Friday, April 3, 2020

March 19, 1942: Soviets Encircled on the Volkhov

Thursday 19 March 1942

Spitfire on HMS Eagle, 19 March 1942
A Supermarine Spitfire on board HMS Eagle, ca. 19 March 1942. The Spitfires are being taken to Malta with Force H (© IWM (A 9580)).
Eastern Front: The German I Corps and XXXVIII Corps, pushing into the base of a Soviet salient across the Volkhov River from the north and south, respectively, meet late in the day on 19 March 1942. This threatens to trap 130,000 Red Army troops to the west that have been trying to take Lyuban. The most significant Soviet outfit in the salient is the 2nd Shock Army, led by General Andrei Vlasov. This follows a typical pattern early in the war when the Red Army basically shrugs off these kinds of German tactics, usually to the Soviets' eventual detriment.

The Wehrmacht advance has been difficult because there are no north-south roads in the area, requiring a difficult route through snow and trees in frigid weather. The battle is not over, and the Soviets will reopen a small gap, but this encirclement in Operation Raubtier is the first major German success in the USSR since the fall.

In Crimea, General Erich von Manstein is preparing an attack on the Soviet line in the Parpach Narrows. He wishes to recover the small amount of territory lost in the recent Soviet attacks. However, the Soviets also are building up their own forces for a renewed attack. The only question is which side attacks first. Manstein's offensive, which he has prepared hurriedly and that relies on inexperienced troops using sketchy Czech tanks, is scheduled for the morning of 20 March 1942.

Bombs at Port Moresby, New Guinea, 19 March 1942
Battle of the Pacific: The Japanese score their first success in the Battle of Yunnan-Burma Road that began on 18 March when they win the Battle of Tachiao in the Sittang Valley. The 143rd Regiment of the 55th Division advances about 12 miles north and takes Pyu. The next Japanese objective is to attack the defenses of the Chinese Army Cavalry Regiment north of the Kan River. These will become known as the Battles of Toungoo and Oktwin, the main defensive position of the Chinese forces in the area.

Toungoo, now under Japanese attack, is the original training base of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) aka the "Flying Tigers." The AVG pilots and ground crew have had to "bug out" to northern India and China. Lieutenant General William J. Slim, former General Officer Commanding 10th Indian Division in Syria, arrives in Burma to take command of Imperial troops. Slim wants to hold the current Prome-Toungoo defensive line, which is good defensive terrain due to the presence of heavy jungles.

Map of Burma as of 19 March 1942
The situation in Burma as of 19 March 1942 (Charles F. Romanus, Riley Sunderland).
The Chinese troops in Burma are commanded by US Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell, and communication issues arise between the different allied forces. While experienced fighters, the Chinese divisions are the size of British brigades. The British troops are all defeated remnants of the previous Japanese advance across Burma, but Slim does have a potent tank force in the 7th Armored Brigade.

Seven Japanese bombers raid Darwin city, Myilly Point, and Larrakeyah in the Northern Territory of Australia. The 9th Fighter Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group, USAAF scrambles from Batchelor Field (where General MacArthur landed recently) to intercept them, but they arrive after the bombers have left.

The Border Watch of Mount Gambier, Australia, 19 March 1942
The Mount Gambier, Australia, The Border Watch of 19 March 1942 trumpets General MacArthur's arrival on the front page. 
General Douglas MacArthur, recently arrived in Australia from the Philippines, and his party continues the long train ride from Alice Springs to Melbourne, Australia. MacArthur's journey is closely watched in the media, but the trip is arduous, lasting several days. Their railroad coach is tiny, with hard wooden seats running lengthwise that prevent movement within the train between coaches. In addition, the air is full of flies and this is a sheepherding region, with the train stopping once to aid a stricken sheepherder. The journey will require a change of trains at Terowie on the 20th, where MacArthur will make his famous "I shall return" speech. The party could fly, but Mrs. MacArthur refuses.

Japanese submarine HIJMS I-25 launches a Yokosuka E14Y1 "Glen" to reconnoiter Suva on Viti Levu Island, Fiji. As with all similar Japanese reconnaissance missions of the sort, this one goes unobserved by the Allies.

Following the path taken by General MacArthur, Philippine President Manuel Quezon and 13 members of his party use motor torpedo boat PT-41 to evacuate threatened Dumaguete, Negros Island. They sail the 240 miles to Oroquito, Mindanao Island, where the US Army still maintains an airbase.

Tempo magazine, 19 March 1942
Italian magazine Tempo features a cover story on "Surveillance aircraft at work upon enemy positions" in its issue for 19 March 1942.
European Air Operations: An extended lull in operations continues on the Channel front. RAF Bomber Command sends one Wellington bomber to Essen during the day, but weather conditions force its early return to base.

Battle of the Atlantic: The U-boat fleet has been sinking tankers almost every day recently. This has caused great concern in London and Washington and has led to fuel rationing in the United Kingdom. The situation only gets worse today as more tankers go down.

U-124 (Kptlt. Georg-Wilhelm Schulz), on its eighth patrol out of Lorient, continues a very successful patrol off the east coast of the United States when it torpedoes and sinks two U.S. tankers about 15 miles southwest of Cape Lookout:
  • 5939-ton tanker Papoose (2 dead, 32 survivors)
  • 7076-ton tanker W.E. Hutton (13 dead, 23 survivors)
Schulz puts two torpedoes into Papoose beginning at 04:31. He then follows up by hitting the W.E. Hutton at 05:38. The men of both ships are rescued during the day by other passing freighters.

SS Liberator, 19 March 1942
SS Liberator, one of the ships lost on 19 March 1942.
U-332 (Kptlt. Johannes Liebe), on its third patrol out of La Pallice, torpedoes and sinks 7,720-ton US freighter Liberator about three miles west of the Diamond Shoals Buoy off Cape Hatteras. The ship is carrying 11,000 tons of sulfur, which ignites and creates fumes that force the crew to quickly abandon ship. There are five dead. The 30 survivors are picked up within an hour by USS Umpqua (AT 25), which witnesses the attack. This concludes U-332's patrol, during which it has sunk 25,125 tons of shipping off the east coast.

US tanker W.E. Hutton, sunk on 19 March 1942
U.S. tanker W.E. Hutton, lost on 19 March 1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The sustained Axis air assault on Malta continues on 19 March. The list of sites hit is extensive:
  • 1 JU 88 - 4 x 250kg (Ta Qali Aerodrome)
  • 4 ME 109 - 4 x 250kg (Grand Harbour)
  • 5 JU 88 - 20 x 250kg; 30 x 50kg (Grand Harbour)
  • 6 JU 88 - 24 x 500kg (Marsaxlokk)
  • 10 JU 88 - 8 x 500kg; 15 x 250kg; 36 x 50kg (Ta Qali Aerodrome)
  • 3 JU 88 - 12 x 250kg; 24 x 50kg (Luqa and Safi strip)
  • 6 JU 88 - 20 x 500kg (West of Luqa)
  • 13 JU 88 - 44 x 250kg; 100 x 50kg (South Malta)
Despite the air attacks, Malta remains in operation as a supply base for Royal Navy submarines. Today, HMS Unbeaten departs on patrol after a quick resupply turnaround, and Upright heads to Gibraltar and then the US for a refit.

Royal Navy submarine Upholder (Lt.Cdr. M.D. Wanklyn) uses its deck gun to sink 22-ton Italian auxiliary minesweeper B-14 (Maria) about 20 nautical miles south of Brindisi, Italy. There is no record of casualties.

US tanker Papoose, sunk on 19 March 1942
U.S. tanker Papoose, sunk on 19 March 1942.
Partisans: The Soviet partisan movement is becoming a serious problem for the Wehrmacht. The Third Panzer Army war diary states during late March:
There are indications that the partisan movement in the region of Velikye Luki, Vitebsk, Rudnya, Velizh, is now beiing organized on a large scale. The fighting strength of the partisans hitherto active is being bolstered by individual units of regular troops.
Some of the partisans are soldiers trapped during the rapid start of Operation Barbarossa. Others are Red Army troops flown in and dropped behind the German lines specifically to engage in partisan operations. The German troops sometimes see these Red Air Force planes landing in the distance to their rear and know exactly what is going on. As usual, the German response to this problem involves a massive application of force.

The Germans launch Operation Munich. This is a combined air/ground operation in the Yelnya/Dorogubuzh region against Soviet partisans. The Germans also are preparing and begin a similar anti-partisan action in the area of Hlusk District-Pariczi-Oktiabrskij to the south of Bobrujsk, in the eastern Polesie. This latter operation, more widely known, is Operation Bamberg.

In Serbia and Croatia, the Axis occupation authorities issue a draconian directive calling for the destruction of any village suspected of harboring or aiding partisans:
Removal of the population to concentration camps can also be useful. If it is not possible to apprehend or seize partisans, themselves, reprisal measures of a general nature may be in order, for example, the shooting of male inhabitants in nearby localities.
The directive specifies as an example of these "reprisal measures" that 100 local inhabitants be shot for every German that is killed, with 50 to be shot for every wounded Wehrmacht soldier. This is severe even by German standards.

USS Juneau in New York, 19 March 1942
"USS Juneau (CL-52), March 1942. Light cruiser at New York (also known as Brooklyn) Navy Yard, New York City, New York, March 19, 1942. U.S. Bureau of Ships Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/02/18)." National Museum of the U.S. Navy 19-LCM-31285.
US Military: Admiral King sends a memo to President Roosevelt in which he claims that it is "not at all sure that the British are applying sufficient effort to bombing German submarine bases and building (repair) yards." He adds that "It seems that the R.A.F. is not fully cooperative in complying with the views of the Admiralty in this (and other) matters relative to the selection of military objectives." He suggests "a directive from 'higher authority'" to remedy this situation. There is a constant tension throughout the war as different allied services request priority in the choice of bombing targets.

US Military Intelligence warns that the Japanese may seize the Aleutian Islands soon. The Aleutian Islands have been a preoccupation by both sides since the 1920s, with both the US and Japan worried they will be used for bombing operations against their respective homelands. The Intelligence position is that the Japanese also would use the islands to interrupt US/Soviet communications. Soviet-flagged ships continue to pass between the United States and the USSR in the North Pacific area because Japan is not at war with the Soviet Union.

HMS Wallace, 19 March 1942
"Ratings aboard HMS WALLACE being issued with free gift cigarettes. Lieut Cdr J P Reid, RNVR, the CALO at Rosyth is handing out the gifts." 19 March 1942 (© IWM (A 7999)).
British Government: In Parliament, PM Winston Churchill announces various appointments. These include the appointment of R.G. Casey, the Australian Minister of Washington, as Minister of State in Cairo and a member of the British War Cabinet. Australian Prime Minister Curtin objects to this appointment, which he makes clear to Churchill in a testy exchange by message.

British home secretary Herbert Morrison accuses the London paper The Daily Mirror of "reckless indifference to the national interest" for its practice of publishing stories with an antiwar slant. This has been a continuing theme of the Winston Churchill government during the war, as Churchill expects nothing but cheerleading from the British press.

US Government: Congress is busy working on the relocation of people along the west coast of the United States for defense reasons. The Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration issues a report today recommending the imposition of a penalty of a $5,000 fine and misdemeanor conviction with the possibility of up to one-year imprisonment for persons violating restriction orders related to the military zones. This passes quickly, with little debate or discussion.

Holocaust: A new gas van, driven by two junior SS officers, Götz and Meyer, is used for the first time in Belgrade to address the "Jewish problem." These first victims of the gas van are staff and patients at the two Jewish hospitals in the city. The victims are loaded in groups of 80 and 100 and then driven through Belgrade. The vehicle exhaust is fed into the truck, killing the occupants within 15 minutes. The 800 dead in the two-day operation that concludes today are driven to Jajinci, a village at the base of mount Avala, south of the city. There, seven Serbian prisoners bury the dead in mass graves.

Spitfire on HMS Eagle, 19 March 1942
A Spitfire taking off from HMS Eagle, 19 to 23 March 1942 (© IWM (A 9586)).

March 1942

March 1, 1942: Second Battle of Java Sea
March 2, 1942: Huge Allied Shipping Losses at Java
March 3, 1942: Japan Raids Western Australia
March 4, 1942: Second Raid On Hawaii
March 5, 1942: Japan Takes Batavia
March 6, 1942: Churchill Assaults Free Speech
March 7, 1942: British Defeat in Burma
March 8, 1942: Rangoon Falls to Japan
March 9, 1942: Japanese Conquest of Dutch East Indies
March 10, 1942:US Navy attacks Japanese Landings at Lae
March 11, 1942: Warren Buffett's First Stock Trade
March 12, 1942: Japan Takes Java
March 13, 1942: Soviets Attack In Crimea Again 
March 14, 1942: The US Leans Toward Europe
March 15, 1942: Operation Raubtier Begins
March 16, 1942: General MacArthur Gets His Ride
March 17, 1942: MacArthur Arrives in Australia
March 18, 1942: Japan Attacks In Burma
March 19, 1942: Soviets Encircled on the Volkhov
March 20, 1942: "I Shall Return," Says MacArthur
March 21, 1942: Germans Attack Toward Demyansk
March 22, 1942: Second Battle of Sirte
March 23, 1942: Hitler's Insecurity Builds
March 24, 1942: Bataan Bombarded
March 25, 1942: Chinese Under Pressure in Burma
March 26, 1942: Win Or Die, Vows MacArthur
March 27, 1942: The Battle of Suusari
March 28, 1942: The St. Nazaire Commando Raid
March 29, 1942: The Free Republic of Nias
March 30, 1942: Japanese-Americans Off Bainbridge Island
March 31, 1942: Japanese Seize Christmas Island


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