Tuesday, September 7, 2021

May 24, 1942: German Anti-Partisan Operations in Full Swing

Sunday 24 May 1942

Lieutenant Commander Lance E. Massey 24 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Lt Cdr Lance E. Massey commander of VT-3 in the cockpit of his TBD-1 Devastator, at Naval Air Station Ford Island, Pearl Habor, 24 May 1942. Note that the plane has the marking for sinking one Japanese ship on it. Massey will lead his squadron of obsolete torpedo bombers into battle from the USS Enterprise at Midway and perish on 4 June 1942. He receives the Navy Cross posthumously and the Navy names destroyer DD-778 after him in 1944 (Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-66074).

Battle of the Pacific: The Japanese introduce a new codebook on 24 May 1942. This new code takes several days for US Naval Intelligence to crack. However, the new Japanese codebook comes a few days too late, as the Americans within the past few days have decoded several important Japanese messages that detail Japanese plans to invade Midway Island in early June.

Due to this codebreaking, the US Navy, led operationally by Admiral Chester Nimitz, already knows that the Japanese are going to divide their forces between Midway and the Aleutian Islands. The US also knows how many aircraft carriers the Japanese will deploy. Nimitz and his strategists decide to concentrate their only three aircraft carriers (once USS Enterprise and Hornet arrive from the southwest Pacific) at Midway and essentially abandon the Aleutians. At Midway, Nimitz figures, the three available carriers plus aircraft stationed on Midway itself should enable the US Navy to fight the battle on equal terms numerically.

Despite only having rough numerical parity, though, the advantage of knowing Japanese plans in advance gives the Allies an incalculable advantage. Enterprise and Hornet are expected back at Pearl within the next few days and will barely have time to turn around to get to Midway in time.

US Navy submarine USS Pompano (Lt Cdr L.S. Parks) spots Japanese fishing boat Kotoku Maru northeast of Taiwan and sinks it with gunfire.

The US Fifth Air Force sends B-25 and B-26 bombers of the 3rd Bomber Group to attack the airfield at Lae, New Guinea. The Japanese respond promptly with 15 Zero fighters and accurate anti-aircraft fire and down at least two B-25s while successfully disrupting the attack.

Japanese submarine I-21 sends a "Glen" reconnaissance plane over Auckland, New Zealand, without incident.
US Marines at Parris Island, May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
US Marines complete their training at Parris Island, South Carolina, May 1942 (colorized, Alfred T. Palmer/The Library of Congress).

Battle of the Indian Ocean: General Joseph Warren "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell arrives in Assam, India, after a 140-mile walk through jungles. Stilwell leads his 117-member staff of men and women using the "Stilwell stride," which is a consistent 105 paces per minute. He holds a press conference where he states:
I claim we got a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is as humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back and re-take it.
Stilwell aide Frank Dorn and war correspondent Jack Belden later write books about the grueling but successful retreat, one of the few where a general leads his troops on foot.
New Knights Cross bearers 24 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
New Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross bearers Obstlt. Horst Griese, Goedicke, Sturmführer Hermann Fegelein, Major Rudolf Pannier in Berlin, 24 May 1942. Fegelein, who we will meet again in 1945, is currently Inspector of Cavalry and Transportation (Inspekteur des Reit- und Fahrwesens) in the SS-Führungshauptamt (SS Headquarters). His previous command, the SS Cavalry Brigade, was decimated during desperate defensive actions in the Moscow sector and disbanded in March 1942 (Federal Archive Picture 121-1397).  

Eastern Front: Southeast of Kharkov, the two sides spend the day concentrating their forces. In his war diary, General Franz Halder notes that the pocket "at last is solidly sealed." The large Soviet forces (9th and 57th Armies) trapped in a pocket prepare to launch a major breakout attempt on the 25th, while the Germans flood fresh new divisions into the thin corridor on the Donets River separating the Soviet forces to the east and west.

The German generals remain astounded that the Red Army to the east is mounting no major attacks to pierce the corridor and reconnect with their fellow soldiers trapped to the west. Halder mentions simply that "[a]ttempts from the east, through Izyum and Savintsi, to crack the ring from without were repelled." This suggests the attacks are not in any way massive or threatening. The decision to let the trapped armies battle their way out themselves seems to rest with Stalin, who is loathe to retreat. He also has a macabre tendency to want his generals to suffer the consequences of their poor previous decisions, perhaps to solidify his own moral ascendancy.

The moribund pincer to the northeast of Kharkov mounts a renewed attack toward the city. Halder speculates that this is "apparently to keep us from withdrawing forces from this sector" and sent them south to reinforce the corridor at Izyum. The Red Army attacks are unsuccessful.

Halder also notes Soviet radio silence in the area along the boundary line between Army Groups Center and South. These boundary lines are always prime areas of attack, and radio silence usually means the Soviets are planning something in this area.

Gustav 31.5 inch gun worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Adolf Hitler observes the Gustav gun (Schwerer Gustav). This very real weapon has become a favorite of video game makers.

Looking ahead, Halder has a staff meeting about transferring artillery from the Sevastopol front to the Leningrad sector once Sevastopol is taken. The Wehrmacht has its largest guns at Sevastopol, including the massive Gustav (31.5 inch) railway gun. While they pose tempting targets and take far more resources to position and use than they are worth, these large guns are having an effect at Sevastopol by destroying some Soviet forts along the perimeter. As an indication of just how much logistics this gun requires, however, it is not even in a position to fire any shells yet at Sevastopol even as Halder is talking about transferring it north. It arrived there in early May and will not be ready until 5 June 1942.

In a sign of looming German manpower shortages, Halder also has a conference with Lt. Colonel Gehlen about a "Russian Replacement Army." Using captured Soviet troops on the Eastern Front is still in the early formative stages. The idea is to form units using volunteers from the POW camps who are anti-Communist for one reason or another (for example, Ukrainians who resent Soviet domination of their country). This is an idea that will gradually pick up steam over the next couple of years.

As part of a continuing Luftwaffe air offensive against Leningrad, planes sink Soviet Leninets-class submarine L-21. The Soviet Navy later raises the submarine and returns it to service.
NY Times 24 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The NY Times, 24 May 1942. The headline is about the Soviet loss of the Kerch Peninsula, which happened several days ago - news travels slowly from the Eastern Front.

European Air Operations: German Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-7 6413 has engine trouble and is forced to ditch 2 km north of Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands. The pilot survives.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-103 (Kptlt. Werner Winter), on its seventh patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 1828-ton Dutch freighter Hector about 50 miles northwest of Grand Cayman Island. Winter has to spend four hours positioning the U-boat for the attack because Hector's master, Johannes Lodewijk, has received a radio message of U-boats in the vicinity and is proceeding at top speed. One torpedo hits at 16:40 and sends Hector to the bottom in less than four minutes. Due to the quick sinking, only one lifeboat and a raft are launched. The radio operator remains at his post sending a distress call until the end and is lost with the ship, along with the cook. Despite the radio operator failing to send the ship's name or position, a passing ship, US tanker F.Q. Barstow, happens to be nearby and rescues the ship's crew within hours. There are 29 survivors.

U-502 (Kptlt. Jürgen von Rosenstiel), on its fourth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 4996-ton Brazilian freighter Gonçalves Dias about 100 miles south of Ciudad Trujillo (Santo Domingo), Dominican Republic. Rosenstiel attacks this neutral ship because he sees a 120mm gun onboard and only learns that the ship is Brazilian after surfacing and questioning survivors. There are six deaths and 39 survivors.

Norwegian (under German control) 927-ton freighter Bør hits a mine and sinks off the coast of Holland. There are 17 survivors, picked up by Norwegian freighter Kong Sigurd.

Greek 5411-ton freighter Anna Mazaraki runs aground and is wrecked at East Bar, Sable Island, while en route to Sydney, Nova Scotia. Everybody aboard survives (some sources place this as occurring on 25 May).

After spending over ten days on a raft in the Caribbean, two survivors of US freighter Norlantic (sunk on 13 May) are rescued by passing freighter Marpesia. There are still three survivors on another raft from this ship who won't be rescued until 19 June.
Norwegian/German freighter Bør, sunk by mine on 24 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Norwegian/German freighter Bør, sunk by a mine on 24 May 1942.

Battle of the Mediterranean: It is a quiet day on Malta, with no bombing raids. Patroling RAF Spitfire fighters down a Junkers Ju 88 reconnaissance aircraft and two Italian Macchi fighters.

Battle of the Black Sea: Turkish 330-ton coaster Chefak is torpedoed and sunk off Cape Vassilicos, Bulgaria. This may be the same vessel as Safak sunk on 23 May by ShCh 205 off Burgas, Bulgaria.

Partisans: Three panzer divisions, three infantry divisions, and one security division began Operation Hannover. This is one in a series of anti-partisan operations in the central section of the Eastern Front. Partisans, forewarned of the attack, destroy bridges which are essential as streams and rivers in the vicinity remain swollen from the spring thaw (Rasputitsa). The reason so many German forces are involved is that many regular Red Army units have been trapped there since the winter Moscow counteroffensive in a failed attempt to take Bryansk. These roughly 17,000 soldiers are led by Major General P.A. Belov and are a formidable force. The German plan is to encircle Belov's men, but he has partisan spies everywhere and to a large extent is able to evade the German trap. When the Germans do capture "partisans," they tend to look just like every other local inhabitant, and thus whether they are actually partisans or not is difficult to tell.

Hannover has been delayed for several days by persistent thunderstorms in the area. They clear slightly now, enabling General Heinrici, commander of the 4th Army, to begin the operation. The 19th Panzer division advances from the south and makes almost ten miles before noon. However, the panzers are stopped there by the Ugra River, which is swollen from the thaw and recent rains. The partisans, watching the German tanks closely, know exactly which bridges to blow up as they retreat.

The Germans also have a trick up their sleeve. They are using several hundred specially trained Soviet POWs as spies. These POWs have volunteered for the mission and were trained at the Experimental Organization at Ostintorf near Orsha. Their mission is to advance across the lines, reconnoiter, and then return with information about the partisan whereabouts. The Germans do not expect much from this group, but any information collected from them would be a bonus. Overall, the first day of Operation Hannover is a success, though the rains continue, making progress difficult and sloppy.  

US Military: Major General John C.H. Lee forms the Headquarters, Services of Supply, US Army Forces in the British Isles (SOSO, USAFBI) at 28 Grosvenor Square, London.
Request concert in Berlin, 24 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"Request concert in the Berliner Rundfunkhaus on Whit Monday 1942 with the new knight's cross bearers Lieutenant Colonel Giese [Griese, standing with his back to the camera], Major Pannier and Standartenführer Fegelein." Berlin, 24 May 1942 (Federal Archive Picture 121-1404).

British Homefront: Perhaps incited by recent nebulous comments by the socialist politician Sir Stafford Cripps, separate London gatherings organized by the Daily Express and the UK Communist Party adopt resolutions calling for a second front in Europe. This, of course, is a constant demand by Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin throughout 1942. However, the western Allies have no plans for a second front at this time.

Canadian Homefront: Canada orders rationing of tea and coffee.
Dutch freighter Hector, sunk by U-103 on 24 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Dutch freighter Hector, sunk by U-103 on 24 May 1942.

American Homefront: The Office of Civilian Defense conducts the first large-scale test blackout in the Midwestern United States. It begins at 22:00 centered around Detroit, Michigan, and lasts for fifteen minutes. Nearby communities including Pontiac and Windsor, Ontario join in. This is a major industrial region that is vital to the Allies' war effort, producing planes and tanks, among many other things. While this area is not in any imminent danger, it is a region that the Luftwaffe would love to attack once feasible. There are legends, likely false, that the Luftwaffe actually does plan to overfly this region later in the war. In any event, no enemy planes ever come anywhere remotely close to the Midwest.

Future History: Ichirō Ozawa is born in Tokyo, Japan. The son of a businessman and politician, Ozawa gravitates into politics as well. He is elected to the Japanese House of Representatives as a member of the CDP in 1969, representing the Iwate district, and, as of 2021, continues to serve there. Ozawa becomes Leader of the Opposition from 1995-1997 and again from 2006-2009 and is famous within Japanese political circles for his back-room influence, for which he acquires the nickname "Shadow Shōgun."
WAC leader Oveta Culp Hobby, NY Times, 24 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
NY Times Magazine, 24 May 1942. The cover features the Director of the Women's Army Corps (WAC) Oveta Culp Hobby. 

May 1942


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