21 June 1942
Atlantic Ocean : At 0400 hours, German submaine U-128 torpedoed and sank US cargo ship West Ira 120 miles east of Barbados; all 49 aboard survived but 1 of them would die before being rescued.
Canadian minesweeper HMCS Georgia attacked a unidentified submarine by ramming off Newfoundland at 0300 hours, sinking what turned out to be Royal Navy submarine HMS P-514, killing all 29 aboard.
Kola Inlet , Murmansk : US cargo ship Alcoa Cadet struck a mine and sank
Bay of Biscay , France : 56 British RAF Bomber Command aircraft deployed naval mines in the Bay of Biscay west of France.
Tobruk , Libya : Erwin Rommel is promoted to rank of Field Marshal , the youngest field marshal ever reached to this rank in German Army
A serious disagreement occurs between main Axis commanders in Mediterranean : Recently promoted Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and German Mediterranean Theater Commander Field Marshal Albert Kesselring gather up with their staffs for a meeting out of Tobruk. Kesselring opens up , according to plans agreed in April since Tobruk fell , next step should be invasion of Malta. However Rommel full of himself and in full arrogant mode disagrees and argues that strategic plan should be modified. Since Eighth Army was “totally destroyed” and its remants are in flight to Egypt-Libyan border , now it is the great oppurtunmity for Panzer Army Afrika to march to capture Egypt , Nile Valley and Sıez Channel.
It seems that overoptimism , victory disease and sudden promotion to field marshal rank went over Rommel’s hand. In that regard it apears he felt fully justified from last decryppted wireless message of US military attache Colonel Bonnar Fellers dated on 20th June (who is an Anglophobe and painted the picture in British ranks a bit more bleaker than actually was just to stick to them) :
“With numerically superior forces, with tanks, planes, artillery, means of transport, and reserves of every kind, the British army has twice failed to defeat the Axis forces in Libya…. The Eighth Army has failed to maintain the morale of its troops; its tactical conceptions were always wrong, it neglected completely cooperation between the various arms; its reactions to the lightning changes of the battlefield were always slow. And if there any oppurtunity for Axis to capture Nile Delta , that oppurtunate time is NOW”
This must have been music to Rommel’s ears. The Italian Military Intelligence Service (SIM), in “a magnificent coup,” had broken the American diplomatic cipher and Fellers’ reports were being sent directly to Rommel. Rommel greatly appreciated the information provided by the “Good Source” or “my little Fellers,” as he called them. One of Rommel’s intelligence staff officers, Hans-Otto Behrendt, stated after the war that the steady stream of intelligence originating from Colonel Fellers was “stupefying in its openness” and “contributed so decisively … to our victories in North Africa.” However no one in Axis side knew or aware of the fact that this report was overly pessimistic in a deliberate sense and more over this would be the last US Cairo military attache reports to be decypered by their codebreakers.
Rommel in full of arrogant and over confident mood clained to Kesselring that Eighth Army was destroyed but if they do not pursue and wait invasion of Malta (which has a very low possibility of sucess since the British air and ground defenses were significantkly strengthened upp there) the remants of British Army could soon reorganise and rebuild it at Egypt-Libyan border or in Egypt. He is fully convinced (but as following events show utterly wrong) that they need to pursue it and never give achance to gather its strength by exploiting the window of oppurtunity to enter Egypt annd capture Nile Valley and Suez.
Kesselring at the other hand definitely opposes that sudden change in plan. Without capturing Malta , it would always be a threat to rear supply and logistics routes in Africa. Besides advancing all the way to Nile Valley from main Axis supply base in Tripoli , Libya (where there was only Axis held deep harbour on African coast exists and that is working in an inadequate unload capacity due to lack of piers , docks and warehouses , at further east Benghazi had even lower unload capacity and under RAF air attack range and Tobruk harbour facilities were heavily damaged) would triple supply distance from main supply base/ harbour unload area in Tripoli to frontline and over extend it to breaking point. Rommel dismisses Kesselring’s arguements , countering that Malta was already neutlised (Kesselring said so in his May 1942 reports) and if necessary can be bombed to irrelevancy again. As for the supply issue , Panzer Army Afrika had just captured 2.000 British trucks in working order plus 1.420 tons of fuel , huge British supply dumps fully of rations (5.000 ton of tinned canned food and dried rations) enough to feed his army as booty in Tobruk. The number of British trucks captured in Gazala Tobruk battles is over 4.000. Surely the supply issue now would take care of itself with these captured stocks. (never accuring that since these are limited and can be consumed faster than expected during action at the end of a huge logistical tail , the captured enemy stocks can never replace sustained logiatical supply system in an efficient working basis. And Rommel also ignores the fact that without spare parts , captured British motorised vehicles would malfunction and break down in time) Now is the time to give final blow to demoralised and routed enemy he claims.
Kesselring definetely disagrees and due to recent transfers of Luftwaffe air fleets plus needs to blockade Malta from the air and staging air raids to Malta , air bridge supply attempts of Panzer Army from Italy to Libya and last four weeks of extremely savage and intense air operation over Gazala and Tobruk , exhausted and temporarily put Luftwwaffe in Mediterranean out of action till rest , repair and replacement issues taken care of. Both machines and air crews were in dire need of maintenance and rest respectively and replacements and supplies to be brought back to full operational status. Besides as Panzer Army woul advance further west towards Egypt he adds it would go out out of Luftwaffe air cover range and expect no air support for weeks since Axis airfields in Libya would be left far behind and meanwhile Panzer Army ground forces (which are already exhausted and in dire need of replacements , maintenance and rest themselves due to casaulties they suffered in Gazala and Tobruk battles) would enter range of RAF Desert Air Force squadrons utilising excellently equipped Egyptian airbases and concludes that “Under these conditions , it is my firm conviction that marching to Nile Valley would be utter madness”
Rommel at the other hand still full of himself and over optimism , is not deterred and intending to go over Kesselring’s head (who is nominally his superor though in same rank since his own recent promotion) and apply directly to Berlin , Hitler and Musolini to get permission to invade Egypt immediately. He already took steps to requisition supply stocks reserved for Operation Herkules , airborne and seaborne invasion project , convinced that Malta can be taken later after capturing Egypt.
‘I am going on to Suez,’ was Rommel’s official reply to Hitler. Later, however, he remarked to his wife: ‘I would rather he (Hitler) had given me one more division.’
Meanwhile General Neil Ritchie decided to fall back to Mersa Matruh and ordered 13th Corps to delay the enemy. So far Eighth Army lost 50,000 men killed, wounded or captured, including. 33,000 prisoners taken at Tobruk. Since batle of Gazala started on 26th May , Germans suffered 3,360 casualties, about 15 per cent of their force. Italian casualties were 3,000 men, 125 tanks, 44 armoured cars, 450 motor vehicles, 39 guns and seventy-four 47 mm anti-tank guns.
The Eighth Army lost thousands of tons of supplies, nearly 800,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, nearly 13 million rounds of small-arms ammunition and a huge number of tanks. Hundreds of damaged tanks had been left behind when armoured regiments retreated and it was estimated that there were 1,188 tank casualties in 17 days. On 22 June, the Desert Air Force had 463 operational aircraft, 420 of them in the Middle East, the Germans 183 and the Italians 238, with another 174 in reserve and 500 in the Mediterranean excluding Italy. The Royal Army Ordnance Corps recovered 581 tanks up to 19 June, repaired 278 and sent 222 back to Egypt (326 being US-made tanks). The Eighth Army was reduced to about 185 operational tanks by the end of the battle and shuffling operational tanks and crews between units disrupted unit organisation. Seven field artillery regiments, 6,000 lorries and two tank repair workshops (which had been moved into Tobruk) were lost.
General Francis Tuker , resourceful and talented commander of 4th Indian Infantry Division (as we shall see in Battles of El Alamein between July-November 1942) summarised sad tale of British Army in Gazala Tobruk battles with this quote “This was the most unnnecessary defeat and worst led battle of British Army history”
Syria : In Syria, the 9th Australian Division, part of the heroic defence of Tobruk (nicknamed as Rats of Tobruk) previous year, took the news badly. Sergeant Joe Madeley of the 2/13th Battalion was as disbelieving as the Prime Minister. ‘My mate Rex McDonald turned to me,’ says Joe, ‘and said, “To think of all those flaming holes we dug up there and now the Germans and Eyeties are in ’em.”’
Nearby, the photographer Cecil Beaton was watching a military exercise. The smokescreens and artillery fire were certainly impressive but he was once again suffering from the oppressive heat. ‘But,’ he noted later that day, ‘there was much greater reason why I should feel so miserable – the news was whispered from man to man that Tobruk had fallen.’ One soldier was severely reprimanded for saying that the Germans would be in Cairo in a week. ‘I am not ashamed of saying,’ Cecil admitted, ‘that I felt absolutely sick with panic.’ Like Churchill, he believed it was ‘one of the most crushing disappointments of the war’.
Within three days 10th Corps in Syria , 9th Australian Division and 2nd New Zealand Division would be ordered back to Egypt. General Auchinleck began reinforcing Egypt defences since neither he nor Ritchie believed Rommel would stop at Tobruk
Mediterranean Sea : Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Swordfish torpedo bombers from Malta hit and heavily damaged Italian destroyer Strale with a torpedo , Strale had to ground herself off Cape Bon to prevent sinking and totally wrecked. All Italian efforts to salvage her failed. The wreck of Strale , later same day was torpedoed by Royal Navy submarine HMS Turbulent on Cape Bon and the wreck was totally destroyed.
Nine RAF Coastal Command Beaufort torpedo bombers from Malta hit and sank German cargo ship Reichenfels with a torpido hit off Benghazi , three Beaufort torrpedo bombers were shot down by German anti aircraft fire
Southampton , England : 50 German Luftwaffe aircraft conducted a raid on Southampton, England, United Kingdom. Five of them were short down by anti aircraft fire or RAF interceptors.
Washington , USA : In Washington, United States, during a meeting with Prime Minister Churchill , British Chief of Staff General Alan Brooke and US Chief of Staff General George Marshall , Roosevelt handed a recently arrived telegram to Winston Churchill without comment. It announced that the 33,000-man garrison in Tobruk, Libya had surrendered. wrote later: “This was one of the heaviest blows I can recall during the war.” A shocked Churchill gave the telegram to President Rossevelt , muttering : “Defeat is one thing but disgrace is another !”
To their credit , no one in US side of meeting rubbed this latest defeat on their British guests. Everyone realised gravity of situation , with Tobruk gone , Nile Valley , Suez and Middle East was open to Axis offensive (if it was conducted properly) President Rossevelt asked : “What can we do to help ?” Churchill requested him to send a few hundred of latest US manufactured (though design was US and UK joint design) M4 Sherman medium tankls to be sent to Middle Easy. The American President immediately ordered General Marshall to send, by the fastest American ships, 300 new Sherman tanks and a hundred self-propelled guns to Egypt despite these tanks were reserved for use of US troops still in training. Marshall summarised “British need those tanks immediately and they will get them”
The tanks, less engines, were loaded into fast cargo ships. The 300 tank engines were loaded into a single ship, the 6,200-ton American Fairport. This special fast military convoy, AS 4, sailed hurriedly from New York on July 13, escorted by two cruisers and seven destroyers.
In addition to tanks , six American Army Air Forces groups: three fighter, one medium bomber, and one heavy bomber (B-24s). One fighter group, the 57th, composed of seventy P-40s, was rushed mostly to Middle East on the aircraft carrier USS Ranger. Departing the States on July 1, she was escorted by Task Force 22: the heavy cruiser Augusta, the brand-new light cruiser USS Juneau, and six destroyers. As before, USS Ranger launched these planes while at sea off the Gold Coast (on July 19). They flew to Accra, Ghana, thence to Egypt. The rest of these air groups plus 4,000 Army Air Forces ground personnel began moving to North Africa by ship or other means in July.
On 21st June also , Admiral Ernest King , commander of US Navy wrote a tense reply to General Marshall , US Army Chief of Staff about latest shipping crisis and U-Boat offensive in US Eastern Seabord and Gulf of Mexico. “Though we are still suffering heavy losses outside the east convoy zone,” King wrote, “the situation is not hopeless.” He stressed these points:
• The U-boat threat could only be eliminated completely by “wiping out the German building yards and bases” with heavy bomber attacks. This was a matter which King had been “pressing with the British, so far with only moderate success.” (Admiral King was wrong since German submarine pens were with reinfoerced concentrate roofs were resistant to any air bombing except latest stage of developed British heavy shock bombs that will enter to service in 1944)
• Meanwhile, if all shipping could be brought under defensive escort and air cover, “our losses will be reduced to an acceptable figure.” King went on to emphasize his unwavering view that “escort is not just one way of handling the submarine menace; it is the only way that gives any promise of success.”*
• Alluding to the Army Air Forces’ doctrine of offensive “hunter-killer” air patrols to the exclusion of defensive convoy escort, King again threw cold water on that approach. “The so-called patrol and hunting operations have time and again proved futile,” he wrote. The only efficient way to kill U-boats at sea was to attack “continuously and relentlessly” those U-boats that had been drawn to the convoys.
However, this was a doctrine that required enormous numbers of radar-equipped, well-trained surface escorts and land- and carrier-based aircraft, not yet in sight, let alone in hand. King concluded his memo by asking Marshall for assistance in five categories:
• Build up, “as soon as practicable,” a force of about 1,000 radar-equipped Army aircraft to patrol the projected 7,000 miles of convoy lanes in the Eastern, Gulf, Caribbean, and Panama Sea Frontiers. This airpower was not to be “a temporary measure pending augmentation” of naval surface forces but rather “a permanent arrangement” to “protect our shipping properly.”
• Reduce requests for “special convoys” to rush Army troops to “the Caribbean and other local danger zones” until such time as surface escorts were plentiful. The protection provided for “special convoys” diminished the protection available for “shipping in general.”
• Reduce unescorted cargo-ship movements, and insist that such ships travel in established convoys. • Reduce the growing requirements for the protection of important coastal structures, such as oil refineries, from U-boat gun bombardments, which were “not formidable,” only “occasional,” and easily thwarted.
• Examine every “new project with respect to its effect on our antisubmarine effort.” Any such military proposal or operation that “retards the output of antisubmarine vessels or involves the diversion of vessels engaged in protection of merchant shipping will unduly aggravate the present bad situation.”
Athe end of the conferance in Washington , US strategists (General Marshall and Admiral King) are still in disagreement with their British collegues General Alan Brooke and Prime Minister Winston Churchill abıout whether trying to land France to open a Second Front immediately in 1942 to relieve Russians in East (which Marshall advocates regardless of the fact that no preperation , plannning or enough force supply build up was achieved and German submarine threat in Atlantic is threatrening to sever suply lines to UK and any Second Front in France) or open up a Second Front in North Africa by landinmg and capturing French Northwest Africa (Operation Torch , which Churchill and Alan Brooke fiercely advocate) No responsible British military authority’, Churchill wrote, ‘has so far been able to make a plan to open a Second Front in France for September 1942 which had any chance of success unless the Germans became utterly demoralised, of which there is no likelihood. Have the American Staffs a plan?’ both Churchill and British Imperial Chief of Sraff Alan Brooke asked. In effect, Churchill was telling the President that it was Gymnast (initial code name for Operation Torch to land North West Africa) or nothing.
Bletchley Park , UK : Thanks to British crypto analysts broke through German Enigma wireless messages , British MI5 security service discovered there was a severe security leak in US Embassy in Cairo , US through US military attache radio reports to Washington. Deducting that it could be only Col. Bonnar Fellers whose reports daily relayed to War Department in Washington , British Ministry of Defense warns US War Department on 23rd June. Next day US State Department Black Code radio encryption is changed and Colonel Fellers is reassigned back to US. Rommel’s “Good Source” is dried up for good.
Sevastapol , Crimea : While 11th German Army is reducing the main Soviet fort defences on north , , 30th Corps alternated between attack and defence. The Soviet forces held the Sapun Ridge and could observe German movements. On occasion they could deliver effective counter battery fire. Between the 21–28 June, the Germans lost 10 artillery pieces, including five 150 mm s. FH 18 medium howitzers. In the centre, the Romanians took up the slack. The German 18th Infantry, 1st, and 4th Mountain Divisions, supported by 100 guns, gradually advanced up the Chernaya River towards the mouth of the river and Severnaya Bay.
Rastenburg , East Prussia : Adolf Hitler reluctantly decided to delay his summer offensive due to the heavy Soviet defense of Sevastopol, Crimea.
Moscow , Soviet Union : The Reichel papers captured the day before from shot down German Fiesseler Storch aircraft over Soviet South Western front were sent at once to Front HQ , and that same day (19 June) Soviet HQ , South-Western Front, transmitted the contents of the captured papers to Bryansk Front HQ and sent the actual documents on to the General Staff in Moscow. General Golikov who is commanding Bryansk Front , now knew that 40th Panzer Corps (3rd, 23rd, Panzer Divisions, 29th Motorized Infantry, 100th and 376th Infantry Division) would attack from Volchansk to Novy Oskol, would take part in an offensive aimed at Voronezh and would commit its main force against Ostrogorzhsk in 23rd June. It was plain for all to see that the German blow was going to fall on the junction of the Bryansk and South-Western Fronts. The General Staff, its gaze riveted on Golikov’s northern wing, had been disastrously wrong in its estimate of German intentions, and now to back up the information obtained from the Reichel papers Soviet reconnaissance planes were bringing in aerial photos of considerable German concentrations.
Solomon Islands , South West Pacific : American submarine USS S-44 torpedoed and sank converted gunboat Keijo Maru in northern Savo Sound, Solomon Islands. She was immediately counterattacked by Japanese aircraft, causing damage to her depth gauges, gyrocompass, and the ice machine due to flooding.
US Western Seaboard : On the Pacific coast of the United States, a Japanese submarine shelled a military depot at Fort Stevens, Oregon, on the estuary of the Columbia river. It was the first attack by any foreign power on a military installation on the continental United States since the British attacks during the war of 1812. The damage done was trivial, however, nor was the attack to be repeated.