Tuesday, September 21, 2021

May 28, 1942: German Victory At Kharkov

Thursday 28 May 1942

Flying Tigers 28 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Kittyhawk fighters of the American Volunteer Group flying near the Salween River Gorge on the Chinese-Burmese border, 28 May 1942.

Battle of the Pacific: Two US Navy carriers, the USS Enterprise (CV-6) and Hornet (CV-8), leave Pearl Harbor on 28 May 1942 for the vicinity of Midway Island. A third carrier, Yorktown, continues to under frantic repairs in dry dock to damage caused at the Battle of the Coral Sea and is scheduled to follow them on within the next two days. Yorktown's air units, depleted by casualties, are replaced by fresh units (Bombing Three (VB-3), Torpedo Three (VT-3), and Fighting Three (VF-3)).

Naval Intelligence has determined from decoded Japanese transmissions that the Japanese intent to invade Midway on June 4th, and American Admiral Chester W. Nimitz is planning to give them a hot welcome by all of his carrier forces. Taskforce commander Vice Admiral William Halsey has been replaced by Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance due to illness. Unfortunately, carrier Saratoga remains on the West Coast for repairs and is unavailable for the battle, but some of its aircrews wind up on Yorktown. Admiral Nimitz has ordered 25 submarines to patrol around Midway.

The US 11th Air Force has secretly constructed an airfield on Unmak, Aleutian Islands, in preparation for the anticipated Japanese invasion in conjunction with the Midway operation. The field becomes operational today when a B-17 flies armed reconnaissance over the Aleutian chain. The Japanese are not there yet, so the bomber crew spots nothing amiss. 

USS Salmon (Lt.Cdr. E.B. McKinney) torpedoes and sinks 4382-ton Japanese freighter Ganges Maru 250 nautical miles southeast of Cam Ranh Bay, French Indochina. There are seven deaths.

B-26 bombers of the 5th Air Force attack the airfield at Lae, New Guinea.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: After a long journey across the Indian Ocean, a Japanese naval force composed of submarines designated "Divine Dragon Operations No. 2" nears Madagascar. Its mission is to launch midget submarines against the British Far Eastern Fleet in the vicinity of East Africa. Training for this mission has taken place throughout 1942 and has had the attention of top Japanese leadership, including Admiral Yamamoto. This is one of the few Japanese military activities designed specifically to aid their German allies, though how much aid attacks on the British Far Eastern Fleet would be to the Reich is an open question.
Illustration of German tanks in Russia from German magazine 28 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
German tanks crossing a river on the Russian Front, World War II. Illustration from Illustrierte Zeitung (Leipzig, 28 May 1942).

Eastern Front: In a crushing defeat, the Soviet 6th and 57th Armies and 21st Tank Corps are annihilated southeast of Kharkov by defending German forces after being encircled. Red Army General Timoshenko still has not grasped the true state of play and only today orders a halt to Soviet offensive operations. Scattered and sporadic attempts by individual units continue, but very few succeed. Mass surrenders by an estimated 250,000 men begin today and continue for several days. The Germans, meanwhile, have lost perhaps 20,000 casualties all told. 

A Soviet salient to the southwest by Red Army forces attempting to reach Kharkov from the northeast is eliminated with help from the Luftwaffe first group of Schlachtgeschwader 1. It is flying the new Henschel HS-129 ground attack aircraft, which have proven quite durable and effective. During May, SchG 1 has flown 1467 sorties, with 1,028 Bf 109 missions, 259 by Hs 123s and 180 by the Hs 129s

At Fuhrer Headquarter in East Prussia, General Franz Halder writes in his war diary: 
The battle at Kharkov and on the Donets is brought to a close with a large take of prisoners and booty. Army Group South has issued the orders for the next phase of the offensive "Volchanak" and "Izyum."
The stage is now set for the opening stages of the grand German offensive that Hitler has decided will "sweep the deck" of the remaining Soviet forces and finally bring a successful conclusion to the campaign in the USSR. This, however, will take some time to prepare and is subject to the whims of the weather.

European Air Operations: Weather on the Channel Front remains unsettled, with winds from the southwest gusting to 40-45 mph and visibility poor, especially in the morning. This obviously is not good flying weather, so it is mainly an "off" day for the RAF. The men spend such days entertaining themselves during the day and then often attending Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) shows in the evening.

British MTB commissioned 28 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
HMS MTB-77 - Vosper 72 feet-type Motor Torpedo Boat, British Navy. Commissioned 28 May 1942, Bombed by German aircraft off Vibo Valentia, Calabria, Italy on 8 September 1943.

Battle of the Atlantic: After losing half a dozen ships to Luftwaffe attacks south of Bear Island on the 27th, Convoy PQ 16 is joined by a Soviet escort composed of three destroyers and four minesweepers. These warships enable the convoy to proceed toward the Soviet Union without losing any more vessels.

U-502 (Kptlt. Jürgen von Rosenstiel), on its fourth war patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 6759-ton US freighter Alcoa Pilgrim about 150 miles south of the Mona Passage (southwest of St. Thomas). The ship, carrying 9500 tons of bauxite ore, sinks within 90 seconds and the crew has no time to launch lifeboats. There are 31 dead and 9 survivors, who are picked up by US freighter Thomas Nelson.

U-106 (Kptlt. Hermann Rasch), on its sixth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 7383-ton British freighter Mentor north of Cabo Catoche, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Rasch surfaces and questions the crew, who misinform him that the ship was the Bengloe. There are four dead and 82 survivors, who are rescued after three days by British freighter Antilochus.

U-103 (Kptlt. Werner Winter), on its seventh patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 6414-ton US tanker New Jersey 90 miles southwest of Grand Cayman Island. The crew is able to launch two lifeboats before Winter fires a coup de grace torpedo and then surfaces and uses his deck gun to finish off the tanker. All 42 crewmen survive, picked up by USS Tattnall (DD 125) and Biddle (DD 151) within a few days.

U-155 (Kptlt. Adolf Cornelius Piening), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 1928-ton Dutch freighter Poseidon east of Barbados. Piening engages in a somewhat unusual night surface attack. After firing four torpedoes, one finally hits and sinks the ship quickly. All 32 men on board perish.

Panamian 7797-ton tanker Sylvan Arrow, torpedoed on 20 May by U-155, finally sinks. There are 43 survivors and one dead.

British freighter Yorkmoor, sunk on 28 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
British freighter Yorkmoor, sunk by U-506 on 28 May 1942.

U-506 (Kptlt. Erich Würdemann), on its second war patrol out of Lorient, uses its deck gun to sink 4457-ton British freighter Yorkmoor northeast of the Bahamas. Würdemann uses his gun because he is out of torpedoes, having used them all in a successful patrol in the Gulf of Mexico. Yorkmoor has a 4-inch gun and eight machine guns, so an unusual gun battle emergest between the freighter and the U-boat. However, it is a night attack and the Yorkmoor's gunners have difficulty aiming at the submarine so they score no hits. The attack takes just over half an hour, during which the U-boat gunners fire 55 shells and score several hits at extreme range. The ship's crew abandons ship in four lifeboats after the radio operator has sent distress calls. All 45 crewmen survive, picked up within about a week by British freighter Laguna and a US Coast Guard cutter. U-506, although out of torpedoes and having used up a lot of shells, still has one more victory in store for it on the way back to base during an extremely successful patrol.

Italian submarine Barbarigo torpedoes, shells, and sinks 4836-ton British freighter Charlbury off the east coast of Brazil. There are two deaths.

German 1337-ton minesweeper Sperrbrecher-174 (Tindefjell) hits a mine and sinks west of Buoy 11W, west of Dunkirk. There is one dead.

Canadian 70-ton sailing vessel Carmen Nina runs aground and is wrecked off Sheet Harbor, Nova Scotia. Casualties are unknown.

USS Nicholas on 28 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Nicholas (DD-449) flying Bath Iron Works' house flag on acceptance trials off Rockland, Maine (USA), 28 May 1942, a week before she was commissioned (Naval History and Heritage Command 19-N-36881).

Battle of the Mediterranean: Fierce tank battles continue in Libya as German General Erwin Rommel continues his offensive into the British Gazala Line. The British 4th Armoured Brigade arrives at El Adem and stops the German 90th Light Division, pushing it back to the southwest.

While his forces have made impressive advances, Rommel's main headache is at the fortress of Bir Hakeim. There, the Italian IX Tank Battalion of the 132nd Tank Infantry Regiment, Ariet Division, has failed to dent strong Free French fortifications and lost heavily in the attempt. 

Supplies are critical in the desert, as the panzers eat up fuel during Rommel's sweeping maneuvers and the men need water and rations. Italian supply vehicles operated by the Trieste and Ariete divisions are slowed by minefields near Bir Hakeim but continue to make progress toward the advancing panzers. 

While the Afrika Korps retains the initiative, quick British responses have blunted the attacks and ended chances of a quick German victory. The Desert Air Force (DAF) bombs the French at Bir Hakeim by mistake. The French under General Kœnig are surrounded at Bir Hakeim, so Kœnig attempts to break the encirclement by sending a column north toward the 150th Infantry Brigade. A fierce battle ensues during which the French destroy seven Italian half-tracks, but Italian artillery prevails and the breakout attempt fails.

NY Times of 28 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The New York Times of 28 May 1942 notes that "Heydrich of Gestapo Hurt: Big Reward Up for Assailant."

Special Operations: German leader Reinhard Heydrich remains alive at a Czech hospital, kept alive by quick surgical intervention following the assassination attempt on 27 May 1942. The medical prognosis remains grim, but Heydrich's condition has stabilized. His two assassins, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, remain at large in a local safe house. SS-Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler has dispatched his personal SS physician, Karl Gebhardt, by plane to the hospital to supervise Heydrich's care.

Auschwitz victim 28 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Wojciech Biernat, was born in Jodłówka. A Catholic priest who perished at Auschwitz on 28 May 1942 (Auschwitz Memorial).

Holocaust: The first convoy of Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog) detainees, composed of 43 men and 9 women, leave Paris from the Gare de l’Est. The male detainees are taken to a camp at Hinzert and the females to Aachen. While technically they are supposed to be taken before a German court and tried, this does not always happen. The Nacht und Nebel arrests stem from a 7 December 1941 directive issued by Adolf Hitler to arrest political activists secretly ("in the night and fog"), leaving their families and friends uncertain about their fates. Invariably aside from rare situations, those arrested were to be executed.

American Homefront: US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson issues a warning to the citizens of the West Coast to prepare for a Japanese bombing attack in retaliation for the Doolittle Raid.

Italian opera singer is released from FBI custody after three months of custody for being a suspected enemy alien. The FBI alleged that Pinza supported the Axis and have held him at Ellis Island since March 1942. A fellow opera singer, Norman Cordon, claimed to have told the FBI that Pinza was a fascist sympathizer, though there never was any proof of that. Why Cordon did that is unproven, though perhaps out of professional jealousy. Pinza quickly goes from captivity to singing onstage at the Metropolitan Opera.

Future History: Tien Chun is born in Guangdong, China. As James Tien, he becomes a prominent actor in 70 Hong Kong martial arts films such as "Hands of Death" (1976) until retiring in 1996. 

Stanley Benjamin Prusiner is born in Des Moines, Iowa. He goes on to win numerous awards and accolades in the fields of neurology and biochemistry, including the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physiology for prion research. As of this writing in 2021, Prusiner is director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases research laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco.
Vought test pilot team 28 May 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Vought Test Pilot team, 28 May 1942 -Lt-Rt Boone Guyton, Charlie Sharpe, Dick Burroughs, Bill Boothby & Lyman Bullard with SB2U.

May 1942


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