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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

Nazis watch a demonstration of the ovens at Majdanek concentration camp in Lublin, Poland.

Nazis watch a demonstration of the ovens at Majdanek concentration camp in Lublin, Poland.

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 Tokyo, Yosuke Matsuoka is removed as Foreign Minister on July 18, 1941, and replaced by Tejiro Toyoda. Matsuoka has been urging that the treaty signed with the Soviet Union be abandoned and that Japan should join with Germany in attacking the U.S.S.R. Other Japanese leaders feel that without the aggressive, pro-Hitler Matsuoka, they may be better able to reach an agreement with the United States over the pressing problem of oil resources. In London, the United Kingdom formally recognizes the government of Edvard Beneš as the legal provisional government (in exile) of Czechoslovakia. Joseph Stalin writes to Winston Churchill, stating: “It seems to me that the military position of the Soviet Union, as well as that of Great Britain, would be considerably improved if there could be established a front against Hitler in the West — Northern France, and in the North — the Arctic.”

On July 19, in a BBC broadcast from London, “Col. V. Britton” urges the people of occupied Europe to resist the Nazis under the slogan “V for Victory.” They are urged to chalk the letter “V” in public places to acknowledge their confidence and support of an Allied victory. The U.S. Navy forms Atlantic Fleet Task Force 1 for the protection of American forces on Iceland. The carrier USS Wasp delivers a cargo of Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters to the island and a naval buildup begins. The Navy is ordered to provide escorts for Allied vessels of any nationality sailing to and from Iceland.

In Moscow, Stalin assumes the title People’s Commissar of Defense on July 20. Churchill responds to Stalin’s letter of July 18, informing him that opening a front in the west at this time is out of the question. Churchill reminds Stalin that Great Britain has been “fighting alone for more than a year” in the Middle East, in Africa and in the North Atlantic.

President Roosevelt on July 21 requests Congress to extend the term of service for draftees from one year to 30 months. He asks the same for the National Guard. The Japanese begin mobilizing for a military buildup in French Indochina. British forces at Gibraltar launch “Operation Substance,” involving a convoy to bring supplies to Malta. The Majdanek concentration camp, near Lublin, Occupied Poland, begins operations with the arrival of the first Soviet POWs. In South America, U.S. troops arrive in Georgetown, British Guiana, to take over two bases leased from Great Britain. In Russia, General of the Army Dmitry Pavlov and seven of his staff officers are executed by the Soviets at Moscow. They are blamed for the Red Army’s disastrous losses at Białystok-Minsk in the opening days of Germany’s invasion of the U.S.S.R.

Italian planes spot part of the “Operation Substance” convoy on July 22, but the Italian fleet remains in port rather than attacking. The next day, July 23, Italian planes attack the convoy, sinking the destroyer HMS Fearless.

On July 23, after 30 days of resistance, the Soviet border garrison at Brest-Litovsk, Belorussia, surrenders to the Germans.

The German battleship Scharnhorst, in port at La Pallice, Occupied France, is hit five times by bombs from a flight of 15 RAF Halifax bombers on July 24. Scharnhorst will be out of service until 1942. In Tokyo, representatives of Vichy France acquiesce to Japanese demands for bases in Indochina. Shortly, the first of 125,000 Japanese troops move into the country.

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