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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

In the Laconia incident, German subs tried at first to rescue prisoners of war but, when American subs attacked, abandoned the effort. For more information see this link.

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 ww2remembered@yahoo.com.

The RAF conducts a heavy raid on Düsseldorf, Germany, on September 11, 1942. Some 475 bombers drop 100,000 incendiary devices in less than one hour. In Canada, the Canadian corvette HMCS Charlottetown is torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-517 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Charlottetown loses 9 of her crew of 64.

On September 12, the British troopship RMS Laconia, carrying civilians, Allied soldiers and Italian POWs, is torpedoed off the coast of West Africa by German submarine U-156 and sinks. When Korvettenkapitän Werner Hartenstein, commanding officer of U-156, realizes civilians and prisoners of war are on board, he surfaces to rescue survivors, and asks U-Boat Command in Germany for help. Several U-Boats are dispatched. All fly Red Cross flags and transmit over open radio channels that a rescue operation is underway. Ignoring those signals, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-24 Liberator bomber from Ascension Island starts attack runs on some of the submarines that already have survivors on their decks. The Germans order their submarines to dive, abandoning many survivors. The American command later denies it had knowledge of a rescue operation underway. Following the incident, Admiral Karl Dönitz orders his submarine commanders not to rescue any survivors after attacks. In the Laconia incident, 1,113 survivors are ultimately rescued, but 1,619 — mostly Italian prisoners of war — die.

British desert raids reach Benghazi and Barer, in Libya, on September 13. A combined-forces amphibious landing at Axis-occupied Tobruk is also made by British, Rhodesian and New Zealand troops. The attempt to take the city fails, however. The German Sixth Army continues its attempt to take Stalingrad. On Guadalcanal, 6,000 Japanese try to seize Henderson Field from the U.S. Marines but are repulsed in what becomes known as the Battle of Bloody Ridge or the Battle of Edson’s Ridge (named for the commander of the Marines that bore the brunt of the attack: Lt. Col. Merritt Edson).

About 170 miles east of San Cristóbal Island in the Solomons, Japanese submarine I-19 on September 14 torpedoes and sinks the American aircraft carrier USS Wasp and damages the battleship USS North Carolina and the destroyer USS O’Brien. In far-eastern China, Chinese forces recapture Wuyi in coastal Chekiang Province from the Japanese. Soviet planes bomb Budapest and the Ploieşti oil fields in Romania. Allied planes from Egypt bomb Sofia, Bulgaria.

Fierce fighting between German and Soviet forces erupts on September 15 at the Stalingrad railway station and for possession of a strategic hill — Mamayev Kurgan — overlooking the city. In Papua-New Guinea, U.S. troops arrive to reinforce the Australians garrisoning Port Moresby.

Armand Annet, the Vichy French Governor-General of Madagascar, on September 16 asks Col. Robert Sturges of the British Royal Marines and commandant of the invading British forces for an armistice. German Army Group B penetrates the northwestern suburbs of Stalingrad. In Albania, the National Liberation Movement, an anti-Axis resistance group, is organized at Pezë.

Peace talks in Madagascar break down on September 17. In the U.S., all atomic research is placed under military control; Army Col. Leslie Groves is placed in command of the Manhattan Project. In Europe, a joint British-Norwegian team of commandos attacks and destroys the power plant at Glomfjord, Norway. The plant remains out of service for the entire remainder of the war. Also in Norway, Minister President Vidkun Quisling reintroduces the death penalty to the Norwegian criminal code.

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