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.


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