World War II Notes
November 6, 1942
by David H. Lippman

November 6th, 1942...Despite the massive battle at Stalingrad, German troops in the Caucasus continue their efforts to seize the Russian oilfields, making one last attempt to break through to Grozny. But Soviet troops stop the Germans cold at Ordzhonokidze.

Winston Churchill reads the Luftwaffe messages from November 4th, ordering the bombing of Baku, and passes them to Stalin.

"Many thanks for your warnings concerning Baku," replies the Russian dictator. "We are taking the necessary measures to combat the dangers."

German intelligence provides its latest assessments on the Russian Front to the OKW. The Soviet counteroffensive will hit Army Group Center, but suggests a possible attack on Army Group B and the Rumanian 3rd Army, with the objective of cutting the railroad to Stalingrad and compelling a withdrawal from the city.

Hitler orders Paulus to take the two sections of Stalingrad the Soviets hold east of the gun factory and the Red October plant. "Only after the bank of the Volga is entirely in our hands in those places is the assault on the chemical plant to be begun," Hitler wires. The Lazur chemical plant, with its railway yards (named the "Tennis Racket" for their shape") is the objective. Paulus organizes his men for the next big push.

On Bougainville, Jack Read decides that the Porapora lookout has to be abandoned. Despite its proximity to the Japanese airbase on Buka island, north of Bougainville, Japanese troops are coming for him. He withdraws to the mountain village of Aravia. Cdr. Eric Feldt, the Australian head of the Coastwatcher Service, agrees, and orders Read off the air.

At Barougo in southern Bougainville, Coastwatcher Paul Mason studies the Japanese anchorage, and reports 33 enemy vessels in harbor. Something big is brewing.

On maps and in tabletop exercises, enveloping movements are neat, clean, arrows. In the jungles of Guadalcanal, they are all-day ordeals, as the 7th Marines and the 164th Infantry struggle through the jungle to the coast at Koli.

German intelligence isn't doing too well in the West, either. The Allied convoys in the Mediterranean are a puzzle. The German Navy in Rome suggests that the Allies are either re-supplying Malta, or landing on western and central Mediterranean coasts - or both. The Kriegsmarine tells the Fuhrer it expects a landing operation, "Most probably in the Tripoli-Benghazi area, next Sicily, Sardinia, the Italian coast, in last place, French North Africa."

By now, FW 200 Condors and other snooper planes have picked off the convoys, but the mass of sighting reports, some of them contradictory, only confuses the Germans more.

In Moscow, the Soviet leaders prepare to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the October Revolution (under the old calendar) that overthrew the Provisional Government. Soviet newspapers and broadcasts take an optimistic tone, with messages from Soviet units to Stalin, hailing the dictator. The largest article in Pravda is the "Oath of the Defenders of Stalingrad," reading: "The enemy's aim was to cut our Volga waterway and then, by turning south to the Caspian, to cut off our country from its main oil supplies...If the enemy succeeds, he can then turn all his strength against Moscow and Stalingrad."

Apart from that reservation, the article is confident throughout, recounting the defense's achievements, German losses, and Stalin's role defending the town (as Tsaritsyn), during the Russian Civil War. "Fighting as we are under your direct guidance...we shall strike another smashing blow at the enemy and drive him away from Stalingrad."

The oath concludes: "In sending you this letter from the trenches, we swear to you, dear Joseph Vissarionovich, that to the last drop of blood, to the last breath, to the last heart-beat, we shall defend Stalingrad...We swear that we shall not disgrace the glory of Russian arms and shall fight to the end. Under your leadership our fathers won the Battle of Tsaritsyn. Under our leadership we shall win the great Battle of Stalingrad."

Maj. Gen. Harold Barrowclough is appointed commander of 3 NZ Division in the Pacific. After the war, he becomes New Zealand's Chief Justice.

With the entire Giraud party and luggage aboard, HMS Seraph heads out to sea. Giraud has a lot of messages to transmit, but Seraph's radio is broken. All night and all day, Seraph remains submerged near the Balearic Islands, while the passengers endure stuffy air, complicated toilets, overcrowding, and boredom.

In England, Jimmy Doolittle tries again to fly to Gibraltar in his B-17. An American legend for his pre-war aviation feats and the Tokyo raid, he now commands Eisenhower's air forces in Operation Torch. His plane flies alone to Gibraltar. As it passes the French coast, someone shouts, "Bandits at nine o'clock!" Four German fighters (probably Me 110s) attack the Flying Fortress. German bullets slam into the bomber, ripping through the co-pilot's left arm, stitching holes in the fuselage. One bullet narrowly misses Doolittle.

But the B-17 is a sturdy aircraft, and the Germans are at the edge of their range. After two or three passes and no more damage to the B-17, the Germans head home, and Doolittle calmly returns to his maps of Morocco and Algeria.

At Gibraltar, Eisenhower holds a staff conference with various commanders, including Mark Clark, Governor Mason-MacFarlane, Air Marshal Welsh, and Air Vice-Marshal Sanders, to discuss one of the greatest unknowns of Operation Torch: Spanish reaction.

Spain's Caudillo, Francisco Franco, is walking an uneasy tightrope of neutrality. Hitler has repeatedly sought Spanish intervention in the war, to close the Straits of Gibraltar. Franco is heavily in debt to Hitler and Mussolini for their support in the Spanish Civil War. But Franco, aware that his country depends on American and British trade to restore an economy blasted by that war, has been reluctant to enter the conflict. But if Allied troops invade French North Africa, Spain might enter the war on Hitler's side. Or it might use the opportunity to merely grab patches of French North Africa. Or Hitler might move into Spain

Ike mulls over the situation and orders all concerned - do not pick a fight with the Spanish in any way.

Next comes the question of the prickly Giraud, who is marking time at the bottom of the Mediterranean. He will be accepted as leader of the French forces in Africa.

Ike and his officers have plenty to worry about. Allied communications with Murphy are in a very simple code, which the Germans can easily break, and the powerful French fleet's intentions are unknown. One point is useful - Mast intends to cut the wires to the French Navy's radar sets, to black them out.

Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham has some good news for Ike: an SOS from the destroyer HMS Janine, saying the tincan is sinking, deep in the Mediterranean. The message is a fake. Janine is alive and well, and hundreds of miles west of the fake latitude and longitude. The message is to confuse and deceive the Germans.

The weathermen, however, have bad news for Eisenhower: deteriorating weather in the path of Patton's Western Task Force. The weather forecast is sent to Patton. He radios back: "Don't worry. If need be, I'll land in Spain."

Eisenhower and his aides leave headquarters at 6:30 and have dinner with Mason-MacFarlane. Eisenhower points out that his thankful for the opportunity offered him and his colleagues to make some mark in history, as few men ever have the chance.

After dinner, Ike finally briefs three correspondents who are assigned to the invasion: Wes Gallagher of Associated Press, Chris Cunningham of UPI, and George Ure of The Times of London and Reuter's. He gives them the full skinny on the invasion under terms of secrecy. The reporters honor Ike's request. But they're not happy. All of them assumed the invasion would be in Norway and have had heavy Arctic clothing packed.

Ike writes a letter to his wife, Mamie, saying, "I have a new title: 'Allied C-in-C' in this region. It's high sounding, but won't amount to much unless all this goes with a swing. Before you get this note, you'll know all about it...With a lot of luck, maybe I can do something here that will hurt the Axis - and that's what I live to do."

Ike and Clark return to their room, pull on their pajamas, and are too nervous to sleep. Ike complains about having to stay cooped in Gibraltar while Clark goes to Algiers to get things ready for the command staff's arrival.

Clark says, "That's your penalty for being the supreme commander."

To kill time and tension, the two work out codenames for their top-level communiques. Churchill will be "Jim," Roosevelt will be "Bill." Anyone who is intolerable will be called YBSOB.

While Eisenhower ponders history, American and British warships and other vessels (including a Polish destroyer and a Dutch destroyer), transit the Straits of Gibraltar.

German spies in La Linea and Algeciras report the movement to Rome and Berlin, where desk sailors try to analyze them. The Italian high command, including Mussolini, expect a landing on the coast of French North Africa. The German Navy, however, believes the force is a large convoy to Malta, or a landing, with the following order of probability: Tripoli, Benghazi, Sicily, Sardinia, Italy, and French North Africa. The Germans send a message to the Vichy French, telling them not to oppose any moves the Germans may feel it necessary to make "near the coast of Tunisia."

The French are nervous, too. In Vichy, Admiral Auphan, Secretary of State for the Navy, receives this message. Without consulting anyone, he allows the Germans to lay mines in Tunisian waters, as long as it's done "discreetly," and adds "It goes without saying that, as usual, no information will be passed to the enemies of the Axis." A few hours later, he orders French fighters and anti-aircraft guns not to oppose German aircraft flying across the unoccupied zone of France towards the Mediterranean.

Next, Auphan orders the Navy at Algiers to carry out air reconnaissance to locate the convoys, and pass the information to the Axis.

George Patton writes in his diary: "Things are looking up. It is calmer, and the wind has fallen to about 20 miles and it is northeast, which is OK. The forecast is for a possible landing condition. The radio intercepts indicate that the French will fight."

At Alamein, the British realize that Rommel is slipping away. 1st Armoured Division is running out of fuel, and has to leaguer its armor until petrol trucks arrive. 10th Armoured is overwhelmed with POWs. Freyberg's New Zealanders continue to advance and scoop up 500 POWs, 100 of them Germans from 90th Light Division.

Around 10 a.m., the British advance is slowed further when low clouds move in from the Mediterranean, and rain pours along the coastal strip and moves inland. The rain turns the newly captured landing grounds at El Daba to mud, and wheeled vehicles sink to their hubcaps. Sherman tanks need three gallons to travel one mile in the downpour. 26th Battalion is immobilized in a sea of mud. Trenches fill with water, while tarpaulins and groundsheets are soaked through. The men of 26th Battalion take time to shave and wash. Lt. D.S. Jenkins, a Tuatapere farmer in 23rd Battalion, writes, "We were just like cattle in a truck in winter weather in Southland and all the weapons and gear got plastered with mud."

Travel is only possible on rocky ridges, isolated like islands in the rain. New Zealand troops are amazed to see miniature waterfalls and streams in the desert.

With hundreds of vehicles trapped in mud, radiomen jam the airwaves with requests for tows. That, combined with atmospheric interference, wrecks the 8th Army's communications net.

American planes attack Tobruk and Benghazi, claiming hits on two vessels.

The combination of poor weather and wrecked communications is the only balm for Rommel. His forces are equally sodden, but have the psychological advantage of high adrenaline as they race back to Matruh. German engineers destroy road turns at Derna, and sow layers of minefields to slow the British.

By afternoon, Rommel's retreating troops reach the Libyan border. There the Desert Fox has time to take stock. He has 7,500 men left, 5,000 of them German. He has only 21 tanks, 35 anti-tank guns, 65 pieces of field artillery, and 24 AA guns. Against this is the entire British 8th Army.

Mussolini sends messages to Rommel, urging him to bring home the Italian infantry, who lack transport, and to counterattack. Not one inch of Italian North Africa can be surrendered to the foe. Rommel ignores these fatuous messages.

Nonetheless, Rommel keeps his personal grip on the situation. He shepherds columns into order. He sends staff officers to establish traffic control points and establish ruthless authority. He orders supplies brought up from Benghazi. He gets word 5,000 tons of petrol has arrived there. Later he gets word that half of it has been destroyed by the RAF. And Rommel wonders why the British don't follow up and utterly destroy him.

Rommel also wonders what has happened to one of his best units, the Ramcke Parachute Brigade - 700 tough birds in Luftwaffe helmets, assigned to the collapsing Italian 10th Corps. He expects them to be utterly lost.

In actuality, Ramcke's paratroopers are struggling backwards, on foot, in Kubelwagens, and on motorcycles. Ramcke's men had to leave behind their field cookers, and have only a half-pint of water each. This evening, Ramcke's men spot a British transport column leaguered for the night. The Germans move in silently with machine-guns and revolvers, commando-style, and seize several trucks. The Germans race off into the night, and find petrol, water, tinned foods, corned beef, pineapples, and cigarettes in the backs. With this booty, the bedraggled paratroopers plod off into the dark.

21st Panzer Division also has some luck, as it drains its petrol from all of its wrecked vehicles to allow the operational ones to escape. The Germans destroy every gun and vehicle they cannot take with them, and retreat in the rain.

Out at sea off Alamein, the Royal Navy does its part to support the great advance. The 14th Minesweeping Flotilla's small vessels ply their trade off Mersa Matruh, in anticipation of the Allied advance.

As the flotilla sweeps its 46th mine, the next mine explodes the minesweeper HMS Cromer, killing her CO, most of the ship's crew, including Leading Telegraphist F.W.J. Leigh, or Christchurch, New Zealand.

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