Friday, April 9, 2021

May 1, 1942: Japanese Take Mandalay

Friday 1 May 1942

KV-1 tanks on parade 1 May 1942
Soviet KV-1 tanks on parade at the Palace Square in Leningrad, Russia, 1 May 1942 (Boris Kudoyarov, Russian International News Agency).
Battle of the Pacific: A cataclysmic clash is brewing in the South West Pacific Theater on 1 May 1942, with both sides moving large forces into position to contest the seas around Port Moresby, New Guinea. In Operation Mo, the Japanese plan to occupy Port Moresby and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. Allied naval intelligence staffers in Melbourne, Australia, have a good idea of Japanese plans from radio intercepts and are putting this knowledge to good use. The Allies hope to take the Japanese invasion forces by surprise based on their radio intercepts and thereby stop the landings despite being numerically inferior.

Today, both sides take major steps in arranging their forces for the confrontation. Two US Navy task forces, TF 11 (USS Lexington) and TF 17 (Yorktown) rendezvous about 300 nautical miles (350 miles, 560 km) northwest of New Caledonia. Vice Admiral Jack Fletcher, in overall command aboard the Yorktown, knows he has some time and, having refueled his own ships, detaches TF 11 to refuel. Meanwhile, the Japanese send the Carrier Strike Force, including aircraft carriers Shōkaku and Zuikaku, from the fleet base at Truk. They are under the command of Vice-Admiral Takeo Takagi.
USS Neosho refuels USS Yorktown, 1 May 1942
Tanker USS Neosho refuels fleet carrier USS Yorktown, 1 May 1942 (Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-464653).
The Carrier Strike Force plans to sail down the eastern side of the Solomon Islands. The Japanese Tulagi Invasion Force under Rear Admiral Shima, which today pauses briefly at the Shortland Islands, Bougainville, to set up a seaplane base, will take Tulagi along the way. The Carrier Strike Force then will pass Guadalcanal and enter the Coral Sea. From there, it will cover the landings at Port Moresby. Vice-Admiral Takagi, of course, has no idea that Fletcher's two fleet carriers are waiting for him.

To soften Tulagi up, the Japanese today raid it and nearby Gavutu Islander, where Australian forces maintain a seaplane base. They badly damage a Catalina flying boat. This attack induces the Australians to evacuate the remaining serviceable Catalinas during the day.

US Navy submarine USS Grenadier (SS-210, LtCdr Willis Lent), on her second patrol out of Pearl Harbor, torpedoes and sinks 5761-ton Soviet freighter SS Angarstroi about 90 miles (145 km) southwest of Nagasaki, Japan. The Soviet commander, en route from Vladivostok to San Francisco, had decided to take a shortcut through the war zone to save coal. Along the way, the ship had been inspected for contraband in Kushimoto, but it was only carrying 7555 tons of sugar. All 60 people on board survive the sinking. Japanese merchant ship Koya Maru picks up the survivors about five hours later. While Commander Lent of the Grenadier does not take credit for this (mistaken) sinking (of an ally's ship), a postwar examination of documents during the Tokyo trials in 1946 points to the Grenadier as the likely culprit. The captain of the ship also writes a detailed account of the sinking for a Russian publication ca. 1990.

US Navy submarine Drum torpedoes and sinks 10,929-ton Japanese seaplane tender Mizuho 40 miles off Omae Zaki (Omaezaki), Japan. There are 101 deaths and 472 survivors, including her commanding officer, who are rescued by cruiser Takao. The tender actually sinks just after midnight on the 2nd.

US Navy submarine Triton torpedoes and sinks 5338-ton Japanese freighter Calcutta Maru off Wenchow, China, in the East China Sea. There are 54 dead, with an unknown number of survivors rescued by Japanese freighters Boko Maru and Kaisoku Maru.
Butch O'Hare, 1 May 1942
Lieutenant Commander “Butch” O’Hare and F4F-4 at Norfolk, Virginia, May 1, 1942 (US Navy).
Battle of the Indian Ocean: The British have withdrawn their troops north of Mandalay, the second-largest city in Burma, so Japanese troops of the 18th Infantry Division have little difficulty occupying it on 1 May 1942. Mandalay, the last royal capital of the Konbaung Dynasty, has great symbolic importance in the country despite being eclipsed in size and economic importance by Rangoon. Japanese troops are already to the west of Mandalay, where they block the road at Monywa on the Chindwin River from units of the 1st Burma Division. This traps some British troops to their south.

Meanwhile, Japanese troops advancing from the recently-captured Lashio clash at Hsenwi with rearguard troops from the Lashio battle. The Northern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force (with elements of a detachment of the Chin Hills Battalion), holds a bridge over the Shweli River at Manwing. The Japanese need it in order to drive north to the regional center of Bhamo, so a fierce battle breaks out. The defenders hold their ground throughout the day.
Hitler cartoon, 1 May 1942
This cartoon in the 1 May 1942 Daily Mirror suggests that Hitler, busy with plans in the Soviet Union, has to look over his shoulder at the possibility of a Second Front. 
Eastern Front: While both the Germans and the Red Army are preparing offensives against each other along the Parpach Narrows on the Crimea, another battle to the German rear continues. General Erich von Manstein's 11th Army continues to try to breach the Soviet defenses around Sevastopol. The Wehrmacht has brought its heaviest artillery, including the 800mm Dora cannon, up to pound the fortresses guarding the port's perimeter. Luftflotte 7, under the command of General Wolfram von Richthofen, has been enlarged to the size of an air fleet (which usually accompanies an entire army group) and is sending up to 1000 sorties a day against the same targets. These planes will be turned around against the Red Army line on the Parpach Narrows when Manstein is ready to launch his offensive in about a week.

Soviet attacks against the perimeters at Kholm and Demyansk continue despite the German success in forming a supply corridor through Ramushevo to the latter town. The Kholm pocket is in crisis and has shrunk to a tiny size. However, knowing that relief is at hand props up German morale and the Soviet attacks are repelled with great difficulty.

General Franz Halder, having spent his time on leave since 26 April, leaves by train in the evening to return to the Fuhrer Headquarters in East Prussia.

European Air Operations: It is a relatively quiet day on the Channel Front, perhaps due to poor weather. The only major activity by either side is an attack by a dozen Boston bombers during the day against a parachute factory at Calais and the railway station at St. Omer. All planes return safely.
HMS Punjabi, sunk on 1 May 1942
HMS Punjabi, sunk on 1 May 1942 (© IWM FL 25824).
Battle of the Atlantic: The battle over two Allied convoys passing north of Norway in the Barents Sea heats up on 1 May 1942. The Luftwaffe sends six Junkers Ju 88 medium bombers against PQ 15 sailing east toward Murmansk. The attack fails and only five of the planes make it back to base.

However, all is not well for the Allies despite the failed Luftwaffe raid. Royal Navy battleship HMS King George V, leading Distaff Force east of Iceland, collides with 1891-ton destroyer Punjabi in heavy fog, sinking the destroyer and damaging the battleship. There are 49 deaths and 209 survivors on the Punjabi. Also damaged is the battleship USS Washington, which blunders into the wreckage site in the fog. As Punjabi sinks, its depth charges explode, damaging Washington's fire control systems. The damage to King George V forces the Admiralty to send the battleship Duke of York up from Scapa Flow as a replacement.

The Kriegsmarine also gets into the act when three of its destroyers dispatched from port on 30 April - Zerstörergruppe "Arktis" (Z7 Hermann Schoemann, Z24 and Z25) under the command of Kapitän zur See Alfred Schulze-Hinrichs - reach convoy QP 11 sailing west from Murmansk. A classic naval battle develops between the German destroyers and the Allied convoy escorts, which form up between the attackers and the convoy. 
German Navik-class destroyer
A German Narvik-class destroyer, similar to Z-24 and Z-25 (National Museum of the U.S. Navy - Lot-2275-44).
The German destroyers open fire at 14:05 and get the better of the engagement, They badly damage 2847-ton Soviet freighter Tsiolkolvsy using torpedoes (27 dead and 14 survivors rescued by HMT Lord Middleton). The crippled freighter eventually is sunk later in the day by U-589 (some accounts have this the other way around and claim it was damaged by the U-boat and finished off by the destroyers, but either way it sinks). During the engagement, the Germans also badly damage the old destroyer HMS Amazon with two hits. However, the Allied escorts do their job by protecting (most of) the convoy. The German destroyers depart as darkness closes in at 17:50 to look for badly damaged Royal Navy cruiser Edinburgh, which had its stern blown off on 30 April and is limping back to Murmansk at only two knots.

U-162 (FrgKpt. Jürgen Wattenberg), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes, shells, and sinks 6692-ton Brazilian freighter Parnahyba off Trinidad in the Caribbean. There are seven dead and 65 survivors who are rescued by Canadian freighter Turret Cape.

U-109 (Kptlt. Heinrich Bleichrodt), on its fifth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 6548-ton British freighter La Paz off Cape Canaveral, Florida. The ship is later salvaged, repaired, and returned to service in the US Maritime Commission.

U-69 (Oblt. Ulrich Gräf), on its eighth patrol out of St. Nazaire, spots 671-ton Canadian schooner James E. Newsom about 370 nautical miles (690 km) northeast of Bermuda. The U-boat uses its deck gun to sink the ship. All nine crewmen survive.
Hitler, Eva Braun, and Uschi Schneider, 1 May 1942
Adolf Hitler, likely at the instigation of Eva Braun, right, poses for pictures with Uschi Schneider in the Berghof great hall on 1 May 1942. Uschi is the daughter of Eva's childhood friend Herta Schneider and he takes many photos with her.
Battle of the Mediterranean: A Lockheed Hudson (RAF No. 233 Squadron) spots U-573 (Kptlt. Heinrich Heinsohn), on its fourth patrol out of Pola, sailing on the surface north of El Marsa, Algeria. It drops depth charges and damages the submarine, with one crewman killed. The crippled U-boat puts into the neutral Spanish port of Cartagena and is interned. In August 1942, the Kriegsmarine sells it to the Spanish Navy (Armada Espanola), where it serves until 1970. U-573 ends its wartime career having sunk one ship of 5289 tons (Norwegian freighter Hellen on 21 December 1941).

At Malta, Axis bombers focus on Luqa Airfield. They attack work crews constructing pens to shelter fighters and drop delayed-action bombs to hinder later work efforts. Throughout the day, Italian Cant and Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 bombers attack many points on the island with a clear priority of bombing airfields. Governor Dobbie congratulates the anti-aircraft crews for claiming 110 Axis planes during the month of April 1942.

US/Vichy France Relations: The last US ambassador to Vichy France, Admiral William D. Leahy, departs on his journey home via Lisbon. The embassy will remain open under a chargé d'affaires until the US/British/Free French invasion of North Africa in November 1942.
HMCS Woodstock commissioned, 1 May 1942
HMCS Woodstock, a Flower-class corvette, is commissioned at Collingwood Shipyards Ltd. in Collingwood, Ontario, on 1 May 1942.
US Military: Pursuant to an agreement with the British government, the US Navy establishes the Naval Base and Naval Auxiliary Air Facility, Great Exuma, Bahama Islands, and Naval Base, Grand Cayman, British West Indies. Also established around this time is a company of the Jamaican Home Guard recruited from the Cayman Islands. The Home Guard maintains 24-hour coastal patrols for U-boats.

Soviet Government: It is May Day, so Joseph Stalin issues an Order of the Day celebrating it. He notes that:

It is beyond doubt, first, that in this period fascist Germany and its army have become weaker than they were 10 months ago. The war has brought grave disillusionments, millions of human sacrifices, starvation and poverty to the German people. The end of the war is not in sight, and reserves of manpower are coming to an end, oil is coming to an end, raw materials are coming to an end. The realization that Germany's defeat is inevitable is growing on the German people.

Stalin further notes that "our country has become stronger than it was at the beginning of the war." Notably, he praises the United States and Great Britain for taking "First place" among peoples of the world who "have joined forces against German imperialism." Such effusive praise will notably diminish as the war goes on.

American Homefront: A United Airlines Mainliner DC-3 crashes near Salt Lake City, Utah, within seven miles of Municipal Airport while en route from San Francisco to New York. The crash puzzles investigators because an eyewitness observed it heading straight into Ensign Peak of the Wasatch Mountains while circling for a landing. Poor weather may have been a factor, along with engine trouble. All 17 people on board, including a 1-year-old baby, perish.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer releases "Tarzan's New York Adventures." It stars Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen Sullivan. This is Maureen Sullivan's last film until 1948 as she raises her seven children, including future actress Mia Farrow.
Der Adler, 1 May 1942
A peek inside the Der Adler magazine of 1 May 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

May 1942


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