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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

The British surrender at the Battle of Singapore. Click to enlarge.

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.

German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein meets with Hitler on February 6, 1941, in Rastenburg, East Prussia, and lays out a plan for a German counteroffensive in the southern Soviet Union. Hitler agrees in principle. The former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, arrives in Rome from Germany for talks with Mussolini. He is accompanied by Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, the former Iraqi leader who had tried to oust the British in 1941. In North Africa, Rommel halts his offensive near Gazala, Libya, on February 7. In two weeks, he has regained most of the territory taken by the British Eighth Army in the latter part of 1941. Vidkun Quisling suspends Norway’s constitution and establishes a dictatorship. In Washington, the government establishes the War Shipping Administration (WSA) to administer the purchasing and operation of civilian shipping tonnage needed by the U.S. to conduct the war. The agency will operate under the supervision of Vice Admiral Emory Land, head of the U.S. Maritime Commission. In the Philippines, American and Filipino troops continue their defense of the Bataan Peninsula against Japanese forces under Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma.

On February 8, the Battle of Singapore — “The Gibraltar of the East” — begins. Approximately 36,000 troops of the Japanese 25th Army, along with elements of the Imperial Japanese Navy, begin attacking around 85,000 densely packed British, Australian, New Zealand, Indian and Malayan defenders. On the Eastern Front, the city of Kursk, Russia — captured by the Germans in November 1941 — is re-taken by the Red Army. German engineer Fritz Todt, Reich Minister for Armaments and Ammunition and a favorite of Hitler, dies in a plane crash shortly after leaving “Wolf’s Lair,” Der Führer’s Eastern Front headquarters near Rastenburg, East Prussia.

Japanese forces begin crossing the Straits of Johor to invade Singapore on February 9. President Roosevelt institutes year-round Daylight Savings Time — called “War Time” — throughout the U.S. It will remain in effect until Sunday, September 30, 1945. Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek and his wife arrive in India for a two-week visit. The seized French cruise ship, SS Normandie, docked in New York City and being converted into a U.S. troopship, catches fire and capsizes at her berth. Although probably caused by a workman doing welding, the fire is the subject of many conspiracy theories. The capsized vessel is seen — and is part of the plot — in the April 1942 Alfred Hitchcock film “Saboteur,” starring Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane.

On February 10, Adolf Hitler begins a two-day meeting with Romanian leader Ion Antonescu at the “Wolf’s Lair,” in East Prussia. Antonescu promises to provide large numbers of Romanian troops for the coming offensive on the Eastern Front, but asks for modern equipment as a condition for the assistance. In Burma, Japanese troops begin moving across the River Salween near Martaban. In the United Kingdom, the government begins rationing soap. The last civilian automobile moves off the assembly line of the Ford Motor Co.’s River Rouge Plant in Michigan, as the company switches to making only military vehicles.

The German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, along with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, depart from Brest, France, on February 11 and dash northward through the English Channel to German ports, successfully running a British naval blockade. In the Pacific, the submarine USS Shark is sunk by the Japanese destroyer Yamakaze. It is the first American sub to be lost to anti-submarine operations in the war.

On February 12, German Army Groups in the Soviet Union are renamed: Manstein’s Army Group Don becomes Army Group South and Kluge’s Army Group B becomes Army Group Center. In Berlin, a state funeral is held for Fritz Todt, killed in an airplane crash on February 8. Hitler attends and speaks at the services, and posthumously makes Todt the first recipient of a new decoration of honor: The German Order, the most important award the Nazi Party could bestow on an individual. At Valletta, Malta, the British destroyer HMS Maori is bombed and sunk by the Luftwaffe while moored in the Grand Harbour.

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