Sunday, August 25, 2019

February 5, 1942: Empress of Asia Sunk

Thursday 5 February 1942

Empress of Asia, 5 February 1942
Empress of Asia on fire and sinking, port view, 5 February 1942 (Australian War Memorial P01604.001).
Battle of the Pacific: The Japanese continue to tighten their grip on Singapore on 5 February 1942. The British retain access to the sea, but complete Japanese control of the air that makes all sea transits extremely dangerous for them. Canadian 16,909-ton troopship RMS Empress of Asia is part of Convoy BM-12 and is approaching Singapore's western approaches when nine Japanese dive-bombers appear. They focus on the Empress of Asia, setting it afire. The ship makes it to Sultan Shoal, where it anchors. Australian sloop HMAS Yarra successfully executes an extremely dangerous maneuver and comes alongside, taking off 1804 survivors of the crew and 18th British Division. HMAS Bendigo picks up 78 men in the water, and HMAS Wollongong later rescues two more, the Empress of Asia's master and chief engineer. Only sixteen men perish, all in the initial attack. After everyone who survived is rescued, the Empress of Asia sinks near Sultan Shoal. More important than the loss of the ship itself (which could have taken off refugees from Singapore) is the loss of all the military equipment on board which is badly needed by the British and Chinese defenders on the island.

Empress of Asia, 5 February 1942
Empress of Asia on fire and sinking, starboard view, 5 February 1942 (Australian War Memorial P01604.002).
On land in Singapore, the situation is growing dire for the British. Japanese commander General Tomoyuki Yamashita ostentatiously moves into the former Imperial Palace of the Sultan of Johore on the northern side of the causeway. This gives him a panoramic view of the causeway and the north shore of Singapore Island. This creates an appearance that the Japanese invasion will come at the causeway, which British  Lieutenant-General Ernest Percival, General Officer Commanding Malaya Command, expects. Percival reinforces the area along the coast west of the causeway. General Yamashita currently plans his invasion for 9 February 1942 and refuses to leave the palace despite British artillery fire. He correctly surmises that the British will not shell the palace itself for fear of angering the native Johor population. British Major-General Gordon Bennett, in command of the artillery, is informed by Australian spotters of Yamashita's presence but does exactly as Yamashita expects - he does not shell the palace.

Empress of Asia, 5 February 1942
"SS EMPRESS OF ASIA beached and burning. Most of the troops on board were rescued, but nearly all their weapons and equipment were lost. EMPRESS OF ASIA was the only vessel of the convoy reinforcing Malaya to be lost under the air attack. The vessel on the right is SS FELIX ROUSELL." IWM © HU 67641.  
Everyone in Singapore (but not overseas) knows that the British are in trouble, and that includes the locals. They do not want their island to become a battleground. and there are many spies for the Japanese (some or all being Japanese Army infiltrators). They previously have built fortifications for the British with an obvious lack of enthusiasm. The British defense of Singapore thus is compromised from within as well as vulnerable due to geography.

British troops on maneuvers in Northern Ireland, 5 February 1942
"A patrol from 4th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, advance warily alongside a hedge during training at Omagh in Northern Ireland, 5 February 1942." © IWM (H 17112).
In the Philippines, the US Army I Corps in the western half of the Main Line of Resistance (MLR) plans a major operation to eliminate the several Japanese pockets that remain behind the MLR. The Japanese are pushed back at the Quinauan Point pocket and now are in a desperate situation. At Corregidor, the submarine USS Seadragon loads up 21 Army and Navy personnel, 1000 pounds of communications equipment, 23 torpedoes, and 4000 of submarine spare parts and departs for Java.

The pressure on British defenses along the Salween River in eastern Burma is growing. The Japanese are infiltrating around the Indian troops defending the river line and preparing to dislodge them. General Archibald Wavell, Commander in Chief ABDA Command, visits the area to the west of the river opposite Moulmein. This is the key defensive line in eastern Burma and its loss would be a terrific blow to the Allied position there.

The Imperial Japanese Navy sends seven flying boats to bomb Port Moresby at 03:00. They hit an ammunition (aminol) dump and cause damage in town. Air attacks at 09:15 and 10:20 damage Lae, New Guinea.

Empress of Asia, 5 February 1942
RMS Empress of Asia during its service with Canadian Pacific Steamships.
Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht on 5 February 1942 achieves another important goal in its continuing recovery from the Red Army counteroffensive at Moscow. Following a six-day attack through blinding snowstorms and over icy roads, Ninth Army's 46th Panzer Corps makes contact with XXIII Corps near Rzhev. This restores another supply route to German forces trapped in the East and creates a pocket around Soviet Twenty-Ninth Army south of Rzhev. This large Red Army force is now trapped between very weak German lines which could easily be routed or simply bypassed in isolated places. However, the Stavka still (with some justification) believes that its troops remain on the offensive and at this time has no plans to retreat. Thus, both sides believe they hold the initiative and are operating almost with disregard for what the other side is doing.

European Air Operations: A winter lull in operations continues following an abortive RAF minelaying attempt on 4 February. The Luftwaffe launches various missions against shipping and sinks 3431-ton collier SS Corland in the Thames Estuary. All 27 men aboard survive.

HMS Arbutus (K 86), 5 February 1942
HMS Arbutus (K 86), sunk by U-136 on 5 February 1942.
Battle of the Atlantic:  U-136 (Kptlt. Heinrich Zimmermann), on its first patrol out of Bergen, torpedoes and sinks 925-ton British corvette HMS Arbutus (K 86) in the North Atlantic about 340 miles northwest of Erris Head, Ireland. There are 42 deaths, including the commander, and 33 survivors (one of whom soon expires of exposure).

U-103, 5 February 1942
U-103 in 1941/42, showing its 3.7 cm Flak gun (Weiß, Federal Archive Bild 101II-MW-3930-23A).
U-103 (Kptlt. Werner Winter), on its sixth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes, shells, and sinks 8403-ton US tanker China Arrow about 170 miles (282 km) off the Delaware coast and northeast of Norfolk, Virginia. Everyone on board, all 37 men, survive after taking to the boats and being spotted by aircraft on 7 February. China Arrow takes 81,773 barrels of fuel oil to the bottom with it. The ship's master, Paul H. Browne, receives the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal for staying with the radio operator on the ship and setting up an emergency radio transmitting to inform the Coast Guard of the incident and giving the position.

U-103 also torpedoes and sinks 8327-ton US tanker India Arrow in the same area. There are 12 survivors and 26 dead, and the ship takes 88,369 tons of diesel fuel with it. This sinking is sometimes listed as having occurred on 4 February 1942.

U-109 (Kptlt. Heinrich Bleichrodt), on its fourth patrol out of Lorient, shells and sinks 3531-ton Panamanian collier SS Halcyon about 300 miles northeast of Bermuda. The date of this sinking is uncertain, some sources place it as taking place at 23:00 on 5 February 1942, others on the morning of 6 February 1942.  There are three deaths and 27 survivors.

GMC Jimmy of World War II, 5 February 1942
GMC CCKW 353 2½-ton 6x6 cargo truck, aka the "Jimmy" or the "Deuce and a Half." These and its variants were built in large numbers between 1941 and 1945 for the U.S. Army and its allies. The Afrika Korps captured many of these in North Africa.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Following the Afrika Corps' whirlwind advance past Benghazi, Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel calls a halt to the advance. He consolidates his forces by pulling back his most advanced units to Tmimi ("At Tamimi") and focuses on stocking up on supplies. The British likewise consolidate their defenses at the Gazala Line. This begins a long period when both sides build up their forces and wait for the other side to make the next move. While the Germans have not reached some major objectives such as Tobruk or the Egyptian frontier, they have dramatically improved the Axis hold on the Mediterranean. Now, Allied convoys to Malta must pass close to Luftwaffe bases either in Crete or near Benghazi. The Afrika Korps also benefits from captured British vehicles (American lend-lease 2-1/2 ton trucks) and stores. In Benghazi, Rommel is delighted to find that the British never removed his own former ammunition stocks which he had been forced to leave behind during the December retreat. His troops badly need this ammunition and put it to good use.

SS Halcyon, sunk on  5 February 1942
About 23:00 on 5 February 1942, U-109 shells and sinks 3530-ton Panamanian collier SS Halcyon (shown) while en route from Halifax to Demerara.
Partisans: The partisan uprising in the Balkans has captured the imagination of the Allies. Today, in Operation Disclaim, a British Force 133 airborne mission by the Special Operations Executive begins. Two British and two Yugoslav soldiers, under the command of Major Cavan Elliot, drop into the countryside to the east of Sarajevo. Their mission is to link up with Colonel Draža Mihailovic’s Četnik royalist resistance. However, Croat forces allied with the Germans quickly catch the four men and hand them over to the Germans.

Iranian/Vichy French Relations: The Iranian government, now completely under the control of the Allies, severs relations with Vichy France.

Fifth Air Force shield, 5 February 1942
Fifth Air Force is formed on 5 February 1942. Previously, it had been the Air Office of the Philippine Department, formed in March 1912, and later the Philippine Army Air Corps, established in 1935, and then the Philippine Department Air Force, activated on 20 September 1941, and then the Far East Air Force, established on 16 November 1941. The USAF Fifth Air Force continues in the 21st Century.
US Military: The United States Army Air Force (USAAF) decides to change the names of its overseas air forces to remove place names and replace them with numbers. This would, among other things, avoid future embarrassment if the location of a particular air force is lost, thus making its name an anachronism. The USAAF Far East Air Force (FEAF) historically based in the Philippines becomes the Fifth Air Force, the Hawaiian Air Force becomes the 7th Air Force, the Alaskan Air Force becomes 11th Air Force, and so on. The newly designated USAAF 5th Air Force sends its 91st Bombardment Squadron (Light) and 27th Bombardment Group (Light) from Brisbane, Queensland, to Malang, Java. The ground echelon remains with General Douglas MacArthur on Bataan, Luzon, Philippine Islands. During the month, 37 B-17Es and 12 LB-30s of the 7th Bombardment Group assemble under the Fifth Air Force umbrella in Java.

The U.S. Navy activates US Naval Operating Base, Londonderry in County Derry, Ireland. This becomes the key base for transatlantic convoys.

1942 Olds B-44 ends production on 5 February 1942
The 1942 Oldsmobile B-44. It includes Fuselage Fenders and Double-Duty Bumpers. The name is an homage to USAAF bomber designations.
American Homefront: "Woman of the Year," directed by George Stevens and starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, opens at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It goes into general release on 19 February. Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr. will win the award for Best Original Screenplay, and Katharine Hepburn will be nominated for Best Actress. This is an influential movie that will lead to a successful Broadway show in 1981 starring Lauren Bacall.

The last Oldsmobile rolls off the Lansing production line on February 5, 1942. These last automobiles are hampered by wartime shortages and include workarounds such as steel pistons and painted exterior trim. However, they are fully functional and include your choice of a 100- or 110-horsepower engine. "Big, broad-shouldered, commanding."

Future History: Roger Thomas Staubach is born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He enters the U.S. Naval Academy in 1960 and wins the Heisman Trophy as a football quarterback in 1963. After serving in the U.S. Navy from his graduation to 1969, including a year in Vietnam as a supply officer, Staubach joins the Dallas Cowboys. He leads his team to the Super Bowl five times, four times as the starting quarterback, including two victories. Roger Staubach later is named to both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In November 2018, President Donald Trump confers upon Roger Staubach the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Sport magazine featuring Joe DiMaggio, February 1942
"True Sport Picture-Stories," February 1942, featuring "Joe DiMaggio - True Story of the Diamond's Greatest Hero."

February 1942

February 1, 1942: The US Navy Strikes Back
February 2, 1942: Germans Recovering in Russia
February 3, 1942: Japanese Shell and Bomb Singapore
February 4, 1942: Battle of Makassar Strait
February 5, 1942: Empress of Asia Sunk
February 6, 1942: The Christmas Island Body
February 7, 1942: The Double-V Campaign
February 8, 1942: Japan Invades Singapore
February 9, 1942: French Liner Normandie Capsizes
February 10, 1942: US Car Production Ends
February 11, 1942: Tomforce Fails on Singapore
February 12, 1942: The Channel Dash
February 13, 1942: Japanese Paratroopers In Action
February 14, 1942: RAF Orders Terror Raids
February 15, 1942: Japan Takes Singapore
February 17, 1942: Indian Troops Defect to Japanese
February 18, 1942: Battle of Badung Strait
February 19, 1942: FDR Authorizes Internment Camps
February 20, 1942: O'Hare the Hero
February 21, 1942: Crisis in Burma
February 22, 1942: Bomber Harris Takes Over
February 23, 1942: Bombardment of Ellwood, California
February 24, 1942: US Raid on Wake Island
February 25, 1942: Battle of Los Angeles
February 26, 1942: Gneisenau Eliminated
February 27, 1942: Battle of Java Sea
February 28, 1942: Battle of Sunda Strait


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