from   the   Skylighters

[ Hit the ESC key or STOP to stop the sound effect; hit RELOAD to restart! ]

Independence Day
During WW II:
61 Years Ago Today

July 4, 1942

   In the North Atlantic — At 4 a.m., Marine LT Jonas Platt mans his station at the battleship USS Washington's starboard 5-inch director, when he sees the nearby battleship HMS Duke of York signal "Happy Birthday." German Admiral Schniewind's force drops anchor in Altfenfjord, just south of North Cape. Ahead of the big ships, Convoy PQ-17 plods through calm seas, north of Altenfjord. The Luftwaffe pops out of the heavy mist, and torpedoes the brand-new Liberty ship Christopher Newport, killing three men. Abandoned by her crew, she floats for several hours until sunk by U-457. The Luftwaffe returns to hammer the convoy, which maintains formation and discipline. 24-hour sunlight aids the German attacks. Luftwaffe FW-200s torpedo four more ships, sinking two. Next, 25 He-111 torpedo bombers pound Liberty ship William Hooper, which is abandoned by her crew without orders, and sunk by escorting destroyers. The convoy is now 240 miles from North Cape, 450 miles from the nearest Soviet landfall. In London, consternation and uncertainty reigns. The British know Tirpitz and her 15-inch guns can intercept the convoy in 10 hours time. Washington, the best chance to sink Tirpitz, is west of Bear Island, in no position to meet Schniewind. The worst-case scenario, of Tirpitz savaging PQ-17's escorts, while Scheer and Hipper rip up the freighters, looks likely. At 9:11 p.m., First Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound orders his cruiser force to withdraw. At 9:23, he orders PQ-17 to disperse and proceed to Russian ports. That would mean the convoy breaks formation and heads to Russian ports. At 9:36, Pound sends his third order, "Most immediate. Convoy is to scatter." The force is on its own. The merchant ship captains watch as their escorts turn around and head home. A disaster is in the making. "We hate leaving PQ-17 behind," writes Lt. Doug Fairbanks Jr., on board USS Wichita. "It looks so helpless now since the order to disperse has been circulated. The ships are now going around in circles, turning this way and that, like so many frightened chicks. Some can hardly go at all. If only our men knew the details they would not feel so badly about it." But Schniewind is not at sea. Despite his pleas to Berlin, Hitler will not commit the big ships. "On land I am a hero, at sea I am a coward," the Fuhrer says, and he fears the destruction of his small Navy. Washington and Tirpitz will never meet.

   In Eastern Europe —The SS drive 4,000 Jews from their homes in Lutsk in Poland to the outskirts of town, and shoot them.

   In North Africa —Auchinlek orders 13 Corps to drive northwestward through El Mreir to wreck Rommel's coordination. Only Kippenberger's 5 NZ Brigade obeys, its 21st and 23rd Battalions attacking Italian 10 Corps' Pavia Division. 5 NZ meets German Stukas, and retires to its startline. Kippenberger calls it a "most disappointing day." However, the Kiwis only lose 17 dead for the enemy's 100. Rommel observes this move, and moves 21st Panzer Division down and back towards El Mreir. The British see these moves, and 1st Armoured Division attacks with two squadrons of Grant tanks. They overrun 15th Panzer's Rifle Regiment. 200 Germans are captured. The Germans have used up the last of their 88 mm ammunition, and 1st Armoured is also exhausted. The Afrika Korps is down to 36 tanks, 1st Armoured about the same. Both sides are battered to pieces, and Auchinlek sees that 13th Corps commander Strafer Gott has lost confidence and energy. 1st Armoured's boss, Gen. Lumsden, is asking for his division's relief in "almost insubordinate" terms. Auchinlek fires Gott.

   In the Aleutian Islands — the U.S. Navy celebrates the 4th of July in dramatic fashion. The submarine USS Growler, under Lt. Cdr. Howard W. Gilmore, slides into Kiska Harbor at periscope depth to find three anchored Japanese destroyers. Gilmore fires one-two-three. Miraculously, the Mark 14 torpedoes work. The destroyer Arare, hit amidships, explodes when her boilers are hit. Kasumi's bow is smashed, and Shiranuhi's hull breaks in half. Gilmore sneaks out of harbor, but it takes him three days to shake off the enemy. Arare is a total loss, but the other two are refloated and rebuilt in Japan. The same day, USS Triton stalks a silhouette for 10 hours, and launches two fish, that sink the destroyer Nenohi. The four destroyers maimed are escorts to a convoy bringing in 1,200 new Japanese troops to Kiska and six midget submarines. The Japanese, realizing that Kiska and Attu are not the highways to Alaska, start digging in, despite their shortage of construction equipment and transports. The Japanese build fortifications, midget submarine drydocks, and seaplane ramps with hand tools amid Arctic tundra. They also whip up a traditional Torii gate that still stands 50 years later, a mute memorial to Japanese occupation.

   In Mexico — German-American Bund leader Gerhard Kunze is arrested near Veracruz, Mexico, while trying to escape in a fishing boat. Kunze was indicted on June 10 on espionage charges. The Mexican cops ship Kunze to Brownsville, Texas, where the FBI is waiting.

   In the U. S. — The 70-ton Mars patrol bomber, Glenn Martin's latest, is officially tested over Chesapeake Bay. The flying boat, world's largest, has a 200-foot wingspread, four 2,000-horsepower engines, and an unofficial range of more than 7,000 miles at more than 200 miles an hour.

   On Broadway — To entertain the civilians, the revue "This is the Army" opens at the Broadway Theater in New York, featuring songs by Irving Berlin. Also debuting that day is the movie "Yankee Doodle Dandy," starring Jimmy Cagney as performer George M. Cohan. Cagney will win an Oscar for the movie.

   In the Skies Over Europe — The U.S. Army Air Force celebrates America's 166th birthday by assigning six aircraft to join an RAF strike on German airfields in Holland.