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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

Members of the Navy Court of Inquiry, at the Navy Department, Washington, D.C., during a session of their examination of the circumstances of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the center is Admiral Orin G. Murfin, USN (Retired), President of the Court. Admiral Edward C. Kalbfus, USN (Retired) is at left, and Vice Admiral Adolphus Andrews, USN (Retired) is at right. The photograph was released on 24 July 1944. Adm. Husband Kimmel (then Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet) and Lt. Gen. Walter Short (then Commander, Hawaii Dept.) were found guilty of dereliction of duty. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

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.

The Japanese on January 23 land 5,000 troops at Rabaul, defended by 1,400 Australians and New Guinea militiamen. The battle is the start of the New Guinea Campaign. Kieta, on Bougainville, the largest of the Solomon Islands, falls to the Japanese. In the Philippines, the Japanese overrun U.S. troops’ first defensive line on the Bataan Peninsula. One small Allied victory is scored as the Japanese troop transport Nana Maru is bombed and sunk by a Dutch Brewster Buffalo fighter plane in the Makassar Strait between Borneo and Sulawesi Islands.

In the Dutch East Indies, four U.S. and Dutch destroyers on January 24 attack Japanese troop transports off Balikpapan, Borneo, sinking three of the five vessels. The other two transports are able to land their troops. After a brief battle, the Japanese overwhelm the Dutch garrison. The Dutch, though, had previously partially destroyed the petroleum refinery there. In retaliation, the Japanese massacre many of the Europeans that are captured. American troops land in Samoa, as part of a strategy to stop Japanese expansion in the Pacific. In Washington, the U.S. government authorizes the equipping of its own merchant ships and those of Allied nations with weapons and U.S. Navy gun crews.

On January 25, the Japanese land at Lae, the capital of New Guinea. In Russia, the Red Army encircles 5,500 German troops near Kholm, southwest of Leningrad. The so-called Kholm Pocket will be successfully defended by the Germans for 105 days until relieved, with ammunition, food and other supplies air-dropped by the Luftwaffe in the interim. In Malaya, Gen. Archibald Wavell authorizes British and Commonwealth troops to leave their last defensive position, at Batu Pahat, and retreat 75 miles to Singapore, on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. In North Africa, the British 2nd Armoured Brigade is almost completely destroyed by Rommel’s German onslaught near Msus, Libya.

The first American troops to land in the European Theater of the war disembark at Belfast, Northern Ireland, on January 26. In Washington, D.C., the Roberts Commission, a board of inquiry empaneled to investigate the attack on Pearl Harbor, finds Adm. Husband Kimmel (then Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet) and Lt. Gen. Walter Short (then Commander, Hawaii Dept.) guilty of dereliction of duty. Both are already out of the service; both receive death threats as a result of the commission’s report.

Japanese troops in Borneo capture Singkawang on January 27. The submarine USS Gudgeon becomes the first U.S. Navy vessel to sink an enemy warship, as she destroys the Japanese submarine I-73 with three torpedoes. In Europe, Soviet forces under Marshal Semyon Timoshenko continue their advance into the Ukraine, capturing Lozova, in the Kharkiv region. German Luftwaffe ace Wilhelm Spies, credited with 20 aerial victories, is shot down and killed over Sukhinichi, Russia, south of Moscow.

German and Italian troops recapture Benghazi, Libya, on January 28. Brazil and Paraguay break off diplomatic relations with Germany, Italy and Japan.

On January 29, Japanese troops capture the provincial capital Pontianak, Borneo. In Iran, representatives of Great Britain and the Soviet Union sign a treaty of alliance, which opens a supply route to the U.S.S.R. for the Allies through Iran. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Alexander Hamilton is torpedoed and sunk off Reykjavik, Iceland, by German sub U-132, killing 26 Coast Guardsmen.

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