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.