Tuesday, October 1, 2019

February 23, 1942: Bombardment of Ellwood, California

Monday 23 February 1942

I-17 shells California, 23 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A Japanese propaganda photo (including a helpful map of the target in the upper right) of the 23 February 1942 attack on California by I-17. Is this an actual photo of I-17 firing its gun that night? It purports to be but probably is a "recreation."
Battle of the Pacific: Residents of Ellwood, California (near Santa Barbara), get a shock not long after dark on 23 February 1942 when Imperial Japanese Navy submarine HIJMS I-17 (Captain Kozo Nishino) starts lobbing shells at them. This attack at about 19:15 is a very rare attack by Axis forces on the United States mainland (this is not the only one). The area is the site of the Ellwood Oil Field, which Nishino once visited in peacetime. Standing just offshore, I-17 pumps about two dozen 5.5-inch (140 mm) shells at oil storage tanks and derricks. After causing some minor damage to things like catwalks, Nishino turns west and heads back to Japan. This attack receives a lot of publicity and causes many frightened residents to flee inland. This incident also stokes anti-Japanese feelings because witnesses claim to see the submarine flashing signals to allies onshore (which apparently is just a mistake by the witnesses). Since this comes very soon after President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, it gives new impetus to efforts to remove people of Japanese descent from the West Coast and put them in internment camps.

U-751, 23 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
U-751 arrives at St. Nazaire, 23 February 1942 (Sheep, Federal Archive Picture 101II-MW-3691-05).
In Burma, the Japanese establish a strong bridgehead across the Sittang River despite the British blowing a key bridge. Remnants of the Indian 17th Division which fought unsuccessfully on the Bilin River cross the Sittang on boats or by swimming. They must leave all their equipment on the far shore and the division's fighting ability is destroyed. Only 1420 soldiers out of 3404 enlisted men and 80 officers even have rifles. Many also have lost their boots and some have even lost their uniforms due to having to swim the river, but the division remains in action. Since they are the only large force remaining between the Japanese and Rangoon, the city is in a lot of trouble. The Battle of Sittang River decides the fate of Burma in favor of the Japanese. The British are hurriedly evacuating Rangoon and having to decide either to ship out supplies destined for China immediately and at great risk or destroy them. The recently arrived British 7th Armored Brigade, which is completely unfamiliar with Burma and not fully equipped, proceeds immediately from its port of disembarkation to Rangoon in a last-ditch attempt to hold the capital.

Adelaide Advertiser, 23 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The 23 February 1942 Adelaide, Australia, The Advertiser highlights Japanese losses off Bali. The truth is far grimmer, but people would rather read positive stories.
Despite fervent vows by the ABDA command to hold Java, it is becoming clear to everyone that the Allies cannot stay there for long. Evacuations begin despite the fact that many units have arrived on Java only recently. General Sir Archibald Wavell, Command in Chief ABDA Command, is ordered by the Combined Chiefs of Staff to move his headquarters from Java to Australia. The future for any Allied troops left on Java when the Japanese arrive is illustrated in Portuguese East Timor, where the Australian 2/2 Independent Company begins guerrilla operations with no hope of rescue or supply, and in Dutch West Timor, where the Australian 2/40th Battalion surrenders.

Early in the morning of the 23rd, six B-17s in two flights of 3 of the Kangaroo Squadron (435th Bomb Squadron of the 19th Bomb Group) based at  Garbutt Field, Townsville, Australia, bomb the Japanese fortress at Rabaul. This is the first such bombing mission. Only two of the bombers actually drop their bombs. One of these two B-17s is "Swamp Ghost." Due to weather and mechanical issues, only one bomber actually hits the target. "Swamp Ghost" has mechanical issues that prevent its bomb bay doors from opening on its first run, so it makes another pass and successfully drops its bombs. However, this second pass exposes "Swamp Ghost" to ground fire. It takes heavy damage (121 bullet holes) which forces its crew to crash-land in a swamp eight miles from the northern Papua New Guinea coast.

The "Swamp Ghost" crew survives an arduous six-week trek out of the swamp. The plane is left there virtually intact until being rediscovered by Australian Army troops in a helicopter in 1972. In 2006, "Swamp Ghost" is removed from the swamp by cargo helicopter and currently is on display in Hangar 19 at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Reinhard Heydrich on Time magazine, 23 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Reinhard Heydrich is on the cover of the 23 February 1942 Time magazine. Unknown to Time readers, an Allied plot to assassinate Heydrich, Operation Anthropoid, already is in progress (cover: Boris Artzybasheff).
Eastern Front: It is Red Army Day (the 24th) in the Soviet Union, so Joseph Stalin makes a radio broadcast to celebrate the occasion. He states that the Soviet People will have a "tremendous and hard fight" to evict the Germans from Russia, but their transient advantages such as the "element of surprise" are now gone. He promises that "the Red banner will fly everywhere it has flown before." Stalin also for the first time makes a distinction between the "Hitler clique" and the German people, a distinction which will become practically a Red Army battle cry. The Germans, meanwhile, well know this is a special day for the Soviets and are surprised that the fighting is fairly quiet on the Eastern Front. There are no new attacks and the German pockets at Demyansk and Kholm are holding their own. This gives many Germans confidence that the Red Army is the one that has lost its momentum after the surprising counteroffensive before Moscow and that the Wehrmacht can "run the table" over the coming summer.

Stalin on the cover of Moscow Bolshevik, 23 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Comrade Stalin is on the front page of the Moscow Bolshevik for 23 February 1942.
While there are no major Soviet attacks, there is some movement. The USSR announces that Red Army troops have taken Dorogobuzh, a village on the upper Dneipr River. It is another strategically non-essential place in German eyes, far from any main roads and not threatening any major German-held cities, but it is important enough to the Soviets for them to mention it. The Wehrmacht is happy to let the Soviets fritter away their momentum taking such outposts in the middle of nowhere while they maintain their supply lines along the highways.

European Air Operations: The RAF has a fairly light day of activity, sending only 23 Hampdens to drop mines off Wilhelmshaven and Heligoland, as new commander General Arthur "Bomber" Harris gets familiar with his forces. Harris has a mandate to turn the RAF as an instrument of vengeance against the Reich by launching terror raids against population centers rather than focusing on military targets as has been the case to date.

U-751, 23 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
U-751 arrives at St. Nazaire, 23 February 1942. It is tieing up inboard of U-85 (right). (Sheep, Federal Archive Picture 101II-MW-3691-12).
Battle of the Atlantic: The British have known for several days that the Germans have sent a battle group of large ships to northern Norway. Attempts to attack the ships with aircraft have failed due to rough weather. However, today the British succeed through other means when HMS Trident (Cmdr. Sladen) spots the ships in the North Sea off the Trondheimsfjord. The ships are just on a normal patrol and are not heading out on a raiding mission. Sladen fires three torpedoes, one of which hits Prinz Eugen in the stern and seriously damages its rudder. The Germans take Prinz Eugen to Lo Fjord at Drontheim for temporary repairs. Eventually, Prinz Eugen must head back to Germany for full repairs and is out of service until October 1942.

U-129 (Kptlt. Asmus Nicolai Clausen), on its fourth patrol out of Lorient, has a big day northeast of Barima, Venezuela. Attacking at 01:20, the submarine sinks 1754-ton Canadian freighter George L. Torian (15 deaths, 4 survivors). At 04:43, it spots and sinks 5658-ton US freighter West Zeda (all 35 survive). Then, at 15:04, Clausen torpedoes and sinks 1904-ton Canadian freighter Lennox (2 deaths and 18 survivors). All of these ships are independents, as convoys have not yet been organized this far south.

HMAS Ping Wo, 23 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
HMAS Ping Wo. A 3105-ton Chinese river steamer, Ping Wo is used on 23 February 1942 to tow the disabled HMAS Vendetta from the Javan port of Tanjung Priok to Fremantle, Western Australia. This is part of the general evacuation of Java. The tow to Fremantle takes 62 days, or 72 days if you count an additional tow to Port Phillip Bay (Royal Australian Navy).
U-502 (Kptlt. Jürgen von Rosenstiel), on its second patrol out of Lorient, also has a big day about 75 miles north of Aruba. After missing with two torpedoes, U-502 finally hits 8329-ton Panamanian tanker Thalia with a third at 10:32. Tankers are hard to sink, though, and another two torpedoes fail to sink it. Finally, von Rosenstiel surfaces and rakes the burning tanker with 103 rounds from his deck gun. This does the trick. There are 40 survivors and one dead. At 16:43, von Rosenstiel strikes again, torpedoing 9002-ton US tanker Sun (carrying only water ballast) with one torpedo. The explosion causes extensive damage that would sink a freighter, and the crew abandons ship. However, the compartmentalized structure of the tanker saves it, and the crew reboards it and they take she battered ship to an anchorage and eventually to Aruba.

U-161 (Kptlt. Albrecht Achilles), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 7001-ton US freighter Lihue about 275 miles west of Martinique. Lihue is another independent, which U-boat captains have found are easy targets. U-161 surfaces after hitting the Lihue with a single torpedo at 06:43 and engages in a brief gun duel with the freighter before submerging again and waiting for it to sink. All 45 men on board survive.

Life magazine, 23 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The 23 February 1942 Life magazine features guns at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on the cover.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Royal Navy submarine HMS P38 (Lieutenant Rowland Hemingway DSC, RN) spots a large Axis supply convoy heading from Naples to Tripoli about 90 nautical miles (170 km) east of Tripoli. It and moves into position to attack. However, before Lt. Hemingway can attack, the Italian escorts spot P38 with sonar and move into the attack with depth charges. Italian torpedo boat Circe launches all of its depth charges and forces P38 to broach the surface before settling back down. After further attacks, P38 rises again, stern first, before sinking. All 32 men aboard P38 perish. The Royal Navy knew about this convoy from intercepts or spies and specifically sent P38 from Malta to attack it, so this is a good example of one side having solid intelligence on exactly what has to be done, but being unable to do it.

British/Australian Relations: After urgent demands by Australian Prime Minister John Curtin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill confirms that the Australian 6th and 7th Divisions which are at sea will be returned to Australia for the defense of the homeland.

Allied Relations: The United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand reach an agreement (Master Mutual Aid Agreement) regarding the conduct of the war in the Southwest Pacific.

Malta sailors draw their rum ration, 23 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
On Malta, sailors draw their rum rations. "Wherever they find themselves the ratings draw their issue. In this case on the top of the RN Signal Station at Valletta Palace." 23 February 1942. © IWM (A 9244).
US Military: The US Navy reorganizes its pilot training program, dividing up pilots by the type of aircraft they will be flying. Pilots of one- or two-engine aircraft are to be put into a special 11-month program, while those destined for four-engine bombers are to go into a 12-month program. The latter group has four equal subdivisions of three months each: periods spent at Induction Centers, then Primary training, Intermediate Training, and finally Operational Training.

USAAF General Ira C. Eaker establishes the headquarters of his VIII Bomber Command at Daws Hill Lodge, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England.

Major General Lewis H Brereton, Commanding General USAAF 5th Air Force, departs from Australia to India. ABDA Vice Commander Major General George H. Brett assumes control of 5th Air Force Operations in Brereton's absence. Brett today flies from Java back to Australia as part of a broader evacuation of the island. Brereton's mission in New Delhi, India, is to begin to organize the new Tenth Air Force, which includes preparation for the famous "Hump" Airlift to China.

U-123 enters port, February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
U-123 (28-year-old German Captain Reinhard Hardegen) returns to Lorient after a successful patrol off the east coast of the United States, February 1942 (Dietrich, Federal Archive Bild 101II-MW-3983-23).
Holocaust: The Italian government establishes a concentration camp near Gonars, Italy (near Trieste). It is primarily devoted to housing prisoners from Italy's sphere of influence in the Balkans (Slovenia and Croatia). Mussolini is not obsessed with putting Jewish people in concentration camps like his German allies, but hundreds of people die here of starvation and torture just like in Third Reich work camps. The Gonars camp never receives the notoriety of death camps like Auschwitz and Mauthausen but is quite brutal despite eventually fading away into obscurity.

Italian Homefront: It is a day of speeches by leaders around the world, and that includes Benito Mussolini. In Rome, he gives a typical lengthy speech during which he states:
We call bread, bread and wine, wine, and when the enemy wins a battle it is useless and ridiculous to seek, as the English do in their incomparable hypocrisy, to deny or diminish it.
Mussolini is expressing a common theme of the Axis leaders that the world media is not giving due credit for their successes, a refrain also heard often from Hitler. Of course, the media they are concerned about is the Western media, and it is difficult to imagine them saying anything positive about Axis successes.

President Roosevelt gives a fireside chat, 23 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
President Roosevelt during his fireside chat on 23 February 1942. While the chat is only broadcast over the radio, FDR asks listeners to pull out a map - then gestures during his speech toward the places that he is talking about on his own map (Libary of Congress).
American Homefront: It is George Washington's birthday, so President Franklin D. Roosevelt makes one of his popular "fireside chats." He admits that the first few months of the war have been difficult:
We have most certainly suffered losses – from Hitler's U-Boats in the Atlantic as well as from the Japanese in the Pacific – and we shall suffer more of them before the turn of the tide. But, speaking for the United States of America, let me say once and for all to the people of the world: We Americans have been compelled to yield ground, but we will regain it. We and the other United Nations are committed to the destruction of the militarism of Japan and Germany. We are daily increasing our strength. Soon, we and not our enemies will have the offensive; we, not they, will win the final battles; and we, not they, will make the final peace."
Roosevelt also quotes Thomas Paine's refrain that "these are the times that try men's souls," and adds "tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered." This period following the fall of Singapore is an emotional low point of the war for the Allies, but FDR's frankness helps morale.

President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, which authorizes the internment of anyone of Japanese ancestry, arrives at Lt. General John L. Dewitt's West Coast headquarters of the Western Defense Command. He is now free to intern practically anyone he sees fit.

Swamp Ghost, lost on 23 February 1942, is retrieved in 2006  worldwartwo.filminspector.com
On 23 February 1942, USAAF Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress (41-2446) ditched in Agaiambo swamp, Papua New Guinea after running out of fuel. It was rediscovered in 1972 and removed from the swamp in 2006. Swamp Ghost is now on display in the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor.

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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