Wednesday, August 19, 2020

April 7, 1942: Valletta, Malta, Destroyed

Tuesday 7 April 1942

Bomb damage from the 7 April 1942 Luftwaffe raid on Valletta. Shown is Kingsway with the opera house on the right (NWMA Malta).

Battle of the Indian Ocean: The Japanese Kido Butai strike force remains on the loose in the Indian Ocean on 7 April 1942. It spends the day steaming to the northeast for another raid on Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The British remain unaware of its location, and Royal Navy Vice Admiral James Somerville cautiously heads to Port T at Addu Atoll, 600 miles (970 km) southwest of Ceylon, to refuel. 

Battle activity in the Indian Ocean is light today. After a lengthy chase on the surface, Japanese submarine HIJMS I-6 torpedoes and sinks 5424-ton British freighter Bahadur 170 miles northwest of Bombay. Fellow submarine I-2 reports sinking an unidentified freighter southeast of Ceylon. 

The Japanese are now using a sea route to reinforce their troops in Burma. The 18th Division of the Japanese Army arrives aboard transports at Rangoon from Singapore.
As the Bergen Evening Record from Hackensack, New Jersey, points out correctly on 7 April 1942, the Japanese are gaining rapidly in a "wild head-on drive" in Bataan. However, it is a little less accurate about developments on the Eastern Front.
Battle of the Pacific: The battle along the Bataan front continues to go poorly for the Allies. Japanese attacks force the entire US Army II Corps (eastern half of the line) to retreat to the Mamala River. The I Corps (western half of the line), with its right flank now in the air, is ordered to withdraw south to the Binuangan River. Things are worse than they appear on paper, as the Allied defense is disintegrating and the roads south are full of refugees and fleeing troops. Commanders lose touch with their troops who have packed up their radio equipment and commandeered vehicles for the illusion of safety in the south. A few lucky men make it to Mariveles Naval Section Base, where they await evacuation by auxiliary patrol boat USS YAG-4 on 8 April.

The US Army Air Force has been keeping some planes in Bataan, but today the remaining P-40 fighters are ordered to fly to Mindanao Island. They are needed on Mindanao to cover incoming bombers from Australia which are to be used to attack Japanese troop concentrations. However,  this deprives the ground forces in Bataan of air cover just when they are needed the most during the Japanese offensive.

U-552 leaving St. Nazaire, France, on its second war patrol, 7 April 1942.
Eastern Front: Stavka representative Lev Mekhlis knows that Stalin wants success in the Crimea, so he orders General Dimitri Kozlov to try one more time to break into the German lines along the Parpach Narrows. However, General Manstein in command of the German 11th Army has been receiving reinforcements, including powerful air units for Luftlotte 4. Ordinarily, a Luftlotte would serve as air support for an entire Army Group, but due to weather circumstances, it is all available in the Crimea to help Manstein's men. These planes are wreaking havoc throughout the Black Sea region, particularly the Soviet supply base at Kerch. General Kozlov plans his fourth offensive for 9 April 1942.

The Stavka also has its eye on the Northern theater. It instructs General Leytenant V.A. Frolov, in command of the 550-mile sector running north from Lake Onega to the Arctic coast, to prepare an offensive. He is to attack along the Zapadnaya Litsa River to Kestenga. To accomplish this, the Stavka is sending a guards division and two ski brigades to reinforce the Soviet 14th Army. The Soviet 26th Army, meanwhile, takes command in the Kestenga area, bringing with it two more divisions. These troop movements show the great advantage the Soviets have in the far North by having the Murmansk railway. The Germans, meanwhile, cannot bring in troops easily over snow-covered forest roads and trails, nor easily supply them even if they do get there.

European Air Operations: There are no missions scheduled today after last night's unsuccessful mission against Essen. This is likely due to low cloud cover and generally poor weather over the Continent.
U-552 departs from St. Nazaire, 7 April 1942.
Battle of the Atlantic: There is a major disconnect in the records for the U-boat campaign during April 1942. Several sources claim that U-552 scores a string of victories off the east coast of the United States during the first week of April 1942. However, other sources show U-552 as departing St. Nazaire on 7 April 1942. There even are photographs of U-552 leaving port that day. Given the impossibility of a U-boat being in two places at the same time, this suggests that the victories attributed to U-552 during this time belong to another boat. However, until I can figure out the truth, we'll just go with the "accepted" version of events and give U-552 credit for sinking it probably does not deserve.

U-552 (Oblt. Erich Topp), on its second patrol out of St. Nazaire, torpedoes and sinks 7866-ton Norwegian whale factory ship Lancing near Buxton, Dare County, Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Lancing is carrying 8,900 tons of fuel oil. There are one death and 49 survivors. The wreck of the Lancing remains of interest to the present because of the possibility of pollution from its load of oil. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) examined the ship in 2011-2013 for contamination, and in 2013, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

U-552 also torpedoes 7138-ton British freighter British Splendour in the same vicinity off North Carolina as the Lancing. There are 12 deaths and 41 survivors. British Splendour contains 10,000 tons of gasoline that catches fire quickly.

Soviet submarine M-173 attacks a german convoy off Varangerfjord, Norway, but scores no hits. Royal Navy light cruiser Liverpool arrives in Murmansk, Russia, accompanied by destroyers Punjab and Marne. They are there to escort Convoy QP-10 to the west.

British freighter Murrayfield runs aground off Mousa, Shetland Islands. It is badly damaged and ultimately sinks on 8 April.
Bomb damage from the 7 April 1942 raid. "All that is left of the famous opera house in Kingsway, Valletta." © IWM A 8378.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Luftwaffe General Albert Kesselring continues his air offensive against Malta that began on 20 March 1942, and today it produces what some consider its most devastating results. Beginning at 17:49, the planes, mostly Junkers Ju 88s and Ju 87 Stukas, drop 280 tons of high explosives on Valletta, which is located on a tiny peninsula. This is a deliberate attempt to destroy Valletta residential areas with heavy bombs and in that sense it is successful.

Destroyed or severely damaged are many cultural treasures that play little or no role in the war effort, including ancient palaces and the Governor's Palace. Also hit are non-military structures such as the King George V Hospital in Floriana, the Market, the Royal Opera House, and the Auberge d’Aragon and the Auberge d’Italie. The government estimates that 70% of buildings in Valletta and Floriana are destroyed or damaged. Most of the remaining portion of the opera house is cleared only in the 1950s. Ultimately, a new theatre (Pjazza Teatru Rjal) is built on the site and inaugurated on 8 August 2013.
Paddle-wheel tug Hellespont, sunk in Grand Harbour, Malta, on 7 April 1942.
While the damage around Valletta is the worst of the day, bombers also attack Luqa, Hal Far, and Ta Qali aerodromes. Bombs fall all across the island, including at Cospicua, Marsa, Hamrun, Gzira, Msida, Tal Qroqq, and St Julians. Royal Navy tugs HMS Emily and Hellespont (a paddle-wheel tug) are sunk in the harbor. There are dozens of military and civilian casualties, including a four- and six-year-old children. 

South of Cattaro, Royal Navy submarine Turbulent torpedoes and sinks Italian coaster Rosa M. All ten people aboard survive.

North of Marsa Matruh, Egypt, U-453 (Kptlt. Egon Reiner Freiherr von Schlippenbach), on its third patrol out of Pola, torpedoes and damages 9716-ton Royal Navy hospital ship HMHS Somersetshire. Three torpedoes hit the ship, which Captain von Schlippenbach does not realize is a hospital ship. Fortunately, the ship is carrying no patients. After abandoning the ship, most of the crew and medical staff reboard the damaged ship and make it to Alexandria on one engine and the assistance of tugs. There are 7 dead and 180 survivors.
Hospital ship Somersetshire in a floating dry dock in Alexandria, Egyp, following her torpedoing by U-453 on 7 April 1942. Egyptian workers are removing ballast from the ship.
Resistance: In Luebeck, recently destroyed by RAF bombs, the Gestapo arrests Evangelist minister Karl Friedrich Stellbrink (and later in April three Catholic priests (Johannes Prassek, Eduard Müller and Hermann Lange)) for seditious activities. These are known as the Lübeck martyrs. Stellbrink and the others are tried before the People's Court on 22-23 June 1942 and executed on 10 November 1943. Stellbrink's guilty verdict is overturned in November 1993.

Anglo/Indian Relations: The Indian National Congress Working Committee tells envoy Stafford Cripps that the British proposal for Dominion status after the war is insufficient. Even Cripps' private promise, apparently not authorized by his government, that India could have immediate Dominion status and full independence after the war, is insufficient. The Nationalists, led by Mahatma Gandhi, demand immediate independence in exchange for war support. As Gandhi says, the British promise is a "post-dated check drawn on a failing bank."

After this, negotiations between the British and Indian Nationalists break down. The rest of the war will be occupied with various plans for strikes, disobedience, and outright revolts that will prove a nuisance to the British authorities but not imperil their rule. One thing working in the British favor is that there is split opinion within India as to how to proceed and the Nationalists have very little international support. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is adamantly opposed to Indian independence and he has sufficient sway with the United States and other Allied powers to maintain the status quo while he is in office.
The public is gripped with events in the Indian Ocean and the Philippines, but the US military has more mundane things to worry about. Lowell (Massachusetts) Sun Newspaper, 7 April 1942.
US Military: The US War Department officially decides that the 8th Air Force will be based in the United Kingdom under the auspices of the US Army Forces in the British Isles (USAFBI). Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall informs USAFBI commander Major General James E. Chaney to expect the arrival of this new command. The Eighth Air Force already has an advanced unit of VIII Bomber Command at RAF Daws Hill, England. The first combat units will begin arriving on 9 June 1942, and the Eighth's first mission (to Rouen, France) will be on 17 August 1942.

The Fifth Air Force in Australia continues transferring units to Townsville. Today, the headquarters, 22nd Bombardment Group (Medium), 2nd Bombardment Squadron, and the 18th Reconnaissance Squadron, 22nd Bombardment Group (Medium) transfer there. The 8th Photographic Squadron arrives in Melbourne from the United States, while the 33rd Bombardment Squadron, 22nd Bombardment Group (Medium) transfers from Ipswich to Antil Plains.

American Homefront: The military informs the 263 Japanese-Americans living in the Alaskan territory that they may be relocated to internment camps. This comes as the Japanese, unbeknownst to the Americans, are planning an attack and perhaps invasion of portions of Alaska.

Model Evelyn Frey poses with a sailboat on the cover of Look magazine, 7 April 1942.

April 1942

April 1, 1942: Convoys Come to the USA 
April 2, 1942: Doolittle Raiders Leave Port
April 3, 1942: Japanese Attack in Bataan
April 4, 1942: Luftwaffe Attacks Kronstadt
April 5, 1942: Japanese Easter Sunday Raid on Ceylon
April 6, 1942: Japanese Devastation In Bay of Bengal
April 7, 1942: Valletta, Malta, Destroyed
April 8, 1942: US Bataan Defenses Collapse
April 9, 1942: US Defeat in Bataan
April 10, 1942: The Bataan Death March
April 11, 1942: The Sea War Heats Up
April 12, 1942: Essen Raids Conclude Dismally
April 13, 1942: Convoy QP-10 Destruction
April 14, 1942: Demyansk Breakout Attempt
April 15, 1942: Sobibor Extermination Camp Opens
April 16, 1942: Oil Field Ablaze in Burma
April 17, 1942: The Disastrous Augsburg Raid
April 18, 1942: The Doolittle Raid bombs Japan
April 19, 1942: British in Burma Escape
April 20, 1942: The Operation Calendar Disaster
April 21, 1942: Germans Relieve Demyansk


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