October 25, 2021

History Content for the Future

WW2 Day by Day

On 20 October 1942, Pavlov's House continues to hold out against the Germans amid the ruins of Stalingrad.
.
While the bulk of the fighting has shifted to the city's northern factory district, small-scale combat continues unabated in the south. One of these places is 'Pavlov's House', an apartment building between the railway station and the Volga. Although bullet-ridden itself, the building provides for an excellent overview of the ruined approaches all around. Its tactical value was recognized by the Germans, who captured the building in September.
.
However, for the same reason, the Soviets did not want to give it up so easily and mounted a counterattack. A 'storm group' of just six men, led by Sergeant Yakov Pavlov, sneaked up on the building later that same month. The surprise was complete. The storm group's grenades quickly cleared the place of enemies, which was soon to bear Pavlov's name.
.
Reinforcements hurried in, while a more senior officer, Captain Naumov, took over command from Sergeant Pavlov. Having secured the building, engineers began connecting the building to the main Soviet lines with communication trenches, while land mines and barbed wire turned the place into a fortress.
.
Since then, the Germans have launched attack after attack, but they are repeatedly repelled. Machineguns scatter all infantry assaults, while anti-tank rifles installed in the upper windows fire away at enemy tanks, high above the turret's maximum angle of elevation. Soviet artillerymen on the opposite bank of the Volga have their guns zeroed in on the approaches to Pavlov's House, raining down hell on the attacking forces.
.
The defenders of Pavlov's House have by now already stood their ground for three weeks, and they are starting to earn themselves a legendary status. Although Pavlov himself is no more than just one of the building's defenders, and not even the one in charge, his name spreads throughout the city and the entire Soviet Union as a symbol of resilience and a source of inspiration. The saga of Pavlov's House continues.
.
Photo: Soviet submachine gunners during the fighting for Pavlov’s House, October 1942.
Source: Sergey Loskutov
.
#Pavlov #Stalingrad
...

3580 34

On 19 October 1942, an Allied delegation of high-ranking officers leaves Gibraltar for Vichy-French Algeria by submarine, hoping to secure French support for Operation Torch: the Allied landings in North Africa scheduled for next month. In this preliminary operation, codenamed 'Flagpole', American Major General Mark Clark and several other officers are to negotiate with Vichy French officers and get their forces to turn their guns on the Axis.
.
The meeting, set to take place in the Algerian coastal town of Cherchell, will be with General Charles Mast, the representative of General Henri Giraud. We saw how Giraud escaped German captivity earlier this year, before making his way to Vichy France. There, he had hoped to set the country on a less collaborationist path, but his appeals fell on deaf ears. He instead turned on the path of resistance, where the Allies got hold of him. They brought Giraud to agree to lead the French forces in North Africa following the Allied landings, or to lead ALL Allied troops, depending on who you ask. It is a serious misunderstanding in the making.
.
But why Giraud? A more prominent figure would be Admiral François Darlan. He has fallen from the front stage of Vichy French politics, making him a potential enthusiast for Allied intervention, but is still commander-in-chief of all French forces and can rely on the loyalty of his troops. However, his history as Marshal Pétain's right-hand man and prime minister makes him a painful choice for the Allies. Free French leader Charles de Gaulle would be a more obvious choice, but it is for the exact opposite reason that he is unsuitable for the job. His war against Vichy in the colonies has made him a hated character within the ranks of the Vichy French forces, whose support the Allies now seek to secure.
.
To make matters more painful for De Gaulle, he is not informed of Operation Torch for reasons of secrecy. Giraud is told that he will be notified of the operation's starting date one month in advance, but in reality, will not be told until the eve of the attack. The stage is set for a political drama.
.
Photo: General Clark on a PT boat, January 1944.
Source: National Archives
.
#Clark
...

2705 11

On 18 October 1942, Adolf Hitler issues the 'Commando Order' to his generals, ordering them to execute captured commandos on the spot. The order comes after the discovery of dead Germans with their hands tied on Sark Island following a commando raid and a document found at Dieppe ordering the shackling of German prisoners. The incidents have angered Hitler personally, leading to the issuing of the following order:
.
'For a long time now our opponents have been employing in their conduct of the war, methods which contravene the International Convention of Geneva. The members of the so-called Commandos behave in a particularly brutal and underhanded manner [...] From captured orders it emerges that they are instructed not only to tie up prisoners, but also to kill out-of-hand unarmed captives who they think might prove an encumbrance to them, or hinder them in successfully carrying out their aims.'
.
In response, 'Germany will adopt the same methods against these sabotage units of the British and their Allies; i.e. that, whenever they appear, they shall be ruthlessly destroyed by the German troops. I order, therefore:— From now on all men operating against German troops in so-called Commando raids in Europe or in Africa, are to be annihilated to the last man. This is to be carried out whether they be soldiers in uniform, or saboteurs, with or without arms; and whether fighting or seeking to escape [...].'
.
The order ends with a warning: 'I will hold all Commanders and Officers responsible under Military Law for any omission to carry out this order, whether by failure in their duty to instruct their units accordingly, or if they themselves act contrary to it.' Hitler, however, is fully aware that he is ordering a war crime and only issues twelve copies to the highest circle of the Wehrmacht. From there, it is up to the commanders to verbally pass down the order. Some will refuse to do so out of respect for the military traditions, but most will silently comply, having already grown accustomed to this new reality of war on the Eastern Front.
.
Photo: Captured British Commandos following the St. Nazaire Raid, 28 March 1942
Source: Bundesarchiv Bild 101II-MW-3717-28A
...

3208 76

On 16 October 1942, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring calls off the offensive against Malta after several days of excessive losses.
.
Five days ago, we saw how the Axis launched a final all-out effort to neutralize Malta. Kesselring assembled over 700 planes for the task, meant to prevent the island from further interfering with the Axis supply lines to Libya.
.
One of the pilots defending against the waves of German and Italian aircraft is Canadian fighter ace George 'Buzz' Beurling. Growing up in Verdun, Quebec, Beurling got his pilot license at just 16 years. Although an attempt to join the Chinese air force stranded on the United States border, he managed to enlist in the British Royal Air Force in September 1940.
.
After several uneventful months in Britain, he was finally transferred to Malta in June of this year, where he immediately saw action. It did not take long for Beurling to get accustomed either. In July, he shot down a whopping 15 enemy aircraft, followed by an additional three in the ensuing quieter months. Now, with the Axis back in the skies over Malta, he is once again in the cockpit to display his skills.
.
Beurling shoots down two German Bf 109 fighters on the eve of the air offensive and two more on the 13th, as well as a Junkers 88 bomber. However, his luck runs out the following day when he is chasing a Junkers 88. As he is emptying his cannons on the blazing bomber, he notices his colleague is being chased by an enemy Bf 109.
.
Beurling breaks off the pursuit of the Ju 88 to open fire on the fighter, but it is then that the bomber's tail gunner gets a shot on him. Bullets and flying shards riddle his body. Despite his injuries, he shoots down another Bf 109 before baling out of his aircraft. He will survive, but his flying days above Malta are over. His tally stands at 29.
.
Today, Kesselring calls off the offensive against Malta amid excessive losses. His planes will return to the Egyptian front, where an Allied attack appears to be imminent.
.
Photo: A color photo of Air Vice Marshal Keith Park’s Spitfire during a ceremonial take-off from a new airfield on Malta, May 1943.
Source: IWM, TR 745
.
#Malta #Beurling #RAF #Spitfire #Canada
...

3794 39

On 15 October 1942, the Australians move forward along the Kokoda Track, recapturing ground lost during the previous months.
.
Just over two weeks ago, we saw how a lack of supplies and reinforcements forced the Japanese to turn back on the Kokoda Track, marking the start of a grueling death march. However, by now, they have reached the high ground before Isurava, where they will try to make their stand while they wait for their fellow countrymen to achieve victory on Guadalcanal. When that has happened, they will hopefully once again receive priority from Tokyo and be sent the necessary men and materiel to resume the offensive.
.
Meanwhile, the Australians are pursuing in force. The 25th Brigade takes the lead while the 16th Brigade follows, ready to overtake the 25th when the primary Japanese defenses have been reached. However, they move slowly as their supply lines are struggling to cope, and patrols struggle to overcome the Japanese rear guards. Two such rear guards have been delaying the advance for the past three days. It isn't until today, when the bulk of the brigade catches up to reinforce, that the Japanese pull back to their next carefully prepared positions at Templeton's Crossing, the final obstacle before Isurava.
.
Meanwhile, more and more American units are starting to get involved in the New Guinean Campaign as well. They are part of the 32nd Infantry Division, which arrived in Australia back in May. Although it has far from completed its training, the division is entering the action as we speak. One of its regiments, the 128th, is now being flown into a small airfield at Wanigela to join the Australians for an advance along the coast.
.
Another regiment, the 126th, has taken to the Kapa Kapa Trail, running parallel to the Kokoda Track, to outflank the Japanese. Although the Americans are not facing any bullets or shells, they are engaged in a constant battle with the forces of mother nature, making their march, as they themselves describe it, 'one green hell'.
.
Photo: Men from the 16th Brigade moving up on the Kokoda Track, October 1942.
Source: AWM, 027056
.
#Kokoda #Australia #ANZAC #Track #Patrol #NewGuinea #Papua #Jungle #Pacific
...

2716 8

On 13 October 1942, a wolfpack of U-boats attacks an Allied convoy in the North Atlantic amid a change of strategy by commander Karl Dönitz.
.
Back in July, we saw how he decided to pull his U-boat fleet back from the United States East Coast because of the increasing effectiveness of the convoy system. He instead began concentrating his forces on the so-called Mid-Atlantic Gap, an area Allied planes cannot reach. For 1,000 miles, or 4-5 days, convoys can only rely on their escorts to protect them, and it is precisely here that Dönitz wants to inflict maximum damage with minimum losses.
.
But the results of Dönitz's change of strategy are mixed. In August and September, the Allies, for the first time, built more merchant ships than they lost. However, their shortage of tankers lingers on ever since the disastrous losses suffered in the Caribbean, leading convoys to limit their fuel use through more direct and obvious routes. Combined with the efforts of the 'B-Dienst', the German Navy's interception department, U-boats can accurately pinpoint Allied convoy routes and mount their ambushes.
.
One such ambush happens today, when Wolfpack 'Wotan' lies ready to strike at Slow Convoy 104. U-258 is the first to establish visual contact with the convoy, consisting of 48 merchants escorted by two destroyers and four corvettes. Two more U-boats join U-258 for the first attack. U-258 and U-356 are quickly driven off, but U-221 manages to slip through and sink three merchants for over 11,000 tons and 68 lives.
.
Two more U-boats join the pack for a second attack the following night. U-221 again takes the lead, sinking a 5,900-ton American freighter and a 12,400-ton whaler carrying ten landing craft. Three other U-boats each manage to sink another merchant, bringing the total losses of the second attack to five merchants and 148 crewmen.
.
The wolfpack will continue to stalk the convoy over the next days but will see no further results and lose two of their own to the Allied escorts.
.
Photo: A signalman aboard destroyer Viscount as part of SC 104, Sept/Oct 1942.
Source: IWM, A 13366
.
#Wolfpack #Uboot #Convoy #Uboat #DasBoot #Signal #Merchant #Sailor #Allies
...

2412 16

On 12 October 1942, a three-day battle between German prisoners of war and Canadian camp guards comes to an end in Bowmanville, Canada.
.
Since the beginning of the war, some 16,000 German POWs have been transferred to Canada. Although it may look like a lot of effort to ship them all across the Atlantic for internment when there's enough room for them in Britain, the British believed it was best to keep them locked away as far as possible. It would ensure no one escaped to Germany and that the invading German Army would never release their captives, a genuine threat during the days of the Battle of Britain.
.
The German POWs are living a quiet and relatively comfortable life in Canada when they suddenly become the center of a diplomatic crisis. The German government accuses the British of war crimes, stating that they shackle their prisoners of war, as proven by a written order retrieved at Dieppe and the bound bodies found on Sark earlier this month. As a reprisal, the Germans announce that they have shackled all POWs captured at Dieppe. More on this 'shackling crisis' in the upcoming War Against Humanity episode, which is already up for the TimeGhost Army members.
.
The British soon retaliate with the shackling of an equal number of prisoners, which is to be partially done in Canada, and more specifically, Bowmanville POW camp. The Canadian camp guards try to get the Germans to cooperate, but they instead get a massive revolt that spins out of control. Several shots are fired, and some prisoners are stabbed by bayonets, but no one dies. The fight is soon over, but the battle continues when around 400 POWs barricade themselves in the camp's main hall for a stand-off.
.
The siege enters its third day when, today, reinforcements arrive from a nearby commando training course. The reinforced Canadians break the windows and throw in a firehose to flush the Germans out. Thirty-five minutes and some tear gas later, the Germans lift the barricade to surrender. The Battle of Bowmanville is over, but the shackling crisis continues.
.
Photo: German POWs playing chess in Farnham, Quebec, Canada, November 1945.
Source: Library and Archives Canada / PA-213875
.
#Canada #POW
...

2979 20

On 11 October 1942, the Axis launch one more aerial offensive against Malta to get rid of this strategic thorn in their side. The last time we heard of besieged Malta was back in August when a convoy came to its relief in Operation Pedestal. Heavy losses were suffered in the operation, but enough supplies made it through to keep the island in the fight for the months to come.
.
Since then, Malta has retaken the initiative against Erwin Rommel's supply lines. Submarines and aircraft are once again roaming the Central Mediterranean to impede Axis shipping to Libya. Aided by Ultra intelligence intercepts, the British can accurately pinpoint and target enemy convoys, with impressive results. While tonnage sunk in July was just 6,339, that number grew to 50,062 tons in August. A massive escort effort reduced Axis convoy losses to 22,041 tons in September, but this month, things are already looking toward another big loss of around 40,000 tons.
.
The shaky supply lines have direct and dire consequences in the field for Rommel and his forces. He lacks the fuel to carry out large armored maneuvers, meaning that an offensive is out of the question. However, he knows that the Allies will not sit still for much longer and are bound to strike sooner or later. Commander in Chief South, Albert Kesselring, knows this too and looks to his 2nd Air Fleet to again make a difference as they did during the spring. He has once again gathered a powerful force of over 700 bombers and fighters to neutralize Malta and restore Rommel's supply lines before the inevitable Allied offensive comes.
.
However, this time, Kesselring's air force is no longer facing an outgunned opponent. The convoys and 'club runs' have bolstered the Royal Air Force's strength, and they now stand ready to intercept. When the sudden order to scramble rings out after several dull months, the RAF's pilots clamber into their cockpits to meet the enemy wave out at sea. The day is a success for the Allies. Only a few Axis planes make it through to Malta, where the damage is insignificant.
.
Photo: An Italian air crew ready for take-off, Sicily, Spring 1942.
Source: ACS, 40189
.
#Malta #RAF #Luftwaffe #Aeronautica
...

2982 25

On 9 October 1942, American Marines inflict a costly defeat on the Japanese in the jungles of Guadalcanal. Yesterday, we saw how the Americans advanced across the Matanikau River and infiltrated the Japanese rear to create a pocket. The Japanese meanwhile stayed put, oblivious to the approaching threat.
.
But while the Japanese command stays mostly idle, the American one is anxiously looking to its intelligence where worrying reports are coming in. Aerial reconnaissance has revealed that the Japanese are massing serious troop concentrations and naval power at Rabaul, indicating an imminent attack on the Lunga Perimeter. General Alexander Vandegrift, therefore, orders the units involved in the Matanikau operation to return to the river's east bank after having cleared the west instead of establishing themselves on the opposite shore.
.
Following the order, the Marines begin clearing the west bank that they have now enveloped. One portion of the force pushes straight for Matanikau village on the coast, where part of the Japanese defenses are trapped and eliminated. However, the most significant fight is happening on the extreme flank, where Colonel ‘Chesty’ Puller's battalion makes the widest enveloping move.
.
His men encounter a densely vegetated valley where a Japanese battalion has dug in. Puller orders his men to take up position on the adjoining ridges overlooking the valley before calling in artillery support to blast the Japanese out. The devastating bombardment forces the Japanese to clamber up the exposed slopes, where they are met by a hail of machine gun fire. With the bodies piling up and nowhere to go, the valley has truly become, as Puller puts it, 'a machine for extermination'.
.
By the end of the operation, the Japanese count 690 dead, a heavy blow that does not spell good for the upcoming offensive. The Marines lose 65 men and suffer another 125 wounded. Although the change of orders means that the west bank remains in Japanese hands, the operation has succeeded in clearing the bridgeheads on the east bank, complicating Japanese plans for their upcoming offensive.
.
Photo: Chesty Puller on Guadalcanal, September 1942
Source: Public Domain
...

2871 8

On 8 October 1942, United States Marines open the attack on Japan's Matanikau River positions on Guadalcanal. Only two weeks ago, we saw how a poorly planned patrol across the river ended in an American disaster with high and unnecessary casualty rates. However, the operation did reveal that there are sizeable Japanese units across the Matanikau poised to strike in the opposite direction. Now, the Americans are out to repeat the mission in a more coordinated effort.
.
On the 7th, five battalions move out toward the Matanikau. They encounter stiff resistance by an advanced Japanese company as they march along the coast but manage to push it back and trap it on the river's east bank. When night falls, the Japanese try to break out of the pocket with a frenzied charge. One Marine, Frank Guidone, describes the resulting confrontation:
.
'The fight was hours of hell. There was yelling, screams of the wounded and dying; rifle firing and machine guns with tracers piercing the night—[a] combination of fog, smoke, and the natural darkness. Truly an arena of death. I remember vividly looking seaward from my foxhole and seeing the Japanese tangled up in our barb wire while our machine guns cut them to pieces. I was on a patrol the next morning and viewed the bodies of our slain mortar men— most of them were killed in their foxholes— bayoneted and knifed. They were armed with pistols, and were killed as they filed in to fill the gap we had in our line.'
.
But while one part of the force deals with the Japanese pocket, the other swings around to the south to fry bigger fish. The Marines cross the Matanikau south of the main Japanese positions and begin infiltrating their rear. They do not reach the coast behind the Japanese just yet today amid heavy rains, but can be expected to complete the encirclement tomorrow.
.
Meanwhile, the Japanese commanders fail to realize the imminent danger and keep their troops in place. Tomorrow, they will wake up to a nasty surprise.
.
Photo: Marines moving through the jungle on Guadalcanal.
Source: U.S. Signal Corps Archive
.
#Guadalcanal #USMC #Marine #Jungle #March #Combat #Japan #USA #Matanikau #Solomons
...

2576 5

On 7 October 1942, the German U-boat fleet catches the Allies by surprise off the South African coast. When we last took a look at the tonnage war in the Atlantic, Admiral Karl Dönitz ordered his U-boats to withdraw from the American East Coast in the face of stiffening resistance. The focus shifted back to the mid-Atlantic, where the Germans began concentrating their forces against the convoys to Britain.
.
This was to happen, however, in conjunction with diversionary operations on new horizons. One such unexplored horizon is the virgin water before South Africa, where no concerted raiding effort has taken place yet. Raiding those waters would disrupt a vital Allied shipping link to the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. The timing of the move is somewhat odd, though, as Erwin Rommel's forces are in no position to make use of a shaky Allied supply line, and the Allied build-up of strength for a new offensive is near completion.
.
Still, even if the disruption of Allied shipping can't have an immediate impact, it will force the Allied navies to further split their forces and implement a convoy system around the Cape. The operation, codenamed 'Eisbär', or 'Polar Bear', therefore relies on secrecy and surprise. This essential prerequisite was nearly compromised during the Laconia Incident of last month, which involved the U-boats earmarked for Polar Bear. The Germans would have to wait and see if the Allies could connect the dots and implement countermeasures before their arrival.
.
When U-172 reaches Cape Town early today, they have their answer. Through their periscope, they can see a lone 6,000-ton merchant trodding along with its navigation lights burning. The unsuspecting American 'Chickasaw City' becomes the first casualty of Operation Polar Bear, followed by the 5,000-ton Panamanian 'Firethorn'.
.
U-172 and its cronies will sink 15 ships during the next five days, good for a staggering 108,070 tons. The war has found its way to yet another corner of the world.
.
Photo: German U-boats meeting up in the North Atlantic, June 1942.
Source: NAC, 2-2547
.
#Uboot #DasBoot #Uboat #Navy #Submarine #Captain #Maritime #Naval #War #SouthAfrica #CapeTown
...

2652 9

On 6 October 1942, Soviet female fighter pilots shatter all previous assumptions about women's performance in battle. Upon the outbreak of war in the Soviet Union in June of last year, many women with experience in aviation queued up for service, only to be sent home by authorities reluctant to enroll women into the forces. It wasn't until the efforts of Marina Raskova that things began to change.
.
Raskova became a national celebrity after her long-distance flight record across the country, after which she became the first woman to receive the Hero of the Soviet Union award. Using her fame, she managed to pressure the authorities into allowing the formation of an all-woman air corps composed of three air regiments: the 586th fighters, the 587th bombers, and the 588th night bombers.
.
Among the first to enroll were Lidiya Litvyak, nicknamed Lilya, and Yekaterina Budanova, nicknamed Katya. Both come from a modest background but managed to enter the world of aviation during the 1930s, during which they became successful flight instructors.
.
In September 1942, the two pilots and friends are sent to Stalingrad to see their first combat as part of a regular male air regiment. They bring their own Yak-1 fighter planes and their trusted mechanics along to their new homes, where they are immediately welcomed by a German air raid.
.
Only three days later, Lilya gets her chance to take revenge as she covers her regiment's commander in an attack on a formation of German Ju 88 bombers. She manages to shoot down one of the Ju 88's and an escorting Bf 109 fighter plane in the engagement, making her the first-ever woman to shoot down an enemy aircraft in combat.
.
While Lilya is well on her way to becoming the first female fighter ace, Katya also does not fail to deliver. She shoots down her first German plane today and will continue to rake up aerial victories with Lilya over the ruins of Stalingrad.
.
Photo: Katya and Lilya, 1943.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
.
#Aviation #Soviet #Woman #Female #Feminism #Airforce #USSR #Soviet #SovietUnion #Stalingrad #Fighter #Ace #Pilot #Aircraft
...

3915 28

On 5 October 1942, thousands of innocent lives come to an abrupt end at the end of a gun barrel. Although the death factories are already operating at full capacity, the SS Einsatzgruppen continue to roam the occupied east in search of communities to slaughter. Today, German engineer Hermann Graebe witnesses one such slaughter at the town of Dubno. He provides the following harrowing account:
.
'I watched a family of about eight, a man and a woman, both about fifty, with their children, aged about one, eight and ten, and two grown-up daughters of about twenty to twenty-four. An old woman with snow-white hair was holding the one-year-old child in her arms, singing something to it and tickling it. The child was crowing with delight. The man and wife were looking on with tears in their eyes. The father was holding the hand of a boy of about ten, speaking to him softly. The boy was fighting back his tears. The father pointed to the sky, stroked the boy's head and seemed to explain something to him.'
[...]
'I walked to the other side of the mound and found myself standing before an enormous grave. The people lay so closely packed, one on top of the other, that only their heads were visible. [...] Some of them were still moving. Some lifted an arm and turned a head to show that they were still alive. [...] I looked round for the man who had shot them. He was an SS man, who was sitting on the edge of the narrow end of the pit, his legs dangling into it. He had a submachine gun across his knees and was smoking a cigarette.'
.
'The people, completely naked, went down some steps [...] and climbed over the heads of those already lying there, to the place indicated by the SS man. They laid down in front of the dead or injured people. Some of them caressed those who were still alive and spoke to them softly. Then I heard a series of shots. I looked into the pit and saw that the bodies were twitching or that the heads lay motionless on top of the bodies which lay before them.'
.
By the end of the day, around 5,000 lives have been cut short in the pits of Dubno.
.
Photo: A group of women and children before their execution, Mizocz, 14 October 1942.
Source: Yad Vashem, 103211
...

3491 145

On 4 October 1942, the Germans win a pyrrhic victory against the Soviets on the doorstep of Leningrad. Last time we took a look at the Soviet Sinyavino offensive, meant to break the Siege of Leningrad, the Tiger Tank made an unimpressive combat debut amid an otherwise successful German counterattack against the Soviet penetration.
.
The German assault from both the north and south succeeds in shutting the door behind the Soviet salient, trapping parts of the 8th Army and the 2nd Shock Army. Yes, the very same 2nd Shock Army that was destroyed in the spring of this year in the marshes of the Volkhov under the leadership of Andrey Vlasov.
.
But as we saw earlier with the 2nd Shock Army, just closing the pocket does not mean the fight is over. Erich von Manstein describes his way of dealing with the encirclement: 'Eleventh Army brought over the greatest possible concentration of artillery from the Leningrad front in order to subject the pocket to around-the-clock bombardment. In the space of only a few days this shelling, supplemented by repeated attacks by the Luftwaffe, had turned the forest area into a pock-marked wilderness relieved only by the stumps of what had recently been giant trees.'
.
On the receiving end, a Soviet officer writes in his diary: 'All the time the artillery is hammering the forest, which had been untouched for centuries. It has been battered out of recognition. Our native soil is churned up, wounded. Everything that adorned it has been shattered and turned to dust [...] We all stand in expectation of annihilation. [...] We are trying to find a way out, like a mouse in a trap. But wherever one probes forward, the hole is blocked. One slight increase in enemy pressure and all will be overrun.'
.
By today, the pocket has been mostly eliminated, and the battle can be regarded as over. The Soviets have suffered heavily, with over 100,000 casualties in under two months and little ground to show for. However, the Germans also lose 26,000 men in their defensive operations, thwarting their plans to deal with Leningrad once and for all.
.
Photo: Two Soviet Marine snipers in a trench before Leningrad, 1942.
Source: Boris Vasyutinsky
.
#Sniper #Marine
...

3439 14

On 3 October 1942, British commandos raid the Channel Island of Sark in Operation Basalt. The Channel Islands have been under occupation for well over two years now and remain the only part of the British Isles to have fallen to the Germans.
.
On the tiny island of Sark, one of the last medieval fiefs of Europe, German soldiers have become part of everyday life as well. However, the occupation is a soft one, with the Germans behaving properly and the islanders treating them more like tourists than an oppressive authority.
.
The peace and quiet won't last long anymore, though, as Special Operations Executive plans to raid the place in an attempt to figure out what's going on at Sark and to keep its garrison on edge. In Operation 'Basalt', twelve men from No. 62 Commando are to get in by sea, kill a couple of Germans, take a couple of prisoners, and head back before dawn.
.
In the early hours of today, a motor launch brings the commandos ashore. The men begin sneaking about, uncertain where to look for the Germans. When they break into a random house, they encounter a sleepy Mrs. Frances Pittard who thinks the blackened faces in her living room must be firemen. Upon learning of their true identity, Mrs. Pittard is quick to provide her assistance, pointing the gentlemen to the German quarters just down the road.
.
Having reached their target, the commandos stab the guard and sneak into the building where the others are sleeping. Five Germans are roused from their beds, tied up, and hurried outside. However, the commandos lose control of the situation when the bound prisoners decide to make a run for it. The commandos open fire, killing two and losing two more before returning to their boat with just one prisoner.
.
The shooting of the tied-up prisoners can be a considered a war crime, and when news of the incident reaches Hitler, he will be infuriated. It will lead him to label commandos as bandits who need to be handled as such. We can expect an official order regarding the treatment of commando prisoners to go out soon.
.
Photo: A British policeman holds open the car door for the German commander of the Channel Islands, Guernsey, 1940-45.
Source: IWM, HU 3616
...

2864 47

On 2 October 1942, British troopship Queen Mary collides with cruiser Curacoa, killing hundreds. The 80,000-ton RMS Queen Mary had been an ocean liner before the war with a remarkable top speed of 28,5 knots (52,8 km/h or 32.8 mph) until she was converted into a troopship. Today, she finds herself transporting over 10,000 American troops from the 29th Infantry Division to Britain for service in the European theater.
.
Instead of depending on a large convoy to get the human cargo across, Queen Mary travels the biggest part of the journey across the Atlantic alone, relying on her speed to outrun lurking U-boats. It is only for the last part of the journey, where German long-distance bombers are within range, that Queen Mary receives help from the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Curacoa.
.
Since Curacoa can't keep up with Queen Mary, she stays ahead of the troopship and lets it gradually overtake her to give maximum protection. Meanwhile, Queen Mary adheres to her zigzag to not give waiting U-boats a chance to calculate her course. When the two ships close in on each other in the early afternoon, Curacoa decides to keep straight ahead, relying on Queen Mary, the overtaking vessel, to make way. However, Queen Mary also does not budge from its zigzag course, expecting Curacoa, the escorting vessel, to make way for the convoy as usual during wartime.
.
Both ships do not change their course until it's too late. Queen Mary hits Curacoa on its port side at top speed, slicing right through the cruiser. The aft end sinks immediately, taking with it hundreds of sailors who are still below decks. The front half stays afloat a little longer before sinking as well. Those that manage to abandon ship cling onto the floating debris, expecting Queen Mary to mount a rescue effort. To their horror, Queen Mary steams on uninterrupted, adhering to her strict orders to keep moving at all times to avoid U-boats.
.
When two destroyers arrive at the scene two hours later, only 99 men out of an original complement of 430 are still alive. The accident will be kept a secret from the public until the end of the war.
.
Photo: American troops before Queen Mary, 1946.
Source: Nationaal Archief
...

2868 32

On 1 October 1942, the Japanese leave hundreds of British prisoners to drown following an American submarine attack. In the last days of 1941, we saw how the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong fell to Japanese forces, along with over 10,000 Allied soldiers. At first, they were quartered locally in various camps, but now the Japanese have finally found a new use for them as forced laborers back in the homeland.
.
Over 1,800 British prisoners of war are to make the voyage aboard the Lisbon Maru, a 7,000-ton troopship, where they are crammed into the cargo space. They receive sufficient food and water but seriously lack adequate sanitary facilities. The stench soon becomes unbearable in the hot and dark holds, where the prisoners are literally sleeping in each other's excreta.
.
It is this hell ship that appears in submarine USS Grouper's periscope during the early hours of today, just off the Chinese coast near Shanghai. With no markings to indicate her cargo, Grouper fires a salvo of torpedoes toward Lisbon Maru. Three torpedoes miss their target, but the fourth slams into the ship, causing the Lisbon Maru to start sinking.
.
Japanese ships are quick to arrive on the scene and get their fellow countrymen off, but they leave the hatches to the cargo hold shut, trapping the prisoners below. When the Brits finally break out of the hold and escape the sinking vessel, the Japanese suddenly open fire on them, leaving them no option for survival. When the ship slips beneath the water's surface, many are still trapped inside. They can be heard singing the famous 'It's a Long Way to Tipperary' during their final moments.
.
When the Japanese have long gone, Chinese fishermen from the nearby islands rush to the scene to mount a rescue operation. Together, they manage to save hundreds of survivors from Lisbon Maru's debris, which they bring back to their villages. During the following days, the Japanese will come by to pick them all up again. It will then be revealed that 846 have perished in the disaster.
.
Photo: British prisoners of war marching to captivity in Hong Kong, 29 December 1941.
Source: IWM, HU 2779
.
#Prisoner #Ship #Sinking #Disaster #Maru #Crime #Japan #Navy
...

2947 30

On 30 September 1942, one of the Luftwaffe's leading fighter aces and probably its most skilled pilot plummets to his death. His name is Hans Joachim Marseille, also known as the 'Star of Africa', for it is there that he makes a legendary name for himself.
.
When we last shed light on the promising pilot back in February, Marseille had just surpassed the 50-victory mark, earning him the Knight's Cross. Since then, his career within the Luftwaffe has rapidly accelerated as he perfected his craft, making him the youngest 'Hauptmann' (captain) in the Luftwaffe at just 22 years and the fourth ever to be awarded Diamonds to his Knight's Cross.
.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is fully aware of Marseille's worth as a warrior and an icon for the troops under his command. The two met earlier this month, but Marseille kindly refused an invitation from Rommel to join him to Berlin to meet with Hitler. Marseille is not at all impressed by the Nazi ideology or the Führer, who he already met earlier this year and who he daringly treated to American Jazz on the piano. The racial theory of Nazism also doesn't stick with him, befriending South African prisoner of war Mathew Letuku, who he has taken under his protection as his personal helper.
.
However, Marseille is also starting to lose friends in the battles over the desert, where the Allies are gaining in strength. The daily sorties are having an effect on his nerves, and he is beginning to show signs of exhaustion. Today, he climbs into his cockpit once more to lead his squadron on a mission to escort dive bombers to the battlefield.
.
On the way back from the routine mission, his cockpit starts to fill with smoke from his faulty engine, blinding his vision completely. Marseille's wingmen guide him back to friendly lines, where he ditches the plane. However, during the ejection, he hits the tail of his aircraft, knocking him out. His comrades watch in horror as his body plummets to the desert floor, with no parachute opening. The Star of Africa, good for 158 aerial victories, is no more.
.
Photo: A portrait of Hans-Joachim Marseille, 3 September 1942.
Source: Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2006-0122
.
#Ace #Luftwaffe #Marseille #Pilot
...

4262 127

On 29 September 1942, the fighting for Rzhev winds down after two months of immense carnage. While the Germans on the southern wing of the front obsessively hurl themselves at Stalingrad, things are the other way around a couple of thousand kilometers further upstream on the Volga River. There, the Red Army continues to shove its soldiers into the Rzhev meatgrinder to wrest the city from German control.
.
When we last looked at the Battle of Rzhev, Georgy Zhukov was still in charge of the operation. However, he has now left for Stalingrad in his new position as Deputy Commander in Chief, leaving Ivan Konev to oversee the offensive. He immediately halts the attacks on the eastern wing of the operation toward Gzhatsk and focuses all his efforts on taking the big prize: Rzhev.
.
The fighting for the city's outskirts is horribly fierce. Waves of Soviet infantry keep crashing into the fortified German lines, where they are mowed down by machine-gun and artillery fire. Footsoldier Boris Gorbachevsky writes of such an attack: 'A growing, destructive fire sweeps up and down the attacking lines with a storm of machine-gun fire. The hoarse coughing of mortars follows the machine guns. Artillery starts to roar. Enormous geysers of earth toss the living and the dead high into the air. Thousands of shell splinters, like poisonous hornets, rip into the men, tearing bodies and the earth.'
[...]
'"Forward! Forward!" shout the officers who are still alive, many just before dropping dead among their own soldiers. The men are mechanically moving forward, and many are dying – but we now no longer belong to ourselves; we have all been seized by the incomprehensibly savage element of battle. Shell bursts, shell fragments and bullets are sweeping away the infantry lines, shredding the living and the dead.'
.
Gorbachevsky is swept down by a bullet down later that day but lives to tell us the tale. He is one of the 300,000 Soviets to lose their life or limb in an offensive that has failed to meet any of its ultimate objectives. The Germans lose less than a quarter of that number.
.
Photo: Civilians returning to their village near Rzhev, 8 September 1942.
Source: Mikhail Savin
.
#Rzhev
...

2850 23

On 27 September 1942, American Marines pull back after a costly battle on Guadalcanal's Matanikau River. Back on the 24th, we saw how a battalion of Marines under Colonel 'Chesty' Puller set out to patrol the area west of the Lunga perimeter but stumbled upon an organized enemy.
.
Following that engagement, another battalion reinforces Puller to march down the Matanikau. Having reached the Matanikau's mouth on the coast, Puller's battalions begin forcing a crossing. However, they again meet solid Japanese defenses on the west bank. Another battalion, the 1st Marine Raiders, arrives to try and establish a bridgehead at the one-log bridge further south, but they too encounter fierce Japanese resistance and suffer heavy casualties.
.
Amid a Japanese air raid, only garbled messages describing the situation on the Matanikau reach the divisional headquarters' signal set, leading to the false assumption that the attack is proceeding well. In an overly ambitious attempt to cut the Japanese route of retreat off, orders go out for an amphibious landing behind enemy lines.
.
The three companies of Marines land this same day and quickly move land inward to hit the Japanese from behind. However, it does not take long for them to realize that they're facing anything but a broken foe and soon find themselves encircled behind enemy lines. Without any way of communicating with their headquarters, the Marines notify friendly planes flying above of their fate by spelling out 'HELP' using their white undershirts.
.
In a desperate effort to save the isolated Marines, destroyer Monssen and several landing craft make for the beach under heavy fire. Monssen begins laying down a barrage of fire for the Marines to advance behind toward the beach, where Coast Guardsmen defend the perimeter using their craft's machine guns. It is here that Coast Guardsman Douglas Albert Munro will be the first and last Coast Guardsman to earn a Medal of Honor.
.
The costly evacuation brings the American casualties up to 60 killed and 100 wounded. The Japanese losses are unknown but most likely considerably lighter.
.
Photo: A Coast Guard-manned landing craft, New Britain, 1943-1945.
Source: US Coast Guard
...

2965 23

On 26 September 1942, Adolf Hitler sends Danish King Christian X. a telegram congratulating him on his 72nd birthday. King Christian is still in Copenhagen, where he and the Danish government still function albeit under German occupation. Here, the government led by PM Vilhelm Buhl has been mostly cooperative with the Nazis so far, albeit more out of fear than will. The king, though, is far more rebellious. He, and especially his daily horse rides through Copenhagen, have made him a unifying symbol for the Danish population against the German yoke.
.
King Christian continues his rebellious course today, answering the most powerful man in Europe with a simple note: ‘Giving my best thanks, King Christian’. This note comes at a sore spot. Hitler has become more and more annoyed with his northern neighbor – especially as the Danish resistance is beginning to make themselves felt. Upon reading King Christian’s reply, Hitler is fuming with rage.
.
Hitler immediately recalls his ambassador in Copenhagen while sending the Danish ambassador in Berlin packing as well. Prime Minister Vilhelm Buhl fears a complete German military takeover and begins preparing for such. The situation further worsens, when a fall from his horse in a couple of weeks will leave the aging Danish king more or less invalid for the rest of his reign.
.
Vilhelm Buhl manages to evade catastrophe, though. After a month of heavy German pressure and negotiations, he will resign. Veteran diplomat Erik Scavenius will replace him on November 9. A birthday note will then have toppled a whole government.
.
Photo: King Christian X riding his horse through Copenhagen, 1940.
Source: National Museum of Denmark
.
#Denmark #ChristianX #Christian #Danish #Copenhagen #King #Danmark #Occupation #Horse #Riding #Birthday #Government #Politics #War #PM #OTD
...

3902 20

On 25 September 1942, British bombers hit the Norwegian capital of Oslo to inspire its populace to resist the Germans. Since its fall in 1940, Norway has been primarily making the headlines as the target of Allied commando raids, the last being Operation Musketoon earlier this week. Today, however, it's not commandos but planes that raid Norway at the very heart of the country: Oslo.
.
The aircraft in question are four 'Mosquito' light bombers. Although it has not yet been revealed to the public, the Mosquito has been in service for nearly a year now, distinguishing itself through its remarkable speed. Its range is excellent as well, as the Mosquito will prove in today's mission, which takes it nearly 900 kilometers (560 mi) over the North Sea and back.
.
The target is Oslo, Norway's capital which is now swarming with German uniforms. More specifically, the Mosquitos are to hit the Gestapo's office, which has established itself in the 'Victoria Terrasse' building right next to the royal palace. Asides from destroying the Gestapo's headquarters to bolster morale among the Norwegians, the raid is also planned to coincide with a rally by collaborationist Vidkun Quisling's 'Nasjonal Samling' party just around the corner.
.
Today, the four Mosquitos take off from Leuchars, Scotland, to make their journey across the North Sea. They fly right above the water's surface to not attract any intercepting German fighters. Upon reaching Norway, two German fighters do appear, which manage to shoot down one of the Mosquitos but then lose their targets. Having found the Gestapo's office, the three British planes release their 500-pound (225 kg) bombs with a delayed fuse to give the low-flying planes a second to escape from the blast.
.
The bombs fail to destroy the Gestapo's office but do some significant damage. However, the damage is greater across the street, where civilian flats are badly hit and several stories wholly leveled. Some 80 Norwegian civilians are killed or injured in the attack, which does little to boost morale and angers the government in exile.
.
Photo: A formation of Mark II Mosquitos, 1940-45.
Source: IWM, CH 9474
.
#Oslo #Norge #Mosquito #RAF #Gestapo
...

3166 29