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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

A soldier catches a bit of sleep on Bataan during World War II.

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

Britain’s Royal Air Force on March 13, 1942, launches a raid against Essen, Germany. In Canada, the Women’s Army Corps is integrated into the Canadian Army. The Japanese begin landing troops in the Solomon Islands on March 14. Allied military planners are concerned that the threat to Australia increases if the Japanese build an airfield on Guadalcanal, one of the Solomons chain. In the Philippines, American and Filipino defenders on the Bataan peninsula — threatened by Japanese forces positioned around Manila Bay — begin retreating toward the fortified island of Corregidor, located in Manila Bay. In Ukraine, the city of Kharkiv is surrounded by German forces. In the U.S., President Roosevelt sends a proposal to all 48 state governors that speed limits be lowered nationally to 40 miles per hour to conserve rubber.

Because the Jewish ghetto of Riga, Latvia, is becoming overcrowded (due to the deportation of Jews from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia to the city), the Nazi occupying forces and local collaborationists on March 15 massacre about 1,900 Jews from the Riga ghetto in a forest near the city. A week later, another 1,840 are killed in the same woods. All had been told they were “being resettled” to ease crowding. Southeast of Newfoundland, German submarine U-503 is depth-charged and sunk by a U.S. Navy Lockheed Hudson PBO-1 aircraft from Naval Station Argentia, in Newfoundland.

On March 16, Mother Nature diverts the attention of Americans from the world at war: a tornado outbreak hits a large area of the central and southern U.S. Over two days — March 16 and 17 — 24 violent tornadoes kill 153 people and injure at least 1,284 in Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky and Alabama.

U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, his family and staff on March 17 arrive in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, from the Philippines. He is appointed commander of Allied Forces in the southwest Pacific. In the United Kingdom, electricity, coal and gas rationing begins; the rationing of clothing, already in effect, is further tightened. In Occupied Poland, the Nazi Bełżec extermination camp becomes operational. Large-scale deportations of Jews to the camp from Lublin, Occupied Poland, about 142 miles to the northwest, begin.

In the Bełżec extermination camp, Poland, as it was getting started up in 1940, soldiers celebrate the appointment of a new commander. See detailed description in Czech at

On March 18, Kharkiv, Ukraine, is once again in German hands. In Washington, President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9102 creating the War Relocation Authority, responsible for the forced relocation and detention of over 110,000 people — Japanese-American citizens and others of Japanese descent — for the duration of the war.

The American oil tanker SS Papoose is torpedoed and sunk on March 19 by German sub U-124, roughly 15 nautical miles southeast of Cape Lookout, North Carolina. In Burma, the Battle of Tachiao ends with the Japanese capturing the town of Pyu from Chinese defenders who had relieved the British there the day before.

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