Campaign for North Rivett day 6 Posted on 15 Mar 00:18 , 0 comments
This cataclysmic war was not only diplomacy by other means, but diplomacy itself.
After sustained pressure by Germany's Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Finland reluctantly signed the Tripartite pact with the Axis powers and declared war on the Soviet Union on the 20th February to the fury of Joseph Stalin.
In retaliation, He got Molotov to agree an extension of the Soviet Japanese non-aggression pact for a further 3 years ensuring that the Soviet Union could now concentrate fully on her Axis foes.
Next Stalin negotiated an agreement with the USA that reflagged 3 million tonnes of US shipping as Russian merchantmen allowing 250,000 tonnes of vital raw materials and military equipment to be imported directly into Vladivostok from the US West coast each month avoiding the Kriegsmarine's U boat threat entirely.
This ensured that Russia's factories, now safely transported into the Urals, could gear up to full production (1.45 million tonnes per month of aircraft, tanks guns and all the other requisites of war desperately needed to defend the motherland).
On the eastern front itself, May brought renewed offensives by the Wehrmacht all across the front, but the early attacks were repulsed with heavy losses to the attackers.
The Soviet troops used the opportunity to launch savage counterattacks in the south that by the middle of June 1942 had completely eliminated the Kharkov Bulge with several heroic Soviet units being promoted to Guards status.
Soviet Southern front mid-June 1942
It was during this critical time in German fortunes that one of Adolf's spies reported to him that in early May Stalin had demanded that his Department of Industry immediately report what Germany had produced in June 1942. Adolf wailed "how can he be beating me when he doesn't even know what day it is?!?"
It was not until late July, and after an expenditure of an enormous amounts of fuel, ammunition and supplies, that the Germans finally broke through on the Russian front just south of Smolensk led by the IV SS mechanised corps directed by Guderian.
This caused enormous difficulties for Stavka both north and south of the breach that required further thinning of the lines even after another withdrawal from the Dnieper line south of Gomel. Stalin started praying for General winter to come early this year.
Further south, the Italian navy supported by 2100 Axis fighters and land based naval bombers, sailed into the Eastern Mediterranean in May 1942 to ensure supply to Panzer Armee Afrika, which led Cunningham, in command of the British Mediterranean fleet, to sortie with all available units to intercept the Regia Marina. His force consisted of 5 fleet carriers and 8 cruisers supported by 900 fighters and 300 Vildebeest torpedo bombers.
They met on the 20th May and carnage ensued. The German Bf-110F and Italian Re 2000 escorts were hopelessly outclassed by the magnificent Spitfire VCs ably supported by older Hurricane and Spitfires as well as 50 carrier borne fighters and soon 600 Sparviero and Gabbiano naval bombers had been destroyed for little loss to the RAF.
However large numbers of SM 84s and Z 511 torpedo bombers managed to elude the Spitfires to press home their attack on the CV Indomitable which they sunk with heavy loss of life. This was the first British CV lost in the war.
The Italians also lost heavily having 4 Trento class cruisers sunk and their most advanced battleships, the Vittorio Veneto and Littorio, severely damaged.
Not willing to stay and continue the unequal struggle with the vastly superior RAF, the Italians scuttled for home at Taranto leaving the Mediterranean il loro mare.
Cunningham took full advantage of the disorganised state of the Regia Aeronautica in Sicily to launch a surprise raid that captured Syracuse and destroyed 600 surviving bombers from the second Battle of Cape Matapan. However it was at the cost of the II British corps which suffered heavy casualties before being withdrawn.
Mussolini ordered massive reinforcements to Sicily and recaptured Syracuse on the 6 July 1942 after the evacuation of the remaining British raiders.
But Cunningham wasn't finished yet. British intelligence had quickly discovered that the bulk of the Italian army was withdrawing as rapidly as possible from Egypt back to their base at Tripoli. With an alacrity unusual in British commanders, Cunningham launched a second surprise invasion, this time of Tripoli itself, hundreds of kilometres behind the front line. The invasion was entirely successful leaving Balbo's entire army out of supply and isolated from any succour.
In the Atlantic however, German and Italian subs were still causing havoc and by the end of August destroyed another 2 million tonnes bringing the total to 13 million tonnes of British shipping sunk since the commencement of hostilities, 70% of their pre-war total! "Medals all round" ordered a jubilant Mussolini, ignoring the crises closer to hand.
In the Pacific meanwhile, the Japanese were continuing their lightning advance to expand their ever growing empire.
Their first objective was to secure the Philippines and destroy Macarthur's command. They commenced operations in late April landing the elite Imperial Guard Marine corps on the east coast. They then advanced rapidly southwest towards Manila where they were joined by the 11th army and Yamashita's army reserve. When all was ready, on the 24th May 1942, they attacked Manila supported by the Japanese fleet and I Para corps in the first major Japanese parachute drop of the war.
Macarthur's motley force of US reservists and Philippino conscripts had little chance against the cream of the Japanese army and navy, and on the 16th June the US surrendered after dug out Doug escaped the Islands in a US sub to grandly announce "I shall return".
Further east, the SNLF based at Rabaul landed at Lae in New Guinea and advanced over the Owen Stanley range intent on capturing Port Moresby. They were halted just short of their objective by the plucky Auckland militia rushed to the town for its defence.
The Kidō Butai was based at Truk ready to counter any potential strike by the US fleet across the Pacific.
With her perimeter now secured, Japan had to decide on her next moves. With her Russian front secured by treaty and amity, several courses of action were now possible. A strike south to invade Australia and New Zealand, a strike eastwards to Pearl Harbor or a strike west towards India and the Middle East.
Although all possibilities had their advantages, with the US fleet currently cowed, and the riches of India looking ripe for the plucking, Hirohito ordered its invasion and occupation.
Thus in July the Japanese invasion fleet sailed majestically into the Bay of Bengal but just when they were ready to land, were thwarted by weeks of monsoon weather.
In desperation towards the end of August the fleet turned back and instead invaded Port Blair in the Andaman Islands to control the port allowing the invasion of India to be launched in September with air support based in the Andamans.
However they were still frustrated by the North monsoon's prolonged wet season and had to wait until 5th October before they launched their invasion against the major port of Trincomalee.
Even then the weather was poor and several Japanese transports carrying the Imperial Guards marine corps were sunk in the huge seas. Add to this the fanatical defence of the scratch local forces and the general disorganisation of the long delay, and the invaders took heavy losses before finally securing the port on the 18th.
However the Life Guard marines were storming ashore in the second wave and British India looked more vulnerable than at anytime since Clive first established the jewel in the crown almost 200 years before. Churchill declared this the gravest crisis of the war. Was the sun finally setting on the British empire?