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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago


The Standard Oil Co. tanker R.P. Resor and the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Jacob Jones (series shown here) were both torpedoed and sunk within hours of each other off the New Jersey coast by German sub U-578. Jacob Jones was hit southeast of Cape May. For more information about the Jacob Jones, click here. 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

On February 27, 1942, a combined force of Australian, British, Dutch and American warships under the command of Dutch Rear Adm. Karel Doorman engages a numerically superior Japanese force in the Battle of the Java Sea, off the Dutch East Indies. The Allies lose two cruisers, three destroyers and 2,300 sailors versus a Japanese loss of one destroyer damaged and 36 sailors killed. Among the Allied dead is the force commander, Rear Adm. Doorman. In Europe, 120 British commandos parachute into Occupied (northern) France and destroy a German radar installation at Bruneval. The British, bringing back parts and a prisoner, are able to determine the Nazis’ level of radar development and to work up countermeasures against it. The Standard Oil Co. tanker R.P. Resor and the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Jacob Jones are both torpedoed and sunk within hours of each other off the New Jersey coast by German sub U-578. Resor is attacked east of Barnegat Light and Jacob Jones southeast of Cape May. Of Jacob Jones’s complement of 113 officers and enlisted men, only 12 survive.

With the Allied naval fleet having been soundly defeated in the Java Sea, Japanese land forces on February 28 invade the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. The island is defended by mostly Dutch troops, but also present are some British, Australian and American military. German Field Marshal von Manstein’s southern offensive reaches the River Donets, where it surrounds large numbers of Soviet troops west of the river. In Ukraine, the Red Army is being pushed back toward Kharkiv. In the U.S., the song “Moonlight Cocktail” by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra hits #1 on Billboard magazine’s singles chart.

On March 1, 1942, the Red Army begins an offensive on Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. In the north of Russia, the German siege of Leningrad continues. Two days after the First Battle of the Java Sea took place, the Second Battle of the Java Sea occurs, again resulting in a Japanese victory. The heavy cruiser HMS Exeter and the destroyers HMS Encounter and USS Pope are sunk. Having thus eliminated the last Allied warships operating in the waters around Java, the Japanese have a clear path for their conquest of the Dutch East Indies. In Occupied Poland, the Nazis begin construction of the Sobibór extermination camp.

The Japanese begin heavy air strikes on New Guinea on March 2 in preparation for an invasion. Allied ships at Surabaya are scuttled to keep them from falling into enemy hands. Australia declares war on Thailand. In the Pacific, two Japanese heavy cruisers— Takao and Atago — shell and sink the American destroyer USS Pillsbury west of Christmas Island with the loss of all 116 officers and enlisted men. In Belorussia, over 5,000 Jews are taken from the Minsk ghetto — the largest run by the Nazis during the war — and murdered.

Japanese aircraft on March 3 make a surprise raid on the airfield and harbor of Broome, on the northwest coast of Western Australia. During the attack, a commercial DC-3 airliner is shot down, causing the deaths of four of the eight passengers, including an infant. Also lost is a shipment of diamonds worth between $150,000 and $300,000. Never found, the gems are believed to have been looted. The American gunboat USS Asheville is sunk south of Java by the Japanese destroyers Arashi and Nowaki. In the U.K., new conscription laws include women and men up to the age of 45. The RAF launches 235 low-level bombers on a raid against the Renault works at Billancourt, France. The 460 tons of bombs dropped cause extensive damage to the plant, killing five workers. Stray bombs drop on the town, however, killing over 500 civilians.

On March 4, two Japanese Kawanishi H8K “Betty” flying boats — taking off from French Frigate Shoals in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands chain, and loaded with four 550-pound bombs each — attempt a reconnaissance of Pearl Harbor with the intent of bombing the facility and hampering repair and salvage operations. Bad weather impedes the operation, and the Japanese bombs fall harmlessly with no damage done. In the Indian Ocean, the Royal Australian Navy sloop HMAS Yarra — protecting a convoy of vessels withdrawing from southeast Asia to Australia — is attacked and sunk by a Japanese flotilla of three cruisers and four destroyers. Only 13 of Yarra’s 160 crew members survive.

On March 5, Japanese forces enter Batavia, the capital of the Netherlands East Indies. Japanese troops also enter Pegu, Burma, 50 miles northeast of Rangoon. On the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine, the SS begins three weeks of “sweeps” in Feodosia (captured by the Germans in January) in which over 2,000 Jews, communists, partisans, Romani (gypsies) and mentally ill people will be arrested and killed.

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