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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

Military personnel assist a fallen comrade on Guadalcanal in 1942. Wikimedia Commons.

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 August 7, 1942, the Guadalcanal Campaign begins in the Pacific: 19,000 U.S. Marines make amphibious landings on the islands of Guadalcanal, Gavutu, Florida, Tanambogo and Tulagi in the Solomons. In Europe, members of the Dutch Resistance bomb a railway line outside of Rotterdam. The formation of a Palestine Regiment within the British Army is announced. Separate Arab and Jewish battalions will be created within the regiment.   U.S. Marines capture the still-under-construction Japanese airfield at Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, on August 8. They rename it Henderson Field in honor of Maj. Lofton Henderson, USMC, the first Marine Corps aviator killed during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. On New Guinea, the Japanese attempt to capture Port Moresby, but are repulsed by Australian troops. In Switzerland, Gerhart Riegner, Geneva representative of the World Jewish Congress, sends a telegram to the U.S. vice-consul there, informing the Allies for the first time of the Nazis’ plan for a “Final Solution:” the systematic extermination of all Jews in German-occupied territory. The “Riegner Telegram,” as it comes to be called, is received mostly with disbelief by the Allies. In Bombay, Mohandas Gandhi delivers his “Quit India” speech, urging followers to engage in civil disobedience to force the British out of India. Gandhi and most of the other leaders of the All-India Congress Committee are jailed by the British the next day.

The overnight Naval Battle of Savo Island, Solomon Islands, ends on August 9 in a Japanese victory. The Americans lose three cruisers and the Australians, one, all sunk, with the Japanese suffering only light damage to three cruisers. In the Atlantic, Convoy SC-94, which has already lost one vessel, loses seven more British, U.S. and Dutch ships, torpedoed by German U-boats. In India, the incarceration by the British of Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other activists for Indian independence, causes widespread rioting — despite Gandhi’s personal and public commitment to, and calls for, nonviolence. In Russia, the German 1st Panzer Army captures the Maykop oilfields. However, these have been left burning furiously by the Red Army, leaving little refined fuel to be found there. Krasnodar and Yeysk, a port on the Sea of Azov, are captured by the Germans.

The British convoy “Pedestal” (14 merchant vessels, two battleships, three aircraft-carriers, 14 destroyers and three anti-aircraft cruisers), which left Britain on August 2 en route to Malta, reaches the Straits of Gibraltar on August 10, where it is reinforced with three heavy cruisers and 11 more destroyers. For a time, the aircraft-carrier HMS Furious joins the convoy with a complement of 38 Supermarine Spitfires that are to be flown off towards the embattled island. In the Pacific, the submarine USS S-44 sinks the Japanese heavy cruiser Kako off Kavieng, New Ireland.

On August 11, the “Pedestal” convoy is spotted by a German U-boat. Over the coming days, 21 German and Italian submarines, nearly 800 aircraft, 23 torpedo boats, and units of the Italian fleet move in to intercept the Malta-bound convoy. In Vichy France, Prime Minister Pierre Laval announces: “The hour of liberation for France is the hour of Germany’s victory in the war.” Laval also reveals that 150,000 French workers will be sent to Germany in exchange for the return of 50,000 French prisoners of war. Mobs continue to riot in many Indian cities. British troops are called out to try to maintain order. Many injuries and some deaths are reported.

U.S. forces begin expanding bases in the New Hebrides Islands on August 12. Especially important is the port of Espiritu Santo, which has an airfield. In Europe, the German Army approaches Stalingrad. Churchill arrives in Moscow for talks with Stalin; Averell Harriman represents the U.S. during the conference. During four days of often-acrimonious discussions, Stalin is eventually forced to accept the reality that there will be no “Second Front” during 1942. SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler is made responsible for maintaining order in Occupied Norway and Denmark. In Los Angeles, movie star Clark Gable, aged 41, enlists in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a private, expressing his wish to become a tail gunner on a bomber.

On August 13, Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery replaces Gen. Neil Ritchie as commander of the British Eighth Army.

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