Wednesday, April 28, 2021

May 15, 1942: Germans Take Kerch

Friday 15 May 1942

Hermann Graff 15 May 1942
Luftwaffe pilot Hermann Graf (right), Staffelkapitan 9./JG 52, stands before his Messerschmitt Bf-109F-4 at the Kharkov-Rogan airfield after achieving his 100th victory, May 15, 1942.
Battle of the Pacific: A Japanese Kawanishi reconnaissance aircraft based at Tulagi sights Admiral "Bull" Halsey's Task Force 16 on 15 May 1942. The task force, which includes aircraft carriers USS Enterprise and Hornet, is 445 nautical miles (512 miles, 824 km) east of the Solomon Islands. The presence of the two US carriers convinces Japanese Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue to cancel Operation RY, the planned invasion of Nauru and Ocean Island. This is exactly what Admiral Chester Nimitz intended, as he wants Halsey's force to return to Pearl Harbor for the looming battle at Midway without being forced into any more actions.

The two Japanese carriers that survived the Battle of the Coral Sea, Zuikaku and Shōkaku, are proceeding back to Japan and cannot be ready for the Midway battle due to the damage they have sustained. Shōkaku almost sinks in foul weather, while Zuikaku stops today at the base at Truk before continuing on to Japan. The US Navy knows their general routes and stations eight submarines in position to intercept the carriers, but no sightings are made.

US Fifth Air Force sends B-25 and B-26 bombers to raid Lae and the Japanese seaplane base at Deboyne. They cause damage at Lae, but the Japanese already have evacuated Deboyne.
Nimitz on the cover of Time, 15 May 1942
Time, 15 May 1942: "Nimitz, Commander in the Pacific."
Battle of the Indian Ocean: Retreating British troops in Burma are consolidating on the western border. Today, they reach Assam in northeastern India. Other Allied troops are assembling at Tamu to the south. The Japanese continue to occupy Burma and have no plans at this time to invade India.

In the Indian Ocean, the ships of Ko ("A") Detachment that is to attack Royal Navy ships at Madagascar and other points refuel at sea from supply ships Aikoku and Hokoku Maru. This force includes submarines I-10, I-16. I-18, I-20, I-30, I-27, and I-28, most converted to carry Type A Kai 1 midget submarines. I-10 and I-30 carry floatplanes instead. This is more an expedition of opportunity than a well-planned operation.

US submarine USS Tuna torpedoes and sinks 805-ton Japanese freighter Toyohara Maru 65 miles off Sohuksando, Korea. There are 21 deaths.
Duke of Gloucester, 15 May 1942
Inspection of Australian Guard of Honour at Government House by the Duke of Gloucester on May 15, 1942. The Duke and party are leaving (Matson Collection, Library of Congress #matpc.21541).
Eastern Front: The Red Army renews its struggling offensive in the northern pincer above Kharkov, but the Wehrmacht now has had time to regain its footing. German fortresses such as at Ternovaya continue to hold out due to a lack of Soviet heavy artillery. The Soviets advance only five kilometers during the day against stiffening German resistance. General Franz Halder at Fuhrer Headquarters writes that "the main thrust of the enemy offensive in the direction of Kharkov appears to be checked."

South of Kharkov, the situation is a little more dangerous. General Halder notes that "Here we may yet witness further enemy advances." However, while the Red Army has openings to the west and south, there are no strategic objectives within reach in those directions. The Germans are guarding Kharkov itself fiercely and, for the time being, are content to let the Soviet troops under General Semyon Timoshenko wander about in the undeveloped country south of the city where they can do little damage. General Ewald von Kleist is preparing a counteroffensive with his First Panzer Army to close off the Soviets' supply corridor, but that will take a couple of days to assemble.

In Crimea, the German 11th Army take the key port of Kerch. This eliminates the main Soviet escape route to the Taman peninsula on the mainland - which they cannot use anyway because Stalin has not authorized a general retreat - and decides the campaign. The Soviets now only hold Sevastopol on Crimea, to which General Erich von Manstein now can turn his full attention.
Toni Frissell, Vogue, 15 May 1942
Photo in Vogue by Toni Frissell (Antoinette Frissell Bacon), 15 May 1942.
At Fuhrer Headquarters, General Halder writes that "The Kerch offensive may be considered closed. Town and harbor are in our hands." However, there is still Soviet resistance south of Kerch. These holdouts have no chance of escaping the POW camps for long, but they still take almost a week to subdue. The Red Air Force is losing planes at a rate of 10-1 to the Luftwaffe, and infantry losses are at an even greater disadvantage to the Soviets.

European Air Operations: Operations remain light. Aside from coastal sweeps, the RAF only sends 50 bombers to lay mines in the Western Baltic. Two Hampdens and two Wellingtons fail to return.

A Bf 109F of 9./JG 11 crash lands in a field near Tarm, Denmark. With great efficiency, the plane is quickly prepared for transport by removing the wings and returned to a Luftwaffe base for its return to service.
WAAC poster, 15 May 1942
Women may volunteer for the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps as of 15 May 1942.
Battle of the Atlantic: The Luftwaffe attacks Murmansk and scores a direct hit on US freighter Yaka. While there are no casualties of the 49 men on board, the ship must be beached to prevent it from sinking.

U-156 (Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein), on its third patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 4382-ton Yugoslavian freighter Kupa in the Atlantic northeast of Barbados. There are two dead and 68 survivors.

U-156 also torpedoes and sinks 4301-ton Norwegian freighter Siljestad northeast of Barbados. There are two dead and 31 survivors.

The Lockheed Hudson bombers of RAF Nos. 320 and 407 Squadron make a successful anti-shipping sweep off the French coast. The RAF bombs and sinks 713-ton German minesweepers M 26 and M 256 off Cap de La Hogue, France. M 256 is later raised and returned to service. The bombers also sink German 464-ton vorpostenboot V 2002 Madeleine Louise off Terschelling, Netherlands, along with 6698-ton Norwegian freighter Selje. There are 14 deaths of the 62 people on board Selje.

British 6677-ton freighter Soudan, traveling with Convoy WS 15, hits a mine and sinks near Cape Agulhas, South Africa. There is one death.

British light cruiser HMS Trinidad, badly damaged in the Barents Sea by Luftwaffe attacks, is scuttled. There are 62 dead.
Ration stamps during World War II
World War II ration stamps. Gasoline rationing goes into effect on 15 May 1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Winston Churchill sends Malta commander Lord Gort a telegram appointing him as "Supreme Commander of the Fighting Services and Civil Administration in Malta." Rome radio today announces that Gort was wounded by a bomb splinter, but it is unclear if this is true as there has been no official announcement.

Costa Rican/Hungary/Romania Relations: Costa Rica breaks diplomatic relations with Romania and Hungary.

US Military: Insignia on US military aircraft are changed by eliminating the red disc in the center of the star. All red and white rudder stripes are removed from navy aircraft. In addition, US Army Air Force pursuit units are renamed fighter units today.

Legislation signed by President Roosevelt on 14 May 1942 goes into effect today creating the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). The service is voluntary and evolves into the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1943.

The War Department leases nearly eight and a half acres of Fort McHenry for the Coast Guard to use as a fire control and port security training facility. There will be a five or six-week course, after which members will be stationed along the coast at key facilities and for training others.
Fritz Sauckel in Paris, 15 May 1942
The opening of an Arno Breker exhibition in Paris, France, on 15 May 1942. Breker is a popular sculptor in the Third Reich and, among other things, accompanied Adolf Hitler during his tour of Paris. At the center is Gauleiter Fritz Sauckel (Schodl, Georg, Federal Archive Image 101I-357-1885-13A).
Holocaust: The Slovak parliament issues Decree 68/1942. This retroactively legalizes the deportation of Jews, legalizes the removal of their citizenship, and regulates exemptions for such actions. An agreement is reached with the Reich wherein the Slovaks will pay 500 Reichsmarks per individual deported to Germany and an additional train fare to the Reichsbahn to defray expenses. In return, Germany agrees to never return the deported individuals and Slovakia is allowed to keep all confiscated property.

Within parliament, there is no opposition to this legislation and general agreement about its terms. The official Catholic representative, Ján Vojtaššák, only asks for special consideration for Jews who have converted to Christianity. Trains carrying victims have been running to the camps at Auschwitz and Majdanek since 25 March 1942.

American Homefront: Mandatory gasoline rationing goes into effect for non-essential vehicles in the first seventeen states. Usage is limited to three gallons per week. Eight million motorists register for ration cards. The average motorist receives an "A" classification, while business owners, doctors, truckers, and those with necessary transportation jobs are issued either “B,” “C,” “T,” or “X” stickers that would ensure they received the proper amount of gas for their duties. Rubber for tires also is being rationed. A national speed limit of 35 mph is imposed, called the Victory Speed. Even with rationing, long lines arise at the few gasoline stations that have supplies.
Vogue, 15 May 1942
Vogue, 15 May 1942.

May 1942


Monday, April 26, 2021

May 14, 1942: Where in the World is AF

Thursday 14 May 1942

HMS Trinidad sinking, 14 May 1942
HMS Trinidad after being fatally damaged by Luftwaffe bombers in the Barents Sea on 14 May 1942. It had to be scuttled.
Battle of the Pacific: On 14 May 1942, the Commander in Chief, United States Navy, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King strongly suspects that the Japanese are planning another big operation. He instructs Admiral Chester Nimitz to declare a state of  "Fleet Opposed Invasion" and gives Nimitz complete control of all military resources in the central Pacific, including those in the Hawaiian Islands. There is a growing consensus within the naval intelligence service that the next Japanese moves will be toward Midway Island and Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, but this is not yet absolutely certain.

Led by the naval intelligence office in Hawaii, HYPO, naval codebreakers in Washington and at Station CAST in Melbourne, Australia, have cracked the main Japanese fleet code, called JN-25B. Unfortunately, even reading the Japanese communications in plain language does not completely reveal where the attack will take place. The Japanese refer to their next main target cryptically as being at "AF." Unfortunately for the codebreakers (but a sign of good code discipline by the Japanese), the messages do not identify where AF is. Different people in naval intelligence come up with different theories, but there is no certainty.
Admiral Turner and General Vandegrift in 1942
"Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, USN (left), and Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift, USMC. Working on the flag bridge of USS McCawley (AP-10), at the time of the Guadalcanal-Tulagi operation, circa July-August 1942." Naval History and Heritage Command 80-CF-112-4-63.
The head of the War Plans Division in Washington, D.C., Admiral Richmond K. Turner, does not believe the conclusion by HYPO and CAST that Midway is the target. Instead, he relies on the Navy's main codebreaking unit in Washington, OP-20-G (Station NEGAT), which draws a different conclusion. Perhaps influenced by Turner's personal preconceptions and beliefs, the station concludes that AF is the Hawaiin Islands and not Midway. Wherever AF is, other decrypted communications have established that it is going to be bombed, strafed, and subjected to an amphibious assault before too long, so everyone understands the urgency.

Turner has complete control over OP-20-G and forbids its members from disseminating any interpretation of AF as Midway Island. The situation turns into a classic bureaucratic turf war with everyone determined to make their point of view prevail. At HYPO in Hawaii, Commander Joseph J. Rochefort sees how Turner (who has caused Rochefort problems in the past) is distorting the intelligence results and resolves to force Turner to accept the evidence as he sees it.

Rochefort consults his staff members for ideas on how to break the logjam. One of them, Jasper Holmes, comes up with the idea of planting news of a false water shortage crisis at Midway in order to see if that will dupe the Japanese into unknowingly revealing the identity of AF. Following military protocol, Rochefort takes the idea to his superior, Chief Intelligence Officer Edwin T. Layton, who then mentions it to Admiral Nimitz. Nimitz ultimately likes the idea and approves it. 
USS Saratoga, 14 May 1942
USS Saratoga at the Puget Sound Navy yard, 14 May 1942. If you look closely at the upper right, you also can see an unidentified battleship (US Navy).
All of this will take a couple of weeks to set up and get the necessary approvals. Nimitz orders a message sent to Midway using an undersea cable (that the Japanese presumably aren't reading) telling them to send a false radio message about a water shortage. They will do this using a code the Japanese are known to have broken. Just to "get the message out" further, Midway also sends an uncoded radio signal about the water shortage. This sets in motion one of the greatest military intelligence successes of World War II.

Nimitz also engages in his own game of bluff with the Japanese. Since the intelligence is hardening that the next Japanese objective is Midway, he needs Admiral Halsey's Task Force 16 ready for it. Halsey, however, is still east of the Solomons to counter the expected Japanese invasions of Nauru and Ocean Island. Nimitz orders Halsey to make sure the Japanese see his ships. Once that is accomplished, Halsey is to head back to Pearl Harbor and prepare for the Midway battle. Nimitz also places eight submarines along the suspected path of Japanese carriers Zuikaku and Shōkaku.

Fifth Air Force sends B-17 and B-26 bombers to attack Rabaul and Lae.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: British forces retreating in Burma are congregating at the border town of Tamu. The Japanese are content to solidify their control of the rest of the country, where there are still scattered Allied units that have not yet reached safety.

While the Allied ground forces in Burma are retreating, the US Army Air Force 10th Air Force is on the offensive. Several B-17 bombers attack Myitkyina for the second time. Extensive damage is done to airport runways and buildings.
The Charlotte News, 14 May 1942
The Charlotte News, 14 May 1942.
Eastern Front: After a very dangerous start to the battle at Kharkov for the Germans, they begin to regain their equilibrium and blunt the Soviet drive west. While the Luftwaffe remains badly outnumbered over the battle, it gradually succeeds in establishing air superiority. On the Soviet side, Marshal Semyon Timoshenko is forced to bring up his reserve air units, which also are quickly ground up. Gaining control of the air enables the Luftwaffe's ground attack planes called up from Crimea to attack effectively. At Fuhrer Headquarter, General Franz Halder indicates the view there that the situation south and east of the city is the crisis point.

The Soviets are attacking along two fronts on either side of Kharkov, across the Barvenkovo River in the north (Soviet Southwestern Front) and from a Soviet projection into the front at Izyum (the "Izyum Bulge) to the south (Southern Front). The plan requires both pincers to advance and meet to the west of Kharkov. In the Soviet view, one of the main purposes is simply as a spoiling attack to prevent the Germans from launching a major offensive toward Moscow. What the Soviets don't realize is that the Germans have no immediate plans for Moscow and instead have, like them, concentrated their power along the southern sector of the front - right where the Red Army is attacking.

The Germans are having their greatest success in slowing the offensive on the northern sector despite the Soviets initially having more success there. The Germans are attacking Soviet pincers in several localized offensive using fresh reserves that, because of the early Red Army successes there, have been sent to the north pincer rather than the southern one.
Map of the Caucasus in The Charlotte News, 14 May 1942
A map of the Caucasus from the 14 May 1942 The Charlotte News. 
Hitler discusses the Kharkov situation with General Ewald von Kleist, in command of the 1st Panzer Army along the southern salient. He tells Kleist to use the 3rd Panzer Corps in a quick counterattack toward the base of the Soviet breakthrough. The options are to try to contain the Soviets or to cut them off. Typically, Hitler prefers the latter option. If it succeeds, it potentially would encircle the Soviet troops in the south. However, if it fails, the summer offensive is off and the strategic situation radically deteriorates for the Reich. Allowing the Soviet offensive to mushroom to the west while trying to cut off the Red Army's communications to the east is a bold strategy that will either lead to a brilliant victory or a debilitating defeat.

In Crimea, meanwhile, the Soviet defense is collapsing. General Erich von Manstein has three divisions approaching Kerch today, threatening the only good Red Army escape route. However, Hitler still mandates a full Luftwaffe effort there at the expense of the Kharkov front.

European Air Operations: A lull in operations by both sides continues, most likely due to the weather.
U-84 at Brest, 14 May 1942
U-84 enters the submarine pen at Brest, 14 April 1942 (Federal Archive Fig. 101II-MW-4905-07).
Battle of the Atlantic: U-564 (Kptlt. Reinhard Suhren), on its fifth mission out of Brest, torpedoes and sinks Mexican tanker Potrero del Llano off Cape Florida. This is a mistake, as Mexico is a neutral country. While watching the ship early in the morning, Suhren misreads the Mexican flag as Italian (which, due to the variation of the flag being flown, is an easy mistake to make). In any event, Suhren, not realizing the ship is Mexican, decides it is a legitimate war target. He torpedoes Potrero del Llano, causing 13 deaths and 22 survivors, who are picked up by USS PC-536. This sinking causes a diplomatic incident between Mexico and Germany. After another sinking on 20 May 1942, Mexico declares war two days later.

After being bombed and damaged in the Arctic Ocean by the Luftwaffe on 14 May 1942 and then running into one of its own torpedos, 8821-ton Royal Navy cruiser HMS Trinidad, now trying to return to the UK for permanent repairs and with speed reduced to 20 knots, is attacked by 20+ Ju-88s. One bomb hits near the previous damage and starts a fire that gets out of control. It must be scuttled by HMS Matchless the next day. There are 63-69 deaths, including 4 Czech airmen.

U-507 (KrvKpt. Harro Schacht), on its second mission out of Lorient, torpedoes and damages 4148ptno Honduran freighter Amapala in the Gulf of Mexico. US Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell takes Amapala in tow, but it eventually sinks. There are one death and 57 survivors, rescued by patrol aircraft and fishing schooner Gonzalez.

U-155 (Kptlt. Adolf Cornelius Piening), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 2483-ton Belgian freighter Brabant in the Caribbean southwest of Grenada. There are three deaths and 34 survivors.

U-162 (FrgKpt. Jürgen Wattenberg), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 6917-ton British tanker British Colony 90 nautical miles (170 km) northeast of Bridgetown, Barbados. There are four deaths and 43 survivors.

U-125 (Kptlt. Ulrich Folkers), on its fourth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 2493-ton Honduran freighter Comayagua in the Caribbean 14 nautical miles (26 km0 southwest of Grand Cayman Island. There are seven deaths and 35 survivors, who are rescued by British freighter Cimboco.

U-506 (Kptlt. Erich Würdemann), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and damages 6821-ton US tanker David McKelvy 35 nautical miles (65 km) south of the Mississippi River. While the ship is beached on the Louisiana coast, it is written off. There are 17 deaths and 25 survivors, who are rescued by USCGC Boutwell.

German minesweeper M 1307 Neufisch I hits a mine and sinks off Esbjerg, Denmark. There are eight deaths.
Lt. Upholff of U-84, 14 May 1942
The commander of U-84, Horst Upholff (center) and Heinrich Lehmann Willenbrock (left) upon U-84's return from a patrol on 14 May 1942. U-84 sank two ships of 8,240 tons on the patrol (Federal Archive Image 101II-MW-4905-23).
Battle of the Mediterranean: Greek 6692-ton freighter Mount Olympus hits a mine and sinks off Port Said. There are three deaths and 27 survivors.

British submarine HMS Turbulent sinks 243-ton Italian schooner San Giusto. There are 1 death and 11 survivors.

Air attacks continue against Malta despite its improved air defenses. RAF pilots John "Tony" Boyd and Colin Finlay are shot down and killed.

Battle of the Black Sea: Soviet 1326-ton destroyer Dzerjinsky hits a mine and sinks off Sevastopol. There are 260 deaths.
Women's London fashions, 14 May 1942
Norman Hartnell exhibits his first collection of utility dresses for women, 14 May 1942 (AP Photo).
Special Operations: Operation Fritham takes place. This is a Norwegian attempt, launched from the River Clyde aboard ice-breaker D/S Isbjørn and the sealer Selis, to secure coal mines on Spitsbergen, Svalbard. The icebreaker turns out to be absolutely necessary, as the bay is covered in ice. The two ships are discovered almost immediately by a Junkers Ju 88 reconnaissance plane. Before the ships can make it to their destination, however, four FW 200 Condor bombers arrive and sink the icebreaker and set the other ship on fire. No equipment can be rescued from the ships.

With thirteen men dead and nine others badly wounded, the remaining crews take refuge in nearby houses abandoned since Operation Gauntlet in 1941. This essentially ends the effectiveness of the operation, and it turns into a survival exercise that ultimately is ended without results.
Beaufort fighter, 14 May 1942
Beaufort Mk II of RAF No. 86 Squadron, 14 May 1942.
Spy Stuff: U-213 (Oblt. Amelung von Varendorff), on its second patrol out of Lorient, has been laying mines near St. John's, Newfoundland, but it has a passenger who it lets off near the town of St. Martins, New Brunswick. This Lieutenant M.A. Langbein, who has documents identifying him as "Alfred Haskins" of Toronto, Ontario. Langbein's role is to monitor convoys leaving Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Once ashore, Langbein acts in a very un-spy fashion. He destroys his radio and makes it to Ottawa, Ontario, which isn't the best place to observe convoys from. Langbein ultimately surrenders himself to authorities late in 1944, having done no spying but having run through the thousands of dollars his spymasters have provided him.
President Franklin Roosevelt signs legislation, 14 May 1942
President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved legislation establishing the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), 14 May 1942.
US Military: President Roosevelt signs legislation authored by Massachusetts Republican Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers creating the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. It authorizes a voluntary enrollment program for up to 150,000 women in non-combat roles. Under the WAAC umbrella, women fill a variety of jobs including as medical care professionals, welfare workers, clerks, cooks, messengers, military postal employees, chauffeurs, and telephone and telegraph operators. In 1943, this evolves into the Women's Army Corps.

Full convoys begin along the US East Coast. The first convoy departs from Hampton Roads, Virginia, to Key West, Florida.

Australian Homefront: Food and clothing rationing to begin.

American Homefront: The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra premieres Aaron Copeland's "Lincoln Portrait." The piece includes narration that is often handled by celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Charlton Heston, and James Earl Jones.

Future History: Atanacio Pérez Rig is born in Ciego de Ávila, Cuba. As a boy, he plays baseball for the team of the sugar mill that employs his father, and, eventually, he works. In 1960, Cincinnati Reds scout Tony Pacheco sees him playing on the sugar factory team and signs him to a contract with the Reds' instructional team in Havana. Known professionally as Tony Pérez, he does well, sets various team batting records in the Reds' system, and is called up to the major league team on 26 July 1964. Tony Pérez goes on to a Hall of Fame career, including being a seven-time all-star and a three-time World Series champion. He has his uniform number (No. 24) retired by the organization. Perez also has managed the Florida Marlins. As of 2021, Tony Perez remains closely associated with the Reds organization.
Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr, 14 May 1942
On 14 May 1942, Boston Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams, left, tests the arm of Red Sox second baseman Bobby Doerr before their game against the White Sox, in Chicago. Williams will join the US Navy Reserve on 22 May 1942.

May 1942


Saturday, April 24, 2021

May 13, 1942: Crisis at Kharkov

Wednesday 13 May 1942

USS Hornet, 13 May 1942
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) steaming in the Coral Sea area, 13 May 1942. Photographed from USS Enterprise (CV-6). Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-16430.
Battle of the Pacific: Admiral William "Bull" Halsey turns his Task Force 16 north at Efate on 13 May 1942 to defend Nauru and Ocean Island, which the US knows from intercepted Japanese communications are the next Japanese objective. The Japanese have postponed Operation RY, the invasion of those two islands, until 17 May and have no aircraft carriers of their own to cover the landings due to losses at the Battle of the Coral Sea. It is Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz's hope that simply seeing US carriers USS Enterprise and Hornet there will convince the Japanese to abandon the invasions altogether, at least for the time being.

USS Drum (SS-228), on her first patrol out of Pearl Harbor, torpedoes and sinks 5356-ton Japanese freighter Shonan Maru northeast of Mikimoto, Honshu, Japan.

RAAF Hudson bombs attack and sink naval auxiliary ship Taifoku Maru off Ambon, Maluku Islands, Dutch West Indies (Indonesia). 

Japanese 5268-ton ocean liner Nagasaki Maru hits a mine and sinks off Nagasaki. There are 39 deaths.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: The Chinese 6th Division retreats across the Salwen River and proceeds to Kengtun in Burma.
Manstein in Crimea, 13 May 1942
Colonel-General Erich von Manstein, Luftwaffe Colonel-General Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen, and Colonel Torsten Christ in the trenches/observation post at a briefing in the Crimea, May 1942 (Federal Archive Image 141-0227).
Eastern Front: The Red Army advance north and south of Kharkov slows dramatically on 13 May. German General Paulus of Sixth Army receives three full-strength divisions as reserves and they are enough to prevent a Soviet breakthrough to Kharkov itself. The Red Army thrust to the south of the city gains some ground, but those troops have no strategic objectives except closing the pincer west of Kharkov - and that can't happen if the northern advance stalls, and that advance is lagging. The Red Army units all along the front lines are taking heavy casualties and losing strength rapidly, but Stalin is pouring fresh troops into the breakout attempts to maintain momentum.

Hitler is watching the situations in Crimea and around Kharkov closely. The situation becomes a great opportunity for Hitler to play warlord with the Luftwaffe, which is a little unusual for him since he prefers to control army units. While the two battles are close geographically, they are separated by the Sea of Azov and may as well be at opposite ends of the 2000-mile front. Hitler finetunes the Luftwaffe's impact in both theaters. He moves ground-attack units from Crimea to Kharkov, but refuses to move the bulk of 8th Air Corps (Fliegerkorps VIII) until victory at Kerch is assured.

At Fuhrer Headquarters in East Prussia, General Franz Halder writes in his war diary:

In Sixth Army sector, heavy attacks south and northeast of Kharkov, supported by several hundred tanks. Serious penetrations. Counter attack by 23rd (Panzer) and Third (Panzer) Divisions east of Kharkov. Grave crisis south of Kharkov (131st Division).

As Halder notes, the real danger is south of Kharkov, with the northern Red Army thrust gaining much less ground.
Indian Express, 13 May 1942
The Indian Express of 13 May 1942 headlines the German offensive in Crimea.
Here we get into subtleties of strategy that can be difficult to convey, but this is very important for what it reveals about how the war is being conducted at Fuhrer Headquarters. In effect, the Luftwaffe now is tasked with serving as mobile artillery for Fliegerkorps IV at Kharkov while maintaining its overpowering bombing and air-superiority roles for Fliegerkorps VIII in Crimea. Its strength is split between the two battles along tactical lines, or more accurately put, skewed. The Luftwaffe generals believe that the air effort should be more balanced between the two battles at all levels to establish dominance and not bifurcated as Hitler has done. Given a choice between the two, the Kharkov battle is more critical and should be the one with a heavy Luftwaffe presence, not Crimea. Hitler, though, thinks he knows best and always has the last word. Luftwaffe General Wolfram von Richthofen in particular has some choice words to say about this.

It's dangerous to try to read someone else's mind, but Hitler has his reasons for wanting Crimea absolutely secured before switching to the more pressing situation at Kharkov. He has somewhat of an obsession with Crimea, which he sees as a future tourist/retirement spot for the Third Reich. Manstein also is one of his favored generals due to the successes in France and Hitler wants him to succeed. Hitler also has been thinking about Crimea all winter long while Kharkov is a new situation, just part of the endless back-and-forth on the main front. Crimea was one of the major unresolved situations from 1941 and Hitler just wants that off the table permanently.

Due to Hitler's interference, the Luftwaffe remains outnumbered around Kharkov at this time despite the piecemeal reinforcements from Crimea. This is somewhat bizarre since the Kharkov battle is absolutely critical to winning the war while Crimea is not (winning at Kharkov and advancing to the Caucasus automatically would win the Crimea campaign as a minor side effect). The Crimea battle is in a subsidiary zone and already is basically won, so why keep the majority of the Luftwaffe effort there? This is the question the Luftwaffe generals are asking.

However, the situation is not drastically affected by Hitler's choices. The Luftwaffe still maintains air superiority in the key Kharkov areas because self-sacrificing fighter crews fly ten or more missions apiece every day (two or three would be a normal full day). Thus, Hitler's misplaced strategy kind of works because of the dedication and exertions of the Luftwaffe pilots (it is well known as the most National Socialist of the three main service branches and its members are willing to go to extreme lengths to make Hitler's projects succeed at its own expense). There are no "Union rules" in the Luftwaffe and it does have the best equipment even if it is overused.

Some Luftwaffe units from other areas of the front also are being sent to Kharkov, but that will take a few days. It is worth pointing out that while Hitler's counterproductive choices can be overcome at this point of the war because of the Wehrmacht's innate strength and dedication, they would not work if the margin of overall power were to alter to the Wehrmacht's disfavor. And we all know how that works out, but let's stick with the here and now.

In Crimea, Soviet opposition is collapsing in the face of General Erich von Manstein's overpowering Operation Trappenjagd. The Red Army hoped to make a stand at a second line (the "Sultanovka Line"), but the German 132nd and 170th Infantry Divisions blow through it in the morning of the 13th with the 22nd Panzer Division close behind. There remains little standing between them and Kerch. Halder notes approvingly in his war diary:

On the Kerch peninsula, the battle appears to have been decided in our favor (more than 40,000 prisoners). What resistance the enemy will able to put up in this eastern part of the peninsula cannot yet be estimated.

It has been a brilliant victory for 11th Army and Manstein.

European Air Operations: Activity remains light on the Channel Front. Four RAF Wellington bombers attempt a raid on Essen, but the target is covered by clouds and no attack is made there. Three of the bombers choose secondary targets such as Mulheim. There are no losses.
Halifax Herald, 13 May 1942
The Halifax Herald of 13 May 1942 is full of news about U-boat attacks in the St. Lawrence River.
Battle of the Atlantic: German auxiliary cruiser/raider Stier (formerly freighter Cairo) has been sailing down the English Channel since 10 May in order to break out into the Atlantic. The British watch the Channel closely, so this is always a trickier route than sailing north around Scotland. The Royal Navy catches wind of the breakout attempt and sends motor torpedo boats (MTBs) to intercept it. A ferocious small-boat action ensues during which the Germans lose two torpedo boats (932-ton Iltis with 118 dead and 923-ton Seeadler with 85 dead) and the British one MTB (32-ton HM MTB 220).

Wolfpack attacks on convoy ON 92 about 675 nautical miles (1250 km)southeast of Cape race continue. U-94 (Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein), on its third patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks two ships. The first is 4399-ton freighter Batna. There are one death and 41 survivors, who are rescued by British freighter Bury.

U-94 also torpedoes and sinks 4471-ton Swedish freighter Tolken. All 34 crewmen survive, rescued by British freighter Bury.

U-156 (Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein), on its third patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 6630-ton British freighter City of Melbourne west of Barbados. There is one death and 86 survivors.
Dutch freighter Koenjit, sunk on 13 May 1942
Dutch freighter Koenjit (formerly Stjerneborg), one of two ships sunk by U-156 on 13 May 1942.
U-156 also torpedoes and sinks Dutch freighter Koenjit 300 nautical miles (560 km) northeast of Barbados. All 37 crewmen survive. A motor launch (15-ton Letitia Portia) is being carried by Koenjit and also sinks.

U-128 (Kptlt. Ulrich Heyse), on its third patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 3491-ton British freighter Denpark far off the coast of Mauretania. There are 21 deaths and 25 survivors, who are rescued by British freighter City of Windsor.

U-162 (FrgKpt. Jürgen Wattenberg), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 7699-ton US tanker Esso Houston 150 nautical miles (280 km) east of Barbados. There are one death and 41 survivors, who are rescued by Norwegian freighter Havprins or reach land in lifeboats.

U-69 (Oblt. Ulrich Gräf), on its eighth patrol out of St. Nazaire, torpedoes and sinks 2606-ton US freighter Norlantic northeast of Caracas, Venezuela. There are seven deaths and 22 survivors, who are rescued by Dutch freighters India and Mississippi and Norwegian freighter Marpesia.

U-506 (Kptlt. Erich Würdemann), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 8862-ton US tanker Gulfpenn in the Gulf of Mexico six miles off the coast of Louisiana. There are 13 deaths and 38 survivors, who are rescued by Honduran freighter Teide.
Dutch freiCity of Melbourne, sunk on 13 May 1942
U-156 torpedoes and sinks British freighter City of Melbourne on 13 May 1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Norwegian 5062-ton freighter Hav hits a mine and is badly damaged off Port Said, Egypt. The ship is taken in tow and beached, but ultimately is written off. There are two deaths and 36 survivors.

Two separate civilians on Malta report that Axis pilots threw grenades at them. The main current Axis target is Hal Far airfield.

Partisans: An Axis ant-partisan operation in the Balkans, Operation Trio, officially concludes today. The operation is moderately successful in achieving its objectives of clearing out eastern Bosnia of partisans and relieving a besieged Croatian garrison at Rogatica. This operation settles nothing any finality, so it becomes just one in a series of similar actions against the partisans.

Perhaps inevitably, Operation Trio has revealed fundamental divisions within both the Axis and partisan forces. The two sides have begun fighting within themselves along ideological as well as nationalistic, lines. On the Axis side, the Italians complain that their participation has been limited by the Germans in order to prevent them from expanding their zone of influence. On the partisan side, the royalist Chetnik forces have refused to cooperate with the largely communist main partisan forces and have mounted several "coups" in mixed units. The Chetnik coups have resulted in numerous deaths of communists in those units and stoked antagonism within the partisan movement. 

The Ustaše are suspicious of a land grab by the Italians, while the Chetniks avoid combat against the Germans but delight in fighting the Ustaše. Many Chetniks join the Italian forces as auxiliaries, while the partisan main forces avoid fighting the Ustaše but have no problem fighting their supposed Chetnik allies. It is all very confusing to outsiders, and reports in the western media reveal a complete misunderstanding of what is actually going on. War correspondents tend to lavish praise on the Chetniks as a powerful anti-Axis force when their role is much murkier, while the communism of the main partisan forces is downplayed.

The end result has been that many partisans have been killed by both the Axis forces and at the hand of other partisans. The Axis have temporarily "recovered" some cities and territory, but the true significance has been the deterioration of internal relations on both sides. A follow-up attack, Trio II, already is in progress. However, it achieves little because the partisans have evacuated the area.
Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Manuel Quezon, 13 May 1942
President Manuel Quezon visits President Franklin Roosevelt in Washington, D.C., 13 May 1942.
US/Vichy France Relations: The United States and France reach a tentative agreement regarding aircraft carrier Béarn, light cruiser Emile Bertin, and training cruiser Jeanne D'Arc at Martinique, French West Indies. Amiral (Admiral) Georges Robert, High Commissioner of the Republic to the Antilles, agrees to immobilize the ships. As part of the agreement, the Béarn transfers two-thirds of her fuel to a tanker and disables four of her six boilers. The ship also disables some of its weapons. The Vichy government prefers that the ships be sabotaged, but this is not done, at least now.

German Military: Hitler instructs Armaments Ministers Albert Speer to convert three ships (Europa, Potsdam, and Gneisenau) into auxiliary aircraft carriers. He says that it is "entirely out of the question" for surface forces to operate with air protection. The stumbling block is raw materials, which are in short supply. Once those are obtained, the conversions can be completed within a year.

US Military: US troops replace New Zealand troops in Fiji.

The Bureau of Navigation becomes the Bureau of Naval Personnel.

Ford shows the first M4A3 medium tank, later to become famous as the Sherman Tank.

British Military: King George VI is named the Commander in Chief of the British Home Guard.

American Homefront: Boston Braves lefthanded pitcher Jim Tobin hits three consecutive home runs and pitches a complete game to defeat the Chicago Cubs, 6-5, at Braves Field. He is the first Major League pitcher to hit three home runs in a game since 1886.
The M4A3 tank, introduced on 13 May 1942
The prototype M4A3 Sherman tank, first rolled out by Ford on 13 May 1942.

May 1942


Thursday, April 22, 2021

May 12, 1942: Soviets Attack At Kharkov

Tuesday 12 May 1942

Winston Churchill 12 May 1942
A wartime press photograph of Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill on 12 May 1942. He is addressing the Parliamentary Home Guard in London while carrying his gas mask.
Battle of the Pacific: Despite the failure of Operation Mo during the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese continue with Operation RY on 12 May 1942. This was intended as a follow-up to the Port Moresby invasion, but since that invasion was stopped by the US fleet, Operation Ry takes center stage. This is an invasion of Nauru and Ocean Island for their phosphate deposits.

Despite the fact that the Japanese invasion fleet is at sea from Rabaul, Operation RY already is in trouble. Just as the invasion of Port Moresby had to be postponed indefinitely (to 3 July), Operation RY also is postponed today. This is due to the sinking of the Japanese flagship, minelayer Okinoshima, by S-42. While the Japanese don't know this, US Admiral "Bull" Halsey is fast approaching with his Task Force 16 and is almost ready to engage the invasion force. The Japanese fix a new date of 17 May for the Operation RY invasion, but Halsey aboard USS Enterprise and accompanying aircraft carrier Hornet (the units that launched the Doolittle Raid on 18 April) will have something to say about that if it proceeds.
USS Charger 12 May 1942
The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Charger (AVG-30) at anchor on 12 May 1942. She is painted in Camouflage Measure 12 (Modified) (Naval History and Heritage Command NH 55073).
Battle of the Indian Ocean: The monsoon season begins today in Burma, slowing operations just as the spring thaw ("rasputitsa") has done recently in the Soviet Union. The Japanese expand their control in eastern Burma by crossing the Salween River. Their next objective in this region is Kengtung. The 2nd Burma Infantry Brigade completes a long march north through the Myitha Valley and joins with the Chin Hills Battalion, Burma Frontier Force about 15 miles south of Kalemyo. Here, the 2nd Brigade can take trucks to the border town of Tamu where the British are assembling a frontier force to defend India.
Midway pilots May 1942
The pilots of the U.S. Marine Corps scout bomber squadron VMSB-241 on Midway between 17 April (when Henderson took command) and 28 May 1942 (when Frazer and Smith were detached). Those marked with an “x” were killed during the upcoming Battle of Midway, 4-6 June 1942 (U.S. Navy photo 80-G-40283/Everett Collection Historical (USN reference number may be wrong)).
Eastern Front: Marshal Semyon Timoshenko launches a major offensive to recover the Ukrainian city of Kharkov, a major industrial center and the fourth city of the Soviet Union. His military commissar is native Nikita Khrushchev, who has great powers as Timoshenko's political "minder." Timoshenko has built up a 3:2 advantage in infantry and 2:1 in tanks at the attack points.

The Soviet attack begins with an hour-long artillery barrage at 06:30, then a twenty-minute air assault. This effective preparation sharply limits the Wehrmacht's response, and the subsequent ground assault makes good progress. There are two main lines of attack, from the Volchansk (north of Kharkov) and Barvenkovo (south) areas, which are intended to converge and form a pincer trapping the German forward units. The infantry units make such good progress during the morning that Timoshenko prepares his second echelon, usually kept in reserve for an eventual breakthrough, for immediate use.

While caught largely by surprise (some Germans apparently did have some knowledge that an attack was coming), the Sixth Army under General Paulus recovers fairly quickly. The Luftwaffe has sufficient fighters in the area to establish aerial supremacy, but the bombers remain to the south in Crimea with General Erich von Manstein's 11th Army. Thus, the effectiveness of German control of the air is less than it could be. The Wehrmacht infantry also is able to launch some local counterattacks, including three near the Soviet village of Nepokrytaia.

The attack is proceeding north and south of Kharkov, with the main effort to the south. The goal is to engulf the city. Soviet tanks range within eleven miles of the city. To protect the city, Army Group South commander Field Marshal Fedor von Bock releases the 23rd Panzer Division and the 71st and 113th Infantry Divisions. At the end of the day, the Red Army has advanced 10 km (6.2 miles). However, it fails to score a clean breakthrough.
Panzer IV in Crimea May 1942
Russia, Crimea, Kerch peninsula - Panzer IV (turret number 924) and mounted infantry in combat, May 1942 (Federal Archive B 145 Fig. F016223-0024).
The May 1942 Soviet Kharkov offensive is doomed to failure even before it begins for a very specific reason. The Germans at Adolf Hitler's insistence have been flooding the Army Group South rear areas with troops preparing for the grand summer offensive, Case Blue, that he intends to be the decisive campaign of the war. Paulus has been planning a preliminary offensive in the exact area of the Soviet attack, Operation Fridericus, and thus has units that are at full strength. In fact, the three divisions that Bock releases today to save Kharkov were intended to spearhead Fridericus and thus are fully staffed and ready for action. The real question is what effect this Soviet attack will have on Hitler's grand strategy for the summer, but the Red Army offensive is driving into a dead end.

At Fuhrer Headquarters, General Franz Halder writes in his war diary, 

Heavy attacks at Volchansk and in VIII Corps sector against Sixth Army, objective Kharkov. The enemy used 100 tanks in each attack and has scored considerable initial successes. Air Force units must be diverted from the Crimea to this battle area. 23rd Armored Division is released for commitment at the front.

While Halder sees the necessity of transferring Luftwaffe units to the Kharkov battle, Hitler insists that they remain in Crimea until that battle is completely won.

In Crimea, Manstein's Operation Trappenjagd is proceeding toward a quick and successful conclusion. The Germans have trapped the Soviet 51st Army in a pocket on the northern half of the line (at the Parpach narrows) while other units (22nd Panzer Division and the 132nd and 170th Infantry Divisions) are making good progress toward the ultimate objective, Kerch. One German unit, the Grodeck Brigade, already has penetrated the second Soviet defensive line (the "Sultanovka Line") and that line shows little chance of holding once the other Wehrmacht divisions attack. Halder writes, "Good progress on the Kerch peninsula: 29,000 prisoners, 220 guns, 170 tanks, etc."

European Air Operations: There are no operations due to inclement weather.
USS Massachusetts 12 May 1942
USS Massachusetts. "Entering Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, after leaving the Fore River Shipyard at Quincy, 12 May 1942. Photographed from an altitude of approximately 400 feet. Note harbor defense net system at top, with a Net Tender (AN) in attendance." (Naval History and Heritage Command NH 97254).
Battle of the Atlantic: Wolfpack Hecht attacks Convoy ON-92 in the mid-Atlantic southeast of Cape Farewell with great success, sinking five ships and possibly damaging a sixth in a night of savagery. U-124 (Kptlt. Johann Mohr), on its ninth patrol out of Lorient, has a big night, sinking four ships of the convoy. The four victims of U-124 (16,100 tons in total) are:
  • 7065-ton British CAM ship Empire Dell (2 dead 46 survivors)
  • 4959-ton British freighter Llanover (all 46 survive)
  • 5389-ton British Cristales (all 82 survive)
  • 4371-ton Greek freighter Mount Parnes (all 33 survive)
U-94 (Oblt. Otto Ites), on its ninth patrol out of St. Nazaire, torpedoes accompanies U-124 and sinks 5630-ton Panamanian freighter Cocle, which is traveling with convoy ON 92 midway between Ireland and Nova Scotia. There are five deaths and 37 survivors, who are rescued by British freighter Bury. Cocle served as the flag ship for Admiral Richard E. Byrd during his Second Arctic Expedition. There are five dead and 37 survivors.

The "Battle of the St. Lawrence Seaway" opens today with the sinking of 5364-ton British freighter Nicoya by U-553. It sinks south of Anticosti, Quebec, Canada. There are six deaths and 82 survivors.

U-553 also torpedoes and sinks 4712-ton Dutch freighter Leto 8 nautical miles north of Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec, Canada. There are 12 deaths and 41 survivors.

U-507 torpedoes and sinks 10,731-ton US tanker Virginia about one and a half miles off Southwest Pass, Louisiana, in the Gulf of Mexico. the three torpedoes set off a massive fireball that prevents the launch of lifeboats. There are 27 deaths and 14 survivors, who are rescued by motor torpedo boat USS PT-157.

German patrol boats UJ 1101, UJ 1108, and UJ 1110 sink Soviet Northern Fleet submarine K-23 off Nordkinn Cape in the Barents Sea. All 71 men aboard the submarine perish. 

Luftwaffe planes bomb and sink 424-ton Soviet patrol boat Brilliant in or near the Iokanga River near the Barents Sea. It is raised on 25 September 1942 and returned to service in June 1944.
Rhodesian soldiers training 12 May 1942
"Rhodesian troops of the 60th King's Royal Rifles training with a 2-inch mortar, 12 May 1942." North Africa. © IWM E 11699.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The Luftwaffe sends fourteen Junkers Ju 52 transport planes of III./KGzbV 1 from Maleme/Crete heading to Derna Cyrenaica. Each carries a standard complement of 20 soldiers. About 80 km off the North Africa coast, a formation of 14 Beaufighter and Kittyhawk fighters intercepts the German planes. A one-sided battle ensues in which nine of the virtually defenseless Ju 52 transport planes are shot down and another 2 are forced to land on the shoreline.

The Luftwaffe's raids on three Royal Navy destroyers north of Mersa Matruh, Egypt, claim their final victim during the early morning hours of 12 May. Badly damaged destroyer HMS Jackal is taken under tow by fellow destroyer Jervis, but the damage proves to be too great. After the Jackal's crew abandons the ship, Jervis scuttles it with a torpedo. There are nine dead. This completes the Luftwaffe's sinking of three of four destroyers that had been stalking an Italian convoy to North Africa.

The air battle over Malta heats up even further today as the Luftwaffe shoots down nine Supermarine Spitfires and damages another two on the ground. Despite the losses, the RAF planes still badly disrupt the Axis attempts to bomb the island. The British still have dozens of operational Spitfires after the recent deliveries.
US Marines in Ireland 12 May 1942
Men of US 1st Provisional Marine Battalion arriving at Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, 12 May 1942 (The United States Marine Corps Frederick and Henry Strybing Collection).
Battle of the Black Sea: German aircraft sink several Soviet transport ships at or near Kerch that are ferrying wounded soldiers back to the mainland. They are:
  • Soviet ship Berezan
  • 712-ton Krasny Flot
  • 348-ton Krasny Moryak
  • Soviet patrol boat PK-083
  • Soviet patrol boat SKA-0133
  • Soviet patrol boat SKA-0183
  • Soviet patrol boat SKA-0411
  • Soviet patrol boat SKA-0611
  • Soviet patrol boat SKA-0811. 
German Military: Lt. Max-Hellmuth Ostermann of 7./JG 54 on the Eastern Front becomes the 6th fighter pilot in aviation history to reach 100 victories. While flying his Bf 109F-4, Ostermann is badly wounded in the right arm and upper thigh but makes it back to base and goes to the hospital for an extended stay. For this, Ostermann will receive the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords at the hands of Adolf Hitler in June 1942.

US Military: Aircraft of the 8th Army Air Force begin arriving in Great Britain. Planes with sufficient range to fly use the South Atlantic air ferry route linking the US with West Africa via Natal, Brazil.

Holocaust: At Auschwitz Birkenau, 1500 Polish Jews are killed in gas chambers. This is considered the beginning of the final phase of mass murder in the Third Reich.
Japanese-American soldier 12 May 1942
Japanese-American soldier, 12 May 1942 (National Archives 537850).
American Homefront: 20th Century Fox and Darryl F. Zanuck release "This Above All," directed by Anatole Litvak and starring Tyrone Power and Joan Fontaine. It is a wartime romance that serves various propaganda purposes by showing a wealthy woman who joins the  Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), a hero who wins a medal at Dunkirk, and so forth. The film goes on to win an Oscar for art direction and is nominated in several other technical categories. 

Future History: Ian Robins Dury is born in Harrow, Middlesex, England, the son of a local bus driver. He becomes a major figure during the punk/new wave eras of rock music, including being the frontman for Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Dury also branches out into acting, including a role in Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989). Ian Dury passes away in 2000 at the age of 57.
Auschwitz victim Artur Paraszewski 12 May 1942
21-year-old Artur Paraszewski, gassed at Auschwitz on 12 May 1942 (Auschwitz Memorial/Muzeum Auschwitz).

May 1942