World War II Chronicle: 11 December 1941

Although the Wehrmacht’s Soviet invasion is now doomed and he is under no obligation to declare war if Japan is the aggressor, Adolf Hitler (labeled “the former Austrian sign painter” in the front-page caption) foolishly declares war on the United States, setting Nazi Germany up for a two-front war. The United States House of Representatives and Senate quickly resolves that a state of war exists and formally declares war on Germany and Italy. Future Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller becomes one of the first — if not, the first — professional baseball player to enlist.

Headlines found in today’s edition:

  • U.S. to War on Axis Powers
  • Both Houses Vote to Fight
  • Jap Battleship is Sunk by U.S.
  • Jap Parachutists Capture Airport
  • Bob Feller Joins Naval Reserve
  • Economic Factors to Play Vital Part in Pacific War

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson “confirmed” that B-17 bombers sunk the battleship Haruna off Luzon Island, however no battleships were assigned to that particular fleet and Haruna was nowhere near the area. Chalk this up to the fog of war. Three B-17 Flying Fortress bombers of the 14th Bomb Squadron, 19th Bomb Group spotted the Japanese invasion fleet landing troops on the north of Luzon Island, and Capt. Colin P. Kelly, Jr.’s B-17 dropped their bombs on the largest ship (which they thought was Haruna but in fact was the heavy cruiser Ashigara). The crew believed that two of the three 600-lb. bombs hit the ship, and since they had no fighter cover and smoke obscured the target after their attack run, the B-17s headed back to base.

On the return leg, Japanese fighters targeted Kelly’s bomber, killing the engineer and setting the rear of the fuselage on fire. Kelly held the crippled bomber steady while his crew bailed out, then facing Japanese pilots strafing the parachuting airmen. Kelly died when his B-17 crashed five miles away from Clark Field, but his actions saved the rest of his crew.

Capt. Elrod’s Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat (foreground) after crash-landing on Wake Island. Prior to sinking a destroyer, Elrod bagged two Japanese bombers during the battle.

The United States was in desperate need of good news and a hero. Capt. Kelly and his bombardier Cpl. Meyer Levin became just that. Kelly received a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross and Levin (who would actually sink a Japanese ship during the Battle of the Coral Sea) was hailed as the first Jewish-American hero of the war. President Roosevelt wrote a letter to the future President of the United States requesting an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy for Kelly’s son. In 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower did just that for Colin P. Kelly III, who graduated in 1963.

Meanwhile, in the central Pacific, a Marine aviator named Capt. Henry T. Elrod of Marine Fighter Squadron 211 (VMF-211) dropped his 100-lb. bombs on the deck of the Japanese destroyer Kisaragi, which was loaded with depth charges. Elrod’s victory marks the first time a fighter aircraft sinks a warship with small-diameter bombs and Kisaragi becomes the second major Japanese vessel sunk during the war. Elrod will fight valiantly over the coming days — both in the air and on land — and posthumously earns the Medal of Honor.

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Author: Documents

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