<<< Chapter Eleven
© James T. Matters >>>
Rommel continues to press the British in north Africa, despite his intermittent shortages of fuel and supplies. The Italian Navy simply cannot maintain the delivery of supplies in quantities necessary to keep the Axis army fueled and fed. Once landed, the long trek to the German front consumes much of the very supplies landed at such great cost in Tripoli. Although the fuel shortage means Rommel is unable to employ the maneuver tactics he has used with such great effect in the past, he continues to inflict heavy losses on the British. Unfortunately for the Germans, General Ritchie's men are better able to withstand these head to head confrontations, with their better logistical support.
Unwilling to have the maverick AVG operate in their theater of war, the U.S. Army Air Force has strong-armed Chennault and his men to join the American 14th Air Force in China. General Clayton Bissell, having done more to alienate than encourage the American aces, winds up with a mere handful of men to induct into the U.S. Army Air Force. Pilots and support staff were threatened with all manner of punitive action, after enduring months of warfare, thousands of miles from home, in primitive conditions. �Very few of the brave volunteers were willing to continue to risk their lives for leadership that exhibited such idiotic behavior, despite pleas from Chennault to stay on and help. The AVG is then disbanded. After little more than six months of operations, the tiny band of fliers, rarely with more than fifty operational aircraft, had succeeded in thwarting the Japanese assault into China at the Salween Gorge, and are credited with some four hundred probable kills. They achieved this record at the cost of twelve aircraft shot down, and four of their pilots killed in aerial combat. But they had been found guilty of 2 mortal sins. In the words of one of the Flying Tigers, they had '...told US commanders that they were wrong, and then they had gone out and proven it.'
A convoy of aid sailing to Murmansk comes under Luftwaffe attack. PQ-17 has four of its ships struck, three of which sink in the icy water of the Barents Sea.
The overly ambitious Russian winter offensive has left the 2nd Shock Army in a vulnerable position. The Germans now turn the tables on the Russians. Eighteenth Army, the target of 2nd Shock Army's encircling efforts, succeeds in destroying the Soviet formation north of Novgorod.
With the enormous German 6th Army, under General Paulus, and 4th Panzer Army advancing east alongside them, the German spearhead is poised to smash headlong into Stalingrad. Flank protection is being provided by Romania's 3rd Army in the north, and their 4th Army in the south, along with an assortment of Italian and Hungarian forces. Kleist, however, has been unable to move up from the south into position to threaten Stalingrad, and there is a cavernous one hundred and ninety mile wide gap developing between his forces in the Caucasus, and 4th Romanian Army. The only unit between the two is the German 16th Motorized Division, based at Yelista.
Hitler next orders that both Panzer formations; the 4th and 1st, are to change their route of advance away from Stalingrad, towards Rostov. This shift to the southwest allows the Russians that had been west of the Don, but east of the Donets rivers, the time they need to make good their escape. The Russians rush troops into the Stalingrad area. (According to Tarrant, In "Stalingrad", pages 35-37, General Von Kleist, still commanding 1st Panzer Army, later complained that 4th Panzer could have taken Stalingrad without a fight had they not been diverted south, where they really only served to congest 1st Panzer's road network. Even 6th Army was unable to march on the city, since its only Panzer Corps; the 40th, had already been transferred to Weichs!)
The British in North Africa mount yet another offensive in the see-saw battles in the desert. Rommel, very vulnerable due to the tenuous nature of his supply lines, must defend without Luftwaffe support; as there is no fuel for the aircraft.
In the Battle of El Mreir, south of the Ruweisat Ridge, Commonwealth infantry counterattack the Afrika Korps in the pre-dawn hours. The Indian troops remain unsupported by armor until after first light, when the British 22nd Armored Brigade advances. By this time, the Indians have themselves been counterattacked, and beaten off. The German gunners are ready for the British tanks, and destroy eighty-six of the brigade's ninety-seven that attacked. Subsequent battles in this area allow the Germans to improve their tally to one hundred and thirty British tanks for the cost of only three Panzers.
Japanese troops landed at Buna and Gona on Papua New Guinea, launch an overland offensive to take Port Moresby, since the Naval assault has been called off. The Japanese offensive, having to cross the Owen Stanley Mountains, running like the spinal column of New Guinea down to the tail at the eastern extreme of the Island, also spoils MacArthur's planning for an early Allied offensive in the same area.
General George S. Patton Jr. is named Commander of the Army Western Task Force. Similarly to the command structure in the Pacific, he also is denied overall command of the Operation. Separate Naval Commands are designated to deliver and support the invasion forces, as the U.S. continues to fracture its command structure.
July sees 12 Japanese commercial ships sunk by the Allied submarines.
The catastrophic losses suffered by PQ-17 leads the Allies to suspend convoys to Murmansk.
There are estimates that put Italy's Naval losses at 66% of her entire fleet by the end of July 1942!
Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army, moving northeast towards Stalingrad, runs into the 64th, and 57th Armies. The Russians eventually force Hoth back, in the first German withdrawal of Fall Blau.
In the Atlantic, convoy SC-94 is found by U-593. As the wolfpack gathers, the fight is begun. In a long running battle, eleven ships are lost, including one of three that had been abandoned in the confused belief that they had been torpedoed. Two of the attackers are rammed by Allied ships, and sink, and three other submarines are damaged.
The U.S. goes over the offensive in the Pacific. The First Marine Division is landed in the Solomon Islands at Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Gavuto, Tanambogo, and Florida islands. The Japanese are constructing an airstrip on Guadalcanal, and this is the American objective. Without reserves to fill the defensive requirements of their now overextended Empire, the Japanese divert troops from the Port Moresby offensive to defend Guadalcanal.
After a shakeup of British commanders in the North African and middle east theaters, in which General Alexander replaced Auchinleck, General Gott, newly named to command 8th Army, is killed during his flight to Cairo, and Montgomery is brought from the Middle East to replace him.
Germany's 17th Army, marching down the western plain of the Caucasus behind 1st Panzer Army, reaches the city of Krasnodar, on the Kuban river. First Panzer has just reached the oil fields of Maikop, burning furiously as the withdrawing Russians seek to deny Germans everything of value.
Fourth Panzer Army attacks the Russian 64th Army around Plodovitoye and Abganerovo, continuing to push the Red Army back.
In the first American aerial victory over the Luftwaffe in eight months of warfare, a twin engined P-38 Lightning shoots down an FW-200 over the Atlantic.
While Port Moresby is coming under attack by some one hundred Japanese bombers and their escorts, the Marine Corps's Second Raider Battalion is put ashore in the Gilbert Islands by two submarines; Nautilus and Argonaut. Designed as a diversion to pull some of the Japanese troops out of Guadalcanal, the landing only succeeds in convincing the Japanese of the need to build better and stronger revetments. The seventy or so defenders are nearly all killed by the Americans, who then quickly withdraw. The Japanese fail to take the bait, however, and land two hundred reinforcements on Guadalcanal. These are followed up the next day with more than nine hundred troops of Ichiki Force being put ashore to do battle with the Marines.
A dozen B-17 bombers from the Eighth Air Force launch the first American heavy bomber attack of the war in Europe. Close to 3,700 lbs. of explosives are dropped on a railway center in Rouen, France. Damage to the target is light, but all the aircraft make it safely back to base.
As the fighting around Stalingrad intensifies, Chuikov, now back to the Myshkova river and forming up such forces as he can gather south of the city, is named Deputy Commander of the 64th Army, incorporating his existing units into that army.
Paulus, anticipating severe battles, spells out his plan of attack, which relies on 4th Panzer Army to link up with 6th Army's southern flank. The problem is, Hoth's forces have been emasculated by the transfer of most of his armor. Paulus already has Hoth's 14th and 24th Panzer Corps, and the 40th Panzer Corps has been sent to Army Group A in the Caucasus. This leaves only General Kempf's 48th Panzer Corps, which itself, has only the 14th Panzer and 29th Motorized Divisions. The 4th Panzer Army is really an Infantry army, incapable of launching rapid thrusting armored spearheads, and has in fact, been fought to a standstill some fifty miles south of the city by the Soviet 64th and 57th Armies. To break 4th Panzer Army free of the Soviet grasp, 24th Panzer division is transferred sixty miles south, to Kempf, from 6th Army.
48th Panzer Corps, attacks northeast from Abganerovo, but still cannot break clear of the Russian defenses in the hills of Tundutovo. On their northern flank, the 4th Infantry Corps is also facing resolute Russian resistance. From their vantage point in these hills, the Soviets can monitor events around Stalingrad's southern extremes for miles.
The Ichiki Force on Guadalcanal launches two attacks against the Marines, both of which are beaten off. The Marines counterattack, driving the Japanese back towards the beaches, where most of them are encircled and killed, in the Battle of the Tenaru River.
The Luftwaffe begins a 48 hour long assault on Stalingrad that involves more than 4,000 sorties into the city. The city erupts into flames along its twenty-five mile length, and oil storage tanks pour their flaming contents into the Volga, seeming to light the river itself on fire. Thousands of civilians perish in the flames.
Sixth Army punches a hole in 62nd Army's defenses. The Nazi's 14th Armored Corps crosses the Don at Vertyachi, and reaches the Volga , north of the city. Subsequent Russian counterattacks temporarily push the Germans back from the Volga, but cannot hold the line. Between Vertyachi and Peskovatka, a five mile wide gap is torn, allowing Paulus' troops to reach the Volga, north of Rynok. The Russian 62nd Army is cut off from Stalingrad Front, and becomes attached to Southwest Front. In response, the civilians from the city are mobilized to join the 62nd Army in an effort to stop the Germans.
The 16th Panzer Division, with aerial support from Von Richtofen's Luftflotte IV, attacks the Russians from the city's northern border but the defense is unyielding, and at one point actually pushed the Germans backwards; ejecting them temporarily from Rynok and Spartakovka. The Germans eventually succeed in eliminating the Volga railway and ferry points north of the city, cutting the Russians off from Kazakhstan and Moscow
General Yeremenko, in a convoluted command structure, in charge of both the Stalingrad and Southwest Fronts, orders non-essential civilians evacuated from the city. As these people gather on the banks of the Volga, German aircraft attack the gathering.
In an effort to improve the 9th Army's defenses, General Halder argues with Hitler that a strategic withdrawal is called for. The ill will between the two boils over, as Hitler forbids 9th Army from shortening its line. Even among those present, the prospect of Germany losing another of its military leaders seems imminent. (In fact, Halder will be dismissed by Hitler on September 24.)
By now, the Japanese are also predicting that shortages of fuel will impact their operations, perhaps as soon as November.
Hoth breaks off 4th Panzer Army's attacks south of Stalingrad. Over the next several days, the 48th Panzer Corps is quietly withdrawn and replaced with infantry from 94th Division.
The Japanese Naval Staff changes its priority from the destruction of the American Fleet to the retaking of Guadalcanal.
Despite the lower priority assigned to operations on New Guinea, an additional fifteen hundred Japanese troops are landed with the objective of seizing the allied airfields under construction near Milne Bay. Close enough to support the Guadalcanal fighting, these airstrips are strongly defended by Australian and American troops.
The German 11th Army, now in the north, near Leningrad, comes under attack by a new Soviet offensive, putting the Germans on the defensive all around the city.
16th Panzer Division, cut off on the northern outskirts of Stalingrad since its breakthrough on the 23rd, is out of ammunition and ready to withdraw when a supply convoy of some two hundred and fifty trucks, loaded with captured British and American aid, arrives in the wake of 3rd Motorized Division. Now, there are two divisions separated by eighteen miles of communist controlled ground between the bulk of 6th Army, and the Panzers at Spartakovka and Rynok.
Kempf's 48th Panzer Corps, west of Abganerovo, now strikes north, outflanking the Russians that had stopped him and the 4th Infantry Corps as well. His Panzers make twenty miles in one day, as the 64th Army begins to withdraw.
Outside Stalingrad, the Soviet 62nd along with the rest of 64th Army withdraws across the Chervlenaya river, in front of the 48th Panzer Corps. With the "throwaway" Punishment Battalions as rear guards, the Russians escape encirclement by forty-eight hours. In the north as well, the Russians withdraw to consolidate their forces for a counterattack from the north, allowing the Germans to close their lines.
The carrier Saratoga is again torpedoed by a Japanese submarine; this time I-26. Once again, she is forced out of service for repairs.
By the end of the month, Rommel's deliveries have fallen off to about 10% of the goods lavished on 8th Army.
Twenty Japanese merchant ships are sunk in August, followed by twelve in September, as the tide of battle turns against them.
Early in September, the U.S. 5th Air Force will be formed by General Kenny, for use in the Pacific.
With Zhukov recalled to Moscow for talks with Stalin and Vasilevsky; the Chief of the General Staff, General Lopatin, fearing that Stalingrad would be lost, is relieved of his command of 62nd Army. Chuikov is named to replace him by Yeremenko and Kruchev. With debris clogging the city on the Volga from repeated Luftwaffe attacks, Chuikov keeps his forces in close contact with the Germans. Like a short-armed boxer tying up his more mobile opponent, Chuikov limits the ability of the Luftwaffe and German artillery to strike at his troops without incurring friendly casualties. He has little alternative, because the reserves being formed up in his rear are destined, not for him; but for Zhukov's counteroffensive. 62nd Army continues defending Stalingrad from inside the city, with only its citizens to provide additional riflemen, along with such replacements as can be ferried across the river under German fire.
Likewise, Paulus and Von Weichs (Commander of Army Group B) meet with Hitler at his headquarters in Vinnitsa. The Führer directs that they attack on the following day, overriding the concerns of both his generals. He further strips Hoth's Fourth Panzer Army of all of its German divisions, except for 297th, and 371st Infantry Divisions, returning control of the Panzer forces directly to Paulus. This leaves Hoth's "Panzer" army with only a few infantrymen to face Russia's 57th and 64th Armies. His weak right flank is protected only by the Romanian 6th Corps, also nothing but four infantry divisions.
The movement of Jews out of the Warsaw Ghetto concludes, leaving only about 20% of the population in place. Since the deportations to the camps began back on July 22, perhaps as many as three hundred thousand people have been uprooted and executed.
Sixth Army begins its assault into Stalingrad. Five divisions attack along a five mile wide front into the center of the city, in an effort to split the defense. They make only slight progress against ferocious Russian resistance, fighting the battle on Chuikov's terms instead of Hoth's. During the nights, the Russians are able to ferry men and supplies across the Volga, into the city at any one of a number of crossing points. Powerful as Sixth Army is; it does not have the strength to attack with armored spearheads in maneuvering battles as was the case a year ago. The simultaneous attack into the Caucasus has left the Germans in both areas fighting toe to toe with the enemy, simply because they cannot be kept supplied and defend themselves while still attacking with their reduced strike forces.
Each and every night, fresh troops trickle in to Chuikov from across the Volga. Combined with air and artillery support from the east side of the river, it is hoped that 62nd Army will hold out long enough to allow Zhukov to mass forces on the flanks of the city.
The Japanese on Guadalcanal begin a new offensive that lasts for two days. At Lunga Ridge, where the terrain overlooks Henderson Field, the Japanese troops, lightly armed, but with artillery and aerial support, engage the U.S. Marines from their rear. Kawaguchi's forces split the defense, and at one point are facing only 300 Marines, and nearly take the airstrip. But the Marines rally and close the line. Soon known as the Battle of Bloody Ridge, the Marines inflict 50% casualties on their attackers, who don't withdraw until the 15th.
The U.S. carrier, Wasp, is torpedoed by I-19. She takes at least 2 hits in the Japanese attack, and will soon be abandoned, then sunk by the USS Lansdowne. Also damaged in the attack by I-19, the destroyer, O'Brien will be lost as she limps for Pearl Harbor. A third victim of I-19, the battleship North Carolina, is forced to return to Pearl for repairs.
Again, Zhukov launches a counterattack into the northern flank of 6th Army. Positioning his First Guards Army against the German 8th Infantry Corps, he hopes to break through what appears to be a weak point in the line. It is actually only a forward position, and the attack runs headlong into very strong German defenses further back from the initial battle lines. As in the past, the fruitless attacks serve more to siphon off German resources that would have otherwise been employed against Chuikov's men. Thousands of Soviets are killed in the attacks, which continue for several days.
The shortage of oil for the Japanese Fleet is already affecting their operational planning. The Fleet is consuming 10,000 tons daily, and the stocks maintained at Kure have been drawn down by some 650,000 tons. "Unnecessary" Fleet movements are curtailed. (Ugaki, "Fading Victory", page 217. The Admiral gives no explanation as to who decides what "unnecessary" movements are. He does not, at this point, hold off on operational deployments, but is very concerned for the future. In addition to the fuel shortage, the Fleet is also experiencing a shortage of tankers in the Rabaul area.)
The German Army Command looses its Chief of Staff, when Hitler dismisses General Franz Halder. He is replaced by General Kurt Zeitzler, who vows personal fealty to the Führer, and subsequently requires all staff officers to do likewise.
In North Africa, Montgomery is accumulating large numbers of the New American "Sherman" tank. Produced in huge numbers during the war, the Sherman will become known as the "Ronson" (a firm known for its cigarette lighters) among the British. This is the result of the tank's gasoline, rather than diesel, powerplant, and the tendency of its fuel to burst into flames when hit.
Street by street, the German 6th Army has advanced north, inside Stalingrad. By months end, they control nearly the entire southern half of the city.
The Soviet High Command reorganizes the armies in the south. The Stalingrad Front is redesignated the Don Front, and its lines are shortened by the creation of a new Southwest Front on the western side of Don Front's line. Don Front is commanded by Rokkosovsky, who loses the mauled 1st Guards Army to be refitted. Of his three remaining armies, Zhadov's 66th Army is north of the city, along the Volga, nearest Rynok. West of these are Galinin's 24th Army, and Batov's 65th Army near Kletskaya, on the Don. West of Don Front, the new Southwest Front, under General Vatutin, has Chistyakov's 21st Army nearest Don Front's 65th Army. Across the Don, on the southern bank in a bridgehead around Serafimovich, is the 5th Tank Army under Romanenko. On the far western end of the Front is a newly activated reserve Army, given the designation of 1st Guards Army under Lelyushenko. In the south, what had been Southeast Front is now redesignated Stalingrad Front. This newly designated unit, comprised of Chuikov's 62nd, Shumilov's 64th, Tolbukhin's 57th and Trufanov's 51st Armies, as well as a new unit; 28th Army, in the extreme south, are under Yeremenko's direct control.
(Much of the description of this reorganization comes from Tarrant's "Stalingrad" on page 94. The designation of a newly activated reserve Army as a Guards Army is very infrequent, and seems only to have been done when the new army has at its core several smaller units already distinguished with the "Guards" appellation for valor.)
Over the prior ninety days, thirty-two German U-boats have been destroyed, but the Allies have lost more than two hundred and fifty ships to the German submarines over the same time span.
General Hyakutake, commanding 17th Army, arrives on Guadalcanal. Taking personal control of the battle, he immediately orders that reinforcements be suspended in favor of landing food and ammunition for the men of the Kawaguchi detachment.
Mindful of the previous winter's experiences with the weather in Russia, Hitler already orders the entire Army to take defensive postures, and hold its current positions throughout the season. Paulus, after gathering his forces for another surge against the Russians still fighting inside Stalingrad, attacks headlong into the Red Army. Three thousand Luftwaffe sorties are flown on this day alone, in support of the effort to get the Rattenkreig over with. Even for the veterans of 6th Army, this fighting is described as unprecedented in ferocity. (Tarrant, "Stalingrad", page 86. )
Hitler issues a top secret order that requires his forces to treat "commando" type attackers with the utmost severity. All prisoners who are perceived to have been on such missions, regardless of the circumstances; "...armed or unarmed, in battle or in flight, are to be slaughtered to the last man." (Shirer, "Rise and Fall..." page 1245)
After a twenty-four hour delay, Japanese forces on Guadalcanal resume their attacks on the U.S. Marines. Begun before daybreak, the men of the 164th Infantry respond with artillery fire of their own, destroying a dozen Japanese tanks, and inflicting heavy casualties on the men of Japans's 17th Army.
U.S. and Japanese naval aircraft trade blows near Santa Cruz Island. The carrier Hornet is lost by the Americans, as well as a destroyer. A second carrier is damaged, as well as a battleship. The Japanese only suffer damage to two carriers and destroyers, but lose dozens of their dwindling inventory of aircraft and pilots. There begins a vicious downwards spiral in aircrew needs and proficiency levels. Since the Coral Sea battles, the Japanese Navy has been losing its highly trained aircrew much faster than has been anticipated. The need for pilots puts pressure on the training squadrons to reduce the number of hours flown by trainees, and bring them into operations quickly. This leads to low proficiency levels among the rushed graduates, who then suffer even higher loss rates against the American pilots. This increases the need for pilots even more; pressuring the schools to shorten the training period further...
The Panzer Army Afrika, now stands at fourteen divisions in strength, but only four of these are German; the rest are Italian, and are far less capable than their German partners.
The allies achieve a new monthly record total of nearly 165,000 tons of Japanese merchant shipping destroyed, sending some thirty-seven ships to the bottom. Allied losses to Axis submarines, however, remain much higher. For October, the allies have lost ninety-four ships; more than 619,000 tons. These enormous monthly numbers are hard to put into perspective for those of us only old enough to recall the Falklands war, and not to have experienced WW II. The furor created when Great Britain's HMS Conqueror torpedoed and sank the General Belgrano, or the Argentine destruction of HMS Sheffield, two days later, are hard to reconcile with the commonplace losses of the Second World War.
The Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano, was originally an American WWII era "Brooklyn
Class" cruiser, named USS Phoenix during its service with the U.S. Navy. Launched in
1938, it carried 2 helicopters, and 15 six inch guns, with a crew of about 1,000 men.
At 13,645 tons, she was the largest ship in the Argentine Navy, except for the carrier,
Vienticinco de Mayo; itself the former HMS Venerable. The Sheffield was a British Type 42
destroyer, displacing about 4,100 tons, with a crew of 270.
Struck by two torpedoes from Conqueror, Belgrano sank rapidly, taking 368 of her crew with her. Even some of the British leadership were stunned at the large loss of life, unrealistically expecting that the 44 year old ship would not be sunk by the attack; just disabled.
Sheffield, despite being designed and equipped specifically for the air defense role, was attacked May 4, 1982. Struck by a single air launched Exocet missile from a range of 6 miles, the warhead's explosion lit a tremendous fire on the ship. Twenty-one British sailors perished in the attack. The ship capsized and sank a few days later.
Younger readers may only have experienced the Gulf War, which had no major naval losses. The US Navy stood offshore primarily as heavy artillery and missile launching platforms during that war; poised to land Marines on a beach if needed, but not expected. A loss even half as dramatic as the destruction of twelve U-boats for the month of October, 1942 would have racked our Navy had those losses occurred to the U.S. in 1991. To lose ninety-four ships a month; month after month, after month, seems inconceivable now. The development of heavy lift aircraft, along with in-flight refueling, have reduced (but not eliminated) the need and importance for vast merchant fleets to be able to deliver men and materiel to any particular hot spot. Still, the need for fast ocean transport is such that today, pre-positioned war reserves of military equipment sit in the holds of ships all around the world. The world has become even more dependent on oil than it was in 1942, and the loss of today's VLCC's (Very Large Crude Carriers; supertankers) would be an international outrage, particularly among the environmental extremists. The 1940s' smaller ships were being sunk by the dozens, week in and week out during World War Two. Many of the ships lost took some of their crew with them to the bottom. Men who were not soldiers, but who put their lives on the line every day, nonetheless. Exactly how many, we may never know, but they all died in service to their country.
In a very fierce battle , British and New Zealand troops in North Africa have cut Rommel's Panzer force back down to about thirty-five operational tanks. The cost is heavy, with 9th Armored Brigade sustaining nearly 75% casualties.
By now convinced of the effectiveness of aerial patrols over U-boat infested waters, the British naval and Coastal commands urgently request that the long ranged B-24 bombers, equipped with extra fuel tanks, be supplied by the U.S.
The Japanese, having thus far suffered the loss of ten submarines in action with the allies, is very concerned about an alarming rate of loss in non-combat related accidents. The loss of RO-65, off Kiska Island in the Aleutian chain is the fifth such accidental loss since Pearl Harbor.
The Center Task Force lands its men on the Mediterranean shore at Oran and Arzew. These are commanded by Major General Fredendall, and include half the 1st Armored Division.
The Eastern Task Force puts troops ashore at Algiers and Ain-Taya, under Major General Ryder, and includes the other half of the 1st Armored Division, as well as the 34th Infantry and some other units.
Safi immediately falls, but the French defending Casablanca refuse to surrender. Two Allied ships are sunk, and several French warships are fired on and damaged.
6th Army has inched its way forward to the point where it is now in control of 90% of the city. Still Chuikov will not give up, and continues to fight for every room of every building, on every street, in his tiny beach-head of rubble along the Volga.
Admiral Darlan, in charge of the Vichy French defending North Africa, orders a general cease-fire. In anticipation of this development, the Nazis move into and occupy Vichy France and Tunis. Military installations are seized, as the Germans seek to prevent French assets from falling to the Allies.
The Tokyo Express continues to feed Japanese troops into the battle for Guadalcanal, as the enemies slug it out in the jungle. Both sides are now engaged in reinforcement operations, leading to a clash of naval forces on the 13th.
Italian troops occupy the Vichy island of Corsica.
Admiral Nagumo is replaced as Commander in Chief of Third Fleet by Admiral Ozawa.
Fuel stocks in Japan are down to only one million tons. To stretch this supply to its utmost, the Japanese Navy directs its ships' captains to refuel at local sources, rather than home ports. Symptomatic of the industrial production capacity shortfall in Japan is the drop in steel and aluminum production; both of critical importance in 1940's weapons technology. At the core of both problems is the work of the U.S. submarine fleet. A shortage of merchant shipping tonnage, necessary for the transport of raw materials to the resource poor Home Islands, prevents the Japanese economy from running at flank speed.
Anticipating some kind of imminent attack from their left wing, 48th Panzer Corps is pulled back from Stalingrad to reinforce Third Romanian Army on the weakly held flank.
British commandos land at the north African port of Bone, and further west at Djidelli.
In the dark, the enemies meet, and the Japanese savage the U.S. forces, sinking the cruiser Atlanta, and the destroyers Barton and Laffey. The destroyers Cushing and Monson are badly damaged, and later explode. The cruiser San Francisco, damaged earlier in the day from a crashing Japanese plane, is further damaged in the battle, as are the cruisers Portland and Juneau, as well as the destroyers Aaron Ward and Sterett. The Japanese suffer three ships destroyed; the battleship Hiyei, which is only finished off the following morning by two aerial torpedoes, despite having been struck by fifty rounds, and a bomb from a B-17., and the destroyers Akatsuki and Yudachi. Kirishima, returning to tow Hiyei to safety, escapes damage when yet another submarine launched torpedo fails to detonate against her hull. The naval battle forces a twenty-four hour postponement of Japanese landing operations, and a new bombardment group is put together for the next day.
In the afternoon, Admiral Lee's two battleships, South Dakota, and Washington; TF64, are ordered into the area by Halsey.
Wairopi on New Guinea falls back into Australian hands.
During the night, Admiral Kondo's Second Fleet, including the battleship Kirishima, encounter Admiral Lee's battleships in what is known as Iron Bottom Sound. Quicker on the trigger, the Japanese sink three of Lee's four American destroyers, at a cost of one of their own, and the battleship South Dakota gets pummeled by forty-two impacts. Lee's other battleship, Washington, approaching unnoticed, makes a radar vectored attack in the dark, and in seven minutes, utterly destroys Kirishima. The Americans break off the expensive engagement, having ended another bombardment of Henderson Field, before it could begin.
Allied airborne troops are inserted on New Guinea, south of the Japanese Buna/Gona beach-head.
Built around the Corps staff of the 48th Panzer Corps, Heim's other Panzer unit in his reserve group is the 1st Romanian Panzer Division with only twenty-one German built tanks and eighty-seven Czech built Skoda 38-T tanks; very vulnerable to the T-34.
Over the next four months, despite the overwhelming need for troops and forces to save 6th Army from disaster, more than 140,000 German soldiers will be landed in Tunis. Under the command of General Von Arnim, these troops become a blocking force, protecting Rommel's command further east from attacks in their rear. By month's end, the Nazis will have already landed 24,000 of these men, along with 130 tanks from Sicily, on Tunisia.
Nearer to the Volga, Don Front's forces make smaller pincer attacks designed to trap the German 11th Corps north of the city. These, however, are stopped by the German infantry.
Panzer Reserve Heim is first ordered to attack towards 21st Army, but is then redirected against 5th Tank. The men of 1st Romanian Panzer Division never receive the order to redirect their attack, and run headlong into the 21st Army without the support of the German 22nd Panzer Division, and the Czech built tanks are shattered. The tanks of 22nd Panzer, still without track sleeves to prevent skidding on the ice, can only deliver twenty tanks and a single anti-tank gun battalion to do battle with 5th Tank Army. These quickly blend in with the Romanians fleeing from the battlefield.
Australian troops, having chased the Japanese off the Owen Stanley Mountains and into shrunken perimeters around Buna and Gona, launch repeated attacks against the resolute defenders. The Japanese, fighting from well prepared defenses, fend off the Australians for a week, exhausting the attackers.
Close to the city's southern outskirts, Shumilov's 64th Army runs up against the German 297th Infantry division, and is slowed considerably in their advance. Hoth orders the 29th Motorized Division, behind the 297th, to attack north, into the flank of Tolbukhin's 13th Mechanized Corps. That night, after doing considerable damage to the advancing Russians, Von Weichs orders Hoth to pull the 29th Motorized Division into a defensive posture on 6th Army's western end of the south flank. This allows the Soviets free reign to join up with 21st Army near Kalach. At the same time, Hoth is stripped of his remaining German units, which are transferred to Paulus. This leaves Fourth Panzer Army with some fleeing Romanians under Hoth's nominal control, and nothing else.
Paulus has already ordered three Panzer divisions to pull out of the Rattenkreig, to strengthen his left wing, on Von Weich's orders. Already weakened by the failure of the logistics chain to properly supply him, these units have to scrounge fuel for the sixty mile move to the west.
Directly in the path of 21st Army's 4th Tank Corps, is Paulus' own headquarters at Golubinskaya, only ten miles north-east of Kalach. Two hours before the Golubinskaya HQ is overrun, Paulus moves to an alternate HQ at Nizhne-Chirskaya, forty miles to the south-west. Flying over his fleeing troops, en route to the new HQ, Paulus realizes how totally routed the Romanian armies are, and that 6th Army is quickly being surrounded by Russian armor. He quickly request authorization to withdraw from Stalingrad, and form up a new defensive line, some one hundred miles to the west, on the Don and Chir Rivers. The urgent request, heartily endorsed by the new German Chief of Staff, General Zeitzler, is typically refused by Hitler, who orders 6th Army to hold their positions, and await further orders for their aerial resupply. With only a single rail line into Stalingrad from the west, Luftflotte 4 has already been flying supplementary supplies to 6th Army, as well as trying to keep Army Groups A and B supported in the Caucasus. Even the current combination of air and rail resources have proven incapable of meeting Paulus' requirements. Now that the rail line is about to be lost, the promise of being able to keep Paulus resupplied entirely by air is pure fantasy.
OKH orders Manstein's 11th Army Headquarters, now fully seven hundred miles north of 6th Army after their transfer from the successes of the Crimean campaign, to assume command of the newly formed Don Army Group. His mission is to push the Soviets back across the Volga river. To achieve this, Don Army Group is given control over Paulus' 6th Army, the utterly shattered 3rd and 4th Romanian Armies, Hoth's nonexistent 4th Panzer Army, and the re-formed 48th Panzer Corps, now under the command of General Von Knobelsdorff, using the debris from the smashed Panzer Reserve Heim. So long as Hitler directs 6th Army to remain in place, however, Don Army Group cannot exercise any authority over it, relegating the Army Group to a sort of stew-pot of chewed up leftovers, already mauled by the Soviets.
The Japanese troops on Buna, encircled and in dire straights after defeating an American attack south of the Buna mission, get reinforced with eight hundred men from Rabaul. These are put ashore by the 10th Destroyer Division.
Sensing disaster, the Commander of Fleigerkorps VIII, General Martin Fiebig, warns Paulus' Chief of Staff, General Schmidt; an ardent Nazi, that the Luftwaffe would not be able to supply an encircled 6th army from the air alone.
Hitler, leery of the reasons for Paulus' transfer to Nizhne-Chirskaya, orders him to move his HQ again. This time, Hitler selects the location; Gumrak, barely ten miles from the Volga itself, deep inside the encircled pocket! Once inside the pocket, Paulus again warns Army Group Headquarters of the fuel, food and ammunition shortages inside Stalingrad, and requests authority to order a breakout to the southwest if he deems it essential to save the Army. Von Weichs endorses the request, and forwards it to Hitler, warning that the Luftwaffe would, at best, be able to provide 10% of 6th Army's minimum daily requirements. He goes so far as to state that the proposed breakout will mean heavy losses,"...but far less than those that must ensue if the situation is left to develop , as it must do, in existing conditions, with the inevitable starving out of the encircled army as the certain result." (Tarrant, "Stalingrad", page 117)
Hitler's response is to travel to his East Prussian Headquarters from Berchtesgaden, where he can study the situation, and he forbids Zeitzler from taking any decisive action until he arrives.
Hitler, his personal aircraft grounded by bad weather, sits on his train bound for East Prussia, while Stalingrad Front's 4th Mechanized Corps reaches Sovetsky, only ten miles from Kalach. At 2:00pm, tanks from Southwest Front's 4th Tank Corps arrive on the scene, placing the noose around 6th Army's offered up head.
Paulus pulls in his exposed units, and develops his planned breakout, scheduling the start for the 27th. About 230,000 German and 12,000 Romanian soldiers remain inside the Stalingrad pocket, which is strung out north to south, along some forty-five miles on the western side of the Volga.
Göring guarantees that the Luftwaffe can resupply 6th Army. The commander of Luftflotte 4, Wolfram Von Rictofen, is not so sanguine. Sixth Army requires five hundred and fifty tons of cargo daily. This could only be met by 225 Ju-52 sorties each day; requiring, at a bare minimum, that many aircraft; one third of the entire Luftwaffe establishment of some seven hundred and fifty Ju-52's. There are two airfields from which to mount such an effort; Tatsinskaya, and Morosovsky. Should bad weather ground the transports for any given day; a fairly regular occurrence this time of year, the next day's deliveries would have to be doubled. Compound that with wear and tear on the engines eroding operational readiness rates; which are already down in the forty per cent range, and losses to Soviet air defenses, (they are facing four Soviet Air Armies), and it becomes immediately apparent that 6th Army is going to die if ordered to remain in Stalingrad. All the German commanders know this, except Hitler, and perhaps, Göring. Manstein's rescue attempt is a desperate grasp at straws.
With the Japanese surface fleet taking such punishment off Guadalcanal, the Imperial Navy attempts to resupply their men by submarine. Even this effort is interdicted, but the Japanese return on the 25th. They succeed in offloading eleven tons of material, but it amounts to less than 1 lb. per man.
More than five hundred Norwegian Jews are arrested. The pattern here is the same as elsewhere in the Greater German Reich, and they are deported to the death camp at Auschwitz. Some estimate that this one action accounts for half of all Norway's Jews murdered during the Holocaust.
The Japanese defenders of Gona throw back an Australian attack, after inflicting heavy casualties.
OKH confirms Hitler's orders to 6th Army, and the airlift is stepped up.
The tactic is at least partially successful, when a U.S. cruiser force, dispatched to intercept the destroyers, is badly damaged from torpedoes launched by the Japanese ships. All of Admiral Wright's cruisers suffer some kind of damage, and North Hampton is lost. (Rear Admiral Carleton Wright replaced Kinkaid as commander of Task Force 67 only twenty-four hours earlier.) The 2nd Destroyer Squadron, under Tanaka, loses one of its ships as well, but fails to deliver the supplies to the troops.
By the end of November 1942, overall Luftwaffe strength is some five hundred planes lower than was available at the start of Barbarossa.
The first production run of the HE-177; a 4 engined, long ranged heavy bomber, has been interrupted to convert the aircraft to a transport, so that it could assist in the resupply efforts to 6th Army. Although powered by four engines, these were paired to only two propellers. Twelve hundred of the aircraft were eventually built, but reliability problems and disappointing engine performance seem to have prevented its widespread employment as a strategic bomber. The Luftwaffe also introduced into service a huge transport around this time frame; the six engined (with six propellers) Me-323. (Originally designed as a glider.) This was capable of moving ten tons a distance of three hundred miles. Both planes were tried in the effort to supply Sixth Army, and both were miserable failures.
Twenty-seven Japanese merchant ships have been sunk in November, whereas one hundred and nineteen allied ships (729,160 tons) are lost to Axis submarines.
Russians attack the Don Army Group along the Chir river, tying up the German troops needed to open a relief corridor to 6th Army.
A new formation; Army Detachment Hollidt, is attached to 3rd Romanian Army. This theoretically consists of the ubiquitous 48th Panzer Corps, now made up of the 11th and 22nd Panzer Divisions, the 3rd Mountain, and 7th and 8th Luftwaffe Field Divisions. Most of the 3rd Mountain never arrives; elements are shifted here and there to meet local demands from Army Group Center and Army Group A, and 22nd Panzer is in serious need of a refit. The Luftwaffe Field divisions are incapable of conducting offensive action, and the 15th such division, due to join the 57th Panzer Corps hasn't even been formed yet. With all this working against him, Von Manstein's troops are subjected to a blistering attack by 5th Tank Army, all along the Chir river. Army Detachment Hollidt, instead of launching a secondary thrust north towards the pocket, is forced to spread its forces thin and confront the new Russian offensive.
German food rations to the troops freezing inside Stalingrad are reduced to 1,000 calories per day. Many of the horses used to haul the men and equipment are slaughtered just to meet this starvation level requirement.
Soviet units renew their attacks on the German positions along the Lower Chir river, west of the Don. This constant pressure on an area that that holds the key to the German airlift into the Stalingrad Pocket, prevents the release of the 48th Panzer Corps to assist in the effort to relieve the pressure on 6th Army's rear.
Soldiers of 6th Army begin to die from malnutrition and exposure.
Stalin authorizes Vasilevsky to transfer Second Guards Army from Don Front to the Mishkova, to meet Manstein's relief thrust.
(Perhaps because the Navy bore so little responsibility for the Holocaust or Nazi atrocities and related activities, it seems pathetic that this is the issue to cause a German military leader's resignation; not the Commissar Order, or the Einsatzgruppen activities, or the Final Solution.)
The 17th Panzer Division, with only forty-four tanks, arrives near Verkhne-Kumsky to assist Hoth's forces which have been unable to even cross the Mishkova river, let alone break through to Stalingrad.
Reinforced with tanks from Australia, the Allies break the Japanese defense on the north coast of New Guinea, and begin to roll up the enemy lines, north, along the shoreline. (There were almost no heavy weapons on New Guinea due to the very rugged terrain that the battles had been fought over.)
The arrival of Malinovsky's 2nd Guards Army along the Mishkova ends the German hopes of 57th Panzer Corps breaking through to 6th Army.
Army Detachment Hollidt, after regrouping with two of the Italian divisions from the routed 8th Army, finds itself totally exposed to the enemy after these two division flee in panic when they hear that Soviet tanks have indeed, outflanked them.
South of there, the Romanian 7th Division and 1st Corps Headquarters, both abandon their positions on 48th Panzer Corps' left flank, as well. The Russians are now free to rampage along the German lines on the Chir river.
Inside the Stalingrad pocket, the Russians try using a psychological approach to warfare. Loudspeakers are set up to blare into the German lines a repeated recording:
� "Every seven seconds a German soldier dies in Russia. Stalingrad-mass grave." �������� Seven seconds are then loudly ticked off, and the message is repeated...and repeated...and repeated...
Admiral Darlan, Vichy's heir apparent to Pétain, is assassinated in North Africa.
After a morning blizzard ends any German hopes for airlifted supplies as a Christmas present, the Russians launch an attack into the German positions in the northeast area of Stalingrad, winning back two miles of territory in some areas. Twelve hundred and eighty Germans die on this Christmas day inside the Stalingrad pocket.
Four thousand of the remaining horses inside Stalingrad are slaughtered to feed the soldiers. Tomorrow, the bread ration will be halved.
Fourth Panzer Army has been fought off by the Russians, who have now succeeded in pushing them back beyond their Dec. 12 jumping off points.
By month's end, the Luftwaffe's bomber force is down to about seventeen hundred aircraft, on all fronts. This includes the small divebombers as well as the larger, multi-engined horizontal bombers, and the FW-200 coastal bombers. Of the fighters, JG5 is in Scandinavia, JG2 and J26 are covering the English Channel, JG27 and JG53 fly over Malta and North Africa. This has helped the Russians to achieve a 5:1 numerical superiority in the skies over the Eastern Front. (JG is the Luftwaffe's designation for a Fighter Wing; usually about 90 aircraft.)
Allied aircraft production in 1942 begins to overwhelm the Axis. U.S. figures have again nearly doubled the prior year's output, to 47,800 planes. The Soviet war machine, having relocated much of its industrial capacity to areas out of Hitler's reach, has produced 25,400 aircraft. The British have produced nearly as much as the Soviets; 23,600 planes.
Germany and Japan, having gambled on quick victories, have been unable and unwilling to muster the resources necessary to dramatically increase aircraft production. The two nations' combined figure barely tops that of the British, at 24,200 units, nearly two-thirds of which are German.
The Japanese' principle enemy is, therefore, producing weapons of war at something like five times the rate of their domestic capacity. A war of attrition can have only one outcome in the Pacific. This fact is not lost on the Japanese, who cling tighter to the idea of drawing the U.S. fleet into a single decisive engagement.
The entire concept of a single massive engagement is invalidated by the very command structure the U.S. has established in the Pacific. The American fragmentation of the principle of Unity of Command insures that there will be internal competition for resources, simultaneous operations, and dilution of effort throughout the theater. This is exacerbated further by the conflicts of competing service branches leading the different operational areas. Admiral King refuses to accept an Army commander for the Pacific Theater, dominated as it is by vast expanses of open ocean.
At the end of March, 1942, the Joint Chiefs had established MacArthur as Commander in Chief of Southwest Pacific Area. This includes the South China Sea, The Philippines, New Guinea, the Coral Sea, the islands in those areas as well as Australia. In order to satisfy the Navy's demands that MacArthur not be named overall commander, Admiral Nimitz was named to command the rest of the Pacific theater. This led to a situation not unlike that which had been in operation at OKW. In Germany, the High Command was forced to become a tactical headquarters for certain areas, and in the U.S., the Joint Chiefs now filled that role, to lesser degree, in the Pacific; for they are forced to reconcile the competing demands for resources, and thereby prioritize area operations.
So, by virtue of the internal friction among the American military leadership, a single decisive engagement that would destroy the U.S. Fleet is a virtual impossibility. Neither area commander would consent to the total commitment of his forces under the other's command. The resultant diminution of effort, however did present the Japanese an opportunity to combat the fragmented U.S. effort with superior force, if they chose to mass in any given area. But the Midway battle had already devastated Japan's Naval air arm; the one dominant weapons system in this theater, and their failure to widely incorporate effective radar systems in their warships put them at tremendous disadvantage. The shortage of fuel stocks and tankers also plays a role in the inability of the Japanese Navy to conduct a massive manuever.
German and Italian Naval warfare operations for the year have succeeded in destroying more than a thousand Allied vessels, of some 6,266,215 tons. Despite the widespread use of high frequency direction finding equipment aboard Allied shipping, in December alone, the Germans accounted for yet another sixty ships lost, and the Allies were unable to increase the size of the merchant fleet.
Among the Nazi death camps, the murderers at Chelmno have killed about 145,000 people, doing their part to implement the Final Solution. Poland will suffer the most massive loss of life among the countries subjected to the Holocaust, with nearly half of the Nazi's Jewish victims being of Polish citizenship.
The Kreigsmarine has finally succeeded in greatly expanding the U-boat fleet to 212 operational submarines.
Twenty-one ships of the Japanese merchant fleet were destroyed in December, bringing Japan's 1942's total losses to 952,000 tons.
CASABLANCA CONFERENCE: In their third wartime meeting, Churchill and Roosevelt meet to decide the future course of operations. A plan for the invasion of France in 1943 is shelved in favor of an assault on Sicily. Again, top priority is given to the Atlantic war. Great Britain is to attack in the Burmese theater, and American troops will continue the offensive among the Pacific Islands.
After an hour long bombardment by thousands of artillery pieces and mortars, supplemented by the attack of four hundred Soviet aircraft, the Soviet ground attack on 6th Army begins.
Voronezh Front, opposite the German 2nd Army with their allied 2nd Hungarian Army, launches its attacks against the weakly held flanks of the Wehrmacht. Much as the Romanians and Italians before them, the Hungarians also collapse under the Russian assaults. About a hundred miles east of Kursk, and just north of Voronezh, the German 24th Panzer Corps is encircled by 13th, 38th, and parts of 40th Armies. To the south, the remaining elements of the Soviet 40th Army encircle the 2nd Hungarian Army, while the 3rd Tank Army sweeps around from the southeast.
Surrounded inside Stalingrad, the German 29th Motorized Division, along with the 3rd Motorized Division faces a concentrated attack by several divisions of Russian armor, and together they manage to destroy dozens of the enemy tanks in their fight to the death. The Russians compress 6th Army to the east, up against 62nd Army and the Volga.
In much the same way as he had assigned Manstein the absurd task of rescuing the trapped army with little more than the already beaten remnants that were supposed to have been guarding 6th Army in the first place, Hitler now appoints Milch to personally take command of the aerial resupply effort. Upon his arrival at Richtofen's Luftflotte 4 HQ, at Taganrog, he finds less than 30% of the aircraft are operational.
Pitomnik; the primary airstrip needed to supply Stalingrad is taken by the Russians. The Luftwaffe now resorts to airdrops, and attempts to fly supplies into Gumrak, which is under constant fire.
Further south, the Germans are forced to abandon the area around Voronezh, as the Russian have ripped a giant gash in the German lines.
The Jews remaining in the Warsaw Ghetto erupt into armed resistance. Never before have the Nazis been confronted with an armed populace determined to resist the extermination efforts of the SS. Various underground groups begin spontaneous resistance, taking the Germans off guard and meet with limited successes. The uprising forces the Nazis to assign even more troops to the tasks associated with the Holocaust.
The primary German base in North Africa; Tripoli is taken by the British 8th Army, as they push the Germans west, into the guns of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Tunisia.
After four days of deportations from the rebellious Warsaw Ghetto, the Germans have managed to send five thousand more people to their deaths in the camps, and the operation is halted. The Jewish resistance groups are encouraged by the results they achieved, and begin to plan for a more vigorous defense of the ghetto in the future. More arms are smuggled in, and bunkers are dug as the population becomes actively aggressive.
After another huge Soviet artillery barrage announcing the start of renewed attacks, Sixth Army's last airstrip at Gumrak is assaulted by the Russians, and is soon lost. General Paulus evacuates his headquarters and moves into the city itself.
The Japanese forces near Milne Bay, on New Guinea have been wiped out.
Roosevelt calls for the unconditional surrender of all Axis forces, in search of total victory; not incremental peace negotiations.
Seeking to put an end to the personal hell that has been Stalingrad, General Stempel, commanding the 371st Division, shoots himself in the head, General Drebber takes the 1,800 survivors of his 10,000 man 297th Division, and leads them into Soviet captivity, and General Hartmann, in charge of the 71st Division, commits suicide by stands erect on a railroad embankment firing directly into the Russian lines, until he is cut down.
The Russian 65th Army is first to establish a link from the west with Chuikov's tenacious 62nd Army inside the city. Soon afterward, the 21st and 64th do likewise, splitting the remaining Germans into two separate pockets.
General Von Seydlitz-Kurzbach is taken prisoner by the Russians in the middle of Stalingrad. He will go on to help form a group of Germans in Russian captivity dedicated to the defeat of Hitler.
Soviet casualties can only be guessed; perhaps as many as 400,000.����
The Luftwaffe has lost close to five hundred aircraft in the battle, and well over a thousand aircrewmen.
Hitler now allows the men in the salient around Demyansk, south of Lake Ilmen, to withdraw.
The 6th Army, some 300,000 men at its peak strength, is lost. Of the 91,100 taken into captivity by the Soviets, very few will survive to ever return to Germany. A typhus epidemic in the prison compounds causes the deaths of some thirty-four thousand of the survivors. The remaining men begin a one hundred mile march to Saratove, which kills many more. Barely five thousand will ever return to Germany.
For the month of January, twenty-eight Japanese commercial ships are sunk in the Pacific, as the monthly toll of her merchant fleet climbs.