29 August 1942
Atlantic Ocean : German submarine U-66 torpedoed and sank US cargo ship Topa Topa 660 miles west of Trinidad at 0237 hours; 25 were killed, 35 survived.
North Sea : German minesweeper M-3306 Ocean , was hit and sunk by RAF Coastal Command Halifax bombers in Ostend harbour , Belgium.
Mediterranean Sea : Royal Navy destroyers HMS Eridge and HMS Aldenham bombarded the Axis airfield at El Daba, Egypt. Italian torpedoboats counterattacked , torpedoed and severely damaged HMS Eridge which managed to turn back to Alexandria and put into dock but declared a total loss.
Stalingrad Front , Russia : German Fourth Panzer Army broke through Soviet lines 15 miles south of Stalingrad, Russia. General Hoth suddenly switched 48th Panzer Corps over to the left flank out in the Kalmyk steppe. The German Army’s chief advantage lay in the close cooperation of the panzer division and the Luftwaffe. In the constantly changing battle, German infantrymen used the red flag with swastika as identification panels on the ground to ensure they were not bombed by their own aircraft. But the real danger of JU-87 Stukas attacking their own ground forces by mistake came in fast-moving armoured operations.
Lieutenant Max Plakolb, the commander of a small Luftwaffe forward air control section, was attached to the headquarters of 24th Panzer Division. At this time, when 14th and 24th Panzer Divisions and 29th Motorized Infantry Division were starting to swing round the south-west of Stalingrad, Plakolb settled himself at the radio. The point units of 24th Panzer Division had advanced much faster than the neighbouring division, and Plakolb suddenly overheard on his radio a contact report: ‘Concentration of enemy vehicles . . .’ The pilot then proceeded to give 24th Panzer Division’s position. With ‘the greatest alarm’, since the Stukas were approaching, Plakolb called up the squadron himself, using the code word ‘Bonzo’, and persuaded them to abort their attack just in time.
So rapid was the advance of 48th Panzer Corps from the south that by the evening of 30/31 August , its point units had reached the Stalingrad-Morozovsk railway line. Suddenly, it looked as if an opportunity of cutting off the remnants of the Soviet 62nd and 64th Armies had appeared. Paulus’s infantry divisions, slowly advancing eastwards from the Don, could never have got round the Russian rear. The only chance was to send 24th Panzer Corps down from the Rynok corridor to seal the trap, as Army Group headquarters strongly urged. This represented a considerable gamble, and Paulus decided against the plan. Hube would have had to turn his ill-supplied panzers round, break off the running battles and ignore the enemy armies then massing just to the north. On 30th August Yeremenko, alerted to the danger, pulled his remaining forces back out of the trap.
In some cases the retreat was dictated by panic, rather than design. In Soviet 64th Army, the crews of Anti-Aircraft Battery 748 ran away, abandoning their guns. This incident rapidly became a case of conspiracy, in the ever-suspicious eyes of commissars, with the allegation that a member of the battery then ‘led a battalion of German sub-machine-gunners’ in an attack against the neighbouring Soviet 204th Rifle Division.
On Paulus’s northern flank, 24th Panzer Corps had hardly been idle. The Russians continually mounted diversionary attacks on both sides of the corridor. General Hube’s responses to these ill-coordinated lunges were sharp and successful. He moved his headquarters on 28 August into a tapering ravine which offered better protection against the nightly air attacks. He ensured himself an undisturbed night’s rest by sleeping in a straw-lined pit under his tank.
Russian bombers began to attack by day as well as night, flying in low over the Volga. Black puffs from the German flak guns marked their approach in the morning sky. On one occasion, a German fighter roared in at ground level above Hube’s ravine before climbing to attack the bombers in the clear sky. For those watching from the headquarters, this fighter seems to have offered the magical vision of an aerial Teutonic knight in shining armour. ‘This silver streak’, wrote one of those present in his diary with revealing emotion, ‘veered to the east over the river into enemy territory, a crystal, a harbinger of the dawn.’
On 28 August, Russian fighters also attempted to attack the new Luftwaffe base near Kalach, but a Messerschmitt 109 fighter group chased them off. Proud of their victory, the suntanned young fighter pilots assembled for debriefing, but their austere commander—who was known as ‘the Prince’ because of his resemblance to a medieval statue in a cathedral—did not congratulate them. Instead he passed on the order which had so irritated Richthofen : ’Gentlemen, flying for fun and seeing who can shoot down the most enemy machines must stop. Every machine, every drop of fuel, every hour’s flying is irreplaceable. The easy ground life we are leading is completely irresponsible: in the air it is even more so. Every shot must go to assist the infantry, if there is no target in the air.‘ Resentful murmurs greeted his words.
On 29 August Zhukov arrived by plane at Kamyshin, where Vasilevskii met him; together they went to Stalingrad Front HQ at Malaya Ivanovka, where Zhukov listened to the reports of Nikishev (chief of Staff) and Rukhle (chief of operations), Gordov being in the forward positions. Zhukov was far from impressed with the grasp these two officers showed of the situation and neither seemed much convinced of the possibility of holding off the Germans. The meeting with Gordov and Moskalenko, however, proved to be more encouraging; both of these commanders had an accurate picture of German strength and disposition and the capabilities of their own troops. But that estimate of Soviet strength proved to be depressingly correct: the troops moving in to the north, the three armies the Stavka had dispatched, were badly fitted out, manned by older reservists, short of fuel and ammunition. To attack with all three armies, 1st Guards, 24th and 66th, on 2 September was out of the question: Zhukov reported this to Stalin without delay and suggested 6 September for the attack from the north to relieve the battered South-Eastern Front which was being driven back into Stalingrad itself. Stalin raised no objection. There was a slim chance that Moskalenko’s 1st Guards might begin its operations on 2 September, but lack of fuel prevented a more rapid concentration. Moskalenko asked for a delay of twenty-four hours; to avoid ‘useless losses’ and a ‘haphazard commitment of troops’, as Zhukov phrased it in his report to the Stavka, Moskalenko’s attack was delayed until 05.00 hours on 3 September.
Caucausian Front : In the south, the German advance was stopped north of Grozny, after taking Mozdok on 25 August. German paratroopers assisted an insurgency in Chechnya, operating behind Soviet lines. German mountain troops failed to secure the Black Sea ports and the advance fell short of Grozny as supply difficulties arose once more.
The length of the German advance created chronic supply difficulties, particularly of petrol; the Black Sea was judged too dangerous and fuel was brought by rail through Rostov or delivered by air, but panzer divisions were sometimes at a standstill for weeks. Even petrol trucks ran out of fuel and oil had to be brought up on camels. With the Soviets often retreating instead of fighting, the number of prisoners fell short of expectations and only 83,000 were taken. As Hitler and OKH began to concentrate on Stalingrad, some of Kleist’s mobile forces were diverted. Kleist lost his flak corps and most of the Luftwaffe supporting the southern front, only reconnaissance aircraft being left behind. The Soviet Air Force Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily (VVS) brought in about 800 bombers to Caucaus, a third of which were operational. With the transfer of air cover and flak units, Soviet bombers were free to harass the German advance. The quality of the Soviet resistance increased, with many of the forces used coming from local levies, who Kleist thought were willing to fight harder for their homeland. German units were especially bogged down by fighting Georgian alpine and mountain troops, who greatly contributed to stalling their advance. The quantity of replacements and supplies the Soviets committed increased, and faced with these difficulties, the Axis advance slowed after 28 August.
The Soviets dug in the 9th and 44th armies of the North Transcaucasian Front along the rocky Terek River bank in front (north) of the city. The Luftwaffe was unable to support the German army that far forward and Soviet aviation attacked bridges and supply routes virtually unopposed.
Leningrad Front , Russia : Soviet 4th Guards Rifle Corps joined the Soviet 8th Army in the offensive near Leningrad, Russia.
Rabaul , New Britain , South West Pacific : Eight US B-17 Flying Fortress bombers attacked the Vunakanau airfield near Rabaul, New Britain. Later on the same day, troops of the Japanese 81st Naval Garrison executed six Australian POWs at Rabaul.
Isavura : Kokoda Track , Papua New Guinea : Dawn on the 28th brought a fire fight. The Japanese probed the lower flank of the forward arc, again seeking weaknesses in the Australian defences, then switched to the other side, where they could emerge from the bush screeching like the crows that are heard everywhere in Kochi. The Australians continued to be tested all day, but though the Japanese broke through briefly in mid-afternoon a counter-attack soon restored their position. They were being gradually outflanked but resisting fiercely: casualties among the Japanese were high.
The night of the 28th was clear for a change. At dawn a Japanese artillery barrage launched the struggle all over again, with ferocious attacks on the Australian forward arc. Once again, the Japanese breached the front line and poured through the gap, and once again they were stopped. But this time the pause was only temporary. They continued to press their advantage through the afternoon, especially on the right flank, where they attacked from cover on the higher ground. Yamasaki and his comrades had learnt to hit the ground when automatic gunfire started, but the Australian grenades lobbed on them caused many casualties.
In one sortie, Yamasaki saw an enemy soldier’s helmet between the trees and shot at it. Moving forward, he saw more helmets on a crest, so he and his fellows charged. A grenade exploded right in front of Yamasaki, throwing his rifle some ten metres. He ran back to retrieve it but couldn’t grab hold. Only then did he notice he couldn’t feel his hand. It wasn’t bleeding, just numb. He looked down and saw that half the hand had been blown off. Returning to base, Sergeant Yamasaki was ordered back to Kokoda. His war was over.
As the Australian vanguard was gradually enveloped by the succession of Japanese charges, its hold on Isurava grew tenuous. The only possible line of retreat was the main track, increasingly vulnerable—along with supply lines of food and ammunition—as the attack closed in. By dusk, under heavy fire, the Australian front-line troops began to withdraw the kilometre or so to the area around the rest house. There, they dug in.
Despite their own progress and the defenders’ slow loss of ground, the Japanese were suffering high casualties. After a few days of unrelenting attack and dogged resistance, doubt was creeping into the troops’ minds. Small things started to loom large. When the men weren’t trying to keep ants away from the food, they were on guard for leeches. They had to be obsessive about caring for their weapons. With the frustration starting to fray nerves, Horii deployed units from the 41st for the first time. He needed to keep his attack force refreshed.
Milne Bay , Papua New Guinea : Australian 25th Infantry Battalion, which had moved forward from Gili Gili to relieve the 61st Infantry, deployed around the airstrip and at Rabi, Duira Creek and Kilarbo, laying mines in key locations. The airstrip proved a perfect defensive location, offering a wide, clear field of fire, while at its end, thick mud served to prevent the movement of Japanese tanks. Around dawn the advancing Japanese troops reached the airstrip and, under the cover of field artillery and mortars, they launched an attack. Although the Australians did not know it, the tanks that were supporting the attack became stuck in the mud and were subsequently abandoned; they would later be discovered by an Australian patrol on 29 August. Meanwhile, troops from the 25th and 61st Infantry Battalions, along with Americans from the 709th Anti-Aircraft Battery turned back the attacking Japanese infantry. Further strafing by Kittyhawks followed, and the Japanese were forced to fall back two kilometres (1.2 mi) to the east of Rabi.
Elsewhere, the 2/12th Australian Infantry Battalion began moving forward from Waigani to enable it to join the fighting later as a counterattacking force. They, along with the 2/9th, were subsequently tasked to carry out an attack from No. 3 Airstrip to KB Mission. Meanwhile, the Japanese also sought to reconfigure their forces and Mikawa decided to reinforce the forces that were already ashore. These reinforcements, consisting of 567 men from the 3rd Kure SNLF and 200 from the 5th Yokosuka SNLF, left Rabaul on 28 August. At around 4:30 pm an RAAF patrol spotted the Japanese convoy – consisting of one cruiser and nine destroyers – and subsequently reported this to the Allied headquarters. Believing that further landings were about to occur, Brigadier Clowes commander of 7th Australian Brigade cancelled his plans to begin a counterattack with the troops from the 18th Brigade. Orders were also passed for the 30 Kittyhawks at Gili Gili to be flown off to Port Moresby in case the Japanese succeeded in breaking through to the airfield. The attack did not take place, though, and consequently early in the morning on 29 August they returned, albeit minus two aircraft which had crashed during the move
Following this, for the next two days there was a lull in the fighting. During this time, the Australians consolidated their defences. The 61st Infantry Battalion, despite being seriously depleted from the previous fighting, were ordered back to the perimeter around the airstrip, subsequently deploying around Stephen’s Ridge, tying in with the 25th Battalion’s positions between the coast and Wehria Creek. Fire support was provided by mortars from the 25th along with Vickers machine guns from the 61st and .30 and .50 calibre machine guns mounted on the American half-tracks. The American engineers and anti-aircraft gunners became the first American troops to engage in ground combat in New Guinea.
To the east, 769 Japanese Special Naval Landing Force troops landed at Waga Waga on the coast of Milne Bay; the Japanese cruiser and nine destroyers that covered the landing bombarded the Australian airfield at Gili Gili before returning to Rabaul, New Britain, causing little damage.
South West Pacific : Japanese submarine RO-33 torpedoed and sank Australian troopship Marita in the Gulf of Papua south of Australian Papua at 1200 hours; Australian destroyer HMAS Arunta located the Japanese submarine then counterattacked with depth charges and sank RO-33, killing all 42 aboard.
Guadalcanal , SW, Pacific : Between 29 August and 4 September, Japanese light cruisers, destroyers, and patrol boats were able to land almost 5,000 troops at Taivu Point, including most of the 35th Infantry Brigade, much of the Aoba (4th) Regiment, and the rest of Ichiki’s regiment. General Kawaguchi, who landed at Taivu Point on 31 August Express run, was placed in command of all Japanese forces on Guadalcanal. A barge convoy took another 1,000 soldiers of Kawaguchi’s brigade, under the command of Colonel Akinosuke Oka, to Kamimbo, west of the Lunga perimeter.
American carrier USS Hornet arrived in the South Pacific, replacing damaged USS Enterprise.