Monday, October 18, 2021

June 6, 1942: Japanese Invade Aleutian Islands

Saturday 6 June 1942

Battle of Midway 6 June 1942
"SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Hornet (CV-8) approaching the burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma to make the third set of attacks on her, during the early afternoon of 6 June 1942. Mikuma had been hit earlier by strikes from Hornet and USS Enterprise (CV-6), leaving her dead in the water and fatally damaged." Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-17054.

Battle of the Pacific: Despite having suffered staggering losses off Midway Island on 4 June, the Japanese follow through on their subsidiary campaign in the Aleutian Islands on 6 June 1942. The Japanese Northern Area Fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Boshiro Hosogaya, lands 500 troops of the elite Maizura 3rd Special Landing Force and 700 laborers on Kiska Island at 10:27. 

This is the first invasion of the continental United States since the War of 1812, though Alaska is not yet a state. The local Unangax (Aleuts) offer virtually no resistance and no U.S. military forces intervene at this time despite some fruitless bombers searching for the Japanese. There are U.S. soldiers of the U.S. Navy meteorological service on Kiska, but they disappear into the rugged interior. The Japanese rename the island Narukami.

Eight P-38s do spot and attack a ship, but it turns out to be a Soviet freighter. The Americans, though, are quite concerned about both a Japanese land invasion south toward Washington State through Canada and Japanese bombing raids from the Aleutians (neither of which the Japanese plan) and begin preparing a response.

Off Midway Island, things just keep getting worse for the Japanese. Having lost four irreplaceable aircraft carriers to the U.S. Navy's one, they now lose another important ship. Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers attack and sink cruiser Mikuma, already damaged in previous days' raids. Mikuma and fellow cruiser Mogami are heading for refuge at Wake Island when 31 SBDs from USS Enterprise and Hornet attack and hit Mikuma with five bombs and Mogami with six.
Japanese cruiser Mikuma under attack, 6 June 1942
"Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma, photographed from a USS Enterprise (CV-6) SBD aircraft during the afternoon of 6 June 1942, after she had been bombed by planes from Enterprise and USS Hornet (CV-8). Note her shattered midships structure, torpedo dangling from the after port side tubes and wreckage atop her number four eight-inch gun turret." Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-414422.

While the Mikuma may theoretically have survived that many bomb hits, one of them sets off the torpedoes it is carrying and they destroy the ship. There are 650 deaths and 240 survivors, who are picked up by destroyers Asashio and Arashio (both also hit by one bomb each. U.S. Navy submarine Trout investigates the scene on 9 June and picks up an additional two Japanese crewmen and makes them POWs.

An example of the "fog of war" almost causes a tragedy for the U.S. forces. A late-morning B-17 raid by 26 bombers based on Midway (led by Lt. Col. Brooke Allen) against the fleeing Japanese cruisers fails to find them. However, they do spot a target and six B-17s drop their loads on it thinking it is one of the cruisers. In fact, it is U.S. submarine Grayling. Fortunately for the Americans, level-bombing accuracy at sea lives down to its terrible reputation, no harm is done, and Grayling quickly dives before any bombs come close. 

The Japanese do "get one back" when submarine I-168, which previously shelled Midway Island, spots crippled USS Yorktown and attacks. In addition to pumping one more torpedo into the badly listing aircraft carrier, the submarine torpedoes and sinks the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412) around noon. Hammann has been providing auxiliary power to USS Yorktown as a damage control party desperately tries to keep it from sinking. Only one of four torpedoes hits the destroyer, but it is enough to break the ship in half. The destroyer sinks in just four minutes, and after it slips under, its armed depth charges explode, causing a violent underwater explosion and killing many men in the water. There are 80 deaths from the 192-man crew. I-168, despite being surrounded by U.S. Navy screening destroyers, escapes with minor damage.
US destroyer Hammann sinking, 6 June 1942
"USS Hammann (DD-412) sinking with stern high, after being torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-168 in the afternoon of 6 June 1942. Photographed from the starboard forecastle deck of USS Yorktown (CV-5) by Photographer 2nd Class William G. Roy. Angular structure in right foreground is the front of Yorktown's forward starboard 5-inch gun gallery. Note knotted lines hanging down from the carrier's flight deck, remaining from her initial abandonment on 4 June." Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-32320.

With ships on both sides still sinking (such as Yorktown) and already sunk, there are hundreds of men struggling to survive in the waters around Midway. The island's PT-boats and PBY Catalinas spend this and surrounding days picking up 27 men.

U.S. fleet carrier Saratoga, which missed the Battle of Midway due to repairs and upgrades being performed on the West Coast, arrives in Honolulu today. It quickly prepares to depart on the 7th to ferry replacement aircraft and crew to Enterprise and Hornet still stationed northeast of Midway. While most histories record 7 June 1942 as the final day of the Battle of Midway, today effectively marks the end of major hostilities.

The state-controlled Tokyo press quickly informs the public of the "great victory" in the Aleutian Islands. However, no mention is made of the catastrophic events for the Japanese Navy off of Midway Island until the war is over.
Japanese submarine U-168 which sank US destroyer Hammann on 6 June 1942
"I-168. (Japanese Submarine, 1933-1943) Underway in March 1934, probably during her trials. This submarine was renamed I-168 in May 1942. She torpedoed USS Yorktown (CV-5) on 6 June 1942, causing damage that led to the carrier's sinking the following morning." Naval History and Heritage Command NH 73054 I-68.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: Japanese submarine I-16 torpedoes, shells, and sinks 3839-ton Yugoslav freighter Susak in the Mozambique Channel. There are seven deaths.

I-10 torpedoes and sinks U.S. freighter Melvin H. Baker 45 miles off the mainland coast. All 48 men aboard survive and are picked up by British freighter Twickenham.

Eastern Front: German General Erich von Manstein makes his final preparations for Operation Stoerfang ("Sturgeon Catch"), the land assault against Sevastopol.  Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe continues an overpowering assault against the port, facing virtually no opposition from airports almost within sight of the defenders. Between 3 and 6 June, the Luftwaffe has flown 2355 sorties, dropping 1800 tons of high explosives 23,800 1.1kg incendiary bombs. In the two weeks from 24 May to 6 June, the Luftwaffe also has dropped 638,000 propaganda leaflets (50,000 per day) with instructions on how to surrender.

The massive artillery barrage that includes the biggest guns in military history, including the Karl and Gustav guns, shifts its targeting today to the defenses south of the city that face the German 30th Army Corps.

Rather than evacuating the port, the Soviets actually make every effort to reinforce it, slipping flotilla leader Tashkent, the destroyer Bezuprechnyi, and transport Abkhaziya through the blockade to deliver 2,785 more Red Army defenders.
Illustrated London News, 6 June 1942
The Illustrated London News of 6 June 1942 features photos of German General Erwin Rommel, left, and recently deceased General Reinhard Heydrich, right (with Heinrich Himmler). Rommel is shown pushing his command car out of some trouble.

European Air Operations: The weather is warm, with plenty of ground haze below 1500 feet. The RAF focuses mainly on convoy protection.

R.A.A.F. Catalinas of RAF No. 10 Squadron, using Leigh Lights, bomb and damage Italian submarine Luigi Torelli in the Bay of Biscay. The submarine's crew manages to beach it at Santander, Spain, to prevent sinking. There is one death and one wounded crewman. The ship is temporarily repaired and sailed to France on 14 July for permanent repairs.

Hptm. Helmut Lent, Gruppenkommanduer of II./NJG 2, is awarded the Eichenlaub (No. Ninety-eight) after 34 night victories and 8 by day.
USS Atlanta with Hornet in the background, 6 June 1942
"A close-up of USS Atlanta (CL 51) with USS Hornet (CV 8) and USS Phelps (DD 360), all of Task Force 16, in background. Picture was made during the third day of the battle as Atlanta came up to offer assistance to the destroyer, which had broken down temporarily because of fuel shortage." 6 June 1942. Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-88908

Battle of the Atlantic: It is a busy day for two German raiders operating in the South Atlantic east of Brazil. The 1940-41 glory days of the raiders are over and now they have to operate in remote areas to avoid detection. That doesn't mean they don't get the occasional moment of excitement. This happens during the Action of 6 June 1942.

In one incident, German raider Michel (Schiffe 28) spots disabled and drifting 7176-ton U.S. freighter George Clymer midway between Brazil and Africa. The Michel launches its motor torpedo boat Esan, which torpedoes and badly damages the freighter. One man perishes in the attack. The crew abandons the ship but reboards it on the 8th when it does not sink. however, the situation is hopeless and the crew is picked up by the British armed merchant cruiser HMS Alcantara. That is the last anyone sees of George Clymer, which remains stubbornly afloat. Exactly when and where the George Clymer sinks is unknown.

German raider Stier (Schiffe 23) has been quietly operating in the South Atlantic with limited success since leaving Royan, France in late May 1942. Today, Stier is cruising 500 miles (800 km) east of Pernambuco, Brazil, in overcast weather when it spots 10,170-ton U.S. tanker Stanvac Calcutta. Appearing suddenly out of a squall, Stier fires a warning shot and signals the tanker's crew to prepare to be boarded.

The Stanvac Calcutta, however, is heavily armed for a tanker. It has one 4-inch (102 mm)/50-caliber naval gun salvaged from World War I and a 5 inch (127 mm)/25-caliber anti-aircraft gun. Stier, meanwhile, has six 150-millimeter (6 in) guns, one 37 mm (1.5 in) gun, two 20 mm (0.79 in) cannons, and two torpedo tubes. So, there's a lot of firepower on both sides, though Stier outguns the tanker by a substantial margin.

The tanker's crew, led by Captain Gustav O. Karlsson, decides to not comply with the Stier's order to stop and opens fire. Led by Ensign Edward L. Anderson, the tanker's gunners get off several shots with both guns (the larger gun in the gun, smaller in the bow). Despite missing with most of their shots, the gunners do hit and disable one of Stier's 150mm guns. The Stier's crew then returns fire with 148 shells.

The battle lasts for 15 minutes, during which the Germans score a hit on the tanker's bridge, killing Captain Karlsson and several others. The Americans continue firing until their ammunition is exhausted. At this point, Stier Captain Horst Gerlach fires a torpedo that strikes Stanvac Calcutta on the port side. This kills several sailors and causes damage that leads to a sharp list and eventual sinking. The tanker's crew then abandons ship. Gerlach's men lower their own boats and rescue the Americans struggling in the water.

The Action of 6 June 1942 shows several hard truths about the Battle of the Atlantic. One is that merchant ships armed with a few guns stand little chance against raiders like Stier that are designed for combat even if they aren't true warships. Another is that these surface combats kill a lot of crewmen, as Stanvac Calcutta has 16 men killed in action, one dying later onboard Stier, fourteen men wounded, and 37 prisoners taken (the Stier only suffers two wounded men).

Actions like that of 6 June 1942 call into question the whole concept of arming merchant ships, which requires a lot of effort and dedicated gunners on hundreds of ships. However, later events involving Stier will redeem this idea somewhat. For their pains, the Stanvac Calcutta's crew later are awarded the Merchant Marine Gallant Ship Citation and Ensign Anderson is promoted (while a POW) to the rank of lieutenant commander. The tanker crew winds up in a Japanese POW camp.
Freighter Hermis in the background, sunk on 6 June 1942
Coal-burning freighter Hermis is shown at left while still called "Ada O." Hermis was an Italian vessel anchored in New Orleans when seized in 1941 and pressed into U.S. service. Sunk on 6 June 1942.

There are also the usual U-boat sinkings, these days confined to the Caribbean.

U-68 (KrvKpt. Karl-Friedrich Merten), on its fourth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 13,006-ton Panamanian tanker C.O. Stillman 60 miles southwest of Puerto Rico. There are three deaths and 55 survivors,  most of whom are picked up by US Coast Guard patrol boat #83310 while 30 sail their lifeboats to Puerto Rico.

U-107 (Kptlt. Harald Gelhaus), on its sixth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 3910-ton Honduran freighter Castilla east of Cancun and south of western Cuba. One torpedo hits and causes the ship to sink quickly stern-first. The crew can't launch lifeboats and take to three rafts. There are 24 deaths (including one who dies on a raft) 35 survivors, who are picked up by USS Nike (WPC-112) after six days. Some sources place this sinking on 7 June 1942.

U-158 (Kptlt. Erwin Rostin), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 5234-ton Panamanian freighter Hermis west of Havana and northeast of Cancun. Two torpedoes strike the ship on the port side but the engines continue running due to an inability to stop them due to damage. Rostin surfaces and uses his deck gun to finish off the freighter, setting it on fire. There is one death and 46 survivors, who are picked up by US Army transport Toloa. The ship does not sink for at least 12 hours and this sinking is sometimes listed as occurring on 7 June 1942.

Dutch 197-ton freighter Antares hits a mine and sinks off the Dutch coast.
"Battle of Knightsbridge 6th June 1942"
"The Battle of Knightsbridge, 6th June 1942," by Terence Cuneo (1907-1996). Shown are the 426th Battery of the 107th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery and the South Nottinghamshire Hussars, panzer of the Afrika Korps attacking. The 426th ultimately was forced to surrender.

Battle of the Mediterranean: After a wild day of attack and counter-attack between German and British troops on 5 June, the front settles down again today. However, German General Erwin Rommel retains command of the battlefield after his forces destroyed dozens of Allied tanks. He sends out armed reconnaissance to test the British lines and maintains pressure on the surrounded Free French garrison at Bir Hakeim. For their part, the British engage in harassing attacks against the German supply lines using the 7th Motor Brigade and 29th Indian Infantry Brigade.

The main action of the day is an attack at 11:00 by the German 90th Light Division against Bir Hakeim. This involves a determined effort by troops and pioneers to clear a way through the minefields surrounding the fortress, which are divided into two perimeters. By nightfall, the Germans manage to get through the outer minefield and into the inner minefield to within 800 meters (900 yards) of the fortress. The advance, while threatening to the Free French, also leaves the German troops exposed to Desert Air Force attacks on the 7th.

The Battle of Knightsbridge proceeds as the 15th Panzer Division attacks northward. The British 22nd Armoured Brigade continues to give ground after having lost dozens of its tanks. The German objective is El Adem, but the 201st Guard Brigade is ferociously defending the approaches to Tobruk.

Operation Aberdeen, the Eighth Army's counterattack begun on 4/5 June against the German Afrika Korps panzers, ends today after having accomplished nothing but the loss of numerous British troops and tanks. British Eighth Army commander General Neil Ritchie and Middle East Commander-in-Chief Claude Auchinleck now face the prospect of not only losing the battle but also all of Libya and much of Egypt unless they can find some way to stop Rommel's attacks. Among the desperate options considered are withdrawing the Free French from Bir Hakeim to free up the 7th Motor Brigade. However, this is rejected as the French seem to be in a good defensive situation.

Oblt. Hans-Joachim Marseille of 3./JG 27, currently operating in North Africa, receives the Eichenlaub for achieving 75 victories. Marseille once was considered a disciplinary problem but now is revered by his colleagues as a legend.
Battle of the Gazala Line, 6 June 1942"
A map showing the military situation in Libya ca. 6 June 1942. The 15th Panzer Division thrust through the British Knightsbridge defensive position is shown by the upward arrow in the center, with a separate thrust to the south of Tobruk at the upper right. The map makes clear the extreme jeopardy of the Allied position at Tobruk, though nobody on either side is thinking about it just yet.

American Homefront: At the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of the Triple Crown, the chestnut stallion Shut Out is the winner. Having also won the Kentucky Derby, Shut Out just misses immortality by having lost the Preakness Stakes to Alsab. Shut Out continues racing until 1944, when it is retired and put out to stud until passing away in 1964.

Future History: Klaus Bednarz is born in  Falkensee, Province of Brandenburg, Germany. Bednarz becomes a popular West German correspondent, author, and television host, particularly of the TV show Monitor. Klaus Bednarz passes away on 14 April 2015.
L'Illustration, 6 June 1942"
L'Illustration, 6 June 1942.


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