Thursday, April 1, 2021

April 26, 1942: Hitler Expands His Powers

Sunday 26 April 1942

Adolf Hitler, 26 April 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Adolf Hitler addressing the Reichstag, 26 April 1942 (Federal Archive Image 101I-811-1881-33).
Battle of the Pacific: The Allies are busy beefing up their air defenses in northern Australia and at Port Moresby on 26 April 1942, and not a moment too soon. Today, the 35th and 36th Pursuit Squadrons of 8th Pursuit Group transfer their P-39s and P-40s from Brisbane and Townsville, respectively, to Port Moresby, New Guinea. Everyone can see from the flow of Japanese invasions that Port Moresby is likely to be the next "hot spot" on the road to Australia. However, it remains unclear if the Japanese will try a seaborne invasion launched from their overseas headquarters at Rabaul or try to cross the forbidding Owen Stanley Mountain Range. The distance between the Japanese positions on the north coast and the Australian-held port on the south coast is not terribly much as the crow flies, but the crow would have to fly high over mountains and dense jungles to make the trip.
Auschwitz inmate executed on 26 April 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Polish Judge Karol Wrona (No. 29596), a native of Rudno, executed at Auschwitz on 26 April 1942.
Battle of the Indian Ocean: Pursuant to orders from General Harold Alexander, commander of all forces in Burma, British and Chinese troops withdraw to positions north of Mandalay. Chinese forces of the Sixty-Sixth Army and attached units are concentrating in Lashio, where there are warehouses full of supplies bound for China, as the Japanese rapidly approach.

The situation in Burma is murky to the world at large, many of whom could not find it on a map. A reporter for the Sunday Observer (now affiliated with The Guardian) in London attempts to summarize it on 26 April 1942:

The Japanese are practicing the advantages of mobility which they enjoyed in Malaya, and getting the full benefit of the lead which it gives them over our more cumbersomely equipped forces. They have been switching their attack from the east to the west and back again to the east, looking all the time for our weak spots. They found one at Taunggyi, ninety-five miles south-east of Mandalay, and they are now throwing their heavy forces into this railway terminus, which gives them a valuable springboard for the decisive attack on Mandalay.

While things look dire for the Allies due to the rapid Japanese advance, the weather is about to become their ally. The monsoon season is about to begin and that will stop the Japanese better than the Allies can.
Danish DNSAP members marching 26 April 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
As losses mount on the Eastern Front (over a third of the initial troops of Operation Barbarossa have become casualties), the Wehrmacht is recruiting heavily in the Nordic nations. Here, soldiers from the Free Corps Denmark march out of the K.B. Hallen as part of the DNSAP's spring appeal on 26 April 1942. (National Museum of Denmark).
Eastern Front: As General Franz Halder notes in his diary entry for 26 April 1942, the spring thaw has brought operations on both sides to a temporary halt:

Situation: Unchanged quiet. Apparently, the effects of the seasonal mud are severely felt in Center and North [Army Groups]. In [Army Group] South, the enemy regrouping movements opposite our front continue.

Halder does not know this, but the Red Army is reshuffling its units to launch a major operation to retake Kharkiv. Stalin is determined to get in some more successes from the dying winter counteroffensive before the expected German summer offensive. Halder notes in his diary that he is leaving his headquarters at 20:05 to attend the Fuhrer's Reichstag speech in Berlin.
Bombardment of Bath 26 April 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
While it did not receive much attention in the post-war world, the bombing of Bath was considered quite horrific at the time and resulted in this pamphlet, "The Bombardment of Bath." 
European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe returns to Bath on the night of 26/27 April 1942 for the second night in a row. The two raids cause widespread devastation and about 400 casualties.

During the day, the RAF sends a dozen Boston bombers to attack St. Omer and Hazebrouck railway yards. They return without loss.

After dark, RAF Bomber Command raids Rostock again for the fourth night in the row. The Germans use the phrase "Terrorangriff" (terror raid) for the first time to describe these attacks. Taken together, the four raids destroy 1765 buildings and cause serious damage to 513 others. This is the first time that Bomber Command begins destroying large swathes of German cities, with 130 acres (60 percent of the downtown area) obliterated. Tonight's raid kills 204 people and injures 89 others, an inversion of usual figures when more people are injured than killed. These casualty totals illustrate the enhanced effect of mass bombings when firestorms break out and local rescue services such as fire stations are overwhelmed.

While many point to raids on Cologne and Hamburg over the summer of 1943 as turning points in the air war, the German leadership already can read the writing on the wall. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels confides in his diary that "community life in Rostock is practically at an end." That said, the results have required a full RAF commitment over several nights, though with minimal losses. Tonight they lose three bombers, which, considering the roughly 109 aircraft involved gives an "acceptable" loss rate of under 3%.

The RAF also launches subsidiary raids of 24 aircraft against Dunkirk, 2 Blenheim Intruders to Leeuwarden, 4 bombers on minelaying missions, and seven leaflet flights with no losses.
Crusader tank exits landing craft 26 April 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"A Crusader I tank emerges from a tank landing craft (TLC 124) during tests of a portable concrete roadway, in this case laid on the beach, 26 April 1942." © IWM H 19057.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-66 (KrvKpt. Richard Zapp), on its fifth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 5513-ton US freighter Alcoa Partner about 80 nautical miles (150 km) northwest of Bonaire in the Caribbean. The ship sinks quickly due to the heavy bauxite ore cargo. There are ten deaths and 25 survivors, who make it in their lifeboat to Bonaire on the 27th.

US Navy 1190-ton destroyer USS Sturtevant (DD-240) hits three mines in rapid succession and sinks off Key West, Florida while escorting a convoy. An investigation reveals that it blundered into a US Navy minefield about 8 miles (13 km) north of the Marquesas Keys. The loss is attributable to a lack of communication between different commands within the US Navy. There are 15 deaths and 115 survivors. The Sturtevant, resting in two pieces at a depth of 60 feet (18 meters), becomes a favored site for SCUBA divers.

Convoy PQ 15 sails from Reykjavík, Iceland, on 26 April 1942 with its local escort. It is bound for Murmansk, USSR. 
Italian POWs arrive in Liverpool 26 April 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
An Italian POW, most likely captured in North Africa, arrives in Liverpool on 26 April 1942. "This prisoner brought his mandolin." © IWM A 8469.
Battle of the Mediterranean: U-81 (Kptlt. Friedrich Guggenberger), on its fifth patrol out of La Spezia, surfaces and shells 100-ton Egyptian sailing vessel Aziza off Palestine.

It is a quiet morning in Malta aside from some false air raid alerts. At 14:20, however, the bombers return with a total of 54 Junkers Ju 88 and 17 Junkers Ju 87 Stuka planes. The attackers break up into six separate groups and focus on the airfields at Ta Qali, Luqa, and Kalafrana as well as the Grand Harbour area. The damage is not confined to those areas, however, and affects many other portions of the island as well. 

The raid sinks 330-ton HMS Monkey, a Dockyard Water Tank vessel in the Malta Dockyard near the Sheer Bastion. Another vessel, HM Drifter Eddy being used to clear mines despite having a steel hull, sinks after hitting a mine just outside Grand Harbour.

The RAF is able to get three Spitfires into the air from Luqa and three from Ta Qali, but they do not down any enemy planes. The RAF loses two fighters from its dwindling force. Other air attacks follow throughout the evening.
Hitler addresses the Reichstag 26 April 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Adolf Hitler addresses the Reichstag at the Kroll Opera House, 26 April 1942. Many other leaders of the Third Reich also are visible, including Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goering.
German Government: Adolf Hitler addresses the Reichstag for the final time (while he makes many more speeches, they are at Party gatherings). He gives a long oration that favorably compares the desperate German defense outside of Moscow with the Napoleonic retreat and catastrophe of 1812. This battle required sacrifices "far exceeding what should or could be expected in normal wars," he says, though the comparison falls flat since he cites the Napoleonic situation that in fact suggests bad Russian winters are completely normal during wartime. The speech is full of bravado but short on mentions of actual conquests. It strikes some (such as Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano) as pessimistic, particularly when Hitler vows to be ready for the next winter "no matter where it finds us."

That was all standard boilerplate stuff. Let's step back a moment before going on to the key part of this speech. While Hitler holds seeming total control over the Third Reich, there are various gaps in his authority. These primarily lie in two areas, the Church and the Wehrmacht. The Church he can do nothing about because of widespread public support for it. The archbishops already have defeated Hitler on the euthanasia issue, though he successfully hid the program in the death camps after seemingly terminating it. Hitler does not like limits on his power and holds a powerful grudge against the Pope and the other clergy that he can do little about despite some occasional hostile comments at his "table talk." That issue remains unresolved throughout Hitler's tenure.

But the Wehrmacht is another matter entirely. The German Army has a long history of independence, particularly over promotions and demotions, but it ultimately is under the control of the chief executive and the law. Hitler chafes at the historical limits of his authority over the generals. His main grievance is that he can remove generals from their positions, but he cannot arbitrarily demote them or even execute them (as Stalin can). That must be done under a cloak of legality even within the Third Reich, after a court-martial. Any general can demand an honor court, just as General Werner von Fritsch had done before the war. That incident turned quite embarrassing for the Fuhrer because Fritsch showed conclusively that he had been framed. Hitler doesn't want scorned generals embarrassing him ever again. Eliminating this gap in his authority becomes the main purpose of Hitler's speech.

Thus, the 26 April 1942 speech is crafted to expand Hitler's legal powers over the military, despite the common misconception that he already holds absolute dictatorial control over all aspects of German life. In it, Hitler reveals what will become a common theme for the remainder of the war. He asks the Reichstag to give him:

... an explicit confirmation that I have the legal right to hold everyone to the fulfillment of his duty and to reduce to the common ranks or remove from post and position, without regard for acquired rights or status, anyone whom I find not to have done his duty.

In other words, Hitler wants (and receives) power to blame his generals for the army's failures. This is despite the fact that he increasingly is giving the generals detailed instructions on how to fight their battles. Blaming the generals, of course, is better than blaming himself. 

The Reichstag is presided over by Hermann Goering and naturally grants Hitler's requests by acclamation. It is the last vote of any substance the Reichstag will make. Tellingly, Hitler rarely if ever uses these new powers over his generals (he invariably just dismisses them and puts them in the "Fuhrer Reserve" until the 20 July 1944 Putsch). This suggests Hitler is just using this occasion as a pretext to cast the generals, many of whom he dislikes intensely for losing battles and occasionally not following his orders to the letter, obliquely as scapegoats for the hard winter of 1941-42. After the speech, Hitler boards his train and heads south to Salzburg for a strategy meeting with Mussolini.

Japanese Homefront: An explosion in the Benxihu Colliery (coal mine) in the puppet state of Manchukuo kills up to 1,549 miners.
Polish laborers about to be executed 26 April 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
These nineteen Polish prisoners were executed (11 May 1942) in Buchenwald Forest, Germany, for an attack by two Poles on a German policeman on 26 April 1942. This spot was chosen because it was the spot where the Polish forced laborers stabbed the German to death. The nineteen men were hanged from gallows erected by the Buchenwald SS.
American Homefront: American communists are fully behind the war effort ever since the commencement of Operation Barbarossa. Susan Green writes an article in "Labor Action" of 26 April 1942 entitled "Here's How to Smash the Fascists." She singles out the "Coughlins, Pellys, Kullgrens, and other would-be American Hitlers" (they are all radio commentators) for scorn. Her concluding section is "We Must Ferret Out the Fascist Rats." Of course, just because the American communists are against Hitler does not mean they support the US status quo. She concludes that "Neither [Franklin] Roosevelt nor [Wendell] Wilkie is an insurance against the spread of American fascism." Susan Green, incidentally, was a confirmed Trotskyite who viewed Stalin's Soviet Union as a "totalitarian empire," so she ware more of a pure radical than a partisan.
Handley Page Hampden 26 April 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A Handley Page Hampden I bomber. RAAF No. 455 Squadron transferred from Bomber Command to Coastal Command on 26 April 1942 because its Hampdens were becoming obsolete. 
Future History: Robert Louis Ridarelli is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After winning a talent show on the television show "Paul Whiteman's TV Teen Club," Robert adopts the stage name "Bobby Rydell" and attempts to become a professional singer. He finally achieves some success in 1959 with "Kissin' Time," which leads to a tour of Australia with other artists. More successes follow, and he gets a big break by being cast as the central character of Hugo Peabody in the film version of "Bye Bye Birdie." This brings Bobby Rydell even greater fame, which leads to more hits. However, the British Invasion is not kind to Rydell's style of rock and so his singing and acting career plateaus and declines by the mid-1960s. As of 2021, Bobby Rydell continues to perform on occasion despite health issues.

Claudine Oger is born in Paris, France. After being named "Miss France Monde", Claudine is the first runner-up in the 1958 Miss World contest. She then tries her hand at acting while still in school, changes her name to Claudine Auger, and makes her screen debut in "Testament of Orpheus" (1960). Her most prominent film role becomes Domino in the James Bond movie "Thunderball" (1965). Claudine Auger passes away in Paris on 18 December 2019.
Allied troops in Iraq 26 April 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"Iraq. 26 April 1942. On the parade ground, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder KCB, Air Officer in Commanding in Chief, RAF, Middle East, inspects Iraq levies during his tour of inspection of the Middle East area." Australian War Memorial MED0400.

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

2021

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