Project 60 - "The First Fight Against Fascism" - Archives

May, 1942


May 1, 1942

Mandalay, Burma falls to the Japanese.

May 2, 1942

US Naval intelligence intercepts top secret messages indicating that the Japanese have dispatched two naval task forces into the Coral Sea. A minor force had as its goal a landing at Tulagi. The larger and more serious threat was aimed at Port Moresby in New Guinea. The loss of Port Moresby (only 500 miles from Australia would be a devastating blow to the Allied war effort placing northeast Australia under a serious threat.

Hollywood goes to war as the seven-man unit. Lead by Frank Capra begins filming the "Why We Fight" films, arguably the finest propaganda films ever produced.

May 3, 1942

Japanese forces land at Tulagi in the central Solomons in preparation for the invasion of Australia. The quickly establish a sea plane base there which allowed reconnaissance flights deeper into Allied waters. The opening actions of the Battle of the Coral Sea was completed.

German surface ships sink the British cruiser Edinburgh as she escorts Convoy PQ-15 heading for Murmansk.

May 4, 1942

Admiral Fletcher orders the US carrier Yorktown north to raid the Japanese landings at Tulagi. The attack has limited success due to poor weather over the target area, but the navy planes fatally damage the destroyer Kikuzuki.

British forces abandon Akyab on the Bay of Bengal as Japanese forces advance to within 100 miles of the Indian border.

British forces land in Madagascar, encountering light resistance from the Vichy forces there.

The American "Flying Tigers" abandon their airbase in Burma and move to Kunming, China.

Japanese forces in Burma capture Bhamo, reinforcing their stranglehold on land communications between the Western Allies and China.

German, Italian and Croat forces in occupied Yugoslavia launch Operation Trio against Tito's partisans. The Axis forces took and executed civilian hostages as the partisans simply slipped away.

May 5, 1942

Admiral Fletcher's carrier Yorktown, rejoins the carrier Lexington and begins maneuvering against the Japanese Covering Force now entering the Coral Sea.

Japanese forces land at Cavalry Point on Corregador, establishing a secure beachhead.

A major Soviet Offensive is launched in the Kursk and Kharkov area.

Karl Oberg, a vicious anti-Semite, arrives in Paris to assume his new position as head of the SS and Police.

Marshall Petain calls for a vigorous defense of Madagascar against British "aggression".

May 6, 1942

Japanese and American carrier forces continue to maneuver, searching in vain for each other. At one point in the day, the two forces were a mere 70 miles (15 minutes flying time) from each other, but each was oblivious to the other.

Corregidor Island is surrendered to the Japanese. 16,000 Filipinos and Americans were taken prisoner.

Chinese troops in Burma, attack and recapture Maymyo from the Japanese.

May 7, 1942

Battle of the Coral Sea: US and Japanese scout planes took to the skies over the Coral Sea in the early morning darkness.

At 0800, Japanese scouts reported spotting a "carrier and cruiser". However, the ships were actually the fleet tanker Neosho and her destroyer escort Sims. Both vessels were well away from the US carrier force and heading further away. Later in the morning, two typically ineffective high altitude level bombing raids were executed against the ships. At 1200, Japanese dive bombers hit the two ships, sinking the destroyer outright with heavy losses and reducing the vital fleet tanker to a floating hulk.

Meanwhile, scouts from Yorktown spotted the Japanese light carrier Shoho and four heavy cruisers. The message relayed back to the carriers was "two carriers and four heavy cruisers" so Fletcher ordered an all out strike on what he thought was the main body of the Japanese carrier force. Shoho was pummeled with bombs and torpedoes and sunk in minutes.

Late in the day, the Japanese ordered the amphibious force to clear the area and await the outcome of battle. Also, 30 scout planes were launched to seek out the American carriers. Most of these were lost in combat or failed to make their night landings, thus depleting the Japanese air reserves further.

In other news of the day

Churchill announces to Parliament that Diego-Suarez on Madagascar was captured by British forces. Also, he indicated the the Vicy French forces had fought gallantly and regretted the need for the action, but hoped that France would see this as a step toward liberation.

Chief Justice of the Philippines, Jose Abad, after refusing to work with the Japanese military authorities, was executed. 

Dutch Jews a re ordered to wear the Star of David badge.

May 8, 1942

Battle of the Coral Sea: Before dawn, Japanese and US naval forces launch scout planes. Both sides are spotted a couple of ours later. The Japanese had their strike force already airborne, but the American strike was also airborne by 0900. Both strikes reached the enemy fleet at about 1100. The Japanese fleet was under low cloud cover, but the Americans were under clear skies.

Both Yorktown and Lexington took several bomb hits. Lexington was also struck by four torpedoes. Yorktown, although badly damaged, remained operational. The damage on Lexington was extensive as she took on an immediate 7o list, but damage control parties seemed to have everything under control and she resumed flight operations within and hour. However, at 1247, a major explosion caused several fires and ships communications were destroyed. The fires soon raged out of control. A second major explosion occurred two hours later. Lexington was abandoned at 1600. Fires reached the hanger deck and at 1730 a spectacular explosion detonated munitions, engulfing the ship in fire and smoke. Later a destroyer fired torpedoes into the stricken ship and she sank at 2000.

On the other side, American planes hit the Japanese fleet carrier Shokaku. Her flight deck was hit by three bombs and large fires broke out, prevented the launching of planes. Shokaku  withdrew from the battle area and headed back to Japan.

At the end of the day, both sides withdrew from the battle area. The first naval battle fought solely from the air was over. Tactically, the Japanese had won the battle due to the loss of Lexington. However, and more importantly, the Japanese had decided to call off the Port Moresby landing. This was their first strategic defeat of the war. The headlong and uncheck expansion of the Japanese Pacific empire had come to an abrupt stop in the Coral Sea.

In other events of the day

German forces in the Crimean Peninsula open the German summer offensive by attacking Soviet positions around Kerch and Sevastopol.

May 9, 1942

Operation Bowery concludes as Malta receives 63 Hurricane fighters delivered from the Carriers Eagle and American Wasp. This turned out to be the turning point in the fight for air superiority in the central Mediterranean.

May 10, 1942

The Maly Trostenets death camp opens outside Minsk.

Heavy fighting between the German 11th Army and Soviet Coastal Army at Sevestopol is reported as German forces attempt to break into the besieged city's defenses.

May 11, 1942

A German U-Boat penetrated into the St. Lawrence River in Canada and sunk a transport ship.

Japanese forces launch an offensive in China's Chekiang province in order to prevent a repeat of the Doolittle raid.

US submarine S-42 torpedoed and sank the Japanese minelayer Okinoshima in the Solomons.

German attacks at Sevastopol succeed in surrounding the Soviet fortifications in the Ak-Monay area in very heavy fighting.

German forces in the Crimea recapture Feodosiya in heavy fighting. 

German aircraft, operating in the Mediterranean Sea, sink three British destroyers (Lively, Kiplin and Jackal) off Crete.

May 12, 1942  

The Soviets, lead by Timoshenko, launch a major offensive out of their bridgehead at Izyum, aiming to capture Kharkov. The Germans had planned for a counterattack later in the month at the same location. The fighting was very heavy.

May 13, 1942

After heavy German attacks, the Soviet positions on the Kerch peninsula collapse and the Soviets are in panicked retreat.  The Soviets are offensive in the Kharkov area continues to push the Germans back in heavy fighting.

Tanya Savicheva, a young girl from Leningrad, notes in a address book, "Mummy May 13 at 7.30 morning 1942. The Savichevs are dead. All dead. Only Tanya remains.". Tanya was evacuated from the besieged city but died of chronic dysentery in the summer of 1943.

May 14, 1942  

HMS Trinidad is torpedoed by German aircraft off Bear Island while escorting merchants heading for Murmansk. The ship would be scuttled the next day. Eighty sailors were lost, including 20 wounded men who were rescued off the cruiser Edinburgh, sunk two weeks earlier.

May 15, 1942

The German 11th Army recapture Kerch in the Crimea.

Japanese forces complete the conquest of Burma forcing all Commonwealth forces back into India and Chinese forces into China.

May 16, 1942

Roosevelt ordered the release of US Communist party leader Earl Browder who had spent 14 months in prison on trumpeted up passport irregularities. Editor's Note: Sound familiar to anyone?

May 17, 1942

In an attempt to jump-start the Soviet attacks toward Kharkov, Southwest front commits it's armored forces to the attack. Simultaneously, the German 1st Panzer and 6th Armies begins operations against the Soviet 9th Army in the Kramatorsk area and the 28th Army in the Belgorod area. The Germans are poised to surround the over extended Soviet armies.

May 18, 1942

The Soviets continue to send their 6th Army toward Kharkov, while 9th Army begins a fighting withdrawal away from the German onslaught to the south and east.

British Air Fleet units engage and damage the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen forcing her to return to Kiel for repairs.

British Bomber Command launches heavy raids against Mannheim.

May 19, 1942

Manstein's 11th Army completes the clearing of the eastern end of the Crimean peninsula, freeing forces for the final assault on Sevastopol. The Germans took 100,000 prisoners and captured hundreds of artillery pieces.

Paulus' 6th Army launches attacks on the northern flank of the Soviet salient pointed at Kharkov. The Soviets are faced with disaster as both flanks crumble under the onslaught and finally call off their attacks on Kharkov, turning their forces to the threat to their rear.

Soviet partisans blew up five separate sections of the Bryansk-Roslavl line in the rear of Army Group Center.

May 20, 1942

US Naval Intelligence, operating from intercepted Japanese secret messages, orders the Navy to concentrate its defenses at Midway and not to react to the diversionary attack directed at Attu in the Aleutians.

May 21, 1942

With the inability of the Luftwaffe or Italian air force to gain air superiority over Malta, Hitler calls off the planned invasion of Malta.

4300 Jews from Chelm were deported to the Sobibor death camp and gassed. 2100 Jews from Korzec were marched into fields outside town and murdered. The German synthetic oil and rubber factory run by the firm of IG Farben open at Monowitz, just outside Aushwitz. The few people who were not gassed were tattooed and sent as slaves to work in the factories.

May 22, 1942

German attacks continue in the Kharkov area as 28th Army is pushed back to it's start line it left 10 days area.

May 23, 1942

The German 6th (Paulus) and 1st Panzer (Kleist) Armies complete the surrounding of Timoshenko's forces which earlier in the month had attacked with some success toward Kharkov.

British General Sliml arrives in Dimapur, India, ending a 140-mile trek through the Burmese jungle.

May 24, 1942

The Germans launch Operation Hanover, an attempt to clear Soviet partisans from the Bryansk-Vyaazma railway. 45,000 troops are involved in the operation.

The 1st Panzer Army begins the destruction of the pocketed troops from the Soviet 6th and 9th Armies.

May 25, 1942

Reinhard Heydrich, one of the most brutal an vicious sadists in the Gestapo, is mortally wounded by Czech patriots. His miserable life would hang on until June 4.

Britian and the Soviet Union sign an agreement not to sign a separate peace with Germany or her allies.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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