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.

May 1942


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