Air Raid Damage Reports Brentwood Division Essex Fire Service 2 May 1942.

Air Raid Damage Reports Brentwood Division Essex Fire Service 2 May 1942.

Date                Time   Location         Damage

02/05/1942    Found  Warley          1 – Unexploded bomb believed to have fallen on

the 8.8.40 found in Magpie Wood Warley (near refuse dump).  No damage or casualties.  Report Centre informed.

SECOND WORLD WAR MAY 1942

SECOND WORLD WAR MAY 1942

(Britain)

British forces begin “Operation Ironclad”, the invasion of Madagascar on the 5th May 1942.  A full frontal attack on the defences at Diego-Suarez on the 6th May 1942 was a failure with the loss of five tanks. The Vichy-French defences took the British by surprise as they were unaware of the level of resistance. The South Lancs. Regiment worked their way round the Vichy defences, despite the swamps, and caused a great deal of chaos when the radio station and one of the barracks were captured. When the radio-set of the South Lancs. failed, communications between them and the main attack force was lost and they were forced to withdraw. HMS Anthony, an old destroyer dashed straight past the harbour defences and broke the deadlock of the highly effective French defence system. Landing fifty Royal Marines in the Vichy rear area they captured the French artillery command post with its barracks and naval depot at Diego-Suarez. With Diego-Suarez secure the British 29th Independent Infantry Brigade, led by Brigadier Oliver Lease headed for the French naval base at Antanamitarana. Assisted by twelve light tanks they advanced the 21 miles overcoming any little resistance with bayonet charges. Lease’s frontal assault forces broke through the Vichy defences and Antanamitarana surrendered on the 7th May 1942. Ten light tanks sent to Madagascar were destroyed. In the three days of fighting the British lost 109 men killed and 283 wounded with the French suffering 700 casualties. In the meantime Vichy forces had asked for Japanese assistance but they were not in a position to help. However, three Japanese submarines arrived three weeks later on the 29th May 1942. A Japanese reconnaissance plane had seen that HMS Ramilies was at anchor in Diego-Suarez Harbour, but she changed berths after the plane was spotted. Two Japanese midget submarines were launched and one entered the harbour and fired a torpedo and seriously damaging Ramilies. The second sank the 6,993 ton oil tanker British Loyalty. Madagascar was finally secured by the Allies when the Vichy forces surrendered on the 6th November 1942.

The attack on the city of Exeter on the night of 3rd/4th May 1942 was another “Baedeker Raid”. The raid was selected by the German Luftwaffe for the city’s cultural and historical significance rather than the strategic or military value. Just after midnight, twenty bombers began the raid which devastated the city centre. The area of Bedford Circus and many adjoining streets were destroyed. The results of the high explosive bombs was the start of many fires which were soon out of control. With the assistance of fire services from Torquay and Plymouth most of the fires were finally under control on the 5th May 1942. The area around the Cathedral was mostly obliterated but the Cathedral itself was hit by an explosive bomb which demolished St. James’ Chapel. The City Library and the Vicars Choral College were destroyed. Of the city’s 20,000 houses, 1,500 were completely obliterated and a further 2,700 badly damaged. The area also suffered the destruction of many shops, offices, warehouses and pubs. A total of 156 people were killed and further 583 were injured. Despite Germany’s radio boast that “Exeter is the jewel of the West, we have destroyed that jewel, and we will return to finish the job” the May 1942 raid was the last suffered by the city.

Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov arrived in London on the 20th May 1942 for talks that would enable a treaty of alliance be signed between Britain and the Soviet Union. When Molotov met Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Leader of the House of Commons Anthony Eden discussions soon became difficult. The Soviets were pushing for a “Second Front” in order to divert German military resources away from the Eastern Front. Churchill argued, that even with American assistance, Britain was not in a position to launch an offensive across the channel to attack Europe. However, Britain would continue to provide aid to the Soviet Union. Rather than invading Europe for the sake of action at any price, it was deemed better to continue with the aid and not launch an offensive which would end in disaster. On the 21st May 1942 Churchill and Molotov signed the Treaty of Alliance. A proviso was added on the 26th May 1942 that peace with Germany would not be signed by either side without the approval of the other.

Codenamed Operation Millennium the first “Thousand Bomber Raid” by the Royal Air Force (RAF) was conducted against Cologne on 30th May 1942. The massive raid was launched expecting the devastation might be enough to knock German out of the war or at least severely damage German morale. The raid was useful for propaganda purposes for the RAF in that the war was finally being taken to Germany.  Sir Arthur Harris, who was nicknamed “Bomber Harris”, had been appointed Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of Bomber Command in February 1942. Bombing raids against Germany prior to the 30th May 1942 were limited owing to the small number of aircraft used and the lack of navigational aids. Later in the war better aircraft and electronic navigational aids increased the accuracy of the raids. Harris was directed by Winston Churchill with Cabinet agreement to carry out “Area bombing” rather than “Strategic bombing” of military targets. The consensus of opinion was that the Nazis had entered the war under the rather childish delusion they were going to bomb everyone else but nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred places they put their rather naïve theory into operation. Harris used his now famous quotation, “They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind”. Because of the losses encountered on the raids of German held territory Britain’s bomber strength was limited after the Battle of Britain. Every individual mission launched resulted in lost aircraft which Britain was struggling to replace. Harris put together a plan to send a 1,000 bomber raid against Cologne. He knew his raid would attract German interceptor aircraft and air defence crews but they would only have short time to attack the bombers. He assembled 416 front-line bombers and crew plus all available second-line and even training crews to attack Cologne’s industrial goods and chemical plants. Churchill approved of the 1,046 bombers attacking the target over a 90 minute period. Approximately 4,500 tons of bombs were dropped on the city crippling industrial output and damaging 600 acres of Cologne. Nearly 500 Germans were killed and approximately 45,000 were left homeless because of the raid. Britain lost 40 bombers but over 1,000 bombers made it back home. 22 year old Lesly Manser VC was piloting an Avro Manchester bomber “D” for Dog and after dropping his quota of bombs he aircraft was caught in the searchlight beams. After being hit by flak which overheated his port engine, he took evasive action to escape the anti-aircraft fire. The rear gunner was wounded and with the front cabin filled with smoke he attempted to get the aircraft and crew to safety. He was over Belgium when the port engine burst into flames, a crash was inevitable, refusing a parachute be ordered his crew to bail out. Staying at the controls he secured his crew’s safety by sacrificing himself. One member of his crew was taken prisoner, but the remaining five crew members evaded capture and made their way back to Britain. Their testimonials were instrumental in the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross for Lesley Manser. However, despite the losses the Allied leaders were not concerned over the outcome of the raid as Harris expected to receive losses. British cities had been forced to endure similar raids during the Blitz of late 1940/early 1941.

(Germany)

On the 10th May 1942 German Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring informed Fuhrer Adolf Hitler that Malta had been neutralised. As commander of the Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean Kesselring’s information was incorrect as he was apparently unaware of the second delivery of Spitfire fighters.  

The Amerikabomber project plan was submitted to Reischsmarschall Hermann Goering on the 12th May 1942. The concept being that the Luftwaffe should obtain a long range strategic bomber capable of attacking the United States from Germany. It was Hitler’s suggestion that long range attacks against the United States was a feasible proposition and thought the Portuguese Azores islands could be used as a transit airfield. With the Azores approximately 1,000 miles west of Portugal it was thought bombers could be developed to achieve the required results. Four aircraft manufacturers were considered but it was the Junkers JU390 that was selected for production. However, although the project was conducted and various design changes investigated it was finally abandoned for being too expensive. The project was also too reliant on the rapidly diminishing production capacity required for the war in Europe to continue.

Reinhardt Heydrich was a high ranking German SS officer and police official within the Nazi party. He was one of the main architects of the Holocaust, ”The Final Solution to the Jewish question”. Hitler described him as “the man with the iron heart”. In September 1941 Heydrich was appointed deputy Protector of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia which was part of German occupied Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovak government-in-exile located in London co-operated with British Intelligence and devised Operation Anthropoid to assassinate Heydrich. Two exiled Czechoslovak soldiers were selected and trained by British Special Operations Executive (SOE) to carry out the mission. Jozef Gabčik and Jan Kubiš were parachuted into Nehivizdy east of Prague and the planning of the assassination began. Various plans were discussed but they settled on a car attack in Prague. On 27th May 1942, the car in which Heydrich was travelling, slowed down at a hair pin bend and it was here Gabčik’s Sten submachine gun jammed and did not fire, Rather than speed away Heydrich ordered his driver to stop to confront Gabčik. Kubiš threw a converted anti-tank mine at the car and it landed against the rear wheel. The explosion wounded Heydrich with metal fragments and seat stuffing causing serious damage to his left side. He was transported to Bulovka Hospital and appeared to making a recovery.

The German Authorities issued a directive on the 27th May 1942 that all Jews in occupied Belgium must wear the distinctive Jewish badge. The badge was a yellow star with the letter “J” in the centre. It was to be worn on the left side of the chest. All Jews were also required to carry an identification card stamped with word “Jew” in both the Flemish and French language. The directive for the wearing of the yellow star came into effect on the 3rd June 1942.

On the 29th May 1942 in Nazi occupied Paris Hitler ordered all Jews must wear identification badges on their outer clothing. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels advised Hitler the badge should be the Yellow Star of David and in the centre the word “JUDE” written in mock-Hebrew script. The wearing of the identification badge singled the Jews out for future German persecution.

(America)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill creating the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) on the 15th May 1942. U.S. Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill for the creation of WAAC in May 1941, because the threat of war was looming. The condition being, if women served to support the army, they would receive all rights and benefits afforded to soldiers unlike the status of women in the Great War. Following the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, congress approved the bill on the 14th May 1942 and was signed into law by the president the following day, Oveta Culp Hobby was sworn in as the first director on the 16th May 1942, and WAAC was established.

The U.S. 1st Armoured Division arrived in Northern Ireland on the 16th May 1942. They departed on RMS Queen Mary from the Brooklyn Army Terminal on the New York’s Port of Embarkation on the 11th May 1942. Upon arriving in Northern Ireland the division trained on the moors under the command of Major-General Orlando Ward. They transferred to England in October 1942. The 1st Armoured Division, nicknamed “Old Ironsides” was the first armoured division to see battle in the Second World War.

(Eastern Front)

The Battle of the Kerch Peninsular began on the 8th May 1942 when the axis powers of Germany and Romania counter-attacked the Soviet Forces in the Crimean Peninsula. The Crimea is a peninsular located on the north of the Black Sea and the southern tip of the Ukraine which had been under Nazi German control since the beginning of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. Operation Barbarossa was the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The huge port facility at Sevastopol was defended by the Soviet Union Coastal Army but they were trapped and surrounded by the Germans. Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin believed the German Wehrmacht was danger of imminent collapse. On the 8th December 1941 he instructed STAVKA, the Soviet Supreme Command, to begin planning for a major offensive to link up with the Coastal army trapped in Sevastopol. By linking up with the defenders at Sevastopol the Soviet Union would liberate the Crimea. Following the Soviet offensive which began on the 29th December 1941 numerous attacks and German resistance followed. The Soviet Black Sea Fleet’s ability to supply the Soviet forces in Sevastopol was severely curtailed, by early May 1942 Sevastopol’s defenders were in desperate need of food and military supplies. On Bustard Hunt, the German codename for the counter-attack, began on the 8th May 1942 where the German forces faced a vastly superior number of Soviet troops. The Soviet defence line extended north to south across the peninsular. The Soviet Army did not expect a major attack as they outnumbered the Axis forces two to one. The Soviets deployed three armies to defend the peninsular, one to the northern front, one to the southern front and one in reserve. On the southern front an anti-tank ditch had been constructed and three lines of defence had been built on the swampy ground. However, they failed to deploy their troops into a well prepared defence in depth. To support the German armoured and motorised attack, strong air cover was required. The Luftwaffe had increased their strength to 800 aircraft and soon the numerically superior Soviet air defences had collapsed. The remaining Soviet air reconnaissance failed to spot the German land force build-up. Within hours the Luftwaffe had knocked out the Soviet southern communication headquarters. When the ground attack began the southern army were not in a position to counter attack and they were forced to retreat. On the 9th May 1942, German engineers finished breaching the anti-tank ditches and the land forces swung north trapping the Soviet northern army against the Sea of Azov. The northern army surrendered on the 11th May 1942 allowing the Germans to pursue the retreating Soviet forces. The speed of the German advance was rapid after the Luftwaffe had destroyed the Soviet air opposition. The Luftwaffe was free to bomb the fleeing Soviet columns and burned Kerch and its harbour on the 12th May 1942. Kerch fell on the 15th May 1942 and on the 18th May 1942 the Soviet Army was in major retreat. The final defeat and destruction of the Soviet ground forces was on the 20th May 1942. In the twelve days of Operation Bustard Hunt the Luftwaffe lost 37 aircraft whilst the Soviets lost 417 aircraft. Operation Bustard Hunt ended on the 19th May 1942 and the Germans conquered Sevastopol six weeks later. German casualties amounted to approximately 7,500 men including 1,700 killed or missing. An estimated 162,000 Soviet soldiers were left stranded following the evacuation by sea of between 37,000 and 115,000 Soviet soldiers. Of the Soviet soldiers left stranded 28,000 were killed and the remainder taken prisoner.

The Second Battle of Kharkov began on the 12th May 1942. Following a winter offensive by the Soviet forces that drove the German troops away from Moscow, the Soviet Army under the command of Marshal Semyon Timoshenko launched an offensive against their German opponents. The winter offensive had established a front line west of Moscow down to a salient slightly south of Kharkov. Stalin had overestimated the Soviet Union’s newly raised army and was also convinced the Germans were a finished force and would collapse by mid-1942. On the 14th May 1942 Hitler ordered air strikes against the salient. After a promising start, Timoshenko’s offensive in the salient was halted by massive German air strikes on the 15th May 1942. With the Soviet army hemmed into narrow area in the salient the Germans launched a pincer attack. The pincer attack to the north of the salient was accompanied with German tanks and began on the 16th May 1942. The lack of heavy artillery was insufficient for the Soviet failure to halt the German tanks and overwhelming German defences. The German infantry were more experienced than the numerically superior but technical inferior Soviet troops in the north. While at the salient Soviet troops were facing heavier air strikes from the Luftwaffe, who had air superiority. By the 18th May 1942 STAVKA suggested the offensive be withdrawn. The Soviet commanders claimed the German offensive was exaggerated and Stalin refused to sanction the withdrawal. When the Germans attempted to encircle the salient from the north on the 19th May 1942 Stalin authorised the abandonment of the Soviet offensive. By the 20th May 1942 the Soviets were conducting a fighting retreat. The German offensive continued and by the 24th May 1942 they surrounded Kharkov. The Soviet troops outnumbered the Germans by about two to one but they couldn’t establish superiority and make the numbers count. The first attempt by the Soviets to break the encirclement was on the 25th May 1942. Blind courage alone and with arms linked the Soviet soldiers charged the German machine guns. Without the need for accuracy the German machine gunners killed hundreds of Soviet troops. With complete air supremacy the Luftwaffe dropped anti-personnel cluster bombs into the salient killing the exposed Soviet infantry in their droves. The surviving Soviet soldiers were forced into a crowded position on the 26th May 1942 and by the 28th May 1942 Timoshenko called a halt to any further Soviet break-out attempts from the encirclement. However, when the Germans finally took Kharkov on the 31st May 1942 less than one in ten Soviet troops were able to break-out. Kharkov was a major setback putting an end to the winter counteroffensive undertaken by the Soviet army. During the Second of Battle of Kharkov the Soviet forces sustained approximately 75,000 killed, wounded or missing and approximately 240,000 Soviet prisoners-of-war. They also lost the bulk of their armour. Estimates indicate the German casualties being 20,000 dead, wounded or missing.

(Mediterranean)

During the Desert Campaign, despite having been forced to retreat in late 1941 General Erwin Rommel, began his spring offensive from the Gazala Line on the 26th May 1942. Rommel, nicknamed the “Desert Fox”, and his Afrika Korps were receiving regular supplies from Libya. One of his objectives would be the capture of the port facilities at Tobruk in order that his supply line would be a lot closer to his attacking Afrika Korps. British Commander-in-Chief of Middle East Theatre General (later Field Marshall) Sir Claude Auchinleck had received a telegram from Winston Churchill to take the offensive in North Africa on the 14th April 1942. With no apparent movement by the 10th May 1942 Churchill ordered Auchinleck to begin the attack in the Desert War When by the 17th May 1942 Churchill had not received a reply he demanded an explanation for the delay, to be despatched before the 20th May 1942. Auchinleck sent a reply on the 19th May 1942 to say the attack was imminent once all his supplies were in place. However, Rommel began his offensive from the Gazala Line on the 26th May 1942 and imposed a significant initial defeat on the British. To boost their defences the British utilised United States Sherman tanks, nicknamed by the Germans “Tommy Cookers” or ‘Ronsons’ (light first click), but they were still forced to retire. A British counter-attack with an ensuing tank battle stalled Rommel’s offensive well short of Tobruk. On the 31st May 1942 Rommel set up a defensive line to the west of Tobruk because he had out-run his supply line. Libya had not been receiving regular supplies from Italy since the RAF’s reinforcement fighters based in Malta were attacking and destroying Italian supply ships. Whereas at the beginning of the month German supplies were reaching their destination, the tables had been turned by the end of the month.

Arriving at Gibraltar for the second time on the 9th May 1942 USS Wasp and HMS Eagle launched 64 Spitfires to fly onto Malta, Of the 64 Spitfires launched 61 aircraft successfully landed on Malta. One plane and pilot was lost on take-off, one plane piloted by Canadian Pilot Officer Jerrold Smith experienced problems with his long range fuel tank and was forced to return to Wasp. His Spitfire was the first to land on an aircraft carrier. One Spitfire and pilot was unaccounted for. Within minutes of landing all the Spitfires were refuelled, re-armed and airborne with fresh experienced pilots. The Spitfires were in the air awaiting the expected air raid whose intention was to destroy them. The ensuing air battle saw 47 German aircraft destroyed or damaged for the loss of 3 Spitfires. After the first delivery on the 20th April 1942 many of the 47 Spitfires delivered to Malta had been destroyed on the ground before even entering combat. For the second delivery lessons had been learned. Disguised as a Vichy-French destroyer Leopold, 100 spare Merlin engines plus ground crews trained on Spitfires along with food and general stores, HMS Welshman arrived at Malta on the 10th May 1942. Extensive preparations for the invasion of Malta had been made by the Germans and Italians, who hoped that an air and an amphibious landing would eliminate the island as an air and naval base. This would secure the Axis forces an uninterrupted flow of supplies to the Afrika Korps in the desert campaign. With Rommel’s successes in the desert campaign the invasion of Malta, code named Operation Bowery, was postponed indefinitely on the 21st May 1942. The landing of soldiers, and the invasion of Malta was finally cancelled in November 1942. By the 31st May 1942 Kesselring’s air superiority had been greatly reduced by the arrival of the Spitfires which had proved effective against the incoming fighters and bombers. Compared to a couple of months previously where Kesselring had several hundred aircraft as his disposal he was down to a combined total of 83 serviceable aircraft.

(Pacific)

When General Douglas MacArthur was ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to evacuate the Philippines he was forced to hand over his command. Major-General Jonathan M. Wainwright inherited the unevitable position of Allied Commander South West Pacific Area. After Major-General Edward P. King surrendered the Bataan Peninsula, Corregidor was the last of the Philippine islands to resist the Japanese. Corregidor and the Bataan Peninsular had been besieged since the end of December 1941 by the Japanese air force bombardment. The garrison on the island consisted of combined units of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and locally recruited Filipino soldiers valiantly resisting the bombardment. Following the fall of Bataan on the 9th April 1942 the Japanese artillery began immediate bombardment of Corregidor. The initial landings of the Japanese were not without diffiulties, as the defenders fiercely resisted. The Japanese landed troops and equipment despite the strong sea currents and the layers of oil on the beaches (caused by earlier sunken ships). On the 6th May 1942 Wainwright knew that more Japanese would land at night and in order to save thousands of lives he decided the best course was to surrender. In a radio message to Roosevelt Wainwright said “There is a limit of human endurance and that point has long been passed”. Prior to the surrender the Marine Regimental flag and the National Colours were burned to prevent them being captured. Corregidor’s defeat marked the fall of the Philippines and Asia but the Japanese timetable for the conquest of Australia and the Pacific was severely upset. The 11,000 American and Filipino defenders were escorted away from Corregidor as prisoners of war. However, U.S. Army and Navy nurses (the “Angels of Bataan and Corregidor”) continued to work on Corregidor but were the sent to Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manilla. Wainwright was held in Manchuria while the remainder were sent to various Japanese prison camps. The conquest of the Philippines was a Japanese victory which had been expected would take two months but in actual fact take five months. The commander General Masaharu Hommer was relieved of command over his inability to conquer the Philippines in the projected time scale.  The Americans and Filipino defeat was the worst in the U.S. military history. The Japanese suffered losses of an estimated 17,000 to 19,000 killed, wounded or missing during the Battle for the Philippines. Approximately 23,000 American and 100,000 Filipino soldiers were either killed, wounded or captured. Wainwright was the highest ranking American officer taken as prisoner of war and remained so until the Japanese surrender in 1945. Upon release from captivity in 1945 both Generals, Wainwright at Corregidor and King at Bataan, expected to be court martialled for disobeying orders not to surrender but were treated as heroes when they arrived back in the United States.  

Burma (now Myanmar) was under British rule since 1st January 1886 with the city of Rangoon the capital. Burma was unprepared and under-sourced to prevent the Japanese offensive and Rangoon fell, owing to the superior numbers of troops and equipment Japan had at her disposal. General William “Bill” Slim led the remnants of the Burma Corps to safety. They marched 900 miles north from Burma to Manipur in India in 100 days. Whilst the retreat was a bitter humiliation it was not a rout as General Slim organised a fighting retreat through dust bowls, jungles and mountains allowing him to always stay ahead of the advancing Japanese. Oil fields were destroyed during the retreat ensuring access to oil was denied to the Japanese. General Slim with his officers plus staff and the remainder of the Burma Corp arrived in India just before the monsoon rains began in May 1942 after beginning the retreat at the end of January 1942.

On the 3rd May 1942 American General Joseph Stilwell decided Burma should be evacuated. In February 1942 Stilwell had been promoted to Lieutenant-General and assigned to the China-Burma-India theatre (CBI) where he had three major roles:-

1) Commander of all U .S. forces in China, Burma and India.

2) Deputy Commander of the Burma-India theatre under Admiral Louis Mountbatten.

3) Military advisor and Commander-in-Chief to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, commander of all Nationalist Chinese forces.            

Between the wars Stilwell served three tours of China where he mastered written and spoken Chinese. He earned the nickname “Uncle Joe” for his concern for the average soldier under his command. He is also remembered as “Vinegar Joe” after he harshly criticised a poor performance during an exercise. When he discovered a subordinate had drawn a caricature of him rising out of a vinegar bottle he had the caricature photographed. He also kept a Latin motto on his desk Illigitimi non Carborundum which translates as “Don’t let the bastard’s grind you down”. From early in his career Stilwell’s short temper and colourful language made him stand out against his fellow officers. He had no patience for inefficiency or stuffiness. It led him to have a deep disdain for the British he worked with in Burma, an attitude that caused problems. When Stilwell first arrived in India it was just in time to experience the collapse of the Allied defence of Burma which denied China all lease-lend equipment.  On the 4th May 1942, the evacuation began. As Commander-in-Chief of Chiang Kai-shek’s military forces, he led the retreat of the 5th and 6th Chinese army together with his administration staff along the Burma Road to India. After a 140 mile march he personally led his staff and the remnants of the Chinese army into Assan in India on the 20th May 1942. By the 20th May 1942 the Japanese conquest of Burma was completed. There is no evidence but it is possible that the “Arcadian Conference” of January 1942 did not match Stilwell’s strategy. The conference concluded that the defeat of Germany in Europe must be the number one priority and the Pacific War secondary. With his disdain for the British it is also possible Stilwell’s complaint to Chiang Kai-shek that Britain was reluctant to fight, was that he may well have dismissed the fact that Britain was overstretched and weary. British and Commonwealth forces were stretched very thinly after having stood alone for two years against the aggression of Nazi Germany and her allies.

From the 4th to 8th May 1942 a major naval “Battle of Coral Seas” was fought by the Imperial Japanese Navy and the combined air and naval forces of the U.S.nd Australia. Historically significant was the fact that the opposing aircraft carriers were involved in the first action in which neither sighted nor fired directly at each other. The Japanese need to strengthen their defences in the South Pacific requiring them to invade and occupy Port Moresby in New Guinea and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. Early in 1942 U.S. Intelligence in Washington had broken the Japanese naval code and were fully aware of the proposed invasion of Port Moresby and Tulagi. Pre-warned the Allied defenders of Tulagi sighted the oncoming Japanese fleet. The defenders included American, Australia and U.K. forces. Anticipating that the Japanese would attack with superior numbers of troops, the joint commanders ordered the evacuation of Tulagi on the 2nd May 1942. They began the destruction and demolition of their equipment and facilities to deny the Japanese access to them. On the 3rd May 1942, unopposed, the Japanese invasion and occupation of Tulagi was successful.  The U.S. Navy carrier task force and a joint American-Australian cruiser force was sent to oppose the Japanese offensive. On the 4th May 1942 several Japanese warships were sunk or damaged in a surprise attack by aircraft from the U.S. fleet carrier USS Yorktown. On the 6th May 1942, now aware of the presence of the U.S. carriers in the area, the Japanese proceeded to the Coral Seas. On the 7th May 1942 aircraft from both American and Japanese carriers searched for the opposing navy. Japanese aircraft torpedoed aircraft carrier USS Lexington incapacitating her to the point where she had to be scuttled to prevent being captured. Japanese aircraft damaged Yorktown and despite the damage suffered she was able to return and limp into Pearl Harbour for repairs on the 27th May 1942. The repairs were estimated to take two weeks but just 48 hours after arriving receiving hasty repairs Yorktown left Pearl Harbour on the 30th May 1942 in readiness for the forthcoming Battle of Midway. Both sides claimed victory after the Battle of the Coral Seas. The Japanese won the tactical victory in terms of enemy ships lost. America’s losses included one aircraft carrier, an oiler and a destroyer totalling 42,471 tons. The Japanese lost a light aircraft carrier, a destroyer and several smaller ships totalling 19,000 tons. From a strategic perspective the battle was an Allied victory. For the first time the Japanese had not achieved their invasion plan, the capture of Port Moresby in New Guinea. The Japanese failure to capture Port Moresby was a morale booster for the the Allies after a series of defeats during the initial six months of the war in the Pacific.

The South Pacific Territory of Wallis and Futuna, lying to the east of Australia, had been under the protection of France since April 1887. During the early part of the Second World War the islands were administered by the Vichy French government. However, a Free French corvette based in New Caledonia deposed the regime on the 26th May 1942. The Allies controlled the islands when the U.S. Marine Corp landed on the 29th May 1942. They denied the Japanese the chance for occupation.

Prior to the Battle of Midway, a follow-up to Japanese Operation “K” was proposed for the 30th May 1942. The operation was scheduled for Japanese intelligence to locate the U.S. aircraft carriers. The Americans became aware the Japanese were preparing another reconnaissance mission similar to the one employed at Pearl Harbour. They were also aware that the French Frigate Shoals was a possible rendezvous as a refuelling site for Japanese flying boat reconnaissance aircraft. American naval patrols increased, the area mined and two American warships were anchored there. A Japanese submarine reported back to the Japanese navy their findings which prompted a cancellation of the plan. With this cancellation the Japanese were not able to observe the U.S. naval activity or to keep track of the American carriers.

(Other Theatres)

In Canada, the Battle of St. Lawrence began on the 12th May 1942 when German U-boat U-553 torpedoed and sank the British freighter Nicoya. Before departing the Gulf of St. Lawrence to return to routine patrolling in the North Atlantic U-553 also torpedoed and sank the Dutch freighter Leto. The lower St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence was the primary convoy assembly area for war materials designated for Europe especially for Britain. The Battle of St. Lawrence continued intermittently until October/November 1944. The German Kriegsmarine did not have any formal plans to attack shipping in the area but any attacks were opportunist.

Mexico declared war on Germany on the 22nd May 1942. The reasons for the declaration was that two Mexican oil tankers transporting crude oil to the United States were sunk by German U-boats in the Gulf of Mexico. Relationships between the two had been strained since the Spanish Civil War where both countries supported the opposing sides of the conflict. Mexican troops fought for the Allies with more soldiers engaged in the Philippines rather than Europe. Brazil and Mexico were the only two Latin-American nations to contribute troops during the Second World War.

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