Saturday, October 8, 2022

June 22, 1942: Rommel Promoted to Field Marshal

Monday 22 June 1942

Fleet Air Arm, 22 June 1942
"Fleet Air Arm planes starting out on an exercise carrying torpedoes." © IWM A 10683.

Eastern Front: June 22, 1942, is the start of the second year in the Soviet Union, as General Halder notes in his war diary. Things look good for the Germans despite the failure to accomplish the end objectives of 1941. The grand offensive, Case Blau, that Adolf Hitlers sees as "clearing the table" in the East is ready and the Wehrmacht is reporting successes far and wide. Word of the Japanese defeat at Midway has not yet filtered through, and in any event, the Germans feel they can win the war on their own.

In Crimea, German troops continue cleaning out dwindling Soviet resistance on the north side of Severnaya Bay. On the southern and eastern fronts, the German 30th Corps remains stymied by fierce Soviet resistance backed by effective artillery fire on Sapun Ridge. Romanian 18th Infantry, 1st, and 4th Mountain Divisions continue slowly advancing along the Chernaya River toward Severnaya Bay. The Luftwaffe remains a dominant force, flying about 800 sorties and dropping about 700 tons of bombs every day.

General von Manstein, in command in Crimea, suddenly comes up with an innovative way to end the Sevastopol siege quickly. He asks General Halder for permission to parachute the captive Allied commander at Tobruk into Sevastopol to serve as a kind of object lesson on the futility of holding out. He predicts "a strong demoralizing effect." Halder does not even bother mentioning the crazy idea - which ignores practicality and the Geneva Convention - in his diary entry. 

Luftwaffe General von Richthofen is ordered north to his new post helping out with Blau and given three days to get there. He wanted to remain for the ultimate victory, which now seems as far off as ever, and complains in his diary that he had originally been promised a full week to fly out. "It is a pity," he writes, "that one can never finish what one starts here in the east. After a while, it takes away all the pleasure."

Von Richthofen likes to dabble in ground operation strategy - all Luftwaffe generals are former army officers - and complains in his diary about Manstein's conservative approach (emphasis in original):

"I wish that everyone would just push a little more energetically. The view that advancing cautiously avoids losses is simply not correct, because small losses each day soon mount up the longer it takes."

Richthofen is a crony of Hitler and feels free to critique his peers freely in his diary. His assessments generally (but not always) appear quite reasonable.

Hitler finally returns to Fuhrer Headquarters in East Prussia after having been informed of the Reichel Affair on the 21st, and it is as though a dark raincloud has descended on the trapped generals. He summons Field Marshal von Bock, leader of Army Group South, to report on the situation. Halder reports "a great agitation conducted against the General Staff" about the loss of the plans for Blau to the Soviets. Nobody is quite sure what is going to happen to Blau, which today goes on four-days standby (so, projected to begin on 26 June). Halder notes that the pre-positioning of forces for Blau will take place today after dark.

Stalin on Newsweek cover, 22 June 1942
Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin on the cover of Newsweek, 22 June 1942.

On the Soviet side, Stalin has dismissed the Reichel Blau plans as disinformation, but not all of the Soviet generals are so sure. Colonel General Golikov, commanding the Bryansk Front, begins reinforcing his southern (left) flank. General Timoshenko further south, however, agrees with Stalin and believes that the papers were "fed to us deliberately in order to throw a veil over the true intentions of the German command." Golikov is taken aback by Timoshenko's head-in-the-sand approach and asks Stalin for a special commander to take over the sector in front of Voronezh. Stalin, however, still believes the German main effort will be toward Moscow to finish up the unfinished business of 1941 and turns him down flat. Since the Reichel papers indicated that the offensive would start on 22 June, at least so far the generals taking the papers seriously are starting to look foolish.

Operation Fridericus II, the remaining preliminary operation for Blau, jumps off in the morning. As with the recently concluded Operation Wilhelm, III Panzer Corps of Sixth Army carries the main load. It departs from the vicinity of Chuguyev heading toward Kupyansk, where it intends to turn south along the Oskol River. Further south, XXXXIV Corps of General Kleist's First Panzer Army crosses the Donets between Izyum and the mouth of the Oskol and heads north to close the pincer. It is still raining, as it has been for several days, and III Corps' panzers only make it halfway to Kupyansk. Halder notes that the operation:

made substantial initial ground gains, but later encountered stubborn resistance west of Kupyansk. Crossing of the Donets from the south has been executed without major difficulties. 

An unexpected trend for the Germans is becoming apparent from these preliminary operations: the Soviets are not resisting. Rather than make defensive stands to stop or slow the German advances, the Red Army is simply giving ground. Nobody is quite sure what to make of this, and it is not entirely beneficial because the advancing troops are taking distressingly few prisoners. 

Further north, things also are going well. Soviet Second Shock Army remains trapped west of the Volkhov River, though Halder notes that "Enemy tanks have penetrated into our 'bridge,' but... it is believed this will prevent the enemy from getting his forces out of the sac." He adds approvingly that "Starvation among the penned-up enemy is beginning to take its toll."

Battle of the Baltic: Soviet submarine Shch-317 torpedoes and sinks 2399-ton Swedish iron ore freighter Ada Gorthon west of Gotland (off Bläsinge, Öland). The ship sinks in less than a minute, and there are 14 deaths and 8 survivors.

Danish 81-ton freighter Ruth hits a mine and sinks in the Småland Sea off Sweden. The crew survives and they are later picked up by another freighter.

USS Meredith near Fiji, 22 June 1942
USS Meredith (DD-434) at sea off the Fiji Islands, 22 June 1942. Note the camouflage painting (Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-13134).

Battle of the Pacific: Port Moresby is now top of the agenda for both sides and can be considered the unofficial start of the battle for Port Moresby (which was the target of the failed Japanese invasion deterred by the Battle of the Coral Sea in May). Japanese forces of the Japanese 17th Army under Lieutenant General Harukichi Hyakutake in Papua, New Guinea begin the long 60-mile (100 km) trek over the mountains south toward Port Moresby. The terrain is rough and there are dense jungles along the way. Japanese forces use the Kokoda foot Track, which soars to 2190 meters (7,185 feet) at the peak of Mount Bellamy.

The Allies, in Operation Boston, send a garrison force from Port Moresby today to Milne Bay to develop an airfield. They also authorize another strip at Merauke, on the south coast of Dutch New Guinea, to protect the less-exposed western approaches. General Douglas MacArthur is the theater commander, while General Sir Thomas Blamey is the commander of Allied land forces for protection against Japanese overland attacks. Blamey is now in the process of deploying forces north to Kokoda.

Blamey's Allied Land Headquarters today orders Brigadier Basil Morris, commander of the 8th Military District of Australia, to deploy "Australian Infantry" to Kokoda (midway along the Trail) to block the Japanese advance (this takes a couple of days for Morris to undertake). The Allies also are in the process of building a vehicle track north toward Owers' Corner (38 miles, 61 km from Port Moresby), which generally is considered the southern terminus of the Kokoda Trail (completed late September).

USS Saratoga begins ferrying 18 Marine Dauntlesses of VMSB-231 and 25 Army Air Corps Curtiss P-40 Warhawks to Midway Island to replace aircraft lost during the Battle of Midway in early June. Admiral Fitch, the temporary commander of Task Force 11, is in command of the operation.

There is poor weather in the Aleutians, so some missions are canceled. A B-17 does manage a weather reconnaissance flight over the Japanese-held Kiska Island.

U.S. 44-foot tug Laura catches fire and sinks at Wood Island in Alaska.

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe raids Southampton and neighboring Eastleigh during the early morning hours. Several homes are bombed and over a dozen people killed in the hardest raid in months.

Japanese landings on Borneo, 22 June 1942
Japanese troops land on Natuna Island, northwest Borneo, 22 June 1942.

Battle of the Atlantic: Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers attack shipping in the Kola Inlet. They sink minesweeper HMS Gossamer within eight minutes. There are 23 casualties. The Germans are preparing for a major effort to disrupt the Arctic convoys during the long summer days. The Soviets also lose two Sh-4 motor torpedo boats, No. 73 and No. 83.

U-159 (Kptlt. Helmut Friedrich Witte), on its second patrol out of Lorient, uses its deck gun to sink 9639-ton U.S. tanker E.J. Sadler southeast of Santo Domingo (west of Dominica). All 36 crew are rescued by destroyer USS Biddle.

U-202 (Kptlt. Hans-Heinz Linder), on its sixth patrol out of Brest, torpedoes and sinks 5864-ton Argentinian tanker Rio Tercero 120 nautical miles (220 km) southeast of NYC. There are five deaths and 37 survivors.

German patrol boat Sperrbrecher 14 Brockenheim hits a mine off Royan in the Bay of Biscay and is severely damaged, though it is towed back to port. Eventually, it is written off and scuttled as a block ship on 25 August.

British 242-ton fishing trawler (now ferry) Bromelia is being watched by a U-boat off Grimsby, North East Lincolnshire, Lincolnshire, England, when it suddenly hits a mine and explodes. There are 13 deaths.

Time magazine ad, 22 June 1942
Magazine ads are taking on a decidedly patriotic slant, such as this one from 22 June 1942 Time magazine p. 14.

Battle of the Mediterranean: General Rommel's promotion has some immediate consequences. While nominally under the command of Italian generals at Commando Supremo, Rommel now feels even less bound by their decisions. During the day, a senior Italian staff officer shows up at his headquarters with General Bastico's orders to halt and consolidate gain, but Rommel disagrees. He already is planning a quick sweep east to disrupt the British before they can build strong defenses at Mersa Matruh.

Rommel has good reason to act quickly. German intelligence services inform him from intercepted communications that a U.S. military attaché in Cairo, Bonner Fellers, has told his superiors that, "If Rommel intends to take the Delta, now is the time." One of the reasons the Italians had such difficulties against the British before the arrival of the Afrika Korps was their conservative approach. So, the idea of stopping at Tobruk is anathema to Rommel.

He thus resorts to an appeal directly to Mussolini. Bypassing the chain of command normally would be prohibited, but the complicated international nature of the situation gives Rommel some flexibility. He writes a letter to Mussolini that is hand-delivered by the German attaché in Rome, Enno von Rintelen, in which he requests permission to continue advancing.  He further requests that the projected invasion of Malta, Operation Herkules, be postponed so that he can keep his vital Luftwaffe support (which Field Marshal Kesselring already has begun withdrawing to Italy for the operation). He sums it up: "the goddess of success passes generals only once."

It is a clever decision, and it works. Mussolini already is arranging for a suitable white charger on which he can make his triumphal entry into Cairo. He immediately forwards the letter to Hitler.  

The Germans no longer consider the British a factor in their plans (a similar tendency develops in Russia). Eighth Army is fleeing to Egypt, and General Ritchie has already abandoned any thought of making a stand at the border. Mersa Matruh, a fortified base to the northeast, seems much more defendable. Shattered British troops make the long, hot drive that they sardonically call the "Mersa Matruh Stakes."

Soviet Yak-7B prototype, June 1942
Yakovlev Yak-7B prototype no.22-03 during trials in June 1942.

Partisans: About 600 Italian police ("carabinieri") surround a home where three Albanian student communists (Branko Kadia, Perlat Rexhepi, and Jordan Misja) are holding out. They burn the building to the ground and execute the partisans. This becomes known as the Three Heroes of Shkodër (Shkrodra) and proclaimed as People's Heroes of Albania, with a patriotic song written about them.

A German anti-partisan operation, Operation Zenica-Zavidovići, concludes in the puppet state of Croatia. Fighting occurred mainly around Vlasenica to the east of Zenica. Most of the partisans have escaped to the southwest.

German Military: As a reward for victory at the Battle of Gazala and the capture of Tobruk, Hitler promotes Erwin Rommel to Generalfeldmarschall. This is not met with unanimous acclaim, as the Italian generals feel slighted after the very real contributions of Italian forces in the victory. Even Rommel is a bit indifferent, later confiding to his wife that he would have preferred being sent another division (throughout the campaign, he commands only three German divisions). Other German generals feel that the entire North African campaign is nothing but a sideshow and that Rommel is a reckless gambler - in their opinion, he should just hunker down and preserve his forces while the real work is done in Russia.

Rommel becomes famous in part for being Germany's youngest Field Marshal at the age of 50, though this is only partly true. Note that younger officers in the Luftwaffe, Generals Erhard Milch promoted on 19 July 1940 at age 48, and Wolfram von Richthofen on 16 February 1943 at age 47, become field marshals at younger ages. As a younger branch of the military, the Luftwaffe is well-known for having more room for advancement by younger men. This is also with the exception of Hermann Goering, chief of the Luftwaffe, promoted to field marshal at age 45 on 4 February1938 not for military feats but solely due to his position within the state hierarchy. Erwin Rommel, unlike the others, is famous for his overall generalship and ground victories rather than due to a position within the administrative apparatus.

Time magazine map of Eastern front, 22 June 1942
Time magazine, 22 June 1942 p.25, contains a prescient map of what will soon become Case Blau, the German offensive toward Stalingrad. Tellingly, it foresees quite modest goals for the Wehrmacht, with Stalingrad still far in the distance. It is actually a quite good prediction that the Germans will strike in the south and not, as Stalin and many others feel, again toward Moscow. 

US Military: Rear echelon troops of the First Marine Division set out from San Francisco aboard M/S John Erickson. They pass the time playing cards.

Holocaust: Adolf Eichmann sends an express letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirming a telephone call on the 20th in which he directed that Jewish resident of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands are to be sent to Auschwitz camp beginning "mid-July/the beginning of August." There are to be 40k from France, a similar number from the Netherlands, and 10k from Belgium. These are to be people "who are fit for labor, if they are not intermarried or hold the nationality of the British Empire, the USA, Mexico, enemy countries in Central or South America, or neutral or Allied countries." The "special trains" are to leave "every day."

In Plonsk, a Jewish Community in Warsaw Province, Poland, a 30-member communist group in the ghetto joins the Polish Workers' Party, or PPR. A party committee is established in the ghetto. 

French Homefront: Prime Minister of France (aka Vice Premier) Pierre Laval, who is effectively running the French government as an ally of the Germans, makes a radio broadcast to the nation. He says in part:

I wish for a German victory, because, without it, Bolshevism tomorrow would settle everywhere.

Laval owes his return to the government in April to the German authorities, who view Premier Philippe Pétain as insufficiently supportive of the Axis. The way Laval frames his questionable reasoning as being more a stand against communism rather than simply blind support for the Reich becomes a common Axis theme and echoes common pre-war French political battles. 

There is no question that Laval collaborates with the Reich, sometimes phrased more stringently as his being an "arch-collaborator."| However, Laval does now and then make a few small stands on behalf of France around this time that go unnoticed but make an impact on some people. For instance, in June 1942 he refuses a German demand for the forced deportation of 300,000 French workers as virtual slave labor in German war factories. Instead, he makes a counterproposal that one French POW be repatriated to France in exchange for every three French workers arriving in Germany. While a minimal gesture, it at least is something. Hitler accepts this, a rare concession to retain what support he has within the Vichy French government.

This is obviously not a major "victory for France" and does not excuse Laval's overall support of Germany during the war, but apparently does (or at least intends to) accomplish something positive for a very small sliver of Frenchmen that otherwise would not have happened. Laval's involvement in the Holocaust is murky, but he seems to go along with abhorrent German policies for the most part, though there are disputes about his participation and support.

American Homefront: Congress, in a Joint Resolution, formally adopts the words of the Pledge of Allegiance in the U.S. Flag Code. It was composed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas. The author is Francis Bellamy, and it was originally published on 8 September 1892 in the children's magazine "The Youth's Companion." Reciting the Pledge in classrooms began spontaneously thereafter, and a surge of patriotism following the Pearl Harbor attack has made the Pledge popular among adults, too.

Life magazine, War Stamp Brides, 22 June 1942
Life magazine, 22 June 1942, "War Stamp Bride."


Sunday, September 11, 2022

June 21, 1942: Rommel Takes Tobruk, Allies Stunned

 Sunday 21 June 1942

Rommel and Bayerlein in Tobruk, 21 June 1942
German generals Erwin Rommel and Fritz Bayerlein, Afrika Corps Chief of Staff, in Tobruk ca. 21 June 1942 (Moosmuller, Federal Archive Picture 101I-785-0299-08A).

Battle of the Mediterranean: South African Major General Hendrik Klopper, commander of all Allied forces at Tobruk, spends the early hours of 21 June 1942 trying to figure out a strategy following the German breakthrough at the port perimeter. Klopper sends a message to Eighth Army Headquarters, "Am holding out but I do not know for how long." Army headquarters responds by suggesting a breakout on the night of the 21st/22nd. Eighth Army commander General Ritchie orders his 7th Armored Division to attempt a relief mission from the south. At 02:00, Klopper signals that he agrees with the breakout but somewhat cryptically adds that the garrison would "fight to the last man and the last round."

At dawn, though, Klopper reviews the situation and changes his mind. After Klopper informs HQ of this, Ritchie replies, "I cannot tell tactical situation and therefore leave you to act on your own judgment regarding capitulation. With this clearance, Klopper quickly invites some German staff officers to his headquarters in Tobruk to discuss terms. Klopper then orders a surrender which some units do not honor, and scattered fighting by holdouts continues in various places into the 22nd, but the surrender effectively ends the battle for the port. The Germans claim 25,000-33,000 (19,000 British) prisoners (sources differ) of the British 30,000-troop garrison. The Germans only suffer 3360 casualties.

It is a brilliant lightning attack, as the Axis forces only surrounded Tobruk on the 18th. Most German generals would have settled in and built up forces over a long period of time for a set-piece attack against such a formidable target, as Erich von Manstein has done in Crimea regarding Sevastopol. However, Rommel proves here that speed of attack and strategy is sometimes more important than weight of numbers.

Italian medium tank of Ariete Division at Tobruk, 21 June 1942
Italian medium tank of the Ariete Division advancing on Tobruk, ca. 2 June 1942.

In the United States, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt when an aide come in with a message for the President. FDR then passes the note to Churchill, who has his own military aide confirm the news from London. Churchill later writes that this is the greatest shock he receives during the entire war. He says to FDR, "Give us as many Sherman tanks as you can spare and ship them to the Middle East as quickly as possible." These tanks will prove important - perhaps decisive - at El Alamein in October and November.

On the German side, there is tempered joy., as noted below with General Halder's official reaction. Theater Commander Field Marshal Albert Kesselring visits Rommel's headquarters in the afternoon and reminds him of a previous understanding that an invasion of Malta would follow. To that end, Kesselring informs Rommel that he is withdrawing Luftwaffe units from North Africa to Italy.

British POWs marched out of Tobruk, 21 June 1942
British POWs marched out of Tobruk ca. 21 June 1942.

German E-boats are operating off Tobruk to forestall an evacuation by sea and they claim 250-ton South African Navy auxiliary minesweeper HMSAS Parktown. There is one death.

RAF bombers attack and sink 7744-ton German freighter Reichenfels, which is bringing supplies for Rommel's panzers, north of Tripoli. 

British submarine Turbulent torpedoes and destroys Italian destroyer Strale. The Italian ship had run aground due to attacks by Royal Navy Fairey Swordfish) at Ras el Amar on 21 March 1942. There are one dead and 221 survivors. There are alternate dates for all of these events at various places online (this sinking is sometimes fixed on 6 August), but the basic facts are confirmed.

Soviet Cossack commander near Kharkov, 21 June 1942
 A Soviet commander of a Cossack unit in the Kharkov sector of the Eastern Front, 21 June 1942 (AP Photo).

Eastern Front: The German 24th Infantry Division continues clearing the north side of Severnaya Bay at Sevastopol. At 11:20, the Soviet North Fort falls and about 182 Soviet prisoners surrender. The Soviet holdouts at the Maxim Gorki fort also have surrendered. There remains scattered Soviet resistance in the area that takes a couple of days to overcome. Holdouts that attempt to escape across the 1000-meter wide bay in small boats become target practice for German artillery.

To the south and east of Sevastopol, the Axis forces remain stuck. The Romanian 18th Infantry, 1st, and 4th Mountain Divisions are advancing slowly up the Chernaya River toward Severnaya Bay, with LIV Corps on its left providing flank protection. Soviet artillery on Sapun Ridge provides good counter-battery fire that destroys Axis artillery pieces.

The Germans are preparing Operation Fridericus II, a shallow envelopment by Sixth Army and First Panzer Army near Kupyansk, to begin on the 22nd. It is one of a series of small preliminary operations to Operation Blau. Heavy rains in this portion of the front have delayed German operations.

At Fuhrer Headquarters in East Prussia, General Franz Halder barely mentions the fall of Tobruk, or indeed North Africa at all. There is only a succinct "Tobruk taken" at the bottom of his summary. This is more evidence that the General Staff doesn't think much of the North African campaign or, for that matter, of Rommel. They view him as a loose cannon  who "rushes around frittering away his forces." Rommel was not their first choice for command there and he is viewed as a prima donna. That Rommel has succeeded is thus not a cause for joy there. However, Hitler does like Rommel, and the general is considered somewhat of a Fuhrer favorite - another cause for resentment by the other staff officers.

Halder does provide a brief update on the Major Reichel incident:

Major Reichel's plane has been found. He probably is dead. The documents, filled with vital information, must by now be in enemy hands.

Halder is absolutely correct: Stalin has the Blau plans sitting on his desk. However, the Soviet premier believes the plans are faked by the Germans to lead him in the wrong direction and thus completely disregards them.

Italian medium tank of Ariete Division at Tobruk, 21 June 1942
Italian medium tank M13/40 of the Italian 132nd Panzer Division "Ariete" at Tobruk Harbor ca.  21 June 1942.

The German generals, though, naturally don't know about Stalin's reaction. Halder and his staff's attention is completely preoccupied with the upcoming Operation Blau. Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, whose troops will carry out Blau, fears the worst and urges Halder to tell the Fuhrer - who apparently is still on holiday at the Berghof - about the Reichel incident (about which apparently Hitler does not yet know).  Hitler predictably is shocked and arranges to fly back to East Prussia immediately.

Halder does have a lot to say about Sevastopol, though, which arguably is a lot less important to the overall war effort than North Africa:

At Sevastopol, the Battery Headland peninsula is in our hands and consequently we are now controlling almost the entire north shore (LIV Corps). Good progress by 30 Corps. The enemy appears to be abandoning the front opposite the Romanians in order to concentrate his forces against 30 Corps. On the Volkhov, heavy attacks supported by tanks, which were repelled with difficulty. Otherwise, no change.
The war at sea off Sevastopol remains hot as well. Luftwaffe attacks sink two Soviet patrol boats, CKA-125 and CKA-155, off Musketeer's Bay near Sevastopol.  

Shell crater at Fort Stevens, 21 June 1942
Shell crater at Fort Stevens from I-25 shelling, 21 June 1942 (National Archives 299678).

Battle of the Pacific: For the second day in a row, a Japanese submarine bombards North America. Yesterday, it was HIJMS I-26 shelling Estevan Point, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Today, it is I-25 (Meiji Tagami), which follows some fishing vessels coming home after a day's work through minefields to the mouth of the Columbia River, Oregon. It then fires 17 14 cm shells from its deck gun at Battery Russell, an artillery installation within Fort Stevens, Washington.

The failure to return fire or take any other action causes a scandal. The commander, Colonel Doney, forbids any counterfire despite numerous requests from the batteries. The reason why is a bit of a mystery, but Doney - who is only in temporary command of the post while the real commander is away - may be trying to assert his authority and "show who is boss" to his troops.

No counter-fire is attempted because the defenders are unable to spot the submarine in the dark. The shells only create craters and destroy power/telephone lines and a baseball field, but this marks the first time during the war that an enemy shells a military installation in the United States.

US Navy submarine USS S-44 torpedoes and sinks 2626-ton Japanese auxiliary gunboat Keijo Maru south of Guadalcanal (a dozen miles west of Gavutu) in the Solomon Islands. There are 63 deaths and 62 survivors, rescued by the Japanese minesweeper W-20.

Two men from Torpedo Squadron Six off of USS Enterprise who have been adrift in a liferaft since 4 June are rescued by a USN PBY-5A 360 miles north of Midway. They had ditched their TBD Devastator during the battle.

German soldiers inspected downed Stirling bomber, 21 June 1942
German sentries inspecting the Stirling bomber downed on 21 June 1942 near Hoorn, The Netherlands (COR KOOMEN).

European Air Operations: A Stirling bomber flying out of Norfolk on a raid to Emden is downed over the Netherlands by a night fighter in the early morning hours, killing three of the eight crewmen. Flight Lt. Alan Green is briefly hidden by Dutch farmers before being captured and sent to Stalag Luft 3. The three dead crewmen are buried near Hoorn.

NF Oblt. R. Sigmund of II/NJG 2 shoots down another Stirling I bomber, No. W7472, in the North Sea about 3 km west of Bergen aan Zee. All 8 crewmen perish.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-128 (Kptlt. Ulrich Heyse) torpedoes and sinks 5681-ton U.S. freighter West Ira southeast of Barbados.  The ship sinks in 15 minutes after the U-boat stalks it for about six hours. There are one death and 48 survivors. Some survivors are picked up by the Dutch freighter Macuba, others reach shore in their lifeboats.

Royal Navy submarine HMS P.514 - formerly U.S. submarine R-19 that had been transferred under Lend-lease - is sailing on the surface off St. Johns, Newfoundland, when it is mistaken for a U-boat and rammed by a Royal Canadian Navy minesweeper, HMCS Georgian. P.514 sinks with all hands.

Yugoslavian (Croatian) 2317-ton freighter S.S. Lina Matkovic hits a mine and sinks about 1000 yards north of the Cristobal East Breakwater Light near the Panama Canal. The craneship U.S. Atlas salvages the valuable parts of the cargo. This sinking is sometimes listed on the 20th.

Swedish 1847-ton ore freighter SS Eknö hits a mine and sinks in the Weser River.

U.S. 4823-ton freighter Alcoa Cadet hits a mine and sinks in the Kola Inlet near Murmansk. Everyone survives.

Rommel and Bayerlein in Tobruk, 21 June 1942
Generals Rommel and Bayerlein survey the port of Tobruk ca. 21 June 1942. That appears to be a Type 40 medium off-road passenger car with an inside spare. (Moosmuller, Federal Archive Picture 101I-785-0299-22A).

Partisan Stuff: Following the German victory against the Belov partisans south of Vyazma on the 20th, Germany Fourth Army commander General Kluge ends the ongoing Hannover II anti-partisan operation. Meanwhile, German Second Army winds up Operation Vogelsang, which began on 6 June, near Kirov. It does not discontinue its operations, though, and will begin Vogelsang II on the 22nd. An upcoming anti-partisan operation will be Ninth Army's Operation Seydlitz that begins on 2 July near Rzhev. These anti-partisan operations usually produce little and occupy a lot of troops throughout the summer.

US Military: The War Department elevates the Alaskan Provisional Service Command to XI Air Force Services Command. It will maintain and supply all of 11th Air Force's bases. 

Israel Homefront: Israel records its highest temperature to date at Tirat Avi, 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit (54 Celsius).

American Homefront: President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill travel to Washington, D.C., from FDR's Hyde Park, New York residence. There, they continue their talks during the Second Washington Conference. King Peter II of Yugoslavia also is visiting the United States.

German Panzer I at Tobruk, 21 June 1942
German light tank Pz. Kpfw. I Ausf. A enters Tobruk ca. 21 June 1942.

Monday, September 5, 2022

June 20, 1942: Rommel Breaks Through At Tobruk

Saturday 20 June 1942

British troops in North Africa riding a captured German Kubelwagen, 20 June 1942
British troops drive a captured German Kubelwagen in North Africa, 20 June 1942.

Eastern Front: In Moscow on 20 June 1942, Joseph Stalin is in possession of the plans for the upcoming German Operation Blau, the planned offensive to capture the Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus. These papers were recovered from Major Joachim Reichel (now deceased) on 19 June 1942 after his plane was shot down by ground fire behind Soviet lines. While the plans are completely authentic and genuine, Stalin decides to disregard them because he believes they have been planted to deceive him.

In Crimea, both sides are experiencing supply shortages. Among other things, this compels a reduction in Luftwaffe flights by 40% and precise targeting of all bombs. The crews also are getting overworked, with some flying 25-30 missions per day. Fortunately for the Germans, Soviet resistance is crumbling and Luftwaffe war casualties are plummeting.

North of Severnaya Bay, the German 24th Infantry Division attacks the Lenin anti-aircraft and Northern Fort. While the Lenin position surrenders today, the Northern Fort holds out throughout the day despite the Germans using Goliath remote-controlled bombs and other techniques. In the south, the stalemate continues, with the Soviets retaining a firm grip on the critical Sapun Ridge and battering the nearby Wehrmacht forces with heavy artillery fire.

The Reichel Affair apparently has an immediate effect on German dispositions in Crimea. After many threats and indications that he would abandon the attempt to capture Sevastopol and turn it into a siege by transferring the essential Luftwaffe units to support Blau near Kharkov, Hitler suddenly tells Luftwaffe commander General von Richthofen that he can keep his air units in Crimea for the time being to finish the job. Richthofen joyfully writes in his diary, "Therefore, I feel reassured and can continue fighting in peace until we achieve final victory." This conclusion will turn out to be a bit premature but does reflect the upset and disequilibrium at Fuhrer Headquarters.

Luftwaffe attacks sink Royal Navy Landing Craft Tank HMS LCT-119 and LCT 150 off Tobruk.

Off Ak Mechet, Crimea, Romanian barge Danubius hits a mine laid by Soviet submarine L-6 and sinks.

Two women wearing the yellow Star of David badges in Paris, 20 June 1942
Women in Paris wearing the yellow Star of David badge, 20 June 1942 (Federal Archives Picture 183-B21356).

Battle of the Pacific: Japanese submarine I-26 (Yokota Minoru) shells the Estevan Point lighthouse on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Accuracy is poor and nothing significant is hit. At the same time, I-26 first 25-30 5.5-inch (140 mm) rounds, then quickly escapes to the north and evades pursuit by five Royal Canadian Navy patrol vessels and a RCAF Supermarine Stranraer flying boat.

I-25 (Akiji Tagami) is also close to the North American coast and soon similarly will shell Fort Stevens, located at Columbia River, Oregon. During the early morning hours, it torpedoes Canadian freighter SS Fort Camosun off the coast of Washington. The freighter is badly damaged but survives to be towed into Puget Sound for repairs. It returns to service and the entire crew survives after abandoning the ship.

The U.S. Navy is still occupied with reorienting operations on an offensive footing following the dramatic success at Midway. So, local operations are the order of the day. Primarily, these are in the Aleutians, the one area of success for the Japanese.  USAAF 11th Air Force sends a bombing raid over Japanese-held Kiska Island that is hampered by poor weather conditions. Only three of nine bombers complete the mission, while three others abort and the final three divert to looking for a B-24 lost at sea on the 19th.

The crew of U.S. submarine USS S-27 (SS-132), which grounded and broke up on the 19th off Amchitka Island, makes it to a deserted village and awaits rescue. Much further south, B-17s of 5th Air Force bomb Lae Airfield on New Guinea. At Mubo, New Guinea, the 17th Australian Brigade repels a Japanese attack.

Janet Blair on the cover of Pix magazine, 20 June 1942
Singer/actress Janet Blair on the cover of Pix Magazine, 20 June 1942. Her most famous role was in "My Sister Eileen" (1942), for which undoubtedly this was some indirect publicity.

European Air Operations: During an RAF raid from Bourn to Emden, NF Oblt. G. Friedrich of III/NJG 1 shoots down British Wellington III bomber X3669 about 5 km southwest of Zandvoort. All four crew die.

Battle of the Atlantic: It is an oddly quiet day at sea in the Atlantic after many months of constant activity. There are no U-boat sinkings or major disasters at sea.

British 988-ton coaster Afon Dulais hits a mine and sinks near Beachy Head, East Sussex. There are no casualties.

German patrol boat V-1916 (Weser I) sinks from unknown causes somewhere in the Norwegian Sea.

Map of Tobruk battle, 20 June 1942
The battle of Tobruk, 20-21 June 1942.

Battle of the Mediterranean: General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps launches its assault on Tobruk only two days after reaching the port's perimeter. The Luftwaffe opens the attack at 05:20 by bombing the point of attack on Tobruk's southeastern defensive positions, with a theater-high 588 sorties. The Regia Aeronautica chips in with another 177 sorties. At 07:00, Gruppe Menny, positioned between the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions, attacks in conjunction with a fierce artillery barrage. This achieves a breakthrough within 15 minutes, and the German 900th Engineer Battalion quickly enables a crossing of the port's anti-tank ditch. Panzers were rolling across by 08:30, and the infantry expands the breach.

The British defenders have not yet organized their defenses and are slow to respond to the unexpected onslaught. The defending 5th Mahratta Light Infantry immediately gives ground, and expected tank reinforcements never appear. The nearby Cameron Highlanders launch a counterattack, and then the 32nd Army Tank Brigade is ordered in, but it is too late. The British defensive effort is dispersed and overrun, aided by close German ground coordination with the Luftwaffe. By noon, the Germans have 113 tanks inside the perimeter, and by 13:30 they seize the critical Kings Cross road junction on Pilastrino Ridge. The British make a last stand by using 3.7-inch anti-aircraft guns as ground artillery, but this is ineffective. By 16:00, the port commander's headquarters, General Klopper, is under assault, and he has to escape hurriedly, losing contact with his command.

Having overcome the outer defenses, the panzers reach the port outskirts by 18:00. Realizing the developing catastrophe, British units begin blowing up port installations and ammunition dumps. By nightfall, the British defenses are in a chaotic state of disarray and the German 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions are poised to overcome all remaining defenses on the morrow.

USS Meade off NYC, 20 June 1942
U.S Navy destroyer USS Meade (DD-602) off New York City, 20 June 1942. This is during her delivery voyage from the Bethlehem Steel Company shipyard at Staten Island (Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives 19-N-30842).

Oddly, Fuhrer headquarters seems almost indifferent to Rommel's success. General Halder doesn't even mention it first in his list of the day's events, instead listing it fourth after "no change" on the Eastern Front, a mundane conference with the logistics chief, General Wagner, and a cursory description of the Reichel incident (which reflects poorly on OKH). When he finally does get to it, Halder writes:

Tobruk captured. Thus, the heavy battle in Cyrenaica has culminated on a victory that is of equally great value from the military and the political aspect.

This is one of the oddest entries in Halder's diary, completely distanced and remote from the actual state of affairs (Tobruk is not yet captured) and may reflect an underlying truth that seldom is brought out into the open. Halder and rest of OKH don't think highly of Rommel. He was not their first choice for command in Africa - General Paulus, now commander of Sixth Army, was. They view Rommel as a "loose cannon" whose victories are the result of insubordination and gambles. Rommel also has a reputation of not seeking approval for his operations. Finally, the OKH views the entire Mediterranean Theater as a sideshow that simply draws off forces that would be better employed on the theater of decision - the Eastern Front, which (not coincidentally) is completely under the control of the OKH and not the OKW (which controls western operations.

Thus, Rommel's successes are of far lesser import to the German High Command than to post-war Western accounts. Rommel only controls the equivalent of one corps, while OKH controls entire Army Groups. As long as Rommel stays out of trouble and doesn't require excess reinforcement, OKH really couldn't care less what he does. As to Hitler (who today, Halder notes, is back in East Prussia), he likely has a similar attitude but is simply happy that Rommel is keeping the Western Allies busy and giving him enough time to clear the table in the East.

Spy Stuff: The FBI picks up the German spies staying at a New York hotel following the surrender by leader George Dasch at FBI headquarters in Washington D.C. on the 19th. 

Allied Diplomacy: During discussions between Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt at the latter's Hyde Park, New York, estate, an agreement is reached to postpone an invasion of France (the Americans' preference) and instead invade North Africa (the British plan). This becomes Operation Torch and takes place in November 1942. 

US Military: Brigadier General Dwight D. Eisenhower is ordered to replace Major General James E. Chaney as Commanding General European Theater of Operations. This is a controversial choice, as Eisenhower thus leapfrogs over many more senior officers for such a prominent command. General George C. Marshall instructs Eisenhower to integrate all U.S. air units in the UK into the 8th Air Force and gives as the mission to attain "air supremacy over Western Continental Europe" in preparation for a future invasion of the Continent.

US Ninth Army under General Krueger establishes its headquarters at Milne Bay, New Guinea.

Collier's, 20 June 1942
Collier's, 20 June 1942 (Arthur Szyk).

Holocaust: Anne Frank discloses in her diary that she writes because she is lonely - there is nobody with whom she can share her secrets. She christens her diary "Kitty." Anne writes that she has a mother, father, and sister Margot, that they used to live in Frankfurt, Germany, and that they fled to Holland because of the persecution of people like them.

Four Polish prisoners at Auschwitz steal SS officer uniforms and drive a staff car out through the front gates. These are Eugeniusz Bendera, Stanisław Gustaw Jaster, Józef Lempart, and Kazimierz Piechowski. They are never recaptured and the last survivor, Piechowski, passes away on 15 December 2017 at the age of 98.

American Homefront: Comic book villain "Two-Face" is introduced in Detective Comics (the predecessor of DC Comics) issue #66 (the cover date is August 1942).

"Sleepy Lagoon" by Harry James and His Orchestra" becomes No. 1 on The Billboard National Best Selling Retail Records chart. It tops the chart for four weeks and becomes a standard.

Saturday Evening Post, 20 June 1942
"Women at Dude Ranch," Saturday Evening Post, 20 June 1942 (Fred Lukekens).

Future History: Brian Douglas Wilson is born in Inglewood, California. After moving to Hawthorne, California, Wilson begins to exhibit a special musical ability. He and his two younger brothers (Dennis, born 1944, and Carl, 1946) begin singing harmonies together while Brian plays the accordion or piano. At nine, Brian writes (or, more accurately, adapts) his first song, and writes his first independent song for a 4th-grade school project. He obsessively plays the piano and listens to the radio. After playing sports in high school, including being the quarterback of the Hawthorne football team, Brian attends El Camino Junior College, but drops out when he is disappointed at his teachers' attitudes toward pop music. In 1961, Brian and his brothers, cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine form a musical group. With father Murry Wilson serving as manager, the group continues developing their skills. Brian's composition "Surfin," recorded by another act, becomes their first local LA hit. Their label, Candix Records, now changes the group's name to the "Beach Boys," but the label soon sells their contract to another label, but Murry decides to terminate it. They then attract the attention of Capitol Records, which begins releasing their tracks as singles, including "Surfin' Safari" and "409." When these become national hits, the future of the Beach Boys is assured and they become legendary performers, with their most famous album "Pet Sounds." Brian is recognized as a positive influence on The Beatles, whose Paul McCartney was born exactly two days before Brian on 18 June 1942. He thereafter battles mental health issues but largely overcomes them, with occasional relapses and continuing manageable stresses. As of writing, Brian Wilson continues touring and songwriting.  

The New Yorker, 20 June 1942
New Yorker, 20 June 1942 (Constantin Alajalov).


Sunday, September 4, 2022

June 19, 1942: The Reichel Affair Threatens Blau

Friday 19 June 1942

Japanese POWs from the sunken Hiryu, picked up on 19 June 1942
Survivors of Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu, sunk on 5 June, after being picked up by the U.S. Navy on 19 June 1942 (U.S. Navy).

Eastern Front: Adolf Hitler has been placing all of his hopes on the coming Summer offensive (Case Blau (Blue)) to capture the Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus and finally secure plentiful energy supplies. However, on 19 June 1942 the Germans receive terrible news that places the entire success of the offensive in question. Hitler himself, though, is kept in the dark about it until the 21st.

Contrary to well-known standing orders both in general and specifically put in place for Blau (War Directive ), a 23rd Panzer Division staff officer, Major Joachim Reichel, boarded a light transport aircraft (apparently a Fieseler FI-156 Storch) carrying a complete outline for the Blau offensive and specific plans for General der Panzertruppe Georg Stumme's Fortieth Panzer Corps. The pilot for some reason flies over the front lines, perhaps due to getting lost. A lucky shot by a Soviet rifleman pierces the fuel tank and forces the plane to crashland intact. 

Within hours, a German patrol finds the downed plane 4 km behind the Soviet lines but cannot find either Reichel or the pilot (they were shot after a brief firefight by a Soviet patrol and their bodies will be found by another German patrol two days from now). Most importantly, they do not find the briefcase containing the Blau plans.

The German high command now must assume that the plans for Blau have been compromised (they have, the plans are on Stalin's desk within a day). Field Marshal von Bock, commander of Army Group South, has the immediate reaction to start Blau immediately before the Red Army can react. OKH (General Franz Halder) agrees and tells him to put everything in readiness for a start on 26 June. However, the final decision is up to Hitler, and he is furious. He summons Bock to the Wolfschanzee in East Prussia for an explanation. Everything is now in doubt and nobody knows whether the grand offensive will even happen.

In his daily war diary, Halder's notes today do not mention the Reichel affair but do reflect upon more basic problems with the offensive:

The discussion with the top command on the efficient conduct of the Kupyansk-Izyum offensive follows a familiar and unpleasant pattern. Whereas von Bock, because of the terrain, wants to launch his tank drive directly from the west, top command considers that a mistake but feels no change ought to be ordered at this advanced stage of preparations, and approves von Bock's plan against its better judgment.

What Halder carefully skirts is identifying who this "top command" actually is - a sure sign it is Hitler himself, who according to Halder's notes (which may, of course, be inaccurate) briefly returned to headquarters in East Prussia on the 18th but now is back in Bavaria. This continues a pattern of Hitler doubting von Bock's judgment that began during the May Soviet counteroffensive at Kharkov and ultimately will lead to von Bock's final dismissal in mid-July.

Marilyn Monroe wedding day portrait 19 June 1942
The future Marilyn Monroe on her first wedding day, June 19, 1942.

Halder also mentions "very heavy economy attacks with local successes" from the trapped Soviet pocket on the Volkhov River in the north. This is Soviet General Andrei Vlasov's trapped 2nd Shock Army's last major attempt to break out. The attacks are aided in part by "adverse weather" that grounds the Luftwaffe.

In Crimea, General Manstein's 11th Army continues clearing out pockets of Soviet resistance, primarily a few remaining fortresses on "Battery Headland," the peninsula that dominates the bay's entrance. This is in preparation for the final assault on Sevastopol, but first, the 54th Army must take that peninsula. The final outcome in the sector north of Severnaya Bay is not in doubt following the fall of the key Soviet fortress Maxim Gorki. Luftwaffe air strikes are much less hazardous following the destruction of a key Soviet anti-aircraft platform in the bay. From first light, bombers based nearby conduct "rolling attacks" against all remaining valuable targets within the city. First, they use high explosive bombs, then, after noontime, incendiaries. 

Luftwaffe General von Richthofen, who is still in the theater prior to his transfer north to help with Blau, notes in his diary that Sevastopol is "a sea of flames," with smoke clouds stretching all the way to Feodosia, 150 km away. However, the chaotic supply situation soon will force a reduction in Luftwaffe sorties by around 40%.

Serbian partisans, 19 June 1942
Partisan soldiers of the 4th Proletarian Montenegrin Brigade and the Herzegovinian Detachment in the village of Lubina near Vrbnica on Zelengora, Serbia, June 19, 1942.

Battle of the Black Sea: Italian motor torpedo boat ("MTB") MAS-571 torpedoes and sinks Soviet 3000-ton transport evacuating wounded troops from Sevastopol. submarine Shch-214 off Crimea in the Black Sea. There are no survivors.

Separately, two other Italian MTBs based in Yalta chase a Soviet submarine, Shch-214, that has been spotted by reconnaissance aircraft near Cape Ay-Todor (five km west of Yalta). They catch up to it and sink the submarine near Cape Sarych. Everybody aboard, estimated at 39 crew and between 40-65 evacuees from Sevastopol, perishes. There are two survivors taken as POWs, one of whom perishes in captivity.

The two sinkings continue a series of similar Italian naval victories in the theater at little cost to themselves. These aggravating losses have forced Soviet Admiral Oktyabrskii to sharply curtail naval missions to Sevastopol, leading to German Admiral Schwarzes Meer (Black Sea Naval Command) war diary to include the entry today that "Enemy naval activity has greatly decreased."

The German Navy also gets a success when MTB S 102 torpedoes and sinks 2048-ton Soviet transport Belostok near Balaklava. There are 388 deaths. It is unclear if this happens on the 18th or 19th, so entries for this sinking are on both pages.

The Soviets have noticed the Italian successes, and after dark they send bombers of the Voyenno-vozdushnyye si/y (Soviet Air Force, or VVS) to attack German shipping at Yalta. The attack severely damages two Italian mini-submarines and cripples an MTB. 

German fishing schooner MFK-2263 hits a mine and sinks off Mariupol, Ukraine. Two men perish.

Battle of the Baltic: Soviet submarine Shch-317 torpedoes and sinks 2405-ton Danish freighter Orion off Visby, Sweden. There are one death and 21 survivors.

Danish 117-ton coaster Anna hits a mine and sinks in the Kattegat, off Paludian Flak. All four crewmen perish.

Canadian relocation notice, 19 June 1942
A relocation notice to Japanese Canadians issued in British Columbia newspapers on 19 June 1942 (Canadian government).

Battle of the Pacific: In one of the last direct consequences of the Battle of Midway, a U.S. PBY Catalina search plane spots a lifeboat east of the island and directs the destroyer U.S.S. Ballard to it. The lifeboat contains 35 sailors from the engineering room of fleet carrier Hiryū, sunk on 5 June 1942. After two weeks of exposure, one of the men passes away almost immediately. The POWs are taken to Midway, and then Pearl Harbor aboard the cargo ship USS Sirius.

U.S Navy submarine USS S-27 drifts toward shore during the night while recharging its batteries and at 00:43 grounds on rocks off St. Makarius Point, Kiska. The sub is gradually ground to pieces, and the crew abandons ship by 15:50 today.

The 11th Air Force sends B-24s to bomb Kiska but are forced to abort the mission due to heavy fog. One of the planes must make a crash-landing in the sea and two men are lost.

B-17s of the 5th Air Force attack Vunakanau Airfield, Rabaul, and nearby shipping.

U-552 returns to port, 19 June 1942
U-552, its Roter Teufel ("Red Devil") mascot plainly visible on the conning tower, returns to the typical warm welcome from German maidens at Saint Nazaire, France. Erich Topp is visible in the tower, with crew on deck. It has been a successful patrol, sinking five ships of 15,858 tons (Kramer, Federal Archive Image 101II-MW-6443-16A).

Battle of the Atlantic: Allied shipping losses off the American coast have been heavy for months now, and Allied leaders are starting to take notice. Today, U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall writes to Admiral King:

The losses by submarines off our Atlantic seaboard and in the Caribbean now threaten our entire war effort....I am fearful that another month or two of this will so cripple our means of transport that we will be unable to bring sufficient men and planes to bear against the enemy in critical theaters to exercise a determining influence on the war.

Winston Churchill, currently visiting with President Roosevelt, is known to have this view as well, so it probably is not a coincidence that Marshall writes this grim note on this particular day.

U-701 (Kptlt. Horst Degen), on its third patrol out of Lorient, shells and sinks U.S. Navy trawler USS YP-389 (Lt R.J. Philips) 20 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The trawler is at a disadvantage because its main gun is out of commission due to a faulty firing spring. The U-boat's shelling starts a fire forward and floods the engine room, and the ship sinks by the stern at 10:15. There are six deaths and 18 survivors (some sources say 4 deaths and 21 survivors).

U-159 (Kptlt. Helmut Friedrich Witte), on its second patrol out of Lorient, shells and sinks 2710-ton Yugoslavian freighter Ante Matkovi in rough weather just north of Riohacha, Colombia. The ship quickly catches fire and sinks at 18:10. Rescue is not forthcoming because one of the first shells took out the radio mast, so the men must make shore in Colombia in their lifeboats. There are six dead and 23 survivors.

U-107 (Kptlt. Harald Gelhaus), on its sixth patrol out of Lorient, shells and sinks 35-ton U.S. schooner Cheerio eight miles off Mona, Puerto Rico. The crew sets the ship on fire after the first few shells and abandons ships - the flames attract the attention of a PBY Catalina. All nine crewmen, clinging to driftwood, then are rescued by USS CG-459.

British 758-ton passenger steamer Dalriada hits a mine in the Edinburgh Channel and sinks while clearing a wreck.

German 125-ton minesweeper R-41 is torpedoed and sunk in the Seine Estuary, France. It is unclear who did this, perhaps British MTBs, which have been in the general vicinity in recent days. In the same action, German surface units shell and sink British gun boat HM SGB-7 in the Seine Estuary.

A U.S. mine in the Gulf of Mexico sinks 3009-ton Yugoslavian freighter Boslijka northwest of Key West, Florida. 

U-552 returns to port showing her Red Devil mascot, 19 June 1942
Good view of U-552's deck gun as it comes into Saint Nazaire following its successful patrol on 19 June 1942 (Kramer, Federal Archive Image 101II-MW-6443-07A).

Battle of the Mediterranean: Having effectively surrounded the critical Allied port of Tobruk on the 18th, General Erwin Rommel begins final preparations for an assault to take it quickly. Reconnaissance of deployment areas takes place in the morning, and in the afternoon he sends his armored formations (15th and 21st Panzer Divisions on the right, the Italian Trieste and Ariete Divisions on the left) to the southeastern corner of the perimeter where he plans to make his main effort. The 90th Light Division occupying that area moves further east toward the coast to assume a defensive posture in case the British Eighth Army attempts a relief effort from its positions further south.

The attack is scheduled to begin early on the 20th. The plan is for a feint by XXI corps in the west before the two panzer divisions - 15th on the left and 21st on the right, with a motorized infantry group left behind by 90th Light commanded by Generalleutnant Erwin Menny in between - makes the main effort. The Germans are astonished when they arrive to find German ammunition depots left behind during their retreat from the area in November 1941 still in place and useable.

On the British side, the inexperienced 2nd Battalion, 5th Mahratta Light Infantry holds the key area in the southeastern corner of the perimeter. Inland from them are the 2/7th Gurka Rifles, while on the other side along the coast are the 2nd Cameron Highlands. The two panzer divisions are to attack the Mahrattas, while the two Italian armored divisions will take on the Cameron Highlands.

The British are confident, given how long they were able to hold the port in 1941, but the command is disorganized after the frantic retreat from the Gazala Line and does not yet have its forces properly disposed for counterattacks. The upcoming battle is a clear example of the value of speed in continuing offensive operations rather than pauses that allow the defenders to dig in and recover from past defeats.

Italian 778-ton coastal freighter Carlotta SS hits a mine and sinks off Cape Platamone, south of Cattaro.

Partisans: The Germans, in Operation Hannover and Hannover II, have been trying to eliminate a major partisan force led by Soviet general Below in the Bryansk region for some time. On the 18th, a patrol found orders on a dead Soviet officer stating that a breakout east across the "Rollbahn" (highway) that the Germans loosely control back toward Soviet-held territory will take place at a specific point at midnight on 18/19 June. With nothing else to go on, the Germans have reinforced the area with three lines of defense comprised of infantry and artillery. General Heinrici, a defensive specialist, is in command.

The partisan breakout begins right on time as the clock ticks into 19 June. The breakout force is massive, and fighting lasts into daylight. The Russians get about 1500 troops across the first defensive line, 500 across the second, and perhaps a few across the third line. Having taken massive casualties, the remaining Soviets are forced back into the pocket, and at noon, Heinrici orders immediate pursuit. However, it then begins to rain, and in the confusion and dense forests, Belov and his remaining troops (about 3000) find an undefended portion of the Rollbahn and cross over unmolested.

Cajon Blvd in San Diego, 19 June 1942
Looking west on El Cajon Boulevard from Alabama Street, San Diego, June 19, 1942 (The Boulevard).

Spy Stuff: The leader of the Operation Pastorius German saboteur group in New York City, George John Dasch, takes a train down to Washington, D.C., and walks into FBI headquarters. He experiences some skepticism until he shows Assistant Director D.M. Ladd a sack full of $84,000 of the operation's funds. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover then begins arresting the German spies, which takes about two weeks. Hoover takes full credit for the arrests and neglects to mention to others that Dasch turned himself in.

Allied Relations: With Winston Churchill now in the United States,  the Second Washington Conference begins. It actually begins today in Hyde Park, New York, where Churchill travels to meet with President Roosevelt at his private residence. As he arrives, Churchill notices old warships from World War I tied up along the shoreline. In a flash of inspiration, he mentions to FDR that these sorts of obsolete vessels would be quite useful if sunk offshore to protect invasion landings from weather effects. FDR agrees and tells his naval authorities to make appropriate plans. This idea turns into the useful Mulberry Harbor at the D-Day (6 June 1944) landings.

The actual discussions revolve around the pressing question of where in Europe or Africa (and whether) the Western Allies should invade in 1942. The Americans want to open a Second Front in France, but Churchill and his generals demur. They prefer instead landings in the Mediterranean Theater - echoing German military experts such as Grand Admiral Raeder who have been advising Hitler to concentrate on the Mediterranean. This will remain the topic for discussion until the Second Washington Conference concludes (in Washington) on 25 June.

U.S. Military: Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, USN, who has been recalled from a London post as "Special Naval Observer" for President Roosevelt for the assignment, assumes command of the South Pacific Area with headquarters at Auckland, New Zealand. He is the choice of both Admiral Nimitz, CINCPAC, and Admiral King. While Ghormley has a lot of experience, he has not commanded at sea since 1938 on the battleship Nevada and has no experience with aircraft carriers.

Picture Show Magazine, 19 June 1942
Picture Show Magazine for June 19, 1942, has Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard on the cover.

German Homefront: Alois Eliáš, the former Prime Minister of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia who was arrested for partisan activities on 27 September 1941, is executed at the Kobylisy Shooting Range after a lengthy time on death row. Eliáš is the only head of state executed by the Germans during World War II. He receives a full state funeral on 7 May 2006 and is reburied at the National Monument in Vitkov, Prague.

The 1st Ranger Battalion is activated in Carrickfergus, North Ireland. It is led by William Orlando Darby, and his troops are sometimes called "Darby's Rangers." The unit is composed of approximately 500 volunteers chosen from units training in Ireland, and the vast majority of Darby's Rangers come from the five midwestern states of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota. This unit is designed to be elite, so elite that they use live ammunition during training.

American Homefront: Boston Braves outfielder Paul Waner collects his 3,000th career hit on June 19, 1942.

New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio strikes out three times in one game for the only time in his career against Mel Harder of the Cleveland Indians, who pitches a complete game victory.

The U.S. government urges United States pharmacies to turn in quinine supplies over 10 oz. Quinine is considered the best current cure for malaria, and heavy fighting in the southwest Pacific is set to take place in areas where malaria is prevalent.

At 432 S. Bentley Ave, in the West Los Angeles neighborhood of Westwood, the 16-year-old Norma Jeane Mortensen marries the 21-year-old "Big Jim" James Dougherty. Norma Jeane becomes better known in the 1950s by her stage name Marilyn Monroe. The house is still in existence and currently is valued at $2 million.

Marilyn Monroe wedding photo, 19 June 1942
The future Marilyn Monroe gets married on 19 June 1942 to James Dougherty in her Los Angeles home. They remain married throughout the war.