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A brief guide to the Second World War 1942

Updated on November 5, 2012
Pearl Harbour - warships after the attack
Pearl Harbour - warships after the attack | Source

The year of 1942 was the start of the end of the Second World War. America had been drawn into the war by the bombing of Pear Harbour . America, Russia and Great Britain and her dominions were formiddable opponents. This is a brief history- I am sorry if you feel I have ommitted an important event but I am trying to give an overview of the whole war.

First Washington Conference 1942

It was agreed by the United Nations (the Allies) that the first target would be Germany and then Japan. The second front- a land based attack on Germany was discussed and put off for a minimum of two years. The allies agreed that strategy was directed by the Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee which operated the decisions laid down for them by Churchill and Roosevelt. The British minister in charge of production Lord Beaverbrook advised Roosevelt on the importance of increasing the American wartime production and this was a successful move. Economically Lend –Lease was extended to Russia as well as Great Britain and the Russians received all there was to spare. The one thing they asked for that could not be given, was the immediate launch of a second front in Europe.

There were divisions within the services of each of the Allied countries. Both the British and American air commands were convinced that bombing would win the war whilst the heads of the other services looked for a combination of naval and land action. Therefore the war was fought on two fronts the land and naval action and the bombing campaigns rarely directed at the same target areas. The pictures of bomb damage in cities throughout Europe have become iconic symbols of the Second World War, particularly because it brought the war to many people.

Americans in the Philippines

Japan attacked the Philippines destroying most of the American aircraft whilst they were on the ground. The Losses of men were enormous, over 141,000 American and Filipinos.

Japanese troops shortly after the occupation of Hong Kong
Japanese troops shortly after the occupation of Hong Kong | Source

Britain in Hong Kong.

Despite having recognised in 1940 that Hong Kong could not be defended from attack reinforcement s were sent to the Island. On the 8th December 1941, the day after Pearl Harbour the Japanese attacked from mainland China and had control of the Island by Christmas Day.

British surrender Singapore
British surrender Singapore | Source

The Fall of Singapore.

On the 8th December 1941 the two battle ships the Prince of Wales and the Repulse sailed north to attack Japanese transport ships. He sailed out in a last ditch attempt to save Singapore, without any air cover. The ships did not find the transports but were spotted by Japanese submarines who reported their positions. The ships were attacked by Japanese bombers and both were sunk at the loss of three Japanese aircraft.

The Japanese reached Singapore without opposition by the end of January 1942. The offensive against the Island started on 8th February 1942 and British opposition lasted for a week before the Island surrendered. The surrender was miscalculated as Japanese supplies had just run out. A force of 35,000 men conquered an island defended by 80,000 all of whom became prisoners of war.

Japan in Burma

In late December the Japanese landed in Burma which was abandoned by the British, retreating to Assam where they arrived in May 1942 after a 1,000 mile retreat.

Japanese in Indonesia

The Japanese landed on the 6th January 1942 and made steady progress. In February a mixed British /Dutch force attempted to attack the Japanese convoys but it was entirely destroyed after a three day naval battle. On the 8th March the Dutch surrendered and 98,000 Dutch East Indian troops started their life in captivity.

British occupy Madagascar

There was concern that the Japanese would move on from Ceylon, India and into Madagascar taking its valuable naval ports. The British began their occupation in May and completed it by September 1942, thus ruining Hitler’s plan to ship out all the European Jews to Madagascar.

Battle of the Coral Sea

There were Japanese plans to occupy Papua New Guinea and then attack Australia. On 8th May 1942 the American and Japanese fleets met in the Coral Sea, where for the first time the two fleets met and conducted a battle even though they were out of sight of each other. The IS carriers the Lexington was lost and Japanese losses were limited to one ship yet it caused the Japanese to retreat from their expedition to Australia.

Sinking of the USS Yorktown at the Battle of Midway
Sinking of the USS Yorktown at the Battle of Midway | Source

Battle of Midway

The Japanese aim was to destroy the rest of the American pacific fleet and force it back to California. The Americans were able to break the Japanese codes and had full information on the proposed action. On 4th June 1942 the Japanese fleet attacked the Island of Midway confident that the American fleet was nowhere to be seen. When the planes went back to rearm and refuel the American air force attacked, aided by warships and all of the 4 large Japanese carriers and 330 aircraft were lost within 5 minutes to the loss of one American battleship, Yorktown. In those five minutes the power balance in the Pacific Ocean had changed with the Americans now in control

Fighting in the Atlantic Ocean

Throughout 1942 the German navy had more U boats than ever before and had taken to hunting in packs which was successful. During the year the Allies built seven million tonnes of shipping, but this was not sufficient to replace the eight million tons that had been lost by German action in the Atlantic.

Russian Convoys

The supply of goods to Russia could only be made by sea through icy northern Baltic waters. These waters were soon patrolled by two battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau which were soon joined by the most powerful battle ship in the world- The Tirpitz. There was a disaster with convoy PQ which sailed in July 1942 during the period of light nights with little darkness to hide in. Intelligence was received that the Tirpitz had left port and such was the allied determination to save their battleships that the convoy was left to scatter and the armed escort withdrawn. Of the 35 merchant ships in the convoy, only 11 made it to port safely. The Russian convoys continued but a slower pace, with only two further sailings in 1942 and none in the light months of 1943. In the 40 convoys that sailed to Russia, 100 ships were lost.

Axis attack into Cairo

Rommel and his forces attacked in the Middle East on the basis that he could reach Alexandria. Although the the numbers of German tanks and guns were smaller than the allies, their troops were better led and the piecemeal British defence gave the organised German forces an advantage. A highlight was the defence of Bir Hacheim by the Free French Forces which marked the beginning of the re emergence of France’s military resistance. Rommell took Tobruk in a single day taking 35,000 allied prisoners . On 25th June 1942 Auchinleck took control of the Eighth army and decided to fall back to El Alamein which was 60 miles from Alexandria, which could only be attacked by a direct assault. Rommell resources were now low, he was living off supplies taken from the allies, yet still continued on towards Cairo. On 1st July Rommell attacked El Alamein where the British had only just arrived, but the German forces had run out of resources and after a few weeks of sporadic fighting the Germans could not advance any further.

Russian soldiers resting at their post in Stalingrad 1942
Russian soldiers resting at their post in Stalingrad 1942 | Source

Germans still in Russia in 1942

Hitler made himself Commander in Chief of the Russian front, responsible for even the minutest detail, despite the fact that he was already a very busy man- it was a job that was beyond his ability and capacity. The philosophy of Hitler’s command was simple, that there should be “No withdrawal”. February 1942 was in the words of Alan Clark “Hitler’s finest hour”, Russian attacks had been held by German troops and confidence within the army had been restored. However the cost had been high, the Luftwaffe was worn down by making thousands of supply fights, many men had been killed to be replaced by nearly one million half trained raw recruits- the German Eastern Army of 1942 was very different from that of 1941 ; it could no longer be classed as a great fighting force. Despite advice from his Generals to limit the offensive or to give his troops time to train and recuperate, Hitler decided that his main attack would be on Stalingrad thereby cutting off the Caucasus oil fields from the Russians. Russian loses were severe; In the Crimea they lost 100,000 prisoners and 200 tanks, outside Leningrad they lost the whole army when the commander surrendered to the Germans as he hoped that he would be able to lead an army against Stalin. The worst attack was the Russian attempt to take Kharkov when they lost 240,000 men as prisoners and over 1000 tanks.

The German Advance began on Russia on 28th June 1942. By 8th August the army on the Eastern flank could see the oil derricks of the Caucasus but the mountainous country slowed the German forces down and when snow fell in early October all hopes of reaching there were gone. Hitler’s middle army pressed on towards Stalingrad and were engaged in hard fighting to reach the outskirts of Stalingrad. The Russian troops at Stalingrad could be reinforced by new recruits coming into the city by train. In September it could be said that the German army seemed to have the upper hand but it faced problems on its long supply routes. It was a war of attrition with the Russians fighting for every inch of land, every house and every street corner and the Germans fighting with them for a prize which would yield them nothing other than the prestige of capturing a city named after the Russian leader, Stalin.

On 19th November 1942 the Russians broke through the Romanian and German lines north and south of Stalingrad. By the 23rd the German 6th Army was cut off but Hitler was assured by Field Marshall Goering that the Luftwaffe could keep the army going with air drops of supplies, a rather underestimation of the amount of drops that would be needed. An armoured force was sent towards the 6th Army but it became stalled about 30 miles from Stalingrad in cold December weather.

Jews awaiting transports to almost certain death
Jews awaiting transports to almost certain death | Source

“The Final Solution”- 1942

In the early months of 1942 the decision was made to liquidate the Jews or as Himmler termed it “The final solution”. This resulted in organised mass murder of a race simply because of their religion, oblivious to Nationality, people, men, women and children were killed by the Nazi murder machine. Estimates are that six million people of Jewish origin died at the hands of the Nazi’s often in gas chambers in camps specifically built for the purpose. It affected Jews from all over Europe, any area that the Nazi’s occupied Jews found themselves rounded up and deported. It is in my opinion one of the blackest times for humanity this world has ever seen- nothing that anyone says can defend what the Nazi’s did, nor should anyone try to defend them.

Naval Bombardments in the Battle of Guadalcanal
Naval Bombardments in the Battle of Guadalcanal | Source

The Battle for Guadalcanal -1942/3

There was a prolonged and bloody struggle at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands from August 1942 to February 1943. At least 50,000 allied troops took part and there were six heavy naval battles with heavy losses on both sides with the Japanese withdrawing on 7th February 1943.

British and American Landing at Dieppe

On 19th August 1942 British and Canadian forces landed at Dieppe in France. However it was ill organised without any air or naval support, in total contrast to the landings in 1944. Sine 6000 men landed and failed to capture any German strong points suffering some 50% casualties. Perhaps this was a valuable lesson to the Allies that planning would be needed before attacking German troops in Europe.

Allied Offensive in North Africa.

The British forces were now under the command of Montgomery and he saw the first success in the Autumn of 1942. Rommell had attacked the British on 30th August 1942 at the Battle of Alam el Halfa which the British defended stolidly; resulting in Rommell breaking the battle off owing to low fuel reserves. Montgomery led Rommell go- he did not want an improvised attack he wanted a well organised attack on the Germans that was guaranteed to succeed. At the same time supplies were failed to make it through to the Axis powers as the Allies were gaining control in the Mediterranean sea. When the British finally invaded North Africa they had superior fire power and superior numbers of well trained men, with a steady supply route through the Suez Canal.

Romell with his tanks in North Affrica
Romell with his tanks in North Affrica | Source

2nd Battle of El Aamein

This is the more famous of the two battles, starting on 23rd October 1942. Rommell was brought back from Germany but his Afrika Corps was now reduced to 90 tanks and the Allies had nearly 800 tanks!. By 2nd November British had lost 200 tanks leaving only 600 but Rommell was reduced to 30 tanks and looking to withdraw those that could be saved. However on 3rd November 1942 Hitler ordered Rommell to hold the lines at El Alamein at all costs. The British forces broke through 2 days later but in the confusion of battle Rommell escaped and retreated to Tunisia, despite the capture of 30,000 German and Italian prisoners of war and a large amount of tanks and weapons.

DARLAN-believed to have been taken in 1941
DARLAN-believed to have been taken in 1941 | Source

French North Africa

In November 1942 British and American forces landed in French North Africa ,the country nominally ruled by the Vichy government were not about to disobey orders from France, but they had a formidable army of 120,000 men. The Allies had landed with 10,000 men and the situation was very tense. However the Americans had been having secret talks with Darlan, the Vichy Premiers right hand man and he came in person to Algiers. It was just at this time that Hitler moved his forces into the unoccupied area of France and the Vichy government had clearly lost whatever independence it had held. After some hesitation Darlan agreed that French forces should support the allies but his naval commander scuttled his fleet at Toulon rather than join the Allies. Darlan was assassinated before the year ended but he had secured the allied position in North Africa. The allied offensive was called off in late 1942 with large amounts of troops caught up in torrential rain against large amounts of Axis troops.


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    • Just History profile image

      Just History 5 years ago from England

      Unnamed Harald- Thanks for your visit and glad you are enjoying them

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      A very nice overview of the events of 1942. I am enjoying this series very much.