June 14 - 20, 1942
by David H. Lippman

June 14th, 1942...At 26S, 77E in the Indian Ocean, the disguised German merchant raider Thor gets a radar contact early in the morning, and closes to 1,760 yards of the Dutch Shell tanker Olivia, hitting it with the first 5.9 inches salvo. Olivia looks like a "floating wall of flame" to Thor's gunnery officer Hermann Kandeler. Only one man of Olivia's 46 crew is picked up. Most die in the blazing wreck, but Third Officer W.A. Vermoet, with three wounded Dutchmen and eight Chinese, escapes in a lifeboat for a hell of 30 days in an open boat -- little food, intense heat, and insubordinate crewmen -- before reaching Madagascar.

German troops of the 16th Regiment of the 22nd Airlanding Division take Fort Stalin in Sevastopol.

In Libya, Gen. Neil Ritchie faces facts and orders the 8th Army to abandon the remains of the Gazala Line before Rommel can destroy his army in detail. The 1st South African and 50th Divisions pull out. The question is whether or not to hold Tobruk. Gen. Sir Claude Auchinlek, theater commander, insists on holding the port. Help is on the way - the Australian and New Zealand Divisions, three Indian divisions, and the new 10th Armoured Division. After a period of crossed signals and confusion, Ritchie agrees.

Meanwhile, Rommel's weary Afrika Korps tries to cut the coast road, but is stopped by point-blank fire from 25 lbr. guns. Rommel signals: "It is my intention to take Tobruk by a coup de main."

The South African 1st Division destroys as many stores as possible, then pulls out amid dust-storms, losing only 27 men killed and 366 wounded and missing. 50th Northumbrian Division, having lost one brigade (150th) already, is delayed 10 hours in its withdrawal by the command muddle. Its withdrawal is novel, to head west through the Italians, then make a wide swing south around Bir Hacheim and high-tail it east. Navigation through the desert will be difficult. Each truck is loaded with 300 miles worth of gasoline.

The withdrawal begins during a dust-storm. The 5th East Yorks advance to within 10 yards of an Italian position singing "Rule Britannia," then scatter the Italians with a bayonet charge. Pvt. Albert Robinson earns a Military Medal by worming his way forward between two enemy machine gun posts, and picking off the crews with masterly precision.

The Luftwaffe bounces the Malta convoy "Harpoon" 120 miles southwest of Sardinia, hammering it with 20 bombers and 50 torpedo planes. The British have only 16 Sea Hurricanes and four outdated Fulmars to throw at the Germans. They shoot down 17 enemy planes for a loss of seven, but the Germans sink the freighter Taminbar and cripple the cruiser Liverpool, which is towed back by destroyer.

That evening the convoy enters the narrow Skerki Channel, known as "Bomb Alley," passing through it by night.

Convoy "Vigorous," coming from Egypt, also meets the Luftwaffe, which damages the Dutch ship Aagtekirk. She has to be sent home, and the Luftwaffe polishes off the Dutchman. The convoy loses the freighter Bhutan. Late in the day comes word that the Italian battlefleet has put to sea.

That evening German E-boats attack and torpedo the destroyer Hasty and cruiser Newcastle. The former is sunk, the latter stays in the game.

RAF Wellingtons chase down the Italian Navy, joined by torpedo-laden Beaufighters and British submarines. The cruiser Trento is hit in the melee and finished off by the submarine HMS Umbra.

Early in the Syrian morning, Brig. Howard Kippenberger, head of New Zealand's 5th Brigade, gets a message from Division base: "Division moving. Return to headquarters forthwith." With the British 8th Army defeated in Egypt, Gen. Auchinlek has summoned the first team, the 2nd New Zealand Division, to cope with the disaster. 9th Australian Division will soon join them.

In Wellington Harbor, 5,000 Leathernecks of the 1st US Marine Division arrive on the transport USS Wakefield, formerly the liner Manhattan. They arrive a day after the USS Uruguay reaches Auckland, bearing the 145th Infantry Regiment of the 37th Infantry Division, Ohio National Guard. They are the first non- British Empire troops ever to enter New Zealand. The Americans are greeted by New Zealand army bands, who play American music. The Americans bring out their band, which plays "The Beer Barrel Polka."

The 145th marches through Auckland streets to the railway station, where they are jammed into tiny railway coaches. The conductor blows his whistle, and the train steams off at 20 miles an hour for Papakura Camp, periodically stopping to shoo sheep off the right-of-way.

US-New Zealand relations are changed forever.

Mitsuo Fuchida arrives in Japan on a stretcher. He is smuggled off his ship like a load of contraband at Yokusuka, and isolated in hospital with other wounded Midway survivors, under armed guard. Contact with family, including phone calls and letters, are forbidden, as the Japanese try to hide the defeat. Newspaper photographer Teiichi Makajima is told that if he goes to Tokyo, he will be arrested by the secret police.

In the Aleutians, US Army Air Force Col. Squeaky Eareckson leads his bombers to attack Kiska and Attu. Eareckson heckles the Japanese by radio, and soon "Little Orphan Annie" -- later known to American radio listeners as "Tokyo Rose" heckles Eareckson by name.

The Americans try to keep the loss of Kiska and Attu under wraps, but give up when Radio Tokyo blares reports of the invasion of the Aleutians.

27 Japanese bombers hit Darwin in northern Australia, but do little damage.

War Production Board boss Donald Nelson warns Americans of more hardships to come.

June 15th, 1942...Erwin Rommel writes his wife, "Enemy resistance crumbled, and more and more British troops give themselves up. Black dejection showed on their faces. The battle has been won, and the enemy is now breaking up. We're now mopping up encircled remnants of their army. I needn't tell you how delighted I am."

At 4 a.m. in Libya, 50th Division's breakout is complete, and the Northumbrians swing around Bir Hacheim, their navigation assisted by the burning lights of German field workshops. Division HQ runs into a party of 30 Italian officers who want to surrender. 96 percent of the division's vehicles reach the Libyan-Egyptian frontier. All ranks arrive exhausted, lacking most of their equipment. A great feat, but 50th Division is out of the game.

The South Africans withdraw as well, one unit driving past a group of sleeping Germans. When Rommel hears of this, he gives the unit a "violent, picturesque, and to the point" lecture.

Even so, Rommel is jubilant. "The battle has been won and the foe is breaking up," he signals. Now he wants to take Tobruk, which will require supplies and Luftwaffe support. However, the Axis high command wants to leash Rommel while they carry out the invasion of Malta. Rommel attacks anyway. "The time has come to put a lid on Tobruk!" he says.

A Jewish representative in Switzerland, Richard Lichteim, notes "The destruction of the Jewish communities is continuing. The whole of Europe is anxiously awaiting the day when the Allied nations will liberate this tortured Continent." More than 52,000 Slovak Jews have been deported to Auschwitz that summer, bringing the Jewish death toll in June to 150,000 before month's end.

The Iroquois Confederacy declares war on the Axis. All six nations, Onondaga, Cayuga, Mohawk, Seneca, Tuscarora, and Oneida, present the formal declaration to Vice President Henry Wallace. If the Nazis ever heard of this, they would have been amazed, because Hitler commented that the Indians should back the Axis.

June 16th, 1942...In Lebanon, NZ Division forms up to move to Egypt. The convoys will take four days to trek down the roads. 28 Maori Battalion takes the train to Haifa, cutting the travel time in half. Division base moves 1,200 kilometers in four-and-a-half days to Matruh.

The British continue to withdraw, and accept that Tobruk will have to withstand another siege. The port is defended by 2nd South African Division under Maj. Gen. H.B. Klopper, who, like his staff and men, lack desert experience. Klopper himself has only held the command a month. The division has plenty of supplies, and is beefed up by the 201st Guards Brigade, 11th Indian Brigade, the 32nd Army Tank Brigade's 60 tanks, two regiments of field and two of medium artillery -- 35,000 men and 2,000 vehicles in all. Klopper has 1.5 million gallons of gasoline, 130,000 rounds of 86mm ammunition for 25-lbr. guns, and several million rations, all for the planned 8th Army offensive.

But his defenses, including the anti-tank ditch, are in a terrible state of repair, his minefields have gaps, and the RAF has fled. Most importantly, Klopper has only 16 6-lbr. anti-tank guns and 40 out-classed 2-lbr. guns.

Rommel's tanks run rings around the British to seal off Tobruk, moving to cut off the port from the south and east. 21st Panzers knifes through the desert, smashing the 3rd/12th Frontier Force Rifles and Point 650 in three hours, taking 700 PoWs. 21st Panzer takes vast quantities of supplies and vehicles.

Italian infantry divisions move in on Tobruk from the west. Rommel now has to deal with the 20th Indian Brigade and 4th Armoured Brigade before he can seal off Tobruk.

The seven Czechs who were involved in the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich are betrayed to the Germans by a Czech traitor. The agents are found hiding in a church in Prague. None have any connection with the martyred village of Lidice. The Germans move in SS troops, but the Czechs fight back. The Nazis shove fire hoses into the building, to flood the basement. The Czechs slice the hoses. The Germans bring up more firepower. 14 Germans die before the church is taken. Jan Kubis, Heydrich's killer, is wounded in battle, and dies in hospital. The other four parachutists and three Czech resisters die in the fighting. British codebreakers crack a Luftwaffe East Front code named "Skunk."

Convoy "Harpoon" meets up with two Italian cruisers, Montecuccoli and Eugenio di Savoia, and five destroyers at 6:30a.m. The Italian cruisers outrange the British, and open fire. Five British destroyers sprint into battle while four destroyers and the AA cruiser Cairo hang back with the merchant ships. Cairo takes two hits, and two British destroyers (Bedouin and Partridge are disabled), while the Italian tincan Vivaldi is set on fire. The Italians decide to retreat at 8:40 a.m. to lie in wait for the slower-moving convoy off Pantelleria.

The Luftwaffe arrives after that, and Ju 88s sink the destroyer Chant, disable the tanker Kentucky and freighter Burdwan. Captain C.C. Hardy, commanding "Harpoon," orders his two cripples sunk, and cranks up top speed.

The Italian ships show up again and find only the destroyer Hebe trying to sink Kentucky. The Italians scare off Hebe and sink the two cripples, then run into Bedouin and Partridge, sinking the former. Hardy manages to get 15,000 tons of supplies to Malta.

Convoy "Vigorous," still marching and countermarching towards Malta, gets hammered by Ju 87s, who sink the destroyer Airedale and damage the cruiser Birmingham. American and British planes attack the Italian fleet, which runs away.

Unfortunately for "Vigorous," it's practically out of anti- aircraft ammunition. At 6:30 p.m., it turns around and goes home. Not one ship reaches Malta.

The 15,000 tons from Convoy "Harpoon"'s two ships are just enough to keep Malta alive. The Royal Navy is at its lowest fortunes in the Mediterranean.

The House of Representatives votes to expand the US Navy by $8 billion, with 500,000 tons of aircraft carriers, 500,000 tons of cruisers, 900,000 tons of destroyers.

June 17th, 1942...Just to make life difficult for British intelligence, the Germans capture a British agent in The Netherlands, and his wireless transmitter. Using the radio, the German send messages back to England. The British do not realize they are being deceived. The Germans mount Operation North Pole, organizing German reception committees for the continuing drop of British agents, radio operators, and supplies, including arms and ammunition. The RAF drops all kinds of supplies and more than 50 Dutchmen to the Germans. 47 are murdered in concentration camps.

Even so, the British score a success when a brand-new Focke- Wulf 190 fighter aircraft is force-landed almost intact in Britain, providing British designers with a model to copy. The result will be late-model Spitfires that can tackle the beast.

Fort Siberia in Sevastopol falls to Nazi troops.

4th Armoured Brigade advances in the Libyan desert to counterattack Rommel and runs smack into the German 50mm anti- tank guns, who have the sun behind them. The battle turns into a fierce fight. 21st Panzer calls for artillery support. Then it calls off the artillery, as the shells are raining down on German vehicles. In the end, coordinated Nazi tactics destroy 32 British tanks. British 30 Corps in now out of the game.

That evening, 21st Panzer swings north to face the coast road and the coast. Rommel himself leads the drive, which reaches the RAF Gambut base by 10 p.m., catching 15 serviceable aircraft and their fuel on the ground. Half an hour after midnight, Rommel's tanks reach the coast. Tobruk is cut off.

June 18th, 1942...German troops seize Fort Maxim Gorky in Sevastopol, digging out Soviet naval infantry (in their black Sailor hats) with flamethrowers.

George Dasch, the unwilling Nazi saboteur sent to destroy Newark's Pennsylvania Station, hops a train to go to Washington, to surrender to J. Edgar Hoover personally. The same evening, the second Nazi sabotage team lands in the United States, on Ponte Vedra Beach, 25 miles southeast of Jacksonville. They bury their crates, head into town, and are soon enroute to their targets in Cincinnati and Chicago.

To add insult to injury, a worker's acetylene torch on the liner Normandie, lying on its side at a New York pier, sets off yet another fire, the third in less than three months.

Prime Minister Churchill arrives in the US for a series of conferences with President Roosevelt.

At dawn in Tobruk, 20th Indian Brigade tries to breakout, but run into 5th Panzer Regiment. The brigade is captured almost to a man. Rommel's troops spend the day clearing out pockets of resistance outside the Tobruk perimeter. One such defender is a single company of Transvaal Scots from South Africa, who use a captured German 88mm gun, lacking sights, to hold the Germans off all day.

The Germans capture 8th Army's dumps at Belhammed, just outside Tobruk, and Afrika Korps troops trade their tattered gear for fresh British uniforms and English leather boots. They also find soft, elegant suede shoes for officers. More useful are the vast stocks of 25-lbr. shells found in place, as much of Rommel's guns are captured weapons. In addition, Rommel's tanks overrun an old supply depot, left over from October, 1941, that is completely intact.

Rommel moves his two German and one Italian armored division up to attack Tobruk. His plan is to attack from the southeast, the same direction the British used in 1940, when they first conquered the town from the Italians.

Meanwhile British 8th Army is still on the run. 30 Corps, utterly shattered, is put into reserve.

Gen. Carl "Tooey" Spaatz takes over command of the US Army Air Force in England.

June 19th, 1942...Thor strikes again in the Indian Ocean, ambushing the Norwegian motor tanker Herborg. As the Norwegians have only a 3-inch gun manned by a Chinese crew, they surrender.

6 NZ Brigade leaves Aleppo area for the Libyan Desert.

"Groups of crouching figures huddled in woollen blankets in a little wadi at Ed Duda. There was almost no conversation, and that in whispers, as though the enemy, who was, perhaps, miles away, might hear us. What chatter there was seemed flippant and irrelevant: it was characteristic of talk before battle." So writes Lt. Schmidt of the Afrika Korps outside Tobruk.

"Next to each group -- combat engineers and infantry storm- troops -- lay the arms and other paraphernalia gathered during the day: explosives, grenades, mine detectors, wirecutters, flamethrowers, smokescreen candles, machine guns, ammunition.

"A few minutes to zero hour. A few minutes for thought -- especially for those of us who had taken part, during April and May of the year before, in the futile assaults on this almost hated fortress."

The most concentrated bombardment the desert has yet seen is unleashed at dusk, following an all-day air bombardment.

Roosevelt and Churchill discuss the problems of the second front, and the atomic bomb. They consider action in North Africa.

George Dasch arrives in Washington, checks into the Mayflower Hotel, and calls the FBI. Special Agent Duane Traynor thinks the call is bogus, but sends a man to pick up Dasch. Dasch is shunted from office to office, until he gets to Special Agent D.M. "Mickey" Ladd, who is leading the spy hunt. At first, Ladd thinks Dasch is trying to cash in on the spy hunt, until Dasch dumps his $84,000 money belt on the FBI desk.

Dasch tells Ladd he wants to see Hoover, and be treated as a hero. Dasch gets five minutes with Hoover, 13 hours with Ladd, and spills 254 pages. The FBI arrests Dasch's partner, Ernest Burger.

In Auckland, Vice Adm. Robert Ghormley assumes command of the South Pacific Area. Ghormley has a fine mind but is a lackluster leader. He is offered the use of the Auckland War Memorial Museum as a headquarters, but declines, thinking a museum as an HQ is not warlike enough. He sets up headquarters in a sweatbox of an office aboard the overcrowded headquarters ship Argonne.

The neat rows of Japanese tents on the Lunga plain of Guadalcanal are reinforced by more men and supplies, as the Japanese are about to build a wharf. They are also building an airfield, part of the next phase of their campaign to isolate Australia.

June 20th, 1942...On Guadalcanal, coastwatcher Martin Clemens, observing the Japanese construction efforts, writes, "It looks as if the Nips are going to stay." He and his coastwatchers are now behind enemy lines.

The Japanese sub I-26 torpedoes a Canadian lumber ship off Cape Flattery and shells a telegraph station at Vancouver Island, in Canada. On the East coast, German mines claim a merchant ship off the Virginia coast.

To curb the increasing number of military weddings abroad, the War Department forbids American soldiers in foreign countries from getting married without the approval of the commanding officer.

In Sevastopol, Fort Lenin falls to the Germans.

"At 5 a.m. I stood with Rommel on the escarpment to the northeast of El Adem. Promptly at 5:20 the Stukas flew over. Kesselring had been as good as his word and sent hundreds of bombers in dense formations; they dived on to the perimeter in one of the most spectacular attacks I have ever seen. A real cloud of dust and smoke rose from the sector under attack, and while our bombs crashed on to the defenses, the entire German and Italian Army artillery joined in with a tremendous and well- coordinated fire. The combined weight of the artillery and bombing was terrific, and as we soon realized, had a crushing effect on the morale of the Mahratta battalion in that sector," writes Gen. F.W. Von Mellenthin.

Rommel's attack is on time and on target. By 6:30 a.m., the 2/5th Mahrattas have collapsed at Strong Point 69. At 7:45, 10 strongpoints have fallen, and tanks can cross the anti-tank ditch. The defenders cannot fire out of the Italian-built concrete shelters, and can only huddle under the bombing.

Rommel goes forward to command the assault. By 8:30, 21st Div. Panzer tanks are into the bridgehead, joined by 15th Panzer soon after. Gen. von Bismarck, who commands 15th, leads the battle from his motorcycle-and-sidecar. Rommel himself supervises the first crossings of the anti-tank ditch.

The 2nd Camerons and Gurkhas counterattack, but it's not enough. The German assault is superbly coordinated and led, and is inexorable.

At 11 a.m., the Germans are at the inner minefield, where they meet Matilda tanks with heavy armor and tiny 2-lbr. (40 mm) guns. The Germans open fire, and the British crews abandon their tanks and flee.

At noon, 21st Panzer runs into 30 25-lbr. guns drawn up in defense in a wide fan. The panzers slow down, reload with high explosives, and attack, shelling the guns until each crew is dead or wounded. By 12:30, the gunline is chased away.

The South African defense is poor because Klopper is expecting the main attack to come from the West. They ignore repeated reports from forward positions. Klopper decides to investigate the situation himself, but his staff officers dissuade him from leaving the "Pink Palace" headquarters building in Fort Solaro.

At 2:45, Rommel's tanks are down the escarpment to the east of King's Cross intersection, and aiming for the NAAFI stores of chocolate and magazines. But now Rommel runs into British 3.7- inch AA guns, being (finally) used as anti-tank weapons. They wreck two tanks and slow the Germans down. The guns are only put out of action by a storming party led with enormous gallantry by Rommel's own driver.

Now Rommel can crash into Tobruk. His tanks blast through roadblocks, machine gun strongpoints into surrender or shell them. By 5:20, the area's headquarters is taken, with its commander, Brigadier Thompson, taken PoW while firing a machine gun from the roof of a nearby house, along with some Royal Navy Sailors trying to stop tanks at Navy House with rifles just issued to them. By 6 p.m., German fire is pouring into the harbor as the last ships leave. Amid it all are the explosions of South African troops destroying stores and depots.

In the chaos the crack 201st Guards Brigade, blasted by enemy fire that has destroyed their 6-lbr. guns, is forced to surrender.

Klopper himself is completely out of touch, not knowing where his men are or what is happening. Disasters crowd in on him at a huge rate. His headquarters men seem to be in a fog. One brigade's staff is having lunch when a bomb lands near their tent, without going off. They send a team of engineers to destroy the bomb so they can finish their lunch, while the battle rages.

Finally, Klopper orders his men at 4 p.m. (while all at HQ are having tea) to destroy their documents, codes, and ciphers. His men also destroy the phone exchange and wireless sets, which only make things worse.

Klopper decides things are hopeless and orders a mass breakout at 10 p.m. 4th South African Brigade's CO tells Klopper that it will be quite impossible for his brigade to get out of Tobruk on "their flat feet." Where is the transport?


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