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This Week in World War II — 75 Years Ago

The U.S.S. Nevada smokes after being attacked by Japanese fighters. In foreground is a U.S. tug boat. clipart.com

The U.S.S. Nevada smokes after being attacked by Japanese fighters at Pearl Harbor. In foreground is a U.S. tug boat. clipart.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 24, 1941, there was a brief tank battle at Mechili, Libya. The British and the Italians suffered somewhat equal losses before the Italians pulled back. The result, however, is that the Italian forces were then split, with some around Mechili and the rest at Derna, some 74 miles to the north on the Libyan coast. Neither group could support each other. Realizing this, Allied 13th Corps commander Acting Lt.-Gen. Richard O’Connor sent his Australians toward Derna, while ordering his British troops to encircle Mechili.

In Albania, both Greek and Italian forces report back to their respective headquarters on January 25 that many troops fighting in the mountains are suffering from frostbite. The Italians also seem to be incurring an outbreak of typhoid.

In North Africa, part of the British blocking force around Mechili, Libya, is handled poorly, and the Italians encircled there are able to successfully break out on January 26.

On January 27, Joseph Grew, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, reports to Washington a rumor heard at a diplomatic reception in Tokyo concerning a surprise attack by Japan on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Grew’s information is relayed to — and discounted by — both Adm. Harold Stark, chief of naval operations, and Adm. Husband Kimmel, commandant at Pearl Harbor. In East Africa, the British advance in Eritrea reaches Agordat, midway between the Sudanese border and the Red Sea. The Italian defenders dig in and a battle starts shaping up. In Albania, Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italy’s foreign minister and Benito Mussolini’s son-in-law, and other high Italian government officials arrive to take up military commands, presumably to boost the morale of the Italian troops.

Italian forces begin pulling out of Derna, Libya, on January 29, retreating to the west along the road that skirts the Mediterranean coast. In East Africa, the 11th and 12th East African Divisions and the 1st South African Division, all under the overall command of Lt.-Gen. Alan Cunningham, cross the border from Kenya into Italian Somaliland. The same day, in Washington, D.C., secret talks begin between British and American representatives and their staffs. Lasting for just about two months, the conferences will generate an Allied policy that holds that in the event of a war with both Germany and Japan, the defeat of Germany first would have the highest priority. The talks mark the first stage of increasing cooperation — and comfort level — between British and American war planners.

The next day, January 30, the Australian 19th Brigade, overcoming the resistance of the last defenders, captures Derna, Libya, from the Italians.

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