Midway island from the air

Project 60: A Day-by-Day Diary of WWII 

Remembering the First Fight Against Fascism

Scene on Yorktown's flight deck after the Japanese dive-bombers struck.  

May 26, 1942  

The Battle for the Gazala Line: After a two-month lull in the action to build-up, Rommel attacks the Gazala Line. The Italian Infantry hits the northern portion of the line along the coastal road. The Italian mobile forces (Trieste and Ariete divisions) strike at the southern extreme of the line at the Free French position at Bir Hakeim. Meanwhile, the bulk of Rommel's force (15 Panzer, 21 Panzer and 90 Light Divisions swing in a deep arc beyond the British lines south of Bir Hakeim. Rommel's plan was to cut off the Gazala Line from Tobruk with his Panzers and surround Tobruk with the 90th Light Division. The mobile forces took off with enough fuel for 300 miles of movement, a bare minimum if they became entangled in extended combat with the British.

In other news

The US carriers Enterprise and Hornet arrive at Pearl Harbor for immediate refueling after their aborted attempt to join the battle in the Coral Sea. They are ordered to move out to Midway when replenishment is completed.

260 German aircraft operating out of Norway hit the Murmansk Convoy PQ16, sinking 7 merchant ships, but the remainder of the convoy sailed on and delivered desperately needed war material to the Russians.

The British and Soviets signed a twenty-year alliance against Germany.

Return to the top

May 27, 1942

The Battle for the Gazala Line: In the early morning hours, Rommel's tanks (21 Panzer and Ariete) made contact with the 3rd Indian Motorized Brigade (7th Armored Division) southeast of Bir Hakeim. The Brigade was roughly handled and lost 440 men before retreating.

Later in the morning, 90th Light Division contacted 7 Motorized Brigade (7th Armored Division) operating 15 miles east of the 3rd Brigade. They were able to withdraw in good order.

The British 4th Armored Brigade (7th Armored Division) moved south to support the 3rd Motorized and ended up getting hit in the flank by the 15th Panzer Division advancing from the west. Both sides took heavy losses and the 4th Armored retreated.

Shortly before noon, reconnaissance elements of the 15th Panzer Division overran the headquarters of the 7th Armored Division, capturing most of the command staff.

The next British unit to blunder into the attack was the 22 Armored Brigade (1st Armored Division). It was moving to support the 4th Armored Brigade and got hit by elements of the 21st and 15th Panzer Division. In a brief action, 40 tanks were lost and they too retreated.

In other fighting along the Gazala Line, little success was achieved by the Germans and Italians. Ariete hit the 1st Free French Brigade at Bir Hakiem and were bloodily repulsed.

During the afternoon, Rommel rashly pursued the retreating forces north during the afternoon. By evening, he was behind the center of the Gazala Line. The British regrouped and struck both flanks of Rommel's spearhead. The attacks were made by 1st Armored Division (1st Armored Brigade from the west and 2nd Armored Brigade from the east) in the vicinity of Knightsbridge. The Germans took some serious losses before night fell and ended the days action. By the end of the day, 7th British Armored had been routed, but 1st Armored had rallied and hit back. The Germans had lost about a third of their armor and fuel reserves were badly depleted.

In other news

The infamous (and arguably the most vicious sadist in Nazi Germany) SS Commander Reinhard Heydrich is ambushed near Prague by partisans. His spine is severed by a grenade fragment.

Admiral Nagumo's carrier force (Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu) left port for Midway. Escorting the force were two battleships, three cruisers and a swarm of destroyers. The victors of Pearl Harbor, the scourge of the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, headed to destiny.

The US carrier Yorktown, still showing the scares of battle from the Coral Sea, enters Pearl Harbor's dry-dock to undergo emergency repairs.

Return to the top

May 28, 1942  

The Battle for the Gazala Line: Rommel continues to drive his forces north in order to cut off the Gazala Line forces from Tobruk. In very heavy fighting, his forces take the "Commonwealth Keep", a small outpost next to the trail atop the Solard Escarpment, 3 miles short of the coastal highway. Elsewhere, British forces fight the enemy to a standstill as 2nd Armored Brigade duels with Ariete and 4th Armored Brigade stops the 90th Light Division. But most ominous for Rommel, the Italian Pavia and Trieste Divisions, designated to breach the British minefields at Sidi Muftah to secure a supply line for the mobile forces to the east, run into the previously unspotted 150th Infantry Brigade, and are stopped cold.

Elsewhere in the world ...

Task Force 16 sets sail for Midway Island to meet the Japanese invasion force. The force of two carriers (Enterprise and Hornet), six cruisers and nine destroyers set sail to do battle with nearly 90 Japanese warships. The slow battleships were intentionally left behind and ordered to protect America's west coast. Nimitz had fully grasped the concepts of modern naval warfare where speed triumphs over firepower, and the supremacy of airpower in naval action, something his counterpart Yamato was yet to learn.

On the other side of the Pacific, the Japanese Midway attack force sets sail. Included in the massive armada is the new battleship Yamaato. This ship, the most powerful battleship in the world, carried 18" guns. The fleet includes two other 16" battleships and a swarm of cruisers and destroyers, as well as troop transports and support ships.

Chinese forces abandon Kinhwa in Chekiang Province as Japanese forces continue their attacks.

Return to the top

May 29, 1942

The Battle of the Gazala Line: Rommel, fuel and now, more importantly water supplies nearing exhaustion, abandons the original plan for the battle and concentrates his forces near Sidi Muftah. After ordering the move, Rommel personally takes off in the early morning darkness to find the lost supply columns, which were attempting to infiltrate through the British lines to the west. He found one column, jumped up on the running board of the lead truck and personally directed the driver through the swirling dust storms and night darkness to his starving tankers.

By 0600, the DAK was resupplied, but only for a day. The Italian infantry hit the 1st South African Division along the coastal road in the north again and were bloodily repulsed. 2nd and 22nd Armored Brigades engaged DAK in a wild melee. By the end of the day, both had fought each other to a standstill. Rommel's forces were still cut off and supplies were out. 

On other fronts

The last remnants of the Soviet forces trapped in the Kharkov area are destroyed. Reminiscent of the previous summer's debacles, the Soviets loose 214,000 men, 1,200 tanks and 2,000 guns.

A Japanese midget submarine infiltrated into Diego-Suarez in Madagascar sinking the  tanker British Loyalty and badly damaging the British battleship Ramillies.

Return to the top

May 30, 1942

The Battle for the Gazala Line: Supplies, especially water, were in desperately short supply. Rommel admitted to an officer on his staff that, "If we don't get a convoy [of water] through tonight, I will have to ask General Ritchie for surrender terms." In the early morning hours, engineers were able to clear a single path through the British minefields, giving DAK one tenuous supply route. However, the path was close to the positions of the 150th Brigade defensive perimeter and aggressive patrols on their part made the route very tenuous indeed.

While they held off the feeble British attacks in the east, the Germans turned their remaining offensive power against the 150th Brigade "Box". Six major attacks were made during the day and as night fell, the Brits had been forced to abandon some positions, but still held. Their position however was desperate, as they had expended all of their artillery ammunition and resupply was impossible.

Editor's Note: Most military historians feel that had Ritche been able to deliver a concentrated blow against DAK from the east on this day, Rommel's vaunted Afrika Korp would have been destroyed. He had the resources, but was unable to muster the confidence needed to commit his forces en-mass. The final defeat of the Axis in North Africa would have to wait for another year. One of the big "what if's" of WWII had passed.

In other war news

"Bomber" Harris launches the first "1000-Bomber Raid" against Germany. Every serviceable aircraft was committed. A total of 1064, were sent to Cologne while 50 bombers were sent to harass German airfields along the route. In all 898 of the bombers succeeded in dropping 1455 tons of bombs (1000 tons of incendiaries) on the luckless town. 2500 fires started, consuming 18,432 buildings, damaging 40,000 more. 486 people were killed, 5027 injured and nearly 60,000 made homeless. 328 factories were destroyed or badly damaged along with half of the city's power supply. 600 acres of the city were gutted. The British lost 42 planes over Germany.

In an amazing feat of dockyard efficiency and perseverance, Yorktown, still showing the scares of battle and showing the signs of hasty repair left Pearl Harbor to join the fleet at Midway Island. Task force 17 consisted of Yorktown, 2 cruisers and 5 destroyers. The combined US fleet at Midway would be 25 ships, facing 89 of the enemy.

Return to the top

May 31, 1942

A Japanese midget submarine penetrated the harbor defenses of Sydney, Australia, attacking the US cruiser Chicago. The torpedo missed, hitting a converted ferry, the depot ship Kuttabul, killing 20 sailors.

Return to the top

June 1, 1942

The Battle for the Gazala Line: Massive air attacks by German Stuka dive bombers hit the British 150th Brigade positions. German tanks followed close on the heals of the air raids and by 1400, the 150th Brigade was destroyed. General Bayerlein (Rommel's new Chief of Staff) said after the war, "If we had not taken [the 150th Brigade Box] on June 1, you would have captured the whole of the Africa Korp. However, with the demise of the British position in his rear, his supply lines secure and his flanks well protected, courtesy of the British minefields, Rommel was safe. The Gazala Line was breached and the first stage of the battle was won, although not yet decisively, by Rommel.

In other news

In reprisal for the destruction of the cathedral at Cologne, German bombers hit Canterbury.

Japan opens a major offensive along the rail line between Canton and Nahkow. 

All Jews in France and Holland are ordered to wear the Star of David badge.

The secret of the Nazi death camps became public knowledge as the Warsaw underground paper, Liberty Barricade, published an account of the murders at Chelmno. The story was that of Jakub Grojanoski, an escapee from the camp, who helped bury the bodies of the victims killed in the "gas vans."

Return to the top

June 2, 1942

8th Army finally makes a concerted attack on the DAK around Sidi Muftah. By this point, Rommel had his vaunted "88's" and other anti-tank guns emplaced. He had also concentrated his considerable artillery force in the area. The German guns ruled the day and the British attacks were cut to pieces.

The German 11th Army opens up a massive artillery bombardment on the fortress city of Sevastopol. 620 guns, nearly half between 190mm and 420mm, including a battery of 615mm mortars and the mammoth 800mm "Dora" gun (which is carried on a double rail line), pounded the Soviet positions. The bombardment would last for five days.

The Germans executed 131 Czechs in reprisal for the attack on Heydrich.

Return to the top

June 3, 1942

Japanese carrier aircraft bomb Dutch Harbor, Alaska in an attempt to draw the US Navy away from their intended target at Midway. With the intercepted messages in hand, Nimitz would not fall for the diversion.

Catalina scout planes spotted the Japanese support group heading for Midway. Nimitz, knowing the disposition and plan of the IJN forces, now had a good idea of the location of the Japanese carrier force operating in advance of the support group. Nagumo was still operating under the assumption that the Americans were still in Pearl Harbor. During the night, torpedo armed Catalina's and B-17 heavy bombers operating out of Midway struck the support group.

British commandos raided the Boulogne-La Touquet area on the French coast.

The Germans launched Operation Kottbus, attacking Russian partisans in the Lepel area. 16,000 combat troops were dedicated to the attack. Although a great number of partisan suspects were killed, the action did nothing to improve the situation for the Germans in the area.

Return to the top

June 4, 1942

The Battle of Midway (see the exclusive Bartcop special report for details) was fought. This was the decisive turning point in the war Pacific as Japanese naval supremacy was forever reversed. Using intercepted messages, the US Navy, lead by Chester Nimitz, moved the fleet to ambush the Japanese invasion force destined for to take the island.

At dawn, both sides launched scout planes. The Japanese force also launched a strike on the Island of Midway with a force of 108 aircraft (2/3 being bombers).

Shortly after the Midway raid was launched, Catalina flying boats spotted the Japanese carrier force. Enterprise and Hornet turned to the southwest and prepared to launch their strike.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Midway air raid was spotted on radar by the island's defenders and all aircraft were scrambled. Although the Marine aviators fought bravely, the raid went in. The raid proved to be destructive but not decisive and the raid commander recommended a second attack be launched.

Nagumo, fearing that the US carriers may be in the area, had his Kate bombers armed with torpedoes. Having heard nothing from his scouts, he decided to rearm the Kate's with bombs and launch the follow-up raid. This proved to be a fatal decision. 

It was now 0700 and the first US aircraft, those scrabbled off Midway, approached the Japanese carriers. Japanese fighters intercepted the attacking Marines and scattered the raid. Meanwhile, Enterprise and Hornet had launched all available strike aircraft.

Shortly after this initial contact, Nagumo received information from one of his scouts that American warships were north of Midway, but they failed to report on the composition of the force. Nagumo was in a bind. If this was the American carrier force, his Kate bombers, now armed with high explosive bombs, would be ineffective against the ships. Nagumo could not make up his mind. This indecision proved his fatal mistake.

Between 0815 and 0830, Nagumo's already fragile confidence was further shredded by a dive bombing raid from Marine planes from Midway, a high-level bombing raid from B-17s, a torpedo attack by the US submarine Nautilus and the return of the Midway air raid force, now desperately short of fuel.

Nagumo ordered the recovering of the raid force and rearming of the Kate's torpedoes and Val dive-bombers with armor piercing bombs for an anti-shipping strike. By 0920, the strike force of 36 Vals and 54 Kates were on the carriers' decks and ready for take-off.

During the time of Nagumo's indecision, the strike flights from Enterprise and Hornet had become scattered and lost contact. Around 0850, they should have made contact with the enemy carriers, but Nagumo had turned northeast to recover his Midway strike planes. The Naval aviators took off in different directions searching for the Japanese carriers.

By 0930, the Americans had spotted the Japanese and were closing on the targets, now packed with rearmed and refueling planes. The Japanese were at their most vulnerable disposition and had only their previously launched combat air patrols of Zero fighters protect them.

The Americans came in in uncoordinated attacks. The American torpedo bombers, flying low and slow on their attack runs were easy pickings for the Japanese fighters. A wave of dive bombers came in and the last of the fighters were committed to repulse this attack.

Finally, a third wave of American dive-bombers came in. The sacrifice of the previous attacks had stripped away the Japanese fighter protection and this raid came in unhindered except for the flak from the enemy ships.

Akagi, Nagumo's flagship, was struck by two bombs. One penetrated the deck and  detonated torpedoes in the hanger below deck. The second bomb hit on deck and started fires top side. The fires and secondary explosions doomed the ship.

Kaga was hit by four bombs, one hitting a fuel truck on deck which engulfed the bridge in flames killing everyone. The other bombs blew up planes on the deck and in minutes the entire ship was burning.

Soryu suffered the same fate as Akagi. It was hit by three bombs, one penetrating the deck and starting fires on the hanger deck. She too was doomed by the fires.

In five short minutes, the raids were over and the once invincible Japanese carrier force lay in complete ruin. Three of the four fleet carriers were on fire, and sinking.

The surviving Japanese carrier, Hiryu, was not sailing with the others at the time of the raid as she was still recovering planes from the Midway strike. After witnessing the destruction of their comrades, they launched an immediate counterstrike.

Not knowing the location of the American force, the strike leader followed the returning planes to the American carrier Yorktown. The Japanese aviators showed their skill in the attack. Even after taking horrific losses to the American fighters protecting the carrier, they delivered three bombs on target. One bomb hit the funnel, bringing the ship to a stop as the boilers had no draft. A second bomb penetrated four decks into the bowels of the ship. Many fires started and the forward magazine was threatened.

Repair crews got the ship moving again, just in time to take on a second attack, this time from Hiryu's torpedo bombers. Once again, the American fighters exacted a toll on the incoming enemy planes, but those that made it past the fighters delivered a devastating blow to the Yorktown, hitting with two torpedoes. Yorktown took on an immediate 26o list to port and was in danger of capsizing because pumps for counter flooding were inoperable. Yorktown was abandoned.

Meanwhile, a second American strike was heading for the lone surviving Japanese carrier. The strike came in shortly after Hiryu recovered the planes from the strike on Yorktown The ship was defenseless and took four bomb hits. One tore the forward elevator loose and through it into the bridge. Fires and secondary explosions tore through the ship. She too was doomed.

As night fell, the battle was over. The pride of the Japanese fleet were piles of burning wrecks soon to slip beneath the waves. Her proud airmen, were shot out of the sky and killed. The Japanese had reached as far as they were and would not recover from this defeat.

In other news .

Reinhard Heydrich, died of his wounds received on May 27. Editor's Note: Good Riddance!

Return to the top

June 5, 1942

Yamamoto, unable to lure the American's close enough to the guns of his surface fleet, orders the fleet home and abandons the attack on Midway. During the early morning hours, the US submarine Tambor engaged four Japanese cruisers. The cruisers made radical turns but the Mogami failed to make the turn and rammed Mikuma. Mogami's speed was reduced to 12 knots and she was leaking oil. The two ships were left behind by the group and American dive-bombers attacked in the morning, finished off Mogami while Mikuma made good her escape.

8th Army mounts another attack against the Germans at Sidi Muftah in the area known as "the Cauldron". The British attacks were poorly coordinated but did manage to penetrate the outer positions of the Germans. However, this was simply part of Rommel's plan for the attackers were simply lured onto his anti-tank gun traps, and subsequently destroyed. The British armored formations lost all cohesion and attempted to withdraw. Rommel counterattacked in the afternoon and drove the confused British forces before him. By nightfall, the 8th Army had taken 6000 casualties, 4000 were taken prisoner and 150 tanks were destroyed.

An explosion at a munitions plant in Elmwood, Illinois killed 49 workers. Editor's Note: Not all those who fought and died to stop fascism carried a gun.

Return to the top

June 6, 1942

Due to the high death rate at Camp O'Donnell (1,600 Americans and 20,000 Filipinos had died since the camp opened after Bataan fell), all American prisoners were sent to Cabanatuan. The surviving Filipino prisoners were paroled.

The Japanese landed on the islands of Attu and Kiska in western Alaska. The occupation was unopposed. This would be the only land taken by the Axis in North American during the entire war.

Return to the top

June 7, 1942

German infantry launches concerted attacks in the Sevastopol area after a five day bombardment. The assaults are concentrated on the Kamyshly-Belbek axis on the North Bay and along the Yalta Highway in the south. Casualties were very heavy on both sides and the Germans achieved only a small advance in one area.

The abandoned Yorktown had survived the night of June 4/5 drifting with the currents. On June 5, a salvage crew was placed on board and she was taken in tow. It looked as though she would make it to port when the Japanese submarine I-168 attacked, putting two torpedoes into her, sinking the proud ship.

Fierce fighting is reported in the city of Chuhsien in Chekiang Province as Japanese forces strike at the Chinese.

A Japanese submarine bombards the port of Sydney, Australia

Return to the top

June 8, 1942

Unable to follow-up his victory in "the Cauldron" battle three days earlier, due to lack of resources and the threats to the north and south, Rommel decides to secure his position by turning on the Free French position to the south at Bir Hakeim on the Gazala Line. 15th Panzer Division joined Trieste and 90th Light Divisions to assault the position. Heavy fighting was reported by the badly outnumber French Brigade.

The British aircraft carrier Glorious is sunk in surface action in the Norwegian Sea.

Return to the top

Correction: The May 23 reference to "the British General Stilwell" was, of course an error. The reference was indeed to General Slim. It is near impossible to confuse the stayed and competent Slim for the volatile "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell -- but I did.

1941 Archive:
June | July | August | September | October | November | December

1942 Archive:
  January |  February | March  | April

Special Editions:
Pearl Harbor | The Doolittle Raid | Midway

Editor's Corner Archive:

The Past Through Tomorrow "It is quite frightening to realize just how similar our nation's actions have been and appear to be heading when compared this way..."

Afghanistan and Vietnam: When the "war against terrorism" began, many knowledgeable people warned that our operations in Afghanistan would turn into another Vietnam.

Want to Win - Think Before You Lash Out - "If we are serious about taking the war to the enemy, it is time to look ..."

The First Fight Against Fascism - We must remember the Spanish Civil War also.

Arguing Victory - "... Each nation who fought against fascist tyranny in WWII brought with it part of whole needed to defeat that evil..." 

War, Glory, Honor and Remembrance - "War is a brutal and savage insult on human society..."

The First Casualty... in time of war, those in power are even more inclined to hide the truth, since that truth is often manifest in the most gruesome and terrible acts.  

Those wishing to contribute items. stories or comments should contact D.A. Friedrichs


Privacy Policy
. .