Hut 26 – 1942
The Eighth Army was in a sorry state after its mauling at Gazala, but despite Rommel’s confidence, the British now held a strong defensive position along the entire North African coast. The forty mile long El Alamein ‘Line’ stretched from the sea on one side to the Qattara Depression on the other, which meant it was virtually impossible to outflank. Only a frontal attack could break through the line.
Of all the assaults by which Japan began its conquest of south-east Asia, Siam (Thailand), caused her armies the least trouble. General Iida met virtually no resistance as his 15th Army marched through to Burma, his way smoothed at every major obstacle by a Quisling government. When his army reached the border, however, Iida encountered stiff opposition.
Coral Sea and Midway
Pearl Harbour was supposed to smash in a single blow, America’s resolution and its ability to retaliate. It failed on both counts. Although seven battleships were badly damaged, the raid left most of Pearl Harbour’s shore installations intact. Far from immobilising the US Pacific fleet, the raid forced naval warfare firmly into the 20th century. Aircraft carriers became the core of a more up-to-date Pacific fleet, including the ‘Yorktown’ and ‘Hornet’ both well equipped with large numbers of fighters and bombers.
The Dieppe Raid
It was 3.47am on 19th August 1942, a grey landing craft packed with men of No 3 Commando, moved through the darkness towards the coast of France. Suddenly a star-shell bathed them in light. One arm of Operation ‘Jubilee’ – a joint Canadian and British amphibious attack on the port of Dieppe – had blundered into a small German merchant convoy with an armed escort.
Until August 1942, the island of Guadalcanal was virtually unheard of, yet within months it was to become a notorious battleground and a name which would stir the emotions of all Americans. Attention focused on Guadalcanal after the Battle of Midway, when the war against Japan became centered on the south-west Pacific.
The Pearl Harbour operation was daring in the extreme; so was the Japanese plan for the conquest of Malaya and Singapore. Lieutenant General Yamashita was ordered to advance the 620 miles down the Malayan peninsula and take Singapore in one hundred days.
The Siege of Malta
In the spring of 1942, Malta made history when the inhabitants of the island were awarded the George Cross. Instituted in September 1940, the medal is the highest British award for bravery that can be made to civilians.
The Battle of Coral Sea, had reasserted the Allies possession of Port Moresby on New Guinea’s south coast. Such was the port’s strategic importance as a base from which operations against Australia could be launched, the Japanese still wanted it. The conquest of Port Moresby and thus effectively of New Guinea, combined with that of the Guadalcanal, would entrench Japanese forces in the South Pacific.
The Philippines, a vast archipelago of more than 7000 islands was a semi-independent ‘commonwealth’ with its own government and was promised independence in 1946. In December 1941, General Homma was given fifty days and 57,000 men to capture the Philippines. Air strikes would wipe out the Philippine-based U.S. Far East Air Force before his troops went ashore at Luzon.
On 1st February 1942, Lieutenant General Percival announced, ‘The Battle of Singapore has started. Our task is to hold this fortress until help can come’. Singapore was not a fortress. Troops crossing the causeway looked in vain for evidence of barbed wire entanglements and fieldworks along the islands northern shore. Even more demoralising to the returning troops was the large column of black smoke which rose from the naval base.
As dawn broke on the morning of 23rd August 1942, the tanks of the 16th Panzer Division – having crossed the Don river – rumbled towards Stalingrad. Above them roared squadrons of Junkers Ju88 bombers and Ju87 Stuka dive-bombers, fresh from raids that had already begun the destruction. Very soon the city would fall; of that, Hitler and the German commanders were confident.
The Fall of Tobruk
On 22nd December 1941, after the British had forced General Erwin Rommel to withdraw from Tobruk and lifted the siege, he fell back to Gazala. On the 16th he began an orderly retreat further east to El Agheila, with a reduced tank strength of forty and his supply situation acute. The Afrika Korps had been strengthened by the arrival of two new air groups. By the middle of January 1942, the two Panzer divisions had 120 tanks between them. The Commander-in Chief of the Middle East General Sir Claude Auchinleck, was vulnerable to a counter strike, and Rommel was quick to seize the initiative.
‘Flower’ Class Corvettes
The ‘Flower’ Class Corvettes became the saviour of the British Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic. Although never designed for ocean service in all weathers, the large number of these agile little ships, produced between 1939-41, proved to be an effective force against the U-boat menace. The conflict in the Balkans arose when both sides were fighting elsewhere: the Axis powers in Russia and the Allies in the Desert Campaign. As early as April 1939, France and Britain had guaranteed help for Greece and Romania if they were attacked. It was feared that if they fell to the Axis powers, then the rest of the Balkan states would follow.