19 May 1942
Atlantic Ocean : German submarine U-506 torpedoed and sank US freighter Heredia 100 kilometers southwest of New Orleans, Louisiana, United States at 0856 hours, killing 36 of 62 aboard. Between Jamaica and Haiti at 1040 hours, German submarine U-751 torpedoed and sank US cargo ship Isabela, killing 3 of 36 aboard. 200 kilometers southeast of New Orleans and 200 kilometers west of Havana, Cuba, U-103 sank US freighter Ogontz, killing 19 of 41 aboard.
Italian submarine Cappellini torpedoed and sank Swedish cargo ship Tisnaren 600 miles north of Natal, Brazil at 0030 hours; all 40 aboard survived. Sweden was a neutral nation, and Tisnaren had large Swedish flags painted on both sides of the ship.
Libya : Operation Venezia , General Erwin Rommel and his German and Italian staffs plan to attack Gazala Line and Tobruk was approved by OKW (German Army High Command) in Berlin and Commando Supremo (Italian General Staff) in Rome and Panzer Army Afrika command in Libya issued necessary orders to prepare for the offensive operation towards Gazala Line held by Eighth Army (13th Corps made up two Commonwealth infantry divisions holding frontline stretching from Mediterranean coast to 60 miles south on open flank to Bir Hackeim box garrisoned by one Free French Brigade and 30th Corps made up two armored divisions and two supporting armored brigades , total strength 110.000 men , 843 tanks including 120 modern M3 Grant medium tanks , the rest are light or unreliable medium models Crusader , Valentine , Stuart , Matilda models all prone to mechanical breakdown and supported by 600 aircraft from Desert Air Force) within eight days when the full moon is expected in night for the best maneuver time in desert for a suprise offensive. Panzer Army Afrika (Deutsche Afrika Korps made up three German divisions and one Italian armored division) , 20th and 21st Italian Corps made up mainly Italian infantry divisions , start regrouping and redeploying accordingly.
Until May 1942, since Malta came under heavy Axis air attack , heavy losses and eventual retreat of Royal Navy Force K and 10th Submarine Flotilla from Malta , monthly deliveries by Italian naval conmvoys averaged 61,000 tonnes (60,000 long tons), less than the smaller Axis force received from June–October 1941 but sufficient for an offensive. The 1,400 kilometres (900 mi) advance to Gazala succeeded because Benghazi was open, reducing the transport distance for about 33 percent of the supplies of the Panzer Army to 450 kilometres (280 mi). The Italians tried to restrain Rommel by advocating the capture of Malta, which would postpone another offensive in Africa until the autumn but agreed to an attack on Tobruk for late May. An advance would stop at the Egyptian frontier, another 240 kilometres (150 mi) east and the Luftwaffe would redeploy for Operation Herkules. The capture of Malta would not alter the constraints of port capacity and distance; protecting convoys and a large port close to the front, would still be necessary for victory.
Air attacks directed by Field Marshall Kesselring’s Luftflotte II against Malta greatly reduced its offensive capacity (though Luftflotte II ceased şits air offensive over Malta on 11th May and began to be transferred to Eastern Front just in time ehen new Spitfire fighters were ferried to Malta by aircraft carriers USS Wasp and HMS Eagle) , allowing Axis supply convoys from Italy to reach Axis forces in Africa with increased regularity. Operation Venezzia, the Axis plan of attack, was for armoured forces to make a flanking manoeuvre south of the fortified “box” at Bir Hakeim. On the left flank, the 132 Armoured Division Ariete would neutralise the Bir Hakeim box and on the right flank, the 21st Panzer Division and 15th Panzer Division would advance north behind the Eighth Army defences, to destroy the Allied armour and cut off the infantry divisions on the Gazala line. On the far right of the attack, a kampfgruppe (battle group) from the 90th Light Afrika Division was to advance to El Adem, south of Tobruk and cut the line of supply from the port to the Gazala line while holding Allied troops at Tobruk.
The rest of the Italian 20th Motorized Corps, the Italian 101st Motorized Division Trieste, would open a gap in the minefield north of the Bir Hakeim box near the Sidi Muftah box, to create a supply route to the armour. Rommel anticipated that, having dealt with the Allied armour, he would capture El Adem, Ed Duda, Sidi Rezegh and “Knightsbridge”. The Axis tanks would then be in a position to attack on the following day westwards against the Eighth Army defensive boxes between Gazala and Alem Hamza, meeting the eastwards attack by the Italian 20th and 21st corps. By late May, Rommel’s Panzer Army Afrika comprised 90,000 men, 560 tanks (330 German panzers and 230 Italian tanks) , 650 guns supported by 542 Axis aircraft.
One week ago on 12 May, Rommel wrote to his wife, ‘Nothing much to report. Heat and lots of dust … There’s a certain nervousness on our front. The British are expecting us and we them. One day the two forces will measure their strength.’ By now London was indeed expecting Rommel to launch an attack; the Ultra code-breakers at Bletchley Park had decrypted enough Enigma signals to judge that the Panzer Army would be on the move by the end of the month. But astonishingly despite all intelligence information from ULTRA at Bletchley Park to Cairo , neither British Middle East Command (that is General Claude Auchinleck whose reluctance to attack and his outrageous proposals he made to London in March and April 1942 “to abandon Egypt , Middle East and Malta , to transfer all Indian divisions in Middle East back to India to check Japanese advance to the subcontinent” , after all Auchinleck was an Indian Army officer in his heart and could not bear India fall to Japanese , made Churchill seriously to sack him and replace him with General Harold Alexander who just concluded retreat from Burma for the Middle East Commander in Chief) nor Eight Army commander General Neil Ritchie (protogee of Auchinleck and who is complately inexperienced , could not impose authority over his subordinates and unfit for army command) prepared anything serious for the attack. RAF Desert Air Force grounded all air recon flights due to bad weather for a week.
On 19th May , Auchinleck, who was in Cairo, had sent a long letter to Ritchie at Eighth Army headquarters. Clearly concerned about Ritchie’s well-attested limitations but anxious not to undermine his confidence since Ritchie was his choice , he wrote, ‘Do not think I am trying to dictate to you in any way, but this coming struggle is going to be so vital that I feel you must have the benefit of our combined consideration here.’ He identified two possible lines of attack that Rommel might open up. The first would be ‘to envelop our southern flank, seizing or masking Bir Hacheim en route, and then driving on Tobruk’; the second would be ‘a heavy attack on a narrow front … with the object of driving straight to Tobruk’. This, he warned, might be accompanied ‘by a feint against Bir Hacheim … with the aim of drawing off the main body of your armour to the south and so leaving the way open for the main thrust’. While he was careful to remind Ritchie that he should be prepared to face either option, he judged that ‘the second course is the one he [Rommel] will adopt, and is certainly the most dangerous to us’.
Unfortunately, Auchinleck had got it complately wrong (again). Rommel’s plan of attack was precisely the opposite of what the British commander-in-chief supposed. (despite Auchinleck’s acess to ULTRA intelligence or air and ground recon data) His feint was to the north, not the south.
Mediterranean Sea : Royal Navy submarine HMS Thrasher torpedoed and sank Italian merchant ship Penelope 20 miles east of Bari, Italy at 1153 hours.
Moscow , Soviet Union : Joseph Stalin belatedly granted permission for Soviet Southwest Front to halt Kharkov offensive and retreat from Izium salient
Izium - Kharhov , Ukraine : Marshal Timoshenko finally acquired Stalin’s permission orders evacuation of Izium salient unfortunetely he is too late. 3rd Panzer Corps captured Izium itself after a tough fight with Soviet infantry entrenched around and in town hastily. Same day 17th German Army from south and 6th German Army from north also joined the Fredericus counter offensive to nip Izium salient and to trap most of Soviet Southwest Front at Barvenko , west of Kharhov.
Berlin , Germany : In Ukraine , Eastern Front , Soviet partisans, as Goebbels noted in his diary, ‘blasted the railway tracks in the central front between Bryansk and Roslavl at five points—a further proof of their extremely discomfiting activity’. South of that region, Goebbels added, Hungarian troops were fighting ‘under great difficulties’, and he went on to explain: ‘They must now capture one village after another and pacify it, a thing that has not proved exactly a constructive process. For when the Hungarians report that they have “pacified” a village, this usually means that not a single inhabitant is left. In consequence, we can hardly get any agricultural work done in such regions’.
Mannheim , Germany : 198 British bombers (105 Wellington, 31 Stirling, 29 Halifax, 15 Hampden, 13 Lancaster, and 4 Manchester aircraft) from RAF Bomber Command attacked Mannheim, Germany; most bombs would miss the target. 11 bombers were lost on this attack.
Hull , United Kingdom : German bombers attacked Hull, England, United Kingdom in night
Ottawa , Canada : Allied air representatives met at Ottawa to chart Allied air strategy , to increase pilot and aircrew pool and training rate and to create massive air forces to initiate constant round clock stratefgic air offensives over Axis territories
Pearl Harbour , Hawaii : US Navy intelligence officer Lieutenant Commander Jasper Holmes arrived at the idea that Midway Atoll could send out a fake message regarding the water distiller breaking down, thus the base desperately needed a supply of fresh water. Holmes’ superior Joseph Rochefort gave him the permission to execute this idea in the hopes that the Japanese would pick up this message and provide Rochefort’s team a clue on whether the Japanese Navy’s reference of AF pointed at Midway Atoll. Rochefort’s team also began to find the mention of a new code name, MI, in Japanese messages starting on this date; Rochefort quickly determined it to be the operational code name for the strike on Midway Atoll.