ships. As it refuels in the North Pacific at 42°N 170°E, about a third of the way to Hawaii, Admiral Yamamoto aboard battleship Nagato in Tokyo Bay radios Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, the commander of Kido Butai. The message is:
Climb Mount Niitaka.
Nagumo does not have to look at his codebook to know what this means. It provides official authorization to proceed with the attack on Pearl Harbor as planned.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941
"It was an event of first-class importance when key men from England, Australia, China, Thailand, Malaya, and the Far East Command met in conference at Singapore. These representatives were Sir Robert Brooke-Popham (Commander-in-Chief, Far East); Mr. Alfred Duff Cooper (England); Sir Earle Page (Australia); Sir Archibald Clarke-Kerr (British Ambassador, Chungking); Sir Shenton Thomas (Governor of Malaya); Sir Geoffrey Layton (Commander-in-Chief, China Station); and Sir Josiah Crosby (British Minister to Thailand). They are here pictured (in the above order) before the conference. Sir Josiah Crosby being temporarily absent." 2 December 1941. © IWM (K 1253).
The message as decoded states that the attack on Pearl Harbor, Operation Z, is authorized to take place any time after midnight on 7 December 1941. The fleet is maintaining Tokyo time, which is a day ahead of local Hawaiian time, and ignoring progressive time changes as it proceeds east (sunsets are happening earlier and earlier, so the men are going to sleep well after dark sleeping well into the daylight). The strike thus may take place at the earliest sometime early on 7 December 1941 according to United States time zones. If the attack takes place soon after the window of authorization opens, it would be in the middle of the night as experienced by the Japanese pilots even though it mid-morning for locals.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941
Japanese battleship Nagato, from which the message to attack Pearl Harbor was sent on 2 December 1941. When the war ends, it will be the only Japanese battleship afloat.
The strike force does not break radio silence to confirm the order. Later, at 20:00, Nagato sends the further code "Niitaka Yama Noboru 1208," which indicates that the strike is to take place on 8 December 1941 Tokyo time and 7 December 1941, i.e., on the first day planned. Since the attack has been planned to take place at or shortly after dawn, this means that hostilities will commence on the morning of 7 December 1941. The die is now cast unless a recall order is sent by Tokyo.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941
"New Zealand infantry greets a Matilda tank crew after the meeting of the Tobruk garrison and relieving forces, 2 December 1941." © IWM (E 6920).
Battle of the Mediterranean: With weather conditions deteriorating rapidly on the all-important Eastern Front, Adolf Hitler issues Fuhrer Directive No. 38. This provides in general for reinforcement of Axis air power in the Mediterranean theater, which was stripped in June in preparation for Operation Barbarossa. The order states in part:
I order, in agreement with The Duce, that part of the German Airforce no longer required in the east be transferred to the southern Italian and North African areas, in the strength of about one Air Corps with the necessary antiaircraft defenses.
The order also appoints Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, recently transferred from the Eastern Front to Rome, Commander-in-Chief South. Kesselring has only his Luftflotte 2 staff and does not bring the entire Air Fleet with him. He will operate with this small staff until January 1943 to control all Axis operations in the entire Mediterranean theater. While the Directive is very general about his responsibilities ("paralyze enemy traffic through the Mediterranean Sea"), Kesselring's primary at this time is to get supplies through to General Erwin Rommel's forces in Libya, which are struggling against the British Eighth Army. An unstated but likely important objective is to rein in General Rommel, who has been operating virtually as a crusading baron with no oversight from anyone.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941
"After some of the heaviest fighting of the North African campaign, the infantry of the 2nd New Zealand Division link up with Matilda tanks of the Tobruk garrison. The New Zealanders had fought along the coast road to relieve Tobruk and end the eight-month siege." 2 December 1941. © IWM (E 6918).
In Libya, the British Operation Crusader is now exactly two weeks old. The ultimate outcome remains very much in doubt, as the British had established a corridor to Tobruk early on 27 November but lost contact again on 1 December. Today, Rommel sends armored forces (the Geissler Advance Guard and the Knabe Advanced Guard battalion groups) southeast to reestablish his pre-battle line and relieve some border strongpoints. This extends his forces and opens them up to British counter-attack because the Eighth Army tanks have been pushed back but not eliminated. The 5th New Zealand Brigade is waiting for them along the Bardia road near Monastir, but contact is not made until 3 December. The 2nd New Zealand Division, meanwhile, links up again with the Tobruk garrison on the coast road, reflecting the chaotic nature of the North African situation in early December. However, depending upon Rommel's further moves, the New Zealanders may just be cut off along with Tobruk garrison.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941
British troops in North Africa look over a captured Junkers Ju 87R-2 Stuka (T6+AN) of 5/StG 2 which was captured after making an emergency landing during December 1941.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-43 (Kptlt. Wolfgang Lüth), on its ninth patrol out of Lorient, is operating with Wolfpack Steuben (named somewhat ironically after Baron von Steuben, a top general in George Washington's Continental Army during the War of Independence) near the Azores in the North Atlantic. It is a full moon, and Captain Lüth spots an "independent" tanker just after midnight. An initial salvo of torpedoes misses. The tanker immediately picks up speed and begins zig-zagging. Lüth then spends hours maneuvering into a better attack position, and at 09:24 he tries again. This time, U-43's two torpedoes hit the tanker, one in the stern and one amidships, and sink it within minutes. The tanker is 7,542-ton tanker Astral. All 37 aboard (including 8 officers) perish. U-575 (Kptlt. Günther Heydemann) had spotted the Astral on the 1st, but let it go after seeing the painted US flag on its side. Lüth either did not see the flag or did not care. The Astral is the third of four US merchantmen sunk by U-boats prior to war being declared.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941
A mobile kitchen in Chatham, England, 2 December 1941. © IWM (A 6443).
Manhattan Project: German theoretical physicist Klaus Fuchs, who applied to become a British citizen in August 1939 (not granted until 7 August 1942), has been working on the British atomic bombs research project. This operation has been known to date as the "Tube Alloys" program. Today, Fuchs arrives in New York along with 14 other atomic scientists for information exchanges. Thus, Klaus Fuchs is in at the very inception of the Manhattan Project (though it is not known by that name yet). Fuchs will return to Edinburgh in January 1942 to resume his work. Unknown to everyone, Fuchs will develop a secret allegiance to the Soviet Union and serve as their inside spy on the Manhattan Project, but this will not become known until 1949.

HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, 2 December 1941
Louis "Lepke" Buchalter in a New York court for sentencing, 2 December 1941. Buchalter will be executed in "Old Sparky" in Sing Sing Prison on 4 March 1944 after a final appeal to the US Supreme Court (319 U.S. 427 (1943) fails 7-0 with two abstentions. He is buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, Queens. 

December 1941

December 1, 1941: Hitler Fires von Rundstedt
December 2, 1941: Climb Mount Niitaka
December 3, 1941: Hints of Trouble in the Pacific
December 4, 1941: Soviets Plan Counteroffensive
December 5, 1941: Soviets Counterattack at Kalinin
December 6, 1941: Soviet Counterattack at Moscow Broadens
December 7, 1941: Japan Attacks Pearl Harbor
December 8, 1941: US Enters World War II
December 9, 1941: German Retreat At Moscow
December 10, 1941: HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse Sunk
December 11, 1941: Hitler Declares War on US
December 12, 1941: Japanese in Burma
December 13, 1941: Battle of Cape Bon
December 14, 1941: Hitler Forbids Withdrawals
December 15, 1941: The Liepaja Massacre
December 16, 1941: Japan Invades Borneo
December 17, 1941: US Military Shakeup
December 18, 1941: Hitler Lays Down the Law
December 19, 1941: Brauchitsch Goes Home
December 20, 1941: Flying Tigers in Action
December 21, 1941: The Bogdanovka Massacre
December 22, 1941: Major Japanese Landings North of Manila
December 23, 1941: Wake Island Falls to Japan
December 24, 1941: Atrocities in Hong Kong
December 25, 1941: Japan Takes Hong Kong
December 26, 1941: Soviets Land in the Crimea
December 27, 1941: Commandos Raid Norway
December 28, 1941: Operation Anthropoid Begins
December 29, 1941: Soviet Landings at Feodosia
December 30, 1941: Race for Bataan
December 31, 1941: Nimitz in Charge


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