Saturday, May 15, 2021

May 18, 1942: Soviet Command Confusion

Monday 18 May 1942

Finnish mines 18 May 1942
Finnish sailors lay mines from minelayer Ruotsinsalmi in the Gulf of Finland, 18 May 1942. Those are mines lined up and ready to drop. Incidentally, many WWII mines remain in the Gulf of Finland and present a hazard to navigation (SA-Kuva).
Battle of the Pacific: While still awaiting definitive proof as to the next Japanese target, which has the codename AF, the three major US naval intelligence centers in Washington, Honolulu, and Melbourne on 18 May 1942 report that an attack will happen soon from AF's northwest. The Melbourne station (formerly based at Corregidor and considered the least "political" of the stations) adds that the airstrikes will take place from 50 miles northwest of AF.

Admiral Nimitz, trusting in an unproven hunch by some of his intelligence officers that AF refers to Midway, orders submarines to patrol fifty miles northwest of the island. He also orders US Navy Task Forces 16 and 17 to leave the Efate area and head east toward Pearl Harbor. This leaves no US aircraft carriers in the southwest Pacific, but Nimitz is confident that the Japanese won't stir up trouble there due to his recent ruse. The Japanese recently sighted USS Enterprise and Yorktown as Nimitz intended and don't know where they are heading. This sighting has convinced the Japanese to suspend all offensive operations in the area, completing Nimitz's successful gamesmanship.

B-17 bombers attack the airfield at Koepang, Timor.
Time magazine 18 May 1942
Admiral Nimitz is on the cover of Time magazine, 18 May 1942.
Battle of the Indian Ocean: Japanese troops occupy Pantha on the Chindwin River. More British and Indian troops of BURCORPS straggle into Indian and Burmese border towns such as Tamu and Imphal. the final unit of the 17th Indian Infantry Division, the rearguard 63rd Indian Infantry Brigade, arrives in Tamu. The entire division has 9,908 men and now is sent up to Imphal to reform with the 48th and 16th Indian Infantry Brigades.
Daily Mirror 18 May 1942
The 18 May 1942 Daily Mirror is full of news about German problems at Kharkov.
Eastern Front: In the early morning hours, General Ivan Bagramyan, chief of staff to Marshal Timoshenko at Southwestern Front, comes out openly against the continuation of the Red Army offensive in light of the fierce German counterattacks. He points to successful German advances in the Barvenkovo region and suggests moving troops there. Timoshenko disagrees and visits Stalin later in the morning, telling him that everything is fine and the offensive can continue heading west. Bagramyan appeals to political Commissar Nikita Khruschhev to appeal to Stalin. Khruschev also is having his doubts and calls Marshal Vasilevskiy of the Stavka to ask Stalin to change his mind (despite being the highest-ranking soldier in the USSR, Vasilevskiy's main job was to screen Stalin's phone calls). At this point, the primary sources contradict themselves as to who exactly speaks to whom about what, but the bottom line is that Stalin adamantly refuses to override Timoshenko. The Red Army keeps attacking 180 degrees away from the danger point.

On the German side, it is becoming clear that a major victory may be possible, but the whole affair remains a wild gamble. Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, commander of Army Group South, visits General Ewald von Kleist, commander of First Panzer Army, at Stalino to plan the next step. Both are mystified at the Soviet failure to respond to the developing mortal threat to the southern Red Army pincer arm. Bock is concerned because if the Soviets take Kharkov, he'll look bad to Hitler regardless of ultimate success. He and Kleist basically shrug and continue strengthening the push to cut the Soviets off at Izyum.

During the day, Timoshenko orders his tank forces to smash forward toward Kharkov from the south. At Fuhrer headquarters, General Franz Halder notes that "The number of tank brigades committed by the enemy is really astounding." They make temporary progress in some places, but the attacking units have been weakened by Timoshenko's removal of one tank corps to guard Izyum from the First Panzer Army counterattack (it has not yet arrived there). Local German counterattacks restore the front south of Kharkov by the end of the day.
Marder III in Crimea May 1942
Marder III tank destroyer (Sd. Kfz. 139) in Crimea, May 1942 (Federal Archive B 145 Fig. F016217-0015A).
The Luftwaffe continues transferring units from Crimea and begins asserting itself all across the Kharkov front. It establishes complete aerial dominance. Fliegerkorps IV claims to destroy 130 tanks and 500 motor vehicles. German panzer troops of Seventeenth Army and III Panzer Corps continue barreling north at the Soviet breakout point and reach Izyum, narrowing the Soviet supply corridor to the Red Army troops advancing further west. The Soviet breakthrough point is now down to about a 20-mile breach, still sufficient and significant but showing no signs of withstanding the advancing panzers. The Soviets are not sending troops back east through the corridor to safety, the flow of traffic remains to the west.

Luftwaffe ace Gordon "Mac" Gollob continues his torrid streak in the air after taking over JG 77. Operating out of Kerch, Crimea, he claims three Polikarpov R-5 reconnaissance bombers for his 94th to 96 victories. He is eager to reach the 100-victory mark quickly, a matter of pride to Luftwaffe units. On the ground, General Manstein's 11th Army continues to whittle away at the few Red Army pockets left in the Kerch area. General Halder notes that "the few small remnants left are still fighting fiercely."

Today is considered the termination of the Demyansk supply operation by the Luftwaffe. It has been a successful mission, but aircraft losses total 265 planes, many of them Ju-52 transports The main supply unit, KGzbV 8, is disbanded and its planes returned to training schools.
Wildcat on USS Enterprise 18 May 1942
A Grumman F4F Wildcat took off from the USS Enterprise's flight deck on May 18, 1942 (US Navy).
European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command mounts is first major raid in ten days. The target is Mannheim. A total of 197 bombers (11 lost) embark, with 105 bomber crews claiming to hit the city. However, accuracy is very poor, and very few bombs actually hit the city. Local authorities estimate that bombs from only about ten bombers actually hit the city. However, the bombs that do hit cause an appreciable amount of damage to some small business in the harbor areas. There are only two deaths in the city.

In minor raids, 65 RAF bombers (one lost) attack St. Nazaire but cause little damage. Another 9 bombers lay mines off Lorient and near Heligoland, while 13 bombers drop leaflets over France.
Burma fire in Life 18 May 1942
General Stilwell's headquarters burns in Maymyo, Burma, in this photo from the 18 May 1942 Life magazine.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-558 (Kptlt. Günther Krech), on its seventh patrol out of Brest, torpedoes and sinks 1254-ton Dutch freighter Fauna in the Caicos Passage near the Turks and Caicos Islands. There are two deaths and 27 survivors.

U-156 (Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein), on its third patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 4961-ton US freighter Quaker City 300 nautical miles east of Barbados. The U-boat surfaces, questions the crewmen in their four lifeboats, and directs them to Barbados. There are 11 deaths and 29 survivors, who are mostly rescued by USS Blakeley.

U-125 (Kptlt. Ulrich Folkers), on its fourth patrol out of Lorient, sinks 8893-ton US tanker Mercury Sun 125 nautical miles (232 km) south of Cape Corrientes, Cuba. There are six deaths and 29 survivors, who are rescued by SS Howard.

U-125 also torpedoes and sinks 2616-ton US freighter William J. Salman 125 nautical miles (232 km) south of Cape Frances, Cuba. There are six deaths and 22 survivors, who are rescued by Latvian freighter Kegums.

Italian submarine Comandante Cappellini shells and sinks 5747-ton Swedish freighter Tisnaren midway between Brazil and Senegal. All 41 crewmen are rescued by US freighter Black Hawk.

Italian submarine Barbarigo torpedoes Brazilian freighter Commandante Lyra east of Fortaleza, Brazil. The damaged ship is towed to Fortaleza by seaplane tender USS Thrush (AVP-3).

The Luftwaffe raids shipping in the Kola Inlet. The score some near-misses on US freighter Deer Lodge, but the ship remains operational. It moves to another anchorage.

After over a month at sea, the last survivors of US freighter Alcoa Guide (sunk by U-123 on 16 April) are rescued by British freighter Hororata.

After almost a month at sea, a radio operator from US freighter Steel Maker, sunk by U-136 on 19 April, is found on a raft and rescued by an unnamed rescue raft. The man is in surprisingly good condition, having accumulated supplies from several rafts that floated free from the sinking ship.

US tanker Benjamin Brewster finds 19 survivors from US tanker Gulfoil, sunk by U-506 on 16 May.
J. Robert Oppenheimer 18 May 1942
Scientists J. Robert Oppenheimer takes over the US nuclear program on 18 May 1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: In Operation LB (part of "Club Run"), HMS Eagle ferries 17 Spitfire fighters to Malta. Malta now has 76 Spitfires operational. Six Albacores have issues and fail to fly off.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Turbulent sinks 2384-ton Italian freighter Bolsena off Benghazi. There are 50 deaths and 36 survivors.

Soldiers of the 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regiment on Malta capture an Italian spy at Marsascala Bay. The man, Giuseppe Guglielmo, who gives himself up willingly, admits to having been dropped off nearby by a naval torpedo boat. His mission was to investigate beach defenses. However, his pickup ride never arrived, so he surrendered.

Battle of the Black Sea: Soviet submarine ShCh-205 torpedoes and sinks 128-ton Turkish freighter Duatepe ten miles off the coast of Bulgaria. It also shells and sinks 350-ton Turkish schooner Kaynardzha in the same area.

Manhattan Project: Gregory Brett quits as the coordinator of physic research on fast neutron phenomena. Arthur H. Compton asks J. Robert Oppenheimer to replace him.

US/Panama Relations: The two countries sign an agreement providing for the use of Panamanian defense areas by US troops.
Life magazine 18 May 1942
Life magazine of 18 May 1942 features an article about Bombardier school.
US Military: Large numbers of US troops arrive in Northern Ireland on lighters after arriving in the Firth of Clyde aboard Queen Mary on 16 May. This is the fourth contingent of MAGNET Force. This completes the arrival of the 34th Infantry Division and includes most personnel from the 1st Armored Division. A separate group from the US Army 209th Coast Artillery (Antiaircraft) also arrives in Northern Ireland after alighting in Scotland on 17 May.

President Roosevelt presents the Medal of Honor to Lt. Colonel James Doolittle, who is also promoted to brigadier general, for the 18 April 1942 Doolittle raid. The citation reads:

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

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

The Office of Naval Inspector General is established. Rear Admiral Charles P. Snyder is the first commander.

The US Army Air Force receives its first delivery of the Republic P-47B Thunderbolt. The plane will first see combat in April 1943.
Life magazine 18 May 1942
A photo from an article about Bombardier School in Life magazine, 18 May 1942.
British Military: Vice-Admiral Henry Harwood, a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty and Assistant Chief of Naval Staff, becomes the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet. He flies his flag at HMS Nile.

Japanese Homefront: Hisao Yamazaki incorporates Daiwa Kogyo, Ltd. It is located in Suwa, Nagano Prefecture, Japan. Yamazaki is a local clock shop owner who is supported by the Hattori family (of Seiko Group fame), for whose company he used to work. Yamazaki's shop manufactures watch parts. In 1982, the entity, after various corporate transactions and after having evolved into a manufacturer of computer printers, renames itself the Epson Corporation.
Santa Ana Register 18 May 1942
The Santa Ana Register provided an update at the bottom of their front page about the "expulsion" of Japanese Americans from Orange County. By May 17, 1942, all persons with Japanese ancestry--whole or partial--were gone. (Santa Ana Register, May 18, 1942)
American Homefront: The Santa Ana Register reports that 1,543 internees from Orange County, California, are now at "a concentration camp near Parker Dam, Arizona, as a result of expulsion of all persons of Japanese ancestry under Army Orders."

"Counterspy" starring Don MacLaughlin premieres on the NBC Blue Network (which became ABC). McLaughlin plays David Harding, chief of a secret US military unit named "Counterspies." Harding's organization combats the Gestapo and the Japanese Black Dragons during the war and various other organizations after 1945. The show is popular enough to remain on the radio until 29 November 1957 and spawns two feature films, but never airs on television.
Counterspy premieres on 18 May 1942
Counterspy premieres on 18 May 1942.


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

May 17, 1942: Germans Counterattack at Kharkov

Sunday 17 May 1942

Vought-Sikorsky XR-4 arrives at Wright Field, 17 May 1942
The US military's first helicopter, a Vought-Sikorsky XR-4, arrives at Wright Field, Riverside, Ohio, on 17 May 1942. Among those to greet the arrival is Orville Wright (Sikorsky Historical  Archives).
Battle of the Pacific: Badly damaged Japanese aircraft carrier Shōkaku reaches Kure, Japan, on 17 May 1942. Shōkaku is lucky to have made it after the damage sustained at the Battle of the Coral Sea, having almost capsized during a storm along the way. Its fellow carrier, Zuikaku, is still several days away from Kure. Both carriers are in bad shape and will take at least a month to repair and return to service. This means they will miss the next major Japanese operation in June.

US naval intelligence continues to struggle with the location of the upcoming Japanese offensive that they know from decrypted communications is in the works. Commander John Redman, commander OP-20-G in Washington, D.C., continues to believe the next objective is Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. His boss, Admiral Richmond K. Turner, has a great influence on policy and believes him. The Japanese refer to the target as "AF," but nobody knows with certainty where that is. While opinion within the US high command increasingly suspects that AF is Midway Island, that remains unproven.

The USAAF takes precautions by placing the 7th Air Force on alert for a possible Japanese attack at Midway or elsewhere. It adds obsolete Douglas B-18 bombers to reconnaissance missions to supplement existing patrols by B-17 bombers. Around this time, the 72nd Bombardment Squadron is converting its B-18 Bolo bombers to B-17s, but that is a gradual process.

US Navy submarine USS Tautog, on its second patrol out of Pearl Harbor, torpedoes and sinks 2589-ton Japanese submarine I-28 two miles (3.2 km) west of Royalist Reef, Truk. Tautog is one of the submarines assigned to patrol the expected route of the Japanese carriers returning to Japan from the Battle of the Coral Sea. All 88 men on the I-28 perish.
I-164, sunk on 17 May 1942
Japanese submarine I-164, sunk on 17 May 1942, during its trials in Kure.
US Navy submarine USS Triton (SS-201, Lt. Cdr. Charles C. Kirkpatrick) torpedoes and sinks 1635-ton Japanese submarine I-164 (formerly I-64) southeast of Cape Ashizuri, Kyūshū, Japan. Kirkpatrick (who eventually becomes a Rear Admiral) uses his last Mark-14 bow torpedo, and the Japanese submarine sinks within two minutes. All 81 men on I-164 are thought to have perished, though Kirkpatrick spots about 30 swimmers after the sinking.

US Navy submarine USS Skipjack torpedoes and sinks 5477-ton Japanese transport ship Tajan Maru in the South China Sea near the mouth of the Gulf of Siam off Indochina.

US Navy submarine USS Silversides, on its first patrol out of Pearl Harbor, torpedoes and sinks 5871-ton Japanese freighter Thames Maru. In addition to Thames Maru, Silverfish torpedoes a second freighter, 5973-ton transport ship Tottori Maru, which also sinks (though the crew of Silversides is unable to verify this). The attack is hazardous for Silversides because it blunders into a Japanese fishnet marked by Japanese flags held aloft on bamboo poles above the surface. The submarine shrugs off the fishnet, which it drags along with it. The scene is somewhat unusual in that this means Silversides drags along the Japanese flag atop the bamboo poles, making this the only time a US submarine attacks enemy shipping while (inadvertently) flying the Japanese flag. Silversides, incidentally, is preserved as a National Historic Landmark at a museum in Muskegon, Michigan.

US Navy submarine USS Grampus, on its third patrol out of Fremantle and one of the eight submarines lurking off Truk Lagoon looking for Japanese carriers, is damaged by gunfire by Japanese patrol vessels. However, the submarine remains operational.

USS Gar, on its second patrol, attacks a Japanese ship during a daylight raid west of Truk. The crew believes it is a Q-ship, but, in fact, it is just an ordinary freighter. The identity and fate of the ship is unclear and any sinking is unconfirmed.

Eighteen Japanese A6M2 Zero fighters of the Tainan Kokutai based at Lae Airfield raid Port Moresby. The strafing mission accomplishes little because the Allies receive warnings and disperse their aircraft ahead of the raid. The Japanese lose two fighters that are damaged and crash into the Owen Stanley Mountains. Another fighter force-lands with the pilot surviving the war. Thirteen fighters make it back to base, some after landing at other airfields. Sixteen P-39 Aircobras of the 8th Fighter Group's 36th Fighter Squadron and 35th, 39th, and 40th Fighter Squadrons intercept the Japanese fighters. They get no victories and lose one plane. However, the US fighter pilots claim numerous victories that ultimately prove erroneous.

B-17s attack shipping at Koepang Bay, Timor.
Orville Wright greets Sikorsky and his helicopter at Wright Field on 17 May 1942
The Sikorsky XR-4 41-18874 at Wright Field, 17 May 1942. From left to right are E. Walsh, A. Planefisch, Igor Sikorsky, Orville Wright, R. Alex, Les Morris, B. Labensky. (Sikorsky Archives).
Battle of the Indian Ocean: British units continue straggling into the border town of Tamu to set up a center of resistance on the Indian border. Today, the 17th Indian Infantry Division arrives after a difficult withdrawal up the Kabaw valley. Its strength is down to 9,908 men. It will be sent north to Imphal, another border city and center of British resistance to the victorious Japanese in Burma. The Japanese units, meanwhile, are not pursuing the fleeing Allied units but instead are content to solidify their control of Burma.

Japanese Detachment A, a naval force composed of seven submarines and three auxiliary cruisers/supply ships,, encounters heavy seas en route to Madagascar. Several of the submarines take on water in heavy seas as they try to charge their batteries. I-18's port diesel is flooded and four cylinders seize and it falls behind the other submarines. I-20 also sustains damage but it is quickly repaired.
Reynolds News of 17 May 1942
London, England's Reynolds News of 17 May 1942 is full of reporting of overpowering Red Army tank strength near Kharkov.
Eastern Front: It is an unusually hot day in southern Russia, with temperatures hitting 90° Fahrenheit (32°C). The skies are clear and visibility is perfect. The two sides spend the day attacking in completely different directions, with each facing the possibility of a massive defeat if they are wrong.

German 3rd Panzer Corps in General Ewald von Kleist's First Panzer Army counterattacks at Kharkov. More Luftwaffe units have been transferred north from Crimea to Fliegerkorps IV and VIII, and the planes clear a path for the panzers. The attack is not against the bulging Soviet expansion in all directions south of Kharkov, but instead directed at the breakout point. There is outstanding coordination between ground units calling in airstrikes and the arrival of the planes, which do not have far to travel from their bases. The aim is to advance from north and south to cut off the Soviet supply corridor and create a pocket west of Barvenkovo. This is an altered version of a plan the Germans were working on before the Soviet attacks, Operation Fridericus, so the Germans have been able to react with uncommon speed.

The German counterattack takes the Soviets completely by surprise, and they are slow to react. In the morning, before he realizes what the Germans are up to, Marshal Semyon Timoshenko commits his second-stage forces, XXI and XXIII Tank Corps, to the expanding perimeter of the breakthrough instead of to the area of the German counterattack. These are his most powerful reserves and they are in completely the wrong place. During the day, these forces advance five miles north toward Kharkov, the Soviets' ultimate objective.
German armored personnel carrier in the Kharkov area, May 1942
A German medium armored personnel carrier (perhaps a Sd.Kfz. 251/10 with 3.7 cm anti-tank gun) on a temporary ferry in the Kharkov area, May 1942 (Federal Archive Image 169-0422).
The problem for the Soviets is that, no matter how far their tanks advance toward Kharkov, their offensive to take the city is doomed to failure if the German panzers far to the east cut them off. The German counterattack gets off to a very successful start. In the north, the panzers advance fifteen miles to the south to reach the first objective of Barvenkovo. In the south, the Seventeenth Army does even further, advancing 16/17 miles, about 2/3 of the way to their first objective of Izyum. At Fuhrer Headquarters, General Franz Halder writes in his war diary that First Panzer Army "has got off to a good start."

The Soviet units in the area of the southern German attack are commanded by General Malinovskiy of Ninth Army. Malinovskiy loses contact with his front-line units and reinforcements. He also has made a mistake of overconfidence, putting some of his reserves into the front line. His defensive line is thin and brittle and not a typical Red Army defense in depth.

Throughout the day, the Soviet command shrugs off the German counterattack. Timoshenko orders his XXIII Tank Corps (General Gorodnyanskov) out of reserve to help the Soviet 57th Army stop the German attack that reaches Barvenkovo. The Stavka releases two rifle divisions and two tank brigades from its theater reserve. These forces cannot get to the crisis areas in fewer than 24 hours, however, and in some cases much longer.
Beatrice Times, 17 May 1942
The 17 May 1942 Beatrice Times of Beatrice, Nebraska, headlines reports of declining German morale.
The acting chief of the Soviet General Staff, Marshal Vasilevskiy, is the only top Red Army commander who seems to appreciate the threat of the German counterattack today. He asks Stalin for permission to turn the entire offensive around and direct it at the German counterattack rather than continuing north and west. Stalin consults with the Military Council of the Southwestern Theater, which is led by Timoshenko, Political Commissar Nikita Khrushchev, and Timoshenko's Southwestern Front military chief of staff, Ivan Bagramyan. The situation is much different than in other armies because Commissars such as Khrushchev, with no or inadequate military training, have an equal voice in military decisions.

While Bagramyan basically agrees with Vasilevsky, Timoshenko and Khrushchev tell Stalin they can master the counterattack and continue their own offensive. Bagramyan, a very capable general, was one of the key planners of the original Soviet attack. However, he also is considered somewhat of a black sheep in the Red Army, having been court-martialed in 1941 for the losses at Kiev and Rostov, so he has less influence with the Stavka than he otherwise might. Based on the Military Council's recommendation, Stalin refuses Vasilevskiy's request to turn the offensive around to meet the new threat. It is a decisive moment on the Eastern Front with consequences that extend throughout the summer of 1942.

The new Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander) of Jagdgeschwader 77, Gordon "Mac" Gollob, continues his fast start. Flying from Kerch in Crimea, he claims three Soviet R-5s and one LaGG-3 for a total of seven victories in his first two days. This brings his total score to 93. The Luftwaffe continues to commit a major portion of its strength to the Crimean campaign. Today, German bombers sink 1200-ton Soviet auxiliary guard ship SKR-21 off Iokanga, with four deaths.

Basically, the ground fighting in Crimea is decided. However, in his war diary, General Franz Halder notes that "On the Kerch peninsula, the remnants of the enemy are still putting up fanatical resistance northeast of the town."
German searchlight in France, May 1942
German searchlights in France, May 1942 (Genzler, Federal Archive Image 101I-616-2514-36).
European Air Operations: RAF Fighter Command has a bad day over the French coast. During a 27-plane bombing mission to the Boulogne docks (one Wellington lost), bombers drop forty 500-lb bombs. This stirs up JG 53 at Le Touquet, which puts over 25 Fw 190s in the air. RAF No. 602 initiates an attack on ten of them over Güines (south of Calais), but then is bounced itself by another 15 German fighters lurking above them. Ferocious dogfights result in the loss of eight RAF fighters at the cost of one Luftwaffe plane, claimed by Squadron Leader Finucane. This is one instance where the British tactic of using bombers to draw up the enemy fighters to battle backfires.

The only other mission of the day is a raid by 32 Stirling and 28 Wellington Bombers of Group 3 after dark to the Frisian Island and Heligoland area. Losses are heavy, with five Stirlings and two Wellingtons lost to Luftwaffe night fighters. Today continues a Spring bombing lull by both sides, although, as seen, fighter activity remains heavy.
HMS King George V in drydock, 17 May 1942
HMS King George V in the Gladstone Dock at Liverpool, May 17, 1942, following the collision sank destroyer HMS Punjabi in the North Atlantic on 1 May. © IWM A 9949.
Battle of the Atlantic: It is a particularly bad day at sea for the Allied merchant fleet. Operation Neuland, the German U-boat offensive in the Caribbean, increasingly is the Kriegsmarine's most fertile hunting ground in the Atlantic. The Allied shipping losses there, particularly of tankers, are mounting at an alarming rate. Already these losses have led to gasoline rationing in the eastern United States as Texas oil must be shipped there around Florida. While the US Navy and Coast Guard have organized convoys from Boston to Florida, ship transits remain unorganized in the Caribbean and mostly independent. These easy successes mask improved Allied anti-submarine measures further north, but U-boats remain a threat everywhere and there are several losses today in the North Atlantic, too.

U-156 (Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein), on its third patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 5072-ton British freighter Barrdale northeast of Barbados. There are one death and 52 survivors, who are rescued by Argentine freighter Rio Iguazu.

U-162 (FrgKpt. Jürgen Wattenberg), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 6852-ton Norwegian tanker Beth 135 nautical miles (250 km) southeast of Barbados. There are one death and 30 survivors.

U-155 (Kptlt. Erich Würdemann), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 7667-ton US freighter Challenger east of Grenada. Challenger is en route to Trinidad for repairs when it is sunk. There are eight deaths and 56 survivors, who are rescued by the patrol yacht USS Turquoise (PY-19).

U-155 also torpedoes and sinks 8136-ton British tanker San Victorio on its maiden voyage southwest of Grenada. There are 52 deaths and one survivor, who is rescued by USS Turquoise.

U-506 (Kptlt. Erich Würdemann), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 5189 US tanker Gulfoil 75 miles southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River. There are 21 deaths and 19 survivors, who are rescued by US freighter Benjamin Brewster.
MV Peisander, sunk on 17 May 1942
M.V. Peisander, sunk by U-653 off Nantucket, Massachusetts, on 17 May 1942.
U-653 (Kptlt. Gerhard Feiler), on its third patrol out of Brest, torpedoes and sinks 6225-ton British freighter Peisander 350 nautical miles (650 km) off Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. All 65 crewmen survive, rescued by USCGC General Greene.

U-432 (Kptlt. Heinz-Otto Schultze), on its fifth patrol out of La Pallice, shells, and sinks 324-ton US fishing trawler Foam about 85 nautical miles (157 km) south of Halifax, Nova Scotia. There are one death and 20 survivors, who are rescued by HMCS Halifax or reach the Sambro Lightship in their lifeboats.

U-588 (Kptlt. Victor Vogel), on its third patrol out of St. Nazaire, torpedoes and sinks 2117-ton Norwegian freighter Skottland midway between Boston and Halifax. There are one death and 23 survivors, who are rescued by Canadian fishing trawler O.K. Service IV.

U-135 (Kptlt. Friedrich-Hermann Praetorius), on its third patrol out of Brest, torpedoes and sinks 7127-ton British Fort ship Fort Qu'Appelle off the northern coast of Canada. There are 14 deaths. Survivors are picked up by HMCS Melville.

US 2612-ton freighter Ruth Lykes, torpedoed by U-103 late on 16 May, sinks shortly after midnight on 17 May in the Caribbean. There are six deaths and 30 survivors, who are rescued by Norwegian freighter Somerville. This is included here because some accounts place the sinking on the 16th, others on the 17th.

US Navy destroyer USS Hambleton (DD-455) collides with destroyer Ellyson (DD-454) while en route to the United States from the Gold Coast of Africa. Both ships make it to port.
Panzer General Ludwig Cruwell on 17 May 1942
Panzer General Ludwig Crüwell showing his (34th) Oak Leaves for the Knight's Cross, 17 May 1942. Crüwell is commander of the Afrika Korps (on infantry and two panzer divisions) under General Erwin Rommel, who commands Panzer Army Afrika (Federal Archives Picture 146-1991-039-17).
Battle of the Mediterranean: German E-boats have been operating with relative impunity just off the shores of Malta, planting mines and occasionally engaging in firefights with Royal Navy vessels. Today, British radio direction picks up some of these ships at 01:05 north of St. Elmo. At 02:35, coastal artillery near Valletta badly damages 79-ton S 34. While it remains afloat, the Luftwaffe scuttles it with four Bf 109s to keep it from falling into British hands. Other E-boats are damaged after dawn by Hurricane fighters of RAF No. 229 Squadron but at least two escape.
The Sikorsky XR-4, delivered to the US military on 17 May 1942
The US military receives its first helicopter on 17 May 1942. It is the Sikorsky XR-4, shown.
US Military: Battleship USS West Virginia, sunk during the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor, is refloated today. The repair process has been arduous, requiring huge wooden cofferdams around the ship and tnemic cement used to seal them. About 40,000 gallons of fuel oil are recovered from the ship. The ship will be towed to Drydock No. 1 and remain there for almost a year.

Igor I. Sikorsky and Charles Lester "Les" Morris fly Sikorsky's XR-4 helicopter from Stratford, Connecticut, to Wright Field in Riverside, Ohio. This completes the delivery of the first USAAF helicopter. The two pilots spend over 16 hours in the air, and the flight requires 17 refueling stops.

British Homefront: MP Sir Stafford Cripps, back from failed negotiations with Mahatma Gandhi in India, makes a speech to his constituents in Bristol about a second front in Europe. He says:

The only difference between [politicians and the public] is that the public can talk freely about [a new second front in Western Europe], whereas we cannot, because we have two responsibilities - to organize it at the proper time and place, and secondly not to give the enemy any information of our intentions. Already the Germans are getting uneasy at the militant offensive spirit of the British and Americans in this matter.

Cripps knows that the public is eager for a second front and is hinting at things that he knows the public wants to hear. However, at this time, there are no plans for an invasion of Western Europe anywhere. The only operation that is contemplated is a possible invasion of western Africa late in 1942, but even that is tenuous.
Jimmy Stewart on the cover of This Week on 17 May 1942
Jimmy Stewart, USAAF, portrayed on the cover of This Week magazine, 17 May 1942.
American Homefront: On 17 May 1942, all remaining Japanese-Americans in Orange County, California, are evacuated. This is "moving day." They are told to report to various Civil Control Stations or designated transit sites by today. These notifications generally are only made by notices attached to telephone poles, buildings, and the like. The departure sites are often public transit hubs, such as the Pacific Electric Railway state near Huntington Beach pier.

Future History: Henry Saint Claire Fredericks is born in Harlem, New York. Adopting the stage name Taj Mahal, he becomes a noted blues musician and occasional actor. Taj Mahal remains active in the business as of 2021.
Fenn College graduation on 17 May 1942
Fenn College commencement, Cleveland, Ohio, 17 May 1942. A lot of these graduates will wind up in the military (Cleveland State University Archives).


Saturday, May 1, 2021

May 16, 1942: Sobibor Begins Operation

Saturday 16 May 1942

Field Marshal Jan Smuts inspecting sailors, 16 May 1942
South African Field Marshal Jan Smuts inspecting the Royal Marine Guard of Honor on board cruiser HMS Cleopatra in Alexandria Harbor, 16 May 1942. © IWM A 9105.
Battle of the Pacific: Having accomplished Admiral Chester Nimitz's intent of allowing the Japanese to spot his Task Force 16, Admiral "Bull" Halsey on 16 May 1942 heads to Efate to refuel. Nimitz's devious strategy is to forestall the Japanese Operation RY to invade Nauru and Ocean Island by "showing his hand." This has worked, as the Japanese have been scared off by the appearance of Halsey's two carriers (USS Enterprise and Hornet) in the vicinity and canceled the operation. The Japanese invasion force now is headed back to Rabaul.

Nimitz now orders TF 16 to head back to Hawaii to prepare for future operations. Having viewed recent naval intelligence findings, Nimitz projects that the Japanese soon will make simultaneous attacks on Port Moresby, Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians, and Midway Island. His plan is to concentrate Task Force 16 and other available forces at Midway to repel that invasion while allowing the other invasions to be handled by local forces. However, naval intelligence continues to be split regarding Midway as a Japanese objective, so concentrating forces there remains a gamble based on disputed interpretations and conclusions of decrypted Japanese communications. Some intelligence officials, including Admiral Richmond K. Turner in Washington, believe Hawaii may be the target, but there is still time to discern Japanese intentions with more confidence.

USAAF Fifth Air Force sends B-26 and B-17 bombers to attack Lae, with B-25s flying two sorties against the airfield there. Poor weather causes some bombers to divert from Lae to attack shipping. In the morning, the bombers attack Lae at 800 feet, then return in the afternoon and bomb from 2400 feet. Other bombers attack the Japanese seaplane base at Deboyne, which the Japanese already have evacuated. The US loses no bombers, though one B-25C must force-land at Aiyary Airstrip in the eastern highlands of New Guinea (the airfield remains in service in 2021 as Aijura Airport).

US submarine USS Tautog (SS-199), on its second patrol, torpedoes and sinks Japanese fleet tanker Goyo Maru west of Royalist Bank, Truk. Tautog is one of the submarines on the assumed route of the Japanese aircraft carriers returning to Japan after the Battle of the Coral Sea. The sinking almost turns deadly for Tautog, too, as its first torpedo circles around and heads back toward it, forcing an immediate dive.
Saturday Evening Post, 16 May 1942
The Saturday Evening Post of 16 May 1942 urges people to "Keep 'em Flying."
Battle of the Indian Ocean: The 1st Burma Infantry Brigade, which has crossed the Chindwin River, reaches the frontier city of Tamu today. This continues a concentration of British military power along the Indian border while essentially abandoning Burma to the Japanese. More units are still on the road to Tamu but are expected to arrive shortly.

US power is growing in the theater, too. The 10th Air Force completes its move from the United States to New Delhi, India. A force of B-17s attacks the Japanese airfield at Myitkyina, Burma, today, destroying the runways.
The Arizona Daily Star, 16 May 1942
The Arizona Daily Star of 16 May 1942 optimistically headlines that "Reds Continue Kharkov Drive, Hold at Kerch." In fact, Kerch already is in German hands.
Eastern Front: Facing growing German resistance and counterattacks in the northern prong of their offensive around Kharkov, the Red Army renews its attacks with little success. German tanks blunt these assaults and recover some ground. The attack south of Kharkov continues to succeed, but both prongs must meet west of Kharkov for the Soviet strategy to succeed. Even in the south, the Luftwaffe increases its strikes and Wehrmacht reinforcements pour in from the rear areas. The southern Soviet advance through forests and small towns loses cohesion, spreading out in all directions without accomplishing any meaningful objectives.

General Franz Halder shows increasing confidence in his war diary. After noting that the northern attack "unfortunately has had a measure of success against the Hungarians" but "Disposal of the situation now is no more than a tactical matter," he writes:

East of Kharkov, our tank attack has captured Ternovaya. As a result, the fighting in this area, too, is now reduced to mere tactical scope.

Despite this sanguine attitude, the German high command remains torn. Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, commander of Army Group South, advocates the textbook approach of ringing the Soviet breakthrough with defensive troops to stop their progress. Hitler, however, brusquely rejects this approach. Instead, he coordinates a counterattack by General Ewald von Kleist's First Panzer Army at the base of the Soviet offensive, the breakthrough point. The plan is for 3rd Panzer Corps and 44th Army Corps to advance from north and south to cut the Soviet line of communications.
Baltimore News-Post 16 May 1942
The Baltimore News-Post of 16 May 1942 is full of optimism about the Red Army attack at Kharkov. Further down on the page is a headline about Earl Browder that reads "Communist Party Leader Serves 14 Months, Freed as Step Towards "Unity.""
Von Bock privately admits he favors Hitler's approach but is "compelled by orthodoxy" to reject it because it is a huge gamble:

Now the Fuehrer will order the big solution [the counterattack at the base of the breakthrough]. The laurels will go to the Supreme Command and we will have to be content with what is left.

Hitler, of course, does order the big solution. The counterattack, which is planned to begin on the 17th, is tenuous and Kleist himself is unsure if he has the strength to accomplish the encirclement. As the entire fate of the summer offensive on which Hitler places high hopes for ending the Soviet campaign successfully hangs in the balance, the counterattack will determine the future course of the campaign.

In Crimea, General von Manstein's Operation Trappenjagd has succeeded in its major objective by capturing Kerch. The battle now evolves into a mopping-up operation to subdue Soviet holdouts from Kerch all the way to the original line along the Parpach narrows. This will take a couple of days to complete, but the outcome in the Wehrmacht's favor is assured.

Despite the German successes, some sober facts keep crossing General Franz Halder's desk at Fuhrer Headquarters. In his war diary, Halder lists Wehrmacht casualties from the start of Operation Barbarossa through 10 May 1942 as reaching 1,182,735 men, or 36.96% of the starting total Eastern Army of 3.2 million. Of these, the killed number 9,450 officers and 241,572 others. Halder lists these numbers without comment.
Adolf Galland in North Africa, May 1942
Inspector of Fighters Adolf Galland visits JG 27 at Martuba Airfield, Libya, May 1942. Also visible are Lieutenant Colonel Woldenga and Major Neumann (Kanitz, Federal Archive Image 101I-442-1498-26A).
European Air Operations: Operations on both sides remain light today. Seven RAF Lancaster and seven Manchester bombers lay mines off Heligoland without loss.

Six Bf 109F fighters from 10/JG 2 attack Plymouth. They drop bombs near warships and strafe the dock area, killing one sailor on HMS Brocklesby. One airplane is shot down, killing the pilot, Hans-Joachim Schulz. The engine 

Battle of the Atlantic: U-751 (Kptlt. Gerhard Bigalk), on its sixth patrol out of St. Nazaire, torpedoes and sinks 1445-ton US freighter Nicarao north of the Bahama Islands. There are eight deaths and 31 survivors, who are rescued by US tanker Esso Augusta.

U-506 (Kptlt. Erich Würdemann), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and shells US 7306-ton tanker William C. McTarnahan 35 nautical miles (65 km) east of the Ship Shoal Lighthouse in Louisiana. The crew abandons the ship with 18 dead and 27 survivors (rescued by local shrimpers). Tankers are famously difficult to sink due to their compartmentalized construction, and William C. McTarnahan follows this pattern. US Navy tugs Barranca and Tuckahoe take the ship in tow, and it is repaired and returned to service as St. James.

U-506 also torpedoes and damages 9002-ton US tanker Sun in the same vicinity just before the William C. McTarnahan. All 42 men on board survive. As with William C. McTarnahan, the crew abandons the ship, but when Sun does not sink, they reboard. The tanker still has power and makes its way to New Orleans.

U-103 (Kptlt. Werner Winter), on its seventh patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 2637-ton US freighter Ruth Lykes off Cape Falso, Nicaragua. Torpedoed at 23:58, the freighter actually sinks at 00:44 on the 17th. The U-boat surfaces and uses its deck gun to finish off the ship, stopping to allow the crew to abandon the ship. There are five deaths and 27 survivors, rescued by Norwegian freighter Somerville. One crewman rescued later dies of wounds. The U-boat picks up one swimmer who has injuries, treats him, and then places him in a lifeboat.

Royal Navy 18-ton motor torpedo boat MTB 338 explodes and burns from unknown causes at Trinidad.

A Luftwaffe patrol shoots down a Catalina of RAF Squadron No. 210 200 miles west of Trondheim, Norway. All ten men aboard perish.
Freighter Ruth Lykes, torpedoed on 16 May 1942
US freighter Ruth Lykes, torpedoed by U-103 on 16 May 1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Fierce air battles continue over Malta. The Axis bombers focus on airfields. Several Spitfires are damaged but no planes or pilots are lost.

Partisans: With the Wehrmacht in possession of the port of Kerch in Crimea, many Red Army soldiers are trapped on the Kerch peninsula with a difficult escape route across the Strait of Kerch. In the town of Adzhimushkay, Colonel Pavel Yagunov forms a pocket several thousand strong to hold out indefinitely or until sufficient transportation can be arranged. Numbers are small at first, but they swell with time to about 13,000 as escape becomes impossible. Several different garrisons are formed.

Yagunov's force evolves from a holdout force into a guerilla operation based in the Great Adzhimushkay catacombs system. As with other large partisan operations, its fatal weakness is that its location becomes known to the Germans. Its priority is forced to shift from hit-and-run attacks to self-defense, and German reactions constantly whittle down its size. The operation survives until October 1942 with occasional successes against the occupying German forces but the eventual death or imprisonment of virtually everyone. 

This is known as the Adzhimushkay Defense. A museum is established in 1966 and a memorial complex in 1982.
Oveta Cullp Hobby becomes leader of the WAAC on 16 May 1942
Mrs. Oveta Culp Hobby, leader of the WAAC. Her name has been floated in the 2020s as a possible replacement for a military base.
US Military: Mrs. Oveta Culp Hobby is sworn in as director of US Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.

Liner Queen Mary arrives in the Clyde, completing the first troop transport voyage carrying over 10,000 people (9880 troops, 875 crew). The voyage takes five days, three hours, and 45 minutes at an average speed of 25.58 knots.

The USAAF orders 25 lightweight wooded Bell XP-77 fighters.

German Military: Major Gordon "Mac" Gollob leaves JG 54 and becomes Geschwaderkommodore of JG 77, supporting General Manstein in Crimea. He gets off to a great start flying out of Kerch. During the day, he shoots down three Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov LaGG-3 fighter aircraft to raise his victory total to 89.

US Government: In a secret memorandum to US President Franklin Roosevelt, George C. Marshall recommends reducing the allocation of aircraft to the RAF substantially. These amounts were established by the Arnold-Porter (chiefs of the US and British air forces, respectively) Agreement of 13 January 1942. Marshall writes that the "situation... has greatly altered." Among those changed circumstances is new secret information about British aircraft production which shows that it is twice as large as the British claimed at the time. 

Among Marshall's suggestions are that 50% of all aircraft types except Martin 187 light bombers be immediately reallocated to the United States, with 100% of all aircraft reallocated to the US beginning in August 1942. Naval aircraft also should be reallocated to the US, Marshall argues. Basically, Marshall claims in diplomatic phrasing that the British have been misleading the US about the state of their aircraft production by undercounting it in order to get more free lend-lease planes from the US.
Ukrainian laborers waiting to go to Germany, May 1942
Ukrainian women, many in traditional garb, reporting for registration at an employment office at Artemovsk in order to be hired for work in Germany in May 1942. They are waiting at the train station. (Knodler, Karl, Federal Archives Image 183-B19878).
Holocaust: Sobibor concentration camp is located in a bucolic setting near the village of Sobibór. This is in the easternmost area of the General Government region of German-occupied Poland. Originally opened on 15 April 1942, the Sobibor camp becomes fully operational as an extermination camp on or about 16 May 1942.

After a crude start, Sobibor now begins operating with chilling efficiency. Trains from across Europe enter the camp station off a special rail spur, and the passengers ("evacuees") are immediately relieved of their personal possessions (the very few they were permitted to carry). Of course, the arrivals don't know why they are there, as the authorities have given them some concocted story about resettlement and jobs that will keep them from causing any trouble. The Germans actually give a lot of thought to this tactic and go to great lengths to disguise their true intentions. Everything appears innocent and routine right up until the end, though with increasing degrees of degradation.

Once out of the train, the passengers are separated by gender and sometimes other factors (such as the ability to work) and compelled to disrobe completely. Camp internees come and shave the hair off the incoming females, then everyone is separated into groups and led down a 100-meter (330 foot) long pathway euphemistically called the Himmelstrasse ("Road to Heaven"). The destination down the Himmelstrasse is an ordinary-looking bunker that the prisoners are told is a communal shower. In fact, it is a disguised gas chamber. The prisoners walk in, the door is barred behind them, and then engines (usually tank engines which give off a lot of exhaust) are started up. The exhaust is fed into the crowded chamber. The deed is done within about fifteen minutes.

After this process is completed, the gas is cleared, the door is opened, and the bodies are disposed of in various fashions. At first, the bodies are buried in mass burial pits, but as time goes on this becomes impractical. Bodies then are simply burned in the open air where they lie, but this, too, cannot keep up with the supply. Finally, the bodies are incinerated in ovens which are upgraded over time. Huge mounds of ash result.

The victims come from across the breadth of Occupied Europe, with heavy concentrations from Poland and the Balkans. Many of the earliest victims arrive from Slovakia and nearby regions. Much of the work at Sobibor, as at other camps, is done by auxiliaries ("Sonderkommando") who are internees themselves. Fearing for their own lives, they are only interested in getting the job done as fast and efficiently as possible to please their captors. These auxiliaries, of course, only want to stay out of the chambers themselves (few survive the war).
Sobibor opens for operation on 16 May 1942
Welcome to Sobibor.
Dr. August Becker, SS Untersturmführer, sends a letter to SS-Obersturmbannführer Rauff dated 6 May 1942 in which he gives details on gassing vans. Becker says in part:

The application of gas usually is not undertaken correctly. In order to come to an end as fast as possible, the driver presses the accelerator to the fullest extent. By doing that the persons to be executed suffer death from suffocation and not death by dozing off as was planned. My directions now have proved that by correct adjustment of the levers death comes faster and the prisoners fall asleep peacefully. Distorted faces and excretions, such as could be seen before, are no longer noticed.

Becker also notes that the vans have become "well-known" and that both local authorities and the civilian population call them "death vans."
Picture Post magazine, 16 May 1942
Picture Post magazine of 16 May 1942 shows a British soldier completing a climb up a 60-foot hill.
British Homefront: Prime Minister Winston Churchill visits Leeds. He says in part:

In the height of the second great war, it is a great pleasure to come to Leeds and bring to the citizens a word of thanks and encouragement in all the work they are doing to promote the common cause of many nations and in many lands. That cause appeals to the hearts of all those in the human race who are not already gripped by tyranny or who have not already been seduced to its insidious voice. That cause is shared by all the millions of our cousins across the Atlantic who are preparing night and day to have their will and rights respected. It appeals to the patient millions of China, who have suffered long from cruel aggression and still fight with faithful stubbornness. It appeals to the noble manhood of Russia, now at full grips with the murderous enemy, striking blow for blow.

His most quoted phrase is, "Now we see the ridge ahead." Churchill enters town standing in the back of an open limousine to crowds lined along the roadway. Huge crowds attend his speech. Afterward, Churchill tours the Leeds industrial districts.

American Homefront: An Assistant Solicitor General in the US Office of Legal Counsel, Oscar Cox, gives a legal opinion on the "Removal of Japanese Aliens and Citizens From Hawaii to the United States" (Hawaii in 1942 not yet being a State). The specific issue is whether such persons can be placed in internment camps on the mainland under martial law. Cox asserts:

Hawaii is still within the Pacific theatre of war and subject to attack again. Continuance of martial law in Hawaii is doubtless justified. If military necessity dictates it -- as it well may -- those Japanese who were interned in Hawaii or those whose presence is dangerous can be removed. To hold otherwise would be deciding upon the impractical.

Cox cautions, however, that:

The existing case law indicates some doubt on the power to remove and intern the Japanese citizens in the United States. But the conditions of modern warfare are different from those of prior wars. Because of this the courts might well follow a different course than that indicated by the earlier decisions.

Due to the legal uncertainty, Cox concludes that "the safest legal procedure would be to hold the Japanese who are American citizens in Hawaii." The next best course would be to intern them in Hawaii and give them the option of coming to the mainland voluntarily to become members of the work corps of the War Relocation Authority. The final option, evacuating them from Hawaii to mainland internment camps may be legal under President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 and Public Law 77-503 but would require factual proofs of military necessity that should be avoided if "feasible."

"Tangerine" by Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra with Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell remains at No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart for the second week in a row.

Future History: Polish anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski passes away from natural causes in Mexico. While his work is important in the history of anthropology, Malinowski's personal diaries become his real legacy. Never intended to be published, the diaries are found after his death and published in 1967. These diaries give deep insight into the true impulses motivating academics, many of which are interpreted by readers to be venal and conflicted. Malinowski's self-critiques and reproaches call into question how "unbiased" observations of other cultures can be. While their usefulness is highly debated and controversial, the Malinowski diaries become a continuing point of contention and well known in the field of anthropology for decades.
Recruiting pig King Neptune, 16 May 1942
King Neptune (shown) is born on the Sherman Boner farm near West Franklin, Illinois, on 16 May 1942. A navy recruiter uses him to raise $19 million in war bonds for the construction of the Iowa-class battleship Illinois between 1942 and 1946. The recruiter, incidentally, saved King Neptune from his original fate of serving as the centerpiece at a fundraising pig roast. Upon his death in 1950, he is buried with military honors. A monument to King Neptune (with an incorrect birth year) later is placed at a northbound I-57 rest area. It still stands.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

May 15, 1942: Germans Take Kerch

Friday 15 May 1942

Hermann Graff 15 May 1942
Luftwaffe pilot Hermann Graf (right), Staffelkapitan 9./JG 52, stands before his Messerschmitt Bf-109F-4 at the Kharkov-Rogan airfield after achieving his 100th victory, May 15, 1942.
Battle of the Pacific: A Japanese Kawanishi reconnaissance aircraft based at Tulagi sights Admiral "Bull" Halsey's Task Force 16 on 15 May 1942. The task force, which includes aircraft carriers USS Enterprise and Hornet, is 445 nautical miles (512 miles, 824 km) east of the Solomon Islands. The presence of the two US carriers convinces Japanese Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue to cancel Operation RY, the planned invasion of Nauru and Ocean Island. This is exactly what Admiral Chester Nimitz intended, as he wants Halsey's force to return to Pearl Harbor for the looming battle at Midway without being forced into any more actions.

The two Japanese carriers that survived the Battle of the Coral Sea, Zuikaku and Shōkaku, are proceeding back to Japan and cannot be ready for the Midway battle due to the damage they have sustained. Shōkaku almost sinks in foul weather, while Zuikaku stops today at the base at Truk before continuing on to Japan. The US Navy knows their general routes and stations eight submarines in position to intercept the carriers, but no sightings are made.

US Fifth Air Force sends B-25 and B-26 bombers to raid Lae and the Japanese seaplane base at Deboyne. They cause damage at Lae, but the Japanese already have evacuated Deboyne.
Nimitz on the cover of Time, 15 May 1942
Time, 15 May 1942: "Nimitz, Commander in the Pacific."
Battle of the Indian Ocean: Retreating British troops in Burma are consolidating on the western border. Today, they reach Assam in northeastern India. Other Allied troops are assembling at Tamu to the south. The Japanese continue to occupy Burma and have no plans at this time to invade India.

In the Indian Ocean, the ships of Ko ("A") Detachment that is to attack Royal Navy ships at Madagascar and other points refuel at sea from supply ships Aikoku and Hokoku Maru. This force includes submarines I-10, I-16. I-18, I-20, I-30, I-27, and I-28, most converted to carry Type A Kai 1 midget submarines. I-10 and I-30 carry floatplanes instead. This is more an expedition of opportunity than a well-planned operation.

US submarine USS Tuna torpedoes and sinks 805-ton Japanese freighter Toyohara Maru 65 miles off Sohuksando, Korea. There are 21 deaths.
Duke of Gloucester, 15 May 1942
Inspection of Australian Guard of Honour at Government House by the Duke of Gloucester on May 15, 1942. The Duke and party are leaving (Matson Collection, Library of Congress #matpc.21541).
Eastern Front: The Red Army renews its struggling offensive in the northern pincer above Kharkov, but the Wehrmacht now has had time to regain its footing. German fortresses such as at Ternovaya continue to hold out due to a lack of Soviet heavy artillery. The Soviets advance only five kilometers during the day against stiffening German resistance. General Franz Halder at Fuhrer Headquarters writes that "the main thrust of the enemy offensive in the direction of Kharkov appears to be checked."

South of Kharkov, the situation is a little more dangerous. General Halder notes that "Here we may yet witness further enemy advances." However, while the Red Army has openings to the west and south, there are no strategic objectives within reach in those directions. The Germans are guarding Kharkov itself fiercely and, for the time being, are content to let the Soviet troops under General Semyon Timoshenko wander about in the undeveloped country south of the city where they can do little damage. General Ewald von Kleist is preparing a counteroffensive with his First Panzer Army to close off the Soviets' supply corridor, but that will take a couple of days to assemble.

In Crimea, the German 11th Army take the key port of Kerch. This eliminates the main Soviet escape route to the Taman peninsula on the mainland - which they cannot use anyway because Stalin has not authorized a general retreat - and decides the campaign. The Soviets now only hold Sevastopol on Crimea, to which General Erich von Manstein now can turn his full attention.
Toni Frissell, Vogue, 15 May 1942
Photo in Vogue by Toni Frissell (Antoinette Frissell Bacon), 15 May 1942.
At Fuhrer Headquarters, General Halder writes that "The Kerch offensive may be considered closed. Town and harbor are in our hands." However, there is still Soviet resistance south of Kerch. These holdouts have no chance of escaping the POW camps for long, but they still take almost a week to subdue. The Red Air Force is losing planes at a rate of 10-1 to the Luftwaffe, and infantry losses are at an even greater disadvantage to the Soviets.

European Air Operations: Operations remain light. Aside from coastal sweeps, the RAF only sends 50 bombers to lay mines in the Western Baltic. Two Hampdens and two Wellingtons fail to return.

A Bf 109F of 9./JG 11 crash lands in a field near Tarm, Denmark. With great efficiency, the plane is quickly prepared for transport by removing the wings and returned to a Luftwaffe base for its return to service.
WAAC poster, 15 May 1942
Women may volunteer for the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps as of 15 May 1942.
Battle of the Atlantic: The Luftwaffe attacks Murmansk and scores a direct hit on US freighter Yaka. While there are no casualties of the 49 men on board, the ship must be beached to prevent it from sinking.

U-156 (Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein), on its third patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 4382-ton Yugoslavian freighter Kupa in the Atlantic northeast of Barbados. There are two dead and 68 survivors.

U-156 also torpedoes and sinks 4301-ton Norwegian freighter Siljestad northeast of Barbados. There are two dead and 31 survivors.

The Lockheed Hudson bombers of RAF Nos. 320 and 407 Squadron make a successful anti-shipping sweep off the French coast. The RAF bombs and sinks 713-ton German minesweepers M 26 and M 256 off Cap de La Hogue, France. M 256 is later raised and returned to service. The bombers also sink German 464-ton vorpostenboot V 2002 Madeleine Louise off Terschelling, Netherlands, along with 6698-ton Norwegian freighter Selje. There are 14 deaths of the 62 people on board Selje.

British 6677-ton freighter Soudan, traveling with Convoy WS 15, hits a mine and sinks near Cape Agulhas, South Africa. There is one death.

British light cruiser HMS Trinidad, badly damaged in the Barents Sea by Luftwaffe attacks, is scuttled. There are 62 dead.
Ration stamps during World War II
World War II ration stamps. Gasoline rationing goes into effect on 15 May 1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Winston Churchill sends Malta commander Lord Gort a telegram appointing him as "Supreme Commander of the Fighting Services and Civil Administration in Malta." Rome radio today announces that Gort was wounded by a bomb splinter, but it is unclear if this is true as there has been no official announcement.

Costa Rican/Hungary/Romania Relations: Costa Rica breaks diplomatic relations with Romania and Hungary.

US Military: Insignia on US military aircraft are changed by eliminating the red disc in the center of the star. All red and white rudder stripes are removed from navy aircraft. In addition, US Army Air Force pursuit units are renamed fighter units today.

Legislation signed by President Roosevelt on 14 May 1942 goes into effect today creating the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). The service is voluntary and evolves into the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1943.

The War Department leases nearly eight and a half acres of Fort McHenry for the Coast Guard to use as a fire control and port security training facility. There will be a five or six-week course, after which members will be stationed along the coast at key facilities and for training others.
Fritz Sauckel in Paris, 15 May 1942
The opening of an Arno Breker exhibition in Paris, France, on 15 May 1942. Breker is a popular sculptor in the Third Reich and, among other things, accompanied Adolf Hitler during his tour of Paris. At the center is Gauleiter Fritz Sauckel (Schodl, Georg, Federal Archive Image 101I-357-1885-13A).
Holocaust: The Slovak parliament issues Decree 68/1942. This retroactively legalizes the deportation of Jews, legalizes the removal of their citizenship, and regulates exemptions for such actions. An agreement is reached with the Reich wherein the Slovaks will pay 500 Reichsmarks per individual deported to Germany and an additional train fare to the Reichsbahn to defray expenses. In return, Germany agrees to never return the deported individuals and Slovakia is allowed to keep all confiscated property.

Within parliament, there is no opposition to this legislation and general agreement about its terms. The official Catholic representative, Ján Vojtaššák, only asks for special consideration for Jews who have converted to Christianity. Trains carrying victims have been running to the camps at Auschwitz and Majdanek since 25 March 1942.

American Homefront: Mandatory gasoline rationing goes into effect for non-essential vehicles in the first seventeen states. Usage is limited to three gallons per week. Eight million motorists register for ration cards. The average motorist receives an "A" classification, while business owners, doctors, truckers, and those with necessary transportation jobs are issued either “B,” “C,” “T,” or “X” stickers that would ensure they received the proper amount of gas for their duties. Rubber for tires also is being rationed. A national speed limit of 35 mph is imposed, called the Victory Speed. Even with rationing, long lines arise at the few gasoline stations that have supplies.
Vogue, 15 May 1942
Vogue, 15 May 1942.