Friday, March 1, 2019

December 6, 1941: Soviet Counterattack at Moscow Broadens

Saturday 6 December 1941

Japanese Pearl Harbor pilots, 6 December 1941
Aboard Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga northwest of Hawaii, pilots and aircrew receive a final briefing on 6 December 1941. Note the map drawn on the deck.
December 6, 1941, is the last day of the old world, where wars between great powers are isolated geographically and containable. World affairs already, however, are hurtling in the direction that they will after that date, just not as quickly. For instance, the Red Army on 6 December 1941 is counterattacking at Moscow and, soon, all across the Eastern Front. The Wehrmacht is in retreat, though that retreat has barely begun. The United States is re-arming at a furious pace and is arming all of the current belligerents is soon to join. Taken in its broadest context, the events that follow 6 December 1941 accelerate the pace of change but do not change a direction that already is well established. But it is still a last goodbye to a world where the starkest confrontations that will bedevil the world for decades have yet to be made.

ShCh-204, sunk on, 6 December 1941
Bulgarian Arado Ar-196 aircraft operating with submarine chasers Belomorets and Chernomorets sink Soviet submarine ShCh-204 (Captain Gricenko) on or about 6 December 1941 (exact date presumed) off the Bulgarian coast 20 miles south-southeast of Varna and near Cape Emine. There are no survivors of the crew of about 38 men. The wreck is rediscovered in 1984.
US Government: President Roosevelt drafts a last-minute personal appeal to Emperor Hirohito requesting a time to restart negotiations. The United States, however, does not make any new substantive proposals.

Japanese Pearl Harbor pilots, 6 December 1941
Fighter pilots aboard Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku pose for ceremonial final portraits, 6 December 1941. Flight leader Lt. Masao Sato is in the second row, third from right. This group will be in the first wave of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Japanese Government: The Japanese government Liaison Conference in Tokyo directs Ambassador to the United States Nomura to deliver Japan's final statement on the state of relations with the United States to US Secretary of State Cordell Hull. This is to be done precisely at 13:00 local time. The Japanese note is in 14 long sections and only begins arriving for decoding and translation late today. The Japanese embassy staff works late into the night on this massive project but falls behind schedule quickly in its efforts to retype the message in English on the appropriate stationery. The Imperial Navy attack on Pearl Harbor is scheduled to begin at 13:30 local time, so timing is critical to get the note into the hands of US authorities as scheduled, before the attack. The note does not contain an explicit declaration of war, but its tone is extremely hostile. Japanese representatives in Washington are burning official documents.

Japanese Pearl Harbor ships,, 6 December 1941
Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi, battleship Hiei, and battleship Kirishima on their way to Hawaii, on or about 6 December 1941.
Japanese Military: Kido Butai, the main Japanese carrier strike force heading for Hawaii, finishes refueling and turns southeast toward Pearl Harbor on the last leg of its journey. The fleet ends the day (east coast time) roughly 600 miles north of Oahu and the plan is to park about 200 miles from it. It is on schedule and there have been no security breaches during the long journey from Japan.

Japanese Pearl Harbor pilots, 6 December 1941
"Nakajima B5N aircrews pose in front of one of their aircraft on the Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Kaga the day before the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941. In the first row, the fourth position is PO3c Akamatsu Yuji; the second row, the third position is Lieutenant Ichiro Kitajima; the fourth position is Lieutenant Fukuda Minoru; the fifth position is WO Morinaga Takayoshi. The fourth row, the sixth position is PO2c Takeshi Maeda." 6 December 1941 (Werneth, Ron, Beyond Pearl Harbor: The Untold Stories of Japan's Naval Airmen, Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA, 2008, p. 265. Werneth's book states that the photo is from the Yoshino Collection.).
On Formosa, Imperial Japanese Air Force planes prepare for an attack on the US Army Air Force bases on the Philippines. Troop transports are heading toward the Philippines from Formosa and the Pescadores. Another invasion force is making final preparations on the island of Rota to invade the US fleet base at Guam, while another is preparing on Kwajalein to invade Wake Island. Troop transports are heading south from Hainan, China and French Indochina for landing beaches in Thailand and Kota Baru in British Malaya.

British motorcycle troops in training, 6 December 1941
"Motorcyclists of 59th Battalion, Reconnaissance Corps at Ballykinlar in Northern Ireland, 6 December 1941." © IWM (H 16470).
Eastern Front: The Soviet counteroffensive that began on 5 December with an isolated attack on German forces near Kalinin broadens to encompass the entire Moscow perimeter on the 6th. In the morning, the temperature bottoms out around -38 °F, which is cold even for the frigid conditions on the front to date. Field Marshal Fedor von Bock approves General Guderian's request to withdraw from the Tula salient before dawn, and he also tells the commanders of the other two Panzer Armies on the Moscow front, 3rd (Reinhardt) and 4th (Hoepner), that they are free to "adjust" their deployments in a westerly direction. Von Bock also directs General der Panzertruppen Rudolf Schmidt to stop Second Army's advance toward Yelets because, if current events continue, Schmidt will be left with no flank protection. Still, Second Army advances just enough to take Yelets, perhaps the final German advance of Operation Typhoon.

British freighter SS Greenland, sunk by a mine on 6 December 1941
British 1281-ton freighter SS Greenland (note name on the bow) hits a mine and sinks after striking a German mine while traveling from London to Grangemouth. There are 8-10 casualties, no survivors.
The Soviet offensive gets off to a ragged start. At Third Panzer Army northwest of Moscow, the Soviet 30th Army scores a breakthrough on the German right flank northeast of Klin and advances eight miles. Soviet Twentieth Army makes a small gain at Krasnaya Polyana near Yakhroma, but attacks nearby by First Shock and Twentieth Army are stopped cold.

German conductor Hermann Abendroth, 6 December 1941
Conductor Hermann Abendroth of the Paris Conservatory arrives for a Mozart concert, 6 December 1941 (Fulgur (Pala), Federal Archive Picture 183-10820-0041).
The initial results of the Soviet offensive are not overwhelming. However, they are just enough to leverage the Wehrmacht out of its front-line positions. Once on the move, with no prepared defenses, the freezing German soldiers with their balky equipment are much more vulnerable. General Reinhardt informs von Bock during the day that he will begin pulling Third Panzer Army back on his southern flank to try to concentrate his forces against the dangerous thrust by Soviet 30th Army. This will necessarily uncover the flank of German 4th Panzer to its south - requiring it to withdrawal as well. While the pace of the Soviet attack slackens a bit in the afternoon, the German generals only view this as an opportunity to save more of their equipment and forces during the retreat. Thus, a chain reaction begins on the 6th, with small German withdrawals requiring others that have the possibility of snowballing into a massive retreat unless the Soviet counteroffensive is brought to a quick halt.

Japanese Pearl Harbor pilots, 6 December 1941
Dive-bomber Pilots aboard Zuikaku posing for a ceremonial last portrait before their Pearl Harbor attack, 6 December 1941.
Battle of the Mediterranean: German General Crüwell, commander of the Afrika Korps, spends most of the day trying to decide which way to attack with his leading forces. To his credit, Crüwell does not needlessly expose his men to further danger, but he also misses some nearby British vulnerability. General Rommel, commander of Panzergroup Africa and Crüwell's superior, begins to see the extreme danger to Crüwell's forces of the massive British Eighth Army armored formations to his south and orders a retreat westward. This decision saves the panzers but abandons the Italian Savona Division in the border area around Bardia, Halfaya, and Sollum. The British 70th Division takes advantage of the German withdrawal and occupies the German "Walter" and "Freddy" strong points. The Italians fight with desperation and inflict heavy casualties on the 2nd Durham Light Infantry before surrendering around midnight. The events of 6 December 1941 basically decide the outcome of Operation Crusader as a British victory, but it has come at a very heavy cost (to both sides). Still to be decided is exactly how far the Axis forces will be pushed back, but Tobruk's relief is confirmed and further actions in the vicinity of the port mostly involve British mopping up Axis remnants.

Dale Carnegie, 6 December 1941
Author Dale Carnegie ("How to Win Friends and Influence People") arrives in New York City after flying from Toronto on a Trans Canada Air Lines flight, 6 December 1941.

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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