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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

Soldiers in the United Service Organization, commonly known as the USO. The organization was founded during World War II to entertain U.S. troops.

Soldiers in the United Service Organizations, commonly known as the USO. The organization was founded during World War II to entertain U.S. troops. 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.

In Berlin on January 31, 1941, the German Army High Command, after consultations with various army and army-group staffs, completes its operational plan for “Operation Barbarossa” — the invasion of the Soviet Union. The planning, ordered by Hitler, has proceeded despite the fact that the two countries are signatories to a mutual non-aggression and trade pact. In the U.S., boxer Joe Louis retains his title as heavyweight champion with a fifth-round knockout of Red Burman at Madison Square Garden in New York City. In Hollywood, Universal Pictures releases the service comedy “Buck Privates,” starring Bud Abbott & Lou Costello and the Andrews Sisters. One of the film’s tunes, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,” is later nominated for an Academy Award as Best Song.

On February 1, the U.S. reorganizes its navy into three fleets: the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Asiatic, with the Atlantic force to be strengthened significantly. In Japan, the government announces that rationing of rice will begin for its citizens.

In the Indian Ocean the Royal Navy carrier HMS Formidable — en route to the Mediterranean to replace the damaged aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious — on February 2 launches her planes to bomb the Italian-held harbor and port of Mogadishu, Somalia. In Rome, Benito Mussolini declares the south of Italy a war zone and places the region under martial law.

The German Army High Command presents its plan for “Operation Barbarossa” to Adolf Hitler on February 3. The same day, in Vichy France (the southern part of the country), the Nazis begin pressuring Head of State Marshal Philippe Pétain to restore Nazi favorite Pierre Laval to his cabinet position as Minister of Foreign Affairs. (Pétain had forced Laval to resign in December 1940 due to Laval making unilateral decisions favorable to the Nazis.) The pressure involves a threat by the Germans to occupy all of France, including the Vichy zone, instead of just the northern part of the country (known as Occupied France).

In the U.S., the United Service Organizations, widely referred to as the USO, is established on February 4 at the suggestion of President Roosevelt for the purpose of lifting the spirits of service personnel. In East Africa, British forces begin an offensive against 30,000 Italian troops in the Keren area of Italian Eritrea.

Great Britain on February 5 establishes the Air Training Corps (ATC) to provide aviation-related training for teenagers and young men who might later join the Royal Air Force. The basic idea is to avoid the necessity of sending new RAF pilots who have had only a few hours of flight training into combat against veteran enemy fliers. British young men respond in droves. In Belgium and Luxembourg, the franc is withdrawn as the official currency of each country and replaced by the German reichsmark. On the same day, Free French forces join with the British in their offensive against the strategic town of Keren, Italian Eritrea.

On February 6, in Berlin, Lt. Gen. Erwin Rommel is named to head the German Afrika Korps. The same day, Benghazi, Libya, held by the Italians, falls to Australian troops of the Allied 13th Corps. In the U.S., a new Japanese ambassador, Kichisaburo Nomura, arrives and states: “There is no question whatsoever outstanding between the two countries that cannot be settled in an amicable and satisfactory manner . . . .”

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