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.

Posted in World War II | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

 

Posted in World War II | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Vignette: Pearl Harbor Day

USS Arizona ablaze in Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941 [Public domain, wiki]

USS Arizona ablaze in Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941 [Public domain, wiki]

“A DATE WHICH WILL LIVE IN INFAMY.”

Today, Sunday 7 December 2014 is Pearl Harbor Day—a time to remember those who died exactly seventy-three years ago and to remember the dramatic event that triggered the entry of the United States into World War II.

“A date which will live in infamy,” Roosevelt called it in his speech to Congress.

None of the US carriers were at Pearl on that fateful Sunday, but the loss to the USA of its Pacific-based battleships was a bitter blow. The road to victory would be long and hard fought.

Posted in Vignette | Tagged , , | Comments Off

This week in the War, 30 Nov–6 Dec 1942: Enrico Fermi triggers a chain reaction

The 'Reactor Team' at the University of Chicago; Enrico Fermi is front row left [Public domain, wiki]

The ‘Reactor Team’ at the University of Chicago; Enrico Fermi is front row left [Public domain, wiki]

This week in the war, on 2 December 1942, ex-patriot Italian scientist Enrico Fermi produced the world’s first nuclear chain reaction. He created it inside a so-called atomic pile (now called a nuclear reactor) that he and his team of scientists had built on the football ground at the University of Chicago.

The ‘pile’ was made from layers of graphite and uranium. By bombarding the uranium nuclei with neutrons, Fermi was able to split the nuclei in two thereby producing energy and more neutrons which then went on to split more nuclei, producing yet more energy and yet more neutrons.

Fermi had calculated that the reaction would not get out of control (and result in a spectacular explosion in one of America’s most populated areas!). He shut the reaction down later that afternoon.

The experiment was an important step in the development of the atomic bomb. Fermi had been a professor of physics at the University of Rome but left for the United States in 1938 immediately after receiving his Nobel Prize. He was anxious to escape Italy’s new race laws. Fermi’s wife was Jewish.

Posted in World War II | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

This week in the War, 23–29 November 1942: Casablanca—The Movie

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in CASABLANCA [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in CASABLANCA [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

With the Moroccan port of Casablanca in Allied hands following Operation Torch, American cinema audiences were treated to the first screening of the movie Casablanca. The film opened in New York City, this week in the war, on 26 November 1942.

It was released across the United States in time for the Casablanca Conference (January, 1943) between Allied leaders, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The movie stars Humphrey Bogart as the cynical bar-owner, Rick, and Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa, who is Rick’s long-lost love from the time when the German’s first marched into Paris. “The Germans wore grey; you wore blue,” Rick remembers. (For an interesting take on actress Ingrid Bergman and also on wartime photographer Robert Capa, try reading the novel Seducing Ingrid Bergman by Chris Greenhalgh.)

Bogart and Bergman (right, wearing hat) in CASABLANCA, 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

Bogart and Bergman (right, wearing hat) in CASABLANCA, 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

Casablanca’s cast of characters includes a Czech Resistance leader named Victor Laszlo (played by Paul Henreid), the head of the local Vichy police, Captain Louis Renault (played by Claude Rains), the infamous Major Heinrich Strasser (played by Conrad Veidt), and piano-player Sam (played by Dooley Wilson), who is the ‘Sam’ in the oft-quoted line, “Play it again, Sam.”

The story in a nutshell: Ilsa, the woman whom Rick met in Paris and who broke his heart and is married to on-the-run Resistance leader Victor Laszlo. She walks into Rick’s nightclub in Casablanca. (“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world,” says Rick, “she has to walk into mine.”) Ilsa must get hold of the letters of transit that will allow her husband to escape and continue his work in America.

Rick has a decision to make: Should he stay out of it (like his fellow Americans were doing in the early stage of the war) or should he pitch in and do his bit to fight the Nazis? To put it another way: Should he continue to bear a grudge, or should he put his resentment against Ilsa behind him (“We’ll always have Paris.”) and help her and her husband to escape?

Posted in Movie, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

This week in the War, 23–29 November 1942: French fleet scuttled in Toulon

Panzer IV arrives at Toulon in time to see French cruiser Colbert being scuttled, 27 November 1942 [Bundesarchiv_Bild_101l-027-1451-10]

Panzer IV arrives at Toulon in time to see French cruiser Colbert being scuttled, 27 November 1942 [Bundesarchiv_Bild_101l-027-1451-10]

This week in the war, on 27 November 1942, German panzers rolled into the French port of Toulon. Admiral Jean de Laborde, commander of the French fleet, promptly gave the order that his sailors should scuttle their ships. If such a large and modern fleet had fallen into German and Italian hands, the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean would have shifted away from the Allies.

Ships sunk included three battleships: Strasbourg, Dunkerque, and Provence; also several cruisers, including the Colbert, which exploded. Numerous destroyers were also sunk.

Some of the submarines ignored the command to scuttle and sailed across the Mediterranean to the North African ports of Oran and Algiers which, since Operation Torch, had been in Allied hands.

Posted in World War II | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

This week in the War, 16–22 November 1942: The opening of the Alaska Highway

The Alaska Highway [Public domain, author: Adrienne Elmore]

The Alaska Highway [Public domain, author: Adrienne Elmore]

This week in the war, on 21 November 1942, the completion of the Alaska Highway (also called the ALCAN Highway or the Alaska-Canadian Highway) was officially celebrated on Soldier’s Summit.

Construction of the Alaska Highway, 1942 [Public domain]

Construction of the Alaska Highway, 1942 [Public domain]

The highway was built for the most part by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Construction began in March 1942 and the highway started in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and headed north.

The highway was built for strategic purposes, following the attack on Pearl Harbour. Construction was further spurred on by the Japanese invasion of Kiska and Attu islands in the Aleutians.

When originally completed, the highway was over 1,700 miles long and was a challenging drive over rugged terrain.

The present-day Alaska Highway is now paved from end to end.

Posted in World War II | Tagged , , | Comments Off