Friday, May 28, 2021

May 21, 1942: U-106 Sinks the Wrong Tanker

Thursday 21 May 1942

P-36C that ran off the runway in Connecticut, 21 May 1942
P-36C Ser. No. 38-204, 61st Pursuit Squadron, skids off the runway after mechanical failure at Bridgeport Airport in Connecticut, 21 May 1942. The pilot, Lt. George D. Hobbs, is uninjured.
Battle of the Pacific: Japanese Admiral Nagumo sails his Kido Butai carrier force out of the inland sea port of Sasebo on 21 May 1942. His crews spend the day practicing fleet maneuvers as they head through the Bungo Strait. Badly damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea, aircraft carrier Zuikaku limps into Kure today. It is unavailable for the upcoming attack on Midway.

The Americans remain in doubt about the next target of Japanese aggression, though many officers in naval intelligence suspect it is Midway. Seeking definitive proof, decryption teams in Washington, D.C., Honolulu, and Melbourne, Australia spend the day working on a stack of intercepted Japanese radio messages. These include one long message that has been flagged for priority processing. Japanese radio intelligence operators, meanwhile, also notice an increase in American radio traffic out of Hawaii. They intercept 180 messages and note that 72 are marked as urgent.

The Japanese continue their gradual occupation of the Philippines. After landings in the Leyte Gulf, they enter the city of Bacolod, Leyte, and Samar. Organized Allied resistance ended with the fall of Corregidor, so the Japanese only have to contend with occasional guerrillas.

US Army Air Force B-26 bombers attack Lae, New Guinea.
I-10 in port at Penang, 1942
I-10 at Penang sometime in 1942.
Battle of the Indian Ocean: Japanese submarine I-10, part of A Detachment which is scouting the Indian Ocean for targets, surfaces off Durban, South Africa. The crew launches its E14Y1 floatplane to perform reconnaissance. The pilot spots no targets and quickly flies back to the submarine when challenged by Allied forces over the radio. This is the first Japanese venture to Africa during the war.

Eastern Front: Marshal Timoshenko, belatedly concerned about the mortal danger to his forces south of Kharkov posed by German counterattacks, spends the day regrouping his forces. The Luftwaffe has complete aerial supremacy and wrecked Red Army vehicles block many roads. 

At Fuhrer Headquarters, General Franz Halder notes that "The situation at Kharkov continues to develop to our satisfaction." After writing that an encircled German force at Ternovaya (northeast of Kharkov) has been relieved, he continues that "We can now take out forces from this sector [north of Kharkov] and get them ready to meet Kleist, converging from the north." He concludes that Kleist's advance is taking "a gratifying course" and "we are now recapturing the initiative." Throughout the middle years of the war, "having the initiative" is a major aim of both sides, sometimes to their detriment.
German magazine Illustrierter Beobachter, 21 May 1942
Supply difficulties on the Eastern Front are shown on the cover of the 21 May 1942 Illustrierter Beobachter. 
Southeast of Kharkov, Kleist's panzers of the 14th Panzer Division advance another four miles. This reduces the Soviet breakout point through which all of their supplies flow to Timoshenko's troops to the west from 12 to 8 miles. The Germans remain puzzled that the Red Army on either side still has not attempted to pierce the thin line that the Wehrmacht is establishing east of Timoshenko's armies.

Halder sums up Manstein's victory in Operation Trappenjagd: "Kerch operation concluded. Regrouping at Sevastopol, where the enemy is evidently making preparations against our impending attack."

There is an oblique but telling reference in Halder's diary to the German high command's condescending attitude toward its allies. He writes that the Hungarian military attache visited during the day and requested information about the Kharkov battle. Halder notes simply, "I politely refuse." This is a peculiar attitude considering the key role that the allied troops are projected to play in the upcoming "decisive" summer offensive, Case Blau. However, it also is quite common in the Wehrmacht.

European Air Operations: An extended spring lull continues for both sides over the Channel Front. The only major action is the RAF sending 33 Wellington and 15 Stirling bombers of No. 3 Group to lay mines at the Biscay ports. However, poor weather permits only 18 bombers to complete the mission. No aircraft are lost.
U-106. Its sinking of a Mexican oil tanker on 21 May 1942 leads to a declaration of war.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-106 (Kptlt. Hermann Rasch), on its sixth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 6067-ton Mexican oil tanker Faja de Oro. There are ten deaths and 21 survivors. This sinking, along with other events, leads Mexico to declare war on Germany.

It isn't really Rasch's fault that this leads to war, of course. He is just doing the job asked of him and the sinking of neutral ships is quite common by 21 May 1942. In fact, if U-106 didn't sink Faja de Oro, another U-boat was in a position to do so. U-754 was stalking Faja de Oro and watched as U-106 torpedoed it. Two U-boats were ready to do the deed. So, the tanker was doomed and Mexico was fated to declare war.

U-103 (Kptlt. Werner Winter), on its seventh patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 3372-ton US freighter Clare 40 nautical miles (74 km) south of easternmost Cuba. All 40 crewmen survive, either reaching land in their lifeboats or picking up by a Cuban naval vessel.

U-103 also torpedoes and sinks 4727-ton US freighter Elizabeth about 30 nautical miles (56 km) south of Cape Corrientes, Cuba. There are six deaths and 36 survivors.
U-201 entering port at Brest, France, 21 May 1942
U-201 returning to Brest, 21 May 1942. the crew has the binoculars out to see what is in port (Leskin, Federal Archive Image 101II-MW-4939-22).
U-159 (Kptlt. Helmut Friedrich Witte), on its second patrol out of Lorient, gets its first two victories of the war today. It torpedoes and damages 2646-ton Royal Fleet Auxiliary RFA Montenol 140 nautical miles (260 km) southeast of Santa Maria Island, Azores. RFA Montenol is with convoy OS 28. There are three deaths and 61 survivors, who are rescued by HMS Woodruff. RFA Montenol is deemed unsalvageable and is scuttled by HMS Wellington.

U-159 also torpedoes and sinks 6529-ton British freighter New Brunswick 140 nautical miles (260 km) southeast of Santa Maria Island, Azores. New Brunswick is part of Convoy OS 28. There are three dead and 59 survivors, who are rescued by British freighter Inchaga, HMS Totland, HMS Weston, and HMS Woodruff.
Canadian freighter Troisdoc, sunk on 21 May 1942
Canadian freighter Troisdoc, sunk by U-558 on 21 May 1942.
U-558 (Kptlt. Günther Krech), on its seventh patrol out of Brest, torpedoes and sinks 1925-ton Canadian freighter Troisdoc west of Jamaica. All 18 crewmen survive and are rescued by USCGC Mohawk.

U-156 (Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein), on its third patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 1738-ton Dominican Republic freighter Presidente Trujillo off Fort-de-France, Martinique. There are 24 dead and 15 survivors.

U-69 (Oblt. Ulrich Gräf), on its eighth patrol out of St. Nazaire, torpedoes and sinks 1927-ton Canadian freighter Torondoc 60 nautical miles (110 km) northwest of Martinique. All 22 crewmen perish.

After two weeks at sea, four survivors of Neosho (AO-23) are rescued by the destroyer USS Helm (DD-338).

Convoy PQ 16 departs Iceland, bound for Murmansk.
German magazine Beobachter Illustrierter, 21 May 1942
An article about expressive dance in the 21 May 1942 Illustrierter Beobachter.
Battle of the Mediterranean: British troops in Malta find a man in bad condition in a cave beneath the Dingli cliffs and bring him to Imtarfa military hospital for treatment. He identifies himself under a phony name, Caio Borghi. By chance, he is recognized at the hospital by a boyhood neighbor who now is a captain in the British Army. The man, Carmelo Borg Pisani, then admits to being an Axis spy sent to report on conditions on Malta.

The Luftwaffe continues its recent pattern of sending Bf 109 fighter-bombers on sweeps over Malta. The RAF attempts to intervene, but is usually too slow to arrive. On one of these attacks over Hal Far aerodrome, they kill two men and wound three others. One of the deaths is Sgt. Dewhurst, recently awarded the Military Medal.
Postcard commemorating the laying of the keel of USS Pargo on 21 May 1942
A postcard commemorating the laying of the keel of USS Pargo on 21 May 1942.
US Military: Having been greatly reinforced in recent days by troops brought over to Northern Ireland by liner Queen Mary and other transport ships,  US Army medical battalions begin taking over some facilities. These include hospitals at Musgrave Park on the outskirts of Belfast and at Irvinestown.

North Pacific Force is established in Alaska. It controls all US and Canadian forces in the region. Its first commander is Rear Admiral Robert A. Theobald.

Holocaust: German forces deport 4300 Jewish residents of Chelm to the death camp at Sobibor. All are gassed to death.

German firm IG Farben establishes a factory outside the Auschwitz extermination camp in order to profit from slave labor.
Deportation of Slovak Jews from Czechoslovakia on 21 May 1942
Deportation of Slovak Jews. Stropkov, Czechoslovakia, May 21, 1942.
American Homefront: MGM releases "Tortilla Flat," directed by Victor Fleming and starring Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, John Garfield, Frank Morgan, and Akim Tamiroff. Morgan is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

In her 'My Day" syndicated column, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt notes that many women in New Mexico have volunteered and been trained as nurses. They now are "being used in all clinics and hospitals throughout the state." This frees up trained nurses and doctors for other tasks.

Ted Williams goes 3-5 with a home run and four RBIs in an 8-3 Boston Red Sox victory over Cleveland. This is his last game before joining the U.S. Navy on 22 May. After being sworn in, Williams returns to the Red Sox and finishes out the season, coming in second in MVP voting to NY Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon.

Future History: Danny Ongais is born in Kahului, Hawaii. He serves in the US Army in Europe in the late 1950s as a paratrooper, then returns to Hawaii and enters motor racing. He becomes a top drag racer, winning the AA Gas Dragster Championship in 1963 and 1964, and in the National Hot Rod Association AA Dragster championship title in 1965. He enters Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) in 1979 and races in several Indianapolis 500 races. To date, Ongais, who becomes known as the "Flyin' Hawaiian" due to his flamboyant personality, is the native Hawaiian to race in the Indianapolis 500. Danny Ongais is inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2000 and retires from racing in the late 1980s, though he returns for a final race in 1996 and remains associated with the sport for years afterward.
Internees in Arizona making mattresses with straw on 21 May 1942
Internees at the Poston internment camp in Arizona filling mattresses with straw, 21 May 1942 (Fred Clark, National Archives and Records Administration, Ctrl. #: NWDNS-210-G-A145, NARA ARC #: 536112).


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

May 20, 1942: Churchill and Molotov Negotiate

Wednesday 20 May 1942

Churchill and Molotov, 20 May 1942
Prime Minister Winston Churchill greets Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov in the back garden of No. 10 Downing Street, 20 May 1942. Also seen in the photo are  Deputy Prime Minister Clement Attlee, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, and others (The Daily Telegraph).
Battle of the Pacific: Admiral Nimitz approves a secret operation on 20 May 1942 to ascertain Japanese plans. One of the codebreakers in the Honolulu station, Jasper Holmes, has come up with a way to ascertain the location of "AF," known from decrypts to be the target for an upcoming Japanese invasion. Using an undersea cable that is known to be secure, Nimitz today sends a message to the Midway Island base commander telling him to send out a radio message that there is a "water shortage" at the island. "At the present time, we have only enough water for two weeks. Please supply us immediately."

Just to make certain the intended Japanese recipients get the radio message, the island commander also is instructed to send the request for help both in a code the Japanese are known to have broken and "in the clear" (without coding). The US naval intelligence offices in three locations - Melbourne, Honolulu, and Washington - then sit back to see what develops.

The Japanese indeed are preparing an offensive operation against Midway. Today, Admiral Yamamoto sends out Operational Order 14. This details a complex plan to coordinate invasions of the Aleutian Islands and Midway with troops from Saipan.

A Yeoman in the US Navy Fleet Radio Unit in Melbourne, Australia (FRUMEL), Bill Tremblay, is working late. At 23:30, he identifies Yamamoto's message as important even though it is badly garbled. After Tremblay discusses it with his superiors, the message is put on a fast track for decryption. That, however, will take several days. The Honolulu station also intercepts a copy of the message which also is garbled, but largely in different places. Between the two interceptions, a large portion of the lengthy message can be decrypted.

B-17s based in Australia bomb the airfield at Koepang, Timor, continuing a series of missions against the base. These missions are effective at silencing antiaircraft guns at the airfield.
Baltimore News-Post 20 May 1942
Due to the meeting of Brigadier General Jimmy Doolittle and President Franklin Roosevelt in the White House on 19 May, the newspapers on 20 May are full of hints of new raids on Japan. Here, the Baltimore News-Post gives these rumors a banner headline. In fact, no such raids are planned.
Battle of the Indian Ocean: Today is generally viewed as the completion of the Japanese conquest of Burma. The British formally dissolve Burma Corps, transferring all soldiers formerly under General William Slim to the British IV Corps. Slim is reassigned to Indian XV Corps.

Meanwhile, India is receiving a steady flow of reinforcements from the United States. Another unit of the 10th Air Force in the China-Burma-India Theater arrives at Karachi, India, from the US today. It is the 11th Bombardment Squadron, 7th Bomber Group (Heavy), and flies B-17s. The 11th will become active and fly its first mission on 3 June 1942
Marshal Timoshenko
The troops of Soviet Marshal Timoshenko, shown, are in big trouble around Kharkov on 20 May 1942.
Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht commits more units to its attempt to encircle the Red Army troops wheeling about in confusion south of Kharkov. The Luftwaffe is particularly effective at sealing the pocket, sending Junkers Ju 87 Stukas from StG 77 to destroy five of the Soviet bridges across the Donets River and damage four others. Kampfgeschwader 3 (KG 3), meanwhile, focuses on the roads in the developing pocket that are crowded with Soviet columns that have belatedly been turned 180 degrees to face the growing threat to their communications. Such a maneuver is difficult even in normal times, as the roads east are crowded with service troops, equipment, and other obstacles. The going is slow, and the Soviets are running out of time.

Turning an army around is one of the most difficult maneuvers in warfare. The entire orientation is inverted, with the cutting edge of tanks, infantry, and artillery having to reverse course in a perfectly coordinated ballet that is difficult in peacetime, let alone under fire. The army's "tail," or supply establishment, likewise has to change position to be just the right distance from the front line - which is moving who knows where. Ammunition dumps wind up in the wrong places, headquarters have to move and are out of touch, unit commanders don't even know where their soldiers are. Add to that blocked roads through rough terrain caused by air and artillery attacks and it's easy for chaos to erupt. This is exactly what happens to the Red Army south of Kharkov in May 1942.

Fulfilling a direct order from Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, the 14th Panzer Division advances further north from Petrovskoye and takes Protopopovka. This eliminates another key Soviet Donets river crossing and narrows the mouth of the breakthrough from there to Balakleya down to a dozen miles.

The Germans, though, are running a big risk. They are drawing only a thin line between the huge Red Army forces to the east and west. It is eight miles long and, in most places, only two miles wide. This easily could be pierced by fierce Red Army attacks. The German III Panzer Corps heads west to try and expand the width of this cordon. However, the Germans have to rely on Romanian troops that are less than enthusiastic to stick their heads into this potential noose (at Fuhrer headquarters, General Franz Halder notes that "the Romanians have gained only a little ground").
Von Kleist
Von Kleist.
Determined to seal his victory, General Ewald von Kleist risks it all and sends the 16th Panzer Division (General Hube), the 60th Motorized Division, and the 1st Mountain Division to support the exposed 14th Panzer Division. These are the best troops in the First Panzer Army, the cream of the Wehrmacht. It is a huge gamble because Soviet counterattacks from either or both sides easily could cut off all of these divisions in the exposed salient. This would turn German victory into defeat. Bock convinces Sixth Army commander Friedrich Paulus (direct orders don't always work in these situations even in the Wehrmacht), whose troops are north of the bulge, to support this ambitious move by releasing the 3rd and 23rd Panzer Divisions. They will advance south from Balakleya and meet Kleist's advancing panzers. Even if they meet, however, it is unclear if they can hold their positions against furious counterattacks. It is an audacious gambit.

Someone is going to have a massive victory that may decide the entire summer campaign. It's just not perfectly clear yet who that will be. How hard the Red Army on opposite sides of the German advance will resist this encircling move is the big imponderable.

Bock knows the decisive moment of the entire campaign, perhaps the entire war has arrived. He writes in his war diary, confidently but perhaps more hopefully:

[T]tonight I have given orders aimed at completely sealing off the Izyum bulge. Now everything will turn out well after all.

Only one thing stands in Bock's path to victory: the Red Army. However, something strange is going on. The Germans are astonished to see no signs of either a determined breakout or a relief attack from the East. The thin German lines are holding and consolidating even though they are outgunned and outmanned by enemy troops just out of sight. It's a mystery that only deepens.
Arizona Daily Star 20 May 1942
The Arizona Daily Star of 20 May 1942 features news from the Eastern Front battle of Kharkov that suggests the Red Army is doing well there. "Russian Planes blast at German Tanks Along Highway."
General Manstein's 11th Army eliminates the final above-ground pocket of Soviet resistance south of Kerch today (there are still Red Army soldiers operating out of catacombs in the region). The German success in the Kerch peninsula means many Luftwaffe resources can be transferred to the Kharkov battle, but there is still unfinished business in Crimea to the west. Luftwaffe ace Gordon "Mac" Gollob completes one of the longest sustained victory streaks of the war by shooting down two enemy aircraft, a DB-3 and a LaGG-3. This gives him 101 victories, a major milestone, and 14 victories over the past five days since taking command of JG 77. Gollob is the tenth Luftwaffe pilot to reach the century mark. After these victories, JG 77 is transferred west to help with the conquest of Sevastopol.

The German victory in the Kerch peninsula now is complete. It was an overwhelming triumph. While Fliegerkorps VIII has lost 37 aircraft, the Soviets lose 417. While between 37,000 and 116,045 Red Army soldiers make it back to the mainland, an estimated 162,282 do not. The Germans take about 150,000 soldiers and others (many are civilians) prisoner. The 11th Army loses only 7588 men in total, about ten tanks, and a dozen artillery pieces. The Soviets effectively lose three armies and nine divisions, with nine other divisions requiring major rebuilding.

European Air Operations: There are no major raids by either side today, perhaps due to the weather. The RAF's 197-plane raid on Mannheim on the night of 19/20 May accomplishes very little and causes only two fatalities in the city.

During an intruder operation to Soesterberg Airfield, German Flak of the 2./leichte Flak-Abteilung 764 downs an RCAF Douglas DB-7B Boston Mk III. All three crewmen perish.
MV Norland sinking on 20 May 1942
MV Norland on fire and sinking after being torpedoed by U-108 on 20 May 1942.
Battle of the Atlantic: German raider Michel shells and sinks 4245-ton Norwegian freighter Kattegat in the South Atlantic. Michel's crew takes the entire 32-man crew of Kattegat as prisoners.

U-108 (KrvKpt. Klaus Scholtz), on its seventh patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes, shells, and sinks 8134-ton Norwegian tanker Norland in the mid-Atlantic. Norland is part of Convoy ON 93. The entire 48-man crew survives and is rescued by Dutch freighter Polyphemus and USS PT-453.

U-753 (KrvKpt. Alfred Manhardt von Mannstein), on its fourth patrol out of La Pallice, gets its first victory of the wary. It torpedoes and sinks 7191-ton US Liberty ship George Calvert in the Caribbean near the Yucatan Channel. There are three deaths and 48 survivors.

U-155 (Kptlt. Adolf Cornelius Piening), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and badly damages 7797-ton Panamanian tanker Sylvan Arrow in the Caribbean southwest of Grenada. There are one death and 43 survivors, who are picked up by the destroyer USS Barney. Sylvan Arrow sinks while under tow on 28 May.
Wreck of SS Halo, sunk on 20 May 1942
Wreck of SS Halo, sunk on 20 May 1942 by U-506, lying on the seafloor.
U-506 (Kptlt. Erich Würdemann), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 6986-ton US tanker Halo 50 miles south of Louisiana. There are 39 deaths and three survivors, who are rescued by Mexican freighter Oaxaca and British freighter Otina. This is the ninth victory of the patrol for U-506 and it isn't over yet. The wreck of the Halo, which was carrying 64,103 barrels of crude oil, is found during a pipeline survey in July 2000 lying in 470 feet (78 fathoms, 143 m) of water.

U-158 (Kptlt. Erwin Rostin), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 8,113-ton British tanker Darina 500 nautical miles (930 km) southeast of Bermuda. There are six deaths and 50 survivors, who are rescued by British freighter British Ardour, Norwegian freighter Dagrun, and US freighter Exanthia. This is the first victory of what will be an eventful patrol for U-158.

US Navy yard patrol craft USS YP-387 sinks after colliding with collier Jason off Delaware. There are six deaths and 15 survivors who are rescued by Jason.
Map of Doolittle raid, 20 May 1942 Chicago Daily Tribune
The 20 May 1942 Chicago Daily Tribune contains a map and account of the 18 April Doolittle Raid on Japan.
Battle of the Mediterranean: U-431 (Kptlt. Wilhelm Dommes), on its sixth patrol out of La Spezia, torpedoes and sinks 4216-ton British tanker Eocene off Sollum, Egypt. The tanker is part of convoy AT-46. All 43 crewmen survive, rescued by Royal Navy HMT Cocker.

Due to a large number of RAF Supermarine Spitfires now on Malta, the Axis bombing raids now are usually composed of hit-and-run attacks by Luftwaffe fighter-bombers. The main objectives are still the airfields, and Luqa Airfield is attacked several times today after dark. Compared to the situation of a month ago, however, the attacks are minor and cause little damage.

Battle of the Baltic: Norwegian (Axis) freighter Vestra hits a mine and sinks in the Skagerrak near the Falsterbo Lighthouse, Sweden. The ship sinks in shallow water and is refloated, repaired, and returned to service.

Anglo/Soviet Relations: Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov arrives in London to hold talks on opening a second front. Churchill does not take to Molotov, later saying about him, "I have never seen a human being who more perfectly represented the modern conception of a robot." (WSC, WWII, Vol. I p. 288-9). Molotov, as usual, is all business, just as he was with Hitler in November 1940. He emphasizes Soviet claims on territory in Poland and the Baltic States, matters that Churchill views as premature. Despite their issues, the two men immediately begin work toward preparing a twenty-year treaty of friendship. The final agreement is signed on 26 May 1942.
WCCA headquarters in Woodland, California, 20 May 1942
Woodland, California, 20 May 1942. Entrance to American Legion Hall, being used by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (W.C.C.A.) to assist persons of Japanese ancestry in settling their affairs before they depart for internment camps (Dorothea Lange, National Archives at College Park NARA record 1372774).
US Military: The US Navy Department issues a press release on 20 May 1942, "Recruiting of [African Americans] to Begin June 1." It also releases a separate press release, "Marines Announce Plans for Recruiting [African Americans]."

The new Navy recruits are to receive the normal eight weeks of training at the established Great Lakes facilities. This will qualify them for a sixteen-week vocational school at the Hampton Institute in Virginia. They will be trained there as electricians, carpenters, ship fitters, machinists, metalsmiths, firemen, and cooks. Heretofore, African Americans in the Navy have been confined to the stewards' branch. Fearful of crew shortages in this area, the Navy refuses to allow transfers out of the stewards' branch to the general service until May 1945.

The black Marine Corps recruits have a somewhat different experience. The Marine Corps does not have a training center prepared, so the recruits must be placed on inactive duty status while one is set up. Eventually, a facility is constructed at Montford Point, near New River, North Carolina, and Camp Lejeune. Prospective Marine Corps recruits face often insurmountable obstacles such as tight quotas for black marines and other restrictions.

Admiral John S. McCain arrives at Noumea, New Caledonia, in seaplane tender USS Tangier. He assumes command as the new Commander Aircraft South Pacific Forces (COMAIRSOPAC). McCain now is responsible for tender and shore-based aviation in the South Pacific Area (SOPAC) under admiral Nimitz. This area is to the east of the Southwest Pacific Area and south of the Central Pacific Area. SOPAC encompasses the Ellice, Phoenix, Marquesas, Tuamotu, Samoa, Fiji, and New Hebrides island groups plus New Caledonia and New Zealand. However, it does not yet include Guadalcanal or Tulagi and thus does not include areas of likely conflict. It includes, though, the main route from the United States to Australia and is of immense strategic importance.

Submarine USS Kingfish (SS-234) is commissioned.
MLB schedule, 20 May 1942
The Major League Baseball schedule for 20 May 1942, sponsored by Carstairs White Seal Blended Whiskey.
British Government: A two-day debate on the war situation concludes in Parliament. PM Leslie Hore-Belisha, the Secretary of State for War under former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, is particularly critical of the Churchill government's handling of the war situation. He notes that there is not yet a "method of continuous cooperate" with the United States and that the different Allies are speaking with "disunited voices." Hore-Belisha proposes government reforms that will maintain "a clear-cut distinction" between "impartial, undiluted military opinion and what is a political decision." This is an obvious attack on Churchill, who is suspected by some of managing the war for his own personal political benefit.

American Homefront: Henry Ford begins the construction of a memorial to inventor George Washington Carver in Greenfield Village adjacent to the Logan County Courthouse. This project has been Ford's dream since meeting Carver, who is still alive to watch the building go up and be completed, in 1937.

Future History: Carlos Norman Hathcock is born in Little Rock, Arkansas. He joins the US military during the Vietnam War and becomes a Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant. He earns the nickname "White Feather Sniper" due to his habit of wearing a bush hat with a feather in it. Hathcock becomes a legendary sniper, and the Viet Cong place a $30,000 bounty on him. In his most famous encounter, he is sent specifically to eliminate an elite Viet Cong sniper known as "The Cobra." He accomplishes the task with a bullet that travels up Cobra's scope and into his eye. Carlos Norman Hathcock survives the war and passes away on 23 February 1999.
Internees leaving Woodland, California, 20 May 1942
West Coast internees bound for a camp. (Dorothea Lange, Woodland, California, May 20, 1942. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration).


Sunday, May 16, 2021

May 19, 1942: Soviet Panic at Kharkov

Tuesday 19 May 1942

Roosevelts gives Doolittle Medal of Honor 19 May 1942
President Franklin D. Roosevelt presents the Medal of Honor to Brigadier General James Harold Doolittle in a ceremony at The White House, 19 May 1942. The President is seated at the left. Standing, left to right, are Lieutenant General Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces; Mrs. Doolittle; Brigadier General Doolittle; and General George Catlett Marshall, Jr., Chief of Staff, United States Army. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Photographic Collection, NPx. 65-696).
Battle of the Pacific: US Admirals "Bull" Halsey and Frank Fletcher are bringing their Task Forces 16 and 17 east toward Hawaii on 19 May 1942 in anticipation of a major Japanese attack. Nobody is completely sure where the attack will occur, but the consensus is that Midway Island will be the target. Light cruiser USS Nashville (CL-43) sails through the expected area of the attack from Midway to the western Aleutians today but does not see any enemy ships.

Japanese submarine I-21 launches a seaplane to reconnoiter Suva Bay, Fiji.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: The Japanese have sent a detachment of submarines, "Detachment A," to the Indian Ocean to scout for opportunities. Today, submarine I-30 launches a seaplane to reconnoiter Zanzibar and Dar-es-Salaam.
Crashed B-25B, 19 May 1942
A B-25B of the 39th Bomb Squadron forced to crashland at Westover Field, Massachusetts, on 19 May 1942 due to issues with the landing gear. Everyone survived. The pilot, Lt. John Henebry, ultimately becomes a major general and writes a book about his wartime experiences, "The Grim Reapers: At Work in the Pacific Theater" (2002).
Eastern Front: Commander of Army Group South Field Marshal Fedor von Bock presses his advantage against a disbelieving Red Army south of Kharkov. Having coordinated plans with First Panzer Army commander General Ewald on Kleist on the 18th, he orders Sixth Army commander General Friedrich Paulus to begin an attack from Merefa southwest of Kharkov. The objective is to occupy and distract the Soviet forces far to the west of where Kleist's panzers are attempting to surround them.

Kleist's III Panzer Corps, meanwhile, is brushing aside opposition as it continues eating into the Soviet supply corridor. The 14th Panzer Division crosses the Bereka River to take Petrovskoye while other divisions head west to block an expected Red Army breakout attempt. This narrows the mouth of the bulge to fifteen miles and deprives the Red Army forces to the west of a critical Donets river crossing.

Soviet Southwest Front, led by Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, finally begins to react to the growing Wehrmacht threat. After continuing to attack German VIII Corps south of Kharkov in the morning, it quickly breaks off the attacks and begins sending units to block Kleist's panzers to the southeast. The Luftwaffe controls the skies and sees and attacks the red Army columns on the roads. The German pilots, enjoying complete aerial dominance, claim to destroy 29 tanks during the day.

The Sixth Army war diary summarizes the situation at the end of the day: "The enemy's offensive strength has cracked. The breakthrough to Kharkov is therewith prevented."
Panzer 38(t) in Crimea, 19 May 1942
A German Panzer 38(t) leaves a landing craft on a beach near Yalta, May 1942 (Federal Archive B 145 Fig. F016214-0021A).
It is unclear where the Soviet orders to break off the attack in the morning came from. Post-war Soviet histories claim they came from Timoshenko on his own authority. If so, it is a dramatic turnaround by Timoshenko, who has been telling Stalin all along that the German counterattacks are not a threat. The Stavka finally reverses course at the end of the day and orders the advanced Sixth Army and Bobkin Group to terminate the offensive toward Kharkov and head southeast to confront Kleist's panzers.  
At his midnight conference, Hitler calls von Bock and tells him to hurry up and finish the encirclement. Kleist is to send 14th Panzer Division the final fifteen miles to reach Balakleya, where German troops of Paulus' Sixth Army await. Bock immediately calls Kleist's chief of staff and tells him to take the next town, Protopopovka, "under all circumstances and as soon as in any way possible." The fate of 600,000 Soviet soldiers to the west hangs in the balance. At Fuhrer Headquarters, General Franz Halder notes briefly in his diary that "The situation east of Kharkov is no longer dangerous."

In Crimea, General Manstein's 11th Army continues mopping up resistance in the Kerch region. Some histories record the 19th as the day of German victory in Crimea, and General Franz Halder records in his war diary that "The Kerch offensive can be regarded as closed." However, there remain Red Army holdouts (including at the port of Sevastopol), including thousands congregating in catacombs south of Kerch. In the air, Luftwaffe ace Gordon "Mac" Gollob continues a torrid victory streak, shooting down three more Soviet R-5 reconnaissance planes to raise his victory total to 99.
Japanese-American internees, 19 May 1942
Internees await relocation in Centerville, California. May 19, 1942. Dorothea Lange, photographer. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Oakland Museum of California. Gift of Paul S. Taylor.
European Air Operations: The weather clears sufficiently for both sides to resume their bombing operations. This is only a brief interruption of activity in what otherwise is a very quiet month along the Channel Front.

The Luftwaffe ends its lull by attacking Hull in another "Baedeker Raid." There are 50 deaths, 58 seriously injured, and extensive damage, especially in the Alexandria dock area. The bombing accuracy is quite good, especially relative to recent RAF attempts, with hits on the Blackburn aircraft factory at Brough (west of Hull). Extensive fires erupt along Scarborough Lane and Westbourne Avenue. The attack is notable for the use of an 1,800kg bomb and a 1,000kg bomb. Other areas hit include Hedon (east of Hull), Hornsea, and Withernsea. The Luftwaffe loses two Junkers Ju 88 bombers and a Dornier Do-217.

RAF Bomber Command mounts its first major raid in eleven days. The target is Mannheim. A total of 197 bombers (11 lost) embark, with 105 bomber crews claiming to hit the city. However, accuracy is very poor, and very few bombs actually hit the city. Local authorities estimate that bombs from only about ten bombers actually hit the city. However, the bombs that do hit cause an appreciable amount of damage to some small businesses in the harbor areas. There are only two deaths in the city.

In minor raids, 65 RAF bombers (one lost) attack St. Nazaire but cause little damage. Another 9 bombers lay mines off Lorient and near Heligoland, while 13 bombers drop leaflets over France.
Survivors of SS Heredia, 19 May 1942
The Downs family, survivors of the sinking of freighter SS Heredia on 19 May 1942 by U-506.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-506 (Kptlt. Erich Würdemann), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 4732-ton US refrigerated freighter Heredia at 02:00 two nautical miles (3.7 km) southeast of the Ship Shoal Buoy off Louisiana. The ship sinks very quickly, giving no time to launch the boats. There are 36 deaths and 26 survivors, who are rescued by local shrimpers Conquest, J. Edwin Treakle, Papa Joe, and Shellwater, with three of the survivors picked up by a seaplane.

U-103 (Kptlt. Werner Winter), on its seventh patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 5037-ton US freighter Ogontz 70 nautical miles (130 km) southeast of Cozumel, Mexico. There are 19 deaths and 22 survivors, who are rescued by US tanker Esso Dover.

U-751 (Kptlt. Gerhard Bigalk), on its sixth patrol out of St. Nazaire, torpedoes, shells, and sinks 3110-ton US freighter Isabela 35 nautical miles (65 km) south of Navassa Island Lighthouse. There are three deaths and 34 survivors, who make it to Cape Briton, Haiti, in lifeboats. This is the final victory for U-751.

An Italian submarine torpedoes and sinks Swedish 5747-ton steel cargo freighter Tisnaren somewhere in the Atlantic between Brazil and Senegal. Italian submarines Comandante Cappellini and Barbarigo are operating in this area but it is not definite which is the attacker.

At Hvalfjordur, Iceland, some merchant marine sailors aboard US freighter SS Ironclad notice that there is a shipment of liquor (it is en route to the US Ambassador to Moscow, Admiral William H. Standley, USN (Ret.)). They decide to help themselves and discipline breaks down, with fighting breaking out. At the behest of an armed guard officer on board, troops from the battleship USS Washington are sent over to restore order. Ironclad is removed from convoy PQ 16.
Tugboat Iriquois in Puget Sound, 19 May 1942
Tugboat Iriquois at sea, 19 May 1942 (Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society).
Battle of the Mediterranean: Royal Navy submarine HMS Thrasher torpedoes and sinks 1160-ton Italian freighter Penelope a few miles northwest of Monopoli, Italy.

Malta has been heavily reinforced with Spitfire fighters recently and the results are plain in the daytime sky. While Luftwaffe fighter sweeps over the island continue, the new defenders lead to a much-reduced bomber threat. In fact, they enable RAF bombers to go back on the offensive. Today, RAF bombers attack an Italian convoy northbound from Tripoli, though no ships are sunk.

Manhattan Project: Having just taken over the atom bomb research program, Robert Oppenheimer sends a letter to Ernest O. Lawrence updating him on progress. He writes that the atomic bomb design is solved "in principle" and projects that "six good physicists" should be able to work out the details within six months.

Joint Allied Command: The 30th and final in a series of Post-Arcadia meetings of the Combined Chiefs of Staff takes place in Washington, D.C. Among the topics discussed is an expected German advance toward the Persian Gulf from Syrian bases, the selection of targets for the nascent USAAF Eighth Air Force, and German development of a "new odorless gas, suitable for a surprise attack by inclusion in bombardments from the ground or from the air."
Crash site in Quebec, 19 May 1942
The crash site at No. 9 Bombing and Gunner School, Quebec.
Canadian Military: A Battle Mk. I crashes at No. 9 Bombing and Gunnery School, Mt.-Joli, Quebec, killing the four crewmen. This school is part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, so the passengers include airmen from Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

US Military: Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker, commander of Eighth Air Force, assumes command of all US air units in the United Kingdom.

Pursuant to a recent agreement between the United States and Panama, the 31st Fighter Squadron, 37th Fighter Group, 6th Air Force transfers its P-39 and P-40 fighters from Chorrera, Panama, to Albrook Field, Canal Zone.

Australian Military: A Tugan LJW7 Gannet aircraft flying from Batchelor Field (northern Australia) to Groote Eylandt makes a forced crash landing in a swamp in remote Arnhem Bay. The crew survives and scavengers the ruined airplane to make a raft. They survive an epic 33-day journey to the Milingimbi mission. Survivor George Booth later writes a book, "33 Days," describing how local natives helped the crew survive. This real-life story has echoes in the motion picture "Flight of the Phoenix" (1965) starring Jimmy Stewart.
General Jimmy Doolittle, 1942
Brigadier General James Harold Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Forces, 1942. (U.S. Air Force).
President Roosevelt presents the Medal of Honor to Lt. Colonel James Doolittle, who is also promoted to brigadier general, for the 18 April 1942 Doolittle raid. The citation reads:

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

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

American Homefront: The Western Defense Command issues Civilian Restrictive Order No. 1. This forces all Japanese-Americans in California, Oregon, Washington State, and southern Arizona to move into relocation camps. These camps are located in numerous states between eastern California and the Mississippi River. The total number of persons ultimately sent to camps is approximately 122,000.

Paul Waner of the Braves becomes the third National Leaguer to get 3000 hits (following Honus Wagner and Cap Anson).

Future History: Frederick "Curly" Neal is born in Greensboro, North Carolina. Curly Neal becomes a celebrity as the Harlem Globetrotters' featured ballhandler from 1963-1985. He also is featured in the animated Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Harlem Globetrotters." The Globetrotters retire Neal's No. 22 on 15 February 2008. Frederick Neal passes away in Houston on 26 March 2020.
Look magazine 19 May 1942
Look magazine of 19 May 1942 features a Marine Corps Sergeant Otto Nuske on the cover.


Saturday, May 15, 2021

May 18, 1942: Soviet Command Confusion

Monday 18 May 1942

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today is considered the termination of the Demyansk supply operation by the Luftwaffe. It has been a successful mission, but aircraft losses total 265 planes, many of them Ju-52 transports The main supply unit, KGzbV 8, is disbanded and its planes returned to training schools.
Wildcat on USS Enterprise 18 May 1942
A Grumman F4F Wildcat took off from the USS Enterprise's flight deck on May 18, 1942 (US Navy).
European Air Operations:  There are no major operations by either side along the Channel Front as a lengthy springtime lull continues.
Burma fire in Life 18 May 1942
General Stilwell's headquarters burns in Maymyo, Burma, in this photo from the 18 May 1942 Life magazine.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-558 (Kptlt. Günther Krech), on its seventh patrol out of Brest, torpedoes and sinks 1254-ton Dutch freighter Fauna in the Caicos Passage near the Turks and Caicos Islands. There are two deaths and 27 survivors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

May 17, 1942: Germans Counterattack at Kharkov

Sunday 17 May 1942

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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