June 21 - 27, 1942
by David H. Lippman

June 21st, 1942...Early in the morning, Maj. Gen. Klopper, CO of 2 South African Division in Tobruk, signals Egypt, "Am sending mobile troops out tonight. Not possible to hold out tomorrow. Mobile troops nearly nought. Enemy captured vehicles. Will resist to last man and round."

8th Army commander Gen. Neil Ritchie signals back, "Every day and hour of resistance materially assists our cause. I cannot tell tactical situation and must therefore leave you to act on your own judgment regarding capitulation."

Klopper signals, "Situation shambles. Terrible casualties would result. Am doing the worst. Petrol destroyed."

Ritchie: "Whole of 8th Army has watched with admiration your gallant fight. You are an example to us all and I know South Africa will be proud of you. God bless you and may fortune favour your efforts wherever you be."

In a last effort, gallant attempts are made to destroy stores stockpiled in Tobruk. Troops smash petrol drums and let fluid soak into the sand until the gasoline rots their boots and the fumes overcome them. Men hurl armored cars over cliffs into the sea.

At 5 a.m., Rommel drives into town. "Practically every building of the dismal place was either flat or little more than a heap of rubble, mostly the result of our siege of 1941. Next I drove off along the Coast Road to the west. The staff of 32 British Army Tank Brigade offered to surrender, which brought us 30 serviceable tanks. Vehicles stood inflames on either side of the Via Balbia. Wherever one looked there was chaos and destruction."

At 6:30 a.m., Klopper sends out parlementaires under a white flag to offer to surrender. As a white flag goes up over 6 Brigade HQ, the South African MPs give a moan that is a combination of anguish and misery.

At 9:40 a.m., Rommel meets Klopper, who announces the capitulation. Rommel tells Klopper to follow him in his own car back to Tobruk, driving past Afrika Korps vehicles and thousands of South African and British PoWs. At the Hotel Tobruk (still miraculously standing) the two generals work out the surrender. Rommel tells Klopper to make himself and his officers responsible for order among the PoWs, and organize their maintenance from captured stores. However, as Rommel is angry at the South African efforts to destroy the fuel, he won't let the PoWs change their clothes until his tanks have left Tobruk.

Klopper sends out officers to tell his scattered positions to give up. The 2/7th Gurkha Rifles and 2nd Cameron Highlanders are among the last to surrender, doing so around dusk.

Small parties make their way to safety. Maj. Sainthill of the Coldstream Guards leads 387 men to Allied lines. But 33,000 men face PoW cages, 19,000 Britons, 9,000 white South Africans, the rest Indian and African native.

Rommel also captures 2,000 tons of petrol, 5,000 more of provisions, abundant quantities of ammunition (including German and Italian types), and almost 2,000 serviceable vehicles. He also gains an important (if damaged) port, and a water-filtration plant. These supplies are enough to fuel Rommel's continued drive to Egypt.

The 8th Army has been outgeneralled, outmaneuvered, and outfought. Its tired veterans and brash newcomers have failed to learn tactical lessons. British tank officers still make cavalry- style charges while German tanks concentrate and wait behind an artillery screen until the coup de grace.

The Afrika Korps raid the British supply dumps, spurning their "Alte Mann" -- Italian sausage, labelled A.M. -- in favor of British beer, South African pineapples, Australian bully beef, Irish potatoes, and American cigarettes. German troops swap out their worn clothing with superior British khaki.

Rommel reports laconically, "Fortress Tobruk has capitulated. All units will reassemble and prepare for further advances." His German casualties since May 26 are 3,360, about 15 percent of the Afrika Korps' strength. Italian losses are somewhat less. However, the Afrika Korps has lost 300 officers, a drain on its leadership cadre.

In Germany there is jubilation over Rommel's triumph. Swedish journalist Arvid Fredborg reports that Germans believe they might actually win the war. Rommel's detractors in Italy and Germany hail the victory.

Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, boss of the Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean, flies to Rommel's headquarters to congratulate the Afrika Korps and plan the next move. Rommel wants to maintain the advance into Egypt, using the captured supplies at Tobruk to fuel the drive. Kesselring points out that an advance into Egypt cannot succeed without full Luftwaffe support. And the Luftwaffe is committed to Operation Theseus, the invasion of Malta. If Theseus is delayed, Malta might recover from its pounding, and jeopardize Rommel's supply lines.

Rommel, like many German -- and some Allied -- field commanders, is not an expert on logistics. German general staff planning has insisted that quartermaster and ordnance officers meet tactical, operational, and strategic requirements, regardless of the supply situation.

Rommel disagrees with Kesselring emphatically. He admits the Afrika Korps has taken casualties at Gazala, but the 8th Army is in worse shape. A delay of even a few weeks could give the British time to regroup and bring in new forces, which, like 2nd NZ Division, are on their way. The two officers reach no agreement.

But Rommel has made up his mind irrevocably. In the evening, he fires a message to Rome assuring Mussolini that "the state and morale of the troops, the present supply situation owing to captured dumps, and the present weakness of the enemy, permit our pursuing him into the depths of the Egyptian area." He also sends a personal liaison officer to Hitler.

The Fuhrer studies the arguments of both Rommel and the Italian and German naval staffs, and Kesselring. The navies and air forces, backed by the Italian high command, want to launch the assault on Malta. But Hitler signals to Mussolini that "it is only once in a lifetime that the Goddess of Victory smiles" and the Malta attack is postponed until September. Rommel is given the green light to invade Egypt.

Winston Churchill is in Washington, when Tobruk falls. He reads the message while talking with President Roosevelt, and later writes, "This was one of the heaviest blows I can recall during the war. Not only were military effects grim, but it affected the reputation of British arms...Defeat is one thing; disgrace is another."

After digesting the message, Churchill silently hands it to FDR, who also reads it quietly. Finally Roosevelt says, "What can we do to help?"

After Tobruk falls, 4 NZ Brigade arrives at Mersa Matruh.

Vichy French Minister Pierre Laval expresses hope for German victory in a broadcast to the French people.

June 22nd, 1942...In Egypt, 4 and 5 New Zealand Brigade are allocated defense sectors of the Matruh fortress. As the Kiwis dig in, they see the 8th Army streaming past them in retreat, not looking demoralized. British troops have withdrawn to Matruh, 180 miles from Alexandria.

Mussolini responds to Hitler's telegram, saying that "the historic moment has now come to conquer Egypt." Il Duce will take personal command, and he flies to Derna on the 29th, piloting his own aircraft.

The ferocious Soviet defense at Sevastopol forces Adolf Hitler do something he doesn't like to do, namely delay the next big offensive.

A Japanese submarine pokes its 3-inch gun on the surface and shells a military depot at Fort Stevens, Oregon, on the estuary of the Columbia River, only the second time a foreign power has attacked the continental US since the War of 1812. The first time was in February 1942, when another Japanese submarine shelled Santa Barbara, California, damaging an oil pump. This attack does no damage, nor is it repeated.

SS Col. Adolf Eichmann explains his plans to his subordinates. The "Final Solution" of the Jewish question is to be called "Operation Heydrich." To start, 40,000 Jews will be deported from France, 40,000 from Holland, and 10,000 from Belgium. They are to go to Auschwitz at a rate of 1,000 per day: one train a day.

June 23rd, 1942...The Nazis start deporting Polish and Jewish mental patients from mental institutions to Auschwitz.

Rommel's tanks charge across the Egyptian frontier south of Sidi Omar, avoiding British minefields. His aim is to swing around British defenses at Sidi Barrani and Sollum, reach the sea at Matruh, surrounding the 8th Army. Rommel's drive is unopposed, and a good thing, too, he's down to 44 tanks.

In any case, Rommel is surrounding an empty bag. Ritchie has withdrawn the 8th Army to Matruh.

The Japanese come up with a new idea on how to supply their forces in Burma, now drawing logistics by sea through Rangoon. Japanese convoys to Rangoon run a gauntlet of British and Dutch submarines and consume much fuel. The Japanese need a shorter route. The answer is a railway route traced by British engineers from Nakhom Pathom in Thailand to Thanbyuzayat in Burma, through "Hellfire Pass" and Three Pagodas Pass on the Burma-Thailand border. The British have written off this route as being unsuitable because of mountains, malarial jungles, and frequent floods. However, the Japanese believe sheer will and prisoner-of-war labor can overcome these obstacles.

That day, an advance party of 300 British PoWs taken in Singapore arrives at Bampong in Thailand, with orders to construct their own camp and one for their Japanese guards. The PoWs are already weak from poor rations and tropical disease. Some still suffer from wounds earned in Malaya or the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales or HMS Exeter. Three months later, 3,000 Australian PoWs will be sent to a camp at Thanbyuzayat to begin work from the opposite end.

Ahead lies the construction of the "Railway of Death," one of the grimmest chapters of the war.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt orders a squadron of B-25 bombers to the Egyptian desert, instead of China, to aid the British. 40 Hurricanes enroute to Russia, sitting at Basra in Iraq, are also diverted to Egypt, as are 10 American B-24s in India and Maj. Gen. Lewis Brereton. Roosevelt also despatches 100 howitzers and 300 tanks, sans engines, around the Cape of Good Hope to Suez. When the ship carrying the engines is sunk off Bermuda by a U-boat, Roosevelt sends the fastest ship available to carry 300 more engines, so as to overtake the Suez-bound convoy.

The convoy contains something new: the M-4 Sherman tank, packing a distinctive silhouette and a 75mm gun. It will become the primary tank for the Allies for the rest of the war.

Eager to lead the victory parade through Alexandria, Benito Mussolini flies to Cyrenaica, bringing along his Arabian charger, ready for his triumphal entry. The horse frets in a Bardia stall.

The Soviets withdraw to the south side of Sevastopol's bay, preserving their front, as the bombardment and German attacks roll on.

The US Senate unanimously approves a bill to create a Women's Reserve in the Navy. The House says in a report on war production that "there has been evidence of widespread and inexcusable waste of public funds." Charging "unbelievable red tape, top-heavy organization and lack of orientation to a state of war," it rips the War Department for "excessive commissions and exorbitant salaries" in contracts; attacks the Air Corps for neglecting the development of modern combat planes and dive bombers before the war, criticizes the Maritime Commission for providing insufficient ship tonnage, and accuses the Rural Electrification Administration of using copper for non-essential projects.

June 24th, 1942...In Hawaii, USS Enterprise trades in her outdated TBD Devastator torpedo bombers for the new TBF Avenger, an extremely rugged plane. Most Grumman Avengers will actually be TBMs, made by General Motors under contract. Not many Devastators are left to be turned in from Midway, five in all. All lie parked wingtip to wingtip at Ford Island. Three of them are numbered "3- T-7," from Enterprise, "8-T-7," from Hornet, and "3-T-7," from Yorktown. The number seven plane of each squadron had either not been launched or survived the slaughter.

That evening, the Luftwaffe lightly bombs 2nd NZ Division's positions at Matruh. Rommel's tanks advance more than 100 miles, reaching the sea west of Matruh. German morale is high.

A new name appears in the war as Maj. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower arrives in England. Next day, he is announced as commander of US forces in Britain, and holds his first press conference ever. He will hold 500 more, until 1961.

New Zealand extends the life of its Parliament for the duration of the war and not more than 12 months following war's end. Government and Opposition agree to a war administration of seven government and six opposition leaders. Three months later, the administration falls apart anyway.

June 25th, 1942...Gen. Bernard Freyberg holds division officers' conference at Matruh for 2 NZ Division. The enemy is 80 miles away and driving hard. 2 NZ Division will not hold Matruh, but move south into the desert and meet Rommel head on. Freyberg looks over the Matruh defenses, and makes a few caustic comments about them being a trap with no exit. He instead selects his position to make a stand -- Minqar Qaim, a 100-foot high escarpment that runs east and west, south of Matruh.

Auchinlek takes decisive action, firing the exhausted Neil Ritchie as boss of 8th Army. Auchinlek believes a stand at Matruh will be a repeat of Gazala, and cost the British their only remaining force, 2nd New Zealand Division. As Auchinlek broods over the maps, he decides that it's more important to keep 8th Army in being than hold ground. The army's communications and organization is a shambles. Auchinlek will fight, then withdraw. He spews out a stream of orders. No more "box" tactics. Concentrated artillery fire will be used. Infantrymen will be motorized, combat forces streamlined.

Studying the map with his aides, Auchinlek selects a point where 8th Army will make a stand, a whistlestop 60 miles from Alexandria where the Qattara Depression in the south and the Mediterranean in the north will deny Rommel his advantage of mobility. The railway station is named El Alamein.

In Palestine, (the only British holding whose stamps are issued in English, Arabic, and Hebrew) Jewish residents work on schemes to defend Haifa against the Nazis. Doris May, an Anglo- Catholic supporter of the Zionists, writes, "It may yet fall to our handful of half-trained, half-equipped people, to put up the only effective resistance to the advance -- to crack the jaws that seek to devour them. I had hoped that the Land of Israel might be spared, but it does not look very like it."

The same day, the Gestapo orders the arrest of 22,000 Jews in the Paris region, and deports them "to the East."

German troops drive a wedge into Sevastopol's defenses. The Soviets are running out of men, space, and time. Surviving fighters are sent to the Caucasus, conceding the skies to the Luftwaffe. Soon the Soviet AA guns are out of ammunition, and the defenders face Stukas with rifles and machine guns. Artillery shells are running out, too.

No. 488 (New Zealand) Squadron of the RAF is formed at RAF Church Fenton in Yorkshire. This is a nightfighter squadron, and it takes its number from the squadron disbanded after the fall of Singapore.

That evening, the RAF hurls 1,006 bombers at Bremen, battering the Focke-Wulf plant, at a cost of 44 aircraft, or 4.9 percent, missing, and 65 or more seriously damaged. Aircraft from No. 75 NZ Squadron take part in the raid.

June 26th, 1942...2nd NZ division starts deploying onto Minqar Qaim. At dusk, the Luftwaffe hammers 21st Battalion and kills 60 Kiwis. The division is organized into four mobile groups after being relieved of fortress duties by 10 Indian Division.

Right after midnight, Auchinlek fires off orders to 8th Army. The army will withdraw if and when the Axis advances.

Erwin Rommel is promoted field marshal, and receives an extremely ornate baton from Adolf Hitler. He only carries it once -- the day he receives it.

Meanwhile, Rommel's tanks attack. Deutsches Afrika Korps is down to 60 tanks. The Italian 20th Mobile Corps has 44. But Rommel's ace in the hole are 330 guns of all types, including captured British 25 lbrs. and 29 88mm Krupp guns. The Afrika Korps will advance astride the southern escarpment with 20 Italian Corps in support. The Afrika Korps will drive the British armor east, while the infantry cut off the coast road east of Matruh, trapping more British infantry.

That evening, the Germans attack, blasting through the Sidi Hamza Ridge.

The last Soviet reinforcements arrive in Sevastopol, 142nd Infantry Brigade. After that, supplies must come in via submarine.

The BBC reports that 700,000 Jews in Poland have been murdered, information smuggled out from the Polish underground. Emanuel Ringblum, a Polish Jewish historian in Warsaw, hears the broadcast, and writes, "Our toils and tribulations, our devotion and constant terror, have not been in vain. We have struck the enemy a hard blow. We have revealed his Satanic plan to annihilate Polish Jewry, a plan he wished to complete in silence. We have run a line through his calculations and have exposed his cards. And if England keeps its word and turns to the formidable mass attacks it has threatened -- then perhaps we will be saved."

Odilo Globocnik, a senior SS officer charged with murdering Jews, tells Heinrich Himmler, "You yourself, Reichsfuhrer, once mentioned that you felt the job should be done as quickly as possible, if only for reasons of concealment."

While the Blitzkrieg rocks the British 8th Army and rolls toward Egypt, the Wehrmacht launches another patented offensive, this time in Russia, to take Rostov-on-Don.

At Rastenberg, Adolf Hitler decorates SS Gen. Eicke, CO of the SS Totenkopf Division, with the Oak Leaves for the Knight's Cross, for bravery in holding out in the Demyansk pocket the previous winter. 11 of Eicke's officers and men also receive the Knight's Cross. After the ceremony, Hitler and Eicke chat, and Eicke tells the Fuhrer that his division is pretty well worn out, short of vehicles, and wishes to be transferred to France. Instead, Hitler gives Eicke home leave.

More anti-Japanese sentiment on the East Coast as the "Native Sons of the Golden West" in San Francisco files suit to remove the citizenship of US-born Japanese. Meanwhile, the Office of Price Administration announces that each motorist with a basic "A" card under the gasoline rationing plan will receive 48 coupons for four gallons to last a year from July 22. The monthly ration is 16 gallons. Comparatively, in England, there are no "A" cards, as persons whose cars are not essential to the war effort are required to remove the tires and put them on chocks for the duration.

June 27th, 1942...(USS Washington) At 4 p.m., in Iceland, Convoy PQ-17 heads out to sea. To Lt. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., watches "so many dirty ducks, waddle out past the nets and to sea."

Dr. Heinisch, Nazi administrator in the Przemysl area, issues a public instruction. "Every Ukrainian or Pole who attempts by any means whatsoever to impede the campaign for the deportation of Jews, will be shot. Every Ukrainian or Pole found in a Jewish quarter looting Jewish homes will be shot. Every Ukrainian or Pole attempting to conceal a Jew will be shot." In the next month, 24,000 Jews from Western Galicia, Heinisch's district, pass through Przemysl. All are taken to Belzec and killed.

At 9 a.m. in Libya, the 2nd NZ Division is laying mines when enemy tanks appear 4,000 yards away, and shell the mine-laying party. The Kiwis finish their job and pull out, and the tanks come no nearer. Instead, the Germans bring up 105mm guns, shelling the New Zealanders while their vehicles move east past the Kiwi defenses, shelling the defenders as they go.

One shell splinter wounds Gen. Freyberg in the neck -- his 30th scar -- and Brig. Lindsay Inglis has to take over.

The 21st Panzer Division surrounds 2 NZ from the north, while 15th Panzer drives south of Minqar Qaim. The reliable but battered 50th Northumbrian Division counterattacks from the north to open a corridor to the Kiwis, but runs into superior German fire. The 9th Durham Light Infantry is completely destroyed. But 1st Armored Division, south of Minqar Qaim, holds off 15th Panzer all day.

British Gen. "Strafer" Gott, commanding 13th Corps, exhausted from the retreat, orders 13th Corps to pull out. Gott is out of touch with the situation, and believes 2 NZ Division has been destroyed. 1st Armored can withdraw, which denies 2 NZ its armored protection on the southern flank. The message reads, "It's all over. The New Zealand Division doesn't exist."

Inglis shows this message to the groggy Freyberg, who, despite his wounds, is livid. He believes (rightly) that Gott, ignorant of the situation, is leaving 2 NZ to die.

At 8 p.m., Inglis summons his officers and reveals that the division is surrounded. The only possibility is a breakout to the east. 4 Brigade will attack by bayonet, and the rest of the division will drive through in a solid column. The division will have to use every vehicle it has, even water carriers, to break out.

Zero hour is 10:30 p.m. Brig. Howard Kippenberger assembles his 5 Brigade, packing his trucks to the limit. Men squeeze onto Bren carriers and anti-tank gun portees. 4 Brigade attacks the enemy at Bir Abu Batta, the 28th Maori Battalion leading the assault. In the battle, 4 Brigade destroys 1st Battalion of the German 104th Infantry Regiment.

During the battle, Capt. Charles Hazlitt Upham, a Christchurch farmer in the 20th Battalion, leads an assault on German positions. For his exceptional valor, Upham receives the Victoria Cross. It is his second of the war, and Upham goes down in history as the only combatant to twice earn the decoration, thus making him the British Commonwealth's greatest single soldier.

Upham will later be captured by the Germans, and be sent to Oflag 21C, the notorious Colditz prison (from which Airey Neave escaped, mentioned earlier). He will return to New Zealand after the war, refuse honors and knighthoods, and quietly tend his farm, march in parades, and help the families of wounded veterans until his death in 1994.

During the battle, 5 Brigade runs smack into enemy tanks, and a small and spectacular battle results, the night filled with tracer, shot and shell. Freyberg himself, head swathed in bandages, jumps out of the front of his truck, and, in his squeaky voice, remarks, "My God! Another Balaclava!"

Another high-ranking officer hops out of his truck to fight. Kippenberger later writes, "For a few moments we ran on amid a pandemonium, overtaking and being overtaken by other frantic vehicles, dodging slit-trenches, passing or crashing into running men, amid an uproar of shouts and screams. I recognized the men as Germans, pulled out my revolver and was eagerly looking for a target when suddenly there was silence and we were out running smoothly on level desert. We were through."

J. Edgar Hoover writes President Roosevelt to say that all Nazi spies sent to America in Operation Pastorius are in FBI hands. He modestly claims the success to good FBI work, not because Dasch turned himself in.

One - who spent most of his time watching movies - was arrested as he came back to his hotel after a film. The youngest member of the team, Herbert Haupt, had gone back to his parents in Chicago and told them everything. He used some of his sabotage money to buy a new car, and proposed marriage to his girlfriend. When he went to the local FBI office to clear up his draft problems, the FBI trailed Haupt for three days, hoping to find other Nazi spies. After three days, they simply arrested Haupt.

With all the Nazis jailed, the FBI formally arrests George Dasch, and tell him they consider him as guilty as the rest.

Hoover reaps the benefit of favorable publicity, and FDR gets dozens of letters and telegrams urging him to give Hoover the Medal of Honor.

The spy trial begins in July. Attorney General Francis Biddle personally conducts the prosecution, calling for the death penalty. Col. Kenneth Royall, a distinguished civilian attorney and future secretary of war, handles the defense. Biddle demands the death penalty for spies sent to America to cause chaos and death. The spies plead innocence, denounce Hitler, and insist they had no intention of actually engaging in sabotage.


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