25 August 1942
Atlantic Ocean : A wolfpack of German submarines located and attacked Allied convoy ONS-122 in the middle of the North Atlantic, with German submarine U-605 torpedoed and sinking British cargo ship Katvaldis (3 were killed, 40 survived) and British cargo ship Sheaf Mount (31 were killed, 20 survived) at 0145 hours, another submarine U-176 torpedoed and sinking British cargo ship Empire Breeze at 0200 hours (1 was killed, 48 survived), and U-438 torpedoed and sinking Norwegian cargo ship Trolla at 0205 hours; convoy escorts counter attacked with depth charges, lightly damaging six German submarines and seriously damaging two other German submarines U-174 and U-256. After a 12-hour chase, German submarine U-604 torpedoed and sank Dutch merchant ship Abbekerk 15 miles to the southeast of ONS-122 at 0348 hours; 2 were killed, 62 survived.
German submarine U-130 torpedoed and sank British cargo ship Viking Star 160 miles south of Freetown, British West Africa at 1944 hours; 7 were killed, 54 survived.
Caribbean Sea : German submarines U-164 and U-558 attacked Allied convoy WAT-15 between Jamaica and Haiti, torpedoed and sinking Dutch cargo ship Stad Amsterdam (3 were killed, 35 survived) and British cargo ship Amakura (13 were killed, 31 survived).
Arctic Ocean : German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer spotted Soviet ice breaker Alexander Sibiyakov in the Kara Sea at 1100 hours. At 1500 hours, Admiral Scheer sank Alexander Sibiyakov by gunfire, killing 80; the Soviet ship was able to send out a distress signal before her sinking. At 1545 hours, Admiral Scheer intercepted a radio message from the Soviet Western Sector Command Headquarters of Northern Sea Route Main Directorate, informing Soviet ships of her presence. Out of precaution, Admiral Scheer turned to the northwest, away from known Soviet bases.
Caucasian Front , Russia : German troops from 1st Panzer Army captured Mozdok, Russia, 50 miles west of Grozny.
Stalingrad , Russia : Joseph Stalin declared Stalingrad, Russia to be in a state of siege, but ordered all heavy factories to remain in position to supply combat vehicles directly to front line units. Meanwhile, German 6th Army continued the attempt to break into the city from the north, but making little advance.
German bombing raids on the city continued, with another ‘major air attack’ on the afternoon of 25 August. The power station at Beketovka was badly damaged, but soon repaired. Otherwise Luftwaffe squadrons continued pulverizing the length of the city. Many people lost all their possessions, but families spontaneously shared whatever they had left. They knew well that the next day they might find themselves in the same state; and nothing reduced the notion of private property more rapidly than such destruction from the sky.
Permission was at last given to allow Stalingrad women and children to cross to the east bank on the NKVD’s commandeered craft. Only a few steamers were spared, however, because most were needed for evacuating wounded and bringing back ammunition and reinforcements. The journey was certainly as hazardous as remaining on the west bank, because the Luftwaffe continued to attack boats crossing the Volga. The ferry jetty, upstream of the Tsaritsa gorge, was hit again, and the Shanghai restaurant just above it, a favourite peacetime meeting-place in a strip of park on top of the river bank, was burned to a shell. The families crossing saw blackened bodies floating past like charred logs, and patches of the river still burned with oil from the storage tanks. The children from the hospital, including Nina Grebennikova, tied to a stretcher, were moved across the Volga on 28 August, and taken to a field hospital on the east bank.
The guns of 16th Panzer Division had also been at work since that first Sunday evening, announcing their presence on the Volga by sinking a freight steamer and shelling a gunboat. They also shelled the railway ferry, leaving a tangle of burnt and destroyed carriages, and over the next few days sank seven river craft. The tank crews claimed them as ‘gunboats’ and did not seem to realize that they might be evacuating civilians.
On their third evening, German panzers sank a paddle-steamer taking women and children from the city to the east bank. Hearing screams and cries for help, soldiers asked their commander if they could use some of the pioneers’ inflatable boats to rescue them. But the lieutenant refused. ‘We know how the enemy fights this war,’ he replied. After night had fallen, the panzer crews pulled their blankets up over their heads so that they did not hear the cries any more. Some women managed to swim to the west bank, but most swam to a sandbank where they stayed the whole of the next day. The Germans did not fire when they were evacuated the next night, as proof that they were different from the Russians. ‘We wouldn’t hinder such a thing!’
Behind the foremost German positions on the Volga bank was a sort of semi-cultivated parkland, with oaks, walnut trees, sweet chestnut and oleanders, bordered by allotments with melons, tomatoes, vines and fruit trees. There the advance units of 16th Panzer Division dug in, using the vegetation for cover. The pioneer battalion’s headquarters was hidden under a large pear tree. During lulls in the firing, panzer crews and combat engineers picked ripe fruit, using caps and helmets as baskets. After the weeks of desiccated steppe, to gaze upon the broad Volga, ‘like a calm lake’, from leafy shade, somehow intensified the sensation of having reached the end of their journey to the frontier of Europe. It seemed such a pity that the Russians continued to resist. Soldiers, at the very first opportunity, wrote home from the Volga, proud to be among the first to stand at the new eastern extremity of the German Reich. A few who had served in the Balkan campaign the year before found that their first glimpse of white apartment buildings on the high western bank had reminded them of Athens. This curiously inapposite connection led some of them to refer to Stalingrad as the ‘Akropolis’.
Units of German Sixth Army still waiting to cross the Don were jealous of the glory seized by the vanguard. An anti-aircraft gunner wrote home: ‘Soon we too will have the right to sing: “There stands a soldier on the Volga bank”.’ An artilleryman also wrote home about the Wolgalied, for which Franz Lehár wrote the music: ‘The song will really be true in our case.’
Many were convinced that victory could not be far off. ‘You can’t imagine the speed of our dear motorized comrades,’ a soldier in the 389th Infantry Division wrote home. ‘And with it the rolling attacks of our Luftwaffe. What a feeling of security we get when our pilots are above us, because you never see any Russian aircraft. I would like to share with you a little glimmer of hope. Our division will have fulfilled its duty as soon as Stalingrad falls. We should then, God willing, see each other again this year. If Stalingrad falls, the Russian Army in the south is destroyed.’
The position of Hube’s division, however, was far from secure. The threat to the Volga river traffic, to say nothing of furious telephone calls from the Kremlin, increased the urgency for Yeremenko to order counter-attacks from the northern flank to crush the Germans’ narrow corridor. Russian artillery could fire into this strip, little more than four miles wide, from both sides, and the Germans were in no position to respond. Not only Hube’s 16th Panzer Division, but the rest of Wietersheim’s Corps was almost out of fuel.
Next day on 26th August , German Sixth Army tries to take Stalingrad from the west, sending 25 tanks from 16th Panzer Division and an infantry division across the Don south of Rubezhnoye. They advance on central Stalingrad and slam into a tank brigade and an infantry division. The Soviets counterattack and drive to relieve the partially encircled 87th Rifle Division.
33 soldiers from that outfit, all from Siberia, hold out for two days against a force of 70 German tanks that have surrounded them, destroying 27, making good use of “a bottle with an inflammable mixture,” which will be better known to historians and guerrillas as a “Molotov cocktail.”
Yeremenko sends the 63rd Army to counterattack, but his artillery isn’t coordinated. The Luftwaffe is. The drive fails to gain ground, but the counterattacks keep the Germans off-balance.
As the Germans move into the city, their plans begin to disintegrate. Mobile forces cannot maneuver in Stalingrad’s maze of ruined buildings, factories, and ravines. The Soviets, knowing the terrain, are well dug-in, and fire small arms and mortars at a fantastic rate. They keep their artillery on the opposite bank of the Volga, along with the vital support forces. Vast amounts of ammunition are expended to seize small piles of rubble.
Paulus’ tactics are questionable, too, relying on brute force instead of skill and versatility.
On 25 August, Richthofen flew to join Paulus and General von Seydlitz at the headquarters of German 76th Infantry Division. Paulus’s nervous tic on the left side of his face became more pronounced when he was under strain, and he also suffered from recurrent dysentery—what the Germans called ‘the Russian sickness’ - which did not help him relax. The intolerant Richthofen noted that the commander-in-chief of Grman Sixth Army was ’very nervous’ about the situation. That night, the Luftwaffe dropped supplies to Wietersheim’s 24th Panzer Corps by parachute, but most fell into no man’s land or into enemy hands. The following morning, German air reconnaissance reported Soviet armoured forces gathering to the north.
Richthofen, like Hitler, subscribed to the view that a rapid victory at Stalingrad would solve all the problems of an extended left flank at a stroke by bringing about the final collapse of the Red Army. To weaken now was the biggest danger, like teetering on a tightrope. Paulus was perfectly aware of such logic. He persevered, keeping his faith in Hitler’s judgement that the Russian forces must be all but finished. When General von Wietersheim subsequently recommended the partial withdrawal of 24th Panzer Corps, Paulus dismissed him and promoted General Hube to take his place.
Much depended on the rapid advance of the Fourth Panzer Army from the south, but Hitler had obliged Hoth to leave a panzer corps behind in the Caucasus. He was thus reduced to 48th Panzer Corps and 4th Corps. Also, as General Strecker observed at this time, ‘the closer the German attack gets to the city, the smaller are the daily gains’. An even fiercer defence was being prepared behind the lines. The Stalingrad Defence Committee issued its orders: ‘We will not abandon our city to the Germans! All of you, organize brigades, go to build barricades. Barricade every street … quickly in such a way so that the soldiers defending Stalingrad will destroy the enemy without mercy!’
El Alamein , Egypt : In Egypt, Rommel plans his offensive. His two Afrika Korps panzer divisions, with Italian Ariete and Littorio ARMORED divisions on the left flank and the combined German and Italian reconnaissance outfits on the right, will smash through the southern half of the British line, throw back 7th Armoured Division, and drive flat out for the area south of El Hamman, arriving there before dawn. North of that, German 90th Light Division will move forward through two depressions toward the gap at the rear of 2nd New Zealand Division. Italian troops backed by Ramcke Brigade will pin down the British in the north and on the coast.
By dawn the Afrika Korps must be in position facing north to breakthrough to the coast. Once that is reached, von Bismarck’s 21st Panzer Division will drive on Alexandria, while 15th Panzer, under Von Vaerst will drive southeast for Cairo. The Italians and German infantry will tie down the 8th Army. As the panzers advance, they will eliminate the Eighth Army’s supply depots and fuel, immobilizing Montgomery.
Key to the victory is Rommel’s expectation that the British will commit their forces piecemeal as before with unsupported armored charges to his anti tank gun screens, and the effectiveness with which his move to the assembly area can be concealed, the speed with which his troops can break through, and most of all, supplies. He needs a timely delivery of four days supply of fuel.
Note : This is the last thing General Montgomery , the new commander of Eighth Army intended to do. Montgomery was actually expecting enemy assault to begin any day. 7th Armored Division intelligence officer Captain Kane observed German 90th Light Division movement to south of Alamein line that confirmed Afrikakorps focus point of attack. Monty is planning to meet German attack on a planned killing ground with tanks on static hull down positions , heavy artillery , anti tank gun fire and Desert Air Force firepower concentration in deep minefields.
While Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery rebuilds the British Eighth Army at El Alamein, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel struggles with exhaustion. At age 50, he has had 19 straight months of active service without leave or break. He is suffering from circulation problems, blood pressure, and nasal diphtheria, the last amid a climate full of heat, dust, grime, and grit. He also suffers fainting fits.
Rommel’s condition mirrors that of Panzer Army Afrika, which is worn out from battle and heat. German troops have excellent hygiene standards but a boring and unbalanced diet of “Alte Kokke.” (Old Horse) They suffer jaundice, sores, trachoma, and dysentery.
The supply situation is also getting worse, as RAF bombers and submarines torpedo merchant ships. In August, Royal Navy and RAF sink seven ships in Mediterranean, sending 1,660 tons of ammo, 2,120 tons of general supplies, 43 guns, 367 vehicles, and 2,700 tons of petrol to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.
They are also at the end of a long land supply chain, 370 miles to Tobruk, 660 miles to Benghazi, more than 1,250 miles from Tripoli. They have been reinforced by the 164th Infantry Division, the Ramcke Parachute Brigade, and the Italian Folgore Parachute Division. But these formations have arrived in the desert by air, leaving all their trucks and heavy equipment back in Europe. Their rations, fuel, and ammunition must be brought in by the already overburdened Afrika Korps supply chain.
Worse, the haul of British guns and vehicles from Tobruk is now a burden. Rommel has run out of shells for his captured 25-lbr. guns, and replacement shells are not made in the Ruhr. 85 percent of his transport is captured enemy vehicles without spare parts, and they are breaking down. Again Rommel has no spares. He put his own Panzer Army into a conundrum of his own making due to arrogance , hubris and over optimism to capture Egypt in June
Rommel has 48,000 Germans and 66,000 Italians in the line in Panzer Army, but receives only 8,200 tons of supplies for the Germans, and 24,700 for the Italians.
Just to make matters worse, the newly-arrived Italian Pistoia Division, with 200 vehicles, has orders not to enter Egypt, while 164th German Infantry Division has only 80 motorised vehicles with which to move its entire outfit…and those trucks are falling apart on desert tracks.
Realizing that he’s nearly at the end of the line, Rommel decides to launch one last offensive.
That day, 5 New Zealand Brigade commander Brigadier Howard Kippenberger is asked to put on a raid. The 8th Army has taken no PoWs for a fortnight and needs fresh intelligence. Kippenberger gets the job, and 144 artillery pieces to support him.
Kippenberger assigns two companies of 28th Maori Battalion to do the job. He warns the hard-fighting Maoris that he wants PoWs and not scalps. The Maoris cheerfully prepare an extremely professional plan.
London , UK : The Prime Minister had returned to London on 24 August following his gruelling trip to the Middle East and Moscow in the confident belief that the planning for Operation Torch was well underway. Instead, he found himself on the receiving end of what he described as ‘a bombshell’ from Washington – a change of heart by the American Chiefs of Staff which promised to unravel the whole operation, and thereby torpedo Churchill’s entire war strategy, which he had developed with such energetic diligence over the last six months.
In Churchill’s absence, the initial character and scope of Torch had been scaled down by the Americans to such a degree as to convince the British that Washington had lost its stomach for a venture about which the American Chiefs had always been dubious. The competing demands from the commander-in-chief of the US Navy, Admiral King, for ships, men and weapons to sustain the American commitment in the Pacific had accelerated Washington’s drift away from Churchill’s ‘Europe First’ strategy, to which he had assumed the White House was now fully committed.
To complicate matters further, the British were fearful that, under pressure from Hitler, General Franco – who was ostensibly a non-belligerent bystander – might soon allow the Wehrmacht to cross Spain to seize Gibraltar, and thereby control the Western Mediterranean; even worse, were he to detect that the advantage in North Africa was slipping away from the Allies, the Spanish dictator might even decide to throw in his lot with Hitler and enter the war on the Axis side. The most effective way both to convince Franco otherwise and to persuade the Vichy French in North Africa to switch their allegiance from the Axis to the Allies was to deploy enough force to demonstrate that the most powerful nation in the world as well as the British really meant business. Unless Torch were to involve the use of overwhelming force it would swiftly become a damp squib – with incalculable consequences for both the Middle East and the Empire.
London’s deepening frustration was summed up by General Kennedy Churchill’s Chief Military consulrtant in a note for General Alan Brooke , British Imperial Chief of Staff which he wrote the day before the CIGS and Churchill arrived back in London on 25 August. ‘The whole operation is at best extremely hazardous,’ he wrote. ‘The only hope of success is if we and the Americans put our whole effort into it. It is almost incredible that their share of the operations should be so weak and half-hearted.’ Torch, he warned, was at risk of becoming ‘a tremendous disaster’.
The following day, Kennedy was summoned to Number 10 for an 11 a.m. meeting with Churchill, who was in bed, ‘wearing The Dressing Gown; a half-smoked cigar was in his mouth, and a glass of water and some papers on the table beside him’. When he asked for a progress report on Torch, Kennedy did not spare him: three times as many troops were required as had been allocated, the American contribution was quite inadequate, and their reluctance to do more was, he judged, ‘a sign that our strategic policies were diverging’.
Much disconcerted, Churchill immediately cabled Roosevelt, urging that the two of them should instruct Eisenhower (who sympathised with the British perspective) to launch Torch on 14 October. Only by forcing the issue in this way, he intimated, would it be possible to ensure that the first Allied operation of the war – which he cunningly and shamelessly described as ‘your great strategic conception’ – would be a ‘decisive success’. At the end of a long and detailed elaboration of the means to this end, he concluded, ‘I feel that a note must be struck now of irrevocable decision and superhuman energy to execute it.’
No sooner had Churchill despatched this rallying cry than the ‘bombshell’ from Washington arrived on his desk. It took the form of a memorandum from the American Joint Chiefs, which – he was soon to inform Roosevelt – ‘profoundly disconcerted’ the British government. Their message – though implicit – was straightforward: they were unwilling to put their troops at great risk in the Mediterranean by launching a major assault on Algiers – which Churchill and his advisors regarded as an essential precondition for defeating the Germans in North Africa. By limiting the operation to a landing at the port of Oran in western Algeria and the city of Casablanca on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, as the Americans had proposed, would, Churchill informed the President, be ‘making the enemy a present not only of Tunis but of Algiers … We are all convinced that Algiers is the key to the whole operation.’
Roosevelt’s response, which arrived three days later, was far less emollient than the Prime Minister might have hoped. The President not only made it clear that he differed with the Prime Minister on matters of strategic substance but he also raised a new issue which was bound to aggravate Churchill’s distress. Though the Americans shared the British concern that Franco might soon allow the panzers to transit Spain en route to North Africa, Roosevelt was more worried about the impact of the landings upon the Vichy French in North Africa, who were firmly entrenched in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia with 125,000 troops that were still under the tutelage of Nazis.
Judging the British to be loathed by the Vichy French to such a degree that, in Andrew Roberts’s phrase,
‘the Stars and Stripes might be welcomed in North Africa whereas the Union Jack would be fired on’, the President was blunt:I feel very strongly that the initial attacks must be made by an exclusively American ground force. The operation should be undertaken on the assumption that the French will offer less resistance to us than they will to the British. I would even go so far as to say I am reasonably sure a simultaneous landing by British and Americans [who had maintained diplomatic relations with Vichy France] would result in full resistance by all French in Africa, whereas an initial American landing without British ground forces offers a real chance that there would be no French resistance, or only a token resistance.
The only crumb of comfort for Churchill in Roosevelt’s disagreeable message was that he similarly hoped that the target date for the landings could still be met, though, somewhat reprovingly, he commented that the precise timing was not for either of them to determine but for the commander-in-chief, General Eisenhower.
UK : The Duke of Kent, younger brother of King George VI of the United Kingdom, was killed when the flying boat in which he was travelling crashed near Wick
Guadalcanal , South West Pacific : The Japanese, incredibly, believe they have sunk two American carriers previous day due to exagerrated reports of their pilots. They send in three destroyers to sweep Ironbottom Sound for shipping after midnight (find none), and shell the American premises, killing two Marines. After that, floatplanes irritate the defenders.
Before dawn, Japanese destroyers Kagero, Isokaze, Kawakaze, Mutsuki, and Yayoi bombarded Henderson Field, Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, causing little damage. At 0600 hours, six SBD Dautless dive bombers from Henderson Field attacked Japanese reinforcement convoy en roure to Guadalcanal 64 miles northeast of Santa Isabel Island, sinking troop transport Kinryu Maru with two bomb hits and severely damaging Japanese light cruiser Jintsu (24 were killed) with a bomb hit that destroyed all radio equipment and started a severe fire. The Japanese did not open fire with AA guns as they think the Americans are friendly planes so their ships were caught off guard. Then four US Army B-17 bombers from Espiritu Santo arrived shortly after, sinking Japanese destroyer Mutsuki (41 were killed, 11 were injured) with a single bomb hit as Mutsuki rescued survivors from the Kinryu Maru sinking.
In the afternoon after US Navy SBD Dauntless dive bombers from Henderson airfield hit and damaged Japanese light cruiser Jintsu (Admiral Tanaka’s flagship) with a bomb and destroyer Uzuki with a near miss off Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands , Admiral Raizo Tanaka who was wounded during US air attack aboard light cruiser Jintsu , ordered magazines of Jintzu to be flooded to extiguish the fire on his flagship then turned back the convoy away from Guadalcanal back to Rabaul , New Guinea.
Later that day, the Japanese sent 21 bombers and 12 Zeros to Guadalcanal, and hammer the airfield, killing four men and wounding five.
The Battle of the Eastern Solomons is over, but it is a flawed US victory. Japan has lost a carrier, a destroyer, and a freighter, and suffer a damaged cruiser and damaged destroyer. They have lost 75 planes of various types, and an indeterminate but substantial number of men.
The Americans have suffered 75 dead on carrier USS Enterprise , which was now a dockyard case. Plane losses are 18.
Admiral Fletcher commanding US Task Force , drew criticism for the poor performance of his airgroups, which have not attacked in a coordinated manner, and on USS Enterprise’s ineffective fighter defense. However, the 20mm guns have done well.
The battle has decided little. Both sides’ fleets are pretty much intact, albeit bruised, but the convoy has not reached Guadalcanal, making it an American victory. The bloody Guadalcanal campaign will go on.
Milne Bay , Papua New Guinea : 809 Japanese Special Naval Landing Force troops and 2 Type 95 Ha-Go tanks landed at Waga Waga, Australian Papua on Milne Bay at 2230 hours.
South China Sea : American submarine USS Seawolf torpedoed and sank Japanese transport Showa Maru 50 miles east of Borneo, Dutch East Indies.
Pacific Ocean : Japanese troops captured Ocean and Nauru Islands without meeting any resistance
Indian Ocean : Japanese submarine I-165 torpedoed and sank British cargo ship Harmonides 250 miles south of Ceylon; 14 were killed.