This week in the War, 18–24 January 1943: The relief of Leningrad

Troops of the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts meet near Workers Settlement #5 [Attr: RIA Novosti archive, image #602484/ Dmitriy Kozlov/ CC-BY-SA 3.0, wiki]

Troops of the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts meet near Workers Settlement #5 [Attr: RIA Novosti archive, image #602484/ Dmitriy Kozlov/ CC-BY-SA 3.0, wiki]

This week in the war, on 18 January 1943, Soviet forces finally broke through the German lines. Troops on the Leningrad Front were united with troops from the Volkov Front. After 497 days of encirclement, a narrow corridor barely five miles wide was opened and Leningrad was no longer cut off.

Although the blockade was broken, the siege continued. The German defenses were four miles deep and strongly fortified. Trains and trucks passing along the route into Leningrad could only travel at night due to heavy bombardment from the German lines.

In his book Leningrad: State of Siege, Michael Jones reports how German artillery continued to bombard the city for many months and was at its worst as late as August and September.

The city was finally liberated on 27 January 1944 by a force of a million and a quarter men, commanded by Lieutenant-General Leonid Govorov. Later that year, he was promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union.

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This week in the War, 11–17 January 1943: The Casablanca Conference

French General Giraud, FDR, de Gaulle, and Churchill at the Casablanca conference [Public domain, wiki]

French General Giraud, FDR, de Gaulle, and Churchill at the Casablanca conference [Public domain, wiki]

This week in the war, 14 January 1943, a conference of world leaders opened in Casablanca—a venue familiar to the American and British publics through the recently released Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman movie, Casablanca.

Churchill and Roosevelt attended, as did de Gaulle and Giraud. (General Henri Giraud had replaced Admiral Darlan as Vichy French governor for Africa.) Stalin could not attend because of the pressing military situation in the Soviet Union.

Stalin had sent a message advocating the opening of a second front in Europe at the earliest opportunity. Roosevelt favoured a landing in France (although, at the time, he was very focused on the Pacific) and Churchill favoured a landing in Italy: “the soft underbelly of Europe.”

Roosevelt got his way with France, although the D-Day landing in Normandy had to wait until 1944. Churchill got his way much earlier with Italy, and Allied forces landed in Sicily (Operation Husky) in July 1943.

Two controversial decisions that came out of the Casablanca conference were the decision to intensify the bombing of Germany and to demand the ‘unconditional surrender’ of Germany, Italy, and Japan.

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This week in the War, 4–10 January 1943: Sadako Sasaki and her paper cranes

Japanese paper cranes [Public domain, wiki]

Japanese paper cranes [Public domain, wiki]

Sadako Sasaki was born in Hiroshima this week in the war, on 7 January 1943.

She was a little over 2 years old when the atomic bomb fell on her city. Her home was a little less than a mile from the point of impact.

She died of leukemia at age twelve.

Sadako became famous for her project to make a thousand cranes from folded paper. If she were successful then she would be granted a wish, or so it was claimed in an ancient folktale.

Sadako never completed the full one thousand but her friends gathered after her death and finished folding the remaining cranes.

Her statue stands outside the Noboricho Junior High School in Hiroshima, which was where she studied.

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This week in the War, 28 Dec 1942–3 Jan 1943: New Year’s Day & the Diary of Helene Pitrou

Dans Paris occupe: Journal d'Helene Pitrou-----by Paule du Bouchet (Gallimard Jeunesse, 2005) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Dans Paris occupe: Journal d’Helene Pitrou—–by Paule du Bouchet (Gallimard Jeunesse, 2005) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

“The New Year is starting well: People are talking about a possible landing by the Allies.”

So begins the entry for New Year’s day in Dans Paris occupé: Journal d’Hélène Pitrou—the fictional diary of the fictional French schoolgirl, created by writer Paule du Bouchet.

Hélène has three wishes for the New Year:

That her mother be freed by the end of the month. (Her mother has been arrested for her work in the Resistance and an earlier diary entry describes Hélène’s visit to the prison to see her mother, thin, pale, but still in good spirits.)

That she hear news from her father (who had been languishing in a German P-o-W camp but has escaped).

That she become stronger and more courageous.

Hélène’s diary, like the war, will continue. As for ‘a possible landing by the Allies': Dieppe had proved a disappointment and Normandy was more than a year away.

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This week in the War, 21–27 December 1942: Vichy’s Admiral Francois Darlan is assassinated in Algiers

Marshal Petain with Darlan on his right (and Goering on his left, December 1941 [Public domain, wiki]

Marshal Petain with Darlan on his right (and Goering on his left, December 1941 [Public domain, wiki]

Admiral François Darlan, the one-time right-hand man of Vichy head-of-state, Maréchal Philippe Pétain, was assassinated in Algiers this week in the war, on 24 December 1942.

At the time of the Operation Torch landings in North Africa, Darlan had switched his allegiance from Vichy to the British and Americans and, consequently, had been recognized by them as the French governor for Africa.

The assassin, a French monarchist named Fernand Bonnier de la Chapelle, was executed two days later by firing squad.

The Allies replaced Darlan with French general, Henri Giraud, who had the support of Eisenhower and the British and also of General Charles de Gaulle. Giraud would be one of France’s representatives at the Casablanca Conference in January, 1943.

Suspicion for the Darlan assassination fell upon the British intelligence service, although nothing was ever proven.

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This week in the War, 14–20 December 1942: Australians and Americans capture Buna in Papua New Guinea

Papua stretcher bearers in New Guinea, carrying American wounded from the front lines, rest in the shade of a coconut grove, Buna 1942-3 [Public domain, wiki]

Papua stretcher bearers in New Guinea, carrying American wounded from the front lines, rest in the shade of a coconut grove, Buna 1942-3 [Public domain, wiki]

The Kokoda Trail campaign had grown into weeks of desperate fighting until the tide finally began to turn: This week in the war, on 14 December 1942, American troops captured Buna village in south-eastern Papua New Guinea.

Japanese destroyers and transports attempting to supply their diminishing forces were attacked by American aircraft while, on the following day, a Dutch cargo vessel delivered tanks to Australian troops in Oro Bay.

The tanks were used to attack the Japanese salient around Buna Mission. The Japanese position was strongly held and was not overcome until early January 1943.

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This week in the War, 7–13 December: Stalingrad—the battle continues

Junkers 52 approaching Stalingrad, late 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

Junkers 52 approaching Stalingrad, late 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

This week in the war, the Red Army was maintaining the initiative across the Eastern Front and was making steady progress in the Stalingrad sector.

Following the Soviet Operation Uranus, the German troops in and around Stalingrad—which included General Friedrich Paulus’s 6th Army—had been encircled since the latter part of November. Over 200,000 Axis troops were trapped.

Despite Goering’s assurances that the Luftwaffe could fly in sufficient supplies, the airlift failed to manage even 100 tons per day and over 400 transport planes were lost.

 

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