This week in the War, 14–20 September 1942: Battle of Stalingrad approaches its dramatic climax

Stalingrad, September 1942 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1974-107-66/ CC-BY-SA]

Stalingrad, September 1942 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1974-107-66/ CC-BY-SA]

This week in the war, on 14 September 1942, infantry of von Paulus’s Sixth Army broke through the Soviet lines and into the centre of Stalingrad. The Battle of Stalingrad was approaching its climax.

The following day, hundreds of Stuka dive-bombers attacked the city but the Russians defended the ruins of their factories and continued to hold out. House-to-house and hand-to-hand fighting continued throughout the week and was reported in detail in Red Star. Russian women fought alongside their men, as had happened already in Leningrad.

By the end of the week, 20 September 1942, newspapers were making reference to ‘Heroic Stalingrad.’ That phrase, and likewise ‘the heroic defenders of Stalingrad,’ appeared in papers across the Soviet Union. Press across the world took up the call, comparing the battle for Stalingrad with such First World War epics as Verdun.

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This week in the War, 7–13 September 1942: Arctic convoys

Torpedo attack on outbound Arctic convoy PQ18, September 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

Torpedo attack on outbound Arctic convoy PQ18, September 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

This week in the war, on 12 September 1942, U-boats and the Luftwaffe launched attacks, which continued for several days, against important Allied convoys heading through the Arctic Ocean towards Murmansk—–most notably against outbound convoy PQ18.

Battleship HMS Duke of York on Arctic convoy duty [Public domain, wiki]

Battleship HMS Duke of York on Arctic convoy duty [Public domain, wiki]

Convoy PQ18, which was carrying war aid, including Lend-Lease aid, to Russia, comprised 40 merchant vessels plus an escort of destroyers and corvettes, and an aircraft carrier. Battleships HMS Duke of York and HMS Anson were held at a distance in reserve.

Germany committed a dozen U-boats and a surface fleet of cruisers based in Norway.

In the end, 13 merchants ships were lost but enough survived for the Allies to consider the operation successful. The Kriegsmarine lost three U-boats. The Luftwaffe lost 40 aircraft and, more significantly, their complement of trained pilots and crew.

 

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This week in the War, 31 Aug–6 Sept 1942: The Battle of Alam Halfa

Montgomery (right) with General Alexander and Winston Churchill, Western Desert, August 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

Montgomery (right) with General Alexander and Winston Churchill, Western Desert, August 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

The Battle of Alam Halfa was fought in the Egyptian desert between 31 August and 6 September 1942.

This was a defensive battle designed to blunt Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps offensive and to prepare the way for the British Eighth Army’s own offensive, the soon-to-be-fought Battle of El Alamein. The Battle of Alam Halfa was planned and directed by the Eighth Army’s new commander, Lieutenant-General Bernard Law Montgomery, and is described in detail in his memoirs.

As Montgomery anticipated, Rommel attacked through the minefields, hoping to outflank the southern most sector of the British line and head on to Cairo. He was halted by the British armour (the 7th Armoured Division, the 10th Armoured Division, and the 22nd Armoured Brigade) who had orders to dig in and repel the enemy. When the German attack faltered, the 2nd New Zealand Division attacked them from the north.

The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery---by B.L. Montgomery (Collins, London, 1958) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery—by B.L. Montgomery (Collins, London, 1958) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Much of this is described in Monty’s Memoirs. Montgomery quotes from a letter he wrote at the time and in which he used a tennis analogy to describe his first encounter with the ‘Desert Fox': “I feel that I have won the first game, when it was his service. Next time it will be my service, the score being one-love.”

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This week in the War, 24–30 August 1942: Annexation of Luxembourg

Heinrich Himmler with Waffen-SS officers, Hotel Brasseur, Luxembourg 1940 [Bundesarchiv Bild 101lll-Weill-062-18/ Weill /CC-BY-SA]

Heinrich Himmler with Waffen-SS officers, Hotel Brasseur, Luxembourg 1940 [Bundesarchiv Bild 101lll-Weill-062-18/ Weill /CC-BY-SA]

This picture of Heinrich Himmler with Waffen-SS officers was taken in 1940, shortly after the German Blitzkrieg rolled over the tiny Duchy of Luxembourg (the entire country being roughly 50 miles × 35 miles in size). The capital city fell within the first few hours and the country was occupied within a day.

A process of ‘Germanification’ began in earnest and conscription into the German army was introduced. All things French were suppressed, and German became the only official language.

This week in the war, on 30 August 1942, Luxembourg was officially annexed and became part of Germany.

Every year, on 31 August, a ceremony is held to commemorate the famous general strike of 1942. It originated with workers in the town of Wiltz, in the Ardennes, and was one of the most significant acts of opposition to the German occupation.

 

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This week in the War, 17–23 August 1942: The Dieppe Raid

Knocked-out Churchill tank on the beach at Dieppe, France, 19 August 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

Knocked-out Churchill tank on the beach at Dieppe, France, 19 August 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

This week in the war, in the early hours of 19 August 1942, Allied troops raided the port of Dieppe in German-occupied France. The raiding force included British and Americans but was overwhelming Canadian. Before the morning was over, the troops who had not been killed or captured were withdrawn.

Of the 5,000 Canadian taking part, about one fifth were killed and over one third were taken prisoner.

Planning was overseen by Vice-Admiral Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations. After the disaster, lack of secrecy, lack of supporting naval firepower, and lack of air support were cited as reasons for the failure. A Canadian armoured regiment took part in the operation but the tanks failed to get off the beach.

Pressure from Stalin to mount a ‘Second Front’ is sometimes cited as a reason for the raid. The lessons learned at Dieppe were later put to use in planning the much larger amphibious landings in North Africa (Operation Torch) and Normandy (Operation Overlord).

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This week in the War, 10–16 August 1942: The Manhattan Project

General Leslie R. Groves Jr. speaking to service personnel at Oak Ridge, Tennessee [Public domain, wiki]

Lieutenant General Leslie R. Groves Jr. speaking to service personnel at Oak Ridge, Tennessee [Public domain, wiki]

The Manhattan Project—the project to build an atomic bomb—was launched secretly, this week in the war, on 13 August 1942.

The project involved scientists from the USA and Great Britain, including many Jewish scientists who had fled Nazi-occupied Europe. The task went beyond science, requiring a massive effort on a huge industrial scale. Factories and laboratories across America were involved, the most notable sites being at Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; Los Alamos, New Mexico, and the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley, California.

The British had achieved substantial progress and passed on their findings to their American allies under the codename Tube Alloy.

The project was headed by Lieutenant General Leslie R. Groves Jr. of the US Army Corps of Engineers. Groves had a reputation for getting the job done and saw the Manhattan Project through to its conclusion and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

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This week in the War, 3–9 August 1942: Monty is put in charge

Bernard Montgomery [Public domain, wiki]

Bernard Montgomery [Public domain, wiki]

This week in the war, 4 August 1942, Churchill arrived in Cairo to visit the front. He found no fault with the troops or even much fault with the equipment. The problem, he concluded, was at the top. Churchill had lost confidence in General Claude Auchinleck, C-in-C Middle East.

Lieutenant-General William Gott—veteran of many desert campaigns and one-time commander of the Eighth Army’s famed 7th Armoured Division—was Churchill’s choice to command the Eighth Army.

Lieutenant-General William Gott [Public domain, wiki]

Lieutenant-General William Gott [Public domain, wiki]

On 7 August, the transport plane carrying the general from the front to Cairo was shot down by German Messerschmitts and all on board were killed. Churchill had to go with his second choice, namely the commander of the British South-Eastern Army back in England: Lieutenant-General Bernard Law Montgomery.

Monty would soon be facing Erwin Rommel, the Afrika Korps’ famous ‘Desert Fox.’

On 8 August, Churchill gave Montgomery a new immediate boss by appointing General Harold Alexander to replace Auchinleck as Commander-in-Chief Middle East.

 

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