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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

By: Phil Kohn.

Dedicated to the memory of his father, GM3 Walter Kohn, U.S. Navy Armed Guard, USNR, and all men and women who have answered the country’s call in time of need. Phil can be contacted at ww2remembered@yahoo.com.

The start of 1941 finds countries in Europe, Africa and Asia embroiled in war with the “Axis Powers” of Germany, Italy and Japan, and their allies — since 1935 in Ethiopia, 1937 in China, and 1939 in Europe. In the U.S., President Franklin D. Roosevelt has been walking a political tightrope: trying to maintain the nation’s official stance of neutrality while extending aid to opponents of aggressive German Nazism, Italian Fascism and Japanese militarism. Far from the fighting and still bitter over U.S. involvement in “The Great War” — Europe’s war — Americans wish to remain aloof from further foreign conflicts. The desired isolationism, however, is not to last.

Germany's Ribbentrop reviews the troops in World War II.

Germany’s Count von Ribbentrop, center, with Adolph Hitler at left, reviews the troops in World War II. Source: clipart.com

On January 1, Germany’s foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, meets with Prime Minister Bogdan Filov of Bulgaria to negotiate passage for German troops to transit that country. No agreement is reached, but Bulgaria, feeling the Nazi pressure, edges closer to joining the Axis.

On Jan. 2, President Roosevelt announces a program to produce 200 7,500-ton freighters built quickly to standardized designs. They will be known as Liberty ships.

The Allied 13th Corps, bolstered by the newly arrived 6th Australian Division, begins an offensive against Italian-held Bardia, Libya, on January 3. The Australians have replaced the 4th Indian Division, which has been sent to the Sudan.

The Greeks begin a new offensive in Albania on January 4, but are outnumbered by Italian troops there and cannot make much headway.

In Libya, on January 5, Australian and British troops capture Bardia, taking 40,000 Italian prisoners and large numbers of guns, tanks and other vehicles. Allied casualties number less than 400. It is the first battle of the war in which an Australian Army formation takes part.

On January 6 in his State of the Union message, President Roosevelt talks of four essential freedoms: of speech and worship and from fear and want. He refers to the United States — as he has several times in the past — as the “arsenal of democracy.”

Two days later, on January 8, President Roosevelt presents his budget to Congress. It envisions expenditures of $17.5 billion, with $10.8 billion for defense.

On January 9, British Commonwealth forces complete a strong encirclement of Tobruk, Libya, defended by 25,000 Italian troops, 200 guns and 70 tanks.

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