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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
other war news
"Bomber" Harris launches the first "1000-Bomber
Raid" against Germany. Every serviceable aircraft was committed. A total of 1064,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
British commandos raided the Boulogne-La Touquet area on
the French coast.
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
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
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..."
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
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