Categorized | Carousel, Historical

This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

A World War II gasoline rationing card. 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

In the Crimea, the Kerch Peninsula on May 15 is in German hands, with 170,000 Soviet soldiers taken prisoner. Sevastopol is now once again isolated. In the U.S., a bill creating the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) is signed into law by President Roosevelt. Because voluntary curtailment of auto-fuel use isn’t working well in the U.S., 17 eastern states impose mandatory gasoline rationing. By December, gasoline rationing is required in all 48 states. Drivers who use their autos for “non-essential” purposes are limited to the purchase of three gallons of gasoline per week.

The U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division arrives in Northern Ireland on May 16 for advanced training. In Occupied Poland, the Sobibór extermination camp becomes operational. Japanese troops occupy Flores Island, just west of Timor in the Dutch East Indies.

In a salient north of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 17, the Soviets are having difficulty overcoming the German 6th Army under Gen. Friedrich Paulus. Meanwhile, south of Kharkiv, Gen. Ewald von Kleist launches a counteroffensive at Izium that is immediately successful. In the central Pacific, off Truk, the American sub USS Tautog torpedoes and sinks Japanese submarine I-28.

On May 18 in the Ukraine, the Red Army is in major retreat on the Kerch Peninsula of the Crimea, with large numbers of troops surrendering. The Germans capture Izium, south of Kharkiv, and take 214,000 Soviet prisoners. The largest contingent yet of U.S. troops to arrive in Europe lands in Northern Ireland.

As of May 19, Kleist’s counteroffensive at Izium continues to gain ground. In the north, Paulus also launches a counterattack, hoping to link up with Kleist and encircle as many Soviet troops as possible.

At Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 20, the leading elements of Kleist’s and Paulus’s forces draw ever closer. The Soviets frantically scramble to generate a fighting retreat or at least to maximize what can be saved of their troops. In Asia, the Japanese conquest of Burma is complete in what the British term a “military catastrophe.” Troops of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division begin training in England for “Operation Rutter,” an amphibious assault of the German-occupied port of Dieppe, France. In Asia, Gen. Joseph Stilwell and his party reach Imphal, in the eastern state of Manipur, India, just as Japanese forces in Burma reach the country’s northern borders with China and India. The 59-year-old infantryman has successfully led his people on a 190-mile escape trek, much of it on foot.

“Operation Herkules,” a planned German-Italian invasion of Malta, is postponed indefinitely by the German High Command on May 21. German firm I.G. Farben establishes a factory to manufacture synthetic oil and rubber near the Auschwitz concentration camp, outside of Oświęcim, Occupied Poland. The plant will use slave labor from the camp. A decree by the Nazi occupation authorities in the Netherlands authorizes the complete expropriation of Jewish property.

World War II advertisement asking drivers not to drive alone (and to carpool) so as to save gasoline, which was rationed during the war. Click to enlarge.

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