Friday, May 28, 2021

May 21, 1942: U-106 Sinks the Wrong Tanker

Thursday 21 May 1942

P-36C that ran off the runway in Connecticut, 21 May 1942
P-36C Ser. No. 38-204, 61st Pursuit Squadron, skids off the runway after mechanical failure at Bridgeport Airport in Connecticut, 21 May 1942. The pilot, Lt. George D. Hobbs, is uninjured.
Battle of the Pacific: Japanese Admiral Nagumo sails his Kido Butai carrier force out of the inland sea port of Sasebo on 21 May 1942. His crews spend the day practicing fleet maneuvers as they head through the Bungo Strait. Badly damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea, aircraft carrier Zuikaku limps into Kure today. It is unavailable for the upcoming attack on Midway.

The Americans remain in doubt about the next target of Japanese aggression, though many officers in naval intelligence suspect it is Midway. Seeking definitive proof, decryption teams in Washington, D.C., Honolulu, and Melbourne, Australia spend the day working on a stack of intercepted Japanese radio messages. These include one long message that has been flagged for priority processing. Japanese radio intelligence operators, meanwhile, also notice an increase in American radio traffic out of Hawaii. They intercept 180 messages and note that 72 are marked as urgent.

The Japanese continue their gradual occupation of the Philippines. After landings in the Leyte Gulf, they enter the city of Bacolod, Leyte, and Samar. Organized Allied resistance ended with the fall of Corregidor, so the Japanese only have to contend with occasional guerrillas.

US Army Air Force B-26 bombers attack Lae, New Guinea.
I-10 in port at Penang, 1942
I-10 at Penang sometime in 1942.
Battle of the Indian Ocean: Japanese submarine I-10, part of A Detachment which is scouting the Indian Ocean for targets, surfaces off Durban, South Africa. The crew launches its E14Y1 floatplane to perform reconnaissance. The pilot spots no targets and quickly flies back to the submarine when challenged by Allied forces over the radio. This is the first Japanese venture to Africa during the war.

Eastern Front: Marshal Timoshenko, belatedly concerned about the mortal danger to his forces south of Kharkov posed by German counterattacks, spends the day regrouping his forces. The Luftwaffe has complete aerial supremacy and wrecked Red Army vehicles block many roads. 

At Fuhrer Headquarters, General Franz Halder notes that "The situation at Kharkov continues to develop to our satisfaction." After writing that an encircled German force at Ternovaya (northeast of Kharkov) has been relieved, he continues that "We can now take out forces from this sector [north of Kharkov] and get them ready to meet Kleist, converging from the north." He concludes that Kleist's advance is taking "a gratifying course" and "we are now recapturing the initiative." Throughout the middle years of the war, "having the initiative" is a major aim of both sides, sometimes to their detriment.
German magazine Illustrierter Beobachter, 21 May 1942
Supply difficulties on the Eastern Front are shown on the cover of the 21 May 1942 Illustrierter Beobachter. 
Southeast of Kharkov, Kleist's panzers of the 14th Panzer Division advance another four miles. This reduces the Soviet breakout point through which all of their supplies flow to Timoshenko's troops to the west from 12 to 8 miles. The Germans remain puzzled that the Red Army on either side still has not attempted to pierce the thin line that the Wehrmacht is establishing east of Timoshenko's armies.

Halder sums up Manstein's victory in Operation Trappenjagd: "Kerch operation concluded. Regrouping at Sevastopol, where the enemy is evidently making preparations against our impending attack."

There is an oblique but telling reference in Halder's diary to the German high command's condescending attitude toward its allies. He writes that the Hungarian military attache visited during the day and requested information about the Kharkov battle. Halder notes simply, "I politely refuse." This is a peculiar attitude considering the key role that the allied troops are projected to play in the upcoming "decisive" summer offensive, Case Blau. However, it also is quite common in the Wehrmacht.

European Air Operations: An extended spring lull continues for both sides over the Channel Front. The only major action is the RAF sending 33 Wellington and 15 Stirling bombers of No. 3 Group to lay mines at the Biscay ports. However, poor weather permits only 18 bombers to complete the mission. No aircraft are lost.
U-106. Its sinking of a Mexican oil tanker on 21 May 1942 leads to a declaration of war.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-106 (Kptlt. Hermann Rasch), on its sixth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 6067-ton Mexican oil tanker Faja de Oro. There are ten deaths and 21 survivors. This sinking, along with other events, leads Mexico to declare war on Germany.

It isn't really Rasch's fault that this leads to war, of course. He is just doing the job asked of him and the sinking of neutral ships is quite common by 21 May 1942. In fact, if U-106 didn't sink Faja de Oro, another U-boat was in a position to do so. U-754 was stalking Faja de Oro and watched as U-106 torpedoed it. Two U-boats were ready to do the deed. So, the tanker was doomed and Mexico was fated to declare war.

U-103 (Kptlt. Werner Winter), on its seventh patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 3372-ton US freighter Clare 40 nautical miles (74 km) south of easternmost Cuba. All 40 crewmen survive, either reaching land in their lifeboats or picking up by a Cuban naval vessel.

U-103 also torpedoes and sinks 4727-ton US freighter Elizabeth about 30 nautical miles (56 km) south of Cape Corrientes, Cuba. There are six deaths and 36 survivors.
U-201 entering port at Brest, France, 21 May 1942
U-201 returning to Brest, 21 May 1942. the crew has the binoculars out to see what is in port (Leskin, Federal Archive Image 101II-MW-4939-22).
U-159 (Kptlt. Helmut Friedrich Witte), on its second patrol out of Lorient, gets its first two victories of the war today. It torpedoes and damages 2646-ton Royal Fleet Auxiliary RFA Montenol 140 nautical miles (260 km) southeast of Santa Maria Island, Azores. RFA Montenol is with convoy OS 28. There are three deaths and 61 survivors, who are rescued by HMS Woodruff. RFA Montenol is deemed unsalvageable and is scuttled by HMS Wellington.

U-159 also torpedoes and sinks 6529-ton British freighter New Brunswick 140 nautical miles (260 km) southeast of Santa Maria Island, Azores. New Brunswick is part of Convoy OS 28. There are three dead and 59 survivors, who are rescued by British freighter Inchaga, HMS Totland, HMS Weston, and HMS Woodruff.
Canadian freighter Troisdoc, sunk on 21 May 1942
Canadian freighter Troisdoc, sunk by U-558 on 21 May 1942.
U-558 (Kptlt. Günther Krech), on its seventh patrol out of Brest, torpedoes and sinks 1925-ton Canadian freighter Troisdoc west of Jamaica. All 18 crewmen survive and are rescued by USCGC Mohawk.

U-156 (Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein), on its third patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 1738-ton Dominican Republic freighter Presidente Trujillo off Fort-de-France, Martinique. There are 24 dead and 15 survivors.

U-69 (Oblt. Ulrich Gräf), on its eighth patrol out of St. Nazaire, torpedoes and sinks 1927-ton Canadian freighter Torondoc 60 nautical miles (110 km) northwest of Martinique. All 22 crewmen perish.

After two weeks at sea, four survivors of Neosho (AO-23) are rescued by the destroyer USS Helm (DD-338).

Convoy PQ 16 departs Iceland, bound for Murmansk.
German magazine Beobachter Illustrierter, 21 May 1942
An article about expressive dance in the 21 May 1942 Illustrierter Beobachter.
Battle of the Mediterranean: British troops in Malta find a man in bad condition in a cave beneath the Dingli cliffs and bring him to Imtarfa military hospital for treatment. He identifies himself under a phony name, Caio Borghi. By chance, he is recognized at the hospital by a boyhood neighbor who now is a captain in the British Army. The man, Carmelo Borg Pisani, then admits to being an Axis spy sent to report on conditions on Malta.

The Luftwaffe continues its recent pattern of sending Bf 109 fighter-bombers on sweeps over Malta. The RAF attempts to intervene, but is usually too slow to arrive. On one of these attacks over Hal Far aerodrome, they kill two men and wound three others. One of the deaths is Sgt. Dewhurst, recently awarded the Military Medal.
Postcard commemorating the laying of the keel of USS Pargo on 21 May 1942
A postcard commemorating the laying of the keel of USS Pargo on 21 May 1942.
US Military: Having been greatly reinforced in recent days by troops brought over to Northern Ireland by liner Queen Mary and other transport ships,  US Army medical battalions begin taking over some facilities. These include hospitals at Musgrave Park on the outskirts of Belfast and at Irvinestown.

North Pacific Force is established in Alaska. It controls all US and Canadian forces in the region. Its first commander is Rear Admiral Robert A. Theobald.

Holocaust: German forces deport 4300 Jewish residents of Chelm to the death camp at Sobibor. All are gassed to death.

German firm IG Farben establishes a factory outside the Auschwitz extermination camp in order to profit from slave labor.
Deportation of Slovak Jews from Czechoslovakia on 21 May 1942
Deportation of Slovak Jews. Stropkov, Czechoslovakia, May 21, 1942.
American Homefront: MGM releases "Tortilla Flat," directed by Victor Fleming and starring Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, John Garfield, Frank Morgan, and Akim Tamiroff. Morgan is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

In her 'My Day" syndicated column, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt notes that many women in New Mexico have volunteered and been trained as nurses. They now are "being used in all clinics and hospitals throughout the state." This frees up trained nurses and doctors for other tasks.

Ted Williams goes 3-5 with a home run and four RBIs in an 8-3 Boston Red Sox victory over Cleveland. This is his last game before joining the U.S. Navy on 22 May. After being sworn in, Williams returns to the Red Sox and finishes out the season, coming in second in MVP voting to NY Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon.

Future History: Danny Ongais is born in Kahului, Hawaii. He serves in the US Army in Europe in the late 1950s as a paratrooper, then returns to Hawaii and enters motor racing. He becomes a top drag racer, winning the AA Gas Dragster Championship in 1963 and 1964, and in the National Hot Rod Association AA Dragster championship title in 1965. He enters Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) in 1979 and races in several Indianapolis 500 races. To date, Ongais, who becomes known as the "Flyin' Hawaiian" due to his flamboyant personality, is the native Hawaiian to race in the Indianapolis 500. Danny Ongais is inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2000 and retires from racing in the late 1980s, though he returns for a final race in 1996 and remains associated with the sport for years afterward.
Internees in Arizona making mattresses with straw on 21 May 1942
Internees at the Poston internment camp in Arizona filling mattresses with straw, 21 May 1942 (Fred Clark, National Archives and Records Administration, Ctrl. #: NWDNS-210-G-A145, NARA ARC #: 536112).

May 1942


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

May 20, 1942: Churchill and Molotov Negotiate

Wednesday 20 May 1942

Churchill and Molotov, 20 May 1942
Prime Minister Winston Churchill greets Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov in the back garden of No. 10 Downing Street, 20 May 1942. Also seen in the photo are  Deputy Prime Minister Clement Attlee, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, and others (The Daily Telegraph).
Battle of the Pacific: Admiral Nimitz approves a secret operation on 20 May 1942 to ascertain Japanese plans. One of the codebreakers in the Honolulu station, Jasper Holmes, has come up with a way to ascertain the location of "AF," known from decrypts to be the target for an upcoming Japanese invasion. Using an undersea cable that is known to be secure, Nimitz today sends a message to the Midway Island base commander telling him to send out a radio message that there is a "water shortage" at the island. "At the present time, we have only enough water for two weeks. Please supply us immediately."

Just to make certain the intended Japanese recipients get the radio message, the island commander also is instructed to send the request for help both in a code the Japanese are known to have broken and "in the clear" (without coding). The US naval intelligence offices in three locations - Melbourne, Honolulu, and Washington - then sit back to see what develops.

The Japanese indeed are preparing an offensive operation against Midway. Today, Admiral Yamamoto sends out Operational Order 14. This details a complex plan to coordinate invasions of the Aleutian Islands and Midway with troops from Saipan.

A Yeoman in the US Navy Fleet Radio Unit in Melbourne, Australia (FRUMEL), Bill Tremblay, is working late. At 23:30, he identifies Yamamoto's message as important even though it is badly garbled. After Tremblay discusses it with his superiors, the message is put on a fast track for decryption. That, however, will take several days. The Honolulu station also intercepts a copy of the message which also is garbled, but largely in different places. Between the two interceptions, a large portion of the lengthy message can be decrypted.

B-17s based in Australia bomb the airfield at Koepang, Timor, continuing a series of missions against the base. These missions are effective at silencing antiaircraft guns at the airfield.
Baltimore News-Post 20 May 1942
Due to the meeting of Brigadier General Jimmy Doolittle and President Franklin Roosevelt in the White House on 19 May, the newspapers on 20 May are full of hints of new raids on Japan. Here, the Baltimore News-Post gives these rumors a banner headline. In fact, no such raids are planned.
Battle of the Indian Ocean: Today is generally viewed as the completion of the Japanese conquest of Burma. The British formally dissolve Burma Corps, transferring all soldiers formerly under General William Slim to the British IV Corps. Slim is reassigned to Indian XV Corps.

Meanwhile, India is receiving a steady flow of reinforcements from the United States. Another unit of the 10th Air Force in the China-Burma-India Theater arrives at Karachi, India, from the US today. It is the 11th Bombardment Squadron, 7th Bomber Group (Heavy), and flies B-17s. The 11th will become active and fly its first mission on 3 June 1942
Marshal Timoshenko
The troops of Soviet Marshal Timoshenko, shown, are in big trouble around Kharkov on 20 May 1942.
Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht commits more units to its attempt to encircle the Red Army troops wheeling about in confusion south of Kharkov. The Luftwaffe is particularly effective at sealing the pocket, sending Junkers Ju 87 Stukas from StG 77 to destroy five of the Soviet bridges across the Donets River and damage four others. Kampfgeschwader 3 (KG 3), meanwhile, focuses on the roads in the developing pocket that are crowded with Soviet columns that have belatedly been turned 180 degrees to face the growing threat to their communications. Such a maneuver is difficult even in normal times, as the roads east are crowded with service troops, equipment, and other obstacles. The going is slow, and the Soviets are running out of time.

Turning an army around is one of the most difficult maneuvers in warfare. The entire orientation is inverted, with the cutting edge of tanks, infantry, and artillery having to reverse course in a perfectly coordinated ballet that is difficult in peacetime, let alone under fire. The army's "tail," or supply establishment, likewise has to change position to be just the right distance from the front line - which is moving who knows where. Ammunition dumps wind up in the wrong places, headquarters have to move and are out of touch, unit commanders don't even know where their soldiers are. Add to that blocked roads through rough terrain caused by air and artillery attacks and it's easy for chaos to erupt. This is exactly what happens to the Red Army south of Kharkov in May 1942.

Fulfilling a direct order from Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, the 14th Panzer Division advances further north from Petrovskoye and takes Protopopovka. This eliminates another key Soviet Donets river crossing and narrows the mouth of the breakthrough from there to Balakleya down to a dozen miles.

The Germans, though, are running a big risk. They are drawing only a thin line between the huge Red Army forces to the east and west. It is eight miles long and, in most places, only two miles wide. This easily could be pierced by fierce Red Army attacks. The German III Panzer Corps heads west to try and expand the width of this cordon. However, the Germans have to rely on Romanian troops that are less than enthusiastic to stick their heads into this potential noose (at Fuhrer headquarters, General Franz Halder notes that "the Romanians have gained only a little ground").
Von Kleist
Von Kleist.
Determined to seal his victory, General Ewald von Kleist risks it all and sends the 16th Panzer Division (General Hube), the 60th Motorized Division, and the 1st Mountain Division to support the exposed 14th Panzer Division. These are the best troops in the First Panzer Army, the cream of the Wehrmacht. It is a huge gamble because Soviet counterattacks from either or both sides easily could cut off all of these divisions in the exposed salient. This would turn German victory into defeat. Bock convinces Sixth Army commander Friedrich Paulus (direct orders don't always work in these situations even in the Wehrmacht), whose troops are north of the bulge, to support this ambitious move by releasing the 3rd and 23rd Panzer Divisions. They will advance south from Balakleya and meet Kleist's advancing panzers. Even if they meet, however, it is unclear if they can hold their positions against furious counterattacks. It is an audacious gambit.

Someone is going to have a massive victory that may decide the entire summer campaign. It's just not perfectly clear yet who that will be. How hard the Red Army on opposite sides of the German advance will resist this encircling move is the big imponderable.

Bock knows the decisive moment of the entire campaign, perhaps the entire war has arrived. He writes in his war diary, confidently but perhaps more hopefully:

[T]tonight I have given orders aimed at completely sealing off the Izyum bulge. Now everything will turn out well after all.

Only one thing stands in Bock's path to victory: the Red Army. However, something strange is going on. The Germans are astonished to see no signs of either a determined breakout or a relief attack from the East. The thin German lines are holding and consolidating even though they are outgunned and outmanned by enemy troops just out of sight. It's a mystery that only deepens.
Arizona Daily Star 20 May 1942
The Arizona Daily Star of 20 May 1942 features news from the Eastern Front battle of Kharkov that suggests the Red Army is doing well there. "Russian Planes blast at German Tanks Along Highway."
General Manstein's 11th Army eliminates the final above-ground pocket of Soviet resistance south of Kerch today (there are still Red Army soldiers operating out of catacombs in the region). The German success in the Kerch peninsula means many Luftwaffe resources can be transferred to the Kharkov battle, but there is still unfinished business in Crimea to the west. Luftwaffe ace Gordon "Mac" Gollob completes one of the longest sustained victory streaks of the war by shooting down two enemy aircraft, a DB-3 and a LaGG-3. This gives him 101 victories, a major milestone, and 14 victories over the past five days since taking command of JG 77. Gollob is the tenth Luftwaffe pilot to reach the century mark. After these victories, JG 77 is transferred west to help with the conquest of Sevastopol.

The German victory in the Kerch peninsula now is complete. It was an overwhelming triumph. While Fliegerkorps VIII has lost 37 aircraft, the Soviets lose 417. While between 37,000 and 116,045 Red Army soldiers make it back to the mainland, an estimated 162,282 do not. The Germans take about 150,000 soldiers and others (many are civilians) prisoner. The 11th Army loses only 7588 men in total, about ten tanks, and a dozen artillery pieces. The Soviets effectively lose three armies and nine divisions, with nine other divisions requiring major rebuilding.

European Air Operations: There are no major raids by either side today, perhaps due to the weather. The RAF's 197-plane raid on Mannheim on the night of 19/20 May accomplishes very little and causes only two fatalities in the city.

During an intruder operation to Soesterberg Airfield, German Flak of the 2./leichte Flak-Abteilung 764 downs an RCAF Douglas DB-7B Boston Mk III. All three crewmen perish.
MV Norland sinking on 20 May 1942
MV Norland on fire and sinking after being torpedoed by U-108 on 20 May 1942.
Battle of the Atlantic: German raider Michel shells and sinks 4245-ton Norwegian freighter Kattegat in the South Atlantic. Michel's crew takes the entire 32-man crew of Kattegat as prisoners.

U-108 (KrvKpt. Klaus Scholtz), on its seventh patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes, shells, and sinks 8134-ton Norwegian tanker Norland in the mid-Atlantic. Norland is part of Convoy ON 93. The entire 48-man crew survives and is rescued by Dutch freighter Polyphemus and USS PT-453.

U-753 (KrvKpt. Alfred Manhardt von Mannstein), on its fourth patrol out of La Pallice, gets its first victory of the wary. It torpedoes and sinks 7191-ton US Liberty ship George Calvert in the Caribbean near the Yucatan Channel. There are three deaths and 48 survivors.

U-155 (Kptlt. Adolf Cornelius Piening), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and badly damages 7797-ton Panamanian tanker Sylvan Arrow in the Caribbean southwest of Grenada. There are one death and 43 survivors, who are picked up by the destroyer USS Barney. Sylvan Arrow sinks while under tow on 28 May.
Wreck of SS Halo, sunk on 20 May 1942
Wreck of SS Halo, sunk on 20 May 1942 by U-506, lying on the seafloor.
U-506 (Kptlt. Erich Würdemann), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 6986-ton US tanker Halo 50 miles south of Louisiana. There are 39 deaths and three survivors, who are rescued by Mexican freighter Oaxaca and British freighter Otina. This is the ninth victory of the patrol for U-506 and it isn't over yet. The wreck of the Halo, which was carrying 64,103 barrels of crude oil, is found during a pipeline survey in July 2000 lying in 470 feet (78 fathoms, 143 m) of water.

U-158 (Kptlt. Erwin Rostin), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 8,113-ton British tanker Darina 500 nautical miles (930 km) southeast of Bermuda. There are six deaths and 50 survivors, who are rescued by British freighter British Ardour, Norwegian freighter Dagrun, and US freighter Exanthia. This is the first victory of what will be an eventful patrol for U-158.

US Navy yard patrol craft USS YP-387 sinks after colliding with collier Jason off Delaware. There are six deaths and 15 survivors who are rescued by Jason.
Map of Doolittle raid, 20 May 1942 Chicago Daily Tribune
The 20 May 1942 Chicago Daily Tribune contains a map and account of the 18 April Doolittle Raid on Japan.
Battle of the Mediterranean: U-431 (Kptlt. Wilhelm Dommes), on its sixth patrol out of La Spezia, torpedoes and sinks 4216-ton British tanker Eocene off Sollum, Egypt. The tanker is part of convoy AT-46. All 43 crewmen survive, rescued by Royal Navy HMT Cocker.

Due to a large number of RAF Supermarine Spitfires now on Malta, the Axis bombing raids now are usually composed of hit-and-run attacks by Luftwaffe fighter-bombers. The main objectives are still the airfields, and Luqa Airfield is attacked several times today after dark. Compared to the situation of a month ago, however, the attacks are minor and cause little damage.

Battle of the Baltic: Norwegian (Axis) freighter Vestra hits a mine and sinks in the Skagerrak near the Falsterbo Lighthouse, Sweden. The ship sinks in shallow water and is refloated, repaired, and returned to service.

Anglo/Soviet Relations: Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov arrives in London to hold talks on opening a second front. Churchill does not take to Molotov, later saying about him, "I have never seen a human being who more perfectly represented the modern conception of a robot." (WSC, WWII, Vol. I p. 288-9). Molotov, as usual, is all business, just as he was with Hitler in November 1940. He emphasizes Soviet claims on territory in Poland and the Baltic States, matters that Churchill views as premature. Despite their issues, the two men immediately begin work toward preparing a twenty-year treaty of friendship. The final agreement is signed on 26 May 1942.
WCCA headquarters in Woodland, California, 20 May 1942
Woodland, California, 20 May 1942. Entrance to American Legion Hall, being used by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (W.C.C.A.) to assist persons of Japanese ancestry in settling their affairs before they depart for internment camps (Dorothea Lange, National Archives at College Park NARA record 1372774).
US Military: The US Navy Department issues a press release on 20 May 1942, "Recruiting of [African Americans] to Begin June 1." It also releases a separate press release, "Marines Announce Plans for Recruiting [African Americans]."

The new Navy recruits are to receive the normal eight weeks of training at the established Great Lakes facilities. This will qualify them for a sixteen-week vocational school at the Hampton Institute in Virginia. They will be trained there as electricians, carpenters, ship fitters, machinists, metalsmiths, firemen, and cooks. Heretofore, African Americans in the Navy have been confined to the stewards' branch. Fearful of crew shortages in this area, the Navy refuses to allow transfers out of the stewards' branch to the general service until May 1945.

The black Marine Corps recruits have a somewhat different experience. The Marine Corps does not have a training center prepared, so the recruits must be placed on inactive duty status while one is set up. Eventually, a facility is constructed at Montford Point, near New River, North Carolina, and Camp Lejeune. Prospective Marine Corps recruits face often insurmountable obstacles such as tight quotas for black marines and other restrictions.

Admiral John S. McCain arrives at Noumea, New Caledonia, in seaplane tender USS Tangier. He assumes command as the new Commander Aircraft South Pacific Forces (COMAIRSOPAC). McCain now is responsible for tender and shore-based aviation in the South Pacific Area (SOPAC) under admiral Nimitz. This area is to the east of the Southwest Pacific Area and south of the Central Pacific Area. SOPAC encompasses the Ellice, Phoenix, Marquesas, Tuamotu, Samoa, Fiji, and New Hebrides island groups plus New Caledonia and New Zealand. However, it does not yet include Guadalcanal or Tulagi and thus does not include areas of likely conflict. It includes, though, the main route from the United States to Australia and is of immense strategic importance.

Submarine USS Kingfish (SS-234) is commissioned.
MLB schedule, 20 May 1942
The Major League Baseball schedule for 20 May 1942, sponsored by Carstairs White Seal Blended Whiskey.
British Government: A two-day debate on the war situation concludes in Parliament. PM Leslie Hore-Belisha, the Secretary of State for War under former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, is particularly critical of the Churchill government's handling of the war situation. He notes that there is not yet a "method of continuous cooperate" with the United States and that the different Allies are speaking with "disunited voices." Hore-Belisha proposes government reforms that will maintain "a clear-cut distinction" between "impartial, undiluted military opinion and what is a political decision." This is an obvious attack on Churchill, who is suspected by some of managing the war for his own personal political benefit.

American Homefront: Henry Ford begins the construction of a memorial to inventor George Washington Carver in Greenfield Village adjacent to the Logan County Courthouse. This project has been Ford's dream since meeting Carver, who is still alive to watch the building go up and be completed, in 1937.

Future History: Carlos Norman Hathcock is born in Little Rock, Arkansas. He joins the US military during the Vietnam War and becomes a Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant. He earns the nickname "White Feather Sniper" due to his habit of wearing a bush hat with a feather in it. Hathcock becomes a legendary sniper, and the Viet Cong place a $30,000 bounty on him. In his most famous encounter, he is sent specifically to eliminate an elite Viet Cong sniper known as "The Cobra." He accomplishes the task with a bullet that travels up Cobra's scope and into his eye. Carlos Norman Hathcock survives the war and passes away on 23 February 1999.
Internees leaving Woodland, California, 20 May 1942
West Coast internees bound for a camp. (Dorothea Lange, Woodland, California, May 20, 1942. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration).

May 1942


Sunday, May 16, 2021

May 19, 1942: Soviet Panic at Kharkov

Tuesday 19 May 1942

Roosevelts gives Doolittle Medal of Honor 19 May 1942
President Franklin D. Roosevelt presents the Medal of Honor to Brigadier General James Harold Doolittle in a ceremony at The White House, 19 May 1942. The President is seated at the left. Standing, left to right, are Lieutenant General Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces; Mrs. Doolittle; Brigadier General Doolittle; and General George Catlett Marshall, Jr., Chief of Staff, United States Army. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Photographic Collection, NPx. 65-696).
Battle of the Pacific: US Admirals "Bull" Halsey and Frank Fletcher are bringing their Task Forces 16 and 17 east toward Hawaii on 19 May 1942 in anticipation of a major Japanese attack. Nobody is completely sure where the attack will occur, but the consensus is that Midway Island will be the target. Light cruiser USS Nashville (CL-43) sails through the expected area of the attack from Midway to the western Aleutians today but does not see any enemy ships.

Japanese submarine I-21 launches a seaplane to reconnoiter Suva Bay, Fiji.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: The Japanese have sent a detachment of submarines, "Detachment A," to the Indian Ocean to scout for opportunities. Today, submarine I-30 launches a seaplane to reconnoiter Zanzibar and Dar-es-Salaam.
Crashed B-25B, 19 May 1942
A B-25B of the 39th Bomb Squadron forced to crashland at Westover Field, Massachusetts, on 19 May 1942 due to issues with the landing gear. Everyone survived. The pilot, Lt. John Henebry, ultimately becomes a major general and writes a book about his wartime experiences, "The Grim Reapers: At Work in the Pacific Theater" (2002).
Eastern Front: Commander of Army Group South Field Marshal Fedor von Bock presses his advantage against a disbelieving Red Army south of Kharkov. Having coordinated plans with First Panzer Army commander General Ewald on Kleist on the 18th, he orders Sixth Army commander General Friedrich Paulus to begin an attack from Merefa southwest of Kharkov. The objective is to occupy and distract the Soviet forces far to the west of where Kleist's panzers are attempting to surround them.

Kleist's III Panzer Corps, meanwhile, is brushing aside opposition as it continues eating into the Soviet supply corridor. The 14th Panzer Division crosses the Bereka River to take Petrovskoye while other divisions head west to block an expected Red Army breakout attempt. This narrows the mouth of the bulge to fifteen miles and deprives the Red Army forces to the west of a critical Donets river crossing.

Soviet Southwest Front, led by Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, finally begins to react to the growing Wehrmacht threat. After continuing to attack German VIII Corps south of Kharkov in the morning, it quickly breaks off the attacks and begins sending units to block Kleist's panzers to the southeast. The Luftwaffe controls the skies and sees and attacks the red Army columns on the roads. The German pilots, enjoying complete aerial dominance, claim to destroy 29 tanks during the day.

The Sixth Army war diary summarizes the situation at the end of the day: "The enemy's offensive strength has cracked. The breakthrough to Kharkov is therewith prevented."
Panzer 38(t) in Crimea, 19 May 1942
A German Panzer 38(t) leaves a landing craft on a beach near Yalta, May 1942 (Federal Archive B 145 Fig. F016214-0021A).
It is unclear where the Soviet orders to break off the attack in the morning came from. Post-war Soviet histories claim they came from Timoshenko on his own authority. If so, it is a dramatic turnaround by Timoshenko, who has been telling Stalin all along that the German counterattacks are not a threat. The Stavka finally reverses course at the end of the day and orders the advanced Sixth Army and Bobkin Group to terminate the offensive toward Kharkov and head southeast to confront Kleist's panzers.  
At his midnight conference, Hitler calls von Bock and tells him to hurry up and finish the encirclement. Kleist is to send 14th Panzer Division the final fifteen miles to reach Balakleya, where German troops of Paulus' Sixth Army await. Bock immediately calls Kleist's chief of staff and tells him to take the next town, Protopopovka, "under all circumstances and as soon as in any way possible." The fate of 600,000 Soviet soldiers to the west hangs in the balance. At Fuhrer Headquarters, General Franz Halder notes briefly in his diary that "The situation east of Kharkov is no longer dangerous."

In Crimea, General Manstein's 11th Army continues mopping up resistance in the Kerch region. Some histories record the 19th as the day of German victory in Crimea, and General Franz Halder records in his war diary that "The Kerch offensive can be regarded as closed." However, there remain Red Army holdouts (including at the port of Sevastopol), including thousands congregating in catacombs south of Kerch. In the air, Luftwaffe ace Gordon "Mac" Gollob continues a torrid victory streak, shooting down three more Soviet R-5 reconnaissance planes to raise his victory total to 99.
Japanese-American internees, 19 May 1942
Internees await relocation in Centerville, California. May 19, 1942. Dorothea Lange, photographer. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Oakland Museum of California. Gift of Paul S. Taylor.
European Air Operations: The weather clears sufficiently for both sides to resume their bombing operations. This is only a brief interruption of activity in what otherwise is a very quiet month along the Channel Front.

The Luftwaffe ends its lull by attacking Hull in another "Baedeker Raid." There are 50 deaths, 58 seriously injured, and extensive damage, especially in the Alexandria dock area. The bombing accuracy is quite good, especially relative to recent RAF attempts, with hits on the Blackburn aircraft factory at Brough (west of Hull). Extensive fires erupt along Scarborough Lane and Westbourne Avenue. The attack is notable for the use of an 1,800kg bomb and a 1,000kg bomb. Other areas hit include Hedon (east of Hull), Hornsea, and Withernsea. The Luftwaffe loses two Junkers Ju 88 bombers and a Dornier Do-217.

RAF Bomber Command mounts its first major raid in eleven days. The target is Mannheim. A total of 197 bombers (11 lost) embark, with 105 bomber crews claiming to hit the city. However, accuracy is very poor, and very few bombs actually hit the city. Local authorities estimate that bombs from only about ten bombers actually hit the city. However, the bombs that do hit cause an appreciable amount of damage to some small businesses in the harbor areas. There are only two deaths in the city.

In minor raids, 65 RAF bombers (one lost) attack St. Nazaire but cause little damage. Another 9 bombers lay mines off Lorient and near Heligoland, while 13 bombers drop leaflets over France.
Survivors of SS Heredia, 19 May 1942
The Downs family, survivors of the sinking of freighter SS Heredia on 19 May 1942 by U-506.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-506 (Kptlt. Erich Würdemann), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 4732-ton US refrigerated freighter Heredia at 02:00 two nautical miles (3.7 km) southeast of the Ship Shoal Buoy off Louisiana. The ship sinks very quickly, giving no time to launch the boats. There are 36 deaths and 26 survivors, who are rescued by local shrimpers Conquest, J. Edwin Treakle, Papa Joe, and Shellwater, with three of the survivors picked up by a seaplane.

U-103 (Kptlt. Werner Winter), on its seventh patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 5037-ton US freighter Ogontz 70 nautical miles (130 km) southeast of Cozumel, Mexico. There are 19 deaths and 22 survivors, who are rescued by US tanker Esso Dover.

U-751 (Kptlt. Gerhard Bigalk), on its sixth patrol out of St. Nazaire, torpedoes, shells, and sinks 3110-ton US freighter Isabela 35 nautical miles (65 km) south of Navassa Island Lighthouse. There are three deaths and 34 survivors, who make it to Cape Briton, Haiti, in lifeboats. This is the final victory for U-751.

An Italian submarine torpedoes and sinks Swedish 5747-ton steel cargo freighter Tisnaren somewhere in the Atlantic between Brazil and Senegal. Italian submarines Comandante Cappellini and Barbarigo are operating in this area but it is not definite which is the attacker.

At Hvalfjordur, Iceland, some merchant marine sailors aboard US freighter SS Ironclad notice that there is a shipment of liquor (it is en route to the US Ambassador to Moscow, Admiral William H. Standley, USN (Ret.)). They decide to help themselves and discipline breaks down, with fighting breaking out. At the behest of an armed guard officer on board, troops from the battleship USS Washington are sent over to restore order. Ironclad is removed from convoy PQ 16.
Tugboat Iriquois in Puget Sound, 19 May 1942
Tugboat Iriquois at sea, 19 May 1942 (Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society).
Battle of the Mediterranean: Royal Navy submarine HMS Thrasher torpedoes and sinks 1160-ton Italian freighter Penelope a few miles northwest of Monopoli, Italy.

Malta has been heavily reinforced with Spitfire fighters recently and the results are plain in the daytime sky. While Luftwaffe fighter sweeps over the island continue, the new defenders lead to a much-reduced bomber threat. In fact, they enable RAF bombers to go back on the offensive. Today, RAF bombers attack an Italian convoy northbound from Tripoli, though no ships are sunk.

Manhattan Project: Having just taken over the atom bomb research program, Robert Oppenheimer sends a letter to Ernest O. Lawrence updating him on progress. He writes that the atomic bomb design is solved "in principle" and projects that "six good physicists" should be able to work out the details within six months.

Joint Allied Command: The 30th and final in a series of Post-Arcadia meetings of the Combined Chiefs of Staff takes place in Washington, D.C. Among the topics discussed is an expected German advance toward the Persian Gulf from Syrian bases, the selection of targets for the nascent USAAF Eighth Air Force, and German development of a "new odorless gas, suitable for a surprise attack by inclusion in bombardments from the ground or from the air."
Crash site in Quebec, 19 May 1942
The crash site at No. 9 Bombing and Gunner School, Quebec.
Canadian Military: A Battle Mk. I crashes at No. 9 Bombing and Gunnery School, Mt.-Joli, Quebec, killing the four crewmen. This school is part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, so the passengers include airmen from Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

US Military: Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker, commander of Eighth Air Force, assumes command of all US air units in the United Kingdom.

Pursuant to a recent agreement between the United States and Panama, the 31st Fighter Squadron, 37th Fighter Group, 6th Air Force transfers its P-39 and P-40 fighters from Chorrera, Panama, to Albrook Field, Canal Zone.

Australian Military: A Tugan LJW7 Gannet aircraft flying from Batchelor Field (northern Australia) to Groote Eylandt makes a forced crash landing in a swamp in remote Arnhem Bay. The crew survives and scavengers the ruined airplane to make a raft. They survive an epic 33-day journey to the Milingimbi mission. Survivor George Booth later writes a book, "33 Days," describing how local natives helped the crew survive. This real-life story has echoes in the motion picture "Flight of the Phoenix" (1965) starring Jimmy Stewart.
General Jimmy Doolittle, 1942
Brigadier General James Harold Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942. (U.S. Air Force).
President Roosevelt presents the Medal of Honor to Lt. Colonel James Doolittle, who is also promoted to brigadier general, for the 18 April 1942 Doolittle raid. The citation reads:

For conspicuous leadership above and beyond the call of duty, involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life. With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or to perish at sea, Lt. Col. Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland.

While, in fact, not a particularly damaging air raid as the citation reads, the Doolittle Raid was a major morale booster after the series of defeats at Singapore, Bataan, and elsewhere. It also influences Japanese strategy to its detriment, making it more defensive and paranoid.

American Homefront: The Western Defense Command issues Civilian Restrictive Order No. 1. This forces all Japanese-Americans in California, Oregon, Washington State, and southern Arizona to move into relocation camps. These camps are located in numerous states between eastern California and the Mississippi River. The total number of persons ultimately sent to camps is approximately 122,000.

Paul Waner of the Braves becomes the third National Leaguer to get 3000 hits (following Honus Wagner and Cap Anson).

Future History: Frederick "Curly" Neal is born in Greensboro, North Carolina. Curly Neal becomes a celebrity as the Harlem Globetrotters' featured ballhandler from 1963-1985. He also is featured in the animated Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Harlem Globetrotters." The Globetrotters retire Neal's No. 22 on 15 February 2008. Frederick Neal passes away in Houston on 26 March 2020.
Look magazine 19 May 1942
Look magazine of 19 May 1942 features a Marine Corps Sergeant Otto Nuske on the cover.

May 1942