Sunday, April 11, 2021

May 3, 1942: Japanese Take Tulagi

Sunday 3 May 1942
Royal Navy battleship HMS King George V arrives in Seidesfjord, Iceland, on 3 May 1942 after a collision that sank the destroyer Punjabi on 1 May 1942. The battleship must proceed to Gladstone Dock, Liverpool, for repairs (© IWM A 9495). 
Battle of the Pacific: The Japanese score their first major success of Operation Mo on 3 May 1942 when they capture the island of Tulagi. Just before they arrive 08:00, all Allied personnel at the seaplane base there evacuate on two small ships bound for Vila, New Hebrides. The 3rd Kure Special Naval Landing Force occupy the island soon after the Australian troops leave and immediately begin building their own infrastructure on Tulagi and nearby Gavutu-Tanambogo, where the seaplanes actually dock. While Tulagi is a pinprick on the map of the Solomon Islands, its location is ideal for a seaplane base to cover future landings on nearby Guadalcanal and other islands.

With the Tulagi operation completed, the Japanese aircraft carriers covering the landings under the command of Rear Admiral Aritomo Goto depart at 11:00 for Queen Caroline Harbor, Buka Island, to refuel. Once that is completed, the carriers will sail on to the northwest to cover the next phase of Operation Mo.
Photo of officers that seized Tulagi on 3 May 1942
Officers and petty officers of the 3rd Kure Special Naval Landing Force that seized Tulagi and Gavutu on 3 May 1942.
The Allies have been following the Japanese movements both via coastwatchers and radio decrypts. US Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher controls two fleet aircraft carriers, USS Yorktown (Task Force 17) and Lexington (TF 11), and is stationed about 300 nautical miles (350 miles, 560 km) northwest of New Caledonia. Informed of the Japanese moves late in the afternoon, Fletcher brings his TF 17 closer to Tulagi in order to launch airstrikes against Tulagi at dawn on the 4th. Lexington and TF 11, meanwhile, are still refueling and will not be available to join him until sometime on the 4th.

The Japanese have bigger plans than just the capture of Tulagi. They also intend to send the Operation Mo Invasion Force from the fleet base at Rabaul. Scheduled to leave early on the 4th, it will sail for the Australian base at Port Moresby with five thousand soldiers of the South Seas Force and five hundred of the 3rd Kure Special Naval Landing Force. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, in overall command, hopes to bring the US Pacific Fleet to battle over the invasion of Port Moresby and decisively defeat it. Fletcher, privy to many of Yamamoto's plans, aims to grant his wish of a major battle.

Air battles continue over Port Moresby as the Japanese try to soften the base up for the upcoming landings. The RAAF loses a P-39D in the melee.
Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor 1942
The hospital in Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor, 1942 (US Army Center of Military History).
US Navy submarine USS Spearfish (SS-190) arrives at Corregidor during the evening of 3May 1942. It can only take aboard 27 lucky people of the thousands left on the fortress island, 13 of them nurses. Navy nurse and Legion of Merit recipient Ann A. Bernatitus is among the 27 rescued by Spearfish. Most of the remaining personnel are crowded together in Malinta Tunnel because shells and bombs continually rain down on the island.

The Spearfish's visit is a major event for the garrison. Everyone knows it is possibly the last ride out for anyone (and that turns out to be the case), as visits from the outside world have become increasingly rare. Commanding officer General Jonathan M. Wainwright sees the submarine off. He tells the submarine's skipper "They will have to come and get us… They will never get us any other way." However, supplies of food and water are running short, and Wainwright knows he only has five more days of potable water available.

The Japanese air attacks are gradually whittling away at Wainwright's remaining resources. Today, they bomb and damage 1130-ton U.S. Army mine planter Colonel George F.E. Harrison off Corregidor. The ship is a write-off and is scuttled on the fourth in Mariveles Bay, Luzon. There are four deaths. The Japanese later raise and repair the ship and put her back into service as the Harushima.

Elsewhere in the Philippines, the Japanese land troops on the north coast of Mindanao Island.

The US Navy sends light cruiser Nashville (Cl-43) from Pearl Harbor to the Japanese fishing grounds off the Kamchatka Peninsula. Its first stop is at Midway Island to refuel. Submarines S-34 (SS-139) and S-35 (SS-140) are to operate in support of this operation.
The Wacky Wabbit released 3 May 1942
"The Wacky Wabbit" from Merrie Melodies is released on 3 May 1942, starring, of course, Bugs Bunny.
Battle of the Indian Ocean: After the Japanese have been held up for several days at the bridge over the Shweli River by scratch troops of the Northern Shan States Battalion, Burma Frontier Force, and also elements of a detachment of the Chin Hills Battalion, they finally break the stalemate. The Japanese are able to bring up a column of trucks equipped with machine guns that disperses the defenders. While the bridge is rigged with demolition charges, none of the defenders knows how to activate them and, in any event, they are damp and cannot ignite. Thus, the Japanese troops capture the critical bridge intact and the way is open to the regional center Bhamo to the northwest.

The Japanese 33rd Infantry Division at Monywa, Burma, counterattacks against the 1st Burma Division, which has been trying to break through to rejoin the main Allied forces north of Mandalay. The Japanese press the Allied troops back in the opposite direction, to the Alon area to the southwest.

Eastern Front: General Franz Halder once again notes an eerily quiet front, writing, "Situation: No change. All quiet along the entire front." In the afternoon, he has a meeting about the upcoming operation Case Blue with his supply chief. He notes cryptically that, 

As to trucks, we shall somehow be able to manage. But we shall not be able to cover our requirements for prime movers, even if our targets are scaled down to the utmost.

Halder ends the entry by noting that certain artillery units are going to have to be reduced from four guns to three, an ominous sign before a decisive campaign.
Raising HMS Caledonia from the Firth of Forth on 3 May 1942
Salvaging HMS Caledonia from the From Firth of Forth on 3 May 1942 for scrap metal. © IWM A 9766.
European Air Operations: After a lull in operations lasting several days, the Luftwaffe resumes its Baedeker Blitz raids with an attack on Exeter. As usual with these moderately sized raids, the attack causes an unusually large number of casualties and 164 deaths. There is extensive damage to the city center.

After sending half a dozen Boston bombers to attack the Dunkirk docks during the day without loss, RAF Bomber Command sets Hamburg as the night's major objective. The weather is a bit sketchy, so only 81 aircraft (43 Wellingtons, 20 Halifaxes, 13 Stirlings, and 5 Hampdens) are sent. The RAF loses five bombers (3 Halifaxes, 2 Wellingtons) on this raid. Hamburg is covered with clouds and only 54 bombers actually make attacks, but the results are better than expected. The Reeperbahn area, a dockside warehouse, and a street junction in an old residential area take the most punishment. There are 77 deaths and 243 injured, with 1,624 people made homeless.

In subsidiary operations, the RAF also sends nine bombers to raid the U-boat pens at St. Nazaire, an additional four Blenheims as Intruders, two minelayers off Heligoland, and eight bombers on leaflet flights, without loss.
Battleship USS Washington on patrol in the Barents Sea ca. 3 May 1942
USS Washington, as seen from HMS Victorious, ca. 3 May 1942. She was damaged in the collision between King George V and Punjabi but the damage was relatively minor and she was able to remain on station (© IWM A 9486).
Battle of the Atlantic: The Arctic sun provides enough light at 01:30 for six Heinkel He 111 torpedo bombers of 1. Gruppe, Kampfgeschwader 26, to attack Convoy PQ 15, which is passing south of Bear Island on the way to Murmansk. This is the first Luftwaffe torpedo bomber attack of the war, and it achieves significant results. The bombers hit three British freighters:
  1. Botavon (5848 tons) badly damaged and later sunk by convoy escort
  2. Cape Corso (3807 tons) sunk
  3. Jutland (6153 tons) badly damaged and later sunk by U-251 (Kptlt. Heinrich Timm), one dead and 61 survivors rescued by HMS Badsworth.
The Germans lose three planes, a not-insignificant number considering they only have a dozen Heinkels available.

After this attack, the weather begins to turn. An Arctic gale leads to a snowstorm which provides Convoy PQ 15 with much-needed cover. Convoy QP 11 also is in the vicinity headed in the opposite direction, and it, too, is helped by this fortuitous weather event.

U-455 (Kptlt. Hans-Heinrich Giessler), on her third patrol out of St. Nazaire, torpedoes and sinks 6994-ton British tanker British Workman southeast of Cape Race, Newfoundland. There are six deaths and 47 survivors, who are picked up by HMCS Alberni and Assiniboine.

U-109 (Kptlt. Heinrich Bleichrodt), on her fifth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 5825-ton Dutch freighter Laertes southeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida. There are 18 deaths and 48 survivors, who either make it to shore themselves or are picked up by a patrol aircraft. The wreck is in shallow water and must later be reduced with demolitions to cease being a hazard to navigation.

U-564 (Kptlt. Reinhard Suhren), on her fifth patrol out of Brest, torpedoes and sinks 7174-ton freighter ("Ocean Ship") Ocean Venus about 12 nautical miles (22 km) southeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida. There are five deaths and 42 survivors. This wreck, too, must later be reduced to allow safe passage. "Ocean Ships" are 60 freighters obtained by the British Purchasing Commission.

U-506 (Kptlt. Erich Würdemann), on her second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 567-ton Nicaraguan freighter Sama southeast of Miami, Florida, roughly a third of the way to the Bahamas. All 14 crewmen survive, picked up by British freighter Athelregent.

U-125 (Kptlt. Ulrich Folkers), on her fourth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 1973-ton Dominican Republic freighter San Rafael midway between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. There are 37 survivors and one death.

RAF aircraft of No. 608 Squadron bomb and sink 5843-ton German freighter Konsul Carl Fisser near Ålesund, Norway, at the entrance to the Geirangerfjord. Everybody survives.
Portrait of Diekmann 3 May 1942
A 3 May 1942 portrait of First Lieutenant (Oberleutnant) Diekmann, serving with the Afrika Korps in North Africa (Zwilling, Ernst A., Federal Archive Image 101I-442-1491-13).
Battle of the Mediterranean: The daily air raids begin at noon on Malta, The Axis targets continue to be the RAF's airstrips, damaging several fighters on the tarmac.

US Military: Admiral Chester Nimitz completes his visit to Midway Island and returns to Hawaii.

USS Radford (DD-446), a Fletcher-class destroyer, is launched at Kearny, New Jersey. It goes on to earn 12 battle stars for World War II service and serves into the Vietnam War.

US Government: The War Department provides a summary of the Doolittle Raid of 18 April 1942 to President Roosevelt, who was not informed of the raid at the time. It provides the particulars of the raid and notes that:

At 1:30 P.M., in the midst of an English propaganda broadcast from Japan in which a woman was telling how safe Japan was from bombing, the broadcast was cut off and another broadcast made giving information that fast, low flying bombers were at that time bombing Japan.

The report notes that Tokyo Radio later stated that "casualties amounted to three to four thousand.

Holocaust: Pursuant to an order of 29 April 1942, all Dutch Jews henceforth are required to wear a six-pointed yellow Star of David with the word "Jew" in the middle. All Jews are ordered to buy four of the badges, and children from the age of 6 are required to wear them.

Colombian Homefront: In Presidential elections, Alfonso López Pumarejo of the Liberal Party receives 58.6% of the vote. Pumarejo also receives the support of the Communist Party.
Christening USS Fletcher 3 May 1942
"USS Fletcher (DD-445), May 1942. Mrs. Frank Friday Fletcher, Ship’s Sponsor, christening the lead-ship destroyer on May 3, 1942, at Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, Kearny, New Jersey. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives 80-G-1049792."
American Homefront: The Western Defense Command and Fourth Army Wartime Civil Control Administration (General DeWitt) orders all persons of Japanese ancestry to evacuate from large sections of Los Angeles, California. They are to depart by noon on 9 May 1942. "No pets of any kind will be permitted." This is Civilian Exclusion Order 34. A resident, Fred Korematsu, refuses to comply with this order and is later arrested on 30 May 1942. His case becomes the basis for Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), which upholds his conviction. This case begins a decades-long legal battle that culminates in the overturning of his conviction in the 1980s and an award of the Congressional Gold Medal, awarded posthumously after Korematsu's death in 2005.

Tonight's Jack Benny Program features actress Ann Sheridan.

It's the opening night of the 1942 racing season at the West Side Speedway in Wichita, Kansas.

Future History: Věra Čáslavská is born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. She becomes the most decorated gymnast in Czech history and also a symbol of resistance to Soviet rule when she looks down and away while the Soviet national anthem is played after one of her victories. This act of defiance leads to her enforced retirement and various other penalties by the Soviet regime. Věra Čáslavská passes away on 30 August 2016.
Evacuation Order of 3 May 1942
Evacuation Order for Los Angeles dated 3 May 1942.

May 1942


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