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Rommel received more fuel, supplies and tanks on 5 January 1942 for his planned attack on 21 January. Rommel proved his consistent deadliness with the right supplies and began a series of devastating blows to the Allies in North Africa. By 6 February he had routed the British halfway across Libya and the British had lost 400 tanks and 1400 men. The British High Command had lost faith in General Ritchie, but they did not relieve him for fear of destroying the already brittle Allied morale. Instead, both sides took the rest of February, March, and April to reorganize.

At the turn of the new year, Stalin’s attempt to retake the Crimean peninsula failed. The small gains the Soviets had made at Kerch and Fedosiya were wiped out by General Manstein’s 11th Army on 18 January. Soviet pockets of resistance that survived would not give up the fight, and tried consecutive breakouts on 27 February, 13 March and 26 March, yet each one was in vain. Despite having 2 new Siberian divisions, General Vlasov could not capitalize on his gains with the Stavka‘s clumsy methods of delivering reinforcements to the front. Vlasov was so incensed with Stalin’s wasteful attitude of his men that he would not board the plane sent to help him escape. Instead, he and his personnel were taken prisoner rather than fight to the death as expendable chess pieces for the Soviet High Command. However, this act of protest did not stop Stalin’s determination to salvage the Crimea. After reinforcing his spearhead with 5 armored brigades, Stalin ordered yet another counter-attack for 9 April. Soon the Black Sea Fleet and Azov Flotilla under Admiral Gorshkov supported an amphibious assault that hit the Kerch peninsula, on the opposite coast of the Crimea. Although the landing was more of a diversionary tactic, the Soviets managed to recapture the smaller peninsula. The Soviet gambit appeared to have worked--Manstein sent 3 divisions eastward to meet the Red Army. Frustratingly, the Soviet victory was once again brief.

Under the name "Operation Bustard," the second German Crimean offensive crushed the Soviet initiative and garnered 170,000 POWs. All Stalin could hope for was that it bought Sevastopol more time. By May, Manstein again directed his attention on capturing the elusive fortress city in "Operation Störfang." On June 2 the pre-invasion bombardment began showering the city with a hail of metal and fire. Five days later 203,000 German and Romanian soldiers flooded in from 3 fronts while XLII Corps kept the Kerch peninsula in Axis hands. Within 10 days the Wehrmacht had made significant progress in the north and south, forcing the Soviets to withdraw from their protective airfields. The defenders fought with ferocious mettle but could not hold out forever. By the end of June, the Red Army was nearly out of ammunition and supplies and reluctantly had to organize a massive evacuation. With the help of the Black Sea Fleet the Soviets had their own version of Dunkirk and successfully withdrew, although the Germans collected 90,000 POWs from the broken city. On 4 July the Germans claimed victory and Manstein was made a Field Marshal for his efforts.

Even though many Soviet officers secretly blamed Stalin for losing the Crimea, it is doubtful that even a brilliant strategist could have held the Germans off indefinitely. For every soldier the Red Army gained, the Wehrmacht increased in numbers as well. During the winter of 1941-1942 as Stalin planned for his many counterattacks, General Manstein obtained the 22nd Panzer division, 28th light division and 8th Air Corps, full of deadly Ju-87 and Ju-88 aircraft. At the time, the overwhelming majority of Soviet concern was protecting the northern Russian cities, and the Ukraine was not as important as the Soviet capital. The Crimea campaign was tactical victory for the Germans but it also worked against them in the long run. Hitler's obsession with Sevastopol tied up valuable men, machines and resources for 9 months, which slowed their advance on more strategic targets like Leningrad and Moscow. The battles were indicative of the back-and-forth nature of the Russian front and Hitler should have learned from his costly experiences in the Crimea. Also, the fighting did not end completely with the surrender. After its capture, the resistance continued underground, literally underneath the city in miles of tunnels leftover from the original Crimean war. The Germans would spend the next 2 years defending their prized possession from the vengeful Soviets.

During the spring of 1942 the Germans were at their most merciless. They launched several campaigns of slaughter, like "Operation Munich" on 19 March which retaliated on Serbian and Croat troops. They pitilessly murdered anyone suspected of resistance. The Germans were shaken up after losing so much ground in the Soviet Union and had far less strength to counterattack, so they began to draw on other Axis countries for help. Meanwhile, during April the RAF and Allied convoy system took a beating, and the first death camps began seeing large-scale use. To curb the German fury, British bombers hit Rostock in the Baltic, leveling the city. Germany sensed the struggle in the east and began stepping up their killing in May with "Operation Olympus," to crush the Greek partisan troops. In June the first public knowledge of Nazi death camps was released from underground Polish newspapers. The Germans continued their partisan warfare on 3 June with "Operation Kottbus" and on 5 June "Operation Birdsong," which wiped out Soviet partisans. Some freedom fighters made a difference: the notorious SS officer Reinhard Heydrich's car was ambushed by 7 Czech agents with submachine guns and a homemade grenade. The grenade only wounded him, but he died later of an infection from the car seat fibers in his body. The furious Germans retaliated by launching "Operation Heydrich," which centered its punishment around Czechoslovakian town of Lidice. The women were shipped to a concentration camp, 172 men were shot and the village was destroyed. On 13 June Germany tested its first terror rocket at Peenemünde--the A4, later called "V2" by the Allies. It fired successfully, but crashed too early.

Malta is a tiny island between Sicily and Libya, and a vital air base to Allied troops in North Africa. The British knew it would be critical to their success in the desert, but the Italians didn’t fully understand its importance. Once Germany began aiding Italy, they tried to neutralize Malta, starting 16 January 1941. Over the next year, the Germans performed air raids on the island from time to time. The RAF in Malta was crippled, allowing many Axis reinforcements to arrive in Africa. It was hard to supply Malta with convoy shipments, but the British were adamant about keeping the island alive. From December 1941 to July 1942, the Germans significantly stepped up their bombing campaign, leveling the cities. Citizens hid in caves to avoid certain death, but fortunately because the buildings were made of stone they did not catch fire. Also, because of the simultaneous German success in North Africa, Germany began to mistakenly think Malta was no longer a threat and stopped the bombing, allowing the beleaguered citizens relief and RAF to fortify their defenses. Still, convoys were not getting through so the British created “Operation Pedestal,” a giant convoy that lost 1 aircraft carrier, 2 cruisers, 1 destroyer and 9 convoy ships, but Malta received their supplies and was saved. By the time the Germans resumed their bombing of Malta, the 300 available Spitfires shot down 100 Axis aircraft and only lost 27. The German threat to tiny Malta had passed.

When the Germans first invaded a country, they sent out their SS units and killing squads, or Einsatzgruppen to round up the Jews, Gypsies, Russians, Poles or any other "subhuman" people they felt like. They were forced to dig a large pit, jump down in it, strip naked, then shot dead and their possessions taken. 25% of all Jews who died in the holocaust were murdered this way. Each day, dozens of SS men tried to avoid that horror by calling in sick, but only a few were pardoned from their duties. This became so frequent that many Germans asked to be transferred to another job because the psychological impacts of killing so many were mentally damaging. The German leaders refused to stop the killing, so they had to find a more effective way of execution. At the Wannsee Conference on 20 January, 1942 it was formally decreed that it would be the official policy of the Nazi regime to rid all Jews from Europe, also known as "The Final Solution." The killing squads could never undertake such a large task so they created huge camps to imprison the Jews and kill them in mass numbers. They would use prussic acid gas, a pesticide under the name "Zyklon B."

In the meantime, by 1942 all Jews in Nazi-controlled regions were forced into ghettos, usually surrounded by barriers, and forced to work for the Germans. The living conditions were appalling, as several families were made to live in one room, and were cut off from outside food and supplies. They were forced to trade with the non-Jews on the outside and when their money and valuables were gone, many starved. In the summer of 1942 the ghettos were to be liquidated and consequently the Jews were deported to concentration camps. These were large prison-like installations designed to house slave labor and execute the ones not able to work. The Germans confiscated all their possessions then crammed them into cattle railcars sent to the camps, often taking days with no food or water and little air to breathe. When they arrived at one of the 9000 camps in German occupied Europe, they thought the worst was over, but it had only begun.

The dead were removed and the living were sorted by the ability to walk and if they could not, they were put in the death line. If they were too young, old, pregnant, or had any disability, they were immediately sent to die. Their clothes and remaining possessions were taken, then they were put into a gas chamber disguised as a bathing room and told they would take a shower. After 20 minutes their gold fillings were removed and they were put in furnaces to be cremated. The able-bodied ones were separated by gender, then by the ability to work slave labor for the Germans, which was determined by a physician. If they were strong enough to work, they were given uniforms, their heads were shaved and their arms tattooed and were sent off to work the rest of the day. They had to work 11 hour days with no heat in the winter and were given just enough food and water to survive while living among disease and filth.

It is difficult to reason why a seemingly normal human could commit these unspeakable crimes, but the SS maintained their reputation from the first to the last day of the war. There is no one reason or excuse for their ghastly behavior, nor were all SS members exactly alike. Many Germans believed they were saving Europe from "hereditary enemies" like the Jews, Slavs, Gypsies and Bolsheviks. Others did not believe in the Nazi ideology, but believed in the SS creed "my honor is loyalty," meaning it was their duty to carry out whatever orders they were given. Still others knew the Nazi murders were wrong, but chose not to do anything about it out of fear of reprisal. The SS were impressionable young men who were told they were the "master race" and were attracted to the idea of a position of extreme authority. The overwhelming Nazi propaganda, cult-like atmosphere, seductive black uniform, and rewards for brutality allowed sane men to commit insane crimes. Even though the SS was linked to millions of murders, one SS soldier at Auschwitz described them as being "absolutely normal." Later at the post-war Nuremberg trials, 14 SS officials were convicted of war crimes but only 4 were executed. None showed remorse.

In July the anti-partisan warfare continued in Belarus, and on 23 July the river city of Rostov was recaptured by the Germans. Hitler’s new plan to recover from the loss at Moscow was to focus on the southern regions and attack the industrial city Stalingrad and the oil fields of Caucasus simultaneously. He ordered the capture of ports on the Black Sea to secure oil as well as continue the siege on Leningrad. Stalin’s response to Hitler’s new push was to forbid retreat, and he was incorrectly sure that the Germans would try to take Moscow again. On 5 August the Germans crossed Kuban River, towards Caucasus, threatening the valuable oilfields. They also continued to attack convoys and gain reinforcements from French, Belgian, and Dutch volunteers who were sent to the east. On 7 August the German scientist Klaus Fuchs defected and became a citizen of Britain, aiding in the atomic bomb development. On August 19 the Allies raided the French port of Dieppe on the English Channel, called "Operation Jubilee," although no one remembered it by that name because it was a tragic failure. 5000 Canadians, 1000 British, 50 Americans and 25 French soldiers were to do a quick raid and practice for the eventual western invasion. Unfortunately it was a slaughter: 1380 soldiers died, 1600 were wounded and 2000 were captured while the Germans confiscated all of their weaponry and vehicles and consequently reinforced their positions in France. A couple good things did come of it: the Allies learned of a German radar site, beach conditions and valuable lessons about coastal invasion techniques. As the Germans approached Stalingrad, the Soviets attacked the German positions around Leningrad, refusing to give up. Stalingrad prepared for the attack that the Germans, now on the offensive again, were sure to bring.

Soon Hitler realized that his meager navy could never match the formidable Royal Navy, so he decreed that the two should never face each other in serious combat, much to the disliking of Admiral Raeder. On 24 May 1942 a German reconnaissance plane located a huge Allied convoy, PQ-16, in the Arctic Circle, heading for the Barents Sea. The Germans sent their submarines and Luftwaffe in, sinking 8 and crippling 5 ships. PQ-17 followed a month later, and the Germans began hunting them down in early July. At this time the Allies did not know that Hitler was afraid to lose his battleships, so the British told PQ-17 to do evasive maneuvers, breaking up the protective convoy structure. As a result the Germans sunk 23 of the 34 ships, destroying hundreds of thousands of tons of cargo, thousands of armored vehicles, and hundreds of aircraft. The Allies told Stalin they could not risk any more convoys until the autumn, when the constant Arctic darkness would set in.

On 26 May Rommel took 10,000 vehicles against the Allies, but the British received the new US made “Grant” tanks, which were very effective. They put the Afrika Korps in a precarious position, but Ritchie could not seem to destroy them. This allowed Rommel to regroup, take out 100 British tanks and take 3000 prisoners. During the first week of June, the Luftwaffe pounded the Allies enough to try to take Tobruk again, which was weaker now. On 20 June the German forces poured in and fierce hand-to-hand combat ensued. When German victory was imminent, the Allies destroyed any supplies the invading Germans could use. The next day they finally surrendered Tobruk, giving the Germans 2000 vehicles, 400 guns and 5000 tons of supplies. The city was a symbol of resistance to the British, who were now devastated by the loss. Following his success, Rommel pushed on to Egypt and got halfway to Alexandria. Cairo prepared for an invasion and everyone began to flee. General Ritchie was dismissed from the 8th Army and replaced with General Claude Auchinleck, the head of British Middle East forces. He retreated to the city of El Alamein, only 60 miles from Alexandria, and was easily defended because of the surrounding natural features. During July, Rommel continued his drive east, and by August the British morale was extremely low; they had enough of the see-saw battles in North Africa. Churchill appointed General Harold Alexander, a Dunkirk veteran and General Bernard Montgomery to save North Africa from Nazi domination.

The British continued to get reinforcements: 41,000 men, 800 guns and 1000 tanks. Montgomery (nicknamed "Monty") swore there would be no more retreating. He was a highly intelligent commander but a strict disciplinarian. In late August, Rommel tried to break through again, but this time the Allies were one step ahead of him. On 3 September Rommel began to retreat, but Montgomery did not immediately pursue him, and he was chastised for "letting the Germans escape," even though his plan was bound for success. This was the first sign that he was a man who would take his time with his men and grind the enemy down instead of trying to overwhelm them all at once, which he would later take criticism for in Europe. Churchill wanted a quick advance and beat the Germans before 8 November, the planned invasion by the Americans to Morocco and Algeria, plus Malta needed to be relieved from German bombardment. Montgomery refused Churchill’s demands and threatened to resign, so Churchill gave in. Montgomery was wise and knew his army was not ready to crush the Germans, and knew the back and forth fighting was because of the armies pushing their forces too far then getting beaten back. Montgomery was determined to win, so he trained his men well, using free time to practice gunnery and desert warfare. The Allies used deception as well as construction to conceal the date of their attack, making it look like they were waiting to stock up on fuel first.

When Mussolini arrived in North Africa to look at the Axis soldiers, they began to suffer losses and dubbed him “bad luck.” On 21 July he went back to Italy in horrible health because of an unknown stomach pain coupled with the burdening stress of his empire coming apart at the seams. He hid in seclusion until autumn, which further weakened the already ailing government. SS chief Heinrich Himmler flew to Rome on 11 October to inspect Mussolini’s condition for Hitler. When Himmler returned to Germany, Hitler decided that Italy would remain an ally as long as Mussolini was alive. Hitler correctly guessed that even a possibility of an Allied invasion of the mainland would turn the Italians against Germany. Italy was impoverished and its citizens were starving because there was no food available and inflation was rampant. The black markets were popular, and the Italian secret police, OVRA, could do little to stop it. Italians began to distrust and hate the Fascist government, whose members lived a luxurious lifestyle. They even hated Mussolini’s mistress, Clara Petacci, for interfering with governmental affairs.

23 October was the date of Montgomery's desert offensive, code named "Operation Lightfoot," and the prepared by clearing mines 8 hours beforehand. It depended on surprise and deception, so dummy tanks were used, this time fooling Rommel, as well as having roughly twice the manpower as the Axis. They opened up the attack with artillery fire at night, but Rommel was away in Austria at the time, and his replacement died of a heart attack. Rommel was immediately ordered back, and when he did there was a short break in the action. The Germans had wisely heavily defended their perimeters with minefields (called "The Devil’s Garden") then made a counterattack on 27 October, but were pushed back because of heavy casualties. Rommel thought Montgomery would attack along the highway, so he brought up his flank forces to prepare for his last assault.

Churchill was amazed that the British 8th Army was still struggling and figured Montgomery for a weak commander. Montgomery was unfazed by the criticism and made his last charge on the evening of 1 November. Rommel had enough suffering and withdrew on 3 November. Hitler was furious at the thought of retreat, but eventually allowed a small one, although only motorized troops could escape the pursuing Allies. They started their pursuit on 5 November, but the next day there was a huge rainstorm that slowed them down, allowing Rommel to escape. The battle of El Alamein cost the Axis 50,000 men, 450 tanks and 1000 guns. The Allies fared better and had 13,500 casualties and lost 150 tanks and 100 guns. On 7 November Rommel reached the Libyan border, but was discouraged to hear of the American forces landing in North Africa.

Late 1942


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