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This Week in World War II — 75 Years Ago

Indian troops in World War II cross the Atbara river with their motor transport on a pontoon raft, as they move into Italian occupied Eritrea. ww2today.com

Indian troops in World War II cross the Atbara river with their motor transport on a pontoon raft, as they move into Italian occupied Eritrea.
ww2today.com

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.

On January 17, 1941, a Vichy French (Axis-allied) naval squadron comprising one light cruiser and four sloops defeats a small Royal Thai Navy force made up of one coastal defense ship and two torpedo boats at the Battle of Koh Chang in the South China Sea. The two Thai torpedo boats are sunk and the coastal defense ship ends up grounded on a sand bar. One week later, Thailand and Vichy France conclude a peace treaty with the assistance of the government of Japan.

January 18 sees German aerial attacks on Malta continuing. This time, the target is not the island’s harbor at Valletta, but its airfields — an attempt to keep RAF planes out of the air.

British forces in the Sudan on January 19 begin an offensive against Italian-held Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa. The British force is led by Lt. Gen. William Platt and includes the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions and units of the Sudan Defense Force. The Italian troops in various border positions amount to 17,000 men and are led by Lt. Gen. Luigi Frusci. In addition, the Italians have the equivalent of four more divisions in the interior of the country. Kassala, on the border of Sudan and Eritrea, is taken immediately by the British. In Germany, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini meet to discuss mutual aid. Mussolini declines offered German help in Albania but is prepared to accept some assistance in Africa. Hitler states that he will attack Greece if it seems that Great Britain is going to intervene there.

In Washington, D.C., on January 20, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Charles Evans Hughes administers the oath of office to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who begins an unprecedented third term in office.

On January 21 the Australian 6th Division begins an attack on Tobruk, Libya. The southeast corner of the Italian position is struck and after several hours of heavy bombardment, the defenses there crumble. Fort Palestrino in the city is taken and the Italian commander, Lt. Gen. Petassi Manella is taken captive.

The next day, January 22, the remainder of the Italian garrison of Tobruk surrenders to British and Australian troops after damaging some of the city’s harbor facilities. Much equipment is captured, as well as 27,000 prisoners, versus Allied casualties of less than 500. In East Africa, Italian forces in Eritrea are falling back in the face of attacks by Platt’s troops. There is also some skirmishing along the border between Kenya and Italian Somaliland.

On January 23, aviator Charles Lindbergh testifies before Congress and recommends that the United States negotiate a neutrality pact with Adolf Hitler. In the Mediterranean, emergency repairs to the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious are completed in Malta and the ship is able to make for Alexandria, Egypt. Later, Illustrious will proceed to the U.S., where full repairs will be made. In Sofia, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Filov agrees to bring his country into the Tripartite (Axis) Pact as soon as military arrangements with Germany can be completed.

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