Saturday, September 12, 2020

April 14, 1942: Demyansk Breakout Attempt

Tuesday 14 April 1942

Finnish ski patrol soldiers on the move, 14 April 1942
Finnish ski patrol on the move. Petsamo, Kukkesjaur. April 14, 1942 (original color photograph, SA-Kuva).
Battle of the Pacific: The Bataan Death March continues on 14 April 1942. The march to the San Fernando railhead takes six days and new groups of POWs are just starting out, so the roads north from Mariveles and Bagac are full of shambling, mistreated men. The two separate columns, one from each starting point, merge at Pilar, Bataan, into one massive wave of bodies moving north. The Japanese guards are walking alongside the prisoners and also feeling mistreated, plus they look down upon prisoners as cowards who should have fought and died rather than surrender. Thus, the Japanese are becoming increasingly angry and resentful and the mistreatment of the Allied prisoners increases every day. Men who fall behind or stop at the roadside for any reason are often executed on the spot, with their bodies left as examples for those following.

The Doolittle raiders in Admiral "Bull" Halsey's Task Force 16 continue heading west toward Japan. The US Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet carries 16 B-25 bombers for a raid on Tokyo. The Japanese have an inkling that something is happening because of intercepted radio signals, but await word from their picket ships stationed about 600 miles east of Japan. Back in Washington, D.C., Admiral Ernest King visits President Roosevelt at the White House to give the President a detailed summary of the planned raid and its progress.
Rifle practice for new Naval ratings, 14 April 1942
Royal Navy ratings at rifle training at Formby, Lancashire, 14 April 1942. © IWM  A 8326.
Battle of the Indian Ocean: The Japanese offensive in the Irrawaddy River valley north toward the Yenangyaung oil fields continues to make steady progress while the Allies pull back. The Japanese 214th Regiment, accompanied by artillery, bypasses the British Burma Division to take possession of a critical ford of the Pin Chaung River, north of Yenangyaung. This unexpected success has the potential to block the British escape route and places the entire British position in jeopardy. Lieutenant General William Slim, commander of Burma Corps, realizes his command may have to fight its way out of a developing trap.
Finnish troops in action on 14 April 1942
Finnish troops in action during the battle of Pertjärvi on 14 April 1942 (Koukinsky, SA-Kuva).
Eastern Front: Korpsgruppe Zorn begins Operation Fallreep, a breakout from the Demyansk pocket toward the Lovat River at Ramushevo. General Seydlitz's relief force is still struggling north on the road to Ramushevo, so this is a gamble that Seydlitz will actually get to Ramushevo so the two columns can meet across the river from each other. The Soviets are defending tenaciously and Seydlitz's men already have taken 10,000 casualties, so there are no guarantees of success.

Hitler refuses to authorize abandonment of the Demyansk and Kholm pockets, so the weary 95,000 men within the Demyansk pocket must both hold the perimeter and extend a hand to Seydlitz. This is a daunting task for under-supplied troops who have been isolated for months in the dead of winter. Time is of the essence because the spring thaw ("Raputitsa") is beginning and soon will make all movement difficult. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

General Eric von Manstein, commander of 11th Army in the Crimea, flies to Fuhrer Headquarters in Rastenburg for the evening Fuhrer Conference. He submits plans for an artillery assault on Sevastopol, where Soviet troops continue to hold out behind the German front on the Parpach Narrows. No decisions are made, but Manstein wants to attack in force on the Parpach Narrows to drive the Soviets from the Kerch peninsula before making a set-piece assault on Sevastopol. On the Soviet side, Stalin still has hopes of relieving Sevastopol by piercing Manstein's line along the narrows, so the situation remains in flux.
Deck gun of U-85, which sank off the North Carolina coast on 14 April 1942
The deck gun of U-85 which sank off the North Carolina coast on 14 April 1942 (Courtesy of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary).
European Air Operations: During the day, the RAF sends a dozen Boston bombers to bomb the Mondeville power station without loss. After dark, RAF Bomber Command raids a new target, Dortmund, with 208 aircraft (142 Wellingtons, 34 Hampdens, 20 Stirlings, 8 Halifaxes, 4 Manchesters). Five Wellingtons and 4 Hampdens fail to return. As with the recently completed series of raids on Essen, bombing accuracy is poor and bombs strike all along a 40-mile stretch of the Ruhr River. In Dortmund, an industrial building and a military post are destroyed, along with four homes. Four other homes are damages with four deaths and 27 injured. In other operations, the RAF sends 23 bombers to Le Havre (which the bombers completely miss), five Blenheim intruders to Soesterberg airfield, and one Stirling on a minelaying mission off Heligoland. One bomber fails to return from the Le Havre mission.

The RAF loss ratio continues to be poor. In 237 sorties, the RAF loses ten aircraft for a loss ratio of 4.2%. Anything around 5% means the average flight crew required to fly 20 missions will likely not last his entire tour of duty.

The Luftwaffe has been strained ever since the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, which has given Great Britain relief from major air attacks. However, the German public has begun to notice the sting of RAF Bomber Command raids, particularly the destruction of the historic seaport of Lubeck on 28 March 1942. Hitler, always sensitive to public opinion although he rarely lets it interfere with his own plans, directs Hermann Goering's planes to retaliate. These missions become known as the "Baedecker Blitz" after the famous guidebook. as they pinpoint small British towns that typically appear in it.
Union Station, Los Angeles, 14 April 1942
Men lining up to buy tickets at Union Station in Los Angeles, 14 April 1942 (Paul Calvert / Los Angeles Times).
In any event, there have been very few, if any, major raids against England for almost a year, but that is about to change. The Luftwaffe Operations Staff announces:
The Fuehrer has ordered that air warfare against England is to be given a more aggressive stamp. Accordingly, when targets are being selected, preference is to be given to those where attacks are likely to have the greatest possible effect on civilian life. Besides raids on ports and industry, terror attacks of a retaliatory nature [Vergeltungsangriffe] are to be carried out against towns other than London. Minelaying is to be scaled down in favor of these attacks.
This operation is notable for the first use in the German high command of the word "Vergeltungsangriffe," or "Vengeance," whose use will become much more common as the war progresses.

The Luftwaffe assigns the task to Luftflotte 3. The bomber squadron Erg. U. Lehr Kdo 100 will use its Heinkel He 111 bombers as pathfinders for a larger bomber force. About 80 bombers of II and III./KG 2 and II./KG 40, equipped with Dornier Do-217 and other models, compose the main strike force. KuFlGr 106 will use its Junkers Ju 88 bombers and I./KG 2 with around 25 Do-217s will also participate.

Attacks are to begin in strength later in April. The main targets will include York, Norwich, Canterbury, Bath, and Exeter - all towns roughly of the same size and importance to England as Lubeck was to the Reich. A representative of the German Foreign Office, Gustav Braun von Stumm, offhandedly claims (without authorization) that "We shall go out and bomb every building in Britain marked with three stars in the Baedeker Guide." This, however, is not how the German leadership wishes to characterize the raids, which are intended to be solely retaliatory and not targeting any specific cultural areas.
USS Roper, which sank U-85 off the North Carolina coast on 14 April 1942
USS Roper, which sank U-85 on 14 April 1942 (Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command).
Battle of the Atlantic: It is a bad day for submarine crews, with two German (in the Atlantic) and one British submarine (in the Mediterranean) sunk. World War II submarine work is extremely hazardous with a high percentage of submarine sailors perishing during the war.

U-85 (Oblt. Eberhard Greger), on its fourth patrol out of St. Nazaire, is caught on the surface off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, by US Navy destroyer USS Roper. The crew of the Roper makes quick work of U-85 with gunfire because for some reason Greger remains on the surface throughout the engagement. All 46 crewmen of U-85 perish, many when Roper drops depth charges that kill swimming U-85 crewmen who had abandoned the sinking U-boat. This is the first U-boat sunk off the North American coast. U-85, which finishes its career with three ships sunk of 15,060 tons, sits in about 110 feet (34 m) of water 14 miles (23 km) east of Oregon Inlet along the Outer Banks between Wimble Shoals and Cape Hatteras. It is a popular dive site despite tricky currents. Incidentally, 29 bodies from U-85 were recovered and are buried under cover of darkness at Hampton National Cemetery.

U-252 (Kptlt. Kai Lerchen), on its first patrol out of Helgoland, is sunk at 22:30 by depth charges from escorts of Convoy OG-82. Royal Navy sloop HMS Stork and corvette Vetch take credit for the sinking southwest of Iceland. U-252, which had just landed German agent Ib Riis in Iceland, finishes its career with one sinking of 1355 tons.
U-85 at rest on the sea floor after being sunk on 14 April 1942
U-85, sunk by USS Roper on 14 April 1942 (Courtesy of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary).
U-203 (Kptlt. Rolf Mützelburg), on its sixth patrol out of Brest, torpedoes and sinks 6160-ton British tanker Empire Thrush about 8 miles north of Diamond Shoals near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. All 55 men aboard survive, picked up quickly by US Navy Q-ship USS Asterion (AK 100), which witnessed the attack from a distance.

U-66 (KrvKpt. Richard Zapp), on its fifth patrol out of Lorient, gets its first victory of what turns out to be a very successful patrol in the Caribbean, 2116-ton Greek freighter Korthion. It hits Korthion with one torpedo south of Barbados and the ship sinks quickly. There are 14 dead and 9 survivors.

U-571 (Kptlt. Helmut Möhlmann), on its fourth patrol out of La Pallice, torpedoes and sinks 3352-ton US sugar freighter Margaret about 45 miles east of Cape Hatteras. The ship sinks within five minutes after a boiler explodes. All 29 men on board perish.

German 5032-ton freighter Kellerwald hits a mine and sinks off Helgoland. The RAF has been expending a great deal of effort recently in dropping mines in the German Bight.

The Luftwaffe attacks Murmansk, sinking the 5172-ton British freighter Lancaster Castle. There are ten dead, mostly Indian sailors.

Convoy TC-14 departs from the UK for Halifax. This is a special convoy that carries 10 tons of Russian gold that had been transferred from Archangel to the UK by light cruiser Kenya in Convoy QP-3.
Lieutenant-Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn, lost at sea on 14 April 1942
Lieutenant-Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn, lost at sea on 14 April 1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Royal Navy submarine HMS Upholder (Lieutenant-Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn) disappears on or about this date. There are no survivors of Upholder's 32-man crew, so the exact circumstances and location of her loss are unknown. There are several theories, including depth charges from Italian torpedo boat Pegaso north of Tripoli or hitting a mine. The Admiralty report of her loss - ending with "The ship and her company are gone but the example and inspiration remain" - has an enduring place in Royal Navy history, with that phrase repeated verbatim after another loss during the Falklands War in 1982. Upholder ends its career having sunk 97,000 tons of enemy shipping, one destroyer, and three U-boats. Wanklyn is considered one of the top Royal Navy heroes of World War II.

Royal Navy submarine Turbulence (Cdr. J.W. Linton) uses its deck gun to sink 73-ton Italian sailing ship Franco about 10 miles south of Sebenico, Croatia. There is no record of the fate of the crew of three.

The air offensive against Malta continues, with constant air raids throughout daylight hours. The Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 3, Hptm. Karl-Heinz Krahl, an Experten (ace) with 24 victories, is shot down and killed over Malta near Luqa Aerodrome. Major Kurt Brandle replaces him as Gruppenkommandeur.
Enigma machine recovered from U-85 in 2001
The Enigma machine from U-85, recovered by divers in 2001. This is the type of machine used to encode messages by the Germans that the British Ultra program intercepted and decoded in real-time (The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources).
The RAF theater command in Cairo assembles a special strike force to attack Italian convoys known to be crossing from Sicily to Benghazi. This information is based on Ultra intercepts, though very, very few people know this. They build up a strike force within RAF No. 39 Squadron (along with elements of No. 22 Squadron, which happens to be passing through on its way to Ceylon) at Sidi Bu Amud, Libya. This is to be a shuttle mission, with the planes taking off in Egypt, attacking the convoy, and landing in Malta. At least, that's the plan.

The ships are known to be passing within 100 miles of Malta due to the German belief that the Luftwaffe air offensive has incapacitated the island. Basically, they are sailing on the shortest route south from Naples without any worry about attacks from Malta - normally, they would route around Sicily via Palermo. Nine RAF Beauforts and four Beaufighters set out (one Beaufort aborts early), but they have difficulties locating the convoy and then, when they do find it, run into unexpected Luftwaffe air cover. The mission makes no hits on the convoy and it turns into an RAF disaster,  Only three Beauforts make it back to base, two badly damaged, with seventeen of the aircrew lost. The mission effectively ends this strike force and deprives Ceylon of some air reinforcement. The lone serviceable plane flies back to Egypt.
British convoy at anchor at Freetown, 14 April 1942
"Sunset picture [on 14 April 1942] at Freetown Harbour showing a convoy at anchor. On the left is HMS DEVONSHIRE and on the extreme right is AMC ALCANTARA." This photo was taken from HMS Adamant. © IWM A 9225.
Battle of the Black Sea: Several Soviet ships supplying the troops on the Kerch peninsula of the Crimea sink after hitting mines. These sorts of mine strikes by multiple ships within a short time often happen right after mines are dropped by air in a new spot before ships can be routed around them.

Soviet troop transport Anton Chekhov hits a mine and sinks near Kerch. The mine likely was dropped by the Luftwaffe, which is being built up into an overpowering force in support of General Manstein's 11th Army. There are 200 deaths and 50 wounded men.

Soviet minesweeper KT-608, Soviet transport SS Kommunar, and submarine chaser SKA-042 also hit mines off Kerch. Eight men on the SKA-042 perish and 72 on the Kommunar.
Map of encounter between USS Roper and U-85 on 14 April 1942
Map of the encounter between USS Roper and U-85 on 14 April 1942.
Anglo/US Relations: The British quickly agree to a framework by Harry Hopkins and General George C. Marshall, who are in England for talks, for "Operation Bolero." This is the buildup of US forces in the British Isles which eventually leads to Operation Overlord, the Normandy Invasion. However, many details remain to be worked out that will be the province of a combined committee of American and British logistical officers. This committee begins to take shape quickly. At this time, there are only vague plans for a cross-Channel invasion in late 1942 at the earliest or more likely in mid-1943.

Australian/US Relations: The Australian government approves the 30 March directive in which General Douglas MacArthur was named Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA). This effectively places an American in charge of the Australian military for the duration of the conflict, though, when pressed, the Australian government generally gets its way on the commitment of the Australian military.

British Military: Vice-Admiral W.T.R. Ford succeeds Vice-Admiral Sir Gordon Ramsey as Commander in Chief, Rosyth.

French Government: Premier Philippe Petain invites Pierre Laval to return to his former position leading the Vichy French government under Petain's nominal supervision. The Germans (meaning, Hitler) greatly prefer arch-collaborationist Laval to nationalist Petain and have demanded the change. After this, Petain becomes a figurehead. The decision is announced publicly on 15 April and Laval assumes office on 18 April.

Laval's appointment causes a crisis in relations with the United States, which still maintains diplomatic relations with Vichy France. Admiral William Leahy, the US Ambassador to France, cables the State Department about the news. It quickly replies that Leahy will be recalled once Laval assumes power.
Lima, Ohio, News, 14 April 1942
The big news of the day in the Lima, Ohio, News is the return to power of Pierre Laval.
British Government: It is Budget Day in the UK, and Chancellor of the Exchequer Kingsley Wood delivers the bad news. Taxes must be doubled, to 66%, on a wide variety of non-essential goods such as alcohol, tobacco, cosmetics, and theater tickets. Government expenditures for the year ending 31 March 1942 totaled £4 billion, £285 million above projections, while the current budget year is projected at £5.286 billion. Without Lend-lease, of course, the expenditures and deficits would be dramatically higher. Kingsley calls this the "sacrifices for the victory" budget. The standard income tax remains 50%.

Soviet Homefront: Premier Joseph Stalin, perhaps impressed by the successful US War Bond drive, opens his own war loan subscription. The goal is to raise 10 Billion Rubles.

American Homefront: Attorney General Francis Biddle writes a letter to Postmaster General Frank Walker suggesting that "Social Justice," Father Charles Coughlin's periodical, be banned from the United States mails by for violating the Espionage Act of 1917. The publication has been parroting German propaganda since before the German invasion of Poland. Biddle also considers indicting Father Coughlin himself for his political activities.

Biddle's letter sets in motion a chain of events that leads to the cessation of publication of Social Justice. With a hearing set for 4 May 1942, Coughlin's superior in the Church, Bishop Edward Aloysius Mooney, orders Coughlin to end all political activities. Coughlin complies, ends his involvement with Social Justice (which continues publication for a short time available only on newsstands and hereafter confines his activities solely to those of a local parish priest. This ends Coughlin's political career, and he quietly serves as pastor of his church, Shrine of the Little Flower, until 1966.

Future History: Valentin Vitalyevich Lebedev is born in Moscow, Russia. He becomes a cosmonaut who makes two flights into space, including spending 211 days in space aboard Space Station Salyut 7 in 1982. He is a two-time Hero of the Soviet Union and as of 2020 remains active in Russian scientific circles.

New Masses, dated 14 April 1942
New Masses magazine, dated 14 April 1942, showing the disembodied heads of Father Coughlin (lower left) and Gerald L.K. Smith, both considered fascist sympathizers in the United States. This Marxist magazine featured an expose of Father Coughlin. Perhaps this is what caught the eye of Francis Biddle and caused him to shut down Coughlin's "Social Justice."

April 1942

April 1, 1942: Convoys Come to the USA 
April 2, 1942: Doolittle Raiders Leave Port
April 3, 1942: Japanese Attack in Bataan
April 4, 1942: Luftwaffe Attacks Kronstadt
April 5, 1942: Japanese Easter Sunday Raid on Ceylon
April 6, 1942: Japanese Devastation In Bay of Bengal
April 7, 1942: Valletta, Malta, Destroyed
April 8, 1942: US Bataan Defenses Collapse
April 9, 1942: US Defeat in Bataan
April 10, 1942: The Bataan Death March
April 11, 1942: The Sea War Heats Up
April 12, 1942: Essen Raids Conclude Dismally
April 13, 1942: Convoy QP-10 Destruction
April 14, 1942: Demyansk Breakout Attempt
April 15, 1942: Sobibor Extermination Camp Opens
April 16, 1942: Oil Field Ablaze in Burma
April 17, 1942: The Disastrous Augsburg Raid
April 18, 1942: The Doolittle Raid bombs Japan
April 19, 1942: British in Burma Escape
April 20, 1942: The Operation Calendar Disaster
April 21, 1942: Germans Relieve Demyansk


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