September 6th, 1942...German troops capture Novorossisyk in Russia.
In Stalingrad, the most vicious fighting of the Second World War rages on. The mighty German blitzkrieg is ground down amid horrific house-to-house fighting. German and Soviet troops are so close to each other, they can jeer and curse each other across the street...and hear the other fellow reload his carbine in the next room. When troops run out of ammunition, they fight it out with pickaxes and knives, like civilian street brawlers.
As the Germans move into the city's steel and concrete buildings and ravines, they lose their mobility. Both sides expend vast amount of munitions, to little effect. The Soviets keep their artillery on the east bank of the Volga, and ferries shuttle ammunition and vodka to the front and wounded soldiers back.
Incredibly, the Luftwaffe is not ordered to interdict the ferries. Gen. Friedrich Paulus, commanding 6th Army, uses Gen. Wolfram von Richtofen's Stuka dive bombers as close support instead, and the ferries sail unharmed. Germans from high-ranking staff officers to platoon leaders, unused to the situation, are baffled by urban warfare and Soviet ferocity.
Back at "Werewolf," Adolf Hitler's headquarters in the Ukraine, Der Fuhrer asks Col. Gen. Afried Jodl why Army Group A under Field Marshal Wilhelm List isn't making better headway. Jodl goes to find out.
In New Guinea, five days of bloody fighting in the malarial jungle on the Kokoda Trail forces the Australian 2/14th and 2/16th Battalions to withdraw 15 miles to Efogi. Despite this retreat, the Japanese are suffering too, savaged by Australian fire-discipline, Bren guns and by tropical diseases. Allied troops enjoy a medical superiority in sulfa drugs that the Japanese do not have.
At Milne Bay, the Japanese do something they rarely have done so far in the war: retreat. Destroyers sail into the bay to start withdrawing their defeated men.
On Guadalcanal, both sides gasp for breath in the jungle heat. The Americans are worn down from poor food, no rest, and heavy bombardment.
September 7th, 1942...President Franklin D. Roosevelt tells the American people that "millions of German troops seem doomed to spend another cruel and bitter winter on the Russian Front."
At "Werewolf," Adolf Hitler meets with Erich Koch, Nazi proconsul in the Ukraine. Koch has been a busy man, shooting 70,000 Jews since August in Rovno. The two discuss further anti- Jewish measures.
While Hitler and Koch sip linden tea in the Fuhrer's wooden barracks building, SS troops give Jews in the mountain resort town of Kislovodsk to prepare for a two-day journey " for the purpose of colonizing sparsely populated districts in the Ukraine." The Jews form up with their bags and baggage. Nazi troops march the Jews two and a half miles to an anti-tank ditch, and shoot the lot, massacring 1,800 from the town, plus 2,300 from two other localities.
Hitler wraps up a busy day of conferences when Jodl returns from Field Marshall List. Jodl reports that List is being slowed by terrain and Soviet resistance.
Der Fuhrer has one of his temper tantrums, bellowing at Jodl over teacups, as usual, and orders List fired for failing to reach the Caspian Sea and its oil reserves. Also sacked are two panzer corps commanders.
The Milne Bay battle in New Guinea ends in Australian victory, with the Japanese evacuating 600 survivors. They leave behind 350 stranded or dead on Goodenough Island, and 300 drowned when the RAAF sink a transport, and 700 in land fighting.
It is the first complete land victory over Japan since the war began, and boosts Allied morale worldwide.
Gen. Bill Slim, in Burma, commanding a corps, writes, "If the Australians, in conditions very like ours, had done it, so could we. Some of us may forget that of all the Allies it was the Australian soldiers who first broke the spell of invincibility of the Japanese Army; those of us who were in Burma have cause to remember."
Incredibly, Gen. Douglas MacArthur sends a memo to Washington deriding the efficiency of Australian troops.
The Allies start using Milne Bay as a major base to gain air superiority over the New Guinea jungle.
In New Zealand, Vice Adm. Robert Ghormley, commanding the Southwest Pacific, creates Task Force 64 for screening and attack missions with an initial composition of three cruisers and seven destroyers. Admirals King and Nimitz learn of this move at a meeting in San Francisco. King says the decision is "about a month late."
Meanwhile, at Guadalcanal, Maj. Gen. Kiyotaki Kawaguchi has 6,200 men ready to attack the Americans. The Japanese believe there are only 2,000 defenders (A gross underestimation). Kawaguchi votes for a complex plan to attack Henderson Field from the south.
He orders 1,000 men to attack on the left. His four battalions in the center, each 650 strong, will move along three avenues of advance. A further attack will move in from the right, a great simultaneous assault that will culminate in a naval bombardment and a fanatical assault. The troops start moving to their attack positions through the jungle. Attack night is the evening of September 12th, which is moonless.
September 8th, 1942...HMNZS Achilles gets a break from the war when it leaves Tonga, headed for Auckland.
RAF Bomber Command hammers Dusseldorf in the Ruhr, dropping something new in war, two-ton bombs, which look like giant dustbins. They turn whole buildings to dust. Bomber crews call these bombs "Cookies." The press call them "Blockbusters."
RAF pilot Stewart Harris of 50 Squadron is shot down during the raid, and is forced to travel through Dusseldorf with his three-man escort. He is shocked at the destruction. The mother of one of the escorts comes to meet them at the station. Her home and the factory she works in have just been destroyed. Yet she brings four packed lunches.
Deciding that the 2nd New Zealand Division has had quite enough action for awhile, Lt. Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery withdraws the outfit from the Alamein line for a rest by the sea in the El Hammam-Burg el Arab area west of Alexandria. Casualties, sickness, and the withdrawal of 4 Brigade for conversion to armour have reduced New Zealand's first team to 11,500 men.
The focus in New Guinea now turns to the Japanese drive down the Kokoda Trail to Port Moresby, which shows no sign of stopping. Col. Kingsley Norris describes this theater of operations, the Owen Stanley Range: "Imagine an area of approximately 100 miles long. Crumple and fold this into a series of ridges, each rising higher and higher until 7,000 feet is reached, then declining in ridges to 3,000 feet. Cover this thickly with jungle, short trees and tall tress, tangled with great, entwining, savage vines. Through an oppression of this density cut a native track..."
That track starts off as 25 miles of road to Uberi. Then it becomes a track, rising 1,200 feet in the first three miles, part of it up the "Golden Staircase." The steps of the stairs vary from 10 to 18 inches in height, the front edge of each step being a small log held by stakes and behind each log is a puddle of mud and water; some of the logs have worked loose and tilted so that anyone tripping on them falls back into mud or against trees or bangs his head on his slung rifle. To help their legs and prevent falls, troops cut long walking sticks. An unladen soldier will become exhausted after the first dozen steps.
A 2/14th Battalion soldier says, "It became a matter of sheer determination forcing the body to achieve the impossible. The rear companies, where the going is always hardest, took 12 hours to complete the nine miles."
After the 1,200-foot climb, the track drops 1,600 feet before the final climb of 2,000 feet up the Imita range, which is nearly vertical. The track is now "a treacherous mass of moving mud interlaced with protruding roots that reach out hidden hands to bring the laden troops heavily to the ground. Vines trapped them. Wet boughs slapped at them. Their breath came in gulps. Their eyes filled with perspiration."
To add to the misery come mosquitos, mites, chiggers, and leeches, bringing malaria, dengue fever, dysentery, and jungle rot, which emaciates healthy men. Their clothes are made permanently wet.
To supply this sodden mass of men the Australians conscript native laborers as porters, hauling rations, ammunition, equipment, and food. These "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels" become critical to supplying the Aussie forces. But a carrier hauling only foodstuffs consumes his load in 13 days, so to man-carry food in the eight-day journey to Kokoda means the supply line will break down without airdrops. The RAAF and US Army Air Force begin doing so.
The Japanese, lacking native labor, eat lighter rations, and grow their own food.
7th Australian Division, under Gen. Tubby Allen, veterans of North Africa, tramp up the "Golden Stairs" to face the enemy.
The Japanese attack at dawn, hitting the 2/27th. The Australians lose six Bren guns in the attack and use up 1,200 hand grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition before managing to extricate their men.
The Australians decide to make their last stand at Ioribaiwa, using the fresh 25 Infantry Brigade, in new jungle greens, on the Imita Ridge. 25 Brigade is told, "There won't be any withdrawal from the Imita position. You'll die there if necessary. You understand?"
Col. Red Mike Edson's Marine Raiders and Paratroopers land at Tasimboko on Guadalcanal to raid the Japanese position. American airpower silences Japanese guns, and the Americans move in through swamps. By 12:30, they enter Tasimboko to find it deserted, with four 75mm guns abandoned, along with food, medical supplies, and a radio station. War correspondent Richard Tregaskis fills a Japanese army blanket with papers and documents while Marines jab bayonets through tins of sliced beef and crab. Marine casualties are two dead, six wounded, Japanese dead number 27. The Marines return with 21 cases of beer and 17 half-gallon flasks of sake.
"It is maddening to be the recipients of these daring and insulting attacks," Kawaguchi writes. He asks for an airstrike, and it arrives after the Marines have left.
Kawaguchi briefs his officers that evening in a drizzling rain. War correspondent Gen Nishino takes notes on the three- pronged attack. "We will take the enemy airfield by surprise," says Kawaguchi, his handlebar moustache dripping rain. "As you know, gentlemen, the Americans have been strongly reinforced with men and supplies. Perhaps they are stronger than we are. Above all, their air force cannot be underestimated. Our troops must also overcome difficult terrain problems before we even reach the enemy lines. We are obviously facing an unprecendented battle. And so, gentlemen, you and I cannot hope to see each other again after the fight. This is the time for us to dedicate our lives to the Emperor."
The officers shout, "Hai!" (Yes) in unison. Kawaguchi passes around a bottle of whiskey to toast success. After a few drops, the officers head back to their units. Kawaguchi shows Nishino a mimeographed map, and says, "No matter what the War College says, it's extremely difficult to take an enemy position by night assault. There were a few cases in the Russo-Japanese War but they were only small-scale actions. If we succeed here, it will be a wonder in the military history of the world."
Nishino himself plods off into the rain. Most of Nishino's assistants have thrown away their cameras and supplies, but he himself refuses to give up anything.
As the Japanese struggle on, they are racked with dysentery from river water and malaria, and eat rations of dried fish, crackers, and hard candy. Overhead, parrots display their ability to mimic two Japanese phrases, "Oi, Jotohei!" ("Hey, Private First Class!") and "Hikoki!" ("Enemy planes!") The latter call, even by parrots, sends Japanese troops hurtling to the deck.
The Americans study the intelligence haul and estimate Japanese strength at 4,000 (close enough) and expect the Japanese to attack again. But where?
Edson draws a finger across an aerial photo and says, "This looks like a good approach." His finger traces a broken grassy ridge, barely a mile south of the airfield, 1,000 feet long. There is an 80-foot high knoll at the southern end, and a 120- foot knoll halfway up. Vandegrift agrees. Edson has actually picked the site of the Japanese attack.
September 9th, 1942...USS Washington and her escorts plod southward in search of World War II. Instead they find the store ship Castor, headed the same way. The battleship's crew gets a chance to go to general quarters and practice emergency turns nonetheless.
Short of manpower, the Nazis start drafting ethnic Germans from the Alsace-Lorraine.
I-25 surfaces off the coast of Brookings, Oregon, and Lt. Nobuo Fujita and Petty Officer Shoji Okuda climb into a Type 96 seaplane being taken out of a hangar onto I-25's catapult. Fujita hands a box containing his will, a few strands of hair and some fingernail cuttings to a Sailor, to be given to his family, should he fail to return from his mission.
As the sun climbs into the Oregon sky, I-25 launches Fujita's little plane (its 300-hp engine can only do 90 knots) and it crawls into the air, climbing at 350 feet per minute.
This little aircraft is about to launch the only enemy air raid on the United States during the war, and the first attack on the continental US since the War of 1812.
Fujita's plane rumbles over mountains and woods, seeking a forest deep enough in wild country so that fires started have a good chance of gaining strength before firefighters arrive. The idea is to spread panic in Oregon and other forested areas, perhaps driving American public opinion to pull back US ships and troops from the South Pacific to guard the West Coast.
Fujita's plane is armed with two 154-lb. bombs, each containing 512 tiny incendiaries. Fujita flies 50 miles inland and orders Okuda to release the first bomb. Okuda releases the one under the left wing and the plane pulls into a right-hand dive. Fujita regains power, flies east for 10 minutes, and lets the second bomb go. After that, Fujita flies back at 100 feet to the ocean, past two American merchant ships, and back to I-25. Just after Fujita is recovered, an American PBY spots the sub, and its spends two hours avoiding depth charges.
The attack does little damage. Years later, the nearest town to Fujita's attack proclaims the pilot an honorary citizen. (Fujita died in 1997).
As Japanese troops move to their attack positions on Guadalcanal, native scouts get the word of the impending drive to US Marine Maj. Gen. Archibald Vandegrift. Japanese troops struggle through the jungle, soaked in sweat, bathed in rain. Field guns sink into the mud, while ammunition carts lose their tires and axles. Shells have to be hand-carried.
September 10th, 1942...HMNZS Achilles arrives in Auckland for its 250,000-mile overhaul. Half the crew gets 27 days' leave, while the rest split into port and starboard watch sections.
Back in the Aleutians, where men are moose, Col. Squeaky Eareckson lands the first aircraft, a B-17, on the new runway on Adak. The new base is given its codename, "Longview."
The forgotten Madagascar campaign cranks up again, as the 29th Brigade lands near Majunga from three transports, Dilwara, Dunera, and Empire Pride, converted to assault ships by the simple process of loading LCAs in their davits. 29 Brigade runs into a French battalion, which resists poorly. Soon 22nd East African Brigade unloads, while 29th Brigade re-embarks for Tanatave.
The South Africans must now advance south across the island through clouds of red dust, to the capital, Tananarive, a 130- mile trek. The Vichy French choose to defend by simply blowing up three bridges and retreating. South African armoured cars rumble off to find the first two undamaged, the third one, a 450-foot span, exploding as they approach. By extreme good fortune, however, the roadway falls undamaged to form a causeway on the riverbed across which vehicles can be manhandled through chest-deep water, saving the advance.
22 Brigade is well-equipped with transport, nearly 1,000 vehicles of various types. But the Majunga harbor is poor, with a strong current, so unloading takes four to five days. A war noted for blitzkrieg movement once again goes at snail's pace.
On Guadalcanal, Edson's Marine Raiders and Parachutists eat a breakfast of sodden rice and dehydrated potatoes, and take up defensive positions along the southern ridge. Edson tells his men he wants them to get a break from constant air raids.
That afternoon Japanese bombers attack, and lose three Bettys to Marine Wildcats, who lose one of the stubby Grumman F4F fighters. "Cactus" is down to 11 such planes, so Ghormley finally approves the move of USS Saratoga's VF-5, sitting around Espiritu Santo while their carrier is in drydock, to Guadalcanal.
Japanese troops advancing through the jungles are attacked by a native and his pack of ferocious dogs. The Nipponese fend off this unusual assault with saber and bayonets. Later, the exhausted Japanese eat their last rations, cans of sardines, and suck juice from vines. They are so close to the Americans, they can hear and smell Marines frying meat.
September 11th, 1942...USS Nicholas, escorting USS Washington, gets a sonar contact, and Washington does some more emergency turns. The contact, however is lost, and presumed to be a whale.
New Zealand raiders of the Long Range Desert Group attack the Italian air base at Barce and destroy 23 Italian aircraft on the ground.
6th Army commander Friedrich Paulus is summoned to "Werewolf" to explain to Adolf Hitler why 6th Army hasn't taken Stalingrad. The lean, ascetic Paulus, who dons fresh collars and gloves every morning, tells Hitler that an attack will go in with 11 division, three of them panzer, on Sept. 13th. The Russians have only three infantry divisions, parts of four others, and two tanks brigades against him. Stalingrad should crack, he says. Hitler is pleased.
Japanese bombers hammer Guadalcanal again, and lose only one of 27 Bettys and a single Zero. One F4F is shot down. This air raid, unlike others, hammers the ridge where Marine Paratroops and Raiders are defending, killing 11 and wounding 14. The Marines know the enemy will attack there, and soon.
After the air raid, a PBY wings in bringing, Rear Adms. John McCain and Richmond K. Turner with two messages from Ghormley to Vandegrift. One is official, one personal. Ghormley's official note drains the color from Vandegrift's face. It tells the Marine that a major Japanese counterattack is due within 10 days. Ghormley says his forces are insufficient in carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and transports. He can no longer support the island. Ghormley is morally abdicating responsibility for Guadalcanal.
The second, handwritten, note, is more dire, and a Marine Colonel tucks it away for permanent suppression. It authorizes Vandegrift, should the worst come to the worst, to surrender.
September 12th, 1942...To make life interesting in France, British commandos raid Port-en-Bessin, a small harbor in Normandy. Ten raiders kill all seven Germans they find, but the shooting and noise alert other defenders, who charge toward the sound of the guns. The Germans kill all but one attacker, a Private Hayes. Hayes swims along the coast, and is aided by a French family, who passes him down to Spain. However, Hayes' luck ends there, as Generalissimo Francisco Franco's Guardia Civil arrests the hapless commando, and send him back to France.
The Gestapo interrogates and shoots Hayes, acting under the notorious "Kugel" Order, signed by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, that orders execution for all captured British commandos. That order will in turn send Keitel to the gallows after the war.
The same day, another issue that will come up under the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial develops as German U-156 torpedoes RMS Laconia, enroute to Canada with 1,500 Italian PoWs, 180 Polish guards, and 811 British passengers and crew. Capt. Hartenstein, observing the chaos from U-156's control tower, sees scores of Italians clinging to wreckage.
He fires off a radio signal offering not to attack any ship that comes to their rescue. Two British and one French warship race in. As they start pulling survivors out of the drink, an American B-24, flying out of the new Ascension Island base, attacks U-156.
Admiral Karl Doenitz is furious. He orders every German naval vessel: "All attempts to rescue the crew of sunken ships will cease forthwith." This order will be used against him at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial.
But Doenitz's mouthpiece, the able German Navy fleet lawyer Otto Kranzbuhler, argues suavely that the order was necessitated by American stupidity, and, more to the point, American and British submarines did not rescue survivors of their sinkings. That point scores with the judges. Before the trial, Doenitz was considered a good bet for a life term. Instead he draws 10 years.
More than 1,400 of the 2,491 aboard Laconia, however, drown. Hartenstein himself does not last long to ponder the legalities of the situation, either. He is sunk with his submarine six months later, by US Navy aircraft east of Barbados.
Another top general gets to meet with another dictator, as Georgi K. Zhukov has a chat with Josef Stalin at the Kremlin. Stalin glumly pores over maps while Zhukov and Chief of General Staff whisper about needing to find another solution. Stalin hears this, and says, "What other way out?"
He sends the two away to work out in a day a solution to Stalingrad.
In Stalingrad, Gen. Vassily Chuikov assumes the duties as commander of the 62nd Army. The Germans greet his appointment with a 24-hour bombardment to herald their next assault on the city.
At Adak, P-38s arrive to reinforce Longview. US Army engineers lay out a steel mat runway overnight, an amazing triumph.
The 126th Infantry Regiment of the US 32nd Infantry Division arrives at Port Moresby. Also enroute is 6 Australian Division's 16 and 17 brigades, doing tropical training in Ceylon. The third brigade has gone to defend Darwin.
At 11:50 am on Guadalcanal, 25 Japanese Bettys hammer Guadalcanal again, demolishing the main radio station, igniting gasoline, and slicing up three grounded SBDs. The Americans splash five bombers and a Zero, with help from VF-5, newly- arrived.
One aviator, shot down, tells his Japanese captors that the American lines are weakest along the ridge, where Kawaguchi plans to attack. That's all the good news Kawaguchi gets that day. His troops, moving up for the assault, are delayed in the swamps and jungles. Only two companies, not two battalions, will be in line for the assault. Kawaguchi declines to postpone the assault.
That evening, Turner dines on rice and bully beef at Marine HQ. He says the Marines will be on the island for a long time "and things will get worse before they get better."
At nightfall, the Marine Raiders and Parachutists, now numbering 840, string barbed wire and dig foxholes along their ridge, with Company B Parachutists to the east, the Raiders to the West. The defense line is a series of strongpoints with fields of fire for mutual support. Marines pass out food and ammunition to the troops and tell the Raiders this is the last issue of both. To thicken the line, Marines are released from sickbay with temperatures as high as 105F.
Meanwhile, 2,100 Japanese troops snake into position, moving down the hill toward the airfield under the ghostly light of the new moon. Gen Nishino moves forward with a pal named Hayashi, who says to the reporter, "Perhaps I'll be killed tonight. I often used to think of going back home and marrying my girl but now I don't have such dreams. This is my address. When I'm dead, will you write to my mother?"
Nishino agrees. The men stack their knapsacks, and don fresh underwear. Others crisscross their backs with strips of white cloth so their men can follow them in the dark. Lt. Kurakake douses himself in his wife's perfume and tells his men, "Follow your noses." Nishino takes his three cameras and notebook.
At 9 pm, Edson tells his officers to expect an attack. Sure enough, "Louie the Louse," a Japanese floatplane, rumbles in and spews flares for artillery spotting. At 9:30, the cruiser Sendai and three destroyers open fire on the perimeter. As the ships open up, so does the Japanese land force, 1st and 3rd Battalions, 124th Infantry.
The Japanese charge on the left flank, into the Marine Raiders. The Battle of Edson's Ridge begins.