25 - 31 July 1942

25 July 1942

Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico : German submarine U-160 torpedoed and sank Dutch cargo ship Telamon 75 miles southeast of Trinidad at 0144 hours; 23 were killed, 14 survived.

Atlantic Ocean : At 0352 hours, U-552 attacked Allied convoy ON-113 580 miles east of St. John’s, Newfoundland, torpedoed and damaging British tanker British Meriton (1 was killed) and British cargo ship Broompark (4 were killed). Broompark sank three days later under tow. At 0955 hours, U-89 sank Canadian fishing boat Lucille M. with her deck gun 75 miles south of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada; all 11 aboard survived.

German submarine U-130 torpedoed then shelled with her deck gun and sank Royal Navy fuel auxilary Tank Express off Free Town , West Africa. Finally, at 2305 hours, German submarine U-201 torpedoed and sank Royal Navy minesweeping trawler HMS Laertes 185 miles southwest of Freetown; 19 were killed.

El Alamein , Egypt : General Claude Auchinleck , British CiC Middle East and Eighth Army commander , prepared another (again a very hastily planned scheme that was full of mistakes) offensive code named Operation Manhood against Panzer Army Afrika on north section of Alamein line at 30th Corps front that involved the Australians, the South Africans, and a British Brigade. (This latter formation was the 69th Infantry Brigade, which had been detached from the 50th British Infantry Division , all of these formations reinforced by 1st Armoured Division. ) The South Africans were to make a gap in the rapidly increasing minefields south-east of the Miteirya Ridge, then at 1 a.m., the 24th Australian Brigade were to seize the eastern end of the ridge, while British 69th Brigade from 50th Division would pass through the gap created by the South Africans and then gap any further minefields they might encounter. Then the armour would follow).

When Auchinleck sought to renew the offensive on 25 July, the Australian General Morshead questioned his orders, explaining that his men had done enough attacking and had no faith that they would receive armoured support as promised. He insisted on appealing to his government, as was his right, before agreeing to the plan. His corps commander told Auchinleck that the Australian infantry had lost all confidence in British armour. The attack was delayed to rest attack troops for two more days while Panzer Army realising Eighth Army would attack again soon at Mitierniya ridge , hurriedly strengthened and fortified its defences on this sector and sıowed extra minefields.

Tobruk , Libya : US B-17 bombers attacked Tobruk, Libya.

Malta : By June in Malta , Axis blockade and scarcity of supplies were becoming most trying difficulties in Malta. Most adult civilians were lucky if they ate 1,500 calories a day, less than half of what they should have been consuming. It was often as little as 1,100 calories. Children received even less. Servicemen were given more than the civilians, but not much more, and because of the intensely physical nature of their work, most were constantly hungry.

RAF Vice Air Marshal Keith Park started ‘Forward Interception Plan’ on 25 July for air defence of Malta, and its results were almost immediately apparent. From now on with excellent radar tracking and air relay vectoring , RAF fighters would intercept Axis bombers before reaching over Malta and even if all not shot down , RAF Spitfire fighters interception would force clumsy Axis bombers to jettison their bombs to defend themselves before reaching Malta.

By the end of the month the Axis had virtually given up daylight bombing; nor were JU-87 Stuka dive-bombers used any more. It was also known that at least one Luftwaffe bomber squadron had been forced to stand down. German fighter sweeps intended to regain the initiative were now arriving even higher. Park retaliated by insisting his own fighters did not climb over 20,000 feet. While this obviously gave the Axis fighters crucial height advantage, it did mean that if they wanted to fight, they would have to do so at levels more suited to the Spitfire V than German ME-109.

Offensive bombing operations from the Island were also slowly beginning to get under way again, largely due to the enterprise and determination of a small number of Beaufort bomber pilots. Although new four-engined aircraft were being developed and built, there was still a place for smaller, twin-engine bombers, especially if, like the Beaufort, they were highly manœuvrable; they had proved their worth during the battles to bring in the June convoy, and more arrived in the following weeks. By the end of July there were three squadrons as well as more Wellingtons, and offensive operations could begin again in earnest.

Same situation applied with Royal Navy assets in Malta. On 25th July , 10th Submarine Floti,lla was ordered to return Malta. By the 1st August , there would be six U-class Royal Navy submarines returned back and deployed in submarine pens in Valetta but lack of fuel still prevented their operational patrols to attack Axis convoys in Meditteranean that supplied Panzer Army Afrika in El Alamein. The submarine base on Manoel Island had been restored to working order, and the buildings had been repaired to a certain extent and provided with tarpaulins to replace the roofs. However, conditions, although tolerable, were rugged. Food was very short, the sandflies that lived in the tunnels were irritating and there was an epidemic of scabies. On his arrival Captain Simpson found that he had a new assistant, Commander CH Hutchinson DSO RN, who had been appointed Commander(S). Most important, as already noted, had been the arrival of the minesweepers with the ‘Harpoon Convoy’, which had allowed the approaches to be swept by the middle of July.

London , UK : The Chiefs of Staff had already approved a plan for ‘the largest possible convoy to be run into Malta from the West’ during a meeting on 15 June – before the disappointments of the last convoy had occurred. That they could even contemplate such a plan was partly due to the twenty-four-hour summer daylight in the Arctic, preventing convoys from running there, which meant there were potentially ships to spare. Furthermore, the American naval victory against Japan at the Battle of Midway on 4–7 June had also relieved the pressure to send British naval ships to the Pacific. But the Arctic convoys would be starting again in the autumn, so if they were to mount a large-scale operation, there were really only two opportunities when this could happen: either the middle of July or the middle of August, during the dark period when the moon was at its smallest. Since there was simply not time to get everything ready for July, it would have to be August. It was the narrowest of windows.

The planning of Operation Pedestal, as it was code-named, began in earnest in the middle of July. The officers of the naval forces involved were brought over to London and, working closely with the First Sea Lord and his staff at the Admiralty, began the process of assembling the largest ever convoy to Malta and the most heavily escorted Allied convoy of the war. Finding suitable merchant ships was, as ever, no easy matter, especially since speed would be a key factor if it were to succeed. Losses of merchant ships in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean were enormous and had proved a considerable drain. But eventually twelve large merchantmen capable of the required fifteen knots were ear-marked for the operation, and began assembling at Glasgow, Liverpool and Bristol. All these ships were to be given the same cargoes – fuel, ammunition, food, mechanical spares, and medical supplies in crates and carboys – and divided between each of the ship’s holds, so that a proportion of each of the supplies would get through even if one or more of the ships was sunk. Unfortunately, these vessels did not have holds suitable for carrying fuel and so it had to be loaded in four-gallon cans. Some of the ships even had these cans stashed away on the decks.

A “Hush Most Secret” message from the Royal Navy Admiralty made it official: *“It is intended to run a convoy of 13 merchant ships and one tanker to Malta from the U.K., leaving about the 2nd August, arriving about the 13th August.”The convoy would be called Operation Pedestal.

“The merchant ships were to be escorted by two Royal Navy battleships, four aircraft carriers, seven cruisers, and twenty-five destroyers, along with support ships such as oilers, corvettes, and minesweepers. The thirteen freighters would carry aviation fuel, and the tanker SS Ohio would carry fuel oil, diesel, and kerosene. Operation Pedestal must succeed at all costs. Malta might be lost to the Axis if Pedestal failed, and if Malta were lost, the Persian Gulf oil would be within Hitler’s reach”.

“As you know we live a hand-to-mouth existence and our future, indeed our fate, depends on the success of the next convoy,” Governor of Malta Lord Gort wrote to General Ismay at London in late July. “Aviation spirit remains our Achilles’ Heel and the Middle East Defence Committee consider it vital that aircraft operating from Malta should attack ships crossing the Mediterranean…. If we run out of aviation spirit and can no longer operate fighters, the chances of getting another convoy into Malta will be very doubtful.”

Dudley William Mason, age forty, the new master of the SS Ohio , newest American tanker turned over to British Merchant Marine , carefully cocked his master’s cap at a jaunty angle over his right eyebrow, like a listing ship. He often wore a bemused little smile, tilted up toward the brim of his hat, like an accessory to balance the look. His dry sense of humor kept his children in stitches. Nothing about him was dark except his eyes, shadowed as if something kept him up at night. He was shy but firm and was said to have a quick and instinctive decisiveness, sharp attention to detail, and a record for making the right calls.

Mason had been a merchant seaman for twenty-two years, all of them with the Eagle Oil and Shipping Company, whose fleet included about thirty tankers; the Ministry of War Transport had assigned the Ohio to Eagle, on a what was called a “bareback charter.” But Mason didn’t have much experience as a master. He was listed in the ship’s records as “First Mate (master),” as if it were a pending or temporary thing, until he proved himself.

He had fallen for the sea as a teenager living on the north Devon coast, at the edge of the Atlantic. He had joined the British Merchant Navy at eighteen, with enough education thanks to night school to be an officer apprentice. He had risen to first mate by age thirty, but his career had stalled at that rank for ten years, until he was made acting master of the Empire Pearl, being built at the Sunderland shipyard on the North Sea. His humor had been challenged by his debut as a master. After the champagne bottle smashed against the Pearl’s bow at her launch, she slipped off the cradles as she slid down the ways and was wedged for three weeks.

The Empire Pearl was nearly as big as the Ohio, but she could do only 12 knots. On her second run, from Edinburgh to Aruba for a load of fuel, Mason had gotten mixed up in the middle of Operation Drumbeat. Off Cape Hatteras on January 24, 1942, he had heard the distress call of Empire Gem, a sister ship carrying 10,600 tons of gasoline. A torpedo from U-66 had set off an inferno that only two crew members survived.

The Empire Pearl’s owners had sold her to Nortraship, the Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission—the government in exile in London, more or less—so Mason had been sitting at home in Surrey since spring, waiting for his next assignment. A more experienced master had been scheduled to take the Ohio, but something had happened, and at the last minute Mason was called.“Captain Mason was specially selected for this job, despite the fact that he is our most junior master, on account of his proven initiative and efficiency, and splendid fortitude,” said Eagle Oil and Shipping.

Mason was told to hurry up to Glasgow, but nothing more. He left on a train from London that afternoon, having no idea of the importance of the mission awaiting him.

Rome , Italy : On July 25, Admiral Weichold, the German commander in chief of the Mediterranean, received an intelligence report that said “A large-scale Allied operation is about to break into the Mediterranean. Large merchantships and fleet units are being fetched from far and wide in preparation.”

And in London, Royal Navy Admiralty received a secret message from its spy in Tangier: “Reliable contact reports Germans know about convoy Glasgow to Malta and have detailed aircraft and warships for interception in Mediterranean.” None of the captains of Operation Pedestal ships had been informed yet. There were probably more Germans than British who knew about Operation Pedestal to Malta.

Caucausian Front , Russia : The German First Panzer Army cleaned out suburbs of Rostov-on-Don, Russia. After crossing the Don on 25 July, Army Group A fanned out on a 200 km (120 mi) front from the Sea of Azov to Zymlianskaya (today Zymlyansk). The German Seventeenth Army, along with elements of German Eleventh Army and the Romanian Third Army, manoeuvred west towards the east coast of the Black Sea, while the First Panzer Army attacked to the south-east. The Seventeenth Army made a slow advance but the First Panzer Army had freedom of action which captured Novocherkanssk on 25th July.

The Luftwaffe had air superiority in the early phase of the operation, which was of great help to the ground forces.

Meanwhile, Soviet Marshal Semyon Budyonny’s North Caucasus Front absorbed the remains of General Rodion Malinovsky’s shattered South Front, launching what was called the Tikhoretsk-Stavropol Defensive Operation.

Kalach , Don River , Russia : General Major K. S. Moskalenko, who had taken command of 1st Soviet Tank Army three days before, began the counterattack on Sixth German Army on 25 July, with General Vasilevsky present as Stavka representative. The 1st Tank Army was given the mission of pushing to the northwest, relieving the encirclement of the 62nd Army forces (two riflke divisions and a tank brigade of Soviet 62nd Army the day before on northern flank of Don river) , and cutting off elements of the 14th Panzer Corps that had reached the Don.

While 14th Panzer Corps was still waiting to refuel, 60 Soviet tanks cut the road behind it, and German 3d and 60th Motorized Divisions, the ones closest to Kalach, became entangled with 200 Soviet tanks. The army chief of staff told the army group operations chief, “For the moment a certain crisis has developed.” At the day’s end, 14th Panzer, 51st, and 24th Panzer Corps were ranged shoulder to shoulder on the Stalingrad axis , destroyed besieged Soviet units before Kalach , but the Russians were still holding a forty-mile-wide and twenty-mile-deep bridgehead from Kalach to Nizhny Chir. The whole Operation Fischreiher (Heron) aimed to reach Volga is already being delayed from its timetable.

Still , with German units had attacked and broken into the right flank of 62nd Army, outflanking it from the north, and thereby gaining the western bank of the Don near Kamensk on 24th July , German Sixth Army reached only 100 miles away from Stalingrad.

UK : German bombers attacked Middlesbrough, England, United Kingdom in a night raid, damaging buildings in the city center.

Papua New Guinea : Lieutenant Colonel William Owen, commanding officer of the 39th Australian Milice Battalion, had flown to Kokoda on 24 July and was met by Captain Templeton. They went forward to the position at Gorari where the two forward platoons and PIB (Papuan Infantry Battalion) had gathered. He sighted an ambush position about 700 metres (800 yd) east of Gorari. Owen then returned to Kokoda and called for reinforcements to be landed. As soon as Japanese vanguard crossed Kumusi river in the morning from a ford , the ambush was sprung at about midday on 25 July, killing two Japanese, and the force withdrew back on Oivi, taking up a position that evening. The force of two platoons and the remaining PIB then withdrew to Oivi, taking up a position that evening.

Japanese leadership paused the advance along the Kokoda Trail in Australian Papua as they overestimated the strength of defending Allied forces.

South West Pacific : Japanese submarine I-169 torpedoed and sank Dutch cargo ship Tjinegara 74 miles southwest of Nouméa, New Caledonia at 2330 hours; all 36 aboard survived but the 477 horses aboard would all drown.


26 July 1942

Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico : German submarine U-66 torpedoed and sank Brazilian cargo ship Tamandaré 12 miles east of Tobago at 0815 hours; 4 were killed, 50 survived. At 0945 hours, U-171 torpedoed and sank Mexican cargo ship Oaxaca off Corpus Christi, Texas, United States; 6 were killed, 39 survived.

Atlantic Ocean : German submarines U-607 and U-704 torpedoed and sank British cargo ship Empire Rainbow of Allied convoy ON-113 475 miles east of St. John’s, Newfoundland at 0811 hours; all 37 aboard survived.

El Alamein , Egypt : After dark, Operation Manhood was launched by the British 8th Army in attempt to decisively defeat the Axis offensive in Egypt by striking at Miteirya Ridge. On 26/27 July, Auchinleck launched Operation Manhood in the northern sector in a final attempt to break the Axis forces. 30th Corps was reinforced with 1st Armoured Division (less 22nd Armoured Brigade), 4th Light Armoured Brigade, and 69th Infantry Brigade. The plan was to break the enemy line south of Miteirya ridge and exploit north-west. The South Africans were to make and mark a gap in the minefields to the south-east of Miteirya by midnight of 26/27 July. By 01:00 on 27 July, 24th Australian Infantry Brigade was to have captured the eastern end of the Miteirya ridge and would exploit toward the north-west. The 69th Infantry Brigade would pass through the minefield gap created by the South Africans to Deir el Dhib and clear and mark gaps in further minefields. The 2nd Armoured Brigade would then pass through to El Wishka and would be followed by 4th Light Armoured Brigade which would attack the Axis lines of communication.

By the evening of 25th July the British Intelligence believed that few Italian troops were left in the front line . Italian Trieste Infantry was thought to be west and south-west of Tel el Eisa and the Trento division west of Miteiriya. These Italians were about 9,100 strong with 70 medium or field guns and 45
anti-tank guns, 15 armoured cars and perhaps 12 tanks. From the north the forward German units were believed to be : Two battalions of the 382nd Regiment, the Kiehl Group and 33rd Reconnaissance Regiment, the 361st Regimental Group (two battalions), the Briehl Group, and the 200th Regiment. These totalled about 3,580 men and had from 106 to 120 guns in support including 26 to 29 88-mm weapons.

It was known that German troops were holding an area north-east of Ruin Ridge with light forces possessing a high proportion of machine -guns, anti-tank guns and a few field guns. An area south-west of the ridge was more strongly held and it was realised that, particularly to the south , the enemy would have tanks at close call. There was a minefield parallel to and generally east of the Qattara track on which many tanks had foundered in the previous two attacks and it was suspected that there was also one to the west of it.

Manhood was launched with the knowledge that the enemy was strongest at the point of attack, but also with the knowledge that he had no reserves. If he could be beaten here, where he was strong, that would be the end of the matter.

On the 24th General Morshead issued a general staff instruction which declared that the division’s battle cunning, developed to a high degree in Tobruk , had “gone a bit rusty”. He instructed, among other measures, that officers on reconnaissance should not make it obvious to the enemy that they were so engaged, that information should be got down to the troops swiftly , that the troops should be made to appreciate that supporting tanks could not remain on the objective for long without risking undue losses, and would leave the objective and rally in rear of the infantry ; the tanks’ task
in attack was to destroy the machine-guns–the infantry’s main enemy— the infantry’s task to destroy anti-tank guns and artillery which might hold up the advance of tanks.

Night-time attacks such as these depended on fairly tight adherence to the timetable, finding and creating large enough gaps in the minefields, and good communications between various units and brigades. This was a tall order, especially since they were all scrabbling about in the dark in stony desert scrub where it was all too easy to lose a sense of direction even in middle of the day. In addition, as Australian Sergeant Joe Madeley points out, there was ‘artillery pounding all night’. Tracer and flares would have been criss-crossing the sky. Small arms and shellfire, dust, and terrific noise would have been the companion of the men trying to clear the mines, a highly hazardous task at the best of times.

With this in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that Operation Manhood soon floundered although it started well enough for Eighth Army. The 2/28th Australian Battalion had carefully planned and reconnoitred for its second attack on Ruin Ridge . The battalion crossed .the start-line—between Kilo 8 and Kilo 9—punctually at midnight 26th-27th July in bright moonlight with two companies forward on a front of 800 yards . The rate of advance was 100 yards in two minutes. Lieut-Colonel McCarter, commanding the battalion since the 23rd, had warned his officers that during the advance fire could be expected from the flanks and told them that the men must answer it by firing from the hip without changing direction or halting.

Eight hundred yards from the start-line the battalion came under fire from field guns, mortars and machine-guns. Among the casualties were the commander of the right forward company (Captain Carlton 8 ), and the commander (Captain Stenhouse 9 ) and one other officer of the right rear company . The vehicles bearing the supporting arms were fired on by anti-tank guns as soon as they began to advance and, when about Kilo 10, were halted by a minefield . Soon five vehicles, including thre e
carriers, had been knocked out and some began burning .

By 1.10 a.m. the leading companies were on Ruin Ridge . The left rear company cleared its objective with a bayonet charge . Soon McCarter’s headquarters had been established about 900 yards north-west of the Ruin Ridge. But all attempts to get the telephone cable past the minefield under heavy
enemy fire had failed and the battalion’s wireless set had been destroyed. When the men began to dig in they found the ground hard and rocky and could only make shallow trenches about a foot deep. Three company commanders had then been wounded . The whole area was under heavy fire. And efforts to deal with the German weapons pouring enfilading fire across the minefield had failed.

As soon as a narrow gap had been made in the minefield six anti-tank guns, two carriers and a machine-gun truck had passed through, but now four vehicles were in flames there, brightly illuminating the surrounding terrain and blocking the gap . The remaining vehicles carrying supportin g
arms then returned to the assembly area, and the surviving carriers—five out of ten—began ferrying back about 50 wounded men and escorting back the prisoners, of whom 115 Germans and 12 Italians prisoners were eventually brought out back to Eighth Army.

Unless the lethal minefield block was forced and help brought quickly or the 2nd Armoured Brigade could break through after British 69th Brigade 's converging attack and arrive from the east, the West
Australian battalion would be in dire peril. At 2 a.m. the 69th British Brigade had advanced, but soon the leading battalion—the 6/Durham Light Infantry—came under fire and some men took cover in old slit trenches. "From this time onwards, " wrote the leader of a liaison patrol from the 2/28th, Lieutenant Rule, “the advance became disorganised and was made worse owing to the East Yorkshire Regiment
passing through and mixing with 6 DLI .” Part of the brigade forced a small gap through the enemy’s front but in general the attack became disaordered.

The Australians and British infantry captured their objectives , but not until 3 a.m. Word came back by 1.30 a.m on the morning of 27th July that the gaps in minefields had been partly cleared. There was confusion as they passed through the minefields but two battalions were clear by 8 a.m., by which time it was clear daylight. More confusion about what gaps had been made by whom and where followed, which meant British 2nd Armored Brigade (AGAIN) was greatly delayed and left two advance battalions of 24th Australian Brigade and one Durham Infantry Battalion of British 69th Brigade totally exposed to German counter attack beyond minefields at Mitierya ridge.

Sidi Haneish , Egypt : In a daring but brilliant night special forces attack , SAS (Special Air Service) detachment commanded by Major David Stirling staged a suprise raid to Axis held Sidi Haneish airfields just west of Mersa Matruh. After entering Egypt , Panzer Army Afrika was in dire need of logistical supplies due to overstretching of rear supply lines all the way to Italy across Mediterranean to Italian held Libyan harbours in Tripoli , Benghazi and recently captured by low unload capacity Tobruk and Mersa Matruh (last two were under heavy RAF air attack constantly and never performing in full capacity anyway) So Rommel was relying more and more on Luftwaffe air bridges from Greece and Italy using heavy and clumsy JU-52 and HE-111 transport planes to bring supplies to Axis airfields close to frontlines at El Alamein.

Stirling had been concocting a plan for some time to strike at the Sidi Haneish Airfield, an airfield complex located 235 mi (378 km) west of Cairo, which the Germans called Haggag el Qasaba. The raid would involve using an unfamiliar tactic to the SAS; storming the base in vehicles, rather than discreetly penetrating. Stirling briefed his men on the raid and enlisted the Long Range Desert Group to provide vehicles and transport. He thought that the firepower and speed of the jeeps would be enough to overcome the German defences. The raiders would drive 50 mi (80 km) through the desert from a hideout in Bir el Quseir to the airfield and then overrun it in eighteen jeeps in two columns, with Stirling at the lead. Each jeep had four Vickers K machine guns, a rapid-firing weapon, originally designed for Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft. On the night of 25/26 July, the men held a dress rehearsal.

The SAS raid commenced on the night of 26/27 July, with the eighteen jeeps, each carrying three or four British or French commandos, navigating the desert without headlights and trying to keep formation. The weather was ideal with a full moon and no clouds. As the raiders approached the airfield, the lights lining the runway switched on, causing a degree of panic among the commandos who feared they had been detected but the lights had been turned on for a Luftwaffe bomber to land. Stirling fired a green flare and ordered the jeeps forward onto the airfield in ‘V’ formation. The SAS jeeps stormed the airfield, using their K guns, loaded with tracer ammunition, to fire on the parked German aircraft which included Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers, Ju 52 cargo aircraft and Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters. German troops replied with machine-guns and anti-aircraft weapons, disabling one jeep. Lance Bombardier John Robson, a 21-year-old SAS soldier, was manning a machine-gun when he was shot and killed, making him the only Allied casualty of the assault. The raiders used most of their ammunition and manoeuvred to escape after a last sweep for undamaged aircraft. Paddy Mayne leapt from a jeep to place a bomb in the engine of a parked bomber before withdrawing. The raiders had destroyed or damaged total 41 Luftwaffe aircraft including 37 valuable JU-52 transport planes Rommel relied so much for supplying and reinforcing his troops from air.

The raiders escaped into the desert, less one jeep and one man killed and split into groups of 3–5 jeeps, seeking to evade detection by German aircraft since only two and a half hours of darkness remained; in daylight, they would become vulnerable to air attack. The SAS hid during the day, camouflaging their vehicles and all but one group reached Bir el Quseir. The group of jeeps operated by the French SAS were slowed by punctures and breakdowns, exposing them in the desert. They were spotted by four Stuka dive-bombers which made nine attacks, fatally wounding paratrooper André Zirnheld. After the Stukas ran out of ammunition, the commandos boarded the last operational jeep and reached safety.

After this attack Germans began to call Major David Stirling “Phantom Major”

Germany : 403 British bombers (181 Wellington, 77 Lancaster, 73 Halifax, 39 Stirling, and 33 Hampden) from RAF Bomber Command attacked Hamburg, Germany, destroying 823 houses, damaging 5,000 houses, killing 337, wounding 1,027, and making 14,000 homeless; 14 bombers were lost on this mission.

Kalach , Don River , Russia : German Sixth Army broke through the lines held by Soviet 62nd Army and 64th Army west of Stalingrad, Russia. 14th Panzer Corps broke through and reached the Don, where the new Soviet First and Fourth Tank Armies conducted several futile counter-attacks by inexperienced troops.

Soviet 64th Army’s position was none too secure: with crossings over the Don, fast German units could strike straight across the neck of land between the Don and the Volga, thirty-five miles or so of steppe, straight on to Stalingrad, and as Kolpakchi’s 62nd was snarled up in a German noose, Vasili Chuikov’s 64th Army commander, half-formed as it was, came under further heavy attacks on 25–6 July. The junction between 62nd and 64th Army was exposed. Chuikov rushed tanks, artillery and a force of marines across the rail bridge over the Don, to hold the line of the Chir where it ran into the Don, but when a shout went up that the German tanks were moving in, Chuikov’s rear units took to their heels on the instant. ‘A mass of men and vehicles rushed towards the Don’, bombed and strafed by German planes. On the evening of 26 July, Colonel Novikov (64th Chief of Staff) ordered a retreat across the Don, though the bridge at Nizhne-Chirskaya had been blown to bits in the late afternoon. After a tussle with his own troops, Chuikov finally managed to anchor himself on the Don.

The Germans never ceased to be astonished at the profligacy of Russian commanders with their men’s lives. On 27th July , one of the worst examples of Soviet crudeness in tactics came during German defensive battles west of the Don. Three battalions of Red Army trainee officers, without weapons or rations, were sent against the 16th Panzer Division. Their commandant, who surrendered after the massacre, told his captors that when he had protested ‘about this senseless task’, the army commander, who was clearly drunk, had bellowed at him to get on with it.

The Red Army still suffered from the old fear of initiative left from the purges. But out of the latest disasters in the south, which finally destroyed the reputations of Stalinist witch-hunters, a new breed of commander was starting to emerge - energetic, pitiless and much less afraid of commissars and the NKVD. Zhukov’s achievements provided the light and the hope for many other rising officers, furious at the Red Army’s humiliations.

General Vasily Chuikov, soon to become the army commander in Stalingrad, was one of the most ruthless of this new generation. His explosions of temper were compared to those of Zhukov. His strong, peasant face and thick hair were typically Russian. He also had a robust sense of humour and a bandit laugh which exposed gold-crowned teeth. Soviet propaganda later portrayed him as the ideal product of the October Revolution.

Chuikov had missed the first disastrous six months of war, having been in China as a military attaché accredited to Chiang Kai-shek. After his recall to the Soviet Union, he became acting commander of a reserve army near Tula. Early in July, when still suffering from a spinal injury, he received orders to move his incomplete divisions, now designated the 64th Army, to hold the Germans west of the Don. Chuikov, accompanied by his chief commissar, Konstantin Kirkov ich Abramov, reached Stalingrad Front headquarters on 16 July. They heard that the enemy was advancing rapidly towards the Don, but nobody had any details. The 62nd Army was spread out on the upper part of the Don’s eastern loop, and Chuikov had to bring his divisions in to cover the lower part, south of the river Chir. He was understandably worried about the morale of the army on his left, having intercepted a lorry full of officers with spare cans of fuel, escaping to the rear without permission.

Just to his right, above the river Chir, the Austrian 44th Infantry Division was heavily engaged against three divisions of 62nd Army. The fighting was particularly brutal. A captured German corporal told his NKVD interrogator that an officer had ordered them to shoot two wounded Red Army soldiers they had found ‘hiding in a ditch’. Further north, however, the Germans had broken through in strength, cutting off many regiments when they reached the Don river at Kamensky.

German reconnaissance planes quickly pinpointed the weak points along the Don, and the deployment of Chuikov’s forward divisions. On 25 July, the German Sixth Army attacked in force. This baptism of fire for the Soviet 64th Army was not made any simpler by dust storms, nor by the fact that essential detachments were still stuck behind in Tula. The next morning brought a German armoured attack, and although the panzers terrified the crews of the light Russian T-60 tanks, which tried to hide in gullies, their shells could do little to the heavy Russian KVI tanks.

‘They (Russian tanks) had a longer range,’ explained a German panzer commander. ‘We could not attack them across the open. So, like ships at sea, I pulled my tanks right back out of sight, made a wide detour, and attacked them from behind.’ The Russian heavy tanks scattered, except for one which had lost a track; its traverse mechanism had jammed, so the turret could not turn. ‘We lined up behind him, and started to shoot. We counted our hits on this tank, but none of them penetrated the armour. Then, I saw the hatch of the tank move. I guessed that they wanted to surrender, so over the radio I told my company to cease fire. The Russians then opened the hatch completely and climbed out.’ The crew were totally confused, shaken and deafened, but not one of them was even wounded. ‘It was depressing to realize how inferior our tank guns were.’

The German strike through the right flank of 62nd Army to the Don soon caused chaos. A rumour spread in the rear echelons of Chuikov’s 64th Army on 26 July that German tanks were about to cut them off. A stampede to the pontoon bridge over the Don began. The panic then infected front-line troops. Chuikov sent staff officers to the river bank to restore order, but German aircraft had already spotted the opportunity. Waves of Luftwaffe IV Air Fleet JU-87 Stuka dive bombers appeared and began their attacks , several of Chuikov’s senior officers were among those killed.

Soviet 62nd Army was in an even worse position. The 33rd Guards Rifle Division, commanded by Colonel Aleksandr Utvenko, found itself trapped on the west bank of the Don, attacked by two German divisions. ‘They would have quickly finished us off if we had not dug ourselves in deeply,’ Utvenko told the writer Konstantin Simonov shortly afterwards. His division, down to 3,000 strong, was having to send the wounded on carts and camels to the rear at night. The Germans were also sustaining heavy losses. On just one battalion sector, 513 German corpses were dragged into a balka, or gully. The Russians were so short of ammunition that they had to attack to capture enemy guns and ammunition. They had so little to eat that they boiled wheat from surrounding fields.

Caucausian Front , Russia : On the basis of Hitler’s Order Nr. 45, Field-Marshal List of Army Group A proposed to use Ruoff’s reinforced Seventeenth Army south of Rostov in a drive on Krasnodar, while Kleist’s First Panzer Army went for Maikop in an outer encircling sweep, covered on the eastern flank by Hoth’s Fourth Panzer aiming for Voroshilovsk. Across the ultimate German line of advance lay the Caucasian mountain range running from the Black Sea to the Caspian, preceded by the steppe lands of the Kuban intersected by the numerous watercourses threading to the Caspian and the Black Sea, the old battle grounds where Russian armies had fought their frontier wars for the subjugation of the Caucasian tribesmen in the days of the tsar.

Facing German Army Group A was three Soviet fronts defending Caucaus though their strength was not ideal for their tasks. In early August, when the German Army Group A (with its Rumanian and Slovak components) had leapt the Don, broken into the Kuban and was racing for the Northern Caucasus, the sights and scenes of 1941 seemed to be repeating themselves in the grim backdrop of mass refugee movement and the overpowering precision of the German blitzkrieg. List’s assault divisions after mid August had overrun most of the Kuban, and were now cutting into the Caucasus, driving on the west to the Black Sea coast and in the east racing for the great oil centres of Grozny and Baku, the campaign which had been projected in October 1941. When German units had reached the lower waters of the Don, from Verkhne-Kurmoyarskaya to the mouth of the river, this 120-mile front was held by the 51st Army of the North Caucasus Front, and the 37th, 12th and 18th Armies of the Southern Front, the whole Soviet force numbering some 112,000 men, with 121 tanks, 2,160 guns and mortars and 130 aircraft (4th Air Army).

Marshal Budenny’s North Caucasus Front, in addition to 51st Army, included 47th Army, 1st Rifle and 17th Cavalry Corps and the 5th Air Army, responsible for defending the eastern shore of the sea of Azov and the Black Sea coast down to Lazarevsk; to the south, General Tyulenev’s Trans-Caucasus Front covered the remainder of the Black Sea coast to Batum and ran on to the Soviet-Turkish frontier. Part of Tyulenev’s force was also deployed in Northern Iran and covered the Iranian-Turkish frontier.

Going over to the offensive on the morning of 25 July, within forty-eight hours the German Army Groıp A units had broken into the Soviet defences to a depth of more than forty miles, though Soviet formations managed by timely withdrawal to slip out of the planned German encirclement south and south-east of Rostov, falling back behind their rearguards holding small river lines and villages.

Kokoda Track , Papua New Guinea : Japanese troops from South Seas Detachment attacked Oivi, Australian Papua at 1500 hours, capturing Captain Sam Templeton of the Papuan Infantry Battalion at about 1700 hours (who was intorragated and then executed by Japanese). The surviving forces of Papua Infantry Battalion at Oivi fell back into the jungle along the Kokoda Trail back to Kokoda village after the dark where first two plattons of 39th Australian Militia Battalion were airlifted and prepared defensive positions. Australian militiamen of 39th Battalion are determined to give a bloody nose to enemy.

39th Battalions D Company’s 16 Platoon arrived by air at Kokoda in two flights on 26 July. The first flight arrived at 10:00, the second, at 11:30. They were immediately sent forward as they arrived. The first flight had joined Papuan Infantry Battalion at Oivi before the Japanese attack at 15:00.

Papuan Infantry battalion amd Australian platoons were able to hold the Japanese (who staged a frontal attack on Oivi in the afternoon and repulsed by defenders who inflicted heavy casaulties on Japanese advance units) for a time , before being forced to retire on a secondary position after Japanese began outflanking their positions. Captain Templeton was concerned for the second half of the D Company platoon of 39th Milita Battalion yet to arrive – that it might run into Japanese trying to encircle his position. He set out to warn it. There was a burst of fire shortly after he left. Templeton was never seen by the Australians again According to historian Peter Williams, Japanese records show that he was captured by Japanese and subsequently executed. In the afternoon Papuan Infantry Battalion and Australian platoons evacuated Oivi and began retreating back to Kokoda.

The second Japanese attack on Oivi under dark followed a scenario that had worked in China and would unnerve defenders here. Japanese troops would hack through the scrub, banging mess tins and shouting orders in English. It was a tactic that sowed confusion, and the retreating Australians would see much more of it in the coming stages of the campaign. This time, however, the Japanese found the defenders’ clearing empty. A Papuan police boy who had been with the Australians had guided them after dark along Oivi Creek, the cacophony covering the sounds of their departure. By the time the attack was made on the empty clearing, their quarry was well down the path back to Kokoda.

Earlier in the day, Japanese transports delivered 1,020 troops from Rabaul, New Britain to Japanese bridgeheads at Gona and Buna the northern coast of Australian Papua.

South West Pacific : 400 miles southeast of Fiji, American carriers USS Wasp, USS Enterprise, and USS Saratoga hook up, joining the invasion force for Guadalcanal, the most powerful force the US Navy has yet assembled in the Pacific.

Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher meets with the other major commanders aboard his flagship, USS Saratoga. Present are Rear Admiral Victor A.C. Crutchley, commanding the cruiser force, Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, commanding the amphibious force, and Maj. Gen. Archibald Vandegrift, commanding the Marines. The top boss, Vice Admiral Robert Ghormley, is represented by his chief of staff, Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan. That move deprives Ghormley of complete information of the intentions of his subordinates in the first American amphibious assault of the war.

Fletcher presides. He is the Navy’s senior carrier commander, who has led the fleet at Coral Sea and Midway. He possesses an unexcelled but mixed combat record dogged by misadventures. Senior officers (and historians forever after) are wrangling over whether Fletcher suffers from bad luck or ineptitude. Nonetheless, Fletcher has been at sea for 154 of 207 days, has had two carriers sunk under him, and is fatigued and nervous from the strain.

Fletcher starts off by saying that “Operation Watchtower,” the invasion of Guadalcanal (the previous name was “Operation Shoestring”) has little chance of success. He asks how long it will take Turner to unload the supplies put aboard in Wellington last week. Five days, replies Turner. Fletcher says he will withdraw his carriers and their fighter cover in two, to avoid enemy counterattacks. Turner is furious. So is Vandegrift, who says this is not a raid, but a permanent occupation by a full division. Fletcher counter-offers three days. Callaghan takes detailed notes, but does not use his authority as Ghormley’s mouthpiece to keep Fletcher’s carriers on spot. When Callaghan briefs Ghormley, Ghormley takes no action either.

One voice not heard from is Rear Admiral Crutchley, a red-bearded Englishman who commands the cruiser force. A valiant officer, holding a World War I Victoria Cross, he commanded the battleship HMS Warspite at Narvik, sinking three German destroyers in one engagement in April 1940. Now, leading a mixed force of cruisers, some who have never operated together, he neither issues battle plans nor holds exercises.

HMNZS Achilles sails from Suva in Fiji for Bora Bora, where it takes on oil and ice cream.


27 July 1942

Atlantic Ocean : German submarine U-582 torpedoed and sank US cargo ship Stella Lykes 820 miles west of Freetown, British West Africa at 0847 hours; 1 was killed, 49 survived, 2 of whom were captured.
At 1414 hours, German submarine U-752 torpedoed and sank Norwegian cargo ship Leikanger 450 miles southwest of Freetown; 18 were killed, 13 survived. At 1740 hours, U-130 torpedoed and sank British cargo ship Elmwood 670 miles west of Freetown; all 51 aboard survived.

Bay of Biscay : While outbound from Lorient on July 27, a RAF Coastal Command Wellington of the Czech Squadron 311, piloted by J. Stransky, located a German submarine on the surface with airborne radar and Leigh Light then attacked German submarine U-106, commanded by Hermann Rasch. Rasch boldly fought back with his bridge flak guns but near misses with bombs , depth charges and light rocket hits badly damaged U-106. In this battle, one officer was killed and Rasch was wounded, forcing him to abort back to Lorient. U-106 did not sail again until late September.

El Alamein , Egypt : The initial hours of the Allies Operation Manhood offensive in Egypt near El Alamein was successful, but British tanks failed to follow up, thus the subsequent Axis counterattack at dawn inflicted heavy casualties on the exposed forward positions of British 69th Brigade and 24th Australian Brigade at Deir el Dhib and at Ruin Ridge.

The supporting anti-tank units to reinforce 24th Australian Brigades one advance battalion and two other forward battalions of British 69th Brigade that broke through and remained isolated on Mitierniya ridge became lost in the darkness or delayed by minefields, leaving the attackers isolated and exposed when daylight came. Bren carriers, trucks and men all die in mine explosions and flashes that brighten the night and reflect off the hills. There followed a period during which reports from the battlefront regarding the minefield gaps were confused and conflicting. As a consequence, the advance of 2nd Armoured Brigade was delayed. In the morning Rommel launched an immediate counter-attack and the German armoured battlegroups from 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions overran the two forward battalions of British 69th Brigade. This brigade was part of already under strength 50th British Infantry Division and the entire division was no shape to stage an offensive anymore.

Meanwhile, 50th RTR supporting the Australians was having difficulty locating the minefield gaps made by Australian 2/24th Battalion. They failed to find a route through and in the process were caught by heavy fire and lost 13 tanks. By dawn Grman panzer and infantry battlegroups started deployment and counter attacking on exposed positions of 2/28 Australian Battalion despite heavy Brtitish and Australian artillery fire. The unsupported 2/28th Australian battalion on the ridge was overrun by German panzers supported by German 90th Light Infantry mobile units in the morning. British 2nd Armoured Brigade goes into action and smack into mine fields, losing three Grants of 6th Royal Tank Regiment right away. 50 RTR with its Valentines, pressed on, losing 13 before it reached the 2/28th Australian positions. Brtitish tankers find the German panzers in possession of the ground, and have to retreat.

Three battalions, the Australian 2/28th , 6th Durhams and East Yorks from 69th British Brigade were “virtually destroyed, killed or captured.” It took some time for the full extent of the disaster on Ruin Ridge to become known. The 9th Australian Division’s Headquarters knew the 2/28th was in grave danger in exposed position on Mitierniya ridge without armor support by the urgent messages being received at regular intervals. “We are in trouble,” “We need help now,” “We need armour,” they informed the headquarters. An operations report recorded of the tragedy: “The full story of 2/28 Bn’s resistance on the Ridge is not known for not one man who was with them when the counter-attacks began got back.” The report concluded: “After this unfortunate action no further operations were undertaken before the end of the month.” The Division’s War Diary tried to find some solace in a disastrous military action:

“Reported missing from 2/28 Bn were 21 officers and 470 troops, but it is considered that, although the main operation did not succeed, considerable casualties were inflicted on the enemy mainly by our intense and accurate artillery fire.” Despite these hardships the survivors of 2/28 Australian Battalion suffered , the war diary recorded that “their spirit is amazingly good.” Most were probably grateful to be alive.

Since July 10, the Australians had suffered more than 2,500 casualties and had only 100 immediate reinforcements available. General Morshead , 9th Australian Division cıommander sent an urgent telegram to Australia on July 29 asking, “What is earliest we can expect reinforcements from Australia and how many?” For the time being, the Australians had had enough disasters.

Rommel’s verdict: “A dashing counterattack…eventually smashed the Australian wedge, and threw the enemy back to his own lines with heavy losses.” then he wrote to his wife with a renewed confidence thsat supplies and reinforcements trickling in from Greece and Italy across Mediterranean by sea and air transport bridge. “Our worst troubles are behind us I think”

By 10 a.m., Auckinleck finally realising extend of Operation Manhood defeat , called off the battle. The attack has failed, but the Germans are down to their last rounds of medium artillery ammunition. British 69th Brigade suffered 600 casualties and the Australians 400 , mostly captured for no gain. Operation Manhood failed miserably.

Morshead’s fears about Operation Manhood had been borne out and his comments on the operation were blistering: “We expected much of 2 Armd Bde with its Grants, and their failure to enter the battle was a great disappointment, and a very serious one. It is vital that on the next occasion our armour restores the lost faith in them. Fortunately the Valentines supporting us have never hesitated or wavered and have fought well.Until we can be certain about our armour we must have more limited and less exposed objectives than those in recent operations. The only justification for recent objectives was that our armour would effectively operate.”

This marked the end of the First Battle of El Alamein, which saw 11,250 casualties on the Allied side and 17,000 on the Axis side between 1 - 27 July 1942. Due to bad command performance of Eighth Army , British and Dominion forces on defensive killing ground on their advantage , suffered more casaulties than exausted Panzer Army Afrika which had a logistical supply system on verge of breaking down and had less of everything from manpower to tanks.

The July battle, the First Battle of El Alamein, had peculiar results. It began well, halting Rommel’s advance in its tracks and thereby saving the situation in Egypt. As one German staff officer later wrote, “And to Auchinleck fell the honour of being the general who succeeded in checking Rommel’s advance into Egypt, an honour that every German Afrikasoldat who knows what happened does not hesitate to award to him.” Rommel’s chief operations officer, Colonel Siegfried Westphal, always believed that it was this July battle of El Alamein that was the critical one in North Africa. Many years later he told a British interviewer that:

“You succeeded in summer 1942 finally to stop the exhausted rest of the German Army that reached Alamein, and that was absolutely the deciding point. I think the German Army in the desert has never fully recovered from this exhausting campaign, which did begin on 26th May and ended in El Alamein. Besides, it was absolutely unknown to us that you had built up a strong position at Alamein.” (in that regard Rommel’s overambition and overoptimism in the belief that Alexandria and Nile Valley was his for taking in June 1942 also caused him to make a huge strategic blunder to invade Egypt under complate RAF air domination and overstretch his rear supply lines)

However, the military actions of Eighth Army deteriorated after the early days of July to become “often messy, confused and seemingly random to the troops who took part.” The British official history of its intelligence activities is correct to describe these attacks as having a “heavy cost in men and material” while “rarely [being] properly prepared.” By mid-July, “Eighth Army’s losses had now reached an alarming level,” but still Auchinleck persisted in making them. The poorly coordinated, clumsy piecemental offensive actions in mid- and late July all but destroyed the unity of Eighth Army and squandered much of the fighting power of its very best formations. Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Evans recorded a neat summary of the month’s fighting in his battalion’s war diary:

“The month has been fast moving. The approach into the desert, my own dash from PALESTINE to resume command, and then the ever increasing momentum of moves, orders, counter orders, more moves—action and still more action—and heavy casualties.”

This frantic tempo, with its inevitable heavy casualties, denuded the battalion of its junior leadership and imparted hard, painful lessons “too numerous to mention.” While Evans was confident that his men had the measure of the “Bosch,” the numerous lessons and the newly appointed officers meant that “I shall need a period of intensive training to bridge these gaps in knowledge.” Another Australian battalion commander recorded that from the moment his battalion arrived at the El Alamein position, “there was little rest for weary men.” As a result of the actions of July, described as a “fine show,” […] “Many old faces had disappeared from the unit ranks.” The soldiers of Eighth Army also needed rest and a chance to recover their physical condition.

According to Brigadier Howard Kippenberger commander of 5th New Zealand Brigade, at a time when Eighth Army was in “dire need” of nursing back to health, Auchinleck “undertook a series of unnecessary and unsuccessful counter-offensives very badly coordinated and costing … 14.000 casualties.” Kippenberger did not think “that a single one of these was necessary. Brigadier George Clifton , 6th New Zealand Brigade commander echoed Kippenberger’s view. Operations Bacon and Splendour attacks were “regrettable” and cost the Eighth Army thousands “of the best Inf[antry] in the world to no purpose whatever.” Even future Chief of Staff of Eighth Army Brigadier Freddie de Guingand thought that the later offensive operations “were a mistake.” The troops undertaking them were either too tired and “it was difficult to see the object, as … no large scale exploitation was possible." These failed attacks thoroughly undermined any confidence in the Army’s senior commanders.

This lack of confidence in the way Eighth Army was fighting its battles stretched all the way down to the private soldier. Letters of New Zealand soldiers submitted for censorship revealed a strong condemnation of the British High Command, a deep distrust of armored formations and a general belief that the Dominion soldiers were being allocated the hardest fighting. While morale of the New Zealanders was generally good, “There is however a tendency to think ‘The German War Machine is just about perfect compared with the British Army Mess Up.’” Regarding the distrust of the British armor, Brigadier Kippenberger caught the mood in his post war book Infantry Brigadier. He wrote:

“At this time there was throughout Eighth Army, not only in New Zealand Division, a most intense distrust, almost hatred, of our armour. Everywhere one heard tales of the other arms being let down; it was regarded as axiomatic that the tanks would not be where they were wanted in time.”

This mistrust and lack of confidence in Eighth Army’s abilities originated with its commander, Auchinleck. Major General Douglas Wimberley, who had arrived in Egypt ahead of his 51st (Highland) Division, was at Eighth Army headquarters during the debacle of July 27. There he witnessed “Auchinleck pacing up and down in front of the mess, and for a time he had me to walk with him. Auk looked like a worried and anxious man and as the day wore on it became more and more clear that the fighting had not been very successful. Altogether my impression of HQ 8th Army was not one at that time to give great confidence.”

Auchinleck’s reputation and fate is reminiscent of the Gallipoli commander General Sir Ian Hamilton. Both are often portrayed as tragic, lonely figures; men who, despite their considerable military skills, could not bring these to change the military circumstances they faced. Both ended up being overwhelmed by events and were then ignominiously replaced. In Auchinleck’s case, this is misleading. Hamilton never had the same resources allocated to Auchinleck and never outnumbered the opponents he faced. Most of Auchinleck’s problems were of his own making and he was not placed in an unwinnable position from his campaign’s inception like Hamilton found himself in 1915 off Dardanelles. As early as March 1942, Eric “Chink” Dorman-Smith , back then Auchinleck’s military advisor (despite he himself causing half of the problems and doctrine muddle in Eighth Army) had warned Auchinleck in a written report that Eighth Army, with its amateur tactics, widespread desert jargon, and old-boy network was “more of a club than a strictly disciplined entity.” Auchinleck had ignored this sound assessment.

The South African historian J.A.I. Agar-Hamilton certainly had Auchinleck’s measure when he wrote that:

“Auchinleck as a commander was hopeless, but not because he was a fool. He possessed in fact both a first class military brain and good fighting spirit. What he lacked was leadership. He never seemed to be able to get anyone to obey him.”

It was an astute assessment. In confirmation of Agar-Hamilton’s last point, Howard Kippenberger confirmed Auchinleck’s lack of leadership skills. According to Kippenberger, “I myself heard him say—‘It is like everything else in this Army, if I want a thing done I have to do it myself.’” British author and wartime press officer in Cairo, Lawrence Durrell, thought that Auchinleck was “absolutely charming.” But Durrell also recalled that Auchinleck “had no real personality” and, as a result, “he just could not inspire men to action.” To this, Freyberg would add that Auchinleck was “one of the finest characters imaginable but he was stubborn and one of the worst judges of men.” Freyberg believed that until the appointments of Montgomery and Alexander in August 1942, “the prestige of British generalship was at its lowest possible point.”

Auchinleck was certainly not helped by his choice of corps commanders, either, which reflected his inability to judge their qualities. The six-foot, former army boxing champion, General Strafer Gott commanding 13th Corps (most of British armored formations in this corps), for example, had strong leadership skills and, because of his calm courage in the face of so many crises, he had become “an almost legendary figure to the officers and men of the Eighth Army.” While Gott was universally admired, he was content to follow his own path rather than implement Auchinleck’s orders. Freyberg thought that Gott was “a likeable man and a brave one. But there was something very wrong with the way he worked.” Agar-Hamilton’s view was that Auchinleck was continually undermined by Gott. He wrote shortly after the war that “The Auk was undoubtedly unlucky in having to deal with one with such outstanding qualities of leadership, a legendary personality, and a complete absence of military sense.” This applied to most of Auchinleck’s key appointments. Kippenberger thought that British armored commanders (General Lumdsen , Brigadiers Briggs , Fisher , Gatehouse) were “wretched fellows” who never read military history and consequently “evolved practices contrary to the experience of war.

In the July battle, Auchinleck was fortunate that Vice Air Marshal Mary Conningham’s DAF (Desert Air Force) had total air superiority over the battlefield. Without this, Eighth Army’s casualties would have been much higher than they were. Robin Neillands wrote, “In this continual July fighting, much of the credit on the British side must go to the Desert Air Force.” It had been the DAF’s busiest month of the war to date. During July, its squadrons had flown more than 15,000 sorties, which was “an average of over 500 attacks a day.” Heavy air interdiction and attacks of Desert Air Force combined with Rommel’s worsening supply situation due to his reckless dash into Egypt that broke down his logistics in rear and exhaustion of Panzer Army and its inability to replace casaulties without a rest time for at least six weeks after capture of Tobruk as agreed in planning stage of Operation Venezzia by Axis leadership Rommel , Kesselring , Hitler , Mussolini and Cavellero) in April 1942 , rather than because of any sudden new improvement in tactics , these all contributed massively checking Panzer Army at Alamein.

In the summer months of 1942, Eighth Army had incurred a staggering 80,000 casualties. In July 1942, it had suffered more than 13,000 casualties during this First Battle of El Alamein. Most of these were experienced by the infantry divisions doing the hard fighting. The 2nd New Zealand Division had suffered just over 4,000 casualties, the Australian 9th Division 2,552, and the 5th Indian Division some 3,000. Niall Barr wrote a summary of Operation Splendour, which is apt for the First Alamein battle. Barr wrote, “The soldiers of Eighth Army had once again displayed courage and determination but had been let down by faulty tactics, poor planning and a fundamental failure of command.” The constant activity and heavy losses resulting from the poorly planned and ill-coordinated operations had brought Eighth Army “close to exhaustion.” In addition, following the Gazala battle, the loss of Tobruk, the retreat to El Alamein, and the fighting along the Gazala Line, Rommel’s Panzer Army had taken 60,000 British, South African, Indian, New Zealand, Australian and French prisoners and destroyed or captured more than 2,000 tanks and armoured vehicles and 4.000 motorised vehicles (mostly Britih trucks captured by Panzer Army in working condition and delightfully used by Axis trops for transportation and logistics over Via Balbia coastal road By July 1942 , %70 of soft skinned motorised transport vehicles in Panzer Army were British made trucks captured in Gazala , Tobruk and Mersa Matruh and German and Italian troops were consuming British rations , Australian bullybeef and Chesterfield cigarettes captured in intact Tobruk and Mersa Matruh depots )

There was overwhelming evidence to suggest that Eighth Army suffered “a morale crisis in the summer of 1942 and that it severely affected Eighth Army’s performance.” This was caused by the effects of both the Gazala battle and First Alamein. Gazala was a serious defeat with heavy casualties; First Alamein was a tie in and semi strategic victory, but casualties had been needlessly excessive and attempts to drive Panzer Army off key features in late July had also failed. This crisis of morale was evident in the incidence of NYD (N) (Not Yet Diagnosed (Nervous)) or battle exhaustion, which was “disturbingly high.” Also “disturbingly high” were all the other indicators of low morale: sickness, desertion, absenteeism, and surrender. This morale crisis can be directly attributed to Eighth Army’s leadership.

The crisis in Eighth Army’s morale and the request to reinstate the death penalty over Eighth Army in first week of July were clear evidence that Auchinleck was failing in his task of commanding Eighth Army. He could not provide the leadership it needed to win a decisive battle.It was certainly apparent to those at the sharp end of the fighting in the Western Desert that there was a crisis of confidence in Eighth Army. Fortunately for the soldiers and junior commanders of the Army, the political and military authorities in London also had grave concerns with how Eighth Army was being used. Some new brooms were being readied for use.

London , UK : Churchill was always an impatient man and his discontent with the complete lack of progress by the Eighth Army in the preceding six weeks was no secret in Whitehall, where he criticised Auchinleck publically and frequently. British Imperial Chief of Staff General Alan Brooke had done his level best to keep the situation under control and had at least persuaded Churchill not to rush out to the Middle East.

Despite Brooke’s efforts to tone down and check the correspondence that flowed from Number 10, Auchinleck was assailed by more cables. Churchill had learned that a large consignment of new German tanks was on the way to Africa, and he demanded another attack before they arrived. After the failure of Operation Splendour on 27th July , Splendour, Eric-Dorman Smith and Auchinleck were convinced that the army needed comprehensive retraining before it was capable of winning an offensive battle.

On 27 July Churchill had sent a signal to Auchinleck in which he had mentioned a planned visit by British Imperial Chief of Staff General Alan Brooke and himself to Cairo and frontline at Alamein on first week of August and warned of ‘our plans, which are considerable’ Communications on this question flew back and forth until Churchill announced that he would make the trip recommended to him by Julian Amery and come out to the desert in person. ‘Blast the PM,’ was Auchinleck’s comment to Eric-Dorman Smith.

Auchinleck was somewhat naïve and seemed not to appreciate the impact that the failures of Operations Bacon and Splendour had had on Churchill. When the signal of 27 July was sent Churchill was waiting for good news about Operation Manhood. There was no good news and accordingly an already irritated Churchill decided to go Cairo along with General Alan Brooke before he flew to Moscow in second week of August to meet with Stalin personally and break the new to Soviet dictator that there would not be a Second Front in France in 1942 but instead a landing to Northwest Africa.

General Alan Brooke, who had hitherto been a constant supporter of Auchinleck, was now also starting to question his ability as he was the recipient of Auchinleck’s somewhat negative and unenthusiastic letters and wanted to see the situation in Egypt first hand. When the Auk’s final July push failed to bring victory on 27th July , Churchill was distraught and railed at Brooke, ‘pouring out questions as to why Auk could not have done this or that and never giving him the least credit for doing the right thing’. The trouble was, Brooke was beginning to have doubts of his own about compatence of Auchinleck and his command performance. For a while now he had been conscious that all was not well with the Middle East Command, but he was also aware that it was hard to arrive at a proper prognosis from three thousand miles away. He needed to go there himself, talk with the Auk, see the troops and other commanders, and then work out the best way forward. He had wanted to go alone, but the Prime Minister had insisted on coming too, believing it was essential to be able to make decisions on the spot without having to wait for Brooke to report back.

Politically, Churchill was under pressure because the Americans and British had now come to an agreement to mount Operation Torch invasion of French North West Africa. This was much along the lines of the abandoned Gymnast, to take Morocco and Tunisia. Originally, the great plan was for the Eighth Army to destroy Axis forces in Egypt and Libya as part of the wider Allied strategy, but its defeats at Gazala and Tobruk not only failed to further the strategy but, in addition, had damaged British prestige. Churchill was deeply unhappy but Auchinleck did not seem to detect this.

Caucasian Front : In southern Russia, German 17th Army troops captured Bataysk , captured the river bridge in Bataysk and crossed Domn river, while the Sixth German Army attempted to destroy the Soviet bridgehead near Kalach.

Kalach , Don River , Russia : At Soviet side , Stalingrad Front commander General Gordov and STAVKA Chief of Staff Vasilevskii had to rescue 62nd Army, and also 64th from their predicaments. Vasilevskii opted for a counter-attack using the Soviet 1st and 4th Tank Armies, an improvised solution which he had the greatest difficulty in getting Stalin to accept when he first put it to him on 24 July. Major-General Moskalenko took command of the 1st Tank Army (13th, 28th Tank Corps, 158th Tank Brigade, 131st Rifle Division) to attack from Kalach in the direction of Verkhne-Buzinovka and then to turn for Kletskaya: Major-General V.D. Kryuchenkin’s 4th Tank Army (22nd, 23rd Tank Corps, 18th Rifle Division, 133rd Tank Brigade and artillery regiments) was to cross to the western bank of the Don from Kachalinskaya (right in the depth of the bend) during the night of 28 July, and that morning attack due west to Verkhne-Golubaya and thence link up with 1st Tank at Verkhne-Buzinovka. Major-General Danilov’s 21st Army behind the Don between Serafimovich and Kletskaya, would attack at 03.00 hours 27 July, and break into the rear of the German units gripping 62nd Army.

In Vasilevskii’s opinion, there was no other way out, even though the tank armies were scarcely fit for the job; 1st Tank Army was merely 38th Army given a new designation, as was 4th Tank (formerly 28th Army). These were the remnants of the South-Western Front, still fearfully undermanned. German reconnaissance planes watched the Soviet forces forming up, and leisurely counted their tanks, as they plotted their positions.

For Vasilevskii’s counter-blow, three Soviet tank corps and two brigades – 550 tanks, more than half KVs and T-34s – five rifle divisions and Khryukin’s 8th Air Army were to be committed. Nor was Gordov a man to be trifled with; absolutely impatient of any subordinate’s suggestion and not to be moved from his own decisions, he had a rigidity which added a visible unreality to the proposed attack. Nikishev’s orders, certainly precise enough, nevertheless specified tasks for divisions and corps which the commanders of 62nd and 64th Armies simply could not find: ‘Look for them between the Liska and the Don’ was all the help they got from Front HQ.

At the end of July, as the Soviet tank formations in Kalach bridgehead waded separately and under heavy air attack into their counter-attack, the situation in the bend of the Don came to a furious boil. Moskalenko’s 1st Tank Army engaged its 13th and 28th Tank Corps on time, but to the right 4th Tank Army was two days late: by 16.00 hours on 27 July, only seventeen of 22nd Tank Corps had crossed the Don, and both tank armies were hammered mercilessly by the Luftwaffe IV and VIII Air Fleets, which (by Soviet reckoning) launched more than 1,000 sorties against Moskalenko alone. German air attacks smashed up HQS and signal centres making co-ordination impossible. Vasilevskii himself went up to observe Moskalenko’s attack and to question the tank corps commanders: bit by bit, 13th Corps chewed its way across the steppe to the north-west, towards Colonel Zhuravlev’s encircled ‘operational group’ on 62nd Army’s right wing, west of Verkhne-Buzinovka. Zhuravlev began to fight his way to the Soviet tanks. Kryuchenkin’s 4th Tank, with a little more armour over the Don, also struck at 14th Panzer Corps; 1st Tank Army, for all its repeated attempts, could not break through to the north with its main strength, while Kryuchenkin had not yet managed to get more than 100 tanks across the Don. Stalin meanwhile directed Gordov’s attention to the crisis south of Kalach, and a Stavka directive instructed him to move 23 Tank Corps to stiffen 64th Army, to use two rifle divisions of the Stavka reserve and to push the German forces back from Chir and the Don: any German breakthrough here would destroy the southern face of the defence and bring German units right out into the rear of the Stalingrad Front. To thicken the southern defences, Gordov decided to move up Major-General F.I. Tolbukhin’s 57th Army to this face of the defences.

Birmingham , UK : Before dawn, German bombers attacked Birmingham, England, United Kingdom. After daybreak, a single German bomber attacked Manchester, England, killing 3 and wounding 7 in the Palmerston Street-Hillkirk Street-Russell Street area

Kokoda Track , Papua New Guinea : Papuan Infantry Battalion and first company of 39th Australian Militia Battalion retreated to Kokoda village. Australian troops began preparing defenses at the Kokoda airfield in Australian Papua. Two transport aircraft carrying reinforcements for the airfield circled the airfield and headed back to Port Moresby without landing the troops, fearing that the airfield was about to be captured.


28 July 1942

Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico : German submarine U-66 torpedoed and sank British cargo ship Weirbank 130 miles east of Tobago at 0040 hours; 1 was killed, 66 survived. At 0715 hours, U-115 torpedoed and sank Brazilian cargo ship Barbacena 350 miles east of Tobago; 6 were killed, 56 survived.
At 2230 hours, U-155 torpedoed and sank Brazilian tanker Piave 350 miles east of Tobago; 1 was killed, 34 survived

Atlantic Ocean : At 0800 hours, U-754 sank US fishing boat Ebb with her deck gun 60 miles south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; 5 were killed, 12 survived.

English Channel : German anti aircraft ships V-202 Hermann Bosch and V-203 Carl Reiner were intercepted , shelled and sunk by Royal Navy destroyers HMS Calpe and HMS Cottesmore off Le Havre , France.

El Alamein , Egypt : General Auchinleck had failed to grip Eighth Army sufficiently and he lacked the leadership skill required of a senior field commander. But he was intelligent and well aware that his army had significant problems. In late July, he made an attempt to address the most pressing of these: his disobedient corps commanders and the failure of the armored formations to be where they were most needed. “Indiscipline at the top” was “a recurrent theme” in Eighth Army’s recent defeats. Auchinleck’s orders “were received, doubted, questioned, discussed” by his subordinates and seldom acted upon with alacrity. The soldier/historian David Fraser believed that an overriding cause of Eighth Army’s defeat in the Gazala battle “lay in the leisurely and questioning way in which orders were treated.”

On July 28, Auchinleck called in his two corps commanders, Gott and Ramsden, to discuss his plans for going on the defensive in the short term with the hope of renewing the offensive sometime in September. As a first step he replaced Whiteley (the Brigadier, Chief of Staff Eighth Army) with Brigadier Freddie de Guingand and then turned his mind to restructuring his divisions in an attempt to resolve the lack of cohesion between armour and infantry. Two days later, he held another conference with them, which set out their main tasks for the weeks ahead. Then Auchinleck turned to address the problem of his unreliable, disobedient armored formations.

General Ramsden , commander of 30th Corps was ahead of everyone else in these conferances about identifying real operational and operational doctrine problems of Eighth Army. Ramsden had been given the task of planning a future offensive by the Eighth Army. Ramsden recognised that the succession of failed operations in the past month –Bacon, Splendour and Manhood – all shared one common feature. It was the dearth of infantry and armour cooperation. The infantry had fought successfully but, at the critical time, the armour had not been on hand either to drive home success or provide protection. It should not have taken so long for the penny to drop but Ramsden now grasped the nettle. In his appreciation he made it clear that before any offensive could be mounted there was some serious training to be undertaken. Among these were ‘night operations’ (British armour was loath to move at night), the ‘passage of minefields’ (23rd Armoured Brigade’s destruction was still fresh in everyone’s minds), and the ‘use of smoke’. Auchinleck gratefully incorporated the thinking of his two corps commanders into his own appreciation and it showed ‘that he was thinking in a fertile and imaginative way.’ Similarly, Gott, although deeply involved in operations for months and probably tired, nevertheless demonstrated ‘the high quality of his military thinking’.

Although they were on right track , thinking was all they could do. They could not lead the men under their command efficiently (though Ramsden was promoted corps command only three weeks ago) and lost confidence of most of the men , especially Commoneealth units in Eighth Army.

At the end of July and in the first few days of August, three military appreciations were written by senior officers of Eighth Army in Cairo. All three were used to develop a blueprint for Eighth Army’s defensive positioning in August and outlined plans to counter Rommel’s next offensive, which was expected to happen later that month. The first, prepared by Brigadier Eric “Chink” Dorman-Smith on July 27, was the most important of these. While Dorman-Smith himself was blamed for many of the problems afflicting Eighth Army at this time, Dorman-Smith’s Appreciation was to be the most influential of the three. In fact, due to its clarity of thought and the logical framework it contained, it was used as a model appreciation at the British Command and Staff College for many years after the war. Determined to prevent more failures like the attacks at Ruweisat and Ruin Ridge, Dorman-Smith’s Appreciation “led to three main conclusions.” The first was that Eighth Army was in no fit state to carry out further offensive operations. The reason for this was clear:

“None of the formations in Eighth Army is now sufficiently well-trained for offensive operations. The Army badly needs either a reinforcement of well-trained formations or a quiet period in which to train.”

According to Dorman-Smith Apreciation , Eighth Army therefore needed to “adopt the tactical defensive until we are strong enough to attack.” This could not be until “mid-September at the earliest.” Eighth Army would now have to sit on the defensive and await the arrival of the vast amounts of material now in transit to Suez. Rommel, however, could not afford to wait that long, and was likely to attack in the southern sector around mid- to late August. Rommel would “certainly try to attack before the end of August,” avoiding the strong defensive positions to “seek success in manoeuvre.” Eighth Army should encourage Rommel to “strike prematurely” but rely on its defensive strengths to counter this incoming Panzer Army attack mid-August, say, between August 10 and 20. Meanwhile the army front should be strengthened, and so held that at least one formation could come into reserve and train." It should be prepared to fight a defensive battle in the area El Alamein-Hammam". The possibility that Rommel might choose to mount a deliberate attack against the northern sector of the Alamein front could be discounted for the simple reason that Dorman-Smith knew that the Panzer Army was desperately short of seasoned German infantry. This meant that Rommel would be forced to repeat his operational plan from Gazala by mounting a wide outflanking sweep from the south as his only realistic option. “To meet an enemy’s sortie developing into manoeuvre by the southern flank” the army should organise and train a strong mobile wing based on the 7th Armoured Division. Finally, Eighth Army needed to build up its strength, train its troops hard, and prepare to launch its own offensive in the northern sector but not before “the latter part of September.”

However Dorman-Smith’s Appreciation again makes depressing reading, showing no concern over the danger to Malta, some main operational and organisational problems of Eighth Army like splitting-up of the infantry and armored divisions before or during operations and deploying them piecemental only to be destroyed piecemental, the effectiveness of the enemy’s anti-tank guns, the lack of co-operation within the army and between army and air force, and worst of all an encouragement of the tendency towards ‘looking over the shoulder’ by a discussion of further possible retirements, this time within the battle-zone for tactical reasons.

Even worse , mobile wing battle in south flank of Alamein line envisioned by Dorman Smith , was complately unsuitable for Eighth Army. Just how ‘fluid and mobile’ the tanks were to be is well indicated by Major General Roberts, who had taken command of 22nd Armoured Brigade at the end of July. ‘On code word “so-and-so”,’ he tells us, ‘we would move to a specific area with a certain task; on another code word we would move somewhere else, etc. etc.’ Since the chances were high that the wrong plan might be followed in the confusion of combat or as a result of communications problems, and since he was also grimly aware that the British armoured units were not ‘sufficiently well trained for a battle of manoeuvre’, Roberts felt strongly that the situation ‘did not inspire the greatest confidence’.

Such a lack of confidence was in fact general – and with good reason. Had Rommel known of Auchinleck’s plans he would have been delighted for this type of ‘fluid and mobile’ battle was just the sort at which his troops excelled; it was his own desire that events should ‘move fast’, that ‘on no account’ must the engagement ‘become static’. In Eighth Army therefore, ‘a good many people, including notably Freyberg’, declares Field Marshal Carver, thought the tactics proposed by Auchinleck must fail. ‘It would be difficult,’ complains General Richardson, ‘to conceive a tactical plan more unsuited to the units of the Eighth Army at that time’. The ‘suicidal notions’ embodied in Dorman-Smith’s Appreciation and set out in subsequent commands to formations, ‘might almost’ grumbles Lucas Phillips, ‘have been written for Rommel’s express benefit’.

At first, Auchinleck dismissed Dorman-Smith’s Appreciation as being “insufficiently aggressive.” Dorman-Smith then challenged his general to read it again and list the military mistakes made in it. Auchinleck could find none and had to reluctantly accept its logic. On the evening of July 30, British Ministry of of Defence and Joint Chiefs of Staff in London was informed that Eighth Army was going on the defensive while it built up and trained for an offensive later in the year.

This message to London probably sealed Auchinleck’s fate as commander in the Middle East. Churchill himself dealing with immense political pressure from both Russians and Americans , geopolitical strategic problems , the preperations and planning of Operation Torch landings in Northwest Africa and preparing to meet and deal with Stalin in Moscow about bad news of cancellation of a Second Front in Western Europe in 1942 , had enough of Auchinleck’s low command performance in July attacks on Panzer Army at Alamein line (all failed disasterously despite material and manpower superiorty over numerically weak and exhausted Panzer Army Afrika trying to survive a 1.800 mile long supply line all the way to Tripoli and under complate RAF air domination) and especially his supposed lack of aggresiveness ( Eighth Army’s problem was actually it had been too aggressive and launching ill planned and badly prepared attacks because after almost two years of fighting , none of its commanders or Middle East Commanders in Chief had trained their forces sufficiently nor solved doctrine problems at inter arms cooperation and coordination) when Churchill was desperate for any offensive victory in North Africa to clean up shame of Tobruk’s fall and Axis reaching 120 km west of Alexandria , to raise up image of British Armed Forces after all defeats and disasters they suffered during first half of 1942 and asist incoming Torch landings in Africa. The past defeats of Eighth Army from Benghazi to Gazala to Tobruk to Mersa Matruh , all happened under Auchinleck’s watch as Middle East Commander in Chief and discredited him in eyes of General Alan Brooke and Churchill. All this time Auchinleck approved Eighth Army’s failed commanders (Cunningham , Ritchie , Norrie) , their bad planning , deployments and execution of operations , giving optimistic reports while constanly losing ground and being defeated despite all resources and numerical superiorty Middle East Command enjoyed compared to Panzer Army Afrika… Auchinleck was probably planning another attack earlier than everybody thought but he failed to relay that to London and Prime Minister. From a financial perspective , Auk had consumed and wasted almost all the credit he had from the bank.

As the New Zealand official history noted: “It could be said with some justice for a time Eighth Army had ceased to be an army, so that plans of army action made by the commander, General Ritchie, and later by General Auchinleck, had little value. Even corps’ control was uncertain, as the stories of Matruh and Minqar Qaim make evident. It was hardly an army, but rather individual units and formations acting with little concert, that finally, at El Alamein, stopped an enemy exhausted by victory.”

Justifiably Churchill already began to search a new commander for Eighth Army and with influence and lobbying of Foreign Minister Anthony Eden , he was considering General William Strafer Gott as new commanbder of Eighth Army (Eden and Gott were from same regiment)

Moscow , Russia : Stalin sensed that the moment of crisis was at hand. Soviet forces retreating from Paulus’s Sixth Army faced annihilation west of the Don. If the Germans then advanced across the Volga, forty miles further on, the country would be cut in two. Convoy PQ-17 had just been destroyed in the Barents Sea and the new Anglo-American supply line across Persia would soon be threatened. The Soviet Union faced strangulation.

That day, Stalin suddenly stopped pacing up and down his office in the Kremlin while listening to a report from General Vasilevsky. ‘They’ve forgotten my Stavka Order!’ he burst out. This order, issued the previous August, stated that ‘anyone who removes his insignia during battle and surrenders should be regarded as a malicious deserter, whose family is to be arrested as the family of a breaker of the oath and betrayer of the Motherland. Such deserters are to be shot on the spot. Those falling into encirclement … and who prefer to surrender are to be destroyed by any means, while their families are to be deprived of all state allowance and assistance.’

‘They’ve forgotten it!’ Stalin said again. ‘Write a new one on the same lines.’

"When do you want me to report with the new order?’ Vasilevsky asked.

‘Today. Come back as soon as it is ready.’

Vasilevsky returned that evening with the draft of Order No. 227, more commonly known as ‘Not One Step Backwards’. Stalin made many changes, then signed it. The order was to be read to all troops in the Red Army. ‘Panic-mongers and cowards must be destroyed on the spot. The retreat mentality must be decisively eliminated. Army commanders who have allowed the voluntary abandonment of positions must be removed and sent for immediate trial by military tribunal.’ Anyone who surrendered was ‘a traitor to the Motherland’. Each army had to organize ‘three to five well-armed detachments (up to 200 men each)’ to form a second line to shoot down any soldier who tried to run away. Zhukov implemented this order on the Western Front within ten days, using tanks manned by specially selected officers. They followed the first wave of an attack, ready ‘to combat cowardice’, by opening fire on any soldiers who wavered.

Three camps were set up for the interrogation of anyone who had escaped from German custody or encirclement. Commanders permitting retreat were to be stripped of their rank and sent to penal companies or battalions. The first on the Stalingrad Front came into being three weeks later on 22 August, the day before the Germans reached the Volga.

Penal companies - shtrafroty - were to perform semi-suicidal tasks such as mine clearance during an attack. Altogether some 422,700 Red Army men would ‘atone with their blood for the crimes they have committed before the Motherland’. The idea so appealed to the Soviet authorities that civilian prisoners were transferred from the Gulag to shtraf units, some say almost a million, but this may well be an exaggeration. Promises of redemption through bravery usually proved to be false, mainly because of bureaucratic indifference. Men were left to die in their ranks. On the Stalingrad Front, Soviet 51st Army was told to round up officers who had escaped from encirclement. The first group of fifty-eight officers heard that they would be sent in front of a commission to allocate them to new units, but nobody bothered to interrogate them. Instead, they found themselves, without trial or warning, in penal companies. By the time the mistake came to light nearly two months later, they were ‘already wounded or killed’.

The system of NKVD Special Departments, re-established the year before to deal with ‘traitors, deserters and cowards’, was strengthened. The Special Department or OO (Osobyi Otdel) dated back to 1919, when Lenin and Felix Dzerzhinsky, the head of the Cheka, wanted complete control over the armed forces. In April 1943, less than two months after the battle of Stalingrad finished, the Special Departments, under their chief, Viktor Abakumov, became SMERSH, the acronym for Smert Shpionam - Death to Spies.

Rifle divisions had an NKVD Special Department staff of up to twenty officers, with one ‘operational representative’ per battalion, and a headquarters guard unit of twenty to thirty men, who held prisoners and executed ’cowards and traitors‘. The Special Department officer recruited his own agents and informers. According to a former SMERSH informer, he tended to be ’pale because they usually worked during the night‘, and, on parade, he ’looked closely in our faces as if he knew something bad about each one of us‘.

NKVD Special Departments took their work of rooting out spies and traitors with great seriousness. An officer, using the name Brunny, wrote to the author and journalist Ilya Ehrenburg complaining that the newspapers did not publish enough in praise of the Special Departments. ‘It is very difficult to discover an experienced fascist spy. This requires great intelligence and a good eye. An NKVD soldier should be very keen and know the special rules of this game. The press publishes much about the terrible deeds of the Germans, which is necessary. But it is also important to make our soldiers hate traitors.’

Kalach , Don River , Russia : German Sixth Army experienced continuing ammunition shortages, caused by the extraordinarily large numbers of Soviet tanks they were meeting in the Kalach bridgehead. 14th Panzer Corps alone claimed to have knocked out 482 Soviet tanks in the last eight days of the month, and the total Sixth Army claimed was well over 600.

Soviet accounts confirm that strong tank forces were in the Kalach bridgehead, but not as many tanks as the Germans claimed. Moskalenko’s Soviet 1st Tank Army had 13th and 28th Tank Corps (with just over three hundred tanks) and one rifle division. 4th Tank Army, under General Major V. D. Kruchenkin, entered the battle on 28 July with one other tank corps, the 22nd Tank Corps, and pushed west against the 14th Panzer Corps.

Leningrad Front , Baltics : Behind German lines near Leningrad, Soviet partisans kill Adolf Beck, a German official of the economic administration of the occupied territories, who is responsible for shipping Russian agricultural produce to the Fatherland. The partisans kill Beck and burn his barns and granaries. Then they issue a pamphlet announcing Beck’s death, which says, “Russians! Destroy the properties where the men responsible for your evil fate are hiding. Finish off the German landowners. Don’t work for them, but kill every one of them – this is the duty of every Soviet patriot. Drive the Germans from the land of the soviets!”

Germany : 256 British bombers (161 Wellington, 71 Stirling, and 24 Whitley) from RAF Bomber Command were launched to attack Hamburg, Germany, but bad weather forced most of them to turn back before reaching the city; the 68 aircraft that reached Hamburg killed 13 and wounded 48 at the cost of about 30 bombers shot down.

UK : RAF Bomber Command Air Marshal Arthur Harris made a radio broadcast informing German listeners that the bombers would soon be coming "every night and every day, rain, blow or snow - we and the Americans. I have just spent eight months in America, so I know exactly what is coming. We are going to scourge the Third Reich from end to end, if you make it necessary for us to do so … it is up to you to end the war and the bombing. You can overthrow the Nazis and make peace."

Berlin , Germany : SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler received a report from the railroad industry that, since 22 Jul 1942, 5,000 Jews arrived from Warsaw, Poland each day for each of Treblinka Concentration Camp and 5,000 Jews arrived from Przemysl each week for Belzec Concentration Camp.

Auschwitz , Poland : A transport of 1,010 Jews (542 men and 468 women) arrived at Auschwitz Concentration Camp in occupied Poland from Westerbork camp in the Netherlands; after the selection, 473 men and 315 women were registered; the remaining 222 were killed in the gas chambers.

Kokoda Track , Papua New Guinea : By 11:30 am, Lt Col. Owen ,commander of 39th Australian Militia Battalion had reoccupied Kokoda with a force consisting of B Company, the remaining PIB Papuan Infantry Battalion and members of the ANGAU that had joined Maroubra Force, variously numbered at between 80 and 148. Owen called for reinforcements and shortly after, two planes appeared overhead but did not land as the defenders were slow in removing the barricades that had been placed across the airstrip and the pilots believed the situation too risky to land. There are inconsistencies in the various accounts of this event—most significantly, whether this occurred on 28 July or the day earlier, when Owen was about to abandon Kokoda.

The Kokoda plateau is tongue shaped, with steep-sloped sides. The government station is located at its northern tip. The track from Oivi approaches the tip from the east. The track to Deniki runs down its centre to the south. Owen positioned his force around the station at its tip. At 1:30 pm, advance elements of the Japanese force that was to total approximately 200 were sighted. As the Japanese commander, Captain Ogawa, assembled his force, the Australian defenders were harassed through the night, including fire from light mortars and a Type 92 battalion gun, which was particularly telling as the Australians had no means to respond to it.

Espirutu Santo , New Hebrides , South West Pacific : The construction of the American fighter strip at Espiritu Santo was completed.

Tulagi , South West Pacific : American PBY Catalina flying boats bombed Tulagi.

Guadalcanal , Solomon Islands , South West Pacific : …“We are all living on hope,” writes Guadalcanal Coastwatcher Don McFarland to his colleague, Martin Clemens. “If nothing happens before the weekend, I intend to flit. I would suggest you do likewise. Patrols are approaching the Ridge, and I don’t intend to wait here until I can’t get out.”

Coral Sea , South West Pacific : Japanese submarine I-175 torpedoed and sank French cargo ship Cagou in the Coral Sea.


29 July 1942

Caribbean Sea : German submarine U-160 torpedoed and sank Canadian cargo ship Prescodoc off the coast of British Guyana at 1019 hours; 16 were killed, 5 survived.

German submarine U-155 torpedoed and sank 2.500 ton Norwegian cargo ship Bill off Barbados.

Egypt : Auchinleck had a meeting with Major General Richard McCreery, his senior armored advisor, and Major General John Harding, the Director of Military Training. Both men had flown in from Cairo at Auchinleck’s request. At the meeting, Auchinleck outlined a radical plan to change the organization of the armored formations in Eighth Army. With the gulf between armor and infantry in Eighth Army seemingly “unbridgeable,” Auchinleck, on the advice of Dorman-Smith, now believed that the best solution was to “abolish the distinction” and combine the two. That is, every division in Eighth Army would have its own armored and infantry formations. This would usually be one armored and two infantry brigades but the mix could vary according to the allocated mission. It was a radical proposal and McCreery was horrified by it. The meeting was stormy, with a tired and irritated Auchinleck informing McCreery that if he “would not obey orders he could consider himself relieved of his appointment.”

There was considerable merit in Auchinleck’s proposal, but substantial naivety, too. Barr notes, “Auchinleck did not realise the depth of feeling that his proposal engendered amongst the officers of Eighth Army.” It also caused consternation amongst senior officers in the United Kingdom. This inventive approach to a serious shortcoming in Eighth Army shows that not only was Auchinleck well aware of the problem, but he was prepared to take radical steps to solve it but this solution was literally impossible to implement in short term while the campaign and the war still going on and British Commonwealth divisions were organised and drilled in same arms catagory (armor , infantry ) for decades. Auk does not seem to have understood the full consequences of attempting to change the basic organisational structures of the British Army in the middle of the war.

It can be be summarised that Auchinleck was far too ahead for his own good and behalf of winning the war with this proposal. Auchinleck does not seem to have understood the full consequences of attempting to change the basic organisational structures of the British Army in the middle of the war. The War Office had decided upon the concept of distinct infantry and armoured divisions before the war began and, regardless of the changes made in the Middle East, formations would continue to be sent to Egypt as infantry or armoured divisions. Armoured regiments would also continue to arrive as three squadron regiments and this explains much of McCreery’s intransigence. He knew that soldiers who had trained together and been inculcated into the ethos and traditions of one regiment would react badly to being moved suddenly to another on arrival in Egypt. Just as importantly, while in theory every divisional commander should have been capable of commanding a mixed force of armour and infantry the reality was rather different.

General McCreery was supposed to be Auchinleck’s chief adviser on all matters relating to the use of armour. However, soon after his arrival in March 1942, McCreery had felt sidelined by Auchinleck and he disagreed strongly with these new proposals. McCreery later claimed that, ‘I knew the views of all the armoured brigade commanders, and I stuck to my guns, and refused to endorse the many changes in the organisation of the armour.’ Auchinleck became very angry and informed McCreery that if he ‘would not obey orders he could consider himself relieved of his appointment’. The meeting had not gone well.

In the end, only one division in Eighth Army adopted this proposal. Lieutenant General Freyberg, sickened by what had occurred at Ruweisat Ridge and El Mreir, concluded that he needed an armored brigade operating under his command. One of the New Zealand infantry brigades (4th NZ Brigade) would be converted to an armored formation. If offensive operations were necessary during the conversion process, as occurred during the October Alamein battle, Freyberg insisted on having a British armored brigade under his direct command and integrated within the 2nd New Zealand Division. This structure made a considerable difference to the Division’s strike power.

General Douglas Wimberley recently arrived to Egypt with newly reconstructed 51st Highland Division , later explained that soon after he arrived in Egypt he was informed that it was likely that one of his brigades would be sent to an armoured division and that his division would receive an armoured brigade. Wimberley realised that he ‘would have to take a firm stand to prevent . . . “the mucking about” of my Division, which had trained as a single fighting formation for two years or more’. Wimberley saw the concept of the ‘mobile division’ as a clear threat to the powerful esprit de corps that he had built up within his division. He eventually decided that he would rather resign than accept the changes. Auchinleck did not realise the depth of feeling that his proposals engendered amongst the officers of Eighth Army. Auk’s radical proposals met with firm resistance from his subordinates and demonstrated his lack of understanding of the mentality of the British Army.

As the two sides counted their losses, Auchinleck, with his customary care for detail, against a possibility of another Axis breakthough of Eighth Army defences , issued another cautionary withdrawal plan from Alamein line on 28 July. The defences of Alexandria were being strengthened, he said, and the Wadi Natrun position was being constructed.

With what dismay these orders must have been received by frontline troops and officers of Eighth Army! So much hard fighting, and Egypt was still in danger; that was the only interpretation that could be placed on this new information. Auchinleck seemed convinced that Rommel had the upper hand, and certainly what had been his own fully-equipped fighting units when the month began were now little more than shells. It is a sad document, designated for officers only, an operation instruction rather than an order, No 108, signed by him personally instead of by his Chief-of-Staff, Whitely, whose elegant script normally certified the orders. Actually Auchinleck and his staff made this withdrawal plan from Alamein to Nile just in case of an enemy breakthough as a contemporary plan since they were already in process of reorganising of army , defences of Alamein line and a future offensive but they failed to transmit that to their subordinates. Auk’s failure of impose authority anmd leadership was on display again.

Caucasian Front , Russia : Proletarskaya was captured by 1st Panzer Army troops as they formed a bridgehead over the Manych River in the Caucasus in southern Russia.
On 29 July the Germans cut the last direct railway between central Russia and the Caucasus, causing considerable panic to Stalin and Stavka.

Russia : The Soviet Union established the Order of Suvorov for leading successful offensive campaigns, Order of Kutuzov for leading successful defensive campaigns, and Order of Nevsky for personal courage

Vinnitsa , Ukraine : Hitler , realising that diverting Fourth Panzer Army towardsArmy Group A sector in Rostov , did not accomplish much so he ordered Fourth Panzer Army to return back north to Army Group B sector at Don river that is still struggling to eliminate Soviet bridgeheads at Kalach

With the Don crossing secured and German Sixth Army’s advance flagging on the Volga front, Hitler transferred the Fourth Panzer Army to Army Group B and sent it back to the Volga. The redeployment used enormous amounts of fuel to transfer the army by air and road. The loss in time and the cost in fuel were not mentioned in German General Staff though.

Germany : 291 British bombers from RAF Bomber Command attacked Saarbrücken, Germany, destroying 396 buildings, damaging 324 buildings, and killing 155 civilians; 9 bombers were lost on this attack.

Kokoda Track , Papua New Guinea : 200 Japanese troops supported by a Type 92 light howitzer attacked Kokoda airfield in Australian Papua at 0230 hours. After suffering 7 killed, the remaining 70 Australian defenders from 39th Militia Battalion , fell back toward Deniki; the Japanese suffered 12 killed and 26 wounded in this engagement but captured Kokoda village and airfield.

The main Japanese attack commenced at 2:30 in the early morning of 29 July. The Australian defenders although numerically inferior and had no heavy weapons against Japanese mortars and light artillery , still managed to repulse Japanese attacks throuyghout the day. Lt. Colonel Owen was in the forward positions to inspire his troops and received a mortal gunshot wound above his right eye. Major Watson assumed command and, as the force was being overrun, evacuated Kokoda and withdrew to Deniki in midnight and Japanese vanguard battalion occupied Kokoda on the morning of 30th July.

By morning, the Japanese had occupied Kokoda and the grass airstrip below. They had taken possession of a number of weapons left behind: 180 grenades, 1850 rifle rounds and five machine-guns. These troops carried five-shot bolt-action Arisaka Type 38s, often too long for short soldiers, who found it difficult to reach the bolt when the rifle was shouldered for firing and a poor match for automatic weapons like the Bren and Lewis guns. The Japanese grenades had to be struck on the ground at forty-five degrees to activate their four- or five-second fuse. Both rifles and grenades dated from the Russo-Japanese War. The Japanese light machine-guns didn’t work very well either. Troops eventually used captured machine-guns for fighting, as long as they could find ammunition. On the other hand, two weapons that performed devastatingly well for the Japanese on Kokoda were the wheel-mounted Model 41 mountain artillery gun and the Juki heavy machine-gun (Model 92). The newer Juki was known by Allied troops as the ‘woodpecker’ for its tat-tat-tat sound. There had been gains of weapons and territory, including an airstrip the Japanese would never use, but the price paid in casualties was not cheap. Lieutenant Hirano, whose platoon had been carrying provisions to the front line, heard that over twenty men had been killed or wounded in taking Kokoda, including a company commander, Lieutenant Ogama. ‘It left me dazed for a while,’ he wrote.

Buna, Papua New Guinea : To the north, a Japanese convoy landed troops at Buna; at 1445 hours, eight US Dauntless dive bombers escorted by P-39 fighters from Port Moresby attacked the convoy at Buna, US Daumtless dive bombers hit and sank troop ship Kotoku Maru as she returned back Rabaul.


30 July 1942

Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico : German submarine U-166 torpedoed and sank American cargo-passanger ship Robert E. Lee (which was full of civilian pasangers) 50 kilometers southwest of New Orleans, Louisiana, United States at 2230 hours; 25 were killed, 379 survived. Escorting US Navy patrol chaser USS PC-556 counterattacked with depth charges and sank the German submarine, although the sinking was not confirmed until after the war; all 52 aboard U-166 were lost.

At 1958 hours, German submarine U-155 torpedoed and sank US cargo ship Cranford 250 miles east of Barbados; 11 were killed, 36 survived.

At 2048 hours, German submarine U-130 torpedoed and sank British cargo ship Danmark 550 miles south of the Cape Verde Islands; all 46 aboard survived.

Atlantic Ocean : German submarine U-132 attacked Allied convoy ON-113 100 miles southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada at 0110 hours, torpedoed and sinking British cargo ship Pacific Pioneer; all 71 aboard survived.

Rzhev Front , Russia : Soviet troops launched an offensive near Rzhev, Russia, aiming to surround six German divisions.

Kalach , Don River , Russia : German Army Group B started a new attack on Soviet bridgehead at Kalach-na-Donu in southern Russia, west of Stalingrad.

The previous hasty Soviet attacks by 1st and 4th Tank Armies failed to throw the Germans back, but they forced the German advance to halt and compelled the German units to engage in combat at a time when their stocks of supplies were low. By 30 July, General Franz Halder at OKH noted in his diary, “Sixth Army’s striking power is paralyzed by ammunition and fuel supply difficulties.” During this phase, the Soviets fought at a disadvantage as the Luftwaffe dominated the air over the Kalach Bridgehead and repeatedly struck the 1st and 4th Tank Armies.

During the battle for the city approaches in late July and August, Luftflotte VIII provided German Sixth Army with constant and effective air support, bombing Red Army troop formations, tanks, vehicles, artillery and fortified positions in the battle area and simultaneously blasting enemy supply depots and logistical infrastructure, mobilization centers and road, rail and river traffic. Generalmajor Wolfgang Pickert’s 9th Flak Division used its anti-aircraft guns for ground combat against Soviet fortifications and vehicles and against those Soviet fighters and ground-attack aircraft that kept clear of Luftwaffe fighters. Sixth German Army’s commander, General Friedrich Paulus commander of Sixth Army personally praised Pickert’s close cooperation with his army.

A number of German panzer commanders made dismissive remarks about the stupidity of the enemy, leaving tanks halted in the open, and thus presenting perfect targets for Stukas or the 88-mm anti-aircraft guns, deadly in a ground role. They knew that the T-34 was overall a much better armoured fighting vehicle than anything which Germany had yet produced. On the other hand its gunsight was not very good, few Russian commanders had decent binoculars, and even fewer had radios. The Red Army’s greatest weakness, however, was its poverty of tactics. Their tank forces failed to use terrain properly and demonstrated little familiarity with the principles of fire and movement. And, as General Chuikov commander of Soviet 64th Army readily acknowledged, they were incapable of coordinating attacks with Red Army aviation.

Still complacency sometimes led the Germans into relaxing their guard. At first light on 30 July, a group of Soviet T-34s, having approached under cover of darkness, surprised 16th Panzer Division headquarters in a village. Officers struggled into their clothes as shells exploded among the headquarters and rear-echelon vehicles. Podewils, the war correspondent then attached to the division, stuck his head outside. ‘Not an encouraging sight’, he noted in his diary. ‘Vehicles of every sort chaotically trying to overtake each other as fast as they could to get away!’ The Germans had also been surprised on the previous day by another unexpected skirmish, which 16th Panzer Div. commander General Hube drily called a ‘Hussar affair’.

The initial shock was soon over. A company from the 2nd Panzer Regiment arrived, and very soon six T-34s were ablaze in the open on some marshy low ground. One T-34, in a suicidal attack, charged at the divisional transport vehicles in the village, but suddenly encountered a German panzer which, ‘with a direct hit at point-blank range, literally blasted its turret into the air’. Hube, after observing the early morning action, remarked to Podewils: ‘You’d better go up to the front line. It’s safer there.’ Podewils and his companion left later in the morning. They drove forward over the corduroy road across the marsh. One of the blackened T-34s still smouldered. It gave off ‘the smell of burnt flesh’.

At corps headquarters he heard that over the last eight days the Red Army had sent nearly a thousand tanks across the Don: just over half of them had been destroyed. These figures were greatly exaggerated. The Red Army commander had only 550 tanks allocated, and many of them never managed to cross the Don. Wildly over-optimistic reports from the front were largely to blame. One panzer crewman observed that ‘whenever a Russian tank was hit, almost every panzer in the battle claimed it as a kill’. Yet the sight of so many destroyed Russian tanks impressed all who saw it. General von Seydlitz said that from afar the shot-out KVs looked like ‘an enormous herd of elephants’. Whatever the exact figure destroyed, many Germans felt convinced that they must be close to total victory. The Russian hydra could not go on for ever growing more heads for them to chop off.

Fourth Panzer Army under command of General Hermann Hoth started a massive turn to north to outflank Stalingrad Front on Don river from south

Baltic Sea : Soviet submarine S-7 torpedoed and sank German cargo ship Kathe 1 mile off Pavilosta, Latvia.

Dutch East Indies : Japanese troops landed on Aru, Babar, Kai, and Tanimbar islands in the Moluccan Islands, Dutch East Indies; light Dutch resistance at Kai and Tanimbar opposed the landings, killing a small number of Japanese troops

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31 July 1942

Atlantic Ocean : A very bad day for German Navy , three German submarines were sunk in same day in different locations of Atlantic. Suprisingly no Allied vessels was sunk in either Atlantic or Mediterranean this day.

A Royal Canadian Navy Hudson aircraft (Squadron Leader Norville Small) located and sank German submarine U-754 on the surface 120 miles southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; all 43 aboard were killed. After triangulation of location of U-754 by HF/DF radio tracking stations on land , Royal Canadian Navy aircraft started an intense submarine hunt off Nova Scotia on 31 July. Flying at 3,000 feet in good weather, RCN Hudson aircraft pilot Small saw U-754 running on the surface three miles distant. As Small dived to attack, deck crew on U-754 caught sight of the Hudson and scrambled for the conning-tower hatch, but it was too late to get deep. Small dropped four depth charges that fell close, then circled the area for almost an hour. Presently, U-754’s conning tower reappeared and Small machine gunned it. A still-unexplained “heavy explosion” broke the surface of the water. Later, some ships found a large oil slick and debris. The U-754 sank with the loss of all hands in 360 feet of water, the first U-boat to fall victim to a Canadian aircraft.

760 miles east of St. John’s, Newfoundland, German submarines U-164, U-210, U-217, U-511, U-553, and U-588 from PIRAT wolfpack located and attacked Allied convoy ON-115 , Outbound North without success. The convoy had forty-one empty merchant ships, escorted by the all-Canadian group C-3, comprised of the destroyers HMCS Saguenay and HMCS Skeena and four corvettes.
The Canadian escorts were handicapped by the lack of modern equipment, such as Type 271 centimetric-wavelength radar and Huff Duff. Nonetheless, as the six boats of group Pirat assembled to attack, the Canadians picked up their radio transmissions and the veteran Canadian escort commander, Captain D. C. Wallace in HMCS Saguenay, responded with exceptionally aggressive maneuvers. As a consequence, not one of German submarines of wolfpack Pirat could get into position to shoot.

Moreover, on the night of July 31, two of the veteran Canadian escorts, Royal Canadian Navy corvette HMCS Wetaskiwin and destroyer HMCS Skeena trapped , counter attacked and sank German submarine U-588 with depth charges, killing all 46 Germans aboard. She was the second German submarine after U-90 to fall to Canadian surface escorts in the North Atlantic within a week.

150 miles east of the Azores islands, German submarine U-213 located and reported Allied convoy OS-35 , Outbound South but unfortunetely for Germans , all Royal Navy escorts in the convoy were equipped HF/DF radio tracking location apparatus. Shortly after making her contact report by radio to Kerneval , U-213 was located by HF/DF radio trackers on Royal Navy escort ships that triangulated her position , then she was attacked depth charged and sunk by Royal Navy sloops HMS Erne, HMS Rochester, and HMS Sandwich; all 50 aboard U-213 were killed.

Egypt : Prime Minister Churchill left London on his famous “Commando” aircraft , a special B-24 Liberator bomber en route first Gibraltar then from there to Malta and Egypt for evaluation of Eighth Army still struggling in desert. British Imperial Chief of Staff General Alan Brooke departed London en route to Malta then to Egypt the day before him.

As the New Zealand official history colorfully described the visit, it was known Churchill had “brought a supply of bowler hats” (generals to be relived in Middle East Command and Eighth Army) and was here to decide “on their allocation.” On learning of the pending visit on July 31, General Auchinleck’s military consultant and unofficial Chief of Staff Brigadier Eric “Chink” Dorman-Smith wrote to his mistress in Cairo that: “I feel the Auk’s time is numbered.” It was an astute assessment.

Scotland , UK : On July 31, as the US fast cargo ship Santa Elisa steamed out of the Irish Sea and into the Firth of Clyde, Norwegian sailor Fred Larsen and US Merchant Marine Lonnie Dales watched the hills of Scotland roll past the pink summer sky, in shades of green and gray. The ship slowed to a stop in Loch Long, and as they let go the anchor, they could see American made tanker Ohio now pressed in British Merchant Marine moored off the Santa Elisa’s port bow.

“I know that ship,” Larsen told Dales. “She’s the Ohio. I was on a Texas Company tanker a lot like her, the Louisiana, when she was launched. They made a big deal about her. She’s got a welded hull and big steam turbine engines. That’s a fast, beautiful tanker. I wonder if she’s going to be in a convoy with us.”

The Ohio lay long and low in the water, silhouetted by the setting sun. Splashed with battleship gray paint and bedecked with guns, she looked little like the shapely, colorful tanker she once had been. Her dull sides slowly got lost in the long dusk and she was soon swallowed by night. But the sweet shape of her bow came back as a full moon rose over the water.

No one on the Santa Elisa had ever seen a tanker so conspicuously armed. Sailors came on deck for a smoke and a look and wondered aloud what the Ohio might mean to them. They were certain she was there for the same reason they were, whatever that might be. Between the moonlight and flashes from Cloch Point Lighthouse, which had been guiding ships through the Clyde since 1797, they could see other armed freighters anchored nearby, as a dozen more merchantmen had come from Newport, Belfast, and Liverpool.

Dudley Mason had been master of the Ohio for two weeks now.

At 1600 hours that Sunday afternoon, the masters, Royal Navy liaison officers, and radio officers of Operation Pedestal’s fourteen merchantmen were summoned to a meeting on the heavy cruiser HMS Nigeria, the flagship of Admiral Harold M. Burrough. Burrough had planned Operation Pedestal with Admirals Neville Syfret and A. L. Lyster at the Admiralty, after studying Operation Harpoon and attempting to solve each of the problems that had led to the loss of the Kentucky.

The masters and officers climbed the Nigeria’s ladders and took seats in the empty aircraft hangar, a big steel box located high amidships that stored the cruiser’s antisubmarine patrol plane. The craggy Burrough introduced himself, tossed a stack of papers on a table with a thump that rang in the metal room, and said, “Gentlemen, it is our great privilege to be chosen to go to the aid of Malta.”

"For a moment, none of us said a word,” said Captain Thomson. “We knew Malta was at the end of its endurance, and this was the last, desperate attempt to get through. The Admiral might as well have said it was our great privilege to commit suicide. But we all nodded our heads, accepted our orders, and said, ‘Thank you, sir.’”

For the next two hours, Burrough explained the mission. The thirteen freighters and one tanker would leave the Clyde at 2000 hours that evening, August 2, escorted by a few destroyers, and on the way to Gibraltar they would be joined by about fifty more warships, plus four oilers, two tugboats, and eleven fast minesweepers and motor launches coming from Malta to meet them. It was every fast ship the Royal Navy could scare up, he said, and they had come from the North Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, to see that the merchantmen made it to Malta. The naval escort was to be split into two: Force Z under Vice-Admiral Syfret in his flagship – the battleship HMS Nelson – was to provide heavy gun cover and air support from the four aircraft carriers. They would only accompany the convoy as far as the Sicilian Narrows, at which point they would need to return to Gibraltar to refuel. The remaining escort was Force X, comprised of cruisers and destroyers, which would accompany the convoy all the way to Malta. The destroyers would rescue the survivors of sinkings, which should be expected. No merchant ship was permitted to slow down for survivors.

Each of the freighters was loaded with about 1,500 tons of aviation gas, carried in cans so it could be poured directly into the airplanes’ tanks on Malta’s airfields. Admiral Burrough acknowledged that each freighter was a giant floating Molotov cocktail, but this was war. The aviation gas was divided among the freighters because it was assumed that some of them wouldn’t get through, and it was too great a risk to put all the gas in the tanker because it would be the primary Axis target. The Ohio carried all the oils because they could be pumped out and transferred into the island’s storage tanks—especially those tanks used by the 10th Submarine Flotilla, still exiled in Alexandria and waiting to return to Malta. Her thirty-three tanks contained about 8,900 tons of fuel oil, 2,000 tons of diesel, and 2,000 tons of kerosene.

That’s it, said Burrough. It’s up to us to keep Malta fighting. The Royal Navy submarines and RAF fighters and bombers need us to deliver the fuel, and the Maltese need us to bring the food. If we go down, Malta goes down. If Malta goes down, Hitler takes over the Mediterranean. May God help us in our mission.

The rigid Royal Navy tended to regard the merchant navy as an outfit full of free spirits, and Burrough was concerned about laying it on the line like that to civilians, telling them point-blank that some of them should expect to be blown up. He didn’t doubt their courage, just their discipline. He reminded the masters that orders must be followed without challenge or question.

The continuous evasive maneuvering would be especially difficult. Radical movements, coordinated or solo, were often needed to dodge bombs and torpedoes. The ships had been chosen for their speed, and never in the history of naval warfare had a fleet of seventy warships and freighters and one tanker attempted to travel together at 16 knots, let alone try to change formations and execute emergency turns.

The convoy would have to practice on the way down to Gibraltar, said Burrough. The exercises would be called Operation Berserk. Some of the officers rolled their eyes at each other, but none of them laughed.

London , UK : In August 1942, Operation TORCH appeared to be a gargantuan undertaking. In its most basic form, the joint Allied invasion of north-west Africa would include many thousands of men and precise inter-service, let alone international, coordination, followed by the establishment of a battle front hundreds of miles in depth. In addition to the organization of the fighting troops, sailors, and airmen, thought had to be given to hospitals, lines of communication and supply, repair, and maintenance units, as well as the subduing of the Vichy French. The British in the Middle East, to a large extent, had already had the basic infrastructure in place in Cairo and in other cities and ports within the theatre before the war, and over the past three years of war had been able to build up the machinery with which to maintain large forces. Ike had just eight weeks.

Such was the dire shortage of time, General Eisenhower decided to get cracking right away, even though most of the US planners had yet to arrive, and even though his exact position had still not been confirmed. On the last day of July he fixed a meeting at the new Allied Force Headquarters (AFHQ) at Norfolk House, in St James’s Square, London. The broad plan agreed for TORCH had envisaged a largely American force landing at Casablanca on the Atlantic coast and a largely British force landing at ports within the Mediterranean, although it soon became clear that the British had a ‘more expanded view of the mission’ and told the Americans quite categorically that the taking of Tunisia was the key to the whole operation. With Tunisia in Allied hands, they would be able to sever Rommel’s supply lines and make his life very difficult, if not impossible. The Axis reaction to the Allied landings was likely to be rapid, however, so in order to secure Tunisia before sufficient Axis reinforcements arrived, they would need to capture Tunis within a month. The biggest problem, the British planners told Ike, was a shortage of shipping, especially anding craft, and so they suggested the landings inside the Mediterranean should take precedence over any landings further west.

This alarmed Ike considerably. ‘I urge the most serious thought be given to the mission of the entire force as conceived by the two governments,’ he wrote in a cable to Marshall the following day. ‘To seize control of the north coast of Africa is an entirely different operation from denying the west coast to the enemy’, as had been devised in the old GYMNAST plan. Harry Butcher Eisenhower’s aide , who had sat in on the meeting, began to realize just what a difficult position his chief was in and the enormity of the task facing him. The actual planning was only the half of it; equally difficult would be the task of making two nations work together and achieve a level of unity that had never been attempted before. ‘Ike will have to exert vigorous leadership to direct the co-ordination of planning by both British and Americans,’ Butch noted with some understatement.

Don River , Russia : Fourth Panzer Army , instantly turned north with Hitler’s new order issued the day before , to sever Soviet Stalingrad Front armies on Don River , advanced 200 miles despite logistical problems and began to outflank Soviet 57th Army to the alarm of Stavka.

With Paulus’s Sixth Army locked in the battles of the Don bend, its force plainly insufficient to flatten Soviet resistance, the Soviet command nevertheless learned to its consternation of the development of a major new threat from the south-west, where Hitler had swung Fourth Panzer Army away from the drive into the Caucasus, ordering this formation to strike from its bridgeheads on the Don at Tsymlanskaya to drive north-east along the Tikhoretsk-Stalingrad railway line and into the Soviet flank behind Kalach. On 31 July, Fourth Panzer crashed into Kolomiits’s flimsy 51st Army , destroying five of its divisions and pushed it aside in a drive for Kotelnikovo. Stalingrad is less than 90 miles from the muzzles of 4th Panzer Army’s tanks.

Gordov, although given control of 51st Army, had to do some speedy regrouping: in 62nd Army, Kolpakchi was relieved of his command and replaced by Lopatin who had practically lost an army during the earlier retreats to the Don, while at 64th Army Shumilov, who had begun the war with his corps in Lithuania took over full command as Chuikov established and controlled a southerly ‘operational group’, an improvised force which finally backed on the river Aksai, there to bar the way against Fourth Panzer. Gordov had now to face a double threat, from the north-west (Kalach-Stalingrad) and the south-west (from the Aksai to Stalingrad), his whole front running for some 400 miles, a fact which gave rise for concern in Moscow where Stalin and the GKO sat considering the problems of the Stalingrad Front, and in particular how to counter the peril from the south.

Caucausian Front , Russia : 1st Panzer Army entered Caucasia and captured Salsk. General Weald Von Kleist commander of 1st Panzer Army aimed to reach first oilfields in Maikop within seven days.

Germany : 630 British bombers (308 Wellington, 113 Lancaster, 70 Halifax, 61 Stirling, 54 Hampden, and 24 Whitley) from RAF Bomber Command attacked Düsseldorf, Germany with 900 tons of bombs, destroying 453 buildings, damaging 15,000 buildings, killing 276 civilians, and wounding 1,018 civilians; 29 bombers were lost on this attack. Despite aircraft losses , RAF Air Marshall Sir Arthur Harris congragulates his crews for Dusseldorff attack as one one the most outstanding air attacks of the war. Nore than 150 two ton bombs fell on Dusseldorff downtown a rate of three per minute.

Luftwaffe nightfighter pilot Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein shot down three Allied aircraft, increasing his total victories to 17.

UK : German bombers attacked Hull, England, United Kingdom in night with 46 tons of bombs between 0215 hours and 0325 hours, damaging Victoria Dock facilities and destroying several homes on Grindell Street.

Czechoslovakia : 1,000 Jews from Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in occupied Czechoslovakia were taken to Baranowitsche Concentration Camp in Poland and gassed in vans.

Pacific Ocean : American submarine USS Grunion attacked and damaged Japanese transport vessel Kashima Maru with gunfire on the surface 10 miles north if Kiska, US Territory of Alaska at 0547 hours; however Japanese transport Kashima Maru fought back with her 80-millimeter gun, sinking USS Grunion with gunfire, killing all 70 aboard.

South West Pacific : US Fifth Airforce B-17 and B-26 bombers located and attacked a Japanese convoy bringing reinforcements from Rabaul, New Britain to Buna, Australian Papua; the convoy was forced to return to Rabaul by this attack.

Tulagi and Gudalcanal , Solomon Islands , SW Pacific : USAAF began a 7-day bombardment against Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Meanwhile, the Allied invasion force of Operation Watchtower (75 warships and transports with 16,000 men on aboard) for Guadalcanal departed from Fiji.

At Koro in Fiji, 1st US Marine Division wrapped up a frustrating rehearsal of the Guadalcanal invasion. Reef conditions make landings difficult and very hazardous to irreplaceable landing craft. The exercise is cancelled after only a third of the troops have landed. Multiple failures leave 1st Marine Division commander General Vandegrift looking dejected, the only time in the campaign. He and Admiral Turner later console themselves with an old Broadway cliche, “a bad rehearsal foreshadows a good performance.”

19,000 Marines from a hybrid, half-trained division (using maps from 1897) and a hastily fabricated amphibious force of 80 ships (two troopships can claim the name President Jackson) led by an admiral who has arrived at the last minute are sailing to attack an army that has yet to lose a battle in this war, and a navy that has, until Midway, defeated all comers since 1598.