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This Week in World War II — 75 Years Ago

Tribesmen became the unexpected heroes of the Pacific War of 1942, saving hundreds of wounded troops as the rampaging Japanese army overwhelmed Port Moresby. The indigenous saviours nursed and carried soldiers to safety – and in one iconic case – a villager was photographed leading a blinded Australian man away from danger.The villagers fought too, as seen above. For more information, click here.

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.

On January 1, 1943, the Soviet Union announces that 22 German divisions have been surrounded at Stalingrad, with 175,000 killed and over 137,000 taken prisoner. The Australians and the Americans take Buna, Papua-New Guinea. A daylight raid by the Luftwaffe hits a school in London, killing 44 children and their teacher. Walt Disney releases the animated movie “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” featuring Donald Duck and the 1942 song hit by Spike Jones and His City Slickers. The humorous anti-Nazi propaganda cartoon goes on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu meets with Hitler on January 2 and expresses his concern over the disaster that is unfolding at Stalingrad. The Battle of Gjorm, in southwestern Albania, between Albanian Resistance fighters and heavily armed Italian troops ends in a decisive Albanian victory. The Italians are routed from the field, and have 186 killed, including the force commander, hundreds wounded and 80 taken prisoner. The Albanians suffer few casualties.

The Soviet South Front on January 3 moves toward Rostov and the Terek River; the Germans in the area withdraw. (In the Red Army, a “Front” is roughly equivalent to an Army Group.) In Italy, British frogmen using manned torpedoes damage the Italian cruiser Ulpio Traiano and a tanker in the harbor of Palermo, Sicily. In the U.S., the Selective Service announces that it will begin prosecuting draft dodgers on February 1.

U.S. Army and Navy planes on January 4 begin a regular bombardment of Japanese forces occupying Attu and Kiska, in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska.

On January 5, the Red Army takes Morozovsk, the location of a German air base 165 miles northeast of Rostov-on-Don that is vital to holding Stalingrad. The U.S. Fifth Army is established in Tunisia, under the command of Lt. Gen. Mark Clark. In Washington, D.C., William H. Hastie, an African-American civilian aide to U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson, resigns to protest racial segregation in the U.S. Army Air Forces. (Prior to the war, Hastie had been the first African-American to be appointed a federal judge.) U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Claude Wickard orders butter suppliers to reserve 30 percent of their production for the use of the Armed Forces.

The first of 15 trains from Belgium in the month of January arrives at Auschwitz, in Occupied Poland, on January 6. Of the 24,000 people delivered there during the month, 20,000 are lethally gassed almost immediately upon arrival. In Germany, Grand Adm. Erich Raeder, leader of the Kriegsmarine (German War Navy), meets with Adolf Hitler, who savages him over the ineffectiveness of the surface fleet. Hitler threatens to scrap the ships, and to transfer their sailors to submarines or the Army.

At what comes to be known as the Battle of Huon Gulf, Allied aircraft gathered from across the southwest Pacific launch repeated attacks on Japanese convoys carrying troops to Papua-New Guinea on January 7. Three transports and some 80 Japanese aircraft are lost. Allied casualties during the action are comparatively light. In his State of the Union address, President Roosevelt announces that 7 million Americans are in the Armed Forces, of which 1.5 million are overseas.

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