SECOND WORLD WAR

July 1942

(Britain)

The first USAAF B-17 Flying Fortresses arrived in Britain on the 1st July 1942 and were distributed to various purpose built airfields in England, Administration staff had begun arriving at High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire during May 1942 in readiness for the deployment of American units to Britain to form the 97th Bombardment Group. With the arrival of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF), alongside RAF Bomber Command the Allies were in a position to attack Germany on a regular basis. The combined bombing forces were now able to undertake both daylight and night-time raids. The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber developed in the mid-1930s. The first B-17 flew in July 1935 and was introduced into service with the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) in April 1938. When the war began in 1939 the RAF did not have many heavy bombers until March 1942 when the Avro Lancaster bombers entered service. The Lancaster was developed from the twin-engine medium bomber Avro Manchester and soon became the principle heavy bomber for the RAF, overshadowing the Halifax and Stirling.

The first USAAF unit selected to bomb targets in occupied Europe was the 15th Bombardment Squadron and the raid was on the 4th July 1942. The raid had been specifically ordered by General Henry “Hap” Arnold who believed the 4th July American Independence Day would be the ideal day for the attack. After a few weeks of familiarisation training, six American crews from RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire joined up with six RAF crews from RAF Swanton Morley, Norfolk. Their targets were Luftwaffe airfields in the Netherlands. The attacks were made at low-level and the badly damaged aircraft of the 15th Bombardment Squadron commander, Captain Charles Kengleman, only just managed to return. For this action Kengleman was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and a British equivalent for his bravery and valour. Of the twelve attacking bombers three did not return, two American and one British.                                q                                                                    

A motion of censure was brought against Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the 2nd July 1942. Following two weeks of reversals on the North African Front, the House of Commons proposed they had no confidence in the general direction of the war. The House payed tribute to the endurance and heroism of the Armed Forces of the Crown in the most difficult of circumstances and directed their censure against Churchill’s leadership. Before the vote was taken Churchill gave a lengthy speech where he conceded the war had not been going well. With the campaign in North Africa stalling and the war in the Pacific being a series of disasters, Churchill assured the House that things would soon improve. Once the vast amounts of American military supplies began arriving the war in Europe would take a turn for the better. When the vote was finally taken the motion of censure was heavily defeated 475 to 25.

(Germany)

Four German submarines were commissioned between the 1st /4th July 1942. Three were Type VIIC and one was a Type IXC/40. Type VIIC was the workhorse of U-boat force which had limited range before being required to be refuelled. They had five torpedo tubes, four in the bows and one at the stern. One 8.8cm (3.46 inch) naval gun was supplied for deck armament. Type IXC/40 was a large ocean-going submarine capable of sustained operations far from support facilities. They had six torpedo tubes, four in the bows and two at the stern. One 10.5cm (4.1 inch) deck gun was supplied for surface firepower.

Commissioned on the 1st July 1942 was U-414 (Type VIIC, built in Danzig) and commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Walther Huth. She was deployed in the Battles of the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

Also commissioned on the same day was U-707 (Type VIIC, built in Hamburg) and commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Oberleutnant zur See Günther Gretschell. She was deployed in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Commissioned on the 2nd July 1942 was U-629 (Type VIIC, built in Hamburg) and commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Hans-Helmuth Bugs. She was deployed in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Commissioned on the 4th July 1942 was U-167 (Type IXC/40, built in Hamburg) and commanded by Kapitänleutnant Kurt Neubert. She was deployed in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Operation Outward was a British programme to attack Germany by means of free flying balloons. The balloons were surplus weather balloons and when fitted with simple timing and regulating systems were released to fly over to Germany. Nearly 100,000 balloons were released during the course of the war with half carrying incendiaries and half carrying trailing wires. The most successful 0peration 0utward raid was on the 12th July 1942 when a balloon fitted with a trailing wire struck an 110Kv power cable which caused the Böhlen power station to be destroyed by fire. The free flying balloon attacks were successful and had an economic impact on Germany far in excess of the cost to the British government.

The first successful test flight of the Jet Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter aircraft was carried out on the 18th July 1942 at Leipheimer near Günzburg in Germany. This version was the third variant air frame housing a jet powered engine. The engine had been developed and constructed by Hans Joachim Pabsi von Ohain in 1936. The gradual development of the aircraft entailed various flight tests ultimately leading to the first successful first jet powered flight. Frank Whittle, a 22 year old English RAF officer proposed the concept of the jet engine in 1930. When he presented the design to the RAF the idea was turned down as impractical. Whittle patented the idea in January 1930 but could not finance the patent renewal fee when it became due in 1935. Although he entered a partnership to set up Power Jets Ltd, finance was difficult to obtain for further development. The Germans were able to capitalise on Whittle’s design.

(France)  

Following France’s defeat and the signing of an armistice with Germany in 1940, Pierre Laval served two prominent roles in the Vichy French regime of Phillippe Pétain. His first role was vice-chairman of the Council of Ministers and from April 1942 as head of government. Laval had won the trust of German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler and increasingly Pétain was only a figurehead in the Vichy regime. As the effective premier of Vichy France Laval collaborated with the Nazis programme of genocide and oppression. In Paris, on the 16th July 1942 Laval encouraged the French police to carry out a massive arrest programme of Jewish families’ codenamed the “Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup”. The name of “Vel’ d’Hiv’ Roundup” was derived from Vélodrome d’Hiver (Winter Vélodrome). Aimed at eliminating the Jewish population in France, the roundup consisted of both Jews who resided in the German occupied zone in the north and the French free zone in the south. Over 14,000 Jews were arrested in Paris of which 4,000 were children. They were held at the Velodrome d’Hiver without food or water. The accommodation was crowded and with no sanitary facilities the conditions were appalling. The Jewish population of Paris were transferred to Auschwitz in rail cattle trucks where they systematically murdered.

(Eastern Front)

The Siege of Sevastopol began on the 19th May 1942 following the Battle of the Kerch Peninsular. Sevastopol is a port in the Crimea which is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea. The German/Romanian attack defeated the Soviet troops at Kerch on the 15th May 1942. The port of Sevastopol with approximately 162,000 Soviet soldiers were left stranded and completely surrounded by German soldiers. After a month’s delay the German commander Erich von Manstein turned his attention to the capture of Sevastopol. Using of the Luftwaffe and a large number of heavy artillery guns including super heavy 600 mm (24 inch) Kari-Gerät mortars and the 800 mm (31 inch) ‘Dora’ Railway Gun the assault began on the 2nd June 1942. The bombardment continued for another five days before the ground assault began. The troops who were victorious at the Battle of the Kerch Peninsular were the same soldiers attacking Sevastopol. Casualties were high on both sides as the month dragged on. A surprise amphibious attack was ordered by von Manstein on the 29th June 1942 which was a success as Soviet resistance was almost non-existent. On the 1st July 1942 the German army overran Sevastopol whilst the Soviet forces conducted a disorderly evacuation. The entire city of Sevastopol was in German hands on the 4th July 1942 and the siege was over. For his success German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler promoted von Manstein to Field-Marshal on the 1st July 1942.

When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 they converted the Auschwitz army barracks into a prisoner-of-war camp for Polish political prisoners. Gas chambers had been added to the converted barracks in May 1940 and the first gassing of inmates began about the end of August 1941. Using concentration and extermination camps the Germans attempted to solve the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. As Director of the Reich Main Security Office, Gestapo Reinhard Heydrich outlined this solution at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin. The conference was held on the 20th January 1942. Jews from all occupied Europe would be transported by freight train and delivered to Auschwitz. Selected prisoners would be separated for slave labour and the remaining prisoners would be gassed on arrival. By the 4th July 1942 the Germans were systematically gassing Jews at Auschwitz. 

In April 1942 Treblinka in Poland was built as an extermination camp and equipped with gas chambers disguised as shower rooms and located 8Okm (50 mile) northwest of Warsaw. Treblinka first opened on the 22nd July 1942 when the systematic deportation of Jews from Warsaw Ghettos began. The camp comprised two separate units.Treblinka 1 was a forced-labour camp. Cutting wood in the forest to fuel the cremation pits was one of the tasks the prisoners were forced to undertake. When not cutting wood they worked in the gravel pits or the surrounding irrigation areas. Of the 20,000 inmates who resided in Treblinka 1 between 1942 and 1944, more than half died from starvation, disease, malnutrition or shooting. Treblinka 2, the second camp, was the extermination camp.Treblinka 2 was divided into three sections. The first was the guard’s quarters and administration compound, the second was the off-loading of incoming prisoners. The third was the location of the gas chambers.Treblinka 2 stopped gassing operations in 0ctober 1943 following a revolt by the prisoners in August 1943. The camps Treblinka I/2 were dismantled and a farmhouse built on to the site. In an attempt to hide the evidence of the gassing operations the ground was ploughed over. In the period between July 1942 and October 1943 when Treblinka 2 was operating an estimated 700,000 to 900,000 Jews were killed in the gas chambers. More Jews were killed at Treblinka Extermination Camp apart from Auschwitz-Birkenau. When the Soviet forces began approaching from the east in July 1944 the Germans had already destroyed Treblinka leaving very little evidence.

As a continuation of Operation Barbarossa of 1941 the Germans launched Fall Blau(Case Blue) on the 28th June 1942. Case Blue was intended to knock the Soviet Union out of the war. On the 26th June 1942 a two-pronged attack was proposed by German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler, one from the Axis left flank would advance toward Rostov-on-Don and on toward Stalingrad. This move was designed to protect the advance on the Baku oilfields. On the 28th June 1942 the Germans advanced 48km (30 miles), on the first day toward Rostov-on-Don. Their 1.37 million man army, assisted by the Luftwaffe, easily overran the 1.7 million Red Army troops. With the collapse of the Soviets the Germans captured Voronezh on the 5th July 1942 despite becoming embroiled in the battle to seize the city. The Soviet leaders had expected a German offensive on Moscow and for which they held back troops in reserve. Slowed down by their overstretched supply lines and constant counter-attacks by the newly deployed Red Army reserves the Germans reached and crossed the River Don near Stalingrad on the 24th July 1942. A three month battle for the control of Stalingrad began. After having the River Don crossing secured, even though his army was flagging through lack of supplies, Hitler issued the directive for the attack in the Caucasus on the 23rd July 1942. The Axis right flanks advanced over the Caucasus Mountains in order to seize the oilfields at Baku in Azerbaijan. However, the offensive slowed as it entered the Caucasus Mountains and the Germans were obliged to embrace a defensive mode as they had not reached their 1942 objectives.

(The Mediterranean and Desert War)

Malta was suffering a further German air raid on the 1st July 1942 when a flying boat approached the Grand Harbour in Valletta. Air Office Commander (AOC) Air Commodore Hugh Lloyd ordered the plane to stay clear until after the raid was over. However, the flying boat landed in the Harbour which was a flagrant disregard of an order by the AOC. Lloyd, intent on giving the pilot a dressing down, sent for him immediately. Instead of a junior pilot who entered his office, the man who walked in was Air Marshall Keith Park. In a firm but soft voice Park informed Lloyd he had arrived to take over command. Park, who went by the nickname of “Skipper” or by the Germans as “The Defender of London”, was one of The Few who had fought in the Battle of Britain in 1940.  He was Wing Commander of 11 Group Fighter Command and devised tactics to combat German air attacks. Over Malta, with plenty of Spitfires available, Park changed the strategy from purely defensive to intercepting incoming bombers and their fighter escorts. The impact of his Forward Interception Plan was virtually instantaneous as all German daylight raids were abandoned by the 31st July 1942.

With the fall of Tobruk during the Battle of Gazala on the 15th June 1942, the British Eighth Army, under the command of General Sir Claude Auchinleck (The Auk) retreated east into Egypt and took up a position near El Alamein. The line the British chose to defend straddled between the coast-line of the Mediterranean and the impassable Qattara Depression on the outskirts of the Sahara Desert, a distance of 35 miles (56 km). Alamein was a small hamlet with a railway station on the coast and approximately 10 miles (16 km) to the south was the stony Ruweisat Ridge which afforded excellent observation over the surrounding desert. The Ridge is a low east-west rocky outcropping and was defended by the infantry of the 18th Indian Brigade and included support by Nepalese Gurkhas. The Eighth Army had constructed three “boxes” with open desert between them. Each box was basically a defended dug-out and the open desert was covered by minefields and barbed wire. The nearest to El Alamein was complete, the one nearest Ruweisat Ridge was only partially completed owing to the rocky terrain whilst the one nearest the Depression had very little done to make it effective.  The Auk’s defensive plan was aimed at funnelling the Afrika Korps between the “boxes” and to attack them from the flanks. The First Battle of El Alamein began on the 1st July 1942 when the Afrika Korps of General Erwin Rommel (The Desert Fox) had acquired sufficient supplies to open the assault against the British defences.  His aim was to attack the defensive line at El Alamein with a combined Afrika Korps and Italian armoured forces. By the evening Rommel had managed to destroy and occupy the British positions on the Ridge’s western edge. The Indian Brigade controlled the eastern edge. He concentrated on the main area of El Alamein and the Ridge, as his favourite tactic of outflanking his opponent was curtailed by the impassable Qattara Depression. His supply line was unable to maintain the delivery of food, water, oil and ammunition and by the 11th July 1942 Rommel’s forces began to experience shortages, especially fuel. Attack and counter-attack occurred along the length of the line. On the 26th July 1942 The Auk attacked Rommel’s forces in an offensive but were driven back by the Afrika Korps. By the 30th July 1942 German supplies were not getting through. The British had halted Rommel’s advance toward Alexandria and the Suez Canal and both sides spent time re-supplying in readiness for the 2nd Battle of El Alamein in August 1942. The Auk had approximately 150,000 men and Rommel had approximately 96,000 men at their disposal at the beginning of the First Battle of El Alamein. At the stalemate by the end of the month the Eighth Army had suffered approximately 13,250 casualties and the Afrika Korps had suffered approximately 10,000 killed and wounded with 7,000 captured.

On the 15th July 1942 Captain Charles Upham was commanding a company of the 20th Battalion (Canterbury Regiment). The battalion was part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) and was originally held back as reseve. The area around El Alamein was witnessing light skirmishing from both British and German troops. An attack had been ordered against the enemy-held Ruweisat Ridge. Whilst under fire and leading his company to attack the Ridge and crossing open ground Upham was wounded. However, he managed to destroy a truck load of German soldiers with hand grenades. Despite his wounds, and after being treated, he insisted on remaining with his company to take part in the final assault. Communications with the front assault troops had been broken and Upham received an order to send an officer to go up ahead to report on the progress of the attack. Armed with a sub machine gun, he opted to go himself, after several encounters with German machine gun posts he reported back with the required information. The reserve battalion was ordered forward and had almost reached the top of the Ridge when they ran into heavy fire from tanks and machine gun posts. He led his men against two defended positions and they knocked out the machine gun posts and a tank with hand grenades. In this engagement Upham was again wounded with a bullet through his elbow which broke his arm. Some of his men had become isolated and he went out to bring them back. Before having his wounds dressed he stayed with his men until they had beaten off a counter attack and consolidated their position. With his wounds dressed he returned to his company where he remained all day under heavy artillery fire. He was wounded for a third time and with 6 of his remaining men he fell into German hands when their position was overrun. For this action Upham was awarded a bar to his previously awarded Victoria Cross for his actions in Crete in 1941. He spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner of war eventually ending up in the infamous Colditz Castle. Upham was one of only three men to be awarded the VC and bar. Noel Chavasse and Arthur Martin-Leake were the other two.

(Pacific)

The “Flying Tigers” flew and fought their final engagement on the 3rd July 1942 and were replaced by the China Air Task Force on the 24th July 1942. The “Flying Tigers” was the nickname of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Republic of China Air Force. Before America entered the war President Franklin D. Roosevelt recruited Brigadier General Claire Lee Chennault to form the “Flying Tigers”. The Sino-Japanese war between Japan and China had begun in 1937. Chennault had worked in China as military aviation advisor to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek from that date. By the summer of 1940 fighter and bomber squadrons supplied by the Soviet Union to China had been withdrawn as they were required on the Eastern Front. Chiang sent Chennault to Washington as an adviser to China’s Ambassador to request for American combat aircraft and pilots. Chennault spent the winter of 1940 – 1941 in Washington following Roosevelt’s recruitment of Chennault. He supervised the purchase of 100 Curtiss P-40 fighters, the recruitment of 100 pilots and 200 ground crew and administration personnel. The “Flying Tigers” began arriving in China in April 1941. Their mission was to bomb Japan and defend the Republic of China. Many delays meant the AVG didn’t see combat until the 20th December 1941, 12 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. The AVG was composed of pilots from the United States Air Corps (USAAC), Navy (USN), and Marine Corps (USAMC) who was commanded by Chennault. Their Curtiss P-40 aircraft, marked with Chinese colours, flew under American control. Chennault had observed Soviet pilots in China and devised a different attack approach. Knowing his actual combat pilots and fighters were never greater than 62 he prohibited his pilots from entering a turning dogfight with the more manoeuvrable and superior numbers of Japanese fighters. His doctrine was to attack in teams from an altitude advantage. They were to execute a ‘dive and zoom’ approach where they attacked the Japanese fighters from above and zoomed away to set up another attack. Hundreds of villages throughout China were equipped with radios and telephones to give warning of the approaching Japanese air attack force. The AVG were in the air awaiting their arrival. When the AVG was replaced they were officially credited with 297 enemy aircraft destroyed including 229 in the air. Fourteen AVG pilots were either killed in action, captured or missing on combat missions. During the time of the “Flying Tigers” existence as a combat unit force two air crew died of wounds sustained in bombing raids. A further six were killed in accidents. Many of the AVG pilots received the Chinese Air Force Medal. Each AVG ace was awarded the Five Star Wing Medal. Finally 33 AVG pilots and 3 ground crew received the Order of the Cloud and Banner Medal.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

United States submarine USS Growler was on her maiden patrol under the command of Lieutenant Commander Howard W. Gilmore. Growler was built in Groton, Connecticut on the 2nd November 1941 and commissioned on the 20th March 1942. Growler’s first war patrol began on the 19th June 1942 when she cleared Pearl Harbour for her assigned patrol area around Dutch Harbour in Alaska. She stopped off at Midway Island on the 24th June 1942 and entered her patrol area on the 30th June 1942. Whilst patrolling off Attu Island on the 4th July 1942 Growler sighted three Japanese destroyers and she entered her first action. She was submerged when she closed in for the attack. She launched her torpedoes and surfaced. Growler’s torpedoes struck the Japanese destroyers Kasumi and Shiranui amidships and severely damaged them and putting them out of action. The third destroyer Arare was hit in the bow but before she sank she had launched two torpedoes at Growler, which passed either side of her. In the meantime Growler had dived deep but she was not subjected to attack by depth charges. Without finding any more targets Growler completed her patrol and on the 17th July 1942 she berthed at Pearl Harbour.

As part of the strategy to isolate Australia from the United States the Japanese objective was to seize Port Moresby on the Australian Territory of Papua New Guinea. Japanese forces landed and established a beachhead at Gona and Buna, on the north coast on the 20th July 1942. To enable the Japanese to seize Port Moresby the advance needed to be overland along the Kokoda Trail. The trail traversed the mountains and the Japanese pushed back the minimal Australian defenders and captured Kokoda and its strategically vital airfield on the 29th July 1942. The Japanese advanced to within sight of Port Moresby but they had outrun their supply line and withdrew in September 1942.

(Other Theatres)

British forces began the invasion of Vichy-French Madagascar on the 5th May 1942. When the Vichy defenders surrendered at Antanamitarana on the 7th May 1942, Vichy forces still held the south of the island. To consolidate the remainder of the area the British sent an invasion force to the Vichy held island of Mayotte on the 2nd July 1942. Mayotte is located north west of Madagascar in the Mozambique Channel. The island was an ideal base for British operations in the area as it would give control of the channel. Most of the Vichy defenders were either sleeping or taken completely unaware the British had invaded and were captured. The occupation of Mayotte included the capture of radthe io station and the whole operation was carried out with no loss of life or major damage.

In America the SS Alexander Macomb was a Liberty Ship built in the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard, Baltimore, Maryland. Construction began on the 18th February 1942 and she was launched on the 6th May 1942. Final completion was carried out on the 2nd July 1942 and she sailed for New York on her maiden voyage. Leaving New York City on the 3rd July 1942 with a cargo of tanks, aircraft and explosives she joined Convoy BX-27. The convoy was forced to sail around Cape Cod instead of the northern end of Cape Cod Canal. The grounding of a cargo vessel in the canal was the cause of the diversion. On the evening of the 3rd July 1942 the convoy sailed into heavy fog. To avoid colliding with other ships of the convoy Alexander Macomb fell behind. Maintaining an intermittent zigzag course Alexander Macomb had hopes of re-joining the convoy in daylight. Within sight of the convoy Alexander Macomb was torpedoed by German submarine U-215. The torpedo caused her cargo of explosives to ignite and burst into flames and she sank at 1.00 pm on the 4th July 1942. In the meantime the crew of 8 officers, 33 of the 37 crewmen and 25 armed guards were able to abandon ship. They evacuated onto a raft and three lifeboats, one of which capsized after striking the still moving ship. Canadian corvette HMCS Regina picked up 14 crewmen and 11 armed guards and British trawler HMS Le Tiger picked up 23 crewmen and 8 armed guards. The remaining 6 armed guards and 4 crewmen died in the attack. U-215 attempted to escape but was pursued by Le Tiger and HMS Veteran who succeeded in sinking her, with the loss of her crew, by depth charges.

Off the east coast of America, the German submarine wolf-pack system entered what was known as the “Second Happy Hour”. This period lasted from January 1942 to August 1942 where German U-boats were able to inflict massive damage for little risk. 609 Allied merchant ships, totalling 3.1 million tons, were sunk for the loss of 22 U-boats. The “Second Happy Hour” was so successful because the United States defences were weak and disorganised and merchant ships had not formed into escorted convoys. With the Royal Navy and Canadian Royal Navy as escorts the convoy system developed whereby merchant shipping losses to U-boats began to drop. On the 19th July 1942 Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz ordered the last of his U-boats to withdraw from the United States Atlantic coast and shifted his attention back to the North Atlantic.

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