Thursday, August 15, 2019

January 31, 1942: Army Group South Averts Disaster

Saturday 31 January 1942

Churchill tanks on Salisbury Plain, January 1942
"Churchill tanks of 9th Royal Tank Regiment during an exercise at Tilshead on Salisbury Plain, 31 January 1942. The lead vehicle, 'Indus' of 'B' Squadron, is a Mk I with hull-mounted 3-inch close support howitzer." © IWM (H 16962).
Eastern Front: The weather on the Eastern Front on 31 January 1942 is horrible, with snowstorms that close roads throughout the sector. However, some Germans and Soviets formations have remained on the move through the worst of it, or at least some key elements have. The Soviets are trying to encircle German formations tied to strongpoints along their old front lines both by the weather and Hitler's firm orders to stand fast. The German-held towns are easy to encircle, but at least they provide some shelter from the blizzards. Elsewhere, the Wehrmacht is simply trying to block the worst of the Red Army advances while allowing them to occupy empty space. These conflicting strategies come into play today when the irresistible force of the Red Army is met by the immovable object of the German Army.

In the German Army Group South (von Kleist) sector, the Soviet 57th and 9th Armies and some cavalry corps have moved behind the front line of the German 17th Army (General Hoth). Hoth is holding the line in the center of the Army Group South sector, with Sixth Army to his north and First Panzer Army to his south and down to the Sea of Azov. The Soviet breakthrough has taken place in the northern part of Hoth's line, and the Red Army is trying to use two cavalry corps (I and V) to head south to the coast. This would effectively encircle two German Armies and blow a huge hole in the front.

German war correspondent, January 1942
A German war correspondent, holding a microphone, provides a report of the use of a grenade launcher at an undisclosed location on the front lines, January 1942 (Schröter, Federal Archive Picture 146-1976-128-18).
However, Hoth's men have found a copy of the Soviet plan on a dead Red Army officer. Thus, they know that the Soviet cavalry is heading for the coast. There's only one problem, and that is the complete absence of any Wehrmacht troops to block them. Kleist thus has ordered the "Von Mackensen" Group, a mixed force under the command of General von Mackensen (commander of III Corps) that is composed of the 14th Panzer Division, 100th Light Division, and Panzer Detachment 60, to intercept the fast Soviet cavalry. The fate of Army Group South rests on von Mackensen getting into position to block the Soviet advance before the Red Army cavalry opens a road for the two following Soviet armies. For three days, the Mackensen Group plows through the bitter landscape.

General Mackensen, September 1939,
After the conquest of the "Westerplatte," General Eberhard von Mackensen, right, interrogates the captured Polish commander, September 1939.
Today, the issue is decided. Using any means available in blinding snowstorms, von Mackensen's Group arrives just in time to block the road south before the Soviet cavalry can get through. Fortunately for the Germans, the Soviet tanks have fallen behind in the horrible conditions, leaving more vulnerable Red Army cavalry units unsupported in the lead. The most mobile elements of the von Mackensen Group, Panzer Detachment 60 and 14th Panzer Division attack the leading Soviet elements about forty miles south of Barvenkovo. The Red Army tanks have lagged behind on the poor roads, so the German tank forces defeat the Soviet troops on their horses and send them reeling. This leads to an extended battle in zero-degree weather, with both sides gradually feeding in reinforcements but the Germans always holding the advantage because they only have to hold the ground, not take new ground in the whipping wind and driven snow.

Japanese troops in Johor, Malaya, January 1942
Battle of the Pacific: The Malayan Campaign ends in Japanese victory when the last Commonwealth troops able to reach Singapore before the Japanese cross over the Singapore Strait causeway. At 0630 the 2/20 Battalion AIF begins to cross the Causeway. This is completed by 0800. The troops move across the Straits to the haunting strains of the bagpipes defiantly skirling the Argyll tune “Hielan Laddie.”

With this move completed, at 0800, British sappers blow a 70-foot (21 m) hole in the Johor-Singapore causeway. This temporarily keeps the Japanese at bay but also seals the fate of all Allied troops that have not yet made it across.

The British now have roughly 85,000 troops in Singapore, while the Japanese are attacking with only about 40,000. However, the Japanese control the mainland while the British effectively are trapped in a pocket with their backs to the sea. The British divide Singapore Island into three sectors: Indian 3 Corps in the North Area, Singapore Fortress troops in the South Area, and Australian troops with the Indian 44th Brigade in the West Area. There is little fighting for the time being, with activity confined to air attacks, patroling, and artillery exchanges. The British have a battery that can fire on the mainland, but it is equipped with armor-piercing ammunition that is of little use against anything but ships - and the Japanese have no ships. Most of the British shells explode relatively harmlessly in the jungle, while the Japanese artillery causes widespread damage on the island. Japanese troops, often disguised as civilians, quickly begin infiltrating across the strait in small groups.

Hong Kong News, January 1942
Hong Kong News, 31 January 1942.
In the Philippines, the Japanese attack the US II Corps in the east section of the Bataan Peninsula. The attack, launched in the evening, is brought to a stop by artillery. A Japanese regiment that made it across the Pilar River on the 30th withdraws back across the river under cover of darkness. With the Allied Main Line of Resistance (MLR) firming, the Allies begin working on two Japanese pockets right behind the MLR and a third at Quinauan Point far to the south. The Quinauan Point beachhead poses little threat, but it draws off the US 192nd Tank Battalion (less one company) which could be put to better use further north.

Japanese troops enter Moulmein, January 1942
Japanese enter Moulein, Burma, 31 January 1942 (Lost Footsteps).
In Burma, the Japanese continue their gradual movement toward the heart of the country. The British (actually 16th Brigade of the Indian Army's 17 Division, aka the "Black Cat" Division) Moulmein garrison withdraws across the Salween River to Martaban, with the Japanese maintaining pressure and infiltrating troops gradually across the Salween River to improve their position for a later advance.

The small US force of mostly radio operators on Howland and Baker Islands is evacuated aboard destroyer USS Helm. The Japanese send a flying boat to bomb it, but the attack fails. Howland is the island that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were trying to reach in July 1937.

European Air Operations: The RAF sends 50 bombers to attack the German naval base at Brest, France, where it loses five planes. Another 14 bombers attack St. Nazaire, six attack Le Havre, and one bomber attacks Cherbourg.

Japanese troops in Johor, January 1942
Japanese troops celebrate victory in Malaya, 31 January 1942. (Robert Hunt Library).
Battle of the Atlantic: U-82 (Kptlt. Siegfried Rollmann), on its third patrol out of La Pallice, torpedoes and sinks Royal Navy destroyer HMS Belmont (H 46) off Newfoundland. The Belmont was providing escort services for Convoy NA-2. This is the final victory for U-82, which is sunk later in the patrol. Including the Belmont, U-82 has sunk three ships of 19,307 tons on this patrol. The entire crew of the Belmont perishes. The Belmont was acquired by the Royal Navy from the US Navy on 8 October 1940 as part of the destroyers for bases deal and was formerly known as USS Satterlee (DD-190).

 U-107 (Oblt. Harald Gelhaus), on its fifth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 7419-ton British freighter San Arcadio about 590 miles southeast of New York City.

HMS Culver, sunk on 31 January 1942
HMS Culver (Y 87). Commissioned: 30 Apr 1941. Fate: Sunk by U-105 on 31 January 1942.
U-105 (KrvKpt. Heinrich Schuch), on its fifth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks Royal Navy sloop HMS Culver (Y 87) about 450 miles southwest of Cape Clear, Ireland. There are 13 survivors and 127 deaths. The Culver is another formerly United States ship, having once been USCGC Mendota.

U-109 (Kptlt. Heinrich Bleichrodt), on its fourth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 7924-ton British freighter Tacoma Star about 320 miles southeast of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

U-333 (Kptlt. Peter-Erich Cremer), on its first patrol out of Kiel, mistakenly sinks 5,083-ton German blockade runner MV Spreewald north of the Azores.

Free French Douglas Boston A-20 bombers on 31 January 1942
"Western Desert, North Africa. 31 January 1942. Three Douglas Boston A-20 bomber aircraft of the Free French Air Force on patrol in the Middle East. These fast and easily handled American bombers have already proved their worth in desert warfare." Australian War Memorial MED0314.
Battle of the Mediterranean: German Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel begins the next phase of his offensive in Libya. Rommel splits his Afrika Korps forces into two columns, one following the Via Balbia along the coast and the other further inland. The British make a temporary stand at Marawa about 100 miles east of Benghazi but have no hope of holding there for long.

A civilian with a Wehrmacht officer, 31 January 1942
A French civilian in Paris shows a Wehrmacht sergeant a road route on a lighted display, 31 January 1942 (Hunter, Federal Archive Picture 146-1975-041-04).
US/Soviet Relations: A US Military Mission to the USSR is en route to Tehran, Iran to coordinate lend-lease issues with Soviet counterparts. Today, it arrives by sea at Basra, where it embarks on surface transportation.

US Army: Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell submits a memorandum to General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff U.S. Army, informing him of his requirements for a task force in China. This eventually leads to the designation of Stilwell's force as the U.S. Task Force in China.

Major General Ira C Eaker is designated Commanding General, Bomber Command, U.S. Army Forces in the British Isles (USAFBI). General Eaker receives orders to proceed immediately to the British Isles.

NFL linebacker Mike Morgan, born on 31 January 1942
Michael Lee Morgan (January 31, 1942 – December 2, 1996) was a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints from 1969-1970.
American Homefront: US automakers continue shutting down production. Today, the last pre-war cars made by Chrysler, Plymouth, and Studebaker leave the plants. These assembly lines are quickly converted to produce military vehicles.

Future History: Daniela Bianchi is born in Rome, Italy. She goes on to study ballet for eight years, then is named first runner-up in the 1960 Miss Universe contest. A fledgling film actress in the early 1960s, Bianchi gets her career role as Tatiana Romanova, a naive Soviet cipher clerk of uncertain allegiance, in the James Bond film "From Russia With Love" (1963). Daniela Bianchi is still alive as of 2019 but retired from acting upon her marriage in 1970.

Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman is born in Northwood, Middlesex, England. His father is an RAF officer who was born in New Zealand. As Derek Jarman, he becomes a renowned film director,  stage designer, diarist, artist, gardener, and author. He passes away at age 52 in 1994.

Collier's, 31 January 1942
Collier's, 31 January 1942.


January 1942

January 1, 1942: Declaration By United Nations
January 2, 1941: Manila Falls to Japan
January 3, 1942: ABDA Command Announced
January 4, 1942: MacArthur on His Own in the Philippines
January 5, 1942: Soviets Plan General Offensive
January 6, 1942: US Army in Europe
January 7, 1942: Soviet General Offensive Opens
January 8, 1942: Hitler Sacks Hoepner
January 9, 1942: Battle of Dražgoše
January 10, 1942: Building the Jeep
January 11, 1942: Japan Takes Kuala Lumpur
January 12, 1941: Rommel Plans Counterattack
January 13, 1942: First Ejection Seat Use
January 14, 1942: Operation Drumbeat First Sinking
January 15, 1942: U-Boat Off NYC
January 16, 1942: Carole Lombard Crash
January 17, 1942: British Take Halfaya Pass
January 18, 1942: Soviet Paratroopers in Action
January 19, 1942: FDR Approves Atomic Bomb
January 20, 1942: The Wannsee Conference
January 21, 1942: Parit Sulong Bridge Battle
January 22, 1942: Parit Sulong Massacre
January 23, 1942: Japan Takes Rabaul
January 24, 1942: Battle of Makassar Strait
January 25, 1942: Kholm Surrounded
January 26, 1942: GIs Land in Europe
January 27, 1942: Battle of Endau
January 28, 1942: Rommel Takes Benghazi
January 29, 1942: First US Coast Guard Ship Sunk
January 30, 1942: Singapore Isolated
January 31, 1942: Army Group South Averts Disaster

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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