History of war: March 1942 – Research Paper

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SE Asia – North Africa – Malta

The Japanese advance throughout Southern Asia continued. In the Dutch East Indies they had destroyed the Allied Fleet and nearly all the Dutch and British aircraft on the ground. This enabled the Japanese to occupy the Island of Java with great speed. Allied ships leave to take refuge in Australia, but are intercepted by a superior Japanese Naval Force in the Sunda Straight. The cruises Huston (USA) and Perth (Australia) plus two American Destroyers and one Tanker are sunk by Japanese gunfire and torpedos. The Japanese prepare for the invasion of New Guinea with massive air raids.

During the rest of the month air raids are carried out on various targets in New Guinea and Australia. By the 9th of March the last Dutch army units on Java surrender. During the night of 7 March a Japanese invasion force enters the Gulf of Huon and under cover of gunfire from the escort vessels lands soldiers at Salamaua and Lae. There was no opposition to the landing on 10 March the Japanese land another force at Finchhaven. Aircraft from the US Aircraft Carriers Yorktown and Lexington bomb Salamaua and Lae damaging Japanese shipping and airfields. The Japanese retaliate by bombing Port Moresby.

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The Japanese are going about consolidating their successes in Malaya, Singapore, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. On 17 of March General MacArthur is ordered by US President Roosevelt to move from Mindanao to Darwin. On arrival he is to assume Supreme Command of the Allied Forces in the South West Pacific. Soon the area is divided into the Pacific Zone under command of Admiral Nimitz and the South West Pacific Zone, including Australia, New Guinea, the Philippines, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomon Islands and much of the Dutch East Indies. By the end of the month a Pacific War council is set up in Washington with representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Philippines and China.

Meanwhile the war is still raging in other parts of the world. During this month the Russians attack the Germans on the Eastern Front in the Crimea. The Germans cannot relieve the II Corps of the 16th Army from encirclement, South East of Staraya, in Russia. At this time of the Germans attack on Russia they had accumulated 1,500,636 casualties on the Russian Front. In North Africa Axis Forces continue to bomb installations in the Tobruk area, while the British continue to bomb air and naval installations in Benghazi. Malta has been under air attack, from the Germans, for most of this month and is in danger of running out of supplies.

During the period 20-23 March 1942 an attempt by the British to resupply Malta commenced. A British convoy of four supply ships left Alexandria Harbour at dawn 20 March and headed for Malta. This group of ships is carrying supplies that Malta needs to keep resisting the Axis forces trying to destroy it.

These four ships were met by an escort of four cruisers, a light cruiser and 18 destroyers. Every British warship in the Mediterranean was tasked to ensure that this particular convoy got through to Malta.

However enemy spies had given cause to the Axis commanders to believe that the British were trying to resupply Malta. Italian forces were ordered to intercept the convoy and stop it from reaching its destination. Italian Admiral Iachino left port at Taranto in the Battleship Littoria with an escort of four destroyers about the same time as Admiral Parona in command of four cruisers and four destroyers. These forces were heading for the Gulf of Sirte where they hope to meet the British squadron.

On 22 March Italian torpedo bombers attack the British convoy causing no damage and failed to scatter the convoy. Throughout the rest of the afternoon the Italians tried to attack the British convoy but were unable to inflict any damage due to the very effective smoke screen put up by the British. By 1835 hours the Italians had reached the point where the interception of the British convoy was to occur. Admiral Vian, the British Commander, accepted the challenge and sent his destroyers to attack the Battleship Littorio hoping to at least cripple the Battleship with torpedos. The Italians took evasive action and because it was now 1900 hours and dark, went home. The British Admiral had completed his task and allowed the four supply ships to continue on to Malta under the cover of darkness.

Although the four ships travelled at full speed they did not reach the harbour until dawn on 23 March where they were attacked by Axis aircraft that were waiting for them. The supply ships Talbot and Pampas were hit and sunk before being unloaded. The Breconshire also sank after being towed into port and the last ship, the Clan Campbell, was sunk at sea 50 miles from port. The attempt to resupply Malta had failed. Of 26,000 tons of fuel on the convoy only 5,000 tons was salvaged.