The submarine menace
Most Americans alive today were born in a time where American naval supremacy was essentially a birthright. Other than the occasional intercept of a Cold War-throwback Russian bomber, we take the security of our coastlines — maybe even our hemisphere — for granted.
But that wasn’t the case in January 1942. Enemy submarines prowled our Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico coastlines, and newspapers featured near-daily stories of Americans lost at sea. The featured image above tells the story of the crew of the Prusa, a cargo ship torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-172 south of Hawaii on 19 December 1941. The crew miraculously survived 31 days on the open ocean before reaching the Gilbert Islands.
History tends to focus on the various battles of World War II, but making sure materials got where they were needed was every bit as important to the war effort. That job fell to the brave men of the Merchant Marine, who routinely sailed through waters infested by German and Japanese submarines. When you remember the heroes that fought, bear in mind that 1 out of every 26 men in the Merchant Marine lost their lives — the highest percentage of any service.
On 19 January, about 200 miles off the North Carolina coast, the German U-boat U-66 (Korvettenkapitän Richard Zapp, commanding) puts two torpedoes into the Canadian steam passenger ship Lady Hawkins. The attack was so sudden and effective that the liner couldn’t even send a distress call, and the vessel slips under the waves within 30 minutes. After five days at sea, one lifeboat is rescued by an Army transport. Of the 322 crew and passengers, only 71 survive — including 17 Americans (see pages A-2, A-4, and A-8 for U-boat attacks).
This attack came just 24 hours after U-66 sank the Allan Jackson, an American freighter carrying 72,000 barrels of oil from Colombia to New York. Zapp’s torpedoes broke the vessel in two and set the oil on fire, burning several shipwrecked Americans alive. A U.S. Navy destroyer was on hand within four hours to rescue survivors. Of the 35 Merchant Marine crew, all but three officers and ten men perished.
Forget Pearl Harbor?
Collier’s magazine war correspondent Quentin Reynolds advised Americans that the slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor” was terribly defeatist and should not be used (page A-8). Continue reading “World War II Chronicle: 29 January 1942”
The submarine USS Gudgeon (SS-211), which on 11 December became the first sub to depart Pearl Harbor for a war patrol, had just finished her watch off Japan’s Bungo Strait when the crew received an ULTRA message on 27 January reporting that three enemy submarines were operating in their area, 240 miles west of Midway.
Lt. Cmdr. Elton W. Grenfell soon spots a Japanese I-68-class submarine and fires three torpedoes, sinking I-73. Gudgeon becomes the first U.S. submarine to sink an enemy vessel during World War II.
To date, Allied submarines, mines, surface ships, and warplanes have sunk 15 Imperial Japanese Naval vessels since the Pacific War began last month. American, Dutch, and British crews combined sent 22 Japanese merchant vessels to the bottom, totaling over 100,000 tons.
The Greatest Yankee you haven’t heard of
Who was the hitter Bob Feller feared the most? You’d expect Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams, but not Tommy Heinrich. “He never over-swung. He made a ball be a strike and he would swing at a low overhand curve now and then. Tom would go for the single and cut down on his swing with two strikes. He was a good clutch hitter and tough to strike out — it seemed he was always looking for the pitch I was delivering.”
As we see on page 2-X (the third page) New York Yankee rightfielder Tommy Henrich is one of the many Americans recently reclassified by the draft board. “Old Reliable” finished third (behind Williams and teammate Charlie Keller) on the American League homerun leaderboard last season and will be selected for his first All-Star game in 1942. On 30 August Specialist 1st Class Henrich joins the Coast Guard, serving in Michigan until 29 September 1945. He returns to baseball in 1946 and makes the All-Star roster each year from 1947-50. Continue reading “World War II Chronicle: 27 January 1942”
The Americans Have Landed
The White House reports that today, the first U.S. ground troops have arrived in Europe.
4,508 soldiers of the 34th Infantry Division departed New York City on 15 January, sailing through U-boat infested waters before safely reaching Belfast, Northern Ireland. As his yankees spend the next several months training, division commander Maj. Gen. Russel P. Hartle is tasked with creating an American version of the British Commandos — the outfit that would become the Army Rangers. Hartle picks his aide-de-camp, Capt. William O. Darby, to form the outfit. 34th Division volunteers account for most of the Army’s original 500 Rangers.
Over the course of the war, the three Naval officers mentioned in the daring raid near Subic Bay (see the front page) would earn five Silver Stars, three Distinguished Service Crosses, three Navy Crosses, and one Medal of Honor for valor.
Lt. John D. Bulkeley will command the PT boat that carries Gen. MacArthur (who celebrates his birthday today) out of the Philippines in a few weeks. Currently, Ensign John F. Kennedy (USNR) is assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence’s Charleston, S.C. field office, but when Bulkeley is sent back to the United States after earning the Medal of Honor, he recruits Kennedy into the torpedo boat service. Kennedy will promote Bulkeley to vice admiral and picks him to command the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba during the Cold War. Lt. (j.g.) Edward G. DeLong will perish in July 1942. George E. Cox will reach the rank of lieutenant commander and passes on in 1972. Continue reading “World War II Chronicle: 26 January 1942”