Tuesday, March 19, 2019

December 19, 1941: Brauchitsch Goes Home

Friday 19 December 1941

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

With Brauchitsch no longer around to attend Hitler's daily Fuhrer conferences and agree with everything that he said, that role falls to the next in line. That was OKH Chief of Staff General Franz Halder. To date, Halder has been only an occasional presence in Hitler's conference room, appearing only on average twice a month. The two men now actually get to know each other, which eventually turns out to be bad news for Halder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 the 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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