Friday, September 27, 2019

February 21, 1942: Crisis in Burma

Saturday 21 February 1942

HMS Graph, 21 February 1942
HMS Graph during sea trials off the Clyde, 19-21 February 1942. The Graph was U-570 before being captured. © IWM (A 9817).
Battle of the Pacific: In Burma, the Japanese win the race for Sittang Bridge near Mokpalin in a chaotic scene on 21 February 1942. A hodgepodge of British units holds the bridge against attacks while retreating Allied troops try to reach it. Due to Japanese infiltration, they wind up attacking both the eastern and western ends of the bridge, stretching the defending troops. The Japanese are so strong that they beat back the 3rd and 5th Gurkhas approaching from the east in hand-to-hand combat. The day ends with the British barely holding the bridge itself but little else in the area. They are in danger of having to destroy the bridge with most of the 17th Division still on the other side.

Meanwhile, the 16th Indian Brigade and 46th Indian Infantry Brigade of the Indian 17th Division are stuck on a hot, dusty road in their retreat from the Bilin River. They are harassed by Japanese fighters strafing the road and setting vehicles alight and also short of essentials like water. The Japanese reach the division's headquarters at Kyaikto, which barely holds out while it prepared to evacuate. The retreating column loses its discipline, with some men abandoning the road and taking refuge in the nearby Bogyagi Rubber Estate. Many men form up into small units or proceed alone through the jungle, always in danger of being spotted by Japanese snipers or running into ambushes. The American Volunteer Group (AVG) "Flying Tigers" now operate out of Rangoon. The First Squadron successfully attacks Tak Aerodrome at Rahaeng, destroying a fighter and two bombers. In general, the AVG pilots can establish aerial superiority over critical areas when necessary. However, when they try to help out the retreating 17th Division today, the Flying Tigers mistakenly attack some of the men they are trying to help on the road, killing 160 of them and only adding to the horrific scene of blazing vehicles and dying men.

NY Times, 21 February 1942
The 21 February 1942 New York Times features General MacArthur ("The Army reports that this is believed to be the most recent picture") on the front page. He is a symbol of United States resistance to Japanese aggression. Unkown to Times readers, today the War Department orders MacArthur to leave Bataan and eventually head to Australia.
In the Philippines, the fighting along the Main Line of Resistance (MLR) has died down as the Japanese bring in reinforcements for the final drive into the Bataan Peninsula. There is an eerie quiet as the Japanese pull back all of their outposts from the river in order to reorganize. General Douglas MacArthur receives orders from the War Department to follow Manuel Quezon to Mindanao and then proceed to Australia to take command of all Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific (a role now filled by default by Major General George H. Brett, Deputy Commanding General ABDA Command). MacArthur very briefly considers resigning his command and remaining as a private, but reconsiders and decides to follow orders. The Japanese have blocked most shipping from reaching Bataan, but submarines can still make the journey, and blockade runner Elcano makes it through today with half a ton of supplies for Corregidor.

Java remains the Allies' bastion in the Netherlands East Indies, but it is basically surrounded now that the Japanese have taken the islands around it. The decision of Australia to divert its men to the homeland also is reducing Allied options. General Brett tells the War Department, which still feels that the Allies can hold Java, that he is evacuating the Fifth Air Force and other troops from Java back to Australia. Today, USAAF Fifth Air Force bombers based at Surabaya, Java, attack on Japanese shipping and on Japanese positions on Bali which are thought to be preparing an invasion of Java. ABDA Commander General Archibald Wavell also informs his superiors that Java will soon be lost.

USS Growler, 21 February 1942
USS Growler (SS-215) off Groton, Connecticut (USA), on 21 February 1942 (Naval History and Heritage Command).
The Allies have a small success on Dutch West Timor, where Australian commandos retreating from Portuguese East Timor attack the village of Babau at dawn. After a fierce struggle, they take the village by sunset. However, this is of little strategic significance, as the Australians are fleeing from the Japanese further east and are simply trying to escape back to Allied lines.

The Sook Ching Massacre continues in Singapore. The Japanese execute an unknown number of men of Chinese ethnicity in various locations.

US Navy submarine USS Triton (Lieutenant Commander Willis A. "Pilly" Lent, SS-201), on its second patrol out of Pearl Harbor in the East China Sea, intercepts two Japanese freighters. It hits Shokyu Maru with two torpedoes but is chased off by a four-engine seaplane. Shokyu Maru sinks about sixty miles south of Quelpart (Jeju) Island.

Collier's, 21 February 1942
Collier's, 21 February 1942.
Eastern Front: The Red Air Force has landed about 3000 troops inside the pocket south of Vyazma within the past couple of days. The Soviet planes fly through foul weather that the Luftwaffe considers too dangerous. These Soviet troops immediately begin consolidating their position rather than trying to expand it. The German V Panzer Corps in Vyazma watches the Soviets but does not have to do much fighting. Both sides at this time consider themselves to hold the initiative, but, somewhat perversely, neither side is acting on it. While the Germans do have sketchy control of areas all around the new Soviet arrivals, they know that the Red Army could punch through back to the East if they want to. However, the Soviet troops don't want to.

Sevastopol, Crimea, 21 February 1942
A Luftwaffe reconnaissance photo of Sevastopol, Crimea, taken on 21 February 1942. The arrow points to a Soviet Navy torpedo depot. The Red Army continues to hold Sevastopol, though it is surrounded on its landward approaches by General Manstein's 11th Army (Federal Archive Bild 168-278-017).
After considering a request for a withdrawal by Fourth Army for several days, the German Army Command (OKH) tells Fourth Army commander General Heinrici that he can begin building a fallback position on the Ugra River. However, OKH still refuses to approve giving up Yukhnov, which is the entire point of the exercise. That must await final approval from Hitler, and nobody wants to ask him. Given the unexpectedly unaggressive behavior of the Soviet paratroopers south of Vyazma, the Germans have the luxury of a long period of deliberation about this.

European Air Operations: The British learn that heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen has moved to a fjord near Trondheim, so during the day they send 15 bombers (6 Halifax, 5 Manchester, and 4 Stirling bombers) to attack Norwegian airfields. This is to prepare for a Fleet Air Arm raid by the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious on Prinz Eugen. However, the weather is poor and little is accomplished. The British lose one Manchester.

After dark, RAF Bomber Command sends 22 Wellington and 20 Hampden bombers over Germany in search of targets of opportunity. The RAF loses two Hampdens and one Wellington.

Circe Shell, sunk on 21 February 1942
Circe Shell, sunk on 21 February 1942.
Battle of the Atlantic: Heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, the heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer, and the destroyers Richard Beitzen, Paul Jakobi, Z25, Hermann Schoemann, and Friedrich Ihn leave Brunsbüttel and head to Norway. They stop briefly at Grimstadfjord, then head further north to Trondheim. Prinz Eugen is one of the three large German warships that made the successful Channel Dash on 12 February 1942, and the British are keeping a close eye on it in an attempt to sink it and salvage some of their reputation for naval supremacy. The RAF launches airstrikes on Norwegian airfields in order to prepare for a raid on the ships.

The Kriegsmarine continues Operation Neuland in the Caribbean to great effect on 21 February 1942. While not as famous as Operation Paukenschlag along the east coast of the United States, Operation Neuland is very successful and greatly complicates the situation facing the United States Navy.

Norwegian tanker Kongsgaard, sunk on 21 February 1942
Norwegian tanker Kongsgaard, sunk on 21 February 1942.
U-67 (Kptlt. Günther Müller-Stöckheim), on its third patrol out of Lorient, sinks 9467-ton Norwegian tanker Kongsgaard about seven (11 km) miles west of Noordpunt, Curaçao. The attack takes place on the unescorted Kongsgaard at 15:32 when two torpedoes hit. The tanker immediately becomes a blazing inferno but takes several hours to sink, so U-67 fires two more torpedoes, one of which hits at 19:30. Due to the flames, the crew is only able to launch one lifeboat. There are 37 dead and nine survivors.

U-161 (Kptlt. Albrecht Achilles), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes 8207-ton British tanker Circe Shell about 20 miles northwest of Port of Spain, Trinidad. The tanker takes a long time to sink, so U-161 waits until dark when it is safe from Allied aircraft and fires a final torpedo at 01:41 on the 22nd to finish it off. There is one dead and 57 survivors.

Freighter Azalea City, sunk on 21 February 1942
Azalea City (shown) is lost with all hands on 21 February 1942.
U-432 (Kptlt. Heinz-Otto Schultze), on its fourth patrol out of La Pallice, torpedoes and sinks 5529-ton independent US freighter Azalea City about 125 miles southeast of Ocean City, Maryland. Two of three torpedoes fired over more than an hour hit the freighter, which quickly sinks at 02:42. There are 38 dead and no survivors. Since there are no survivors, it is only assumed that this incident involved the Azalea City, but the facts match up.

U-107 (Oblt. Harald Gelhaus), on its fifth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and damages 10,068-ton Norwegian tanker Egda in the mid-Atlantic south of Newfoundland. The tanker has been dispersed from Convoy ON-65. Two torpedoes hit, but they only cause a list to port that is corrected by counterflooding (tankers are notoriously difficult to sink due to their unique construction). Gelhaus runs out of torpedoes after firing one more that misses, so Egda is able to continue on to Halifax. There are no dead and 40 survivors.

U-156, which opened Operation Neuland by shelling an oil installation on Aruba, docks at Vichy French port Martinique in order to offload an injured man. This causes a diplomatic incident between the United States and Vichy France (see below).

HMS Graph, 21 February 1942
HMS Graph, formerly U-570, undergoing trials in the Clyde on 19-21 February 1942. "The casing party heaving in on the capstan." © IWM (A 9881).
Battle of the Mediterranean: Military Governor Dobbie further restricts food and fuel rations to the civilian population. He warns London in a telegram that "we have reached a critical point in the maintenance of Malta." There are several Luftwaffe attacks during the day, including attacks on Kalafrana, Hal Far, Luqa, and Ta Qali. The attacks continue throughout the day and into the night with little let-up.

US/Vichy France Relations: French Vice Premier Admiral Jean Darlan tells US Ambassador Admiral William D. Leahy USN (Retired), about the emergency visit by U-156 today to the Vichy French port of Martinique. Leahy warns Darlan (as he writes in his diary) that the United States is prepared to:
take such action in the interest of security of the Western Hemisphere as it may judge necessary and in accordance with existing inter-American obligations.
Leahy is still waiting for a reply to his request to be recalled from France, where he feels very unwanted. The United States has no plans to occupy Martinique at this time, so Leahy is bluffing when he suggests that the United States is ready to act. However, the French Navy has large ships there, including the one-off aircraft carrier Bearn, so it is keeping a close eye on the port.

The New Yorker, 21 February 1942
The New Yorker, 21 February 1942.
Chinese/Indian Relations: Winding up a two-week trip to India, Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek prepares a farewell message for his wife (who speaks English after majoring in English literature at Wellesley) to broadcast over the radio. Chiang urges unity among the Allies:
In these horrible times of savagery and brute force, the people of China and their brethren the people of India should, for the sake of civilization and human freedom, give their united support to the principles embodied in the Atlantic Charter and in the joint declaration of the 26 nations, and ally themselves with the anti-aggression front. I hope the Indian people will wholeheartedly join the allies-namely, China, Great Britain, America, and the Soviet Union-and participate shoulder to shoulder in the struggle for survival of a free world until complete victory has been achieved and the duties incumbent upon them in these troubled times have been fully discharged.
After this speech, the couple returns to China.

US Military: With President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 in effect, Secretary of War Henry Stimson reassures Congress in a letter that the US Army is preparing to remove people of Japanese descent from the west coast of the United States. There is great concern among members of the west coast delegation that this is not being done quickly enough. Stimson has his subordinates begin drafting legislation to enforce FDR's order (it becomes Public Law 503 after being passed by Congress on 19 March and signed by the President on 21 March 1942).

Detective Fiction, 21 February 1942
Flynn's Detective Fiction, 21 February 1942.
Australian Military: Lieutenant General Vernon Sturdee, Chief of the Australian General Staff, orders Lieutenant General John Lavarack, General Officer Commanding I Australian Corps, and his staff to evacuate Java and return to Australia. This comports with a recent decision by Prime Minister John Curtin to repatriate all Australian troops not involved in actual combat to the homeland. In his instructions to ABDA Commander General Sir Archibald Wavell, Sturdee also asks for the return of Australian troops that on 18 February arrived on SS Orcades at Batavia.

British Military: The British remove Burma from the ABDA Command and it reverts to a purely British Empire war zone. The British 7th Armored Brigade arrives in Rangoon Harbor from the Middle East.

Australian Women's Weekly, 21 February 1942
Australian Women's Weekly, 21 February 1942.
Vichy French Military: Battleship Dunkerque arrives in Toulon after repairs at Oran, Algeria.

Uruguay: President Alfredo Baldomir dissolves congress and assumes dictatorial powers.

India: A non-party conference opens in Delhi under the auspices of Tej Bahadur Sapru. The goal is to claim Dominion status through dialogue rather than through resistance, as advocated by some other Indian leaders.

This is War, 21 February 1942
Episode 2 of "This is War," broadcast on 21 February 1942.
American Homefront: Episode 2 of Norman Corwin's series "This is War" is broadcast over all four national radio networks. This episode is entitled "The White House at War" and is narrated by actor Paul Lukas.

Future History: Margarethe von Trotta is born in Berlin. She becomes an actress, with her first contribution behind the scenes to Volker Schlöndorff’s "The Sudden Wealth of the Poor People of Kombach" (1971). The two become a film team and get married, with Volker passing away in 1991. She becomes known as a "feminist filmmaker" who creates documentaries often centered around female historical figures such as Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt or fictional heroines. Usually, her heroines champion women's rights and seek to upset the status quo. Margarethe von Trotta remains active in the German film industry as of 2019.

The Saturday Evening Post, 21 February 1942
The Saturday Evening Post of 21 February 1942, with a cover design by Rudy Arnold.

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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