SECOND WORLD WAR

JUNE 1942

(Britain)

The “Thousand Bomber Raid”, was a term used as propaganda for the Royal Air Force (RAF), to describe three heavy bombing attacks on German cities in the summer of 1942. The bulk of the aircraft were twin-engine medium bombers such as the Vickers Wellington (Wimpy). To reach the number of aircraft required for the attack existing operational aircrew from RAF Bomber Command were reinforced by aircrews from Operational Training Units (OTU). Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris had successfully sent the first “Thousand Bomber Raid” against Cologne on the 30th May 1942. For the second raid on the 2nd June 1942 the Krupp Steel Works in Essen was the prime target. 956 aircraft were dispatched but the target was obscured by industrial haze and the bombing was not very effective. For the third “Thousand Bomber Raid”, on the 25th June 1942 Bomber Command had assembled 960 aircraft to which RAF Coastal Command had added another 102 aircraft to attack Bremen. The assembly shop of the Focke-Wulf factory was flattened and 17 buildings receiving varying degrees of damage. Shipyards, two large dockside warehouses and the Korff oil refinery were also damaged. 572 houses were completely destroyed and 6,108 damaged. A total of 85 people were killed, 497 injured and 2,308 bombed out. The RAF were using the radio navigational GEE system which afforded them limited success. But the success came at a cost. 48 Bomber Command aircraft were lost, of which 23 were from the OTU and 5 from Coastal Command. Following the third raid never again were one thousand bombers sent against a single target.

As he was about to leave for America by air on the 16th June 1942, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill took the unusual step of writing a letter to King George VI.  Churchill advised the King that should he not arrive in Washington for his talks with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the King should make Anthony Eden Prime Minister.

On the 24th June 1942 Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in London as Commanding General, European Theatre of Operation USA (ETOUSA). Since America’s entry into the war Eisenhower had been assigned to the General Staff in Washington. Upon arrival he took over the position from James E. Chaney and was based in London. He was provided with a house at Kingston-on-Thames.

(America)

On the 5th June 1942 the United States of America declared war on Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. Bulgaria and Hungary had allied with Germany and Romania was under German occupation. The relationship between the U.S. and Germany was not one of mutual trust. Germany viewed America’s lease-lend policy to Britain as being a partial act of war from a neutral state. The attack on Pearl Harbour by Japan on the 7th December 1941 brought America into the Second World War. On the 11th December 1941 Germany declared war against the U.S. with the immediate response that America declared war against Germany on the same day. President Franklin D. Roosevelt thought it improper to engage in hostilities without a formal declaration of war against another country. On the 5th June 1942 Roosevelt signed the declaration of war against Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, being allies of Germany.

The United States Office of War Information (OWI) was created on the 13th June 1942 when the U.S. government agency opened an office based in Washington. Communication between the various battle fronts and civilian population were established through radio broadcasts, newspapers, posters, photographs and films. Large scale information and propaganda campaigns became effective when several overseas branches were incorporated into the agency.

The Manhattan Project was a research and development undertaking that eventually produced the first atomic bomb. When the project document was placed before Roosevelt on the 17th June 1942 he approved it by writing “OK FDR” on the document. German chemists had discovered nuclear fusion in 1938 which made the development of an atomic bomb theoretically possible. Refugee scientist from Nazi Germany had fears that a German atomic bomb could be produced. Albert Einstein signed the Einstein-Szilard letter on the 2nd August 1939 which warned of the potential development of extremely powerful bombs. A breakthrough investigation by British scientists of the University of Birmingham indicated the critical mass of uranium-235 could be turned into an atomic bomb. The critical mass breakthrough occurred in June 1939 and by July 1940 Britain offered the United States its scientific research. By this stage the American project was smaller and not as far advanced as the British. America and Britain exchanged nuclear information but did not initially combine their efforts. Although America was prepared to meet the development costs Britain was reluctant to agree. On the 18th June 1942 America started the Manhattan Project which was the beginning of the scientific approach to nuclear weapons.

Having flown from Stranraer in Scotland to Baltimore, Winston Churchill arrived in Washington for talks with Roosevelt on the 18th June 1942. This round trip was the only time Churchill had crossed the Atlantic by air during the course of the war. During the talks of 20th/25th June 1942 the two agreed the priority should be the opening up of the front in North Africa. They also agreed the invasion of Europe across the English Channel would be postponed. The United States began direct military assistance in North Africa on the 11th May 1942 and troops were deployed on the 30th June 1942.

(The Eastern Front)

In Prague, following an assassination attempt to kill Reinhard Heydrich, he was in hospital having been operated on and apparently making a recovery from his wounds.  He was the chief high-ranking S.S. Officer in German occupied Czechoslovakia and was on his way to meet Fuhrer Adolf Hitler in Berlin. On the 3rd June 1942 he fell into a coma and never regained consciousness and died aged 38 on the 4th June 1942. Heydrich was buried in Berlin’s military cemetery on the 9th June 1942 with Hitler in attendance.  Infuriated by Heydrich’s death Hitler ordered reprisals to be carried out against the Czech people. On the 10th June 1942 the villages of Lidice and Ležáky were burned to the ground and at least 1,300 Czechs including 200 women were killed in reprisal for Heydrich’s assassination. The assassins hid in a safe house but rather than surrender they killed themselves after they had been betrayed.

(Mediterranean)

The war in the desert had been ongoing since June 1940 with the major problem being the distance from either side’s headquarters to the front line. The Axis HQ was in Libya while the Allied HQ was in Egypt. The length of the battle front was something like 1,300 miles with supplies and communications dictating the success or failure of the actions which tended to go in fits and starts. German General Erwin Rommel (The Desert Fox) had set up a defensive line west of Tobruk at the end of May 1942. German supplies to the Western Desert had been reduced owing to the success of the Allied aerial bombardment and torpedo attacks, from Malta, on the Axis convoys. However, sufficient supplies had arrived to enable Rommel to prepare for an assault to capture Tobruk. He had at his disposal 90,000 men, 560 tanks of which 332 were German and 228 were Italian. He also had available 497 serviceable aircraft. Facing Rommel was the British Eighth Army under the command of General Sir Claude Auchinleck (known as The Auk) whose forces consisted mainly of Dominion, Indian and Free-French troops. The Eighth Army had at their disposal 100,000 men, 843 tanks and 604 aircraft stationed along the Gazala Line which protected Tobruk. The Gazala Line consisted of huge mine-fields from Gazala on the coast and 50 miles south into the desert at Bir Hakeim. Between the mine-fields were a series of “Keeps” which housed a large number of men and equipment. The 1st South African Division was garrisoned on the Gazala Line near the coast with the50th(Northumberland) Infantry Division to the south and central section. The 1st Free French Brigadewere concentrated at the southern end of the line at Bir Hakeim and the 5th Indian Infantry Division were held in reserve. By the end of May 1942 Rommel was ready to begin his offensive. He made a decoy attack in the north and central areas while Italian engineers cleared some of the mine-fields. His main attack force moved south in a sweeping movement around the left flank of the Gazala Line at Bir Hakeim then moved north behind it. On the 1st June 1942 Rommel launched his attack on the British 50th Infantry Division who were soon overcome.

By the 5th June 1942 British forces of the 8th Army counter-attacked Rommel. In the meantime on the 9th June1942 Rommel renewed his attack on the 1st Free French Brigade and by the 10th June 1942 he had forced the Free French out of Bir Hakeim. From Rommel’s launch date to evacuation 3,700 French soldiers immobilised 40,000 Axis troops, losing 800 either killed or missing. Also on the 10th June 1942 the 1st Free French Brigade were ordered to withdraw and on the 14th June 1942 The Auk authorised a British withdrawal from the Gazala Line. South African Major-General Hendrick Klopper had been appointed commander to defend Tobruk. By 17th June 1942 Tobruk was surrounded and The Auk viewed Tobruk as being expendable but expected it could be besieged and hold out for two months, by which time he planned to return and relieve Tobruk within this period. On the 21st June 1942, 35,000 Eighth Army troops surrendered to the Afrika Korps. The perimeter for the defence of Tobruk was approximately 35 miles plus another 20 miles of coastline. Klopper concluded any value gained by continuing the fight would not be worth the additional casualties and thought it more expedient to surrender. The fuel and equipment stored there had been allocated for an Allied advance and Churchill did not want it to fall into Rommel’s hands.

The surrender allowed the Axis Powers the ability to use British supplies, and resupply the Afrika Korps, in their pursuit of the Eighth Army into Egypt.  The British Command ordered the retreating Eighth Army to prepare a decisive action at Mersa Matruh to halt the Axis advance. On the 28th June 1942 the Afrika Korps captured Mersa Matruh, took 6,000 prisoners along with a great deal of supplies and equipment. The remainder of the Eighth Army survived to arrive at El Alamein in time for Rommel to begin the assault at the First Battle of Alamein on the 1st July 1942.

It would appear, but not confirmed, that Churchill had informed Roosevelt that Tobruk would be held. Churchill was desperate for a victory to boost British morale as the Allies were not doing well against the Axis forces or the Japanese in the Far East. He concentrated his frustration on The Auk who he considered was not aggressive enough with his strategy. The Auk offered to resign but the offer was refused. The two men were on a collision course. On the 14th June 1942 The Auk received a message from Churchill saying that a “retreat would be fatal” and added “comply or resign”.

On the morning of the 15thJune 1942 another message from Churchill confused matters more by using the phrase “Presume there is no question in any case of giving up Tobruk”. The Auk sent a reply to say there were sufficient troops to hold Tobruk. At the time of the fall of Tobruk Churchill was a guest of Roosevelt at the White House, and it was the President who gave him the news. So close was the relationship between the two leaders, when Churchill heard of the fall of Tobruk he said “I am ashamed”, to which Roosevelt replied very quietly “What can I do to help?” His offer was to send 250 new M4 Sherman Tanks to the Eighth Army. However, for Churchill the stunning American victory at the Battle for Midway, caused him concern. Would Roosevelt give in to the popular American enthusiasm and give priority to the Pacific? Politically Roosevelt needed to get the GIs into the fighting as soon as possible and would therefore stick to the agreed “Europe First” strategy.                                 

Aircraft carrier HMS Eagle undertook a total of five deliveries of Spitfires to Malta by the 8th June 1942. 64 Spitfires had been despatched to Malta with the assistance of American carrier USS Wasp for the first two deliveries. Eagle undertook her three final deliveries of Spitfires when a further 78 were despatched. Between the two carriers 164 Spitfires were launched of which 135 successfully reached their destination. By the middle of June 1942 the Germans were forced to divert many of their aircraft from Malta to the Eastern Front to replace losses sustained during the Battles of the Kerch Peninsular and the Second Battle of Kharkov. Aircraft were required to support Rommel’s offensive in the desert campaign which took precedence over continued attacks on Malta.   The pressure on the island decreased with the removal of the German aircraft. The arrival of the latest variant Spitfire, contributed to German sorties against the island being drastically reduced. Although slower than the German Messerschmitt ME-109, the Spitfire with its greater manoeuvrability and fire power was soon the master of the Malta skies. Malta was desperately short of food and fuel and a decision was taken to send two separate convoys from two separate locations to bring relief to the island. Convoy “Operation Harpoon” sailed from Gibraltar on the 11th June 1942, consisting of five freighters and a tanker. On the same day eleven freighters forming convoy “Operation Vigorous” sailed from Alexandria in Egypt. Both freighter convoys were heavily escorted by the Royal Navy. Both convoys ran the gauntlet of German and Italian aircraft, U-boats, Italian submarines and MTB’s. In addition “Vigorous” faced the Italian fleet including the battleship Littorio while “Harpoon” faced two Italian cruisers and two Italian destroyers. Air cover for “Harpoon” was non-existent and they encountered almost constant air attacks by German and Italian aircraft. By the time the convoy reached Malta on the 16th June 1942 only two freighters had survived. However, they arrived with 15,000 tons of desperately needed supplies. None of the freighters from “Operation Vigorous” reached Malta. The Royal Navy lost or received damage to a number of the escorting ships. Despite only two of the seventeen freighters who survived the journey reaching their objective, the tide of events were turning against the Axis powers. The arrival of the Spitfires enabled future convoys to receive vital air cover as they approached Malta.

In Nazi occupied Greece, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) called for national resistance. Various minor left-wing parties joined the KKE to form the military arm of the left-wing National Liberation Front (EAM). Permission had been given to a communist veteran Athanasios Klaras (later to be known as Aris Velouchiotis) in February 1942 to examine the possibility of a successful armed resistance movement. The movement was to become the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), led by Aris Velouchiotis, a journalist, a politician and a communist. ELAS began action against the occupation. Velouchiotis with a small group of 10 – 15 guerrillas entered the village of Domnist on the 7th June 1942. In front of the surprised villagers Velouchiotis proclaimed the guerrillas had begun to “start the war against the forces of Axis and their local collaborators”. He also recruited local mountain bandits who helped to create a small group of experts in guerrilla fighting.  

(Pacific)

The Midway Islands are located roughly equidistant between North America and Asia. The Americans first had a presence on the islands in 1903 and in the mid-1930s they had gained importance as a seaplane stop for Pan American Airways Clipper planes. By August 1941 a naval presence began to build up and the Naval Air Station Midway Island was established. The Japanese objective was to force America to evacuate the islands. This would also have the advantage of denying America a base from which they could attack Japan. Unbeknown to Japan the Americans had broken the Japanese code and were aware of the forthcoming attacks. The Aleutian Islands are part of the American Territory of Alaska and are located almost directly north of the Midway Islands. One of the reasons the Japanese attacked the Aleutian Islands was to draw American forces to that theatre, and therefore not be available for the defence of Midway Island. They also thought that they had destroyed the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, unaware she had retired to Pearl Harbour for repairs. On the 3rd June 1942 Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s Japanese North Area Fleet launched a two day air attack against the base at Dutch Harbour in the Aleutians. Hampered by fog and bad weather only seventeen Japanese torpedo bombers reached their objective. Confronted by anti-aircraft guns and the 11th Air Force fighters, the Japanese released their bombs and returned to their carriers having inflicted little damage in the harbour. The following day, the 4th June 1942, the second air attack on Dutch Harbour was more successful as the Japanese pilots were better prepared and organised. At the end of the raid the hospital was partly destroyed and the Dutch Harbour oil storage tanks were burning. When the American pilots located the Japanese carrier fleet, attempts to sink them failed as contact was lost due to bad weather. The Japanese carrier fleet cancelled any plans to continue the air raids on the Aleutian Islands. The Japanese invasion and occupation of the Aleutian islands of Kiska on the 6th and Attu on the 7th June 1942 met with very little resistance from the local population. The successful landing and occupation was mainly due to the fact that Admiral Chester Nimitz, newly promoted Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet, did not send naval reinforcements to defend the Aleutian Islands. Instead he concentrated on the defence of the Midway Islands. The American nation was shocked at the occupation of Kiska and Attu as American soil had not been invaded for over a hundred years.

When the Battle of Midway began on the 4th June 1942 Nimitz had at his disposal 3 fleet carriers, 7 heavy cruisers, 1 light cruiser, 15 destroyers and 16 submarines. He also had 233 carrier-based aircraft and 126 land-based aircraft. The Japanese attack force comprised of 4 fleet carriers, 2 battleships, 2 heavy cruisers, 1 light cruiser, 12 destroyers, 16 float planes and 248 carrier-based aircraft.  In addition Yamamoto had many ships with varying functions either as reserve support vessels but they did not take part in the battle.  The Japanese had a two to one advantage over the Americans but with the Japanese code broken Nimitz, with all that was left of the United States Navy after Pearl Harbour, was able to position the fleet between Midway and Hawaii. Yamamoto knew that he needed to destroy the U.S. carriers which comprised the USS Enterprise, USS Hornet and repaired USS Yorktown, of which he was not aware. He was expecting to lure the American fleet into a trap and occupy Midway to extend Japanese defensive perimeters. Early on the morning of the 4th June 1942 the Japanese launched their initial attack on Midway Island with a total of 110 dive bombers, torpedo bombers and fighter aircraft. On the Midway Atoll the U.S. garrison had a compliment of over 3,000 men, 115 aircraft and was bristling with anti-aircraft guns. At 06.20 am the Japanese bombed and damaged the U.S. base on Midway. The fighters left to defend the island suffered heavy losses and only two remained airworthy. American anti-aircraft fire was heavy and accurate, and combined with the fighters they destroyed or damaged 54 of the 110 Japanese aircraft involved in the attack. The Japanese failed to neutralise Midway as most American aircraft could still use the airbase to refuel. Nearly all the land based defences were intact. Japanese pilots reported that a second aerial attack would be necessary if troops were to go ashore on the 7th June 1942.  Yamamoto assumed Nimitz would not commit his fleet to a major sea battle until the 7th/8th June 1942. What he didn’t know was Nimitz knew of his battle plans and was therefore surprised to learn from submarines that the U.S. ships were already at sea. The Japanese were 240 miles off Midway when 26 U.S. fighters took off to engage them, but they lost 17 of the 26. Reports reached USS Enterprise of the attack on Midway and the aircraft on the three carriers were scrambled to attack the Japanese carrier fleet. After a two hour search the Japanese carriers, Soryu, Hiryu, Akagi and Kaga were located. The bombers launched their attack on the Japanese carriers which left three of them on fire. At about 11.00 am aircraft from carrier Hiryu attacked Yorktown, which received three direct hits on her flight deck. The aircraft which flew from Yorktown were therefore required to land on Enterprise. A second torpedo attack on Yorktown, later in the day, caused her to heavily list to port. Yorktown Had to be abandoned as it was in danger of sinking. In the meantime dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown attacked the remaining Japanese carrier Hiryu. A direct hit tore her bow apart and spread fires below deck. Yamamoto ordered his fleet to finish off Hiryu and Akagi with torpedoes. The entire Japanese carrier fleet had been lost. With his fleet widely scattered Yamamoto ordered the abandonment of the assault on Midway. His fleet’s troubles were not over as two of his cruisers collided during the night. Badly damaged Mogani was out of action until mid-1943, Cruiser Mikuma sank on the 7th June 1942. Later the same day, the disabled Yorktown was being towed by destroyer USS Hamman to Pearl Harbour. A Japanese submarine sank both vessels with torpedoes. The Battle of Midway came to a close on the 7th June 1942. The final toll for the Battle of Midway for the Americans was the loss of 1 carrier, I destroyer, 307 men and 147 aircraft. For the Japanese their losses were 4 carriers, 1 cruiser, 3,500 men and 352 aircraft. The battle proved the Japanese could be beaten, and gave the Allies hope they would eventually be defeated. Japanese strategy following the Battle of Midway, was one where they were generally not in a position to attack but they needed to defend their conquests.

It was during the Battle for Midway Island that the newly introduced Grumman TBF Avenger saw its first action. There were six new Avengers stationed at Midway out of a total of 126 aircraft including seventeen B-17 Flying Fortresses. Five of the sixAvengers were lost at the Battle for Midway. TheAvenger was an American torpedo bomber developed for the United States Navy and Marine Corps which first flew in August 1941. The Avenger was the heaviest single-engine aircraft in the Second World War capable of carrying a torpedo or a single 2,000 lb (900 kg) bomb or four 500 lb (207 kg) bombs. The Wright Twin Cyclone fourteen cylinder radial engine was capable of carrying its 3 man crew and fully loaded up to a range of 1,000 miles (1,600 km) with a ceiling of 30,000 ft. (9,000 m).

The Japanese attacked Sydney Harbour in Australia with submarines on the 8th June 1942 which was more of psychological exercise to create fear of an impending invasion. The attack was also intended as a diversion ahead of the attack on Midway Island in the North Pacific. The Allies failed to respond to several warnings of Japanese activity in the area prior to the attack. Sydney Harbour’s anti-submarine boom nets were incomplete and on the day of the attack the inner and outer loop nets were inactive. Three Japanese 2 man midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour avoiding anti-submarine boom nets on the 1st July 1942. Two midget submarines were detected, attacked and sunk before they could engage any Allied vessels. The midget submarine crews were killed. The third submarine attempted to attack USS Chicago but instead sank the converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul killing 21 sailors. The fate of this midget submarine was unknown until 2006 when the wreck was discovered off Sydney’s northern beaches. With the failure of the midget submarine raid five Japanese fleet submarines embarked on a campaign to disrupt merchant shipping in Eastern Australian Waters. Over the next month at least eleven merchant ships were attacked and three were sunk with the loss of 50 sailors. It was during this period that on the 8th June 1942 two submarines bombarded the ports of Sydney and Newcastle. Submarine I-24 surfaced and her commander ordered the gun crew to target Sydney Harbour Bridge. Ten shells were fired of which nine landed on the eastern suburbs and one landed in the water. Only one shell exploded which caused minimal damage. Crash-diving allowed I-24 to avoid retaliation by coastal artillery batteries. Submarine I-21 shelled Newcastle when she fired 34 shells primarily the BHP steelworks but the shells landed over a large area causing minimal damage and no fatalities. The only time an Australian land fortification fired against an enemy was when Fort Scratchly returned fire. Submarine I-21 escaped unscathed.

(Other Theatres)

On the 1st June 1942 a Warsaw underground newspaper first reported that gas was being used to kill Jews. The newspaper, the Liberty Brigade, made public the news of the gassing of tens of thousands of Jews at a Nazi-operated death camp at Chelmno in Poland. The news leaked nearly seven months after the extermination of the inmates of the camp had begun. The killing of Jews was not denied by the Germans. They wrote very little down and most orders were verbal in order to maintain a state secret of the extermination. Hitler’s orders to gas the Jews was on a need-to-know basis.

Convoy PQ17 sailed from Hvalfjord, Iceland on the 27th June 1942 bound for the port of Arkhangelsk in the Soviet Union. Under British command the convoy was the first large joint Anglo-American naval operation. When the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union in June 1941 the British and American governments agreed to send unconditional aid to their Soviet allies. PQ17 consisted of 35 merchant ships and 6 auxiliary ships and their escort vessels. On the 1st July 1942 German forces located the convoy and began shadowing it. From information received the Allies believed they would be facing the German battleship Tirpitz, but in fact Tirpitz was not amongst the German fleet. The British Admiralty ordered the escort vessels away from the convoy to intercept the German raiders. The same order told the convoy to scatter and as the escort vessels withdrew the convoy was left defenceless. The undefended merchant ships were attacked by the Luftwaffe and U-boats which created such carnage that only eleven of the 35 merchant ships reached their destination on the 4th July 1942. Convoy PQ17 suffered the worst losses of any convoy during the Second World War. The delivery of only 70,000 short tons of cargo demonstrated how difficult it was to arrange for adequate supplies through the Arctic waters. A standard ton weighs 2,240 lbs while a short ton weighs 2,000 lb.

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