Friday, September 17, 2021

May 27, 1942: Heydrich Fatally Wounded in Prague

Wednesday 27 May 1942

Reinhard Heydrich death car 27 May 1942
The car, bearing license plate SS-3, in which Reinhard Heydrich was attacked in Prague on 27 May 1942. Incidentally, the current whereabouts of this particular vehicle are hotly disputed among historians (Federal Archive Image 146-1972-039-44T).

Battle of the Pacific: USS Yorktown arrives at Pearl Harbor on 27 May 1942, requiring extensive repairs in a hurry if it is to participate in the anticipated Japanese attack on Midway Island in early June. This begins a frenzied, around-the-clock repair job in drydock on the carrier. Her flight deck must be repaired and whole sections of the internal frame cut out and replaced. Fortunately, the elevators are undamaged, which makes it possible for the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard to return Yorktown to operational status within 72 hours.

The Japanese, meanwhile, cannot use two of their aircraft carriers, Zuikaku and Shōkaku, due to their damage at the Battle of the Coral Sea. However, Admiral Yamamoto is confident that his four large carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu with a total of 229 embarked aircraft will suffice. The First Mobile Carrier Force/Carrier Strike Force (Kido Butai) under Admiral Nagumo departs for Midway from the Inland Sea today, and other units depart from Saipan and Guam, effectively beginning the operation.

In a mishap that is a sign of things to come, the crew of Japanese submarine I-19 is preparing to launch its "Glen" scout plane for reconnaissance over Bogoslof Island in the Aleutians when a US destroyer on patrol enters the area. The Japanese have to dive immediately, destroying the plane. However, I-25 successfully launches its plane for an overflight of Kodiak Island without incident.

The USAAF continues beefing up its air forces in the Aleutians, with Patrol Wing 4 commander arriving in Kodiak Island from Seattle.

B-17s of the Fifth Air Force bomb the Japanese overseas headquarters at Rabaul. P-39s fo the 8th Fighter Group fight Japanese Zeros attacking Port Moresby, losing two P-39Fs.

US Marines and Navy Seabees of the 8th Defense Battalion move southwest from Samoa to occupy the Wallis Islands, a French possession. They will remain there through 1943. While unbelievably dull, the stay will be broken up by a visit by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt during her tour of the Pacific.

Hitler and Bose 27 May 1942
Subhas Chandra Bose with Adolf Hitler (right) at Wolfsschanze, East Prussia, on 27 May 1942. Bose is an Indian nationalist who the Axis leaders hope will stir up an uprising in India against the Allies.

Battle of the Indian Ocean:  While the Burma campaign "officially" concluded on 26 May, Japan and its allies are still busy occupying bypassed areas. Today, Thai forces capture Kengtung, Burma.

The Tenth Air Force transfers the B-17s of the 11th Bombardment Squadron of the 7th Bomber Group from Karachi to Lahabad, India.

Eastern Front: The Soviet armies southeast of Kharkov are trapped in a ten-mile by two-mile pocket but are still fighting hard to escape. The Luftwaffe proves deadly over the pocket, with  Ju 87s, Ju 88s, and He 111s raining down SD-2 cluster bombs and SC250 bombs on the milling masses of Red Army troops and their T-34 tanks clogging the roads. There is no refuge in the pocket, and three Soviet generals perish in the 26th-27th May fighting.

At Fuhrer Headquarters in East Prussia, General Franz Halder notes:
At Izyum, an attack from outside was repelled. Reduction of the pocket is progressing; the enemy has been split into smaller groups, which are dwindling as our prisoner take mounts.
Unusually, and in a sign of the importance he places on the Kharkov victory, Halder returns to this situation later in his report:
Army Group intends to develop the success west of Izyum into further offensive operations east of Kharkov and east of the Donets, at Izyum, in order to gain further successes in the area before the start of operation "Blau."
Red Army General Timoshenko, meanwhile, is still ordering offensive operations for the trapped men to break out. However, the Germans have a clear advantage now and mass surrenders are beginning.

European Air Operations: It is another quiet day on the Channel Front in unsettled weather. The RCAF does an anti-shipping sweep over the North Sea and along the Dutch Coast. RAF No. 121 Squadron badly damages two minesweepers off Flushing Harbor, destroys one Bf 109 fighter (shot down by Jimmy Daley), and damages four others. 
British freighter Empire Purcell sinking 27 May 1942
British freighter Empire Purcell of PQ-16, on fire after being bombed in the Arctic. Shortly after this picture was taken, ammunition in the hold exploded, destroying the ship.

Battle of the Atlantic: It is a brutal day for the Allies in the Arctic. The Luftwaffe has been reinforced in northern Norway at Hitler's orders, and today that decision pays dividends. Convoy PQ-16, spotted by a reconnaissance plane on 25 May, comes under fierce air attack about 100 miles southeast of Bear Island. The convoy, bereft of air cover, suffers horribly in three major attacks, one at mid-day (three ships sunk, one damaged), the second in mid-afternoon (one sunk and one damaged), and then in the evening under the midnight sun (two ships sunk, one damaged. The only good news for the Allies is that the convoy suffers no more losses after today due to the arrival on the 28th of three Soviet destroyers and four minesweepers that enhance anti-aircraft protection.

The ships hit today that sink include:
  • 5689-ton US freighter Alamar (all 45 men survive) (later sunk as a navigation hazard by US submarine USS Trident).
  • 7457-ton British freighter Empire Lawrence (19 dead)
  • 7049-ton British freighter Empire Purcell (8 dead)
  • 5481-ton US freighter Mormacsul (3 dead) (later sunk as a hazard to navigation by USS Trident).
  • 6167-ton US freighter City of Joliet (all survive) (actually sinks on 28 May)
  • 5171-ton British freighter Lowther Castle (sunk by an aerial torpedo).
U-753 (KrvKpt. Alfred Manhardt von Mannstein), on its fourth patrol out of La Pallice, torpedoes and sinks 6578-ton Danish tanker Hamlet off Morgan City, Louisiana. Everyone survives, picked up in their lifeboat by fishing vessels.

U-558 (Kptlt. Günther Krech), on its seventh patrol out of Brest, torpedoes and sinks 2622-ton US Army transport USAT Jack 100 miles southwest of Port Salut, Haiti. The ship sinks quickly, within four minutes, and the suction swamps a lifeboat. Another, damaged, lifeboat contains 16 survivors, who are picked up by submarine USS Grunion (SS-216) on 31 May. Another seven men spend 32 days on a raft before being found, while five others on a raft disappear. There are 37 deaths, including 8 US Army personnel traveling as passengers.

U-172 (Kptlt. Carl Emmermann), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 8940-ton British tanker Athelknight southeast of Bermuda. This is U-172's first sinking of the war. Athelknight had been part of Convoy OS-28, but the convoy was dispersed. There are nine dead and 43 survivors. The crew spends about a month before being saved, 25 men picked up by British freighter Empire Austin after 28 days, and the remaining 18 men in a lifeboat that manages to sail 1200 miles to St. Bartholomew Island, Leeward Islands on 23 June.

U-578 (KrvKpt. Ernst-August Rehwinkel), on its fourth patrol out of St. Nazaire, torpedoes and sinks 6269-ton Dutch freighter Polyphemus off Bermuda. The ship, with a crew of 61, is also carrying 14 survivors of the Norwegian freighter Norland. Rehwinkel surfaces and gives the survivors some cigarettes and directions to land. There are 60 survivors of the 75 men on board, most of whom make it to Nantucket Island. Along the way, U-566 (Kptlt Borchert) also spots one of the lifeboats, also surfaces, and also gives the men some supplies and directions.

British 710-ton minesweeper HMS Fitzroy sinks from unexplained causes, likely from hitting a British mine, 40 nautical miles east of Great Yarmouth. There are 13 deaths.

British 501-ton trawler HMS Arctic Pioneer sinks after colliding with battleship King George V off Portsmouth. It is later raised, refloated, repaired, and returned to service.

US 37-ton scow K No. 12 founders and sinks eight miles west of Cape Saint Elias, Alaska. Everyone survives.

Dutch 482-ton coaster Oorlogschip hits a mine and sinks off Hoek van Holland. Casualties are unknown.

Athelknight sunk on 27 May 1942
M/V Athelknight, shown here in a pre-war photo as a "modern tanker," was sunk by U-172 off Bermuda on 27 May 1942.

Battle of the Mediterranean: A day after launching a feint against the center of the British Gazala Line in Libya, General Erwin Rommel launches his main attack from the south. The attack has been meticulously planned out so that Allied minefields will provide cover for the Axis flank and rear.

Rommel splits his forces to accomplish multiple objectives at once. The 90th Light Division at the far right of the attack has the most success, capturing British supply dumps at El Adem. The 15th Panzer Division in the center, runs into the British 4th Armoured Brigade of the 7th Armoured Division and, after a terrific fight, pushes the British M3 (Grant) tanks back toward El Adem. The Italian Ariete Division of XX Motorized Corps blasts through the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade of 7th Armoured Division, which loses 23 tanks and 440 men killed and about 1000 prisoners, but the Italians then run into trouble. The 21st Panzer Division finds a gap and advances without opposition.

The key issue for Rommel today is at Bir Hakeim. There, the 1st Free French Brigade under General Marie-Pierre Kœnig defends an old fort and is well dug in. Rommel has placed too much confidence in the Ariete Division and underestimated the Free French. The Italians are stopped cold at the fort with the loss of 31-41 tanks of the IX Tank Battalion. Although the Axis forces surround it, Bir Hakeim with its effective French fortifications remains a problem for the Afrika Korps well into June. Overall, Rommel's attack today is a success, achieving complete surprise and smashing into the Allied defenses.

USS Yorktown on 27 May 1942
USS Yorktown (CV-5) arrives in Pearl Harbor, 27 May 1942, escorted by tug Hoga (YT-146). Yorktown proceeds directly to drydock for repairs, The tip of the sunken USS Arizona's mast can be seen just to the right of Yorktown (Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-21931). 

Special Operations: Two specially trained soldiers of the Czechoslovak army-in-exile, Jan Kubiš and Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík, have been hiding out in occupied Czechoslovakia since 28 December 1941 on a unique mission. They are there to carry out Operation Anthropoid, which is an assassination operation against Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor (Deputy/Acting Reich-Protector) of the provinces the Reich calls Bohemia and Moravia (Czechoslovakia) Reinhard Heydrich.

A devoted supporter of Adolf Hitler's agenda and a key instigator of the Holocaust, Heydrich is widely feared throughout Czechoslovakia for his brutal and uncompromising methods. In addition to his duties in Czechoslovakia, Heydrich remains chief of the Reich Security Main Office. He was the leader of the infamous "Wannsee Conference" on 20 January 1942 that formulated the master plan for the Holocaust. In fact, the plan to establish killing centers at Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka is codenamed "Operation Reinhard" (Aktion Reinhard) in his honor. He is a true celebrity throughout Occupied Europe.

Heydrich has been Deputy Reich Protektor (the actual Protektor is a figurehead, Konstantin von Neurath) of Bohemia and Moravia since 27 September 1941. This appointment is widely seen as a reward for his slavish devotion to Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler and the Third Reich. Tellingly, Neurath has been on "leave" since Heydrich's appointment because he has been too "soft" on the Czechs, whose labor is badly needed for the war effort.

Today, the two agents, trained by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), spring into action. At around 11:00, they ambush Heydrich's open-top Mercedes 320 Cabriolet B chauffeur-driven limousine at Prague 8-Libeň near Bulovka Hospital. This is a fairly crowded area with tram stations nearby.

Reinhard Heydrich assassination location 27 May 1942
A view of the location of the Reinhard Heydrich assassination, with the death car. The assassins chose this spot because Heydrich's car had to slow down to make a turn here.

Gabčík attempts to use a Sten submachine gun, which he has concealed under a raincoat, to fire at Heydrich. However, the gun jams. Incredibly, Heydrich, apparently believing that Gabčík is a lone attacker, tells the driver to stop. He then, stands up in the rear of the limo and draws his Luger pistol to fire at Gabčík. If Heydrich had just told his driver to proceed, he would have suffered no consequences from the attack.

Instead, events now take a deadly turn. Kubiš is nearby and throws a modified anti-tank grenade (concealed in a briefcase) at Heydrich. However, Kubiš makes a poor throw and the bomb falls short, landing against the limo's rear wheel. When it explodes, shrapnel and pieces of the car hit Heydrich, badly injuring him, though he does not realize how badly immediately. Kubiš himself also is lightly wounded by shrapnel.

At that point, Heydrich and his driver, SS-Oberscharführer Johannes Klein, leap out of the Mercedes. Heydrich heads toward Gabčík, standing with his jammed gun, while Klein (whose own gun has jammed) chases Kubiš, who pedals away on a bicycle through crowds of people taking the trams nearby.

A gunfight then erupts between Gabčík and Heydrich, both using pistols. Heydrich soon collapses, apparently from his bomb injuries, while Klein turns and pursues Gabčík, who also flees on a bicycle. Gabčík escapes after shooting Klein in the leg.

Two people, a Czech woman and an off-duty policeman, flag down a passing delivery van and have it drive Heydrich, who is conscious but in severe pain, to nearby Bulovka Hospital. Surgeons there, primarily Dr. Walter Diek, Dr. Slanina, and Professor Hollbaum, do what they can, but Heydrich is in very bad shape (he passes away on 4 June 1942).

Adolf Hitler and Himmler are furious when they hear the news of the attack. Himmler sends his top SS doctor, Karl Gebhardt, to care for Heydrich, while Hitler ponders sending notorious SS General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, currently serving in anti-partisan duties in the occupied USSR, to Prague to conduct reprisals. Zelewski is well known throughout the SS for his brutal methods and complete lack of human sentiment when such would conflict with his orders, so Hitler's desires are obvious.

Himmler, however, talks Hitler out of this, claiming Zelewski can't be spared from the Front. He also dissuades Hitler from his most brutal planned reprisals, namely, simply exterminating 10,000 Czechs known to be "politically unreliable." Himmler is not being a "nice guy," he simply knows that Czech labor is important to the war effort and is thinking strategically.

As the day ends, Heydrich remains barely alive, while Kubiš and Gabčík, who think they have failed in their mission to kill Heydrich and know they are being hunted down, are sheltering at a local safe house. Hitler appoints Kurt Daluege, chief of the national uniformed Ordnungspolizei (Order Police), to replace Heydrich. Daluege turns out to be just as bad as Zelewski might have been, destroying entire towns such as Lidice in an orgy of bloodshed. Daluege quickly issues a deadline of 18 June for the two agents to be caught or, he warns, the people of Czechoslovakia will face extreme reprisals. However, Daluege doesn't wait until that date to begin a campaign of terror against any Czechs and Czech municipalities that he thinks have anything remotely to do with the two agents.
British landing exercises on 27 May 1942
"Troops wade ashore from a tank landing craft during a combined operations exercise at Thorness Bay on the Isle of Wight, 27 May 1942." © IWM H 20202.

Partisans: Near Bryansk, the German anti-partisan Operation Hannover makes some ground as the heavy rains ease up. A German pincer movement has its points meet at Furtsevo. However, Soviet General Below has escaped with his men. Overall, the results are disappointing for Fourth Army, which thought it could trap Belov and end the threat he and his men pose. On the bright side for the Germans, about 2/3 of the Soviet volunteers it had sent into the pocket as spies return (or are caught in the pincer) and provide some useful information.

General Halder sees the glass as half full:
The attacks against Cav. Corps Belov resulted in a gratifying success. Here, too, the enemy has been split into smaller groups; some still are putting up stubborn resistance.
Halder obviously does not yet know that Belov has escaped, and is relying on overly optimistic reports from field commanders. It will take five days to sort things out and figure out who was captured and who escaped.

Holocaust: The requirement that began in the Balkans that Jewish residents wear a yellow identification badge extends to Belgium.

Preparations begin for Operation Fahndung nach deutschem Blut (roughly, "Find German Blood")This is a German plot to kidnap Polish children deemed "racially German" and raise them in Germany. Planning for Operation Zamość, an operation to clear all Poles from the Zamość region of Poland and replace them with Germans, also begins.

Guards at Auschwitz shoot 168 prisoners against the execution wall in the courtyard of Block 11. The victims are members of the group of Polish painters, artists, and actors who were arrested at the Artists' Cafe in Krakow on 16 April 1942. The reason they are chosen is due to the fact the executions are done in reprisal for the murder of a Luftwaffe commander in Krakow.
British landing exercises with a Churchill tank on 27 May 1942
A Churchill tank leaves a tank landing craft (TLC 121) during combined operations exercises at Thorness Bay on the Isle of Wight, 27 May 1942.

Japanese Government: Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, leader of the "War Party," addresses the Diet. The speech is notable for his encouragement of Indians to follow Subhas Chandra Bose and rise up against the Allies and assert independence. This is not just a product of wishful thinking, as many Indian troops, such as those in Singapore, already have changed sides.

American Homefront: "Prelude to War," an official US Government film stating who the enemies of the United States are and why they are being fought, receives national release after premiering in New York City on 13 May 1942. It also was shown as an army training film before this release. "Prelude to War" features Walter Huston as the narrator and includes footage of top German leaders such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering, and Rudolf Hess. This film is marketed with the tagline, "Your boy wants to see it!"

There is nothing subtle about this film, directed by Frank Capra. It is proud to serve as obvious propaganda and does a very good job of it. "Prelude to War" is now in the public domain. In 2000, the United States Library of Congress mandated that this film be included among "culturally significant" films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Gun camera footage of an Fw 190 being shot down in May 1942
A gun-coupled camera aboard a British RAF Spitfire plane made this record of a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter aircraft getting shot down in May 1942, over an unknown location. The Fw 190 was still a mystery plane to the RAF at this point. Note the pilot bailing out (AP Photo).


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

May 26, 1942: Rommel Pounces in North Africa

Tuesday 26 May 1942

USS Hornet 26 May 1942
USS Hornet at Pearl Harbor, 26 May 1942 (Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-66129).

Battle of the Pacific: After a hard sail from the Southwest Pacific, USS Enterprise arrives at Pearl Harbor on 26 May 1942. USS Yorktown, damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea, is roughly 24 hours behind. Vice Admiral William Halsey has been in command of the task force (TF 16), but he has suffered a case of dermatitis and now it is under the command of Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. Repair crews are standing by to undertake repairs to Yorktown once it arrives, with the plan being for Enterprise, Yorktown, and USS Hornet to quickly depart for Midway Island.

US Navy aircraft ferry USS Kitty Hawk (AKV-1) arrives at Midway with reinforcements. These include 3-inch (76.2 mm) antiaircraft guns of the 3rd Defense Battalion, a light tank platoon, and reinforcements for Marine Air Group Twenty Two (MAG-22). None of these men, of course, realize how close the battle is.

Meanwhile, the Japanese are finally ready to begin their operation to take Midway and islands in the Aleutians. The Japanese Northern Force (two light carriers) departs from Japan toward the Aleutians. The main force (Kido Butai) allocated to Midway remains in the Inland Sea for another day. The Japanese have no idea that the US Navy has broken their codes and knows with precision the date and places of their planned invasions. A Japanese "Glen" seaplane reconnoiters Kiska Island in the Aleutians and has no issues.

The US Navy has no intention of interfering with the Aleutians Island invasion and instead will concentrate all of its forces at Midway. However, the 11th Air Force based at Elmendorf Field near Anchorage has been sending some air reinforcements to the Aleutian Islands. Today, it sends the P-40s of the 11th Fighter Squadron, 28th Composite Group to Umnak, Aleutians.

USS Salmon torpedoes and sinks Japanese 11,441-ton repair ship Asahi 100 miles southwest of Cape Paderas (south of Phan Thiet, Vietnam). There are sixteen deaths, but 582 crewmen and Captain Tamura survive.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: Today, 26 May 1942, is considered the end of the Burma campaign as the last of the Allied forces slip out of Burma. General "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell has gotten out with his command by walking through jungles with 114 people, including nurses, a Chinese general with his personal bodyguards, mechanics, some civilians, a news reporter, and British commandos. The Japanese have complete control of Burma, part of which is now garrisoned by Thai troops. While the Chinese fear an invasion across the Himalayas, the Japanese are not looking in that direction but instead have their eyes set on eventually invading India.

NY Daily Mirror 26 May 1942
The 26 May 1942 New York Daily Mirror is full of stirring news about the successful Soviet offensive south of Kharkov - where the Red Army actually is staring a massive defeat in the face.

Eastern Front: After the failure of one breakout attempt from their pocket southeast of Kharkov, Red Army soldiers try again this morning a little to the north. This attack is not quite as forceful as the one on the 25th toward Petrovskoye and only comes within four miles of succeeding. German Army Group South commander Field Marshal Fedor von Bock watches the proceedings from a hill south of Lozovenka. He sees the Luftwaffe's best ground-attack aircraft (Ju 87 Stukas, Ju 88 medium bombers, and He 111 medium bombers) pound the masses of Soviet troops clogging the roads. He remarks that it is "an overpowering picture."

Back at Fuhrer Headquarters, General Franz Halder writes:

In the Izyum pocket, desperate break-out attempts to the east continue. Our attack has divided the pocket into two smaller pocket. More feeble attempts from the outside.

Halder further notes that the other prong of the Soviet pincer movement also is ending: ""On the front east of Kharkov, the attacks are dying down. The enemy concentrations are thinning."

Three Soviet generals, including Major General I.V. Bobkin, die in the fighting. By the afternoon, hordes of Red Army soldiers are trapped in a 10x2 mile pocket in the Bereka Valley. The 23rd Panzer Division and the 1st Mountain Division drive in past streams of surrendering Soviet soldiers. Red Army General Timoshenko continues trying to direct offensive operations within the pocket, but it would take a miracle for a breakout to succeed now. The Germans still remain astonished that the Red Army hasn't tried a major relief operation from the east.

Soviet 12-ton river minesweeping launch No. 916 is sunk today, perhaps by scuttling.

European Air Operations: Poor weather continues to hamper operations on the Channel Front. The Royal Canadian Air Force reports "Weather, unsettled with occasional showers."

A Bristol Beaufighter Mk 11F of RAF No. 125 (Newfoundland) Squadron crashes ear Eastern Breakwater, Swansea Harbour, Swansea, Glamorgan. The crew survives.

U-333 arrives in port on 26 May 1942
U-333 (Kptlt Peter-Erich Cremer) arrives back at its base at Saint-Nazaire on 26 May 1942. Note damage to the conning tower. Böttger, Gerd, Federal Archive Fig. 101II MW-4457-08.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-103 (Kptlt. Werner Winter), on its seventh patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 5588-ton US freighter 125 miles (232 km) northwest of Montego Bay, Jamaica. All 35 men take to the lifeboats, where Winter questions them and gives them some cigarettes. A Cuban gunboat rescues 33 of the men, while two are picked up by a US Navy seaplane.

U-106 (Kptlt. Hermann Rasch), on its sixth patrol out of Lorient, stops 5030-ton US freighter Carrabulle in the Gulf of Mexico with a siren and a shot across the bow. The Carrabulle's radio operator sends a distress call, then the entire crew of eight officers and 32 men take to two lifeboats. Rasch waits until the instant the second lifeboat hits the water before torpedoing the freighter, which sinks the ship and also destroys that lifeboat. The entire incident is unusual, with a report that Rasch asks the first lifeboat if everyone is clear, is told no, and then laughs and fires anyway. There are 22 dead, all from the second lifeboat, and 18 survivors who are picked up by US freighter Thompson Lykes.

U-703 (Kptlt. Heinz Bielfeld), on its second patrol out of Skjomenfjord, torpedoes and sinks 6191-ton US freighter Syros 200 miles southwest of Bear Island. Syros is traveling as part of Convoy PQ-16 toward Murmansk. The attack is made at 02:59, which is daylight at this latitude at this time. The crew is unable to use the lifeboats and use three rafts. Fortunately, help is nearby, but still a dozen men die and there are 28 survivors. The survivors have an eventful ride back to Iceland on US freighter Hybert when it blunders into a British minefield northwest of Iceland and sinks, but they all survive that sinking, too.

Luftwaffe planes based in Norway find US freighter Carlton, which was part of PQ-16 but had engine trouble and now is under tow by British trawler HMS Northern Spray. The planes somewhat surprisingly make no hits on this easy target. 

German artillery near Murmansk makes a rare hit on a ship when it sinks 860-ton Norwegian tanker Vardø near Murmansk. The tanker, loaded with oil and gasoline, sinks quickly. Casualties are unknown.

French 4578-ton freighter Enseigne Maurice Préchac springs a leak and sinks east of the Azores.

Map of Battle of Gazala 26 May 1942
A general overview map of the Battle of Gazala that began on 26 May 1942. Indicated in red are the Italian feints and then General Rommel's cartwheel to the southeast.

Battle of the Mediterranean: German General Erwin Rommel breaks a long stalemate in the Western Desert. At 14:00, the Italian X and XXI Corps attack the center of the British Gazala line.  This is Operation Venice (Unternehmen Venezia). Only a few German units are involved in this attack, while other units drive north to support the attack. Rommel's ground forces are aided significantly by the Luftwaffe's JG 27 and III./JG 53 fighter forces.

However, the Italian assault is only a feint. It is designed to draw Allied attention and reserves north and away from Rommel's main target. After dark, Rommel with the 15th Panzer Division personally leads Panzerarmee Afrika, the Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK), Italian XX Motorised Corps, and the German 90th Light Afrika Division in a sweeping arc through the desert to the southeast. His intention is to launch a powerful thrust into what Rommel considers to be the most vulnerable sector of the British Gazala defensive line, a fort at Bir Hacheim largely occupied by Free French forces. If everything works perfectly, Rommel may be able to make a thrust to the coast and cut off large Allied formations and maybe even capture the port of Tobruk.

Royal Navy 195-ton minesweeper HMS Eddy hits a mine and sinks near Grand Harbour, Malta.

Partisans: The German anti-partisan attack near Bryansk, Operation Hannover, remains stalled by heavy rains. General Halder notes in his war diary, "the attack against Cav. Corps Belov is still hampered by adverse weather, and is making only slow progress."

Signing of Anglo-Soviet Agreement of 26 May 1942
"A general scene showing delegates enjoying a walk in the gardens of 10 Downing Street, following the signing of the Anglo-Soviet Alliance. Left to right, they are Mr. Sabolev, Mr. Papov, Ivan Maisky (Soviet Ambassador to London), Anthony Eden (British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs), Molotov (Soviet Foreign Secretary), Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and an unidentified naval officer." © IWM CH 5701.

Spy Stuff: Four German saboteurs depart from Lorient, France, on board a submarine. This is part of Operation Pastorius. They are bound for a landing at Amagansett, Long Island, New York, which they will reach early on 13 June 1942. This group is led by George John Dash, a former private in the US Army Air Corps stationed in Honolulu before being honorably discharged, then re-enlisting and serving at Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York. Another group led by Edward Kerling and bound for Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, also departs by U-boat around this time (one group departs on 26 May, the other on 28 May, the sources conflict on which left first and the U-boats are not identified in the sources).

The other saboteurs in Dasch's group are Ernest Peter Burger, Heinrich Harm Heink, and Richard Quirin. They have been trained at the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, the German High Command, on an estate at Quenz Lake, near Brandenburg and Berlin. Their mission is to find stuff and blow it up. Dasch ultimately betrays the entire operation and alerts the FBI..

Allied Relations: Lieutenant General Henry H "Hap" Arnold, Commanding General USAAF; Rear Admiral John H Towers, USN, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics; and RAF Air Chief Marshall Sir Charles F Portal have a meeting in London. Prime Minister Winston Churchill opens the meeting at 10 Downing Street. The main topic of these discussions is the basing of US bombers and fighters in the United Kingdom for offensive operations against the Reich.

Reinhard Heydrich in Prague on 26 May 1942
Reinhard Heydrich attends 'Prague Music Week" with his wife, Lina Heydrich, at the Waldstein Palace, Prague, Czechoslovakia, on 26 May 1942. Federal Archives Image 146-1972-039-24.

Anglo/Soviet Relations: In London, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden n and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov sign the Twenty-Year Mutual Assistance Agreement Between the United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, better known as the Anglo-Soviet Treaty of 1942. The agreement codifies a de facto wartime alliance between the two powers, with a political part of the agreement to continue for twenty years regardless of the duration of hostilities.

The treaty is bilateral, which is somewhat unusual given the cozy relationship between Great Britain and the United States and the other Allies. However, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at this stage of the war is in constant communication with US President Franklin Roosevelt and would not do anything to threaten that relationship. The core of the agreement is that neither party will seek a separate peace, which all of the Allies agree with but hitherto have had difficulty securing Stalin's formal commitment. In this way, the Anglo-Soviet Treaty of 1942 is a key step in building a united front among all of the Allies. Otherwise, the agreement basically just recognizes the current state of affairs between the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.

P-61 Black Widow first flight is on 26 May 1942
Northrop Corporation XP-61 "Black Widow" prototype 41-19509 at Northrop Field, 1942. (U.S. Air Force).

US Military: Test pilot Vance Breese makes the first flight of the Northrop XP-61 Black Widow night fighter. The flight takes place at Northrop Field in Hawthorne, California. The Army Air Force places great hopes in this plane because it is the first purpose-designed night fighter, and the US is desperately short of such planes. However, the Black Widow gets bogged down in development issues and is largely superseded by the time it can become operational.

Jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) is demonstrated with a Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo at NAS Anacostia, D.C. The plane uses five British antiaircraft solid propellant rocket motors and its takeoff distance is reduced by 49%.

Japanese Homefront: Radio Tokyo reports that "America and Britain... have now been exterminated.. the British and American fleets cannot appear on the oceans." This apparently is based on supposed naval losses in the Battle of the Coral Sea. However, US losses there were much smaller than the Japanese think.

American Homefront: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visits Muhlenberg College to celebrate Women's Day.

Congress passes the National Housing Act Amendments of 1942 (May 26, 1942, ch. 319, § 15, 56 Stat. 305). These deal with providing rental housing for war workers in areas determined critical for defense work by the War Production Board, which estimates that housing will be needed for 1.3 million workers, including 100,000 in dormitories and 285,000 family dwelling units. The plan is for many low-income workers to be able to buy their dwellings, though many will rent. A lot of these homes will be mobile homes, a new concept at this time, because defense production needs may change and the homes may need to be moved. You ever wonder where mobile homes originated? Look no further.

Eleanor Roosevelt 26 May 1942
Eleanor Roosevelt arrives at Muhlenberg College; photographer unknown, “Women's Day: Tuesday, May 26, 1942.,” Muhlenberg College Historical Photograph Collections, accessed September 15, 2021.


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

May 25, 1942: Soviet Breakout at Kharkov Fails

Monday 25 May 1942

Panamanian tanker Persephone sinking, 25 May 1942
Panamanian tanker Persephone, torpedoed by U-593 off New Jersey on 25 May 1942, splits in half and sinks while watched by a US Navy blimp. Notice the large oil slick.

Battle of the Pacific: Aboard the Japanese flagship Yamato in the Hashirajima Anchoring Area located 30-40 km (16-22 nautical miles, 19-25 miles) south of the Kure Naval Base, Admiral Yamamoto's staff conducts wargames aboard a tabletop on 25 May 1942. Both the Aleutians and Midway campaigns are checked and rechecked for flaws, but none are found. Submarine I-9 launches its "Glen" reconnaissance seaplane to fly over Kiska and Amchitka Islands in the Aleutian Islands without incident.

On the Allied side, there also is growing confidence. Commander Joseph Rochefort, head of the US Navy intelligence branch Hypo in Hawaii, has a staff meeting with Admiral Chester Nimitz to discuss the latest decoding of Japanese radio transmissions. While the Japanese changed their codebook on the 24th and the US has not yet cracked the new code, Rochefort's team has been decoding hundreds of messages a day from a pile that has stacked up.

Rochefort informs Nimitz that the attack on Midway Island is scheduled for 4 June 1942. Furthermore, he reveals the date and actual launch time of the attack and the Japanese aircraft carriers that will be used. This data comes directly from the lengthy Operational Order 14 sent to his commanders by Admiral Yamamoto on 20 May and just decoded by Rochefort's codebreakers.

Largely due to this intelligence information, Nimitz orders US submarines from Hawaii to patrol the seas around Midway Island. Light cruiser USS St. Louis arrives at Midway and disembarks Companies C and D of the Second Marine Raider Battalion along with a 37mm gun battery of the Third Defense Battalion. The 11th Air Force transfers its P-40s of the 11th Fighter Squadron, 28th Composite Group, from Elmendorf Field, Anchorage, Alaska, to Cold Bay. 

This Yamamoto intercept is controversial because somehow it never makes it into the National Archives. However, several of the people involved later remember it vividly, such as Rochefort and one of his subordinates, Jasper Holmes, who writes about it in his memoir "Double-Edged Secrets." This may be the best military intelligence coup of the entire war, for it enables Nimitz to plan out his entire battle strategy with certainty for what will turn out to be the decisive battle of the war in the Pacific.
USS Salmon
USS Salmon at sea.

US Navy submarine USS Salmon (SS-182), on its third war patrol out of Fremantle, torpedoes and sinks Japanese 11,441-ton submarine tender Asahi in the South China Sea. Some sources date this sinking as 3 May 1942. I place it here out of an abundance of caution and because this seems like the more likely attack date. There are 16 dead and 583 survivors.

US Navy submarine USS Drum (SS-228) torpedoes and sinks 2379-ton Japanese freighter Kitakata Marueast of Nojimazaki, Honshu, Japan.

US Navy submarine USS Tautog (SS-199) torpedoes and sinks 4467-ton Japanese freighter Shokwa (sometimes spelled Shoka) Maru 385 miles southwest of Ulithi Atoll (190 miles south of Woleai), Carolines. There are two dead and 63 survivors (though only 62 survive until landfall as they sail to Faraulep Island).

US Navy submarine USS Pompano (SS-181) torpedoes and sinks 902-ton Japanese tanker Tokyo Maru 70 miles west of Naha (East China Sea), Okinawa.

US Navy submarine USS Permit (SS-178) torpedoes and damages Japanese freighter Senko Maru in the Makassar Strait east of Bontang.

B-17 Bombers of the 5th Air Force bomb Vunakanau Airfield, while B-25 bombers of the 3rd Bomber Group return to Lae. Four B-25s are lost in action and one is forced to crash-land near Port Moresby. The sole remaining A-24 at Aiyary Airfield, meanwhile, is lost when it crashes on takeoff.
Panamanian tanker Persephone sinking off the coast of New Jersey, 25 May 1942
Panamanian tanker Persephone, sunk off the coast of New Jersey on 25 May 1942.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: Blocked from returning to China by Japanese control of the Burma Road, the Chinese 38th Infantry Division begins to cross the border from Burma into India. Four B-17 bombers based in India bomb Rangoon, Burma, in the early morning hours.

Eastern Front: Soviet forces within the pocket south of Kharkov make their first and most ferocious attempt to break through the thin German line (roughly ten miles deep) on the Donets River. The attack is a classic attack à la russe, a frontal assault made by waves of Soviet soldiers charging across fields directly at Wehrmacht machine guns. According to German sources, the Soviets have their arms linked (similar to Sassanid Empire soldiers of the 7th Century who chained themselves together as a sign of determination) and shout "Urray" as they run and fall. The desperate Red Army soldiers, facing elite panzer units, almost make it to the key road junction of Petrovskoye before being turned back with massive losses. 

The Luftwaffe uses its complete air superiority to drop SD2 anti-personnel cluster bombs among the masses of Soviet men advancing in the open, dissipating the attacks. Ultimately, the breakout attempt achieves nothing beyond decimating the Soviet attackers. It leaves the Red Army pocket even more confined than ever. However, the trapped Soviet soldiers have not given up yet.

At Fuhrer Headquarters in East Prussia, everything appears to be going perfectly. General Franz Halder cannot contain his delight with the situation south of Kharkov as he writes in his understated way:
The battle around the pocked west of Izyum continues to evolve satisfactorily. The enemy's desperate and resolutely directed attempts to break out eastward were repelled, as were the feeble attacks with tanks from the east through Savintai.
Halder also is sanguine about the attacks from the failed northern Soviet pincer, noting that the Soviets there have made only "some negligible local gains." German operations further north in the Moscow sector (apparently Halder is referring to Operation Hannover, see below) are making "only slow progress" due to "bad weather," but that is a minor point beside the unbelievable success at Kharkov.
Soviet troops at Kharkov 25 May 1942
Soviet troops attempting to break out from the Kharkov pocket ca. 25 May 1942. Western news agencies are full of positive reports about Red Army successes in this area even as its position disintegrates.

However, there is bad news in Halder's daily summary that he does not comment on, perhaps because it conflicts with his jubilant mood over the brewing victory at Kharkov. A casualty summary from the beginning of Operation Barbarossa through 20 May 1942 shows 1,214,827 total army losses, 37.96% of the average army strength. Of these, 9610 officers and 247,410 others of all ranks are killed and 879 officers and 56,687 others are missing and can be presumed dead or captured. These are staggering losses, particularly in light of the relatively light losses suffered in previous campaigns. The German army is being bled white and replacements are not coming anywhere near to making up all the casualties. Interestingly, Halder does not report on the total army manpower strength, which is steadily declining.

There is also another disquieting note in Halder's diary entry. He summarizes a meeting with a Colonel Abberger who has visited the Headquarters of the Second Army. Abberger reports that the command there "has not yet grasped the importance of making preparations for speedy construction of fortifications on the northern wing of "Blau."" Since Operation Blau is the make-or-break summer offensive as repeatedly stated by Adolf Hitler, the failure of some commands to adequately prepare is ominous, and Halder seems genuinely concerned. Perhaps it is an indication that the troops are tired after a long, hard winter of constant fighting and cannot be pushed harder.

Oblt. Anton "Toni" Hackl of 5./JG 77 is awarded the Ritterkreuz for his 51 victories, while Lt. Gerhard Krems of 2./KG 27 receives the same award, making him the first KG 27 pilot so honored. Hackl winds up with 192 official victories, but this is a very shaky number with many different estimates of his actual victory total. He passes away in 1984.

European Air Operations: During a morning RAF fighter patrol off Dunkirk (Operation Ramrod 51) by No. 222 (Natal) Squadron, an RAF Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb is shot down near Gravelines by Focke Wulf Fw 190As of JG 26. The pilot, Squadron Leader Jerzy Jankiewicz, is killed.
Panamanian tanker Persephone sinking, 25 May 1942
Panamanian tanker Persephone sinking off the coast of New Jersey, 25 May 1942.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-593 (Kptlt. Gerd Kelbling), on its second patrol out of St. Nazaire, torpedoes and sinks 8426-ton Panamanian tanker Persephone off Barnegat Light, New Jersey. Because the tanker splits in half and sinks in very shallow water, the bow half is refloated and towed to New York. Unusually, 21,000 of the 80,000 barrels of oil it is carrying are saved via this maneuver. The US Coast Guard later blows up the stern half of the ship due to it being a hazard to navigation. There are nine dead and 28 survivors.

U-558 (Kptlt. Günther Krech), on its seventh patrol out of Brest, sinks 3451-ton US sugar freighter Beatrice at 01:34 southeast of Kingston, Jamaica. The sinking is unusual because a torpedo hits the freighter but fails to explode. The U-boat then must surface and sink the freighter with gunfire. Krech barely escapes when a PBY Catalina appears at 03:05 and drops depth charges. 21 of the survivors sail their lifeboat to Pigeon Island, Jamaica, while others are picked up by British patrol boat HMS Hauken. There are one dead and 30 survivors.

U-156 (Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein), on its third patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and damages the 1190-ton US destroyer USS Blakeley (DD 150) off Martinique, West Indies. The destroyer loses 60 feet of its bow but makes it to Port de France, Martinique. Later repaired with a bow taken from sister ship USS Taylor (DD 94), Blakeley returns to service in the Caribbean in September 1942. There are six dead and 116 survivors, including 21 wounded.

U-103 (Kptlt. Werner Winter), on its seventh patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 5588-ton US freighter Alcoa Carrier about 125 miles northwest of Montego Bay, Jamaica. Winter surfaces and shells the ship when it takes its time sinking, fires another torpedo into it, and then gives the survivors in two lifeboats some cigarettes. The ship doesn't actually sink until the 26th - there are conflicting dates about when the attack actually takes place, the 25th or 26th. All 35 crewmen survive after being picked up by a Cuban gunboat (33 men) and a US Navy seaplane (2 men).

Greek 3895-ton freighter Emmy runs aground at Morien Bay, Cape Breton Island, and is wrecked. Salvage companies eventually cut up the wreck for scrap. Pieces of the wreck can still be seen when diving. There are no casualties.

Mexican freighter Oaxaca rescues three survivors of US tanker Halo, sunk by U-506 on 20 May. Two of the men later perish from exposure and their wounds.

Luftwaffe planes attack Convoy PQ 16 as it sails from Reykjavik, Iceland, toward Murmansk, USSR. They damage US freighter Carlton, which is towed back to Reykjavik by British trawler HMS Northern Spray. Carlton is attacked again on the 26th.
German General Erwin Rommel 25 May 1942
Colonel-General Erwin Rommel, leader of the Afrika Korps, photographed with the 15th Panzer Division near Bir Hakeim, 25 May 1942 (Zwilling, Ernst A., Federal Archive Image 101I-443-1551-10A).

Battle of the Mediterranean: The Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica resume their attacks on Malta airfields with a vengeance today. The planes bomb all three military airfields at dusk. The attack appears to target RAF bombers that have been attacking Axis convoys to reinforce Colonel-General Erwin Rommel's forces in North Africa and Sicilian airfields.

Things finally are heating up in North Africa after a long winter break. Rommel spends the day with the 15th Panzer Division, which today makes a wide arc to the southeast of Bir Hakeim to position itself for an attack on the 26th. Rommel has roughly 90,000 German and Italian troops and 560 tanks facing 110,000 British imperial and allied troops with 840 tanks along the Gazala Line in Libya south and west of Tobruk. Free French General Koenig, under the overall command of British General Neil Ritchie, commands 40,000 men of the 1st Free French Brigade at the southern end of the line at the old fort of Bir Hakeim. 

Rommel is planning to attack Koenig's force after a feint further north. It is a common tactic of both sides to attack allied forces and avoid frontal confrontations with the opposing major power forces (German or British). While the French force sounds imposing due to its numbers, it is in fact a mixture of French Marines, Legionnaires, and soldiers of French African colonies including Senegal, Madagascar, and central Africa. This brave force lacks cohesion and modern weapons.

Italian torpedo boat Groppo is lost in the Strait of Messina due to unknown causes. No casualties are known.
British LRDG trucks, 25 May 1942
Chevrolet 30-cwt trucks of the British Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) in the western desert, 25 May 1942. Lt. Graham, © IWM E 12385.

Partisans: A major German anti-partisan operation comes to an abrupt halt in the Bryansk sector due to heavy rain. The Ugra River is so full that it spawns a second channel twenty meters wide, preventing panzers from advancing to close a projected encirclement. This situation continues for two days.

German Army Group Center commander Field Marshal Kluge asks Fourth Army commander General Heinrici to head further west than originally intended on the assumption that the partisans under Soviet General Belov would be able to cross the river anyway to evade capture. However, the German troops are not going anywhere at this time and plans have to be constantly revised. Operation Hannover now is in disarray not because of enemy action, but solely due to the weather and partisan demolitions of vital bridges. This is a massive operation, though, involving multiple Wehrmacht divisions to eliminate a lingering threat and the Germans refuse to abandon it.

American Homefront: The Warner Bros./Michael Curtiz film "Casablanca," starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, begins filming in Hollywood. Producer Hal Wallis is so enthusiastic about the project, based on an unproduced play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, that he has spent the most ever paid in Hollywood for those kinds of rights, $20,000. The entire picture is shot in the studio aside from brief stock footage of Paris and of a plane landing. Many of the minor roles and extras are played by European refugees, lending poignancy to the main plot about people exiled due to German conquests. The city of Casablanca, of course, is currently governed by the Vichy French who are grudgingly collaborating with the Reich. It will be liberated by the Allies shortly before the film's release on 26 November 1942. One of the film's more subtle achievements is its understated but consistent delivery of anti-Axis propaganda. "Casablanca" goes on to win numerous awards, turns a healthy profit, and is often acclaimed as one of the best films ever made.
Life magazine 25 May 1942
Life magazine features "Spring Planting" on the cover of its 25 May 1942 issue. The lad driving the tractor suggests a growing manpower crisis on farms as older men enlist or are drafted.


Tuesday, September 7, 2021

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

Sunday 24 May 1942

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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