Friday, November 02, 2007

5 Tide-Turning Battles of 1942

The death-knell of the Axis in World War 2 was surely sounded during the fall of this year exactly 65 years ago, involving millions of soldiers and tens of thousands of planes, tanks, and aircraft. Likely the greatest year of battles in all history:

  1. Stalingrad. Hitler's all out attempt to knock Russia out of the war ended in disgraceful failure for the vaunted German Army with 1.5 million casualties suffered out of 3 million soldiers total. Russian forces under Zhukov began their encirclement of the city on November 19, soon trapping the entire Nazi 6th Army of 250,000 troops. Luftwaffe assurances they could resupply the trapped forces came to naught and Hitler's besieged forces surrendered in February, 1943.
  2. El Alamein. British Forces under Gen. Bernard Montgomery permanently drove the Germans under Erwin Rommel out of Egypt, in a battle lasting from October 23-November 5. Churchill nearly despaired of finding a commander to defeat the wily "Desert Fox", who ran rampant in the British North African colonies since March of 1941. Rommel was on medical leave in Europe at the start of the battle, but returned in time to oversee his Afrika Corps' abject retreat. British forces totaled 220,000 plus 1100 tanks, with the Nazis/Italians fielding 116,00 and almost 600 tanks.
  3. Operation Torch. The Anglo/American invasion of Vichy French controlled North Africa on November 8 signaled the end of Nazi dominated Africa and the entrance of the USA into the land struggle against Germany. The 73,500 Allied troops were led by a newcomer, Dwight Eisenhower, who hoped to turn Vichy against the Nazis, after the former's falling out with the British early in the war. All objectives were quickly seized in a relatively easy campaign, but failure to immediately capture Tunisia meant the African War would drag on until May 1943.
  4. Guadalcanal. The Fighting started in August 7, 1942 after the American invasion of the Japanese controlled island, and reached a peak in October with the landing of 15,000 enemy troops to combat the 23,000 US Marines under General Alexander Vandegrift. By November 4, the Japanese offensive under General Harukichi Hyakutake had clearly failed, coupled with several naval actions directed by Admiral William Halsey off the islands, secured America's first counterattack after the Battle of Midway. Fighting continued until the Japanese withdrawal by February 8, 1943.
  5. Buna-Gona. American and Australian forces under General Douglas MacArthur began this attack against 2 villages to drive the Japanese out of New Guinea on November 16. The 20,000 weary and sick Allied troops faced some 6000 well entrenched Japanese soldiers. The Australians succeeded in capturing Gona on December 6, and after MacArthur fired their commander, the Americans took Buna on December 28.
Winston Churchill described this period of the war as "not the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps, the end of the beginning".