13 - 20 June 1942

13 June 1942

Caribbean Sea and Gulf Of Mexico : German submarine U-157 found and sank a 6,400-ton American tanker, Hagan 10th June. Upon learning of this loss, the commander of US Navy Gulf Sea Frontier, Admiral James Kauffman, directed all available forces to “hunt this submarine to exhaustion and destroy it.” An Army Air Forces B-18 picked up U-157 on ASV radar at first light on June 11. Closing to two miles, the aircrew saw U-157 on the surface and attacked, passing over the boat at 900 feet, but the attack failed when the bomb-bay doors malfunctioned.

Making a diving turn, the B-18 came in a second time at 300 feet, but by then U-157 was nearly under. The plane dropped four Mark XVII depth charges set for twenty-five feet. All charges detonated, but the outcome was unknown. An hour and a half later a Pan American Airways commercial airliner saw the U-boat on the surface. But still later that morning, three other Army aircraft could not find her. An armada of ASW vessels sailed from the schools in Key West and Miami. The Key West group, composed of nine ships, included the four-stack destroyers USS Dahlgren and USS Noa, and the 165-foot Coast Guard cutters USS Thetis and USS Triton. The Miami group was composed of five PCs, reinforced by the four-stack destroyer USS Greer, which joined it on June 12. All fifteen vessels converged in the Florida Straits between Key West and Havana.

The American air and sea forces hunted U-157 relentlessly for forty-eight hours, June 11 to June 13. On the night of June 12–13, radar-equipped Army Air Forces B-18s reestablished contact with the U-boat. At dawn on June 13, Kauffman directed the Key West group to the site and recalled the Miami group. At about 4:00 P.M., the 165-foot Coast Guard cutter USS Thetis got a “strong” sonar contact. Her captain, Nelson C. McCormick, who had earlier commanded a sister ship, USS Dione, off Cape Hatteras, carried out an immediate and skillful attack, dropping ten depth charges in two runs, which brought up huge air bubbles and oil. The destroyer USS Noa, the 165-foot Coast Guard cutter USS Triton, and three other vessels converged onUSS Thetis and dropped twenty-two more depth charges at the oil slick.

These attacks without doubt destroyed U-157, with the loss of all hands. USS Thetis and the other vessels found not only great quantities of oil but also two pairs of trousers, a small tube of oil made in Germany, and pieces of deck grating and other wood. The Army Air Forces rightfully claimed part credit for the kill, as did USS Noa and USS Triton and several other vessels, but Admiral Kauffman gave sole credit to McCormick in USS Thetis.

At Kerneval , France, Admiral Dönitz was unaware of the loss for a number of days.

Off Panama, in the Caribbean Sea, German submarine U-159 torpedoed and sank US passenger linker Sixaola at 0412 hours; 29 were killed, 201 survived. At 1938 hours, U-159 struck again, torpedoed and sinking US cargo ship Solon; all 53 aboard survived.

Atlantic Ocean : Battle of Convoy HG-84 (Homebound Gibraltar) starts. June 14, German submarine U-552 made contact with the convoy and brought up other FW-200 Condor aircraft and three U-boats of wolfpack ENDRASS: U-132 , U-89 and U-437.

The British rescue ship Copeland DFed signals of U-552 and alerted escort commander Captain Johnny Walker in Royal Navy sloop HMS Stork, who went to battle stations promptly and directed catapult merchant ship Empire Morn to launch its Hurricane fighter to drive off the German planes. The Hurricane carried out its mission, then ditched alongside HMS Stork, which recovered the pilot. Meanwhile HMS Stork and the corvette HMS Gardenia had found German submarine U-132 astern of the convoy. In a relentless, well-conducted series of attacks, HMS Stork and HMS Gardenia dropped 110 depth charges near U-132, severely damaging the boat and forcing it to fall out and back. At about that same time the corvettes HMS Marigold and HMS Convolvulus found and attacked U-89 and U-437, forcing them off as well. Captain Lohmann commanding U-89 later reported he was hunted and depth-charged for thirty-one hours.

German submarine U-202 landed 4 saboteurs at Amagansett, Long Island, New York, United States in Operation Pastorius.

Italian submarine Da Vinci torpedoed and sank British collier SS Clan MacQuarrie 650 miles south of Cape Verde Islands; 1 was killed, 89 survived.

Gazala , Libya : German 21st Panzer Division, 15th Panzer Division, and 90th Light Division surrounded British troops in the Knightsbridge box near Tobruk, Libya, eventually forcing the British to fall back after sundown. The heavy fighting and the resulting heavy casualties caused the British troops to name this day “Black Saturday”

On 13 June, the 21st Panzer Division advanced from the west and engaged the 22nd Armoured Brigade. The Afrika Korps demonstrated a superiority in tactics, combining tanks with anti-tank guns in the attack; Rommel acted rapidly on intelligence obtained from Allied radio traffic intercepts. By the end of the day, the British tank strength had been reduced from 300 tanks to about 70 and the Afrika Korps had established armour superiority and a dominating line of positions, making 13th Corps on the Gazala line vulnerable to being cut off. By the end of 13 June, the Knightsbridge box was virtually surrounded and it was abandoned by the Guards Brigade later that night, with their commanding officer Thomas Bevan having been killed the previous day. Due to these defeats, 13 June became known as “Black Saturday” to the Eighth Army.

On 13 June, the 21st Panzer Division attacked Rigel Ridge in the middle of a sandstorm. The Germans overran part of the 2nd Scots Guards at the Knightsbridge Box at the west end of Rigel Ridge, overlooked by the 6th South African Anti-tank battery of the 2nd Field Regiment, Natal Field Artillery and a battery of the 11th Regiment RHA nearby. The South African gunners kept firing until their guns were destroyed, allowing the withdrawal of other Allied formations. The South African battery commander had decided to stay and maintain fire against the German tanks, to delay the Germans for as long as possible. The remaining guns were commanded individually and fired at the Panzers over open sights. The German tanks took up positions behind the ridge, with anti-tank guns placed between them. A column of Panzers attacked from the rear, surrounding them and cutting off all escape and the gunners kept firing until the eight guns had been destroyed. About half the gun detachments were killed and wounded, including the battery commander and many officers. The last gun in action was manned by Lieutenant Ashley and a signaller; when the battery had been silenced, the Axis tanks approached cautiously and the South African gunners were taken prisoner. (The entire Natal Field Artillery Regiment was captured and was not re-formed until after the war.) The Germans captured over 3,000 Allied prisoners.

Ritchie was at this time faced with an unenviable choice. With Rommel’s advance threatening to cut off the 1st South African and the 50th Divisions he had to make up his mind whether to fight or to run. If he stood firm his armour might well be destroyed and his infantry cut off, but even if he withdrew to Egypt there was no guarantee that he would escape a severe mauling, and Tobruk would inevitably be left to the enemy. Characteristically he decided to stand and fight it out, a decision endorsed by Auchinleck and applauded by the Prime Minister.

For the coming defensive battle he transferred the 1st Armoured Division to 13th Corps and ordered Lumsden to hold the Acroma-Eluet-Knightsbridge area while fighting generally under the protection of Gott’s guns and infantry. Further to the east the 10th Indian Division was directed to attack at El Adem and the 7th Motor Brigade to strike at the enemy rear between there and Knightsbridge.

By the time these instructions reached Lumsden on the morning of 13th June he was fully occupied with an enveloping attack on Knightsbridge by the Afrikakorps, an action which was to become the decisive armoured battle of the Gazala series. It was from this battle that Rommel emerged for the first time at Gazala definitely superior in armoured strength to the British, and at the end of the day, with 30th Corps reduced to 50 cruisers and unable to recover its damaged vehicles, Ritchie ordered Lumsden to withdraw. Up to this time the recovery and repair units had done sterling work but at Knightsbridge they were given no chance and the Afrikakorps won a great victory.

By 13 June, the Eighth Army was at the point of collapse. No longer able to hold out against the renewed assault, the exhausted Guards Brigade finally evacuated ‘Knightsbridge’. With a sand-storm raging of such intensity that visibility was no more than a few yards, Rommel advanced towards Tobruk virtually unimpeded, recording that the ‘slaughter of British tanks went on … murderous fire struck from several sides into the tightly packed British formations, whose strength gradually diminished’. By night fall Knightsbridge was cut off and overrun with appalling losses for British Guards brigade ; the few survivors slipped away after dark leaving a battlefield carpeted with British dead. A German soldier, Rolf Werner Völker, was shocked by the sights he saw and observed, ‘It was like a naughty child had had a tantrum and thrown his toys all over the room, there were upturned guns, trucks and tanks everywhere – a lot of them burning.’ Another witness said, ‘I have never seen so many dead Englishmen before.’

Auchinleck had, up until this point, offered Ritchie advice but the tone of the advice altered and Ritchie’s attempts to run his own command could be seen to wane. Auchinleck was now giving the orders (asll the way from Cairo , muddling chain of command and destroying Ritchie’s authority further). The possibility that the 8th Army could be cut off and destroyed piecemeal was now more and more likely. The political interference coupled with poor communications and compounded by imprecise objectives led to the next great debacle as the bulk of the 8th Army was scrambling to get out of the path of the German juggernaut.

The rout that was now in the offing did not spring from a lack of courage on the part of the British, Indian, Australian and Free French troops caught in this inferno but from the numbed and dilatory leadership of their commanding officers. Though Ritchie dithered, he was not alone to blame. His subordinates – Generals Norrie, Gott , Messervy and Lumsden – were not only out of touch with the calamitous turn of events on the battlefield but very often with each other as well. With their armour, artillery and infantry scattered and isolated, their commanders knew neither what was happening nor the extent of their losses. On that grim day, the 13th, when the mutual carnage of men and machines reached hideous proportions, the Eighth Army’s official log was reduced to recording that there had ‘evidently’ been ‘losses on both sides in these engagements’.

If Ritchie was in denial, Auchinleck, who returned on the same day to Cairo from a flying visit to the front, was at a loss, still unaware of how desperate the situation had become. But by the next day, with only seventy tanks left in entire Eighth Army, Ritchie finally realised the scale of his defeat. He at once ordered the bulk of his forces to retreat to the Egyptian frontier in what became known – self-mockingly but despairingly – as ‘the Gazala Gallop’.

Mediterranean Sea : Operation Harpoon and Operation Vigorous convoys continue unaware that the wireless reports of US military attache Col. Bonnar Fellers to Washington already betrayed their presence to Axis and both German Italian naval and air forces are ready and awaiting them.

On Vigorous convoy : The three convoy elements met off Mersa Matruh during the afternoon and made for Malta as the 7th Destroyer Flotilla put into Alexandria to refuel, the rest of the destroyers sailing on and the rest leaving Alexandria with the main force, seven cruisers and their destroyer screen. During the afternoon, the weather deteriorated and the MTBs (motor torpedoboats) on tow were cast off to return to Alexandria but MTB 259 was damaged and sunk, the rest made port the next day.

During the night a five-man raiding party was landed by submarine on Crete and damaged or destroyed about 20 aircraft of Lehrgeschwader 1 at Maleme airfield. The activity of raiding parties was reported to Washington by Bonner Fellers; three SBS parties had landed the week previous, one to attack the aircraft but had not been able to penetrate the airfield security.

After dark, Axis aircraft continuously illuminated the convoy with flares and dropped occasional bombs, then at 4:30 a.m. the Luftwaffe attacked the main escort force catching up from the east, dropping more bombs and flares until British fighters arrived after dawn. RAF Douglas Bostons and Wellington bombers attacked Axis airfields near Derna and other places during the night, to interfere with Axis air operations against the convoy.

On Harpoon Convoy : Operation Harpoon continued and more aircraft of the Regia Aeronautica were transferred to Sardinia but lost contact with the convoy. Two Italian cruisers and three destroyers departed Cagliari during the evening for Palermo, ready to stop a fast ship from dashing to Malta.

German submarine U-83 torpedoed and sank British Q-ship HMS Farouk off Chekka, Syria-Lebanon at 1110 hours; 9 were killed.

Crete : Greek submarines Papanicolis and Triton delivered British Commandos on Crete, Greece; while this new group of arrivals failed to achieve their objectives, a group landed on 10 Jun reached parked German aircraft on this date and destroyed 20 German Ju 88 bombers at Heraklion airbase.

Baltic Sea : Soviet submarine ShCh-405 was lost in the Tiger minefield off Seskar Island, Russia (taken from Finland in 1940) in the Baltic Sea; all 38 aboard were killed.

Sevastapol , Crimea : Troops of 16.Regiment of German 22.Luftlande Division attacked Fort Stalin at Sevastopol, Russia at 0300 hours, capturing it by 0530 hours on 13th June; Germans suffered 32 killed and 126 wounded, and the Soviets 100 killed and 20 captured.

The primary objective for the 22nd Infantry Division on 12-13 June was Fort Stalin, blocking the advance to Severnaya Bay. It was a tough position. The fortifications allowed the Soviet forces to concentrate artillery against breakthroughs and machine gun posts protected the fort from southern and eastern attacks, but it was vulnerable from a northern assault. In addition, only 200 men from the 345th Rifle Division were stationed there. The Germans launched their assault on the position at 03:00 on 13 June with just 813 men. The 3rd Battalion was assigned to suppress Soviet machine gun and mortar positions located on the southeast as a diversion. The 1st Battalion, supported by five StuG assault guns, two 37mm guns and an Engineer Company, were to serve as the main effort. Some 200 and 110 men were committed respectively in each unit.

German bombardment began on 12 June. Artillery fire from ‘Dora’ had failed to neutralise the fort. Nevertheless, a combined arms attack from eleven 420 mm mortars and dive-bombing by Ju 87s of StG 77 knocked out the fort’s main armament (three of the four 76.2 mm guns). At 19:00 the 22nd divisional artillery began shelling the fort and its smaller supporting fortress, Volga, located to Stalin’s rear, with 210, 280 and 305 mm weapons. At 03:00 the German infantry attacked. The fog of war intervened. The Soviet mortar teams were not suppressed, and a fierce battle developed which lasted until 05:30. The Germans, with the support of five assault guns and a few 37 mm weapons, silenced the fort, bunker by bunker. In the heavy fighting a large number of company commanders were killed.

As the Germans seized this vital fort, the neighbouring Volga fort realised it had fallen and shelled the position. A company-sized counterattack by the Soviet forces was wiped out by German small arms fire. The Germans declared the position secured at 07:00, though some bunkers held out until 15:00. German casualties amounted to 32 dead, 126 wounded and two missing – half of the force committed. Soviet casualties amounted to 20 captured, the remainder were killed. With only 91 men left near the fort, Petrov did not order a recovery attempt – a grave mistake

In Sevastapol harbor, Luftwaffe bombers hit and sank Soviet transport ship Gruzyia (Her cargo of ammunition exploded resulting in most of the 4,000 troops on board being killed.) , transport TSch-27, patrol boat SKA-092, motor boat SP-40, five barges, and a floating crane.

Black Sea : A Soviet torpedo boat attacked and sank Italian midget submarine CB-5 in the Black Sea off Yalta, Ukraine.

Italian torpedo boat MTSM-210 damaged a Soviet ferry in the Black Sea; German aircraft arrived shortly after to sink the damaged ship.

Peenemunde , Germany : The first launch of an A4 rocket was achieved at Peenemünde, Germany, but after only 54 seconds the motor cut out and the missile fell into the sea less than a mile from its launch pad.

Berlin , Germany : General Eduard Wagner, Quartermaster General and head of the supply section of the German High Command informed Adolf Hitler that there was a real risk of supplies drying up by mid-September, 1942. Hitler refused to heed the warning which proved to be optimistic - By late July whole units on the Eastern Front were immobilised for days by lack of fuel. ww2dbase

Washington , USA : The United States established the Office of War Information and the Office of Strategic Services.

Darwin , Australia : 27 aircraft of Japanese 23rd Air Flotilla from Kendari, Celebes, Dutch East Indies attacked Darwin, Australia.

Hawaii : Task Force 16 (USS Enterprise , USS Hornet and their escorts) returned back and arrived at Pearl Harbour.

Pacific Ocean : American submarine USS Sargo torpedoed and sank Japanese troop transport ship Konan Maru off Caroline Islands

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14 June 1942

Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico : German submarine U-172 torpedoed and sank US cargı ship Lebore in the Caribbean Sea at 0854 hours; 1 was killed, 94 survived. At 1912 hours, U-504 torpedoed and sank Latvian cargo ship Regent 200 miles southwest of the Cayman Islands; 11 were killed, 14 survived.

Atlantic Ocean : Norwegian cargo ship Gunvor struck a mine and sank off Key West , Florisa , USA.

Arctic Ocean : German Admiral Otto Schniewind issued the order to commence Operation Rösselsprung (“Knight’s Move”); in turn German warships Tirpitz, Admiral Hipper, Lützow, and 12 destroyers departed from their home ports toward the Barents Sea.

Libya : General Auchinleck authorized the abandonment of the Gazala Line in Libya. The defenders in the El Adem and two neighbouring boxes held on and the 1st South African Division was able to withdraw along the coast road, practically intact. On 14 June, Ritchie signalled Auchinleck telling him that he proposed to evacuate the Gazala line and regroup west of the Egyptian border. What he did not tell the Commander-in-Chief was that General Strafer Gott commanding 13th Corps had already taken the initiative. His 50th Division (Ramsden) was already moving east and 1st SA Division (Pienaar) was taking the shorter coastal route as 13th Corps withdrew to safety and avoided being cut off. Pienaar, very typically, argued the toss with Gott about withdrawing in daylight and was allowed to delay until dark accommodated him. This delay could have been fatal and nearly was, but good fortune favoured Pienaar and two brigades of 1st SA Division moved out in good order. The 2nd SA Infantry Brigade (Brigadier WHE Poole) was the rear guard; it left its position in stygian darkness and spent an exciting night trying to find its route to safety. All was well and the Division extricated itself from the salient and was available to fight another day – Pienaar permitting.

The coastal road could not accommodate two divisions and the remaining two brigades of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division could not retreat eastwards, because of the Axis tanks. Instead both British brigades (69th and 151st Infantry Brigades , as you might remember third brigade 150th Brigade was destroyed at Sidi Muftah box by Afrikakorps on 1st June ) attacked south-west (on the opposite side of Afrikakorps presence) in a well executed suprise breakout, breaking through the lines of the Italian Brescia and Pavia divisions of 10th Italian Corps; then headed south into the desert, turning southern flank of now defunct Gazala line before turning east to rejoin Eighth Army that was regrouping at south of Tobruk. British division, seeking to escape from encirclement and surrender, hurled itself headlong at the enemy line under cover of darkness. The armour went first, followed by truck-loads of infantry. In a moment of desperate fighting. One Durham infantryman described the breakout :

“Germans and Italians alike shrieked for mercy from their slit trenches. Guns, tanks, defences, all were pulverised in the furious assault. A Valentine tank rode straight over an Italian mess tent in which enemy staff officers were having a late supper. Our men saw Germans on their knees, praying to be allowed to surrender. Some of the enemy who kept their heads manned every available gun and fired point-blank at the British transport columns plunging and bucketing through. In the glare of burning vehicles, the major commanding the Valentines saw a German climbing up the side of his tank with a bayonet raised to stab. The major was a boxer; a beautiful right hook sent the enemy sprawling under the tracks of the following tank.”

Confusion soon became chaos as the British units trapped at the front fought their way out of the minefields and often straight through the Axis lines. Still 50th Northumbrian Infantry was diciplined and under good command unlike British armored formations ‘I was lucky,’ Captain Snell of the Durham Light Infantry recalled. ‘My truck was hit by an anti-tank shell and blown to pieces but I and my driver got out. We went right through the dugouts with bayonets, tommy guns and grenades and cleared them out … Our armoured cars shot all the machine-gunners. Our battalions went through. The Italians on each flank tried to stop them, but there was no concentrated effort on their part.’ Snell led his company south into the desert, passing Bir Hacheim, and reached the wire between Egypt and Libya but ‘we were shot up all the way, and by the time I arrived I had three armoured cars, myself and two other blokes. The rest of the company were wiped out.’

Still despite severe casaulties most of the British 50th Northumbrian division managed to retreat in good order. This is a remarkable feat of arms by infantrymen of 50th Northumbrian Division under command of General Ramsden and one of few successful active combat operations of Eighth Army during Battle of Gazala.

At the other hand , armored formatiıons (or whats left of them) were in total chaos and confusion and unlike infantry that had to extract themselves from now besieged Gazala , armor was free and mobile but awfully led. Earl Haig, who had just joined the 22nd Armoured Brigade, watched as ‘like horses in a race … the German units and ours were running neck and neck’ for an isthmus in the desert, the last defensive position in Egypt from which it would be possible to arrest Rommel’s headlong rush towards the Nile Delta and the Suez Canal. The retreat, noted Haig, ‘was a very messy business and most unfortunate. Very sad … rather I suppose like Dunkirk, we must have lost most of our supplies, our petrol dumps, our ammunition and so on.

London would not contemplate a withdrawal to the better defensive positions on the Egypt-Libya frontier and on 14 June, Auchinleck ordered to Ritchie to hold a line running south-east from Acroma (west of Tobruk) through El Adem to Bir El Gubi. Meanwhile in London British Imperial Chief of Staff General Alan Brooke wrote in his diary in dismay “Rommel is outgeneralling Ritchie” For his part Rommel expressed nothing but admiratioın for his opponents : “The British Guards Brigade after being subjected combinwed firepower of every gun we could find and constant Luftwaffe air attacks whole day , evacuated the Knightsbridge box towards the evening. This brigade is the living embodiment of virtues and faults of British soldier , tremendous courage and tenacity combined with a rigid lack of mobility”

On 14th June Ritchie decided to clear the Belhamed base. Two days later 1.5 million gallons of fuel had been leaked away, and except for 1 million rations the dumps were empty. This was a great disappointment to Rommel but Tobruk remained, filled with stores and badly defended, and he hoped for more success there. Ritchie’s position, however, was worse than it had ever been, and with no armour to protect his southern flank it was imperative to withdraw his two Gazala divisions either to Tobruk, or to Egypt where they would be reasonably safe and where he could rebuild the armoured wing of his army.

At same time as he ordered the destruction of the Belhamed dumps he instructed Gott to withdraw to the frontier while he himself held a line from west of Tobruk through El Adem to Belhamed. Ritchie then reported on the situation to Auchinleck but failed to mention that he had already ordered Gott to send the Gazala divisions back to Egypt. He did ask, however, if the C.-in-C. wanted him to order a general withdrawal, including that of the Tobruk garrison, or to accept the risk of a short siege in the hope that it would soon be possible to relieve the fortress. Several hours of confused and contradictory telegrams now passed between the army commander and the C.-in-C. but ended with Auchinleck giving firm instructions to Ritchie to hold the Acroma-El Adem-Bir Gubi line, and expressly forbidding either the evacuation or the investment of Tobruk.

While these discussions were taking place Rommel tried to cut the coast road behind Gazala but his troops were too tired and the defence too good, and on the night of 14th/ 15th June the British and South Africans of 13th Corps broke out eastwards, and not long after were re-assembling on the frontier.

Mediterranean Sea : Battles of Convoy Harpoon and Convoy Vigorous started. At dawn an Italian aircraft spotted the convoy 50 nmi (58 mi; 93 km) north of Cape Bougaroni, about half-way between Algiers and Bizerte. Two British fighters managed to shoot it down before it could send a sighting report. However in late afternoon another Italian recon plane sighted the convoy and sent the location report.

During the day, Italian SM.79 torpedo bombers attacked the Allied Harpoon convoy, sailing for Malta, south of Sardinia, Italy, torpedoed and sank Dutch cargo ship Tanimbar (5 were killed) and disabling Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Liverpool (15 were killed, 22 were wounded; HMS Liverpool was towed back to Gibraltar by destroyer HMS Antelope). As the convoy came within range of Sicily, ten Luftwaffe Ju 88s joined in to attack the convoy but the early Axis air attacks were defeated by accurate anti aircraft fire and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Combat Air Patrol , seven British and 17 Axis aircraft being lost. Later on 14 June, the covering force returned to Gibraltar, short of the Strait of Sicily. The fast minelayer HMS Welshman was detached and travelled to Malta alone, delivered ammunition, then sailed back next day to rejoin the convoy escorts.

Thanks to US Col. Fellers’s wireless reports from Cairo to Washington decrypted by German and Italian codebreakers after capture of US State Department Black Code , the Axis knew that Operation Harpoon was coming, and that Malta needed the oil from the tanker to survive. Regia Aeronautica lined up eighty-one fighters, sixty-one bombers, and fifty torpedo bombers, and the Luftwaffe added another forty bombers. In the first attack, at daybreak on Sunday, June 14, the US made tanker Kentucky shot down one bomber. “One of the destroyers picked up three German airmen who stated that they knew all about the convoy sailing, and had been waiting for us,” reported Captain Roberts, the Kentucky ’s new master. “Personally, I had not known until two hours before sailing where or when my ship was to proceed.”

In the evening, most of the warships escorting the Harpoon convoy were ordered back to Gibraltar.

From other other side of the Mediterranean Sea, the Allied Vigorous convoy sailed westward for Malta. The convoy escorts reorganised, the four corvettes, two minesweepers and the 5th Destroyer Flotilla with nine destroyers being joined by 17 fleet destroyers of the 2nd, 7th, 12th, 14th and 22nd flotillas. In the morning Dutch freighter Aagtekerk from MW11 part of the Vigorous convoy developed mechanical troubles and was diverted by Tobruk, Libya for repairs with two corvettes in escort; 40 German Ju 87 and Ju 88 aircraft attacked them, sinking Aagtekerk (3 were killed) and damaging corvette HMS Primula. In exchanger three German Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers shot down.

The rest of the convoy was covered by RAF Hawker Hurricanes and Kittyhawk fighters diverted from the Battle of Gazala, which protected the convoy from a big force of bombers.

During the afternoon Luftwaffe Lehrgeschwader 1 was more circumspect until the convoy was beyond the cover of the short-range British fighters, then from 4:30 a.m., about 60–70 bombers made seven attacks in five hours, opposed by a few long-range Kittyhawks and Beaufighters. The eight merchantmen were in four columns around the rescue ships, with the cruisers about 1,200 yd (1,100 m) out, the Hunt class destroyers 1 nmi (1.2 mi; 1.9 km) beyond and the fleet destroyers on anti-submarine patrol 2,500 yd (2,300 m) outside the Hunts. The formation was effective against torpedo-bombers but risked attack by dive-bombers in the absence of British fighters. The Germans attacked from 10,000 ft (3,000 m) from the rear or sides in groups of 10–12 aircraft breaking up into twos and threes to bomb. In the late afternoon, German Ju 88 bombers from Crete, Greece attacked the Vigorous convoy, hit and sinking cargo ship Bhutan (1 was killed) and damaging freighter Potaro from MW11 part of the convoy.

The worst of the bombing stopped once dark fell and desultory bombing and flare dropping resumed like the night before. The escort force moved into night formation, the fleet destroyers moving into line ahead of the convoy, two cruisers and four destroyers on the port and starboard quarters and a destroyer at each corner of the formation 5 nmi (5.8 mi; 9.3 km) out. The flare-dropping deterred German E-boats (fast torpedoboats) from coming too close but the convoy and escort crews were very tired and much of the anti-aircraft ammunition of the convoy and escorts had been expended.

Meanwhile, a powerful Italian fleet including two battleships and four cruisers departed Taranto, Italy in an attempt to intercept both Harpoon and Vigorous convoys. At 6:45 p.m. a RAF Baltimore bomber crew from Malta had caught sight of the Italian fleet and gave a strength report of four cruisers with four destroyers, preceding two battleships and four destroyers, which reached Admiral Henry Harwood Commander of Royal Navy Mediterranean Fleet at 10:30 p.m. A Photographic Reconnaissance (PR) flight over Taranto had verified the departure of the ships at 8:00 p.m. and another sighting reached Harwood that at 2:24 a.m. the fleet was making 20 kn (23 mph; 37 km/h) southwards. At 11:15 p.m. Harwood signalled Admiral Philip commanding Vigorous convoy Vian that the Italian fleet (Admiral Angelo Iachino) with two battleships, two heavy and two light cruisers and 12 destroyers had sailed from Taranto and would reach the convoy by 7:00 a.m. Vian requested permission to turn back as it would be impossible for the escorts to protect the merchantmen for another long summer day and Harwood ordered Vigorous to continue towards Malta until 2:00 a.m. on 15 June, then turn onto a reciprocal course

After sundown, German fast motor torpedo boats from Derna, Libya attacked the Vigorous convoy, with motor torpedoboat S-55 torpedoed and sank British destroyer HMS Hasty (13 were killed) and S-56 torpedoed and damaged light cruiser HMS Newcastle (forced to return to Alexandria, Egypt for repairs).

Sevastapol , Crimea : The fall of Fort Stalin meant the Soviet defenses in the north were on the verge of collapse. Manstein ordered 44th German Corps to divert its attention to Fort Maxim Gorky and the elimination of the Soviet 95th Rifle Division. The 95th Rifle Division had been halting German 132nd Infantry Division’s progress since the start of the offensive. The 132nd was reinforced by one regiment from the idle German 46th Infantry Division near Kerch. The German 24th, 50th and Romanian 4th Mountain Divisions were to maintain pressure in the central sector while they pushed towards the Mekensia and Gatani Valley and the Chernaya River opening at Severnaya Bay.

Amsterdam , Netherlands : Dutch schoolgirl, Anne Frank, turned 13 and was given a diary. It was supposed to be an autograph book, but because it had a lock, Anne used it to record her secret thoughts. A year later, her father moved their family and others into the annexe of his Amsterdam, the Netherlands office to escape the Nazis.

New York , USA : German Abwehr saboteur George Dasch defected to the United States with a telephone call to the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation , blowing entire German sabotage effort Operation Pastorious to FBI.

Washington , USA : Mexico and Philippine goverment in exile join United Nations

Indian Ocean : German merchant raider cruiser Thor intercepted and sank Dutch tanker Olivia by gunfire , 41 of tanker crew killed only four survived and reached Madacascar

Wellington , New Zealand : The first echelon of 5th Regiment of the US 1st Marine Division arrived at Wellington, New Zealand.


15 June 1942

Atlantic Ocean : Battle of Convoy HG 84 (Homebound Gibraltar) continues. German submarine U-552 attacked Allied convoy HG-84 400 miles west of Brest, France between 0000 and 0500 hours, torpedoed and sinking four British freighters and Norwegian tanker Slemdal.

Five or more German submarines of wolfpack ENDRASS made contact with the convoy. Still hanging on, U-552 loaded his last two torpedoes in his bow tubes for a daylight submerged attack, but it could not get around Captain Johnny Walker’s aggressive escorts to shoot. One escort caught U-552 and dropped eight depth charges close to the boat, cracking a fuel-ballast tank and causing other serious damage. Another escort caught U-71. The depth charges forced German submarine to abort with battle damage for the second time in June.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, US Bucket Brigade coastal convoy KN-109 sailed into a minefield five miles off Virginia Beach, Virginia, United States, which was laid by German submarine U-701 four days prior; Royal Navy anti-submarine trawler HMT Kingston Ceylonite (33 were killed, 18 survived) and US tanker Robert C. Tuttle (1 was killed, 46 survived) were sunk, US tanker Esso Augusta and destroyer USS Bainbridge were damaged.

Italian submarine Archimede torpedoed and sank Panaman cargo ship Cardine off coast of Brazil in South Atlantic

Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico : German submarine U-502 torpedoed and sank two US cargo ships and one Panamanian cargo ship 90 miles west of Grenada. On the same day, German submarine U-172 torpedoed and sank Norwegian cargo ship Bennestvet 50 miles off Costa Rica. 20 miles off Colombia, German submarine U-68 torpedoed and sank Vichy French tanker Frimaire in a case of mis-identification; all 60 aboard were killed.

Bay of Biscay : A RAF Coastal Command Whitley bomber located and attacked German submarine U-214 while sailing on the surface to her patrol in Caribbean Sea , the German submarine was illumunated by Leigh Leight and bombs dropped by the Whitley bomber caused severe damage to terminate her patrol and retuern back to her base in France.

The attacks on these outbound as well as the inbound boats in the Bay of Biscay infuriated Admiral Dönitz , commander of German submarine fleet. He complained bitterly in his diary that owing to the unavailability of German aircraft, the Bay of Biscay had become a “playground” for British aircraft. It was “sad and very depressing” for the U-boat crews to realize that Germany had provided “no forces whatever” to protect U-boats in the Bay of Biscay or to escort damaged boats into port, leaving them vulnerable to repeated British aircraft attacks and forcing them to creep in and out of the bay mostly submerged.

Dönitz iterated long-standing requests through official channels for aircraft protection. When these again failed to get results, on July 2 he flew to confer face-to-face with Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring at his headquarters in East Prussia. Göring explained that up to now the Luftwaffe had sent every available aircraft to the Soviet Union or to the Mediterranean Basin. Nonetheless, he conceded the necessity for U-boat protection in the Bay of Biscay and personally ordered that twenty-four more JU-88s be assigned to the Luftwaffe Atlantic command at the end of July.

Baltic Sea : Soviet submarine M-95 struck and was damaged by a German naval mine in the Gulf of Finland near Hogland Island (Finnish: Suursaari Island); shortly after, she was spotted by Finnish aircraft, which bombed and sank her, killing all 19 aboard.

Gazala , Libya : British 8th Army withdrew from Libya and fell back to Egypt. By the evening of 15 June, the Point 650 box had been overrun by 15th Panzer Division , 21st Panzer Division reached Sidi Rezegh and on 16 June, the defenders at Point 187 box had been forced by lack of supplies to evacuate. 90th Light Infantry Division severed the coastal road. On shore, Rommel continued his westward march. ‘Enemy resistance crumbled’, he later recalled, ‘and more and more British troops give themselves up. Black dejection showed on their faces.’ ‘The battle has been won’, Rommel wrote to his wife on June 15, ‘and the enemy is breaking up. We’re now mopping up encircled remnants of their army. I needn’t tell you how delighted I am.’

Tobruk, east of the Gazala line, was a military issue and a political football. It had been agreed earlier in the year by both the military high command and the British Government in London that Tobruk would not be defended as an isolated Fortress.

In London, Churchill did not realise how swift the collapse had been. With the ‘Gazala Gallop’ already in progress, he telegraphed Auchinleck, ‘Your decision to fight it out to the end is most cordially endorsed. We shall sustain you whatever the result. Retreat would be fatal. This is a business not only of armour but of will-power. God bless you all.’ Auchinleck so far away in Cairo and in delusion that the situation could be saved at Gazala, who had himself only just become aware on 15th June that the Eighth Army was in full retreat – now alerted the Prime Minister to the galling truth that, save for two divisions which would remain to guard the approaches to Tobruk – the Eighth Army was on the way back to the ‘old frontier’. Churchill cabled back in dismay, ‘Do not understand what you mean by withdrawing to “old frontier”.’ More pointedly, he asked, ‘To what position does Ritchie want towithdraw the Gazala troops? Presume there is no question in any case of giving up Tobruk. As long as Tobruk is held no serious advance into Egypt is possible.’ The following day, Auchinleck replied, ‘Although I do not intend that Eighth Army should be besieged in Tobruk, I have no intention whatever of giving up Tobruk.’

Churchill now applied great pressure on his generals to hold and defend Tobruk come what may. This volte-face by Churchill was because he had committed himself to the retention of Tobruk in his negotiations with Roosevelt. By so doing had hung an ‘emblematic albatross’ around his neck as well as the necks of his generals.

13th Corps commander General Gott’s opinion was outlined on 8 October 1949 when General Erskine wrote to Brigadier Latham of the Historical Section of the Cabinet Office. In his letter he said:

“Gott always urged that Tobruk should only be garrisoned at all if we were going to fight on the Gazala line in earnest. The first conception of the Gazala position was that it was an outpost on which we would delay the enemy as long as we could and then fall back to the frontier … the frontier was not an ideal place for defence, but it was a good deal better than Gazala, provided we had a strong armoured force to protect the southern flank.”

However, Gott was not the decision maker and, when it became apparent that his views were in a minority, he loyally played his part in defending the Fortress. Despite the wholesale withdrawal from the Gazala line the retention of Tobruk was still desirable because its port facilities reduced the 8th Army’s lines of communication. However, Auchinleck’s policy in respect of Tobruk was:

"Full of obfuscation, evasion and downright dissembling. When Churchill was about to leave London to see Roosevelt, he sought guarantees, not for the first time, that Ritchie’s withdrawal from the Gazala line would not mean abandoning Tobruk. … Auchinleck replied that he ‘did not intend that the 8th Army should be besieged in Tobruk … He had no intention whatever of giving up Tobruk.’

This firm commitment to Tobruk was all very well but the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief realised that, if it were to be invested, Tobruk could be an anvil upon which Rommel would hammer the 8th Army. Churchill’s political aspirations once more did not match the military reality. But it was Auchinleck’s authority to defend Tobruk , leave a huge garrison as well as all supply dumps intact in there. He just could not say no due to Prime Mibister’s wishes and made a blunder to defend the Tobruk when the port and perimeter defences were complately neglected and inadequate. Nevertheless, Churchill was in constant contact with Auchinleck during the middle of June and left no doubt as to his desire to hold Tobruk, which somehow had to be accommodated. On 15 June Auchinleck took a deep breath and signalled Churchill, saying:

"Although I do not intend the 8th Army should be besieged in Tobruk I have no intention whatever of giving up Tobruk. My orders to General Ritchie are: (a) to deny the enemy the general line Acroma – El Adem – Bir Gubi; (b) not allow his forces to be invested there; (c) to attack and harass the enemy whenever the occasion offers. Meanwhile, I propose to build up as strong as possible reserves in Sollum-Maddalena with the object of launching a counteroffensive as soon as possible.’

Prime Minister Winston Churchill intervened and signalled to General Auchinleck that he presumed that Tobruk would not be given up as its possession would prevent any large scale advance into Egypt.

In his reply Auchinleck explained his appreciation of the situation and the orders which he had given, and stressed the difficulties confronting Rommel. He also wrote of his plans for the future, including the building up of a reserve on the frontier ready for a counter-offensive, and sent another order to Ritchie telling him to place in Tobruk a force capable of holding the base even if it was temporarily surrounded. In the meantime the 8th Army’s remaining mobile forces were to prevent the enemy from moving east of El Adem or Tobruk.

Later that day Ritchie and Lieutenant General Corbett, Auchinleck’s Chief of the General Staff, met and a blazing row erupted, the crux of which was that Ritchie rejected his detailed orders, declining to reinforce the area between Tobruk and El Gubi ‘with static infantry nor would he guarantee that he could prevent Rommel from moving further east.’ Corbett flew back to GHQ to report to his master.

Auchinleck wilted under the pressure of Prime Minister Churchill. On 16 June he cabled the Prime Minister to confirm ‘War Cabinet interpretation is correct. General Ritchie is putting into Tobruk what he considers an adequate force to hold it even if it should become temporarily isolated by the enemy … Very definite orders to this effect have been issued to General Ritchie, and I trust he will be able to give effect to them.’

Same day Auchinleck , in a signal to Ritchie said , that "although Tobruk was not to be invested he realised that ‘it might well be isolated for short periods until our counteroffensive can be launched.’ he told Ritchie to organise the garrison as he thought fit. (while Auchinleck was well aware that Eighth Army armor was literally melted away in Gazala battles and had no position to stage offensive for a long time)

The fog had cleared and Ritchie (misled and misinformed by Auchinleck again who had been aware the casaulty levels of Eighth Armuy made itr impossible to attack) now knew that the 2nd South African Division (Klopper) was to remain in place and on that basis there was no requirement for wholesale destruction of stores or of port facilities.

In Tobruk , General Klopper was unrealistically optimistic about his capacity to resist a possible German siege, no matter how short. Klopper had only very recently been promoted and his command experience was limited. His staff did not include a single professional soldier and so the fortunes of the vast Tobruk cantonment were in the hands of amateurs. Klopper was willing, but the task he had been given was far and away beyond his capacity and that of his untrained staff officers. Numerically he had far more men under command than Morshead the year before but Klopper’s soldiers were not of the calibre of Morshead’s Australians who had fought so bravely in the earlier siege.

Ritchie now reinforced Tobruk and its garrison to include four brigade groups. There were in addition 8,000 support troops and about 2,000 uniformed, but non-combatant, labourers employed to service the port. Klopper had to defend a perimeter 35 miles long and a coastline of 20 miles. It was a vast piece of country with inadequate defences. The anti-tank ditches had filled with windblown sand; the minefields had been scavenged to secure the Gazala line, leaving significant gaps. The defensive plan was uncoordinated.

Rommel could not be more luckier , operating against general (Auchinleck) who was both picking bad subordinates , giving wrong tactical and strategic advice and misleading his subordinates , undermining authority of his subordinates , not training his forces for combined coordinated operations and now bowing the will of political pressure from London to defend an indefensible place.

Mediterranean Sea : Battles of Harpoon and Vigorous convoys continue.

In the morning Italian 7th Cruiser Division ( Vice-Admiral Alberto Da Zara), light cruisers Raimondo Montecuccoli, Eugenio di Savoia and the destroyers Ascari, Alfredo Oriani, Lanzerotto Malocello, Premuda and Ugolino Vivaldi intercepted and started attacking Harpoon convoy in a rare coordination with Axis air attacks. Italian cruisers attacked the Allied Harpoon convoy in the Strait of Sicily at 0539 hours with gunfire, damaging Royal Navy cruiser HMS Cairo (2 were killed) which had been protecting the convoy with smoke screen, damaging Royal Navy destroyer HMS Partridge, and disabling destroyer HMS Bedouin (under the command of Commander B. G. Scurfield; 28 were killed, 213 captured; later located sunk by an aerial torpedo from Italian SM79 torpedo bomber) by gunfire ; Royal Navy return fire from British cruisers and deestroyers damaged Italian destroyer Vivaldi. In concert, German JU-87 dive bombers and JU-88 bombers attacked freighters of the Harpoon convoy, seriously damaging British freighter Burdwan, freighter Chant, and tanker Kentucky with several bomb hits (all three were disabled , set on fire with these air attacks , abandoned and later sunk by Italian cruisers and destroyers). The two remaining cargo ships Harpoon convoy reached Malta after sundown bringing a meagre 15.000 ton of supplies to the island (which, with a decent harvest, might keep the population of Malta fed until September but the loss of the tanker Kentucky and the consumption of aviation fuel at Malta, led to RAF Spitfire fighters being given priority over RAF anti shipping offensive force in Malta). On top of that incoming ships ran into a new minefield in the Grand Harbour, sinking Polish destroyer Kujawiak (13 were killed, 20 were wounded), damaging Royal Navy destroyer HMS Badsworth (9 were killed), damaging destroyer HMS Matchless, and damaging freighter Orari.

From the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, the Allied Vigorous convoy also sailed for Malta. At dawn, RAF Coastal Command Beaufort torpedo bombers from Malta attacked the Italian fleet moving to intercept the convoy, disabling Italian heavy cruiser Trento at 0515 hours with a torpedo hit; she would be torpedoed again and sunk by Royal Navy submarine HMS Umbra at 0910 hours off Mersa Matruh , over 360 from her crew were killed. In the afternoon one RAF B-24 bomber located and attacked Italian fleet and hit Italian battleship Littorio with two bombs. The detection of this Italian fleet turned back the entire Vigorous convoy. En route back to Alexandria, Egypt, German JU-87 dive bombers aircraft hit and sank Royal Navy destroyer HMS Airedale (44 were killed, 133 survived) and damaged Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Birmingham and Australian destroyer HMAS Nestor. German bombers in Libya flew 193 sorties against Vigorous from 14–15 June which gave some respite to the Eighth Army as it retreated towards the Egyptian frontier but left RAF landing grounds around Gambut vulnerable to attack.

In 1962, the British naval official historian, Stephen Roskill, called the Axis success in Harpoon Vigorous convoy operations undeniable. Malta had not been supplied properly (only two cargo ships arrived with 15.000 tons of supplies) and the Royal Navy had lost five destroyers and six merchantmen against the sinking of Italian heavy cruiser Trento and severe damage to Italian battleship Littorio and shooting down 43 attacking Axis aircraft (there were total of 285 German and Italian aircraft attacked both convoys). No attempt was made to run another convoy from Alexandria until the Eighth Army had conquered Libya. Roskill wrote that with hindsight, the course of events on land made naval operations in the central Mediterranean inherently dangerous. During the operation, the withdrawal of the Eighth Army forfeited one of the airfields being used for air cover. With Axis aircraft based along the length of the route to Malta, air power decided the course of events, although the diversion of Axis bombers against the convoys had been of some benefit to the British as they conducted the “scuttle” to El Alamein.

Still it was appearent that Royal Navy was about to lose control of Central Mediterranean and battle of supplies to Malta. In 1941, 30 of 31 merchant ships sailing for Malta had arrived but in the first seven months of 1942, of 30 sailings, ten were sunk, ten turned back damaged, three were sunk on arrival and seven delivered their supplies.

The Axis operation against Harpoon was the only undisputed squadron-sized victory for the Regia Marina in the Second World War. In their 1998 publication, Greene and Massignani wrote

Clearly this was an Axis victory and a tactical victory for the Italian Navy. Part of the convoy did get through to Malta, but the British suffered far heavier losses than did the Italians…

In Germany, Adolf Hitler postponed Operation Herkules, the planned invasion of Malta.

Sevastapol , Crimea : Soviet light cruiser Molotov and destroyer Bezuprechny landed 3,855 troops at Sevastopol, Russia and then embarked 2,908 wounded personnel for evacuation; meanwhile, their guns bombarded German positions

On ground , For three days, 14–16 June, the battle continued as the Axis advanced towards Sevastopol in the face of Soviet resistance. On 15 June German 132nd Division was within 900 metres of the massive Maxim Gorky fortress outer bastion (Bastion I). The front opposite the 25th Soviet Rifles was still strong, but the northern flank was giving way. The 79th Naval Brigade had only 35 percent of its fighting strength remaining. Blocking the way to Maxim Gorky were just 1,000 men of the 95th Rifle Division and 7th Naval Brigade. Maksim Gorkii emplacement no less than 300 yards long, had first to be blown out of the ground in which they were anchored with all their concrete and steel; even when cracked open, the forts fought on and their labyrinthine interiors had to be cleared of Soviet marines and riflemen fighting gas-masked in the smoke and choking stench.

Black Sea : Italian midget submarine CB-3 sank Soviet submarine S-32 in the Black Sea off Yalta, Ukraine.

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16 June 1942

Atlantic Ocean : German submarine U-87 attacked US Coastal convoy XB-25 25 miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, United States at 0417 hours, torpedoed sinking British cargo ship Port Nicholson (2 were killed, 85 survived) and US passenger liner Cherokee (86 were killed, 83 survived).

Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico : German submarine U-126 torpedoed and sank US cargo ship Arkansan at 0230 hours (4 were killed, 36 survived) and US cargo ship Kahuku at 0320 hours (17 were killed, 46 survived) 70 miles west of Grenada. At 0400 hours, German submarine U-67 torpedoed and sank Nicaraguan cargo ship Managua 50 miles north of Matanzas, Cuba; all 25 aboard survived.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean Sea, U-161 stopped Dominican sailing boat Nueva Altagracia at 1410 hours, capturing her crew of 8 and her cargo of fruit, and scuttled the boat with charges.

Libya : Axis troops attacked El Adem and Sidi Rezegh near Tobruk, Libya. British rear guard forces evacuated both boxes.( On 16 June Messervy told Norrie, his corps commander, that El Adem could ‘only be held for another twenty-four hours at most.’ ) Simultaneously, an attack by 21st Panzer Division on a defended area called Point B 650 some 8 km (5.0 mi) north of El Adem was defeated by the Indians and the 7th Motor Brigade; a second attack succeeded later that evening. The attacks on El Adem were stopped after further reverses but the threat of being surrounded caused its evacuation on the night of 16/17 June. This left the airfields on the coast at RAF Gambut vulnerable, causing the Desert Air Force (DAF) to withdraw eastwards, severely limiting air support. The last outpost of the defensive line was Belhamed, a hill adjacent to Sidi Rezegh, which was held by the 20th Indian Infantry Brigade, a new formation

Meanwhile shattered remants of 13th and 30th Corps and their supply logistics auxilary units began regrouping in Libyan-Egypt border.

Mediterranean Sea : German submarine U-205 torpedoed and sank Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Hermione, returning to Egypt from her duty escorting the Allied Vigorous convoy, 115 miles north of Sidi Barrani, Egypt at 0019 hours; 87 were killed, 440 survived.

Malta : On the evening of the 16th, Lord Gort , Governor of Malta broadcast to the Island. He was, he told them, going to speak with complete frankness. ‘The truth never hurts and we are always at our best when we know the worst.’ But he had bad news – the convoys had largely failed , only two cargo ships managed to arrive to Grand Harbor. Nonetheless, he said, ‘Every effort will be made to replenish our stocks when a favourable opportunity presents itself. Meanwhile we must stand on our own resources and everyone of us must do everything in his or her power to conserve our stocks and to ensure the best use is made of all the available resources that remain to us.’ The prospects were grim; life was tough enough as it was, and Gort knew it. After warning people against resorting to the black market and becoming unwitting Fifth Columnists, he did as Dobbie had done before him, and looked to divine salvation. It must have seemed their best hope. ‘We have the sure conviction that our cause is just,’ the Governor concluded, ‘we have trust in ourselves and we have a still greater belief – our faith in Almighty God. Strong in that faith let us all go forward together to Victory.

Baltic Sea : Soviet submarine ShCh-317 torpedoed and sank Finnish merchant ship Argo east of Stockholm, Sweden. Later on the same day, ShCh-317 attacked Swedish merchant ship Ulla (carrying survivors of Argo) but failed to cause any damage.

German cargo ship Plus struck a mine and sank off Weser

Sevastapol , Crimea : German aircraft and artillery pieces bombarded Fort Maxim Gorky at Sevastopol, Russia, silencing the fort’s 12-inch guns.

In the ground , Germans prepared to smash 95th Rifle Division, 27 Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers of II./StG 77 attacked Maxim Gorky’s main battery. The Germans believed the strike had knocked it out as it stopped firing its artillery. The artillery bombardment began on 16 June. In the morning the attack by the reinforced German 132nd Division collapsed the line. To penetrate Maxim Gorky fortress , the attackers had to use Rochling bombs (one ton shells that burrowed into rock or concentrate before exploding , these shells cracked the fort like a nut) , flamethrowers and gas to clean out each gallery , pillbox and gun nest. German 22nd and 24th Infantry Divisions advanced from the northeast. They employed their Goliath remote control demolition vehicles with success against the timber bunkers. One exploded prematurely and two were knocked out by a minefield. Two Panzer III control vehicles were knocked out by Soviet anti-tank fire. By 19:30, Forts Maxim Gorky, Molotov, Schishkova, Volga and Siberia were overrun. The German 24th Infantry Division in particular made extensive use of its Nebelwerfer rockets. Soviet 95th and 172nd Rifle Divisions had been lost, as well as the majority of the fortified defences. Only Soviet 25th Rifle remained in the line. Petrov rushed up the Soviet 138th Naval Brigade with an extra 2,600 men, which was landed on the 12–13 June. It prevented German forces reaching Severnaya Bay that dayThe Soviet garrison held out in tunnels, capitulating on 20 June.

In the south the Soviet 109th and 388th Rifle Divisions were forced back along the coast by the German 72nd and 170th Infantry Divisions while the Romanian Corps’ 18th Mountain Division dislodged the Soviet 386th Rifle Division threatening 30th Corps’ right flank. The battles continued to grind on until 20 June. In six days, 30th Corps had lost 2,646 men. In exchange the outer defences of Sıoviet 388th Rifle Division had been broken and the formation effectively destroyed. Still, the German advance on Balaklava had been halted. The Germans had not yet reached its outer defences and the Sapun Ridge to the east of the town was still under Soviet control. By 15 June, some 1,000 Soviet soldiers and 1,500 mortar bombs had been captured, indicating the Soviet forces had plenty of ammunition after two weeks of battle.

Despite shortages of aviation fuel and ordnance, the Luftwaffe had played a significant part in the success of the German operations. From 13 June until 17 June, it flew 3,899 sorties and dropped 3,086 tons of bombs. This average of 780 sorties per day was only a slight drop from the opening 11 days. Massed sorties were made on the city of Sevastopol itself. Bombing targeted hangars, port facilities, flak and artillery batteries, barracks, and supply depots with high explosive bombs. Most of the city was engulfed in flames. The smoke rose to 1,500 meters and stretched as far as Feodosiya, 150 kilometers away

Germany : 106 British bombers (40 Wellington, 39 Halifax, 15 Lancaster, and 12 Stirling) from RAF Bomber Command were launched to bomb Germany; 16 attacked Essen, 45 attacked Bonn, and others attacked other targets; 8 British bombers were lost on this night

London , UK : Prime Minister Winston Churchill departed England, United Kingdom aboard a transport aircraft for the United States for Second Washington Conferance code named Argonout

Before leaving he wrote a “Most Secret” message to the First Lord, the First Sea Lord, and his chief of staff, General Lord Ismay. “It will be necessary to make another attempt to run a convoy into Malta,” began the memo. “The fate of the island is at stake, and if the effort to relieve it is worth making, it is worth making on a great scale. Strong battleship escort capable of fighting the Italian battle squadron and strong Aircraft Carrier support would seem to be required. Also at least a dozen fast supply ships, for which super-priority over all civil requirements must be given.” The memo ended, “I shall be glad to know in the course of the day what proposals can be made, as it will be right to telegraph to Lord Gort, thus preventing despair in the population. He must be able to tell them: ‘The Navy will never abandon Malta.’”

Prague , Czechoslovakia : Seven Czechs who had been involved in the assassination of Heydrich (including SOE team that tasked with actual assasination) were discovered by the Germans hiding in a church in Prague. They had been hiding there for two weeks, and had planned to move on June 19, and to try to reach England. Refusing to give themselves up when they were discovered, they gave battle against SS troops surrrounded the church and catacombs ; sixteen ss troops were killed. Jan Kubis, the Czech parachutist from Britain who had thrown the grenade which had mortally wounded Heydrich, was wounded in the battle and died in hospital. Josef Gabcik died in the struggle, as did two other parachutists who had been sent in separately, and three members of the local Czech resistance. They had been betrayed by another Czech, Karel Curda, who had informed the Gestapo of where they were hiding. Curda, like the four parachutists, had been trained in Britain.

Netherlands : The death of the four Czech parachutists, and the betrayal of their group, was not the only disaster for British Intelligence that June. Doing considerable long-term harm was the capture by the Germans of a British agent parachuted into Holland. Using this agent’s wireless transmitter, the Germans sent a number of messages back to London. When it became clear that the deception had not been discovered, German counter-Intelligence mounted Operation North Pole, organizing German reception committees for the continuing drop of British agents, radio operators and supplies, including considerable quantities of arms intended for the Dutch resistance. As a result of Operation North Pole, the Germans captured more than fifty Dutch subjects who were parachuted from England; forty-seven of them were murdered in concentration camps.

Bletchley Park , UK : British and Polish code breakers decrypted and broke Luftwaffe Enigma code rotor “Skunk” that is in operation in Eastern Front

London , UK : Double agent Garbo’, the Spaniard, Juan Pujol Garcia, whom the Germans continued to believe was working for them, but who, as a British agent, was providing false military information and developing a whole team of imaginary agents through whom further disinformation was sent to Germany , started transmitting information (that his MI5 handlers wished) to Germany

Tokyo , Japan : Japanese Imperial Palace envoys visited Isoroku Yamamoto aboard battleship Yamato, bringing him the news that Emperor Showa understood losses (in regards to the devastation suffered at the Battle of Midway) were expected at a time of war and that the emperor was not overly concerned.

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17 June 1942

Atlantic Ocean : 12 German Ju 88 bombers attacked Royal Navy destroyer HMS Wild Swan and a group of Spanish trawlers 225 miles west of Land’s End, England, United Kingdom; HMS Wild Swan shot down 6 aircraft, but sank after colliding with a Spanish trawler during the battle; 31 British sailers were killed in the sinking and 133 survived; 11 Spanish fishermen were killed.

On US East Coast , US cargo ship Santore struck a mine and sank in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, United States; 3 were killed, 43 survived; the mine was laid by German submarine U-701 on 11 Jun 1942.

On western side of Atlantic , Battle of Convoy HG-84 (Homebound Gibraltar) ends. Commencing June 16, Royal Navy Western Approaches Command powerfully reinforced convoy Homebound Gibraltar 84 with surface ships and long-range aircraft. The destroyer HMS Wild Swan and two frigates, HMS Spey and HMS Rother, joined temporarily, until the arrival of Lancaster and B-24 Liberator heavy bombers and Catalina flying boats from southern England. On June 17 Dönitz sent a flight of a dozen of the newly acquired JU-88s to assist the U-boats, but the German pilots mistook a fleet of Spanish fishing trawlers, amidst which the destroyer HMS Wild Swan was cruising, for the convoy. HMS Wild Swan claimed six JU-88 kills before the dive bombers sank her and four trawlers. The destroyer HMS Vansittart rescued 133 survivors of Wild Swan and eleven Spanish fishermen. As Homebound Gibraltar 84 inched closer to the British Isles, Coastal Command added medium-range Hudsons to the air coverage. Altogether thirty-six different aircraft flew out from England to Walker’s assistance.

In the face of this air saturation, Dönitz canceled the operations of wolfpack ENDRASS. Escort commander Captain Johnny Walker had lost five of twenty-three ships in his convoy, yet he was commended for thwarting with very slim forces what might easily have become a massacre. Admiral Dönitz blamed the lack of submarine success on the unexpected appearance of the very-long-range land-based aircraft (Lancasters and Liberators) and the failure of the JU-88s to counter them. However, shipboard Type 271 radar and Huff Duff (about which Dönitz knew nothing), aircraft radar, and shallow-set Torpex depth charges were also important ASW measures working against the Germans.

Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico : German submarine U-161 stopped Dominican sailing boat Ciudad Trujillo in the Caribbean Sea, capturing her cargo of fruit, and released the boat along with 8 prisoners captured from sailing boat Nueva Altagracia on the previous day.

In the Gulf of Mexico, 280 miles south of Galveston, Texas, United States, German submarine U-158 torpedoed and sank Panamanian cargo ship San Blas at 0450 hours (30 were killed, 14 survived) and Norwegian tanker Moira at 1300 hours (1 was killed, 18 survived). At 2300 hours, German submarine U-129 torpedoed and sank US cargo ship Millinocket 10 miles north of Cuba; 11 were killed, 24 survived.

In response to this slaughter in Gulf of Mexico, Admiral King named the experienced U-boat hunter Admiral James L. Kauffman, who had been US Navy Commander of Naval Forces, Iceland, to replace Admiral Crenshaw. On June 17 Kauffman shifted the headquarters of the US Navy Gulf Sea Frontier Command from Key West to a more elaborate facility in Miami. At the same time, General Hap Arnold from Army Air Force , directed First Air Force commander Follett Bradley to establish an ASW Gulf Task Force to serve under Kauffman’s direction, with headquarters in Miami. Composed initially of twenty B-18 bombers and two squadrons of observation planes, the Gulf Task Force was activated about June 1. It was reinforced by eight B-17 bombers and two observation squadrons from Third Air Force training units in Florida and Louisiana, and by the Civil Air Patrol.

Gibraltar : Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Eagle arrived at Gibraltar.

Libya : Axis troops surrounded Tobruk, Libya. 90th Light Infantry and Italian Arierte Armored Division captured Belahmed airfield and supply depots just south of Tobruk and throw 20th Indian Brigade remants to north inside Tobruk perimeter. Meanwhile; to the east, Afrikakorps pursued Eighth Army falling back toward Egypt. Rommel , this time determined to capture Tobruk , finting towards east to Libya-Egypt border as if intending to pursue retreating Eighth Army before turning west and dealing a final knock out blow to unprepared Tobruk defences and hoping to catch garrison off guard.

On 17 June, at east of Tobruk , 4th Armoured Brigade was ordered to attack, hoping to take the flank of the German armour, now supplemented by 15th Panzer Division, as it moved northwards towards the coast. The brigade had been hurriedly reformed after the Gazala battles and had about ninety tanks in composite units but lacked much of its artillery, which had been detached to form harassing columns. After an engagement lasting most of the afternoon, the British brigade withdrew to refit and then towards Egypt, having lost 32 tanks. The 20th Indian Brigade was ordered to withdraw during that night but were caught as the German armour reached the coast at Gambut and two of its battalions were captured. Also captured was the abandoned RAF base with 15 aircraft and considerable fuel supplies; to the west, a vast Allied stores dump with thousands of lorries was taken.

Despite all of advantages of Eighth Army, Rommel’s attack against the Gazala position between 26 May - 15 June , was a stunning success. Poor leadership and faulty tactical doctrines resulted in a decisive defeat for Eighth Army in Cyrenaica. While they may have had more tanks than the Panzerarmee, British commanders still did not know how to use this advantage. The Eighth Army “as usual did not concentrate their armour; the Germans were able to tackle and defeat the 7th and 1st Armoured Divisions separately.” The Gazala battle, wrote David Fraser, “constituted a serious and avoidable reverse for British arms.” As Niall Barr has written, at times the Eighth Army commander, Ritchie, “seemed to be making decisions in slow motion.” Another historian has accused Ritchie of letting “the days slip by in a blur of indecisiveness.” These criticisms may be justified, but they are harsh. In many ways Ritchie had been set up to fail, being promoted well above his ceiling and expected to command an army that was clearly dysfunctional. Barrie Pitt wrote:

“Sandwiched as he was between Auchinleck’s determination to “hold his hand” at almost every stage of the operation, and indifference to his opinion by his corps commanders and almost contempt for them from lower levels, it is not surprising that Ritchie’s grip on the battle as it developed was at first weak and in the end nonexistent.”

Pitt was correct when he stated that “ultimate responsibility for the disasters of Gazala” lies with Auchinleck. It was Auchinleck who appointed Ritchie and then watched him flounder. Even when it was abundantly clear that Ritchie possessed neither the experience, command skills, or the intellect to command Eighth Army against the Panzerarmee, Auchinleck took no immediate action. When Auchinleck finally acted, it was too late to avert disaster.

Rommel had no problems making quick decisions and commenced his new attack on the afternoon of May 26. The turning point of the battle had been an attack on the Knightsbridge position on June 5 and 6. What had been intended as a vital blow against the Panzerarmee resulted in “a decisive defeat … from which Eighth was not to recover.” In the Cauldron battle, as it is known, the fighting was “remarkably hard,” with gallant actions on both sides. But as David Fraser has written of the battle, “To the Panzerarmee the enemy operations appeared uncoordinated and tactically inept, and were defeated without especial difficulty.” Most noticeable was the lack of coordination between the British armor, infantry, and artillery. By the end of June 6, Rommel had destroyed hundreds of British tanks, overrun several formation headquarters and had taken more than 3,000 prisoners. The British counterattack had been “decisively defeated.” Only the Free French Brigade at the Bir Hacheim Box in the southern sector of the Gazala line offered Rommel any determined resistance. Rommel had attacked the position on May 26 believing that he could destroy the position within an hour. Instead, the Free French held out at Bir Hacheim, isolated and desperately short of essential equipment, for two weeks. Only on the night of June 10 did their commander, General Pierre Koenig, decide to break out from their encirclement. In doing so, 2,500 from a garrison of 3,700 managed to escape. On June 11–12, Eighth Army lost a staggering 260 tanks, “virtually writing off 8th Army’s armoured forces.” After two weeks of intense fighting, by June 13, Eighth Army was reduced to just fifty cruiser and twenty infantry tanks. The remnants of this defeated army fled back to the Egyptian frontier, exposing the fortress of Tobruk to the victorious Panzerarmee Afrika. So many British tanks had been destroyed that “there was no longer an effective armoured force that could keep open communication with the garrison of Tobruk or launch a counter-attack against the enemy forces arrayed before the town.” Hope that Tobruk would hold out in another siege “did not last long.”

For Eighth Army though, the Gazala battle had been anything but wonderful. “We have been out-gunned, out-manoeuvred, out-generalled; in other words, led up the garden path,” wrote one veteran of the retreat. Another captured the bitterness and bewilderment equally well. He wrote:

"Let me try to analyse the last few months. We had started out as a well-equipped regiment, well trained, good administration, very good officers and NCOs, plenty of experience in tank warfare in the desert. It boiled down to one thing, the enemy had out-gunned us with superior armament and fire power, plus a few very bad decisions by the high command. We must try again. It was just like seeing your favourite football team reaching the final and getting licked 6–0. "

Catching the bewilderment, bitterness, and loss of confidence, Albert Martin of the 2nd Rifle Brigade wrote a telling entry in his diary two days before Tobruk capitulated. It read, “Everything has been a jumble. Does anyone at the top know what they are doing?”

Sevastapol , Crimea : Soviet defense lines north of Sevastopol, Russia began to collapse as German troops captured Fort Maxim Gorky, Fort Molotov, Fort Schishkova, Fort Volga, and Fort Siberia.

Washington , USA : Winston Churchill and Alan Brooke arrived in Washington DC, United States to strart Second Washington Conferance (Argonout) to finalise the Anglo-American strategy for 1942-1943

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18 June 1942

Atlantic Ocean : German submarine wolfpack HECHT encountered Allied convoy ONS-102 but due to diligent work of Royal Canadian Navy Escort group (Canadian destroyer HMCS Restigouche had radio direction finders and DFd German submarine radio communications so all Canadian escort ships were alert) , only one submarine could get a firing position in early morning. U-124 attacked Allied convoy ONS-102 with six torpedoes 500 miles east of Newfoundland at 0622 hours, seriously damaging US cargo ship Seattle Spirit (4 were killed, 51 survived), which was later scuttled by Royal Navy Canadian corvette HMCS Agassiz with gunfire.The rest of the convoy evaded submarine patrol of woldpack HECHT through thick fog

German submarine U-584 landed four German saboteurs at Ponte Vedra Beach near Jacksonville, Florida, United States; the four men would soon board trains for Chicago, Illinois and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico : German submarine U-159 torpedoed and sank Dutch cargo ship Flora 12 miles off Colombia at 0245 hours; all 37 aboard survived, but one of them would die before reaching land. At 0500 hours, German submarine U-172 sank British tanker Motorex with gunfire 80 miles off Panama in the Caribbean Sea; 1 was killed, 20 survived.

English Channel : Royal Navy destroyer HMS Albrighton, Royal Navy gun boats SGB 5 and SGB 7, and gun boat SGB 8 attacked a German convoy in the Baie de la Seine off France; SGB 7 sank one German supply ship Turqoise with a torpedo and HMS Albrighton sank German minesweeper R 41 with gunfire , but British gunboat SGB 7 was destroyed by a counterattack by German S-Boat , fast torpedoboats (4 were killed; 7 were survivors captured)

Libya : Axis troops captured the supply road between Bardia and Tobruk in Libya; to the west, Axis troops captured RAF Gambut bases 40 miles west of Tobruk. British 4th Armoured Brigade (Richards) with about ninety tanks, not all of which were in good order, had orders to dominate the Sidi Rezegh area (about 4 miles south of Belhamed) and provide support for the Indian Brigade. Later in the day, 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions engaged with 4th Armored Brigade left with eighthy tanks and thanks to long range gunner of German panzers and anti tank guns , dfrove 4th Armored Berigade to east of Sidi Rezegh. At 21:35 4th Armored Brigade was ordered to turn east by General and initiate rear guard action for retreating units of Eighth Army.

In the afternoon , Rommel suddenly ordered to disengage and turned Afrikakorps from pursuit of Eight Army towards east to west intending to catch Tobruk garrison off guard to capture this vital harbour and its supply dumps for good. He began to deploy his forces for siege positions and to their jumping-off positions on 18 June.

By the evening of 18 June, Tobruk was cut off entirely and the surviving remnants of the Eighth Army beyond the perimeter wire joined the flight to the border, blowing bridges and laying mines as they went in a bleak effort to impede the progress of the pursuing panzers. Seen from a distance, the earthworks around the port seemed impressive – ‘like the crenellated battlements of a mediaeval castle’ – but on closer examination turned out to be no more than ‘square piles of loose rocks’ behind which the defenders ‘lay pressed to the ground’, horribly exposed to artillery fire and aerial bombardment.

Australian war correspondent Alan Moorehead, who arrived in Tobruk a few days before Rommel launched his attack, noted the lack of perimeter walls, anti-tank trenches and pill boxes. ‘Indeed,’ he wrote, ‘as you went across this flat neutral coloured ground, you saw very little difference from the ordinary desert.’ And there was good reason for this. Following Auchinleck’s Instruction No. 111 of six months earlier, the once impenetrable barricades that had given Tobruk its talismanic reputation around the world, had been allowed to fall into disrepair. They were now half-ruined and largely neglected.

However, inside the town itself, the correspondent reported an abundance of fresh water, millions of gallons of petrol in square cans, an arsenal of weaponry and ammunition, hospitals complete with medical supplies. He came across a great store of provisions – ‘tinned tomatoes, peas and potatoes, tinned American beef, South African biscuits … sacks of tea and sugar, big tins of cheese, jam, and fish’, enough comfortably to feed up to 30,000 men for three months. Nonetheless the place was dispiriting in the extreme. Tobruk was a decaying wreck of a town, which had been ‘bombed into insensibility’. Aside from the light relief of the graffiti on one broken monument which read ‘The Red Lion. Free Beer tomorrow’, the ‘depressing, degrading, levelling influence of war had made this place accursed’.

The troops defending Tobruk had been under enormous strain even before Rommel launched his final assault. Almost half their number – comprising two South African infantry brigades – had yet to be tested in battle while their commander, Major General Hendrik Klopper, who had been appointed only three days earlier, was similarly unblooded. On his arrival in Tobruk, Klopper had written to a South African colleague at GHQ to inform him, ‘Things are going very well here, as spirits are very high, and I do not think morale could be better under present circumstances. There is a general feeling of optimism.’ If so, it was alarmingly misplaced.

Following the collapse of the Gazala front, the South African recruits, very far from their own homeland, were obliged to watch as hundreds of lorries, overflowing with their exhausted brothers-in-arms, rumbled through Tobruk on their way back to the Egyptian border. Nor was the defenders’ morale raised by the arrival of reinforcements – the 201st Guards Brigade and the 11th Indian Brigade – both of whose members had fought valiantly at ‘Knightsbridge’ and El Adem but were now drained of energy, famished with hunger and bruised by defeat. Within Tobruk’s perimeter, a global symbol of British resistance, pessimism was the order of the day.

Little care had been taken to maintain the fortress after Operation Crusader. Minefields had been partly cleared, anti-tank ditches had been filled in or allowed to collapse, maps were non-existent, and there was no satisfactory fire plan for the defenders’ guns. The garrison ordered to hold this almost impossible position with its 30 mile perimeter consisted of 2 brigades of the 2nd South African Division; the 32nd Army Tank Brigade with 61 Valentines and Matildas; the 201st Guards Brigade; the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade, and some administrative units. It was commanded by Major-General H. B. Klopper who had little battle experience having just come from a training command in the South African Union, and who made matters worse when he chose to ignore the sound advice proffered by his more experienced brigadiers. There was all 35.000 men in Tobruk garrison perimeter though 9.000 of them supply and logistics personnel. There were no aircraft and very few anti-aircraft guns but other supplies were present in enormous quantities. There were 3 million rations, 7,000 tons of water, 1.5 million gallons of petrol, and nearly 300,000 rounds of assorted field, medium, and anti-tank ammunition.

Auchinleck flew to see Ritchie on 18 June and the former although by now accepting that Tobruk would be besieged, was optimistic that that would only be a temporary state of affairs. (another mistaken assumption by Auchinleck) Ritchie explained his predicament. His forces were not nearly strong enough to carry out the tasks he had been given and he wanted a new directive. This was shortly forthcoming. Auchinleck announced that Army HQ would henceforth be responsible for the conduct of the defence of Tobruk while 13th Corps held the frontier and gave what help it could from outside. 30th Corps was to go into reserve near Matruh where it would reform and retrain.

Sevastapol , Crimea : German 132nd Infantry Division attacked Soviet Coastal Battery No. 12 near Sevastopol, Russia at 1100 hours, capturing it by 1900 hours. Nearby further south , by using flame thowers and stachel charges German 24th Infantry Division overran Soviet defenses at Bartenyevka on the mouth of the Severnaya Bay. The 22nd Infantry Division had reached the north of the Bay on the same day. The Soviet 138th Naval Brigade counterattacked, but it was destroyed oın the open by German gunfire and Luftwaffe bombing and small arms fire without artillery and air support.

At the docks, Italian torpedo boats performed a raid, damaging landing craft. Out at sea, destroyer leader Kharkov was damaged by German aircraft.

Black Sea : Italian midget submarine CB-2 sank a Soviet submarine in the Black Sea; according to Soviet sources, the victim was ShCh-213.

Soviet cargo liner Belostok was torpedoed and sunk by German fast motor torpedoboat S 102 off Sevastapol

Washington , USA : A Boeing Clipper flying boat with British Prime Minister Churchill arrived on Potomnac River , Churchill transferred to a smaller aircraft and flew to the President’s home in Hyde Park, New York, where Roosevelt, Churchill, and Harry Hopkins commenced strategy talks. Churchill stressed these points:

• The “heavy sinkings” of merchant ships by U-boats in American waters constituted the “greatest and most immediate danger” to the Allies. He urged Roosevelt to do everything possible to hasten the extension of the convoy network into the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

• If mounted in early September 1942, as planned, Sledgehammer was “certain to lead to disaster.” No responsible British military authority favored it.

• Rather than Sledgehammer, the Allies should reconsider Gymnast, the postponed Allied invasion of French Northwest Africa, and Jupiter, an Allied occupation of extreme northern Norway to provide land-based flank protection for Murmansk convoys.

• British scientists had made substantial (paper) progress on an atomic bomb, disguised in the British Isles for security reasons as Research and Development on "Tube Alloys.” The British and Americans should “at once pool all our information, work together on equal terms, and share the results.”

Same day British On June 18, the Chiefs of Staff wrote to General Ismay: 1. We have considered the means of getting oil to Malta in the next convoy. The only really satisfactory solution is to ask the President to lend a 15 knot American oiler for this purpose. US tanker “OHIO” (sister ship of tanker Kentucky) is due in the Clyde on the 20th June, which would give time for her to be fitted with paravanes, A.A. armament, confidential books etc. British gun crews would be provided but it is highly desirable to retain American crew who are trained to work the Diesel engines. The final item: 5. We attach greatest importance to obtaining “OHIO” with crew and request that Prime Minister approaches President as soon as possible. The SS Ohio, Kentucky’s faster big sister, was Malta’s last hope.

Solomon Islands , South West Pacific : The first Allied air photographic reconnaissance mission over Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands was conducted by US 435th Bombardment Squadron.

Kiska , Aleutian Islands : US Army Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers raided Japanese shipping in Kiska harbor in the Aleutian Islands, hit and sinking Japanese fleet tanker Nissan Maru.

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19 June 1942

Atlantic Ocean : German submarine U-701 sank American patrol craft USS YP-389 5 miles off the North Carolina, United States coast at 0245 hours with her 88-millimeter and 20-millimeter guns, 4 were killed, 21 survived; the engagement was dubbed Battle off Diamond Shoals.

Yugoslavian freighter Bolsijka entered a US minefield accidently and sank off Key West , Florida

Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico : German submarine U-107 attacked US sailing vessel Cheerio with gunfire 20 miles west of Puerto Rico at 1102 hours; she was driven off by a US patrol aircraft, but Cheerio would soon sink from the damage; all 9 aboard survived. At 1730 hours, German submarine U-159 torpedoed and sank Yugoslavian cargo ship Ante Matkovic with gunfire 20 miles north of Colombia; 6 were killed, 23 survived

Tobruk , Libya : Battle of Tobruk starts. In the morning Luftwaffe JU-87 , JU-88 and HE-111 bombers in large groups (over 200 aircraft) began a massive air bombing in Tobruk perimeter , causing huge damage in town , defenses , entrenchments and forts , garrison personel and cause a huge demoralisation among British , Indian and South African defenders. On top of that Panzer Army Afrika artillery batteries were also deployed around the Tobruk perimeter and open fire adding their contribution to carnage. When the Axis artillery arrived at their positions near El Adem, they found Axis ammunition, which had been abandoned in November and had never been cleared away.

"Evidence of British defeat could be seen all along the coastal road and verges " Rommel recorded. “Vast quantities of material lay all sides, burnt out vehicles stood black and empty in the sand. Whole conmvoys of undamaged British lorries had fallen into our hands , some of them pressed to our service immediately by our men while others are now awaiting collection by salvage squads”

In panic , Tobruk garrison and 2nd South African Division commander General Henrik Klopper turned General Ritchie for advice , it turned out the worst thing he could ever done. Ritchie told him to strenghten south western defences where he was assured by his false intelligence reports given by less than bright intellişgence chief Brigadier Schaefer from Cairo , Rommel would direct his main thrust. Accordingly clueless Klopper moved his entire reserve unit , 6th South African Brigade to the area and hastily transferred mines from the already weakened south east sector of defensive perimeter. Everything was set for Rommel to play his trump card , an attack from south east. For that purpose he began to deploy entire 15th Panzer and 21st Panzer Divisions and a part of 90th Light Infantry Division to south east for a concentrated suprise attack under a huge Luftwaffe air support to pierce the defensive perimeter next morning held by by the inexperienced 2nd Battalion, 5th Mahratta Light Infantry.in this sector and drive to the port.

Mediterranean Sea : Italian cargo ship Carlotta struck a mine laid by Royal Navy submarine HMS Porpoise and sank in Adriatic Sea.

Donets Front , Russia : After a Fieseler Storch recon aircraft with staff officer Major Joachim Reichel from 23.Panzer Division aboard carrying complete plans for an offensive in the Caucasus was shot down by Soviet anti aircraft guns over Soviet lines. Both Major Reichel ansd his pilot killed and plans were captured by Soviet intelligence , the commander (General Georg Stumme) and chief of staff of German 40th Corps (which 23rd Panzer Division HQ was under its command) were relieved of duty and imprisoned on Adolf Hitler’s order. The offensive would be launched with no changes to the plan.

Sevastapol , Crimea : Soviet 138th Naval Infantry Brigade was complately destroyed by a counter attack of German 22nd Division supported by Luftwaffe air support.

Black Sea : Italian torpedo boat MAS-571 sank Soviet submarine ShCh-214 with depth charges in the Black Sea south of Yalta, Ukraine.

Germany : 194 British bombers (112 Wellington, 37 Halifax, 25 Stirling, 11 Hampden, and 9 Lancaster) from RAF Bomber Command attacked Emden and Osnabrück in Germany; 9 bombers were shot down by German anti aircraft guns and Luftwaffe nightfighters

Washington , USA : In Washington at this time, June 19, the normally cool and reserved US Army Chief of Staff, General George Marshall, blasted Admiral King with a memo that has served King’s critics well. Listing the heavy Allied shipping losses in four categories, Marshall wrote:

“The losses by submarines off our Atlantic seaboard and in the Caribbean now threaten our entire war effort.… We are all aware of the limited number of escort craft available, but has every conceivable improvised means been brought to bear on this situation? I am fearful that another month or two of this [loss rate] will so cripple our means of transport that we will be unable to bring sufficient men and planes to bear against the enemy in critical theaters to exercise a determining influence in the war.”

Guadalcanal , Solomon Islands , South West Pacific : Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue inspected prospective sites for airfield construction on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands

Australia : German armed merchant cruiser Thor captured Norwegian tanker Herborg off the western coast of Australia

Auckland , New Zealand : US Navy Vice Admiral Ghormley assumed command of the South Pacific Area at Auckland, New Zealand.

Amchitka , Aleut Islands : American submarine USS S-27 ran aground off Amchitka Island, Aleutian Islands at 0043 hours. The crew of 42 destroyed equipment on the submarine and burned classified papers departing the submarine at 1600 hours

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20 June 1942

Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico : German submarine U-67 damaged Norwegian tanker Nortind with a torpedo 90 miles south of New Orleans, Louisiana, United States at 1125 hours, killing 1.

Tobruk , Libya : Axis troops launched what would be the final attack on Tobruk, Libya, preceded by a heavy artillery and air bombardment at 0530 hours. Massed artillery and Luftwaffe air attack struck on south perimeter of defences.Under cover of heavy gunfire sevweral JU-87 Stuka dive bombers and JU-88 bombers blasted the proposed break in point. Rommel launched his main land drive from El Duda. Once defensive minefields were hammared , German and Italian storm parties drove a wedge on into the fort’s defences in south east held by inexperienced and thinly deployed 5th Maharatta Infantry. By 08:00 German enginers bridged anti tank ditch around perimeter. Waves of panzers and infantry from 21st Panzer Division supported by Luftwaffe air raids drove over and overwhelmed defensive positions of 2nd/5th Maharattas. The central company of Indians was virtally wiped out in a futile last stand but even so survivors of Maharattas and Cameron Highlander battalion fought back savagely before being last to surrender. The Ariete Armored Division, the spearhead of 20th Italian Corps, had failed to penetrate the line held by 2nd Battalion, Cameron Highlanders and were redirected into the breach made by the Afrika Korps and then sent westwards towards Fort Pilastrino.

At Klopper’s headquarters, after believing the attack in the south-east to be a feint, it was thought that orders for a counter-attack by the 32nd Army Tank Brigade, supported by whatever elements of the Guards and Indian brigades they required had been received. The intention had not been understood at the tank brigade headquarters and only the 4th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) was ordered to attack. The assistance of a battlegroup from 3rd Coldstream Guards was declined through lack of orders. The counter-attack might have succeeded if it had been made with greater force, while the Axis armour was still making its way across the anti-tank ditch but by the time it had begun, the Afrika Korps had been moving into the perimeter for an hour and a half and the Ariete armoured division was established on their left. The 7th RTR moved up in support on their own initiative but half were diverted to assist the Camerons. The Afrika Korps defeated the British armour in detail, aided by constant attack from the air.

After that there was little more organised resistance. Panzers fanned out and drove straight to harbour while German 90th Light Infantry mopped out the rear and assault troops sprayed streets with machine gun fire. By 1:30 p.m., the Afrika Korps had reached their objective, the Kings Cross road junction on the crest of the Pilastrino Ridge and overlooked the town of Tobruk, about 9 km (6 mi) to the north. The 21st Panzer headed for the town, scattering the remaining tanks of the 7th RTR. The last obstacle for the panzers was a motley of artillery units which put up a stiff defence, including the use of several 3.7-inch anti-aircraft guns against the German tanks; Rommel later praised their "extraordinary tenacity.

The leading German units did not reach the outskirts of the port until 6:00 p.m. At about the same time, British engineers and supply troops began to demolish the immense quantities of fuel, water, ammunition and stores in the town along with the port facilities. The 15th Panzer Division had begun to advance westwards along the Pilastrino Ridge, where elements of the 201st Guards Brigade had taken up exposed positions at short notice. When their brigade headquarters was overrun at about 6:45 p.m., most of the units either stopped fighting or withdrew to Fort Pilastrano at the western end of the ridge. The 15th Panzer ended their advance since they were under orders to cover the approach of 21st Panzer to the town, which was reported to have been taken at 7:00 p.m. The final evacuation of small naval vessels had been carried out under fire—fifteen craft escaped but twenty-five, including a minesweeper, were sunk in the harbour or lost to air attacks on the passage to Alexandria

Meanwhile in his field HQ in underground caves at Fort Pilastrino , General Klopper and his staff were in confusion and despair. They could not decide whether to fight on or break out and some of rthem were for immediate surrender. One of the officers screamed “Only by surrender you can preserve cream of South Africa’sa manhood !”

Still Klopper could not make up his mind. He got in touch with Ritchie over radio telephone and told him the situation was shambles. Klopper himself had to relocate his headquarters three timnes due to heavy Luftwaffe air attacks and due to severe air raids no regrouping was possible for counter attack , hwe could not even contact with his field units , communications severed. Further resistance would mean further casaulties. Ritchie was no help. Every day every hour of resistance is great help for our cause , I can not tell our tactical outlook and must therefore leave you to act on your own judgement."

General Klopper called his staff in the afternoon for the last time on the early morning of 21st June. “I am sorry boys but we have to pack up. I would be foolish to carry on.” He set about burning code books , destroying wireless sets and ordered harbour installations and supply dumps to be destroyed , lighters ,field guns and ammunition dumps were blown up. Vast amounts of fuel and stores were burnt up and entire Tobruk was covered with vast smoke but still plenty left to be captured by Panzer Army Afrika.

As Klopper evacuated his headquarters , Axis troops eager to reach the port , poring into Tobruk , bypassed Fort Pilastrino. On 21st June , at 17:00 Rommel himself triumphantly entered into the port in an open staff car. “Practically every building in this place is either flat or rubble” he later wrote.

A few hours later on Via Balbia coastal road lined with blazing vehicles and Allied POWs , he encountered Klopper who formally announced surrender of Tobruk. The moment white flag was raised over Fort Pilastrino , men of 6th South African Brigade spent the night digging in and preparing their positions on unattacked western sector gave a moan of anguish and despair. They felt betrayed by their commanderrs who sent them no orders. Orders to surrender were sent out and received with astonishment by those units who had scarcely been engaged. Some units did not receive the order; the 2nd Battalion, 7th Gurkha Rifles, on the eastern perimeter, fought on until that evening, while the Cameron Highlanders continued fighting until the morning of 22 June. Captain Sainthill of the Coldstream Guards and 199 of his officers and men were able to break out of the south-west perimeter in their battalion transport and rejoin the Eighth Army. A small group of 188 South Africans, largely of the Kaffrarian Rifles, escaped eastwards along the coast and reached El Alamein 38 days later.

It was the second largest capitulation of British Army forces in the war after the fall of Singapore and the biggest defeat in the history of the Union Defence Force. 32.000 British , Indian and South Africans were captured. The surrender was the largest capitulation of British Empire forces in the war after the Battle of Singapore in February 1942. The Germans left the task of housing the prisoners to the Italians, who lacked the infrastructure to treat the prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Convention. The prisoners were crammed into open pens to await deportation and were left seriously short of food and water. Conditions improved after the prisoners had been transported in cargo ships to Italy. Many of them, especially South Africans, were subject to recriminations from other prisoners who felt that Tobruk had surrendered too easily.

Despite efforts to destroy the fuel at Tobruk, the Axis captured some 1,400 t (1,400 long tons) and 20 t (20 long tons) at Belhamed. Amongst the 2,000 motorised vehicles captured in working order were 30 serviceable tanks and it has been estimated that Rommel was using some 6,000 captured British lorries by the end of the month. Also taken in Tobruk were 7,000 t (6,900 long tons) of water and three million rations of food (5,000 t (4,921 long tons)). Because of the tenuous supply line that Rommel depended on, his troops had been living on very short rations and the British supplies were enthusiastically received, especially chocolate, canned milk and vegetables; stores of shirts and socks were enthusiastically looted. Lieutenant Valencia from Italian Treonto Motorised Division noted , as his patrol advanced further into the town, he was astonished to discover the ‘luxury’ in which their enemy had basked: there were showers, every officer had a mosquito net over his bed and, envy of envies, an abundance of food. Very soon, though, the food depots which they overran were taken over by the Germans. ‘Even here our allies want to lord it over us,’ Vallicella noted drily.The equally deprived Italian troops tended to be excluded from the plundering.

With the capture of Tobruk, the Axis gained a port nearer the Aegean–Crete route and a large amount of Allied supplies. If the Allies could not stop the Germans in Egypt, they would take the Suez Canal (forcing Britain to use supply lines twice as long, threatened by U-boats) and potentially drive for the oilfields in the Middle East. Hitler rewarded Rommel with a promotion to the rank of field-marshal, the youngest German officer ever to achieve this rank. Rommel remarked he would have preferred another panzer division. Since 26th May 1942 , Eighth Army lost 50,000 men killed, wounded or captured, including c. 35,000 prisoners taken at Tobruk The Germans suffered 3,360 casualties, about 15 per cent of their force and lost 230 tanks but still at the end of Tobruk battle , Afrikakorps had 130 working tanks. Italian casualties were 3,000 men, 125 tanks, 44 armoured cars, 450 motor vehicles, 39 guns and seventy-four 47 mm anti-tank guns.

Churchill wrote about Fall of Tobruk ,

“This was one of the heaviest blows I can recall during the war. Not only were its military effects grievous, but it had affected the reputation of the British armies.”

— Winston Churchill

Final insult came from Rommel who told to a band of captured Allied officers in Tobruk “Gentelmen , you fought like lions but led by donkeys”

Sevastapol , Crimea : German 24th Infantry Division attacked Fort Lenin and Fort North (held against German attacks for the whole day) near Sevastopol, Russia starting at 0900 hours; while Fort Lenin was captured with minimal resistance, Soviet troops at Fort North held their ground, repulsing German attacks all day. The Lenin anti-aircraft position protected by the Northern Fort, a position which had a 5 metres wide anti-tank ditch, 1,000 mines, 32 concrete bunkers, seven armoured cupolas, and 70 earth-and-timber bunkers making it a formidable defensive position. The Lenin defences surrendered, having already lost three of their four 76 mm weapons. The Germans tried to use the remote-controlled mines to break into the North Fort, but they were knocked out.

At 11:30 on 21 June the Fort fell after a sustained infantry attack. Around 182 Soviet prisoners were taken.The Germans began mopping up operations and clearing the northern shore. Most Soviet units were exhausted and out of ammunition, surrendering quickly. Others made attempts at a last stand. Some tried to evacuate across to the southern side by boat, but they were picked off by German artillery.

Germany : 185 British bombers from RAF Bomber Command attacked Emden, Germany, causing little damage; 7 bombers were shot down by German anti aircraft gunfire or nightfighters

Czechslovakia : About 1,000 Austrian Jews arrived at Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in occupied Czechoslovakia; they were the first Austrian Jews to arrive at this camp.

New York , USA : Acting on information given by defected saboteur George Dasch, United States Federal Bureau of Investigation agents captured three German saboteurs in New York, New York, United States

British Columbia , Canada : Japanese submarine I-26 bombarded the Estevan Point lighthouse and the radio direction finding facility on the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

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