Sunday, 26 April 1942

This post is part of a series post-blogging the Blitz of 1940-41 and the Baedeker Blitz of 1942. See here and here for introductions to the series, and here, here and here for conclusions.

Observer, 26 April 1942, 5

The Observer's lead story (5) is about Japan's continuing advance in Burma. It's very hard to work out what exactly is going on based on the summary report: there are at least three fronts, their relation to each other is not stated, and the map provided is too small-scale to be of much use. The analysis by the Observer's military correspondent is much more helpful:

The Japanese are practising the advantages of mobility which they enjoyed in Malaya, and getting full benefit of the lead which it gives them over our more cumbersomely equipped forces. They have been switching their attack from the east to the west and back again to the east, looking all the time for our weak spots. They found one at Taunggyi, ninety-five miles south-east of Mandalay, and they are now throwing their heavy forces into this railway terminus, which gives them a valuable springboard for the decisive attack on Mandalay.

And after Mandalay, Lashio, where supplies bound for China have been building up for three months. But the Japanese need to hurry, as the monsoon season is only a week away. It is argued here that Japan's objective in Burma is essentially defensive, to forestall an Allied offensive 'against the Malayan and Indo-Chinese bulge on which all their Southern Pacific offensive action depends'.

The raids on Germany and the American raid on the Philippines must have added to the Japanese determination to remove the threat even at great cost.

There doesn't seem to be much else going on in the war against Japan: a Japanese raid on Port Moresby yesterday by low-flying fighters, an Allied raid on Lae, 'artillery duels continue at Corregidor'.

On page 4, G. M. Young responds to a recent call by Sir John Wardlaw-Milne MP for an inquiry into the fall of Singapore. Young is sympathetic, saying that 'the present war has seen an accumulation of unexplained reverses, Norway, Dakar, Crete, culminating in a stupendous disaster' (i.e. Singapore) which might indicate some systemic failure in the way Britain is conducting its war. His own preliminary conclusion is that Singapore was sacrificed for Russia:

We are left therefore with the conclusion that the defence of Malaya was postponed to the more urgent necessity of sustaining the Russian Front. Not having sufficient aircraft for all the fields of war, we decided, in agreement with one another, to run the risk of losing our main supply of rubber -- and theirs -- in order to keep the Russian line unbroken [...] The only alternative is to suppose that after two years of war, after all that had happened in every field from Poland to Pearl Harbour [sic], the vital significance, offensive and defensive, of air-power was still not recognised.

He doesn't dismiss this alternative but does find it hard to believe, as 'the whole experience of the war should have taught us that an army sent without its proper concomitant of aircraft was being sent to its destruction'.

The Observer's leading article today begins by noting that the world is waiting to see where Japan will strike next 'after four months of spectacular achievement [...] India, Australia, China, and Russia may each and all become the scene of determined military action in the next few weeks, for Japan's resources are still most formidable and she can strike where she wills'. But it argues that this a secondary theatre: 'It is not, however, in Asia that our future will be determined'.

The issue of the war, let us have no doubt about it, will be settled by events in Europe, and during the present war. With that power of concentration on the chosen goal which her strategists have always displayed, Germany has been producing, organising, training and planning throughout the winter months to make an end of Russian military power. She must achieve this in 1942 if she is to achieve it at all [...]

The new German offensive will come within four or five weeks. As the Soviet Union is now much better prepared than it was last year, Germany may aim to cripple rather than to destroy:

To do that Germany must isolate Russia by cutting the northern routes which bring her reinforcement from her Allies and also the southern routes which connect her military centre with the Caucasian sources of oil. Japan may well attempt to complete the isolation by blocking the Far Eastern gates of the vast Russian world.

Apart from providing the best hope for Allied victory, according to 'an air correspondent' the Russians have also prevented a renewal of the Blitz (6):

It is evident from Britain's immunity from heavy air attacks since the Nazis became embroiled with Russia that the Luftwaffe is not big enough to carry on two full-scale offensives simultaneously.

This appears to be due to lack of aircrew rather than aircraft. The unnamed writer estimates that the Luftwaffe has lost 35,000 aircraft from all causes in the war to date ('A modest estimate'), with aircrew losses at 90,000 ('a conservative estimate'). But it is 'doubtful' whether Germany can train more than 20,000 pilots a year (nb. pilots, not aircrew). Germany has recently claimed to have destroyed no more 8,612 British aircraft so far ('it would be exceptional for Goebbels to be accurate') and the Air Ministry claims that there are more than replacements for RAF aircrew losses; indeed, 'we have trained crews for which aircraft cannot at present be provided'. Most of these are trained in Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme, where year-round flying is possible and there are no blackouts or enemies to endanger novice flyers.

It may well be that the Empire Scheme will prove the decisive factor in the air war, giving us an overwhelming strength over the enemy, and allowing the combined forces of the British Empire and the United States to sweep the air menace of Germany, Japan, and Italy from the skies.

On Friday night Bomber Command again attacked Rostock. It was still burning from the previous raid; 'the pall of smoke was so dense that searchlights could not penetrate it' (5). Over the two nights the city received 400 tons of bombs.

The Nazi war industry has been badly dislocated by these two raids. Workmen's dwellings and public utility undertakings have been put out of action and the enemy use of this port interrupted for some time to come.

A Reuter message from Berlin contains a German admission of this second raid, and claims that one British bomber was destroyed, adding that 'the attack, which was directed against residential districts, caused damage to houses. There were dead and wounded among the civilian population.

Finally, the Observer reports on recent German air raids on Britain. It provides some further details on the 'south-west town' bombed early yesterday morning: a German communique claim this was Exeter. Casualties don't sound very heavy: two dead, two seriously wounded, two with light wounds; four houses destroyed. However, there are seven people 'believed to be missing'. As on Friday, just after dawn yesterday there was a dramatic low-level attack 'on a south coast town' by German fighters bombing and strafing. This time the damage sounds much worse: 'Ten people are known to have been killed. Streets in thickly populated areas were heavily damaged [...] Numerous small business premises were reduced to ruins. Humble homes were wrecked and it is feared that loss of life and casualties in this district may be high'. At least ten people are reported to have been killed; 'Evacuated school teachers' are among the wounded.

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12 thoughts on “Sunday, 26 April 1942

  1. Okay, just for the heck of it, my summary of Joan Beaumont Comrades in Arms:British Aid to Russia, 1941–45 (London: Davis–Poynter, 1980). It's extracted from my notes rather than being in any way prepared for publication, but will hopefully prove useful. (All snarky asides are mine, not Beaumont's, unless they're actually funny.)

    Some summary points for further consideration. i) Although Beaverbrook portrayed the service ministries as being obdurately opposed, Beaumont finds no evidence for this, and in particular notes that the War Office specifically approved on 8 October a particularly burdensom increased commitment over the next 2 months (76), that the DMOP assured Churchill that he thought that Britain “would get a better divident out of keeping Russia in the war than we could by sending the equipment elsewhere.” (76). It is clear that the burden was greater than even was assumed in the September negotations due to Americans falling short (77) on their commitments.

    The commitment as originally negotiated ran to 500,000t per month and required the allocation of 1.5m tons of shipping in total, of which the Russians provided 90,000t. The shipping used, although in practice quite a small number in the early months, required extensive refitting for Arctic use, as indeed did the cargos. Archangel’s lack of facilities (it was primarily a timber export port) restricted it to ships capable of clearing on their own cargoes weighing more than 35t among other restrictions. (81) Murmansk was even more restricted, particularly since it shared the single Russian floating 35t crane with Archangel (81).

    Import Route through the Persian Gulf
    Had to be built up from scratch, of course, and this was expensive for both US and Commonwealth (82). This worsened a general problem, that aid to Russia was emerging by the end of 1941 as a problem of shipping and naval resources, and not of munitions (85–6).

    Singapore and Gazala: When Bad Things Happen to (Relatively) Good Allies
    In the winter of 1942 British crisis, shortfalls in the American rush to rearmament, and Russian recovery put political pressure on the aid process. (92–3). Australia, India, and New Zealand had all been allocated tanks for the buildup of their armoured forces, and all these allocations had been deferred with the September 1941 decision to ship tanks to Russia instead. Now the new CIGS campaigned for their return (93) Russia even asked for a tank with a better weapon and received allocations of 6pdr Churchills from May 1942 on! (95). Cannon-armed Hurricanes were being delivered at 50/month as from May, and the allocation of 3000 lorries was complete by this time (95). Yet against this atmosphere of crisis for the government, pro-Soviet enthusiasm reached its highest levels in the spring of 1942. It was noticed that Communist Party membership in Britain rose 25,000 in the first two months of the year. A private subscription of aid for Russia raised 2 million pounds, and Beaverbrook resigned in February. (97) 43,000 people attended a second front rally in March, and 50,000 in May. Michael Foot (then of the Sunday Express and John Gordon of the Daily Express called for “immediate action in Europe” at a meeting in the Hippodrome attended by 1400 on 24 May. Two of 3 sponsoring bodies were Communist, but the chair was the Bishop of Chelmsford, and the main speaker was Stafford Cripps. It was T. S. Eliot, and not some raving loony who rejected Animal Farm at Faber and Faber because it was not ‘the right point of view from which to criticize the political situation at the present time.’” (97). Hard to disagree with ol’ T.S. on this one. The shipping problem continued severe through the spring of 1942, although not nearly as bad as predicted due to more-effective-than-expected Russian management at Murmansk (101) From the Russian side (and the American) the spring of 1942 was a period of increasing frustration. Obviously this was a key period for aid deliveries in expectation of a German summer offensive, while for their part the Americans had finally made up their deficit of the previous months with a belated rush of supplies, but at the same time the British could not escort anything like the suggested number of convoys through to Russia (3/month). As a result, there were 41 ships waiting in Iceland for escort by 25 April, and it was anticipated that this would built up to 86 by the next convoy sailing. The only way the British could see to meet the protocol loads was to unload American ships carrying food for Russia that came outside the protocols. Understandably, the Russians were not impressed with this idea. (103). Pound, facing enormous risks to the exiguous forces of the RN and the possible consequence of losing control of Atlantic communications(!) recommended that PQ 16 (18 May) and PQ 17 (3 June) be cancelled. Churchill overruled him and PQ 16 had good results. 43 of 50 ships returned, and some were sunk on the return voyage, but the Red Air Force was forced into a heroic effort that could not be repeated once the summer fighting began (107) PQ 17, notwithstanding continuing Russian efforts, was a disaster, and PQ 18 (17 July) was cancelled (108–9). Stalin, under some stress in any case, was not his usual angelic self in response, but as he himself understood, July 1942 was not a good time to be playing the separate peace card. Dieppe and no wonder [although that is not Beaumont’s conclusion]. But Beamont’s conclusion is that notwithstanding, fulfillment of the first protocol, finally signed in October (I believe earlier in this summary I said September) was a heroic undertaking (111). Its scope is revealed in a table on (112) that includes the notation ammunition supplied for all units except fighters and 130mm naval guns.

    It is apparently beyond HTML's automatic parsing to directly cut and paste this table here, but the classic summary lists 1800 a/c, 2400 tanks, 1900 carriers, 500 2 pdr AT, 3000 trucks and 2400 assorted small arms. This is, however, a set of headline items and excludes boots, tents, or, as Beaumont summarises it more fully,

    Total stuff shipped was as follows 5,218 tanks (1,388 Canadian); 4020 lorries; 323 machinery lorries; 1,212 plus 1,348 carriers; 1721 m/cs; 4090 tons of AFV maintenance equipment –that certainly does not include spare parts, see above; 1000 PIATs, 103 Thompson SMGs, 636 2pdrs, 96 6pdrs, 3200 ATR, 2487 Bren guns, 581 7.9mm Besas; 100,000 rnds PIAT, 21 million .45 rounds, 2.8 million 2pdr rounds, 776,000 6pdr rounds, 1.76 million ATR rounds, 89 million .303 (army account), 53 million 7.92, 1.163 million 2" mortar, 162,000 3", 303,00 smoke generators, 2.2 million signal cartridges, 159,000 Clams(?); 1474 radars, 4,3338 radios, 43,000 valves, 850 radio test equipment items, 160 charging and generating sets,30,000 miles of telephone cable (big number, but the US sent over a million), 2000 telephones, 400 10-line switchboards and 60 40-line; 1070 miles exploder cable, 3 million metres camouflage netting, 1 million camouflage face nets, 925 items of surveying and met equipment, “Specialloid pistons” 159,000, and 72,000 tyres; 94 naval guns over 75mm, 832 down to MGs, 52 rocket projectors, 530 gun mountings, 3206 mines, 318 paravanes, 6800 depth charges, 2304 hedgehog projectiles, 361 torpedoes, 2000 rounds 15", 2400 rounds 6", 13,600 rounds 3"–4.7", 1 million 20mm-12pdr rounds, 8.5 MG rounds, 17000 rounds other ammo including flares to “Lachrymatory Candles;” 7,411 a/c including 3,129 sent direct from US on British account; 976 a/c engines; 724 MT; £16 million in spares including 8.8 American; £1.73 million other a/c equipment; 14,000 tons POL; 162 million .303 rounds on RAF account, 66m .300 including 58m American, 24m .50 including 17m from USA; 30,000t Canadian Al; 2000t UK Al; 27,000t Canadian copper; 13,000t UK copper; 1.4 million worth of industrial diamonds; 100,000t jute, 114,000t rubber; 9000t sisal; 3300t Ceylon graphite; 28,000t tin; 29,000t wool (total value £47.8. £8.2 million “luxury” foodstuffs (incl. tea); £13 million machine tools; £12.26million in power plant; £9.1 million electrical equipment; £4.7 million various machinery including telephone, food processing, textile, port and salvage equipment; £5.2 million miscellaneous; total value being £45.6 million. Public subscription of medical aid was £7.7million.

    Of course, that doesn't give you data for what proportion of this civilian aid was on its way by May of 1942, except for the unhelpful global accounting of it at one third of military aid.

    Even as this stuff was going out to Russia, aid was reaching the Far East.

    Chris Shores, et al., Bloody Shambles notes the Dec 20th arrival of 18 Hudson IIIs at Singapore, of 24 Blenheim IVs (2 squadrons), 90 Hurricane IICs; 17 Indian Division (2 Brigades), 1 Jan Indomitable at Capetown, 7th Armoured Brig, 6th and 7th Australian Infantry Divisions, 18 Indian Division left Suez Jan/Feb, 53rd (British) Brigade arrived Singapore(?); 13th Jan 2/4th Aus MG battalion, 2 AA batt, 1 AT arrived, and on 25 Jan a draft for Australian 8th Division. Butler, War against Japan, UK. History of the Second World War, Military Series, vol. 1 notes that there were in Malaya on 7 Dec 41 3 Malayan, 18 Indian, 6 Australian, 5 British infantry battalions, 1 (Indian?) cavalry regiment, 7 FA regiments, 3 AT regiments, 2 medium artillery, 3 Coastal Artillery, 1 Defence Regiment, 4 Fortress Companies, 3 Heavy AA, 1 LAA.
    Elsewhere Shores (55–62) -gives an air force in Malaya of 60 Buffaloes w. 52 in reserve; 47 Blenheims w. 15 in reserve; 29 Vildebeests, 15 in res.; 24/7 Hudsons, 3/2 Catalinas, 6 nonoperational Beauforts, hacks, and 4 Blenheim Is. . In Australasia were 110 Wirraways, 48 Hudson IIs, 12 Catalinas, 11 Seagulls, 5 Short Empires. 6 radar stations were in place in Malaya, 5 were under construction.
    Playfair Mediterranean and Middle East UK. History of the Second World War, Military Series, (3:123), 125 notes that 25 December 1941, Convoy WS 14, due Durban 14 January was redirected to Singapore, with 1 AT regiment, personnel of 2nd; 1 HAA, 1 LAA; 18 Infantry Division, 266 Wing RAF, HQ for 3 squadrons of fighters, but no actual a/c and 24 pilots in 4 squadrons. They were to be joined by 51 Hurricanes IIs, plus 80 pilots from the ME and 13 Hurricanes in transit to be organised into a command on arrival. 17 Indian was released from strategic reserve in the ME and sent east, with 4 AA batteries of the MNBDO organisation, 6 bomber squadrons, 1 Air Stores Park, 1 Repair and Salvage Unite from ME to Bombay, and notes that 7 Armoured Brigade had 110 Stuarts, 6 and 7 Australian divisions were sent east with 1 HAA regiment, 2 LAA regt, and a 40 gun pool, plus obviously HQ, signals, recovery, and workshop facilities. I note a 25pdr battery and 1 AT batt attached. 1 CL, 5 sloops, 2 M/S were sent before the war, and 2 SS and Indomitable after the outbreak. Playfair notes (198), the release of 70 Division, and on 9 April 30 Hurricane II, 20 Blenheim IV, “one squadron” of Beauforts.
    A less direct connection is noted in Connell, Auchinleck, 397: “The Singapore cable has been cut ... that means practically all our telegrams to the War Office will now have to go by wireless.”

    Practically, the war with Japan led Britain into one of those classic strategic traps, where it was busy switching forces between theaters, leaving them unavailable to defend Burma, Singapore, or the Gazala Line.

    Now, if we can make the case that this switching had some share in the fall victories at Stalingrad, El Alamein and Guadalcanal, these reallocations might actually look like good strategy. That being said, the Allies have to make it to the fall. That's why I think the key bit in today's post is John Wardlaw-Milne's inquiry....

  2. Post author

    Woah! Wall of text. Do you think the amount of supplies sent in the first 8 months of Barbarossa could be enough to 'explain' Singapore as Young suggests?

  3. No. Seventy days didn't prove long enough to turn what was shipped into Singapore into effective fighting material, so the issue is preparation before the battle. Now, here, you have an army that was not short of stuff. It's manpower that matters.

    Moreover, I'm going to suggest that it was mostly invisible manpower on the trades and technical side. Tactically, the garrison of Malaya was big enough to stop the kind of invasion that unfolded. It failed because it wasn't up to the Japanese in terms of operational manoeuvre, and unless we wave at "ways of war," we have to talk about that in terms of work of the hand.

    Leaving the country, there must be a reason that Malta was being carpeted with AA, while at the same time Singapore became a fortress battle where you hear nothing about artillery except arguments about 15" batteries that either could, or couldn't fire inland. I mean, how does a modern city fall so easily? How does it fail to mobilise its transportation and firepower advantages?

    Okay, sure, guns were lacking. That being said, at the time that Singapore was being prepared to fall, Malta was being prepared to hold. The difference, I'm going to suggest, is that the well-established Malta yards produced the technical hands needed to make a modern urban defence possible.Singapore (and Hong Kong) either lacked those hands, or wasn't able to mobilise them properly.

  4. Post author

    I think the answer is more on the sea and in the air than on the land. Malta did hold out, sure, but it was never actually invaded and the supply lines to Britain were a lot shorter (though certainly very perilous and there was clearly great determination shown in getting those supplies through). Singapore was a long way from nowhere in terms of supply. It shouldn't have fallen so easily, sure, but without control of the sea and air Singapore was doomed anyway.

    That's just an off-the-cuff opinion though, it's not something I know very much about!

  5. I'm not going to deny that Singapore was awfully exposed and vulnerable and far from Britain. (The fact that it fell in spite of being quite close to India is rather a critique of the Raj, though.)

    I'm just saying that it shouldn't have fallen to 3 divisions with exiguous artillery support. Hong Kong, similarly, was taken by an outrageously weak force.

  6. I rather like the idea that the British Army thought they were *in* the jungle (and this was cemented post-war by the experience of the counterinsurgency campaign, which really was), while the Japanese were fighting a mechanised campaign down the excellent road network the British civilian government built. They very rarely went far off the roads, and the speed of their manoeuvre implies they drove most of the way.

    The Army conceptualised it as a jungle (in the wild unpredictable colonies!) while the civilians (who lived there) and the Japanese saw it as a huge rubber factory. So the army with more vehicles was the one that thought it was in a fundamentally pre-industrial environment, and the one with relatively few thought it was in the future Japan aspired to.

    Further, the RAF argued that the answer to what the Army thought was an illegible, mysterious, roadless jungle was to fly over it, which is what an air force would say. The Army, which thought it was anyway a secondary issue forced on it by the Navy, was delighted to let the RAF pick up some of the bill.

    Flying gracefully over the jungle of course requires hacking down chunks of it and pouring concrete and importing lots of aircraft, engine, and instrument fitters, Air Stores Parks, etc. This infrastructure needs security. So the Army deployment was designed to protect RAF bases with not many actual aircraft on them, in order to protect a naval base with no ships in it.

    Interestingly, Erik, it strikes me that if anything the garrison could have done with some more couverture.

  7. Post author

    Not quite on point, but near the intersection of some of these themes: Peter Adey, Aerial Life: Spaces, Mobilities, Affects (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 94-6, talks a bit about how in the late 1920s, forestry officials started to experiment with aerial surveying in Borneo. At least initially, they found it extremely difficult to make any sense of what they were seeing from the air, even with their expert knowledge of tree species etc. That is to say, the air view made the jungle more mysterious, not less. (There must be a joke to be made here about not seeing the forest for the trees, or vice versa.)

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  9. Interesting discussion, but there's a danger or suffering from even less reality than those being criticised (who were there). 'Pouring concrete' for the RAF? No, apart from perhaps some building footing, which in places like Borneo, was generally not done as far as I'm aware. An airfield for the kind of combat they undertook (and pre-war) was a cleared field, locally made building or pre-fabs. Runways were initially just dirt/grass, if they were lucky, stable and reasonably even*. Later they were reinforced with pre-fab transportable quick use and re-use (metal) Marston matting (properly 'Marsden') or equivalent. What people think of as an airfield from today's perspective was more like an airport of the period (used for heavy transports, ferrying, comms and bombers) and only in range of the enemy if you were seriously unlucky, and the army wasn't going to help with just the airfield in those cases anyway. Likewise large logistical centres like 'air stores parks' were usually near HQs and centres which should be secure for their other significant reasons. (I'm thinking Dum Dum, Calcutta.) The Chindits endeavored to get away from even the standard RAF airfield, but that proved difficult for other reasons.

    (*RAF and Indian Air Force Lysander had major problems with breaking tailwheel forks and wheels on the rough fields of Borneo - and aircraft designed for 'rough field landings' as long as the 'rough field' was temperate or desert. Jungle conditions were not effectively planned for.)

  10. I don't know if this has been said before, but it seems to me that Singapore's role was actually mainly to be intimidating to the 'lesser races', as the colonialists thought, and the fact that it was a flawed defensive base wasn't even realised. The Japanese decided not to be intimidated, and found the weaknesses of the system.

    How you quantify the inadequacy of peacetime military attitudes as a factor in the fall of Singapore I don't know, but the lack of reality, (continuing to) underestimate an enemy ABDA and the European leaders had never previously taken seriously as a capable threat, and a leisurely move to 'war footing' were certainly major factors.

    Long lists of stuff are interesting, but as well as the Commonwealth's Buffalos being outperformed by their opponents to come, there were major issues with missing stuff and stuff that didn't work, like the ability to make their guns fire! Given that, some of the pilots of the Allied aircraft performed remarkable feats of aggression, but had even everything worked and been trained and better supported, it still wouldn't have been enough stuff to obtain and keep air superiority.

    In short, the fighters in Malaya and Singapore were neither combat ready or sufficient.

  11. Post author

    I don't know if this has been said before, but it seems to me that Singapore's role was actually mainly to be intimidating to the 'lesser races', as the colonialists thought, and the fact that it was a flawed defensive base wasn't even realised. The Japanese decided not to be intimidated, and found the weaknesses of the system.

    How you quantify the inadequacy of peacetime military attitudes as a factor in the fall of Singapore I don't know, but the lack of reality, (continuing to) underestimate an enemy ABDA and the European leaders had never previously taken seriously as a capable threat, and a leisurely move to 'war footing' were certainly major factors.

    To be fair to the British, when the Singapore strategy was proposed Japan would have had no bases closer than Palau, I think, about 3500km away (and the other side of the Philippines and New Guinea). That changed very quickly in 1939-40 with the Japanese occupation of Hainan and French Indochina (Saigon to Singapore is about 1100km), and by then Britain had more pressing concerns... That's not to excuse the extraordinarily lethargic way they went about constructing the Singapore base in the 1920s and 1930s (or Australia's assumption that Britain would be able to defend it), of course. And yeah, deterrence is one thing but it's asking for trouble if there's no substance to it!

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