Categorized | Historical

This Week in World War II — 75 Years Ago

The SS Patrick Henry was the first Liberty Ship – completed on December 20, 1941. “Liberty ship” was the name given to the EC2 type ship designed for “Emergency” construction by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II.

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

 In Washington on December 26, 1941, Winston Churchill addresses a joint session of Congress, becoming the first British prime minister to do so. He predicts that at least 18 months will be needed to turn the tide of the war. In Ukraine, as the Germans are cutting into the innermost ring of defenses around Sevastopol, the Red Army is making substantial amphibious landings of reinforcements on the Kerch Peninsula, on the eastern end of the Crimea.

Manila falls to the Japanese on December 27 as U.S. and Filipino forces make a fighting retreat onto the Bataan Peninsula. Above the Arctic Circle, 260 British and Norwegian commandos raid the Norwegian port of Vågsøy, in the Lofoten Islands, in order to destroy communications equipment and fish-oil-processing facilities. (The Germans use processed fish oil to make high explosives.) The raid causes the Germans to reinforce the garrison and upgrade Vågsøy’s defenses, drawing vital troops and resources from other areas.

In the Crimea, German attacks on Sevastopol continue making headway on December 28, and German commanders state that they will take the city shortly. They soon find, however, that they must deal with the significant numbers of Soviet reinforcements being landed on the Kerch Peninsula to the east. In southeast Asia, Japanese paratroopers land on Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies. In Malaya, Japanese pressure causes the British to fall back to Kampar, 285 miles northwest of Singapore.

On December 29, Red Army forces that had been landed at Kerch on the Crimean Peninsula arrive at Feodosia, roughly120 miles from Sevastopol. The Germans halt their offensive against Sevastopol to deal with this new intrusion. The Japanese bomb Corregidor, in the Philippines, for the first time.

The fitting-out of SS Patrick Henry, the first liberty ship launched, is completed at Baltimore on December 30. The vessel is now ready to take on war-support missions. In Russia, the Red Army captures Kaluga, Tula and Kozelsk, all about 125 miles southwest of Moscow. In Washington, Admiral Ernest King is named Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet.

In the Philippines, American and Filipino troops on December 31 form a new defensive line north of the Bataan Peninsula on the island of Luzon. In Belgium, Jewish children are excluded from attending public schools. From Moscow, the Red Army announces that it has suffered over five million casualties, including over three million killed, and has lost 20,000 tanks and over 30,000 artillery pieces.

On January 1, 1942, in Washington, D.C., 26 Allied governments sign the “Declaration by the United Nations” that has been generated at the Arcadia Conference. The document is the basis for the formation of the organization subsequently to be known as the United Nations. The signatories agree to uphold the Atlantic Charter, to use all their resources in the war against the Axis Powers, and to not negotiate a separate peace with Germany, Italy or Japan. On the Eastern Front, the Soviet counteroffensive continues to make significant progress, with the South-West Front advancing some 200 miles. (The Red Army calls its Army Groups “Fronts.”) German forces re-take Staritsa, some 119 miles northwest of Moscow. In Ukraine, German troops counterattack near Kerch, in the Crimea.


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