SECOND WORLD WAR April 1942

SECOND WORLD WAR April 1942

(Britain)

The Royal Air Force (RAF) sustained their campaign of strategic bombing of Germany when Cologne was attacked by 263 aircraft on the 5th April 1942. Cologne was chosen because it was within range of the recently introduced radio navigation GEE system. Bomber Command had preferred Hamburg which had a large industrial centre of shipyards, U-boat pens and oil refineries. However, Hamburg was attacked on the 8th April 1942, when a total of 272 aircraft carried out the largest raid to date on a single target with the loss of five aircraft. On another raid on the 17th April 1942 the RAF lost eight aircraft out of 173 which had started 75 separate fires. Rostock’s ocean port was a favourite target for air attacks by the RAF because it was easy to find off the Baltic Sea. The Heinkel aircraft factory was one of the prime war industries that was targeted. From the 24th to 27th April 1942 the city was heavily bombed for four nights in a row.

(Germany)

German public opinion demanded heavy reprisal attacks against British cities following successful RAF raids on Cologne, Hamburg and Rostock. German Führer Adolf Hitler was enraged and on the 14th April 1942 he ordered the Luftwaffe to retaliate. On the same day the Luftwaffe began planning for the “Baedeker Blitz” as a tit-for-tat series of raids to try to persuade the RAF to reconsider the bombing of Germany. The plans proposed selecting cities for their cultural and historical significance rather than their military value. The “Baedeker Blitz” was thought to be influenced by the “Baedeker Guide” which was a reference to the popular travel guide at the time. The first raid was directed against Exeter on the 23rd April 1942 which caused minimal damage. On the 24th April 1942 Exeter was again attacked with over 80 fatalities. The Luftwaffe caused widespread damage and approximately 400 casualties when they attacked Bath on both the 25th and 26th April 1942. Norwich was the next to be attacked on the 27th April 1942 causing 67 deaths from the 90 tons of bombs dropped. 0n the 28th April 1942 York was attacked causing 79 deaths but limited damage.

On the 5th April 1942 Hitler issued Führer Directive 41 for the summer offensive in Russia on the Eastern Front. The directive summarised the goals of “Operation Blue” (Fall Blau). Commander General Friedrich Paulus would lead the assault of The Sixth Army on Stalingrad. Hitler set the date for the capture of the city as being the 25th August 1942.

Anton Schmid was executed by the Germans on the 13th April 1942 for saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Schmid was born in Vienna, Austria, in January 1900 and was brought up as a devout Roman Catholic and was an electrician by profession. He was drafted into the German Army in September 1939 but because of his age he was basically a civilian in uniform. In August 1941 he was transferred to Vilnius, the German occupied zone of the Soviet Union, where he was employed by reassigning German soldiers separated from their units. In September 1941 he witnessed the execution of 3,700 Jews in the Ponary Massacre. Schmid did not set out to help Jews in the Ghettos but because of their appeals for help his rescue actions began by his helping the Jewish resistance movement. He was arrested in January 1942 and at his trial he was found guilty and executed on the 13th April 1942. It is thought he managed to save an estimated 250-300 Jews but because his trial records did not survive, who denounced him or what offenses he was charged with will never be known.

On the 17th April 1942, French General Henri Giraud, who was captured in 1940, escaped from a castle prison at Königstein, Germany. He made his escape by lowering himself down the castle wall and jumping on a moving train, which takes him to the French border. Hitler, outraged, ordered Giraud’s murder upon being caught, but the French General was able to make it to North Africa via a British submarine. He joined the French Free Forces under General Charles de Gaulle and eventually helped to build the French army.

The German Ministry of Aviation had proposed a scheme whereby long range bombers were capable of attacking America from Germany and using the Azores as a transit airfield should be built. The finalised thirty-three page draught for the German Amerikabomber design competition was completed on the 27th April 1942. Ten copies of the proposal were available for submission, however, these plans were abandoned as too expensive.

Hitler summoned Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and Italian Foreign Minister Ciano Puch to Salzburg on the 29th April 1942. The conference enabled the two leaders to discuss the strategy of the Axis Powers in the Mediterranean and the Eastern Front. When the problem of manpower reinforcements was discussed, Mussolini agreed to send Italian troops to the Eastern Front. The outline plan for the invasion of Malta was discussed. The concept of an invasion, codenamed Operation Herkules, was approved. A mid-July 1942 date was set for the invasion but was postponed because the commanders of the Army, Navy and Airforce were not in agreement. Eventually the plan was cancelled.

(America)

By the 1st April 1942, owing to the shortage of frigates and corvettes acting as suitable escort vessels, the U.S. was slow to adopt the convoy system. When Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. in December 1941 the Axis submarines entered the “Second Happy Time”. This period saw the submarines attacking Allied vessels and merchant shipping along the Eastern Seaboard of America. The only problem for the Axis submarines was that the patrol period in U.S. waters was only a couple of weeks. After that they had to conserve sufficient fuel to return home across the Atlantic. The “Second Happy Time” lasted until about August 1942 whereby they sank 609 ships totalling 3.1 million tons for the loss of only 22 U-boats. This period equated to approximately one quarter of all Allied shipping losses during the whole of the Second World War.

The Pacific War Council was formed on the 1st April 1942 in Washington DC, and consisted of representatives from America, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and China to control the Allied war effort in the Pacific and Asian Campaigns. The council never had any direct operational control following the closing down of the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM) in February 1942.  However, any decisions made were referred to the combined U.S.-British Chiefs of Staff. The United States government had effective control and strategy in the Pacific war owing to the sheer volume of military materials it was supplying to the Allies. By the time the Pacific War Council was formed there were relatively few U.S. forces in the Pacific but that would soon change.

When America entered the war in December 1941, the Wickes Class Destroyer USS Roper was part of the Atlantic Fleet. In early February 1942 she completed a convoy escort to Londonderry, Ireland then returned to the American east coast for patrol and escort duties. Whilst on patrol, off the coast of North Carolina, during the night of the 13th/14th April 1942 Roper closed on an unknown contact to establish its identity. The contact was the surfaced German U-boat U85. A torpedo fired by U85 missed Roper and the ensuring chase ended with the sinking of U85 by gun fire. Fearing a second U-boat attack, Roper delayed rescue operations until daybreak. U85 lost twenty-nine sailors who were buried with full military honours at Hampton National Cemetery, Virginia. USS Roper was the first U.S. naval vessel to sink a German U-boat in the war. Roper’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Hamilton W. Howe received the Navy Cross for this engagement. Roper served in three theatres of war for which he received Battle Stars. The Atlantic Campaign with one star, the European/African/Middle East Campaign with two stars and the Asiatic/Pacific Campaign with one star. The Battle Star was an award issued to U.S. Navy ships for participating in the various theatres of war. Very few U.S. Navy ships were awarded with at least three Battle Stars.

The U.S. Government promulgated black-out restrictions on the Eastern Sea Frontier of the USA on the 18th April 1942. The U.S. Naval Command were concerned that the bright lights on the seafront would create silhouettes of Allied supply ships making them vulnerable targets for German U-boats. Street lights were to be covered in order to only allow a small light to be cast straight down. All bright lights on the seaward side were to be switched off or screened so as not to be visible directly from the sea up to a range of two miles.

(Mediterranean)

April 1942 was a devastating month for Malta. Force “K” was the name of three separate British Royal Navy task forces. The first task force operated against Axis commerce raiders and to intercept their efforts to stop Malta’s supply ships. The second task force operated against Axis convoys sailing from Italy to Libya. Sustained Axis air attacks led to Force “K” being reduced and on the 8th April 1942 the last ship of the force was withdrawn. Malta desperately needed more fighters to combat the Axis air attacks. The lack of supplies to the island meant that food rations were almost depleted and the population on the brink of starvation. Fuel and military resources were running out to add to the misery. A hand written letter from King George VI to the island’s Governor Lieutenant-General Sir William Dobie dated the 15th April 1942 awarded the island of Malta the George Cross for “heroism and devotion”. The letter read, “To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the island fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history. George RI”. Dobie’s reply sent on the 20th April 1942 to Churchill was seen to be a defeatist message. The message was that “By God’s help Malta will not weaken but will endure until victory is won”.

In an effort to sustain Malta’s air defences a further 47 Spitfires flew onto the island on the 20th April 1942. United States Navy aircraft carrier USS Wasp had joined the British Home Fleet in early April 1942 and departed Glasgow on the 13th April 1942 with the 47 Spitfires on board. This was the first of two deliveries to Malta. Wasp with her British escorting vessels passed through the Straits of Gibraltar on the 19th/20th April 1942. Eleven Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters patrolled over Wasp whilst the Spitfires took off and headed for Malta. With the Spitfires safely launched Wasp retired toward Gibraltar. However, efficient Axis intelligence tracked the Spitfires to their destination. Heavy German air raids destroyed many Spitfires whilst on the ground before they were ready for combat. As a result Wasp was required to make a second ferry to Malta in May 1942.

Field Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck, nicknamed “The Auk”, was Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East Theatre based in Cairo. “The Auk’s” responsibilities also included Persia and the Middle East as well as the Desert War in North Africa. After the besieged garrison of Tobruk was relieved and German General Rommel’s army had withdrawn to El Agheilla in December 1941, The “Auk” appeared to have believed the enemy had been defeated. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was desperate for some sort of British victory over the Axis Powers. On the 14th April 1942 he sent a telegram to Cairo for Auchinleck to take the offensive in North Africa.

(Pacific)

The American 164th Infantry Regiment of the North Dakota National Guard, or Task Force 6814, joined the Allied forces on New Caledonia. Task Force 6814 had departed New York and in early April 1942 arrived at Noumea, New Caledonia. Task Force 6814 prepared quickly for debarkation and were rapidly transferred into smaller vessels for the trip ashore and were then dispersed inland. New Caledonia, a French territory, was a critical stop on the supply route to Australia. The French and Australian defences were minimal and Task Force 6814 were there to defend the island from possible Japanese attack. The Japanese were keen to overcome the island because of the harbour, an airfield and it had natural war materials. The raw materials consisted of nickel, chromium and iron as well as an abundance of tropical fruit, timber and a substantial meat and fish canning industry. With the arrival of Task Force 6814 the Japanese were denied the occupation of the island.

With the Japanese having overwhelmed the Philippine islands the only Allied stronghold was the Bataan Peninsula and the island of Corregidor. On the 4th March 1942 President Franklin D, Roosevelt ordered General Douglas MacArthur to evacuate the Philippines. The command of the renamed United States Forces in the Philippines (USFIP) was handed over to Lieutenant General Jonathon Mayhew Wainwright IV. The American and Filipino forces manged to fight off the Japanese in a fighting retreat despite the lack of supplies. By the 2nd April 1942 Japanese troops had trapped them on the Orian-Bagac Line. The Japanese all-out assault on Bataan began on 3rd April 1942 when the air force bombed the stronghold with the assistance of 3,000 artillery pieces. By the 5th April 1942 Japanese forces overwhelmed Mt. Samat but the defenders still resisted. The American forces attempted a last offensive on the Japanese on the 8th April 1942. On the same day the U.S. senior commander on Bataan was Major General Edward P. King, who was convinced further resistance was futile and proposed capitulation. The following morning, the 9th April 1942, King met with Japanese Major General Kameichiro Nagano and after several hours of negotiations the American and Filipino defenders of the Bataan Peninsular surrendered. The Radio broadcast on the 9th April 1942 was that “Bataan had Fallen”.

 “The Bataan Death March” began. As the commanding officer in Bataan, Major General King was one of approximately 75,000 U.S. and Filipino personnel who surrendered to the Japanese. He was to suffer the same privations and suffered as brutally as those under his command. He was held in captivity for over 3 years. The prisoners were rounded up by the Japanese and were forced to march some 65 miles from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula to San Fernando. The prisoners and approximately 38,000 equally weakened civilian non-combatants were starved, sick and debilitated after weeks of siege conditions. The march took around five days and groups of 100 were escorted by their captors. The marchers were starved and beaten and those too weak to walk were bayoneted. It is believed that because of the brutality of their captors, thousands of troops died but exact figures are unknown. Survivors of the march were taken from San Fernando to prisoner-of-war camps, where thousands more died from disease, mistreatment and starvation. Japanese military culture, at the time, was that to surrender was dishonourable and death was preferred rather than be taken prisoner. They despised any enemy who surrendered and treated them harshly. Upon release from captivity in 1945, Major General King at Bataan and later LT. Gen. Wainwright at Corregidor, both expected to be court martialled for disobeying orders not to surrender but both were treated as heroes when they arrived back in the United States.

The island of Corregidor in Manilla Bay remained the final obstacle and point of resistance against the Japanese Imperial Army. By not securing the island of Corregidor the Japanese would be denied the use of the finest natural harbour in the Far East, Manilla Bay.

With the fall of Bataan on the 9th April 1942 all organised opposition by the U.S. Army Forces East ended. Japanese artillery bombardment on Corregidor began immediately after the fall of Bataan on the 9th April 1942. More Japanese guns were brought in and the Japanese shelling became even more intense over the next few weeks. General Wainwright prohibited counterbattery shelling for three days, fearing there were wounded POWs on Bataan who might be killed. The combined strength of the islands of Corregidor totalled 14,728 American and Filipino military and civilian personnel. The defenders were living on starvation rations and drinking water was only distributed twice a day. Constant bombing and shelling often interrupted the distribution of rations. The carcasses of horses killed by the bombardment was eaten to supplement their food supply. Under orders from the army, seven private ships sailed toward Corregidor from Cebu Island with a supply of food. Out of the seven, only one ship, MV Princessa, reached the island. Corregidor fell in May 1942.

The Australian-administered Territory of New Guinea was a part of the Dutch East Indies. With the dissolution of ABDACOM in March 1942 the Japanese had occupied the Dutch East Indies. When the Japanese achieved their first landings on New Guinea on the 2nd April 1942 the island came under Japanese occupation. By the 6th April 1942 the Japanese Navy began landing troops ashore on Manus Island, which is located north-east of New Guinea in the Bismarck Sea. The Japanese were to occupy New Guinea and Manus Island until the end of the war.

When Field Marshal William (Bill) Slim was promoted to command the Fourteenth Army Ist Burma Corps in March 1942, it was shortly before the Japanese attack on Burma on the 3rd April1 1942. Slim led the 900mile retreat to India and stayed ahead of the advancing Japanese who captured Migyaungye on the 12th April 1942, during the Burma Campaign. By the 15th April 1942 the 1st Burma Corps began destroying the infrastructure of the oilfields at Yenangyaung to prevent the advancing Japanese capturing them intact. With the capture of Lashio on the 29th April 1942 the Japanese cut off the Burma Road, which had been used to supply the Chinese during the 2nd Sino/Japanese War.

In the Indian Ocean the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was strategically important as it controlled vital Allied shipping routes to the Middle East and Australia. Since the fall of Singapore, British authorities anticipated the Japanese would capture Ceylon to disrupt British supply routes. British Intelligence correctly assessed the Japanese intention and Ceylon was hastily garrisoned by Australian troops returning from North Africa. Aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable was relieved of naval duties to serve as a high-speed shuttling facility by ferrying available planes to Ceylon. Newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Fleet, Admiral Sir James Somerville arrived at Colombo on the 24th March 1942. British Intelligence had forewarned the Eastern Fleet of the impending attack and subsequently the fleet evacuated the harbour before the Japanese raid.  However, on the 5th April 1942 the Japanese Navy attacked the port of Columbo where they expected to destroy the British Eastern Fleet. Most of Ceylon campaign was conducted at sea with both navies searching for each other. The Japanese failed to destroy, or even locate the main bulk of the British Eastern Fleet. They did, however, inflict massive damage to the port facilities at Colombo and Trincomalee, destroyed a third of the land based fighters and nearly all of the land based strike aircraft. One small aircraft carrier and two cruisers, together with twenty-three merchant ships were sunk and the Japanese achieved this amount of damage for the loss of twenty aircraft. Although militarily the Japanese navy was victorious, the campaign was short lived. British intelligence detected the Japanese carrier fleet travelling eastward by the 10th April 1942 as it appears the Japanese did not have short-term plans to follow up on their success. The Japanese aircraft carriers required maintaining and resupplying after months at sea. The difficulty in maintaining front line air units contributed to the decision to return east as the war in the Pacific was rapidly becoming in need of Japanese naval attention.

To demonstrate that the Japanese mainland was vulnerable to an American air attack, Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle led an air raid which was known as the “Doolittle Raid” against Tokyo on the 18th April 1942. Sixteen B-25B Mitchell two engine bombers were launched from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier USS Hornet whist deep in the Western Pacific Ocean. The bombers flew without fighter escort the 2,400 nautical mile raid. The B25 had a normal range of 1,300 miles and needed modifications to enable allow extra fuel to be carried for the mission. The plan called for the bombers to attack military targets in Japan and fly on westward to land in China. Each B25 had a five man crew and carried four 500lb, bombs, one of which was an incendiary bomb. The bombers arrived over Japan about noon, Tokyo time, and bombed ten military targets in Tokyo, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe, Osaka and Yokohama. The raid caused minimal material damage to Japan but it did kill about 50 and injured another 400 military and civilian people. It did, however, have major psychological effects as it raised doubts about the military’s ability to defend the home islands. The attack was an important boost to American morale and served as retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbour. Fifteen of the sixteen B25s crash landed in China while the last B25 running low on fuel landed at Vladivostok in the Soviet Union. It was immediately confiscated and its crew were interred for over a year. Of the eighty crew members, seventy seven survived the mission. Three men were executed by the Imperial Japanese Army troops following the capture of eight crew members in Eastern China. By having lost all his aircraft, Doolittle expected to be court-martialled, but instead received the Medal of Honour and a two rank promotion to brigadier general.

(Other Theatres)

In Canada on the 27th April 1942, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King introduced a plebiscite to the nation with regards to conscription. King had been elected Prime Minister in 1940 on the premise that Canada would not be involved in another European war. When France fell in 1940, Canada introduced conscription for home service only, but only volunteers who wished to serve overseas were allowed to go. The plebiscite was a referendum of sorts asking the nation whether they wished to be involved in conscription. This relieved King of the commitment he had made during the election campaign of 1940. To assist the nation over the plebiscite King made a speech in the Canadian House of Commons on the 10th June1942 where he commented that is policy was “not necessarily conscription, but conscription if necessary”. Over 70% of French Canadians in Quebec voted against conscription. The overall majority of the population was 66% in favour of conscription. Quebec’s strong majority against conscription prompted King not to pursue the issue until later when events necessitated a change of policy.

The Battle of Madagascar began when British assault troops departed Durban in South Africa on the 28th April 1942. The island of Madagascar was controlled by the Vichy French and therefore part of the Axis Powers. Madagascar’s capture was vital to the Allies to prevent the Imperial Japanese Navy having a base close to the Allied shipping routes to India, Australia and Southeast Asia. The amphibious assault on Madagascar included Allied naval, land and air forces. The naval contingent consisted of over fifty vessels commanded by South African born Admiral Sir Edward Syfret of the Royal Navy. In overall command of the amphibious assault on Madagascar was Major-General Robert Sturgess of the Royal Marines.

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