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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

Carole Lombard, who was married to Clark Gable at the time of her death, is seen here in a scene from “Nothing Sacred.” She was also known for her role in “My Man Godfrey.” She died 75 years ago this week.

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 Malaya, the Japanese 5th Infantry Division crosses the Muar River on January 16, capturing the town of Muar. In the U.S., some 15 minutes after taking off from Las Vegas, Nevada, TWA Flight 3 — en route to Burbank, California — slams into Potosi Mountain, about 30 miles southwest of the city, killing all 22 people aboard the plane. Among the victims is actress Carole Lombard, the wife of movie star Clark Gable. Lombard was returning home from a successful War Bond tour in the Midwest. A subsequent investigation determines that the cause of the crash was a navigational error made by the pilot.

In North Africa, the British take Halfaya Pass in western Egypt on January 17, capturing 5,500 German and Italian troops. Rommel has now lost around 32% of the force he had when the Allied “Operation Crusader” began on November 18, 1941. In the Arctic, Allied Convoy PQ-8 — consisting of eight merchant ships (five British, one Soviet, one American and one Panamanian) en route from Iceland to Archangelsk in the Soviet Union — is attacked by German sub U-454, the first such attack in the Arctic Ocean. The British escort destroyer HMS Matabele is sunk with the loss of 198 of its 200-man crew, but all the merchant vessels get safely through to their destination. In Ukraine, German forces capture Feodosia, on the Crimean Peninsula.

On the Eastern Front, troops of the Red Army’s South and Southwest Fronts on January 18 attack German positions across the Donets River. Their aim is to swing southward to the Sea of Azov, trapping forces of the German 6th and 17th Armies. Farther north, Red Army troops approach within 70 miles of Smolensk, which is about 220 miles west-southwest of Moscow.

Japanese forces take large numbers of British troops prisoner north of Singapore, Malaya, on January 19. On British North Borneo, the Japanese capture Sandakan, the capital. In Savannah, Georgia, the U.S. Army Air Forces establishes the VIIIth Bomber Command, which later becomes the Eighth Air Force. The Canadian ocean liner RMS Lady Hawkins is torpedoed by German sub U-66 off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The vessel sinks in 30 minutes — 251 passengers and crew are killed; 71 survive and are rescued four days later.

The Japanese bomb Singapore, Malaya, on January 20 as their forces near the city. In the Bismarck Archipelago, near Papua-New Guinea, aircraft from four Japanese carriers bomb Rabaul, on New Britain Island, which is garrisoned by Australian troops. At a conference convened in the Wannsee section of Berlin by Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Main Security Office, senior Nazi officials decide that “the final solution to the Jewish problem” is to be relocation, followed by elimination. Heydrich declares that once the deportations are completed, the SS is to handle the exterminations. In Russia, Red Army troops capture Mozhaysk, approximately 68 miles west of Moscow.

In North Africa, Lt. Gen. Erwin Rommel begins a counteroffensive from El Agheila, Libya, on January 21, catching the Allies completely by surprise. With reinforcements and new tanks, his force takes Agedabia and then pushes north towards Beda Fomm. Over 100 Japanese planes conduct an air attack on Rabaul, on New Britain Island, in Australia’s Territory of New Guinea. In China, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell is named chief of staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, commander of Nationalist Chinese Forces. Stilwell’s mission is to increase the combat efficiency of the Chinese army. The Hungarian Army begins rounding up Serbs and Jews near Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. Over the next three days, between 2,000 and 3,000 of those arrested are executed. Hungarian authorities claim the killings are reprisals for resistance activity, but residents insist the operation is simply the liquidation of “unwanted elements.”

On January 22, Japanese transports carry 5,300 troops into Rabaul harbor on New Britain Island. At Leningrad, the Soviets begin evacuating civilians from the city via an “ice road” across frozen Lake Ladoga. By April 23rd, 1942, some 440,000 people will be transported.


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