Second World War overview 1941-42

Second World War, overview of the course of the ‘Axis high tide’ from 1941 to 1942 (Part II).

Panzer 3 in street fightings.

Panzer 3 with 5cm KwK L/42 in street fightings in the Ukraine in summer of 1941.

arrow Here to Part I: Second World War overview 1939-40.

Mediterranean

With the attack on the Soviet Union, Hitler wanted to realize his old dreams of conquering new ‘living space’ for the Germans. Therefore he had Operation Barbarossa planned and prepared as early as autumn 1940. The scheduled date for the beginning of the invasion was May 1941, which was shaken by unexpected events in the Balkans.

The failure of the Italian army against Greece led to the Greek armed forces conquering half of Albania. In addition, there was a coup in Belgrade after Yugoslavia joined the Tripartite Pact between Germany, Italy and Japan on 25 March 1941.

Hitler had to intervene militarily in order to prevent the British from being settled in Greece, and this was actually planned with Yugoslavian help. Now the Balkans campaign had to be led against both states.

German Infantry in Northern Greece.

German Infantry in Northern Greece.

The attack began on 6 April 1941 and the fighting ended as expected quite quickly in the same month.
The airborne invasion of Crete in the second half of May, however, demanded high losses, but obviously ended the campaign.
From now on, however, strong German troops remained tied down on the Balkans alongside the Italians and Bulgarians, as a fierce partisan war soon broke out under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, especially in the rugged regions of Yugoslavia.

The Mediterranean region now also became a German theater of war, since after heavy defeats of the Italians against the British in North Africa, Rommel’s Afrika Korps was sent to Libya from the end of 1940 to support the unfortunate allies. The latter succeeded in boldly chasing away the British army, regaining the Egyptian border and placing Tobruk under siege.

Russian campaign

The Balkan campaign led to a delay of the Operation Barbarossa, which should not remain without significant consequences. Therefore, the attack on the Soviet Union did not take place until the dawn of 22 June 1941, when the largest military force in military history set itself in motion. Hitler had more than three million men deployed for the Russian campaign and Stalin seems to have completely ignored this threat until the end despite all warnings.

German tanks advancing, Russian PoW's flow back

German tanks advancing, Russian POWs flow back. The usual pictures in the first months of Operation Barbarossa.

Not least for this reason, a tremendous catastrophe struck the Red Army in 1941, which lost hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war and masses of war material in gigantic pocket battles.
These events initially and for the last time led the German leadership to believe that the war had almost been won and seemed to confirm the bad impression of the Red Army that had prevailed against Finland since the Winter War.

However, the vast distances of Russia and it’s almost inexhaustible reservoir of people, the strategic wrong decision of the German supreme leadership and the criminal treatment of the ‘subhumans’ in the East immediately after the outbreak of war, which never extinguished the will of resistance, saved Stalin’s Soviet Union.
When the Kremlin in Moscow was already in sight of the scissor telescopes of the foremost advance troops and the German soldiers tried once again to end the campaign victoriously in 1941, Russia’s strongest ally joined them with the freezing winter.

Panzer regiments in front of Moscow

The Panzer regiments in front of Moscow are reduced to 25 per cent of their original strength and can be used from now on only as infantry support.

Thus Stalin’s ignorance of the threat was balanced out again by Hitler’s frivolity. At the latter’s behest, the German soldiers were sent off without winter equipment or sufficient reserves and reinforcements, for before the onset of winter everything should be over – or ‘had to be over’, for otherwise everything would be lost anyway, as the German leader was well aware in clear hours. Hitler’s character, however, ignored this in increasing self-deception until the end.

Thus the early onset of winter caused the decisive German attack on Moscow to get stuck in the snow and Marshal Zhukov was able to start a surprising counter-offensive on 5 December 1941 with Soviet soldiers well equipped for the winter. Three days later, the Fuehrer instruction No. 39 was received, in which the ‘transition to defense’ was ordered.

This was only the symbolic turn of events of the Second World War, as the German troops still had almost the whole of Europe under their control, but it was the actual turn of events.

Global conflict

burning battleships West Virginia and Tennessee

The burning battleships West Virginia and Tennessee after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the meantime the war became a real world war, because on 7 December 1941 a Japanese aircraft carrier fleet attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States was now officially at war.

The tensions between the Japanese and Americans had been growing for many years over the situation in the Pacific. Japan had already begun its expansion in East Asia in 1931 with the occupation of Manchuria.
Since 1937 Japan was in an undeclared war with National-China under Chiang Kai-shek and from now on they stood in the way of American export interests, because China was an important market. Since then, there have been repeated and increased frictions between Washington and Tokyo.
This is why US President Roosevelt, who ruled from 1933 to 1945, was interested in a warlike decision for supremacy, both in Asia and in Europe. For this he imposed conditions on the Japanese Empire which the proud Japanese could not possibly fulfil without losing face. In Europe he supported since the beginning of the Second World War Great Britain, like France until its defeat, so one-sided with weapons, equipment and goods and let an ‘undeclared war‘ be waged in the Atlantic, so that Hitler inevitably had to be challenged.

After the Japanese realized that no acceptable solution in negotiations was possible for them, they decided to attack Pearl Harbor in order to eliminate the US Navy at the beginning of the war in the Pacific. This attack, secretly longed for by Roosevelt, united the original war unwilling American people behind their president, who could thereby declare war on Japan.
The situation was more complicated vis-à-vis the German Reich, but Hitler relieved the US President of this problem by declaring war on the USA by himself as if on acclamation.

High tide of the Axis powers

Panzers at the Caucasus

German Panzer spearheads reached the footsteps of the Caucasus.

Nevertheless, the first year of the complete global conflict once again saw great successes for the Axis powers. The Japanese, who were initially seriously underestimated by the Americans, conquered all of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific in a ‘Blitzkrieg’ style at sea and in the air.
The Wehrmacht, together with its allies Romanians, Hungarians, Italians, Slovaks and Croats, advanced as far as the Volga to Stalingrad and the Caucasus under the operation codename Fall Blau (case blue), while Rommel in North Africa could finally capture Tobruk and reach the narrowness of Alamein in Egypt on the way to the Nile.

carrier 'Hiryu' is on fire

In the Battle of Midway, the Japanese aircraft carrier ‘Hiryu’ is on fire after an US air strike.

In the summer of 1942, however, the ‘high tide’ of the Axis powers was reached and the tide turned.
At first the Japanese suffered a self-inflicted and superfluous, but all the more devastating, defeat in the Battle of Midway in June 1942.
Subsequently, the Americans, with their increasingly powerful material and technical superiority, began to shrink the overstretched Japanese conquered area by ‘island hopping’.

German soldiers Stalingrad Tractor Factory

German soldiers after they have taken the Stalingrad Tractor Factory.

Hitler, for his part, was fixated on the struggle for Stalingrad and wanted to conquer the city that bore the name of his hated adversary, at any cost, without paying attention to the operational proposals of the Generality.
Thus his interest for Rommel in North Africa diminished as this one was pushed far forward to the position near Alamein, which could only be supplied with the greatest effort. Therefore the new British commander-in-chief in Egypt, Montgomery, was finally able to break through the German-Italian defensive positions at the Second Battle of Alamein on 23 October and force the Afrika Korps to finally retreat.
When the Anglo-Americans landed in neutral French West Africa with the Operation Torch on 8 November, it was clear to Rommel that the campaign in Africa was finally lost and he withdrew towards Tunisia.

PoWs of the German 6th Army after the surrendering at Stalingrad.

PoWs of the German 6th Army after the surrendering at Stalingrad. Only 5,000 came back home many years after the war.

On 19 November 1942, the Soviet Marshal Zhukov finally began his counter-offensive against the Romanian armies, which covered the flanks of the German 6th Army in Stalingrad. The Romanian troops were not up to the Red Army and so the German 6th Army was trapped in Stalingrad.
Caught in his own announcements and promises, Hitler demanded that the troops in Stalingrad defend every square yard of ground and be supplied by air. An relive attempt of von Manstein’s Panzer units almost reached the pocket, but the outbreak was refused by the supreme leadership and was not dared by those responsible on site. Since also the air supply promised by Goering remained far behind the requirements, the 6th Army was lost and surrendered until the end of January in Stalingrad.
Together with the likewise enormous losses of over 250,000 men in Stalingrad itself, the Romanian, Hungarian and Italian armies also suffered catastrophic losses, which made the symbolic turn of the war of winter 1941-42 the now visible one. This was followed by the slow and unstoppable German retreat to the West in the direction of the starting lines of summer 1941.

Ideological war

Starving Russian PoW's

Starving Russian PoW’s beg for a piece of bread.

The merciless struggle in the East, ideologically propagated by Hitler as ‘Weltanschauungs-Krieg’ (ideological war), naturally also included the civilian population in the occupied territories. For Nazis, the Slavs were only ‘subhumans’ and only capable of doing the lowest work for their new masters. For this reason, the population in the conquered Eastern territories was degraded and exploited.
Although the German soldiers were initially mostly welcomed by large parts of the population out of hatred of Stalinism and forced collective agriculture for the peasants, when Hitler’s commissioners began to implement their instructions, this naturally led to resistance and promoted the partisan movement.

Murder of Jews in Ukraine.

Murder of Jews in Ukraine.

The German terror became even more obvious when already in autumn 1941 security units and special squads behind the front in the East began to murder masses of Jews, Communists, captured Commissars and other ‘undesirable’ elements.
Before that, Jews had already been transported from Germany and Western Europe to the conquered Eastern regions, where the already overcrowded ghettos in Poland were bursting. Now the construction of extermination camps in occupied Poland began.

crematoria at Auschwitz

KZ prison volunteers working in a crematoria at Auschwitz.

The ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’ was decided and organised at Hitler’s request on 20 January 1942 at the Wannsee Conference under the leadership of Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Gestapo. Starting in 1942, the inhabitants of the Jewish ghettos were taken to the extermination camps and killed. Until the end of 1944 the majority of the remaining European Jews and gypsies in the German sphere of power followed.
At least 6 million were victims of this extermination machinery. From 1939 to 1941 there were also about 100,000 mentally ill people from Germany who were killed as part of the ‘Euthanasia Programme’.

Part III follows soon!

Today’s War Diary and Report Feeds

Today 75 and 100 years ago and daily World War Report:

Diary December 16, 1943

Goliath vs SU-85

Simulated attack with a remote controlled Goliath demolition tank on one of the newly introduced Soviet SU-85 tank destroyers.

WW2 War Diary for Thursday, December 16, 1943:

Eastern Front

Southern Sector: Novoseltsy, southeast of Cherkassy, captured by Russians.

Diary December 16, 1918

 Reich Congress of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils

From 16 to 20 December, the first Reich Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils takes place in Berlin, where the SPD party under Ebert succeeds in asserting itself.

World War One Diary for Monday, December 16, 1918:

Home Fronts

Germany: Conference of Workers and Soldiers Councils at Berlin (until December 20), 450 deputies.
Britain: Demobilization scheme for Army and RAF men with jobs to go to. Lard rationing discontinued.

Western Front

Allies complete occupation of Rhine bridgeheads.

Eastern Front

Finland: Last German troops leave.
Baltic States: ­Hoffmann diary ‘The evacuation [4 divisions on November 11] is becoming very disorderly’..
Urals: Red reverse north of Ekaterinburg.
Siberia: General Janin reaches Omsk but rows with Kolchak and leaves for front on December 20.

Politics

Hungary: Field Marshal Mackensen’s forces from Rumania surrender to Hungarians near Budapest, Field Marshal interned by French until December 1919.
South Africa: Botha arrives in London for Peace Conference.

Bristol Blenheim

british-flagBritish three-seat light bomber, heavy fighter and night fighter Bristol Blenheim.

Miodel of standard Blenheim I bomber

Miodel of standard Blenheim I bomber of 60 Squadron, at Lahore (India) in 1940.

Bristol Type 142 Blenheim
Type: Light bomber, heavy fighter night fighter.

History:

It had been that papers tycoon Lord Rothermere that requested the Bristol corporation to develop him a rapid business plane to transport a pilot and 6 persons at 240 mph, considerably quicker than any kind of Royal Air Force single-seat fighter plane at this time.
The outcome had been the Type 142, the original innovative stressed-skin mono­plane in the UK together with retractable landing gear, flaps and, following a hold out, im­ported US variable-pitch propellers. Its performance staggered including the developer, Mr. Barnwell.

For on Air Ministry try it achieved 307 mph. The expected outcome was the Blenheim bomber, to build which Barnwell developed a fresh fuselage together with mid-wing as well as bomb bay under it. Pilot and navigator/bomb-aimer seated within the tidy glazed nose, as well as a part-retractable dorsal turret had been included behind the wing.
The Blenheim I was purchased in what were enormous numbers to a corporation practically lacking employment. Finally 1,134 had been constructed, several of which executed gallant bombing raids at the beginning of the war as well as were then reconstructed as IF fighter layout (several getting the AI Mk III, the very first functional fighter radar on the globe).

The quick, fresh bomber fired up extraordinary international attention and several had been exported to Finland, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Romania and Greece.

To supply a navigator/bomb-aimer place in front of the pilot the nose was then extended 3ft and this model had been christened Bolingbroke, a brand preserved for the amount of Blenheims constructed in Canada (the Bolingbroke Mk III becoming a twin-float seaplane).

A modified asymmetric nose was developed for manufacturing in the fast Mk IV, which afterwards got a fighter machine-gun group (IVF) or a manual rear-firing chin gun (IVL). Ultimately having a two-gun chin turret.
Produced by Bristol, Avro and Rootes, like the Mk I, the IV had been the primary battle model with the RAF, 3,297 being supplied and executing a lot of daylight missions in several theatres of war.

The heavily armed and armoured two-seat Bisley strike aircraft failed to enter manufacturing, however the three-seat comparable did, as the Blenheim Mk V. Weighty and underpowered, the 902 VDs worked in North Africa and Asia.

Users: Canada, Finland, France, Greece, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Turkey, UK (RAF).


Pictures Bristol Blenheim


Specifications Bristol Blenheim

Specifications
Specification Blenheim I Bolingbroke Blenheim IVL Blenheim V
Type Light bomber
Power Plant 2 x 840 hp Bristol Mercury VII 2 x 840 hp Bristol Mercury VII (IV: 2 x 750-920 hp Twin Wasp Junior, Cyclone or Mercury XX) 2 x 920 hp Mercury XV 2 x 950 hp Mercury XXX
Accommodation 3 3 3 3
Wing span 56ft 4in (17.17m) 56ft 4in (17.17m) 56ft 4in (17.17m) 56ft 1in (17.31m)
Length overall 39ft 9in (12.11m) III: 46ft 3in (14.10m) 42ft 9in (13.0m) 43ft 11 in (13.38 m)
Height overall 12ft 10in (3.91m) III: 18ft (5.49m) 12ft 10in (3.91m) 12ft 10in (3.91m)
Weight empty 8,700lb (3,946kg) 8,700lb (3,946kg) 9,790lb (4,441kg) 11,000lb (4,990 kg)
Weight loaded 12,250lb (5,557kg) 13,400lb (6,078kg) 14,400lb (6,531kg) 17,000lb(7,711 kg)
Maximum speed 285mph( 459km/hr) 245-260mph (394-419km/hr) 266mph; early VIs: 295mph (428km/hr/475km/hr) 245-260mph (394-419km/hr)
Initial climb 1,500ft (457m)/min 1,500ft (457m)/min 1,500ft (457m)/min 1,500ft (457m)/min
Service ceiling 31,500ft (9,600m) III: 26,000ft(7,925m) 31,500ft (9,600m) 31,500ft (9,600m)
Range 1,125 miles (1,811km) 1,800 miles (2,898 km) 1,950 miles (3,138km) 1,600 miles (2,576km)
Armament
Model Specification
Blenheim I 1 x 0.303in fixed in nose, 1 x 0.303in Vickers K in dorsal turret
Blenheim IVL 1 x 0.303in Vickers in nose, 2 x 0.303in Brownings in chin turret, 2 x 0.303in Brownings in dorsal turret
Blenheim IF, IVF (fighter) 4 x fixed 0.303in Brownings under fuselage extra, no bombs
Bomb load 1,000 lb (454kg) internal; non-standard aircraft had underwing racks for 2 x 250lb (225kg) bombs
Service statistics
Bristol Blenheim data
First flight 25 June 1936 (Blenheim I)
Service delivery November 1936
Final delivery June 1943 (VD)
Price per unit unknown
Production figures 5,213 + c.120 seaplanes (1,134 Is; 3,297 Bolingbroke and IVs, 902 Vs)

Animated 3D model Bristol Blenheim I

Diary December 15, 1943

 swearing-in of a Red Army soldier

The swearing-in of a Red Army soldier.

WW2 War Diary for Wednesday, December 15, 1943:

Eastern Front

Northern Sector: Bagramyovs’ 1st Baltic Front attacks south of Nevel and quickly punches hole, 80 km wide and 30 km deep, through strong defences (December 15-19).

Occupied Territories

Russia: First trial of Nazi ‘War Criminals’ at Kharkov.

Sea War

Pacific: Americans land on Arawe Peninsular (New Britain).