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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

Chiang Kai-Shek on February 21, 1942, issued a farewell message that was broadcast over Indian radio. It implored Indians to support the Atlantic Charter, to join the Allies, “and to participate shoulder-to-shoulder in the struggle for survival of a free world until complete victory has been achieved.” 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

The Japanese invade Bali, in the Dutch East Indies, on February 20, 1942, using paratroops and amphibious landings. They also invade Portuguese Timor and seize the airfield at Dili. Portugal, which is officially neutral, protests to the Japanese government, but the Japanese ignore the protest and occupy the territory anyway. In the Soviet Union, German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein unleashes his counteroffensive north of the Sea of Azov. Near Bougainville, New Guinea, a U.S. Navy aircraft-carrier task force on its way to raid the Japanese military base at Rabaul, on New Britain Island, is attacked by 17 land-based Japanese bombers. In the ensuing fight, 15 of the bombers are shot down; the U.S. loses two fighter planes. Although no ships are damaged, the U.S. task force withdraws, having lost the element of surprise. The loss of so many bombers, however, causes the Japanese to delay plans to invade New Guinea, which buys the Allies more time to prepare against Japanese offensives. In the Philippines, President Manuel Quezon is evacuated from the island of Luzon by an American submarine that takes him to Australia. He ultimately relocates to the U.S., where he sets up a Philippines Government-in-Exile in Washington, D.C.

Concluding their two-week visit to India, Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek on February 21 issue a farewell message that is broadcast over Indian radio. In part, it implores Indians to support the Atlantic Charter, to join the Allies, “and to participate shoulder-to-shoulder in the struggle for survival of a free world until complete victory has been achieved.”

As the American and Filipino defense of Bataan falters, President Roosevelt on February 22 orders Gen. Douglas MacArthur to leave the Philippines and relocate to Australia. In Burma, fighting moves to within 80 miles of Rangoon. Civilians begin to evacuate the city.

In a “Fireside Chat” broadcast over U.S. radio stations on February 23, President Roosevelt states: “This kind of war is a new kind of war. It is warfare in terms of every continent, every island, every sea, every air lane in the world. . . . We Americans have been compelled to yield ground, but we will regain it. . . . We are daily increasing our strength. Soon we, and not our enemies, will have the offensive; we, not they, will win the final battles; and we, not they, will make the final peace.” Off Santa Barbara, California, at around 7 p.m. Pacific Time, Japanese submarine I-17 fires between 12 and 25 5.5-inch shells from its deck gun at the Ellwood Oil Field facilities. The attack lasts about 20 minutes and causes only minor damage. In England, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris is named commander-in-chief of the RAF Bomber Command. In the East Indies, the Allied headquarters on Java is relocated to Australia.

The Panamanian cargo ship MV Struma — chartered by two Zionist organizations to carry Jewish refugees from Romania to Palestine — is torpedoed by Soviet submarine Shch-213 on February 24 in the Black Sea, about 10 miles off Istanbul, Turkey. Of the 791 people onboard, only one survives the sinking. In Norway, bishops of the Lutheran Church resign their positions rather than declare allegiance to the regime of Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling.

At around 3:00 a.m. Pacific Time on February 25, air-raid sirens sound all over Los Angeles, California, and the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade begins firing 50-caliber machine guns and anti-aircraft guns into the air at reported unknown aircraft. Roughly one hour later — after some 1,400 anti-aircraft shells have been fired — the all-clear sounds. Later analysis finds that the so-called “Battle of Los Angeles” may have been triggered by the sighting of a stray weather balloon. In any case, as fears of invasion increase, internment of residents of Japanese ancestry begins on the West Coast. In London, Princess Elizabeth, the elder daughter of King George VI, registers for war service. German law is officially proclaimed in the occupied states of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine. Precipitated by the fall of Singapore, the ABDA (Australian-British-Dutch-American) Command is dissolved by the Allies.

The German battleship Gneisenau is bombed by the RAF while dry-docked at Kiel, Germany, on February 26. The ship is so badly damaged that it is decommissioned and never returns to service.

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