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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

HMS Ark Royal sailing toward Malta during World War II, accompanied by fighter planes. Source: Wikipedia.

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 July 31, 1942, the Germans lose three submarines — U-213, U-588 and U-754 — to enemy action in the Atlantic Ocean. A flight of 630 British bombers raid Düsseldorf, Germany, destroying 453 buildings and killing 276 civilians. 29 bombers are lost. In Great Britain, the government bans driving for pleasure.

On August 1, the Germans — unable to gain much ground in western Egypt — launch a heavy air raid on Cairo. An interlocking convoy system for shipping — first introduced along the eastern seaboard of the U.S., which resulted in a pullback of German submarines there — is implemented, as well, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean. In Asia, the Japanese establish a puppet government in Burma. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Gen. Alan Brooke, Chief of the (British) Imperial General Staff, arrive in Cairo, Egypt. The poor performance of the British Eighth Army in North Africa is of concern, and replacement commanders are being considered.

The British convoy “Pedestal” leaves the U.K. for Malta on August 2. It is carrying desperately needed supplies for the island bastion — located midway between Sicily and North Africa — that is under siege by the Germans and the Italians. U.S. troops begin shipping out to the U.K. aboard the passenger liners SS Queen Elizabeth, SS Queen Mary, and SS Nieuw Amsterdam. These vessels — now converted to troopships — are too fast for standard escorts, so they sail alone. Their routes across the Atlantic are based on British Admiralty intelligence on Axis U-boat concentrations.

In the South Pacific, the destroyer USS Tucker on August 3 is escorting the ammunition ship SS Nira Luckenbach from Fiji to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. Tucker, approaching Espiritu Santo, hits a mine in an American minefield laid just the day before. Six crewmen are killed; 152 survivors, including 21 wounded, are rescued by Nira Luckenbach. Tucker sinks the following morning, despite attempts to tow her into port. In the U.S., the FBI arrests 89 “dangerous aliens.”

On August 4, advance units of the German 4th Panzer Army cross the Aksay River, in Russia, on their drive toward Stalingrad. The British government, citing documents seized in a raid in India, accuses Mohandas Gandhi and others in his party of working toward the “appeasement” of Japan. To prevent illicit communications in the Occupied Netherlands, the Germans order all Dutch homing pigeons to be killed. In New York, Paramount Pictures premieres the musical film “Holiday Inn,” starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The movie will win an Oscar for Best Original Song: Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” The U.S. War Production Board bans the manufacture of typewriters for private use.

Allied convoy SC-94 (35 merchant ships traveling from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Liverpool, England) is sighted by a German U-boat in the Atlantic on August 5 when a group of six ships and two escorts gets separated from the convoy due to fog. One ship is sunk, but two U-boats are driven off. On the Eastern Front, German Army Group A continues its offensive, with advances towards the oilfields of Maykop in the Caucasus.

The U.S. Army’s Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower on August 6 is appointed as commander-in-chief of Allied forces preparing to invade North Africa. In the Soviet Union, the Germans cross the Kuban River near Armavir, in southern Russia. In Detroit, Max Stephan — a German-born restaurant owner who had been convicted of treason in July for aiding an escaped German prisoner of war — becomes the first American citizen to be sentenced to death for treason since the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. (President Roosevelt will commute Stephan’s sentence to life imprisonment eight hours before his scheduled execution by hanging.)

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