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 Before the morning was over, the troops who had not been killed or captured were withdrawn.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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This week in the War, 27 July–2 August 1942: Chiang Kai-shek & Vinegar Joe

Generalissimo & Madame Chiang Kai-shek with Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell ('Vinegar Joe'), Burma, 1942 [Public domain]

Generalissimo & Madame Chiang Kai-shek with Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell (‘Vinegar Joe’), Burma, 1942 [Public domain]

The Japanese had already swept through much of Burma and were well on the way to India. This week in the war, 1 August 1942, Chinese leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek agreed to a proposal by American Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell that Chiang’s forces should assist in the recapture of Burma.

Stilwell—known as ‘Vinegar Joe’ because of his abrasive no-nonsense personality—had been sent to China by Roosevelt and became Chief-of-Staff to Chiang Kai-shek, who commanded the Chinese Nationalist forces that were resisting the Japanese invasion. Chiang’s troops had been fighting the Japanese for the past five years. Stilwell set about reforming the Chinese army and organizing training.

The loss of Burma cut the land route to China and, with the coastline controlled by the Japanese, the only way into the country was by air. Huge quantities of American Lend-Lease supplies were flown from India over the Himalayas (over ‘The Hump’) into China to supply Chiang’s forces.

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This week in the War, 20–26 July 1942: The fall of Rostov

German advance on Rostov (shown in blue), July 1942 [Public domain, author: Graf zu Pappenheim]

German advance on Rostov (shown in blue), July 1942 [Public domain, author: Graf zu Pappenheim]

This week in the war, on 24 July 1942, Army Group A captured Rostov. Large numbers of Soviet troop formations were encircled or destroyed.

The Germans attacked the city not only from the north but also from the east, where the Russians had little or no defenses.

The fall of Rostov shocked the country and there were bitter recriminations and much talk of Red Army units panicking and fleeing—despite no orders being given to abandon the city. Many Russian officers and ordinary Russian soldiers were subsequently shot.

After the loss of Rostov, the mood of the country changed and became more defiant. As the Germans approached Stalingrad, the public expected more from the defending troops.

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This week in the War, 13–19 July 1942: La rafle du Vel d’Hiv—The roundup of the Velodrome d’Hiver

Memorial to the round-up of the Velodrome d'Hiver, Paris [Author: Leonieke Aalders, Creative commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported]

Memorial to the round-up of the Velodrome d’Hiver, Paris [Author: Leonieke Aalders, Creative commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported]

This week in the war, 16-17 July 1942, German troops aided by French police arrested 13,000 Parisian Jews that were without French citizenship and imprisoned them in the Vélodrome d’Hiver, the famous Paris cycling stadium near the Eiffel Tower. ['Bicycle' translates to 'vélo' in French.]

The event became known as la rafle du Vel d’Hiv, i.e. the round-up of the Vélodrome d’Hiver, and was one of the most striking events to occur during the German occupation of Paris.

The detainees, including 4,000 children, were confined without adequate sanitation or sufficient food or water. Appeals to Pierre Laval fell on deaf ears. ‘They all must go,’ he declared.

The Vélodrome d’Hiver served as a staging area. The majority of the prisoners were sent on to the concentration camp at Drancy and then to Auschwitz and other extermination camps in Poland.

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This week in the War, 6–12 July 1942: Summer offensive against Stalingrad

German summer offensive towards Stalingrad, 7 May---23 July 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

German summer offensive towards Stalingrad, 7 May—23 July 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

The German army had taken Sevastopol, thereby eliminating any threat to its right flank, and was continuing its summer offensive deep into southern Russia. (Kharkov had already fallen in May.)

This week in the war, the Germans had broken through the Russian defenses around Kursk  and, on 8 July 1942, were approaching Voronezh.

Panzer III and crew during the German offensive against Stalingrad, 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

Panzer III and crew during the German offensive against Stalingrad, 1942 [Public domain, wiki]

Hitler’s intention was to eliminate the Russian armies in the bend of the River Don and then proceed eastward towards Stalingrad on the river Volga. By 10 July 1942, the German 4th Armoured Army had joined up with the 6th Army under General Friedrich Paulus and was heading along the Don towards Stalingrad.

On 12 July, Stalin reacted to the German advance by appointing Marshal Semyon Timoshenko to command the Stalingrad sector.

If he could dispose of Stalingrad either by capturing the city or utterly destroying it by bombing, Hitler’s plan was to head south towards the Caucasus Mountains and to capture the oil-rich regions of Grozny and Baku.

In the end, the Russian defenses around Voronezh held—thereby eliminating the threat of Moscow being attacked from the south and subsequently encircled. But the Russians failed to hold Rostov. The fall of Rostov opened the way for the German army to advance south towards the Caucasus—exactly as Hitler had planned.

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