20 February 1942

Lieutenant Edward O’Hare becomes America’s first World War II flying ace.

The "first French ace", Frenchman Adolphe Pégoud being awarded the Croix de guerre.

A flying ace, fighter ace or air ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down several enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The actual number of aerial victories required to officially qualify as an ace has varied, but is usually considered to be five or more.

The concept of the "ace" emerged in 1915 during World War I, at the same time as aerial dogfighting. It was a propaganda term intended to provide the home front with a cult of the hero in what was otherwise a war of attrition. The individual actions of aces were widely reported and the image was disseminated of the ace as a chivalrous knight reminiscent of a bygone era.[1] For a brief early period when air-to-air combat was just being invented, the exceptionally skilled pilot could shape the battle in the skies. For most of the war, however, the image of the ace had little to do with the reality of air warfare, in which fighters fought in formation and air superiority depended heavily on the relative availability of resources.[2]

Use of the term ace to describe these pilots began in World War I, when French newspapers described Adolphe Pégoud, as l'As (the ace) after he became the first pilot to down five German aircraft. The British initially used the term "star-turns" (a show business term), while the Germans described their elite fighter pilots as Überkanonen (which roughly translates to "top guns").

The successes of such German ace pilots as Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke were much publicized, for the benefit of civilian morale, and the Pour le Mérite, Prussia's highest award for gallantry, became part of the uniform of a leading German ace. In the Luftstreitkräfte, the Pour le Mérite was nicknamed Der blaue Max/The Blue Max, after Max Immelmann, who was the first pilot to receive this award. Initially, German aviators had to destroy eight Allied aircraft to receive this medal.[3] As the war progressed, the qualifications for Pour le Mérite were raised,[3] but successful German fighter pilots continued to be hailed as national heroes for the remainder of the war.

The few aces among combat aviators have historically accounted for the majority of air-to-air victories in military history.[4]

History

World War I

Manfred von Richthofen, known as the "Red Baron", scored the most officially accepted kills in World War I and is arguably the most famous flying ace of all time.
French Colonel Rene Fonck, to this day the highest-scoring Allied flying ace with 75 victories.

World War I introduced the systematic use of true single-seat fighter aircraft, with enough speed and agility to catch and maintain contact with targets in the air, coupled with armament sufficiently powerful to destroy the targets. Aerial combat became a prominent feature with the Fokker Scourge, in the last half of 1915. This was also the beginning of a long-standing trend in warfare, showing statistically that approximately five percent of combat pilots account for the majority of air-to-air victories.[4]


As the German fighter squadrons usually fought well within German lines, it was practicable to establish and maintain very strict guidelines for the official recognition of victory claims by German pilots. Shared victories were either credited to one of the pilots concerned or to the unit as a whole – the destruction of the aircraft had to be physically confirmed by locating its wreckage, or an independent witness to the destruction had to be found. Victories were also counted for aircraft forced down within German lines, as this usually resulted in the death or capture of the enemy aircrew.

Allied fighter pilots fought mostly in German-held airspace[5][6] and were often not in a position to confirm that an apparently destroyed enemy aircraft had in fact crashed, so these victories were frequently claimed as "driven down", "forced to land", or "out of control" (called "probables" in later wars). These victories were usually included in a pilot's totals and in citations for decorations.[7]

Eddie Rickenbacker was an American fighter ace in World War I and Medal of Honor recipient, with 26 aerial victories.

The British high command considered praise of fighter pilots to be detrimental to equally brave bomber and reconnaissance aircrew – so that the British air services did not publish official statistics on the successes of individuals. Nonetheless some pilots did become famous through press coverage,[3] making the British system for the recognition of successful fighter pilots much more informal and somewhat inconsistent. One pilot, Arthur Gould Lee, described his own score in a letter to his wife as "Eleven, five by me solo — the rest shared", adding that he was "miles from being an ace".[8] This shows that his No. 46 Squadron RAF counted shared kills, but separately from "solo" ones—one of a number of factors that seems to have varied from unit to unit. Also evident is that Lee considered a higher figure than five kills to be necessary for "ace" status. Aviation historians credit him as an ace with two enemy aircraft destroyed and five driven down out of control, for a total of seven victories.[9]

Albert Ball, Britain's first famous flying ace. He was killed in 1917, aged 20.

Other Allied countries, such as France and Italy, fell somewhere in between the very strict German approach and the relatively casual British one. They usually demanded independent witnessing of the destruction of an aircraft, making confirmation of victories scored in enemy territory very difficult.[10] The Belgian crediting system sometimes included "out of control" to be counted as a victory.[11]

The United States Army Air Service adopted French standards for evaluating victories, with two exceptions – during the summer of 1918, while flying under operational control of the British, the 17th Aero Squadron and the 148th Aero Squadron used British standards.[10] American newsmen, in their correspondence to their papers, decided that five victories were the minimum needed to become an ace.[12]

While "ace" status was generally won only by fighter pilots, bomber and reconnaissance crews on both sides also destroyed some enemy aircraft, typically in defending themselves from attack. The most notable example of a non-pilot ace in World War I is Charles George Gass with 39 accredited aerial victories.[13]

Between the world wars

Between the two world wars, there were two theaters that produced flying aces, the Spanish Civil War and the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The Spanish ace Joaquín García Morato scored 40 victories for the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War. Part of the outside intervention in the war was the supply of "volunteer" foreign pilots to both sides. Russian and American aces joined the Republican air force, while the Nationalists included Germans and Italians.

The Soviet Volunteer Group began operations in the Second Sino-Japanese War as early as December 2, 1937, resulting in 28 Soviet aces.[14] The Flying Tigers were American military pilots recruited sub rosa to aid the Chinese Nationalists. They spent the summer and autumn of 1941 in transit to China, and did not begin flying combat missions until December 20, 1941.

World War II

Major Richard Bong, the top American flying ace in the war, credited with shooting down 40 Japanese aircraft in his P-38 Lightning

In World War II many air forces adopted the British practice of crediting fractional shares of aerial victories, resulting in fractions or decimal scores, such as ​11 12 or 26.83. Some U.S. commands also credited aircraft destroyed on the ground as equal to aerial victories. The Soviets distinguished between solo and group kills, as did the Japanese, though the Imperial Japanese Navy stopped crediting individual victories (in favor of squadron tallies) in 1943.[citation needed] The Soviet Air Forces has the top Allied pilots in terms of aerial victories, Ivan Kozhedub credited with 66 victories and Alexander Pokryshkin scored 65 victories. It also claimed the only female aces of the war: Lydia Litvyak scored 12 victories and Yekaterina Budanova achieved 11.[15] Fighting on different sides, the French pilot Pierre Le Gloan had the unusual distinction of shooting down four German, seven Italian and seven British aircraft, the latter while he was flying for Vichy France in Syria.[citation needed]

The Luftwaffe continued the tradition of "one pilot, one kill", and now referred to top scorers as Experten.[N 1] During the war, and for some years after, the very high victory totals of some Experten were considered by many historians to be coloured by grandiose Nazi propaganda. In spite of this, there are 107 German pilots with more than 100 kills.

A number of factors probably contributed to the very high totals of the top German aces. For a limited period (especially during Operation Barbarossa), many Axis victories were over obsolescent aircraft and either poorly trained or inexperienced Allied pilots.[17] In addition, Luftwaffe pilots generally flew many more individual sorties (sometimes well over 1000) than their Allied counterparts. Moreover, they often kept flying combat missions until they were captured, incapacitated, or killed, while successful Allied pilots were usually either promoted to positions involving less combat flying or routinely rotated back to training bases to pass their valuable combat knowledge to younger pilots.[citation needed] An imbalance in the number of targets available also contributed to the apparently lower numbers on the Allied side, since the number of operational Luftwaffe fighters was normally well below 1,500, with the total aircraft number never exceeding 5,000, and the total aircraft production of the Allies being nearly triple that of the other side. A difference in tactics might have been a factor as well; Erich Hartmann, for example, stated "See if there is a straggler or an uncertain pilot among the enemy... Shoot him down.",[18] which would have been an efficient and relatively low-risk way of increasing the number of kills. At the same time, the Soviet 1943 "Instruction For Air Combat" stated that the first priority must be the enemy commander, which was a much riskier task, but one giving the highest return in case of a success.

Similarly, in the Pacific theater, one of the factors leading to the superiority of Japanese aces such as the legendary Hiroyoshi Nishizawa (about 87 kills) could be the early technical dominance of the Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" fighter.[citation needed]

Post-World War II aces

Korean War

The Korean War of 1950–53 marked the transition from piston-engined propeller driven aircraft to more modern jet aircraft. As such, it saw the world's first jet-vs-jet aces.

Vietnam War

Nguyễn Văn Cốc had the single highest number of air-to-air kills in the conflict with 9 against US jets, being rewarded with a Hero of the People's Armed Forces medal by Ho Chi Minh.

The Vietnam People's Air Force had begun development of its modern air-forces, primarily trained by Czechoslovak and Soviet trainers since 1956.[19] The outbreak of the largest sustained bombardment campaign in history prompted rapid deployment of the nascent air-force, and the first engagement of the war was on April 1965 at Thanh Hóa Bridge which saw relatively outdated subsonic MiG-17 units thrown against technically superior F-105 Thunderchief fighter crafts and F-8 Crusader, damaging 1 F-8 and killing two F-105 jets.[20] The Mig-17 generally did not have sophisticated radars and missiles and relied on dog-fighting and manoeuvrability to score kills on US aircraft.[19] Since US aircraft heavily outnumbered North Vietnamese ones, the Warsaw Pact and others had begun arming North Vietnam with MiG-21 jets.[19] The VPAF had adopted an interesting strategy of "guerrilla warfare in the sky" utilising quick hit-and-run attacks against US targets, continually flying low and forcing faster, more heavily-armed US jets to engage in dog-fighting where the Mig-17 and Mig-21 had superior manoeuvrability.[21] The VPAF had carried out the first air-raid on US ships since WW2, with two aces including Nguyễn Văn Bảy attacking US ships during the Battle of Đồng Hới in 1972. Quite often air-to-air losses of US fighter jets were re-attributed to surface-to-air missiles, as it was considered "less embarrassing".[22] By the war's end, the US had nevertheless confirmed 245 air-to-air US aircraft losses[23] while the figures for North Vietnam are disputed, ranging from 195 North Vietnamese aircraft from US claims[24] to 131 from Soviet, North Vietnamese and allied records.[25]

American air-to-air combat during the Vietnam War generally matched intruding United States fighter-bombers against radar-directed integrated North Vietnamese air defense systems. American F-4 Phantom II, F-8 Crusader and F-105 fighter crews usually had to contend with surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, and machine gun fire before opposing fighters attacked them.[citation needed] The long-running conflict produced 22 aces: 17 North Vietnamese pilots, two American pilots, three American weapon systems officers or WSOs (WSO is the USAF designation, one of the three was actually a US Naval aviator, with an equivalent job, but using the USN designation of Radar Intercept Officer or RIO).[26]

Arab–Israeli war

The series of wars and conflicts between Israel and its neighbors began with Israeli independence in 1948 and continued for over three decades.

Iran–Iraq war

Brig. General Jalil Zandi, an ace fighter pilot in the Iranian Air Force. The most successful F-14 Tomcat pilot ever with eight confirmed kills during the Iran-Iraq war.

Brig. General Jalil Zandi (1951–2001) was an ace fighter pilot in the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, serving for the full duration of the Iran–Iraq War. His record of eight confirmed and three probable[27] victories against Iraqi combat aircraft qualifies him as an ace and the most successful pilot of that conflict and the most successful Grumman F-14 Tomcat pilot worldwide.[28][29][30][31][32]

Brig. General Shahram Rostami was another Iranian ace. He was also an F-14 pilot. He had six confirmed kills. His victories include one MiG-21, two MiG-25s, and three Mirage F1s.[33]Colonel Mohammed Rayyan was also another ace fighter pilot who shot down 5 to 8 Iranian aircraft, mostly F-4 Phantoms during the war.[34]

Accuracy

Realistic assessment of enemy casualties is important for intelligence purposes, so most air forces expend considerable effort to ensure accuracy in victory claims. In World War II, the aircraft gun camera came into general usage, partly in hope of alleviating inaccurate victory claims.[N 2]

And yet, to quote an extreme example, in the Korean War, both the U.S. and Communist air arms claimed a 10-to-1 victory/loss ratio.[36][37] Without delving too deeply into these claims, they are obviously mutually incompatible. Arguably, few recognized aces actually shot down as many aircraft as credited to them. There are several reasons for the overstatement of victories: the use of a high victory-to-loss ratio and/or a high total number of victories claimed are utilized in propaganda; there is the inherent confusion of three-dimensional, high speed combat between large numbers of aircraft, but this is mostly resolved through the use of on-board cameras; and the competitiveness and the desire for recognition (not to mention optimistic enthusiasm) also figure into inflation, especially when the attainment of a specific total is required for a particular decoration or promotion.[38][unreliable source?] Adolf Galland stated: "Hermann Göring actually goes much further, and claims that scores were deliberately falsified for the purpose of fabricating grounds for decorations—but this seems unlikely to be the case, nor Goering's real opinion."[35]

The most accurate figures usually belong to the air arm fighting over its own territory, where many wrecks can be located, and even identified, and where shot down enemy are either killed or captured. It is for this reason that at least 76 of the 80 aircraft credited to Manfred von Richthofen can be tied to known British losses[39]—the German Jagdstaffeln flew defensively, on their own side of the lines, in part due to General Hugh Trenchard's policy of offensive patrol.

On the other hand, losses (especially in aircraft as opposed to personnel) are sometimes recorded inaccurately, for various reasons. Nearly 50% of RAF victories in the Battle of Britain, for instance, do not tally statistically with recorded German losses—but some at least of this apparent over-claiming can be tallied with known wrecks, and aircrew known to have been in British PoW camps.[40] There are several reasons for the understatement of losses: attempting to cover-up incompetence or to create the impression that the commander is doing his job well; poor reporting procedures; and the loss of records due to enemy action, fire, wartime confusion, and/or purposeful destruction.

Non-pilot aces

Charles B. DeBellevue, the first USAF weapon systems officer to become a flying ace.

While aces are generally thought of exclusively as fighter pilots, some have accorded this status to gunners on bombers or reconnaissance aircraft, observers in two-seater fighters such as the early Bristol F.2b, and navigators/weapons officers in aircraft like the F-4 Phantom. Because pilots often teamed with different air crew members, an observer or gunner might be an ace while his pilot is not, or vice versa. Observer aces constitute a sizable minority in many lists. Charles George Gass, who tallied 39 victories, was the highest scoring observer ace in World War I.[41]

In World War II, United States Army Air Forces B-17 tail gunner S/Sgt. Michael Arooth (379th Bomb Group) was credited with 17 victories.[42][43] The Royal Air Force's leading bomber gunner, Wallace McIntosh, was credited with eight kills, including three on one mission. Flight Sergeant F. J. Barker scored 13 victories while flying as a gunner in a Boulton Paul Defiant turret fighter piloted by Flight Sergeant E. R. Thorne.[44][45]

With the advent of more advanced technology, a third category of ace appeared. Charles B. DeBellevue became not only the first U.S. Air Force weapon systems officer (WSO) to become an ace but also the top American ace of the Vietnam War, with six victories.[46] Close behind with five were fellow WSO Jeffrey Feinstein[47] and Radar Intercept Officer William P. Driscoll.[48]

Ace in a day

The first military aviators to score five or more victories on the same date, thus each becoming an "ace in a day", were pilot Julius Arigi and observer/gunner Johann Lasi of the Austro-Hungarian air force, on August 22, 1916, when they downed five Italian aircraft.[49] The feat was repeated five more times during World War I.[50][51][52]

Becoming an ace in a day became relatively common during World War II. A total of 68 U.S. pilots (43 Army Air Forces, 18 Navy, and seven Marine Corps pilots) were credited with the feat.

In the Soviet offensive of 1944 in the Karelian Isthmus, Finnish pilot Hans Wind shot down 30 enemy aircraft in 12 days. In doing so, he obtained "ace in a day" status three times.

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ For the award of decorations, the Germans initiated a points system to equal up achievements between the aces flying on the Eastern front with those on other, more demanding, fronts: one for a fighter, two for a twin-engine bomber, three for a four-engine bomber; night victories counted double; Mosquitoes counted double, due to the difficulty of bringing them down.[16]
  2. ^ The classic instance of this is the catastrophic failure of German intelligence to accurately assess RAF losses during the Battle of Britain, due (in large part anyway) to wild over-claiming by German fighter pilots.[35]

Citations

  1. ^ Robertson, pp. 100—103.
  2. ^ Belich 2001.
  3. ^ a b c Payne, Dr. David. "Major 'Mick' Mannock, VC: Top Scoring British Flying Ace in the Great War." Western Front Association, May 21, 2008.
  4. ^ a b Dunnigan 2003, p. 149.
  5. ^ Shores et al. 1990, p. 6.
  6. ^ Guttman 2009, p. 39.
  7. ^ Shores, Franks and Guest, 1990, p. 8.
  8. ^ Lee 1968, p. 208.
  9. ^ Shores et al. 1990, pp. 236–237.
  10. ^ a b Franks and Bailey 1992, p. 6.
  11. ^ Pieters 1998, pp. 34, 85.
  12. ^ Farr 1979, p. 55.
  13. ^ Franks et al. 1997, pp. 18–19.
  14. ^ "Allied aces of War in China and Mongol-Manchurian border" Wio.ru Retrieved: October 10, 2014.
  15. ^ Bergström 2007, p. 83.
  16. ^ Johnson 1967, p. 264.
  17. ^ Shores 1983, pp. 94–95.
  18. ^ Toliver, Raymond F.; Constable, Trevor J. (1986). The Blond Knight of Germany. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-8306-8189-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  19. ^ a b c Toperczer, István (2017-09-21). MiG-21 Aces of the Vietnam War. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781472823571.
  20. ^ Toperczer, István (2017-09-21). MiG-21 Aces of the Vietnam War. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 4. ISBN 9781472823571.
  21. ^ Toperczer, István (2016-10-20). MiG-17/19 Aces of the Vietnam War. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781472812575.
  22. ^ E., Gordon (2008). Mikoyan MiG-21. Dexter, Keith., Komissarov, Dmitriĭ (Dmitriĭ Sergeevich). Hinckley: Midland. ISBN 9781857802573. OCLC 245555578.
  23. ^ "US Air-to-Air Losses in the Vietnam War". myplace.frontier.com. Retrieved 2018-06-19.
  24. ^ Air warfare: an international encyclopedia. Boyne, Walter J., 1929-. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. 2002. p. 679. ISBN 978-1576073452. OCLC 49225204.CS1 maint: others (link)
  25. ^ "Kafedra i klinika urologii pervogo sankt-peterburgskogo gosudarstvennogo meditsinskogo universiteta im. akad. I. P. Pavlova: vchera, segodnya, zavtra". Urologicheskie Vedomosti. 5 (1): 3. 2015-03-15. doi:10.17816/uroved513-6. ISSN 2225-9074.
  26. ^ "Aces." Safari Kovi. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  27. ^ Herbert, Adam (January 2015). "Air Power Classics". Air Force Magazine: 76.
  28. ^ "Imperial Iranian Air Force: Samurai in the skies." IIAF, August 22, 1980. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  29. ^ Cooper, Tom and Farzad Bishop. "Fire in the Hills: Iranian and Iraqi Battles of Autumn 1982." ACIG, September 9, 2003. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  30. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-17. Retrieved 2015-04-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  31. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-03-23. Retrieved 2018-03-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  32. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-03-23. Retrieved 2011-07-29.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  33. ^ John Sadler, Rosie Serdville (2017), Fighter Aces: Knights of the Skies, Casemate Publishers, p. 21, ISBN 9781612004839CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  34. ^ Nicolle, David; Cooper, Tom (2004). Arab MiG-19 and MiG-21 Units in Combat. Osprey Publishing.
  35. ^ a b Galland 1956, p. 279.
  36. ^ "Korean Air War: Korean air war statistics from sources of USA and USSR." Wio (RU). Retrieved: October 10, 2014.
  37. ^ Shores 1983, pp. 161–167.
  38. ^ Shores, Christopher. "Re: Flying Tigers VS Christopher Shores?" 12 O'clock high, 2007.
  39. ^ Robinson 1958, pp. 150–155.
  40. ^ Lake 2000, p. 122.
  41. ^ Franks et al. 1997, p. 18.
  42. ^ "Hall of Valor: Michael Arooth." Military Times. Retrieved: October 10, 2014.
  43. ^ Phaneuf, Wayne. "Springfield's 375th: City monuments honor those who answered the call of duty." The Republican , May 29, 2011.
  44. ^ "The Airmen's Stories: Sgt. F J Barker." Archived 2014-04-19 at the Wayback Machine Battle of Britain London Monument. Retrieved: April 17, 2014.
  45. ^ Thomas 2012, p. 55.
  46. ^ "Col. Charles DeBellevue." Archived 2009-09-12 at the Wayback Machine U.S. Air Force official web site. Retrieved: May 22, 2010.
  47. ^ "USAF Southeast Asia War Aces." Archived 2013-12-20 at the Wayback Machine National Museum of the United States Air Force, March 30, 2011. Retrieved: June 29, 2012.
  48. ^ "USS Constellation (CV 64)." United States Navy. Retrieved: June 29, 2012.
  49. ^ O'Connor 1986, pp. 190–91, 272, 324.
  50. ^ Franks et al. 1993, p. 70.
  51. ^ Shores et al. 1990, pp. 368, 390.
  52. ^ Franks and Bailey 1992, p. 161.

Bibliography

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  • Franks, Norman, Frank W. Bailey and Russell Guest. Above the Lines: The Aces and Fighter Units of the German Air Service, Naval Air Service and Flanders Marine Corps, 1914–1918. London: Grub Street, 1993. ISBN 978-0-94881-773-1.
  • ———; Guest, Russell; Alegi, Gregory (1997), Above the War Fronts: The British Two-seater Bomber Pilot and Observer Aces, the British Two-seater Fighter Observer Aces, and the Belgian, Italian, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Fighter Aces, 1914–1918, Fighting Airmen of WWI, 4, London: Grub Street, ISBN 978-1-898697-56-5.
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External links

30 August 1942

World War II: The Battle of Alam el Halfa begins.

The Battle of Alam el Halfa took place between 30 August and 5 September 1942 south of El Alamein during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. Panzerarmee Afrika (Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel), attempted an envelopment of the British Eighth Army (Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery). In Unternehmen Brandung (Operation Surf), the last big Axis offensive of the Western Desert Campaign, Rommel intended to defeat the Eighth Army before Allied reinforcements arrived.

Montgomery knew of Axis intentions through Ultra signals intercepts and left a gap in the southern sector of the front, knowing that Rommel planned to attack there and deployed the bulk of his armour and artillery around Alam el Halfa Ridge, 20 miles (32 km) behind the front. Unlike in previous engagements, Montgomery ordered that the tanks were to be used as anti-tank guns, remaining in their defensive positions on the ridge. When Axis attacks on the ridge failed and short on supplies, Rommel ordered a withdrawal. The 2nd New Zealand Division conducted Operation Beresford against Italian positions, which was a costly failure.

Montgomery chose not to exploit his defensive victory, preferring to continue the methodical build up of strength for his autumn offensive, the Second Battle of El Alamein. Rommel claimed that British air superiority determined the result, being unaware of British Ultra intelligence. Rommel adapted to the increasing Allied dominance in the air by keeping his forces dispersed. With the failure at Alam Halfa, the Axis forces in Africa lost the initiative and Axis strategic aims in Africa were no longer possible.

Background

A lull followed the Axis failure in the First Battle of El Alamein and the counterattacks by the Eighth Army (General Sir Claude Auchinleck) in July 1942. At Alamein, the Axis supply position was precarious because the main supply ports of Benghazi and Tobruk were 800 mi (1,300 km) and 400 mi (640 km) from the front and Tripoli—1,200 mi (1,900 km) away—was almost redundant because of its distance from the front.[3] The original Axis plan for the Battle of Gazala in June had been to capture Tobruk then pause for six weeks on the Egyptian frontier to prepare an invasion of Egypt. The magnitude of the Axis victory at Gazala led Rommel to pursue the Eighth Army to deny the Allies time to organise another defensive front west of Cairo and the Suez Canal. Axis air forces which had been allocated to Operation Herkules, an attack on Malta, were diverted into Egypt.[4]

The British in Malta were able to rebuild their strength to resume attacks on Axis supply convoys to North Africa. From mid-August there was a big increase in Axis losses at sea, notably from a reinforced Mediterranean submarine force.[4] At the end of August, the Axis forces had been reinforced by troops flown from Crete but were short supplies, notably ammunition and petrol.[5][6] There was a recovery in the armoured strength of Panzerarmee Afrika in August, German tank strength rising from 133 "runners" to 234 and the number of Italian runners increased from 96 to 281 (of which 234 were medium tanks).[7] Luftwaffe strength increased to 298 aircraft from 210 before the Battle of Gazala and the Italian number rising to 460 aircraft.[7]

General Sir Harold Alexander—the new Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of Middle East Command—had only a short distance from the supply bases and ports in Egypt to the front line but supplies from Britain, the Commonwealth and the United States still took a long time to arrive. By the summer of 1942, equipment receipts began to increase, notably of new Sherman tanks and six-pounder anti-tank guns to supplement obsolete two-pounders. The RAF and associated air forces under command, supported by new American squadrons maintained a considerable degree of air superiority.[6] Sources of military intelligence were integrated and by mid August, British and Allied forces were benefiting from tactically useful information.[8]

German intelligence had warned Rommel of the arrival of a 100,000 long tons (100,000 t) Allied convoy bringing new vehicles for the Allies in Egypt; reinforcements for the British would tilt the balance of advantage against the Axis.[9][10] Rommel demanded from the Italian Comando Supremo in Rome 6,000 short tons (5,400 t) of fuel and 2,500 short tons (2,300 t) of ammunition before attacking at the end of the month but by 29 August, over 50 percent of the supply ships from Italy had been sunk and only 1,500 short tons (1,400 t) of fuel had arrived at Tobruk. Rommel had to gamble on a quick victory before the increasing power of the Eighth Army made defeat inevitable. After Albert Kesselring had agreed to lend some Luftwaffe fuel, Rommel had enough for 150 mi (240 km) per vehicle with the troops and 250 mi (400 km) for other vehicles.[11]

Prelude

Plan

Italian XX Motorised Corps (XX Corpo d'Armata, Generale Giuseppe de Stefanis)

At El Alamein an attack would have to pass between the coast and the Qattara Depression about 40 mi (64 km) to the south and impassable for tanks. The Eighth Army defences were quite strong but Rommel believed that the south end between Munassib and Qaret El Himeimat, was lightly held and not extensively mined.[12] One account indicated the northern and central sectors of the front were so strongly fortified that the southern stretch of 15 mi (24 km) between the New Zealand "box" on the Alam Nayil Ridge and the Qattara Depression, was the only place where an attack could quickly succeed. Since surprise in location was impossible, Rommel had to depend on achieving surprise by time and speed. By rapidly breaking through in the south, Axis forces might get astride the Eighth Army supply routes, throw it off balance and disorganise its defence.[13]

Rommel planned a night attack to be well beyond the Eighth Army minefields before sunrise. In the north, the XXI Infantry Corps (XXI Corpo d'Armata, Generale Enea Navarini) comprising the "Trento" and "Bologna" Divisions, the XXXI Guastatori (Troublemakers) Battalion, the German 164th Light Division and elements of the Ramcke Parachute Brigade, was to conduct a frontal demonstration to fix the defenders. The main attack was to be led by the 15th Panzer Division and the 21st Panzer Division and the 90th Light Division to the south which would turn north once through the British minefields.[13] The Eighth Army would be surrounded and destroyed, leaving the Axis forces with a promenade through Egypt to the Suez Canal.[14][15]

Allied defences

Alam el Halfa battlefield, August 1942

British Ultra decrypts had anticipated an Axis attack[16][17] and Auchinleck set out the basic defensive plan with several contingencies for defensive works around Alexandria and Cairo in case Axis armour broke through. On 13 August, command of the Eighth Army passed to Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery. After visiting the front, Montgomery ordered that the contingency plans be destroyed and emphasised his intention to hold the ground around Alamein at all costs.[18] In the northern sector, just south of Ruweisat Ridge to the coast, XXX Corps (Lieutenant-General William Ramsden) comprising the 9th Australian Division, the 1st South African Infantry Division and the 5th Indian Infantry Division with the 23rd Armoured Brigade in reserve was deployed behind minefields.[19][20]

XIII Corps (Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks) held the ground south of Ruweisat Ridge. The 2nd New Zealand Division was deployed on a 5 mi (8.0 km) front south of the ridge in the New Zealand Box, which formed a corner to the main defences with its hinge of the higher ground at Alam Nayil. Since the featureless southern sector was hard to defend against an armoured attack, Montgomery chose to hold lightly the 12 mi (19 km) front from the New Zealand Box to Qaret el Himeimat on the edge of the Qattara Depression, to encourage Rommel to take the bait and attack there. This gap would be mined and wired; the 7th Motor Brigade Group and 4th Light Armoured Brigade (7th Armoured Division) would cover the minefields but withdraw when necessary.[21]

The attackers would meet the main defensive positions when they swung north and approached the Alam el Halfa ridge, behind the Eighth Army front. The bulk of the British medium tanks (in 22nd Armoured Brigade) and anti-tank units were dug in to wait for the Axis attack. Behind the British armour, on the high ground to the north east would be two infantry brigades of the 44th (Home Counties) Division and concentrations of divisional and corps artillery.[22] The 10th Armoured Division had been refitting in the Nile Delta with General Grant tanks with the effective 75 millimetres (2.95 in) main gun and would reinforce the Alam El Halfa position when available. Most of the 8th Armoured Brigade had arrived by 30 August and took post to manoeuvre on the left of 22nd Armoured Brigade and on the flank of the enemy's expected advance.[23][19] Once Montgomery had seen the Axis dispositions after the initial advance, he released the 23rd Armoured Brigade, in XXX Corps reserve at the eastern end of Ruweisat Ridge, to XIII Corps, attached to the 10th Armoured Division. By 13:00 on 31 August, 100 Valentine tanks had moved to fill the gap between 22nd Armoured Brigade and the New Zealanders.[24]

Battle

30/31 August

The attack started on the night of 30 August, taking advantage of a full moon. From the start, things went wrong for Rommel; the RAF spotted the Axis vehicle concentrations and unleashed several air attacks on them. Fairey Albacores of the Royal Navy dropped flares to illuminate targets for Vickers Wellington medium bombers and for the artillery;[25] also, the minefields that were thought to be thin turned out to be deep. The British units covering the minefields were the two brigades of the 7th Armoured Division (7th Motor and 4th Armoured), whose orders were to inflict maximum casualties before retiring. This they did, and the Axis losses began to rise. They included General Walther Nehring, the Afrika Korps commander, wounded in an air raid, and General Georg von Bismarck, commander of the 21st Panzer Division, killed by a mine explosion.[26]

31 August

Despite these difficulties, Rommel's forces were through the minefields by midday the next day and had wheeled left and were drawn up ready to make the main attack originally scheduled for 06:00.[27] The late running of the planned schedule and the continued harassing flank attacks from the 7th Armoured Division had forced them to turn north into Montgomery's flank further west than originally planned and directly toward the prepared defences on Alam el Halfa. At 13:00, the 15th Panzer Division set off, followed an hour later by 21st Panzer. The Allied units holding the ridge were the British 22nd Armoured Brigade with 92 Grants and 74 light tanks, supported by anti-tank units with six-pounder guns and the artillery of the 44th (Home Counties) Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division.[28]

The Axis forces had approximately 200 gun-armed tanks in the two Panzer divisions and 240 in the two Italian armoured divisions. The Italian tanks were mostly obsolete models, with the exception of the Semovente da 75/18, which could defeat Allied medium tanks using HEAT ammunition, which could penetrate 70 mm of armour at 50 meters.[29] The Germans had 74 up-armoured Panzer IIIs with long-barrelled 50 mm (1.97 in) guns (Pz.Kpfw III Ausf.L) and 27 Panzer IVs with long 75 mm guns (Pz.Kpfw IV Ausf.F2).[30] The British had 700 tanks at the front, of which 160 were Grants. Only 500 of the British tanks were engaged in the armoured battle, which was brief.[31]

As the Panzer divisions approached the ridge, the Panzer IV F2 tanks opened fire at long range and destroyed several British tanks. The British Grants were handicapped by their hull-mounted guns that prevented them from firing from hull-down positions. When the Germans came into range, they were exposed to the fire of the brigade and their tanks were hard hit. An attempt to outflank the British was thwarted by anti-tank guns and with night beginning to fall and fuel running short because of the delays and heavy consumption over the bad 'going', General Gustav von Vaerst, the Afrika Korps commander, ordered the Panzers to pull back. During this engagement, the Germans lost 22 tanks and the British 21.[32]

British fighter brought down by Italian anti-aircraft fire during the battle.

There had also been hard infantry fighting. In the central sector, the Italians of the 25th Infantry Division "Bologna" and German Infantry Regiment 433 attacked several Indian, South African and New Zealand units on Ruweisat Ridge, and managed to capture Point 211 but were later driven off by a counter-attack.[33] Although the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45 refers to the Italo-German infantry action as simply 'feints',[34] Captain Cyril Falls, a British military historian, wrote that it was a strong counter-attack requiring an equal response.[a]

1–2 September

The night of 31 August – 1 September brought no respite for the Axis forces, as the Albacore and Wellington bombers returned to the attack, concentrating on the Axis supply lines. This added to Rommel's supply difficulties as Allied action had sunk over 50 percent of the 5,000 long tons (5,100 t) of petrol promised to him by Mussolini.[36] On 1 September the 21st Panzer Division was inactive (probably because of a lack of fuel) and operations were limited to an attack by the 15th Panzer Division toward the eastern flank of the 22nd Armoured Brigade.[24] The attack started at dawn but was quickly stopped by a flank attack from the 8th Armoured Brigade. The Germans suffered little, as the British were under orders to spare their tanks for the coming offensive but they could make no headway either and were heavily shelled.[37] The 133rd Armoured Division Littorio and 132nd Armoured Division Ariete had moved up on the left of the Afrika Korps and the 90th Light Division and elements of Italian X Corps had drawn up to face the southern flank of the New Zealand box.[24] Air raids continued throughout the day and night and on the morning of 2 September, realising his offensive had failed and that staying in the salient would only add to his losses, Rommel decided to withdraw.[38]

Axis withdrawal

RAF Baltimore day bomber

In a message to Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), Rommel justified his decision to abandon the offensive by the lack of fuel, Allied air superiority and the loss of surprise.[39] On 2 September, Armoured cars of the 4/8th Hussars (4th Armoured Brigade) attacked 300 Axis supply lorries near Himeimat, destroying 57 and Italian armoured units had to be moved to protect Axis supply lines. In the air the Desert Air Force (DAF) flew 167 bomber and 501 fighter sorties.[38] Montgomery realised the Afrika Korps was about to withdraw and planned attacks by the 7th Armoured Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division (Lieutenant-General Bernard Freyberg) under the proviso that they were to avoid excessive losses. The 7th Armoured Division managed harassment raids but the New Zealand Division attacked with the experienced 5th New Zealand Brigade, the new 132nd Infantry Brigade (Brigadier C. B. Robertson) of the 44th (Home Counties) Division under command and tank support from the 46th Royal Tank regiment (46th RTR, 23rd Army Tank Brigade).[40]

3–4 September, Operation Beresford

A British Valentine tank in North Africa.

Operation Beresford began at 22:30 on 3 September. The 5th New Zealand Brigade on the left inflicted many casualties on the Italian defenders and defeated Axis counter-attacks the next morning.[40] The Axis defenders were alerted by diversionary raids by the 6th New Zealand Brigade (Brigadier George Clifton) on the right flank of the 132nd Infantry Brigade which was an hour late arriving on their start line. The attack was a costly failure; the Valentine tanks of the 46th RTR got lost in the dark and ran onto a minefield where twelve were knocked out. The 90th Light Division inflicted 697 casualties on the 132nd Infantry Brigade and 275 casualties on the New Zealanders.[41] Robertson was wounded and Clifton was captured by a patrol of the X Battalion of the Italian "Folgore" Division.[42] The vigorous Axis defence suggested to Freyberg that another attack was unlikely to succeed and advised that the troops should be withdrawn from their very exposed positions and the operation called off. Montgomery and Horrocks agreed and the troops were withdrawn on the night of 4 September.[42] Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein wrote later,

An attack by our Luftwaffe against the 10th Indian Div [sic], which was in the assembly area for a counter attack against the centre of the front, caused the units which were assembled there to scatter to the winds. Also, all other attacks launched by other units against our flanks, especially the New Zealanders, were too weak to be able to effect a penetration—they could be repulsed. A night attack conducted against the X Italian Corps resulted in especially high losses for the British. Countless enemy dead lay on the battlefield and 200 prisoners were taken among whom was Gen (sic) Clifton, commanding general of the 6th New Zealand Brigade.

— Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein[23]

5 September

The position north of the New Zealand Division was held by 5th Indian Infantry Division, relieved by the 4th Indian Infantry Division on 9 September. After this failure against the Folgore Division, the Afrika Korps retired unhindered, except for attacks by the DAF, which flew 957 sorties in 24 hours.[43] By 5 September, the Axis units were back almost on their starting positions and the battle was over.[citation needed]

Aftermath

A British soldier inspects the grave of a German tank crewman, killed when his PzKpfw III tank was knocked out in the battle, 29 September 1942.

During the Battle of Alam el Halfa, the Allies suffered 1,750 casualties, compared to 2,930 for the Axis. The Allies lost more tanks than the Axis but for the first time in this campaign there was no great disproportion in tank losses. Constant harassment by the RAF cost the Panzerarmee Afrika many transport vehicles.[1] The battle was the last big offensive undertaken by the Axis in North Africa and the superior firepower of the Allies and their mastery of the skies brought them victory.[1] There has been criticism of Montgomery's leadership during the battle, especially his choice to avoid losses, which prevented the British tank formations from trying to finish off the Afrika Korps when it was strung out between the minefields and Alam Halfa.[44] Friedrich von Mellenthin in Panzer Battles painted a dramatic picture of Panzer divisions, paralysed by lack of fuel, under constant bombardment and awaiting a British onslaught.[45]

Montgomery pointed out that the Eighth Army was in a process of reformation with the arrival of new, untrained units and was not ready to take the offensive. Nor was his army yet prepared for a 1,600 mi (2,600 km) pursuit were they to break through, which had caused both sides to fail to end the desert campaign, after gaining tactical success. Montgomery did not want his tanks wasted on futile attacks against Rommel's anti-tank screen, something that had frequently happened in the past, handing the initiative to the Axis forces. Rommel complained to Kesselring, "The swine isn't attacking!".[46] Montgomery's refusal kept his forces intact and the Eighth Army accumulated supplies for the offensive in October that came to be known as the Second Battle of El Alamein.[47]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ "In the centre of the British front a good Italian division, the Bologna, delivered a strong attack on the Ruweisat Ridge, and a considerable counter-attack was required to expel it from the footing it gained."[35]

Citations

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Watson (2007), p. 14
  2. ^ Buffetaut pp. 90–91
  3. ^ Playfair, 2004, p. 379
  4. ^ a b Hinsley, pp. 418–419
  5. ^ Playfair, 2004, pp. 338, 379
  6. ^ a b Playfair, 2004, p. 392
  7. ^ a b Hinsley, p. 412
  8. ^ Hinsley, pp. 410–411
  9. ^ Carver p. 48
  10. ^ Fraser p. 351
  11. ^ Playfair, 2004, p. 382
  12. ^ Watson p. 12
  13. ^ a b Fraser pp. 355–357
  14. ^ Carver p. 49
  15. ^ Stumpf 2001, p. 755.
  16. ^ Smith, Kevin D. (July–August 2002). "The contribution of Intelligence at the Battle of Alam Halfa". Military Review. p. 74-77. Only a few days before the battle, Ultra confirmed that Montgomery's estimate of Rommel's intentions was correct.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  17. ^ Harper, Glyn (2017). The battle for North Africa : El Alamein and the turning point for World War II. p. 95. ISBN 9780253031433.
  18. ^ Watson p. 10
  19. ^ a b Playfair, 2004, p. 384
  20. ^ Fraser p. 354
  21. ^ Fraser pp. 354–355
  22. ^ Walker 1967 p. 45
  23. ^ a b Roberts and BayerleinArchived 2007-10-21 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ a b c Playfair, 2004, p. 387
  25. ^ Watson p. 13
  26. ^ Lewin p. 157
  27. ^ Playfair, 2004, p. 386
  28. ^ Carver p. 58
  29. ^ Cappellano, p. 35
  30. ^ Jentz. Panzertruppen 1
  31. ^ Liddell Hart 1970 p.
  32. ^ Carver p. 62
  33. ^ German Attack at El Alamein: August 31 – September 5, 1942" from Tactical and Technical Trends
  34. ^ Murphy, 1966, p. 358
  35. ^ Falls 1948, p. 262
  36. ^ Lightbody, p. 142
  37. ^ Fraser p. 359
  38. ^ a b Carver p. 67
  39. ^ Playfair, 2004, p. 388
  40. ^ a b Barr, pp. 245–246
  41. ^ Carver p. 70; Playfair, 2004, p. 389
  42. ^ a b Playfair, 2004, p. 389
  43. ^ Buffetaut p. 90
  44. ^ Carver p. 181
  45. ^ Mellenthin 1956, p. 103.
  46. ^ Walker, 1967, p. 180
  47. ^ Fraser p. 360

References

  • Barr, N. (2005). Pendulum of War: The Three Battles of Alamein. Woodstock: Overlook Press. ISBN 1-58567-655-1.
  • Beretta, Davide (1997). Batterie semoventi, alzo zero: quelli di El Alamein [Self-propelled Batteries, Point Blank of El Alamein]. Milano: Mursia. ISBN 88-425-2179-5.
  • Boog, H.; Rahn, R.; Stumpf, R.; Wegner, B. (2001). "(Part V) The War in the Mediterranean Area 1942–1943: Operations in North Africa and the Central Mediterranean. 2. The Battle of Alam Halfa (30 August–6 September 1942)". In Osers, E. (ed.). The Global War: Widening of the Conflict into a World War and the Shift of the Initiative 1941–1943 (Edited by the Militărgeschichtliches Forschungsamt [Research Institute for Military History] Potsdam, Germany). Germany and the Second World War. VI. Translated by Osers, E.; Brownjohn, J.; Crampton, P.; Willmot, L. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 748–764. ISBN 0-19-822888-0.
  • Buffetaut, Yves (1995). Operation Supercharge-La seconde bataille d'El Alamein [Operation Supercharge: The Second Battle of El Alamein]. Les grandes batailles de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Collection hors-série Militaria (in French). Paris: Histoire Et Collections. OCLC 464158829.
  • Cappellano, Filippo (2012). Italian Medium Tanks: 1939–45. Oxford: Osprey. ISBN 978-1-84908-775-9.
  • Carver, Michael (1962). El Alamein. Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 1-84022-220-4.
  • Conetta, Carl; Knight, Charles; Unterseher, Lutz (September 1997). "Defensive Military Structures in Action: Historical Examples". Confidence-Building Defense: A Comprehensive Approach to Security & Stability in the New Era, Study Group on Alternative Security Policy and Project on Defense Alternatives. 1994. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Commonwealth Institute. OCLC 45377322.
  • Cox, Sebastian; Gray, Peter (2002). Air Power History: Turning Points from Kitty Hawk to Kosovo. London: Frank Cass. ISBN 0-7146-8257-8.
  • Fraser, David (1993). Knight's Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. London: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-00-638384-X.
  • Falls, Cyril (1948). "Aftermath of War: The Eights Army from Alamein to Sangro". The Illustrated London News. The Illustrated London News & Sketch. 212 (5672–5684). ISSN 0019-2422.
  • Hinsley, F. H.; Thomas, E. E.; Ransom, C. F. G.; Knight, R. C. (1981). British Intelligence in the Second World War. Its influence on Strategy and Operations. II. London: HMSO. ISBN 0-11-630934-2.
  • Lightbody, Bradley (2004). The Second World War: Ambitions to Nemesis. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-22404-7.
  • Mellenthin, Friedrich Wilhem von (1956). Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armour in the Second World War. Translated by Turner, L. C. F. New York: Ballantine. OCLC 638823584.
  • Murphy, W. E. (1966) [1966]. 2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery. Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945. Wellington: War History Branch. OCLC 226971027.
  • Naveh, Shimon (1997) [1991]. In Pursuit of Military Excellence; The Evolution of Operational Theory. London: Frank Cass. ISBN 0-7146-4727-6.
  • Playfair, Major-General I. S. O.; with Flynn RN, Captain F. C.; Molony, Brigadier C. J. C. & Gleave, Group Captain T. P. (2004) [1st. pub. HMSO 1960]. Butler, J. R. M. (ed.). The Mediterranean and Middle East: British Fortunes reach their Lowest Ebb (September 1941 to September 1942). History of the Second World War United Kingdom Military Series. III. Naval & Military Press. ISBN 1-84574-067-X.
  • Roberts, Major-General G. P. B.; Bayerlein, Generalleutnant Fritz. Basil Liddell Hart (ed.). "U.S. Combat Studies Institute Battle Report: Alam Halfa". Archived from the original on 21 October 2007. Retrieved 5 November 2007.
  • Walker, Ronald (1967). "Chapter 11, Summary of the Battle". Alam Halfa and Alamein. The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945. New Zealand Historical Publications Branch, Wellington. pp. 165–181. OCLC 893102.
  • Watson, Bruce Allen (2007) [1999]. Exit Rommel. Mechanicsburg PA: Stackpole. ISBN 978-0-8117-3381-6.

Further reading

External links

23 July 1942

The Treblinka extermination camp is opened.

On this day in 23 July 1942, the systematic deportation of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto begins, as thousands are rounded up daily and transported to a newly constructed concentration/extermination camp at Treblinka, in Poland.

On July 17, Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi SS, arrived at Auschwitz, the concentration camp in eastern Poland, in time to watch the arrival of more than 2,000 Dutch Jews and the gassing of almost 500 of them, mostly the elderly, sick and very young. The next day, Himmler promoted the camp commandant, Rudolph Hoess, to SS major and ordered that the Warsaw ghetto, be depopulated–a “total cleansing,” as he described it–and the inhabitants transported to what was to become a second extermination camp constructed at the railway village of Treblinka, 62 miles northeast of Warsaw.

Within the first seven weeks of Himmler’s order, more than 250,000 Jews were taken to Treblinka by rail and gassed to death, marking the largest single act of destruction of any population group, Jewish or non-Jewish, civilian or military, in the war. Upon arrival at “T. II,” as this second camp at Treblinka was called, prisoners were separated by sex, stripped, and marched into what were described as “bathhouses,” but were in fact gas chambers. T. II’s first commandant was Dr. Irmfried Eberl, age 32, the man who had headed up the euthanasia program of 1940 and had much experience with the gassing of victims, especially children. He compelled several hundred Ukrainian and about 1,500 Jewish prisoners to assist him. They removed gold teeth from victims before hauling the bodies to mass graves. Eberl was relieved of his duties for “inefficiency.” It seems that he and his workers could not remove the corpses quickly enough, and panic was occurring within the railway cars of newly arrived prisoners.

By the end of the war, between 700,000 and 900,000 would die at either Treblinka I or II. Hoess was tried and sentenced to death by the Nuremberg Tribunal. He was hanged in 1947.

22 June 1942

The Pledge of Allegiance is formally adopted by USA Congress.

Swearing of the Pledge is accompanied by a salute. An early version of the salute, adopted in 1887, known as the Balch Salute, which accompanied the Balch pledge, instructed students to stand with their right hand outstretched toward the flag, the fingers of which are then brought to the forehead, followed by being placed flat over the heart, and finally falling to the side.

In 1892, Francis Bellamy created what was known as the Bellamy salute. It started with the hand outstretched toward the flag, palm down, and ended with the palm up. Because of the similarity between the Bellamy salute and the Nazi salute, which was adopted in Germany later, the US Congress stipulated that the hand-over-the-heart gesture as the salute to be rendered by civilians during the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem in the US would be the salute to replace the Bellamy salute. Removal of the Bellamy salute occurred on December 22, 1942, when Congress amended the Flag Code language first passed into law on June 22, 1942. Attached to bills passed in Congress in 2008 and then in 2009 Section 301 of title 36, United States Code, language was included which authorized all active duty military personnel and all veterans in civilian clothes to render a proper hand salute during the raising and lowering of the flag, when the colors are presented, and during the National Anthem.

7 June 1942

The Battle of Midway comes to an end in American victory.

On June 7, 1942, the Battle of Midway–one of the most decisive U.S. victories in its war against Japan–comes to an end. In the four-day sea and air battle, the outnumbered U.S. Pacific Fleet succeeded in destroying four Japanese aircraft carriers with the loss of only one of its own, the Yorktown, thus reversing the tide against the previously invincible Japanese navy.

In six months of offensives, the Japanese had triumphed in lands throughout the Pacific, including Malaysia, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, and numerous island groups. The United States, however, was a growing threat, and Japanese Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto sought to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet before it was large enough to outmatch his own. A thousand miles northwest of Honolulu, the strategic island of Midway became the focus of his scheme to smash U.S. resistance to Japan’s imperial designs. Yamamoto’s plan consisted of a feint toward Alaska followed by an invasion of Midway by a Japanese strike force. When the U.S. Pacific Fleet arrived at Midway to respond to the invasion, it would be destroyed by the superior Japanese fleet waiting unseen to the west. If successful, the plan would eliminate the U.S. Pacific Fleet and provide a forward outpost from which the Japanese could eliminate any future American threat in the Central Pacific.

Unfortunately for the Japanese, U.S. intelligence broke the Japanese naval code, and the Americans anticipated the surprise attack. Three heavy aircraft carriers of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were mustered to challenge the four heavy Japanese carriers steaming toward Midway. In early June, U.S. command correctly recognized a Japanese movement against Alaska’s Aleutian Islands as a diversionary tactic and kept its forces massed around Midway. On June 3, the Japanese occupation force was spotted steaming toward the island, and B-17 Flying Fortresses were sent out from Midway to bomb the strike force but failed to inflict damage. Early in the morning on June 4, a PBY Catalina flying boat torpedoed a Japanese tanker transport, striking the first blow of the Battle of Midway.

Later that morning, an advance Japanese squadron numbering more than 100 bombers and Zero fighters took off from the Japanese carriers to bomb Midway. Twenty-six Wildcat fighters were sent up to intercept the Japanese force and suffered heavy losses in their heroic defense of Midway’s air base. Soon after, bombers and torpedo planes based on Midway took off to attack the Japanese carriers but failed to inflict serious damage. The first phase of the battle was over by 7:00 a.m.

In the meantime, 200 miles to the northeast, two U.S. attack fleets caught the Japanese force entirely by surprise. Beginning around 9:30 a.m., torpedo bombers from the three U.S. carriers descended on the Japanese carriers. Although nearly wiped out, they drew off enemy fighters, and U.S. dive bombers penetrated, catching the Japanese carriers while their decks were cluttered with aircraft and fuel. The dive-bombers quickly destroyed three of the heavy Japanese carriers and one heavy cruiser. The only Japanese carrier that initially escaped destruction, the Hiryu, loosed all its aircraft against the American task force and managed to seriously damage the U.S. carrier Yorktown, forcing its abandonment. At about 5:00 p.m., dive-bombers from the U.S. carrier Enterprise returned the favor, mortally damaging the Hiryu. It was scuttled the next morning.

Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto still had numerous warships at his command, but without his carriers and aircraft he was forced to abandon his Midway invasion plans and begin a westward retreat. On June 5, a U.S. task force pursued his fleet, but bad weather saved it from further destruction. On June 6, the skies cleared, and U.S. aircraft resumed their assault, sinking a cruiser and damaging several other warships. After the planes returned to their carriers, the Americans broke off from the pursuit. Meanwhile, a Japanese submarine torpedoed and fatally wounded the Yorktown, which was in the process of being salvaged. It finally rolled over and sank at dawn on June 7, bringing an end to the battle.

At the Battle of Midway, Japan lost four carriers, a cruiser, and 292 aircraft, and suffered 2,500 casualties. The U.S. lost the Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hammann, 145 aircraft, and suffered 307 casualties. Japan’s losses hobbled its naval might–bringing Japanese and American sea power to approximate parity–and marked the turning point in the Pacific theater of World War II. In August 1942, the great U.S. counteroffensive began at Guadalcanal and did not cease until Japan’s surrender three years later.

11 February 1942

The Battle of Bukit Timah is fought in Singapore during World War II.

The Battle of Bukit Timah, which took place on the 11 February 1942, was part of the final stage of the Japan Imperial of Singapore during World War Two. By 10 February, the Japanese had landed on Singapore. They controlled the entire western region of Singapore and much of the north. Their next target was Bukit Timah and the capture of vital water, food, ammunition, and vehicles, machine parts and other supplies. Now, full with success, the Japanese again advanced in full strength.

Japanese troops assaulting Bukit Timah hill

On the night of 11 February 1942, the Japanese 5th Division, supported by tanks, advanced down Choa Chu Kang Road. The 12th Indian Brigade and some British troops under Major Angus MacDonald and Captain Mike Blackwood blocked the road and opened fire with an anti-tank gun, destroying one Japanese tank, but this was merely one of 40 tanks.
There followed some hand-to-hand combat, as well as bayonet charges from both sides. The poorly trained and equipped members of Dalforce were armed only with parangs, grenades, rifles and shotguns normally used for hunting, and suffered heavy injuries. By midnight, the Japanese had defeated the defenders and conquered Bukit Timah.
The British launched an attack the following morning with two brigades.However, faced with strong Japanese resistance, the attack failed.
The next day, the Japanese Imperial Guards advanced from the north, outflanking the British defenders and forcing them to retreat. In the ensuing battle, the Chinese members of Dalforce fought bravely, some to their deaths. Here, the Japanese suffered some of their heaviest casualties in the campaign to occupy Singapore.For revenge, they massacred Chinese men, women and children living in a nearby village.

19 January 1942

The Japanese conquest of Burma during World War II begins.

The BIA formed a provisional government in some areas of the country in the spring of 1942, but there were differences within the Japanese leadership over the future of Burma. While Colonel Suzuki encouraged the Thirty Comrades to form a provisional government, the Japanese military leadership had never formally accepted such a plan. Eventually, the Japanese Army turned to Ba Maw to form a government.

During the war in 1942, the BIA had grown in an uncontrolled manner, and in many districts officials and even criminals appointed themselves to the BIA. It was reorganised as the Burma Defence Army under the Japanese but still headed by Aung San. While the BIA had been an irregular force, the BDA was recruited by selection and trained as a conventional army by Japanese instructors.

Ba Maw was afterwards declared head of state, and his cabinet included both Aung San as War Minister and the Communist leader Thakin Than Tun as Minister of Land and Agriculture as well as the Socialist leaders Thakins Nu and Mya. When the Japanese declared Burma, in theory, independent in 1943, the Burma Defence Army was renamed the Burma National Army.

The flag of the State of Burma, used 1943-5.
It soon became apparent that Japanese promises of independence were merely a sham and that Ba Maw was deceived. As the war turned against the Japanese, they declared Burma a fully sovereign state on 1 August 1943, but this was just another façade. Disillusioned, Aung San began negotiations with Communist leaders Thakin Than Tun and Thakin Soe, and Socialist leaders Ba Swe and Kyaw Nyein which led to the formation of the Anti-Fascist Organisation in August 1944 at a secret meeting of the CPB, the PRP and the BNA in Pegu. The AFO was later renamed the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League, and roundly opposed the Japanese fascism, proposing a fairer and more equal society.

Thakins Than Tun and Soe, while in Insein prison in July 1941, had co-authored the Insein Manifesto which, against the prevailing opinion in the Dobama movement, identified world fascism as the main enemy in the coming war and called for temporary co-operation with the British in a broad allied coalition which should include the Soviet Union. Soe had already gone underground to organise resistance against the Japanese occupation, and Than Tun was able to pass on Japanese intelligence to Soe, while other Communist leaders Thakins Thein Pe and Tin Shwe made contact with the exiled colonial government in Simla, India.

28 November 1942

A fire in the Cocoanut Grove in Boston nightclub kills 492 people.

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The Cocoanut Grove Fire was a nightclub fire in the United States. The Cocoanut Grove was a premier nightclub during the post-Prohibition 1930s and 1940s in Boston, Massachusetts. On November 28, 1942, it was the scene of the deadliest nightclub fire in history, killing 492 people and injuring hundreds more. The scale of the tragedy shocked the nation and briefly replaced the events of World War II in newspaper headlines. It led to a reform of safety standards and codes across the US, and to major changes in the treatment and rehabilitation of burn victims internationally.

It was the second-deadliest single-building fire in American history; only the 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago had a higher death toll, of 602. It was only two years after the Rhythm Club fire which had killed 209.

Official reports state that the fire started at about 10:15 pm in the dark, intimate Melody Lounge downstairs. Goody Goodelle, a young pianist and singer, was performing on a revolving stage, surrounded by artificial palm trees. The lounge was lit by low-powered light bulbs in coconut-styled sconces beneath the fronds. A young man, possibly a soldier, had unscrewed a light bulb in order to give himself privacy while kissing his date. Stanley Tomaszewski—a 16-year-old busboy—was instructed to put the light back on by tightening the bulb. He stepped up onto a chair to reach the light in the darkened corner. Unable to see the bulb, he lit a match to illuminate the area, tightened the bulb, and extinguished the match. Witnesses first saw flames in the fronds, which were just below the ceiling, immediately afterward. Though the lit match had been close to the same fronds where the fire was seen to have begun, the official report determined that Tomaszewski’s actions could not be found to be the source of the fire, which “will be entered into the records of this department as being of unknown origin.”

21 September 1942

The Boeing B29 Superfortress makes its first flight.

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On this day in 1942, the U.S. B-29 Superfortress makes its debut flight in Seattle, Washington. It was the largest bomber used in the war by any nation.

The B-29 was conceived in 1939 by Gen. Hap Arnold, who was afraid a German victory in Europe would mean the United States would be devoid of bases on the eastern side of the Atlantic from which to counterattack. A plane was needed that would travel faster, farther, and higher than any then available, so Boeing set to creating the four-engine heavy bomber. The plane was extraordinary, able to carry loads almost equal to its own weight at altitudes of 30,000 to 40,000 feet. It contained a pilot console in the rear of the plane, in the event the front pilot was knocked out of commission. It also sported the first radar bombing system of any U.S. bomber.

The Superfortress made its test run over the continental United States on September 21, but would not make its bombing-run debut until June 5, 1944, against Bangkok, in preparation for the Allied liberation of Burma from Japanese hands. A little more than a week later, the B-29 made its first run against the Japanese mainland. On June 14, 60 B-29s based in Chengtu, China, bombed an iron and steel works factory on Honshu Island. While the raid was less than successful, it proved to be a morale booster to Americans, who were now on the offensive.

Meanwhile, the Marianas Islands in the South Pacific were being recaptured by the United States, primarily to provide air bases for their new B-29s—a perfect position from which to strike the Japanese mainland on a consistent basis. Once the bases were ready, the B-29s were employed in a long series of bombing raids against Tokyo. Although capable of precision bombing at high altitudes, the Superfortresses began dropping incendiary devices from a mere 5,000 feet, firebombing the Japanese capital in an attempt to break the will of the Axis power. One raid, in March 1945, killed more than 80,000 people. But the most famous, or perhaps infamous, use of the B-29 would come in August, as it was the only plane capable of delivering a 10,000-pound bomb—the atomic bomb. The Enola Gay and the Bock’s Car took off from the Marianas, on August 6 and 9, respectively, and flew into history.

22 June 1942

The USA Congress adopts the Pledge of Allegiance.

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The original Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy. It was first given wide publicity through the official program of the National Public Schools Celebration of Columbus Day, which was printed in The Youth’s Companion of September 8, 1892, and at the same time sent out in leaflet form to schools throughout the country. School children first recited the Pledge of Allegiance this way:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”

“The flag of the United States” replaced the words “my Flag” in 1923 because some foreign-born people might have in mind the flag of the country of their birth instead of the United States flag. A year later, “of America” was added after “United States.”

No form of the Pledge received official recognition by Congress until June 22, 1942, when the Pledge was formally included in the U.S. Flag Code. The official name of The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted in 1945. The last change in language came on Flag Day 1954, when Congress passed a law, which added the words “under God” after “one nation.”

Originally, the pledge was said with the right hand in the so-called “Bellamy Salute,” with the right hand resting first outward from the chest, then the arm extending out from the body. Once Hitler came to power in Europe, some Americans were concerned that this position of the arm and hand resembled the Nazi or Fascist salute. In 1942 Congress also established the current practice of rendering the pledge with the right hand over the heart.

The Flag Code specifies that any future changes to the pledge would have to be with the consent of the President.