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This Week in World War II: 75 Years Ago

The de Havilland Mosquito bomber like the ones used by the RAF in a daring daylight raid on Berlin in 1943. Source:

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

Planning for celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the Nazi Party’s accession to power in Germany is disrupted on January 29, 1943, by the RAF’s first low-level, daylight air attack on Berlin, by a squadron of de Havilland Mosquito bombers. The Nazis order all Romani (gypsies) in Germany to be arrested and sent to extermination camps. The Luftwaffe makes a last major effort to resupply Field Marshal Paulus’s Sixth Army at Stalingrad, dropping supplies from 124 airplanes. It is much too little, and far too late. Many of the supplies land outside the German lines and are captured by the Soviets.

On December 30, the 10th anniversary of the Nazi seizure of power passes without Hitler speaking to the nation. It is the first time that der Führer has failed to appear in public and make an address on that date. In North Africa, the Germans capture Faïd Pass in Tunisia. In Berlin, Hitler appoints Ernst Kaltenbrunner as head of the Reich Central Security Office. Kaltenbrunner enthusiastically takes charge of one of his responsibilities: the deportation of Jews to extermination camps. He is helped by his primary assistant, Adolf Eichmann. Kriegsmarine submarine commander Karl Dönitz is promoted to Grand Admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, replacing Erich Raeder, who — having been demoted by Hitler — resigned.

Vichy France on December 31 creates the Milice (Militia), a Gestapo-like organization under the command of Joseph Darnand, an extreme, right-wing, World War I veteran, to combat the Resistance. The Milice effectively becomes an arm of the German Occupation and reaches a strength of more than 20,000 by mid-1944. At Stalingrad, the exhausted, freezing troops of the German Sixth Army’s southern pocket — having expended their last ammunition and having lost over 200,000 men — surrender to the Red Army. The Soviets capture Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus and 16 generals. It is the first major German defeat of the war.

Destroyers of the Imperial Japanese Navy on February 1, begin to evacuate the 13,000 Japanese soldiers still left on Guadalcanal. Japanese warplanes sink the destroyer USS De Haven off Savo Island, in the Solomons. Of her complement of 329 officers and enlisted men, 167 are killed and 38 are wounded. In the U.S., ground is broken at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for construction of a uranium-235 processing plant. President Roosevelt issues an order creating the U.S. Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an infantry regiment consisting almost entirely of Nisei — second-generation Americans of Japanese descent.

In the Soviet Union, the Battle of Stalingrad comes to an end after 462 days of fighting on February 2. The remnants of the German Sixth Army in the northern pocket under Gen. Karl Strecker cease fighting and surrender to the Red Army. In all, over 96,000 survivors of the once 300,000-strong German Sixth Army are captured, including 22 generals and 2,500 officers. The POWs are marched off to Siberia. (Only about 5,000 will live to return to Germany after the war, the last POWs being repatriated 12 years later, in 1955.) At Moscow, the victory over the Germans at Stalingrad is celebrated with a salute of several hundred guns.

On February 3, the U.S. Army transport ship USAT Dorchester, in a convoy en route from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, to the Army Command Base at Narsarsuaq, Greenland, is torpedoed by German U-boat U-223 and sinks within 20 minutes. Among the 670 lives lost are those of the “Four Chaplains,” who give their own life jackets away when they realize there aren’t enough to go around. The four — a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi and two Protestant ministers — are last seen on deck, with arms linked, praying, as the ship goes down. Adolf Hitler, in a national broadcast from his headquarters, announces that the Sixth Army has been destroyed at Stalingrad. He declares four days of national mourning.

Red Army troops make a successful amphibious landing behind German lines near Novorossiysk, Russia’s main port on the Black Sea, on February 4. From England, British and U.S. bombers take part in “Operation Gondola,” a series of raids aimed at destroying U-boats in the Bay of Biscay. The bombers use immensely powerful searchlights to illuminate submarines during attacks. In the Pacific, a naval force of one cruiser and 22 destroyers evacuates another 5,000 Japanese soldiers from Guadalcanal. In North Africa, the remaining Germans in Libya, along with their commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, withdraw westward into Tunisia.

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