I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at October – December 1941 in this post.
A Timeline of WWII, Fall 1941
Thirty-five thousand Jews from Odessa, Ukraine were shot and killed.
October 2, 1941
The main German drive on Moscow, called Operation Typhoon, began.
October 16, 1941
German forces took Odessa, Ukraine.
October 23, 1941
The Nazis forbid further emigration of Jews from the Reich.
October 24, 1941
German forces took Kharkov, Ukraine.
October 30, 1941
German forces reached Sevastopol, Ukraine on the Crimean Peninsula.
SS Einsatzgruppe (Action Group) B reported a tally of 45,476 Jews killed.
November 11, 1941
German forces capture Yalta, Ukraine on the south coast of the Crimean Peninsula.
November 13, 1941
The British aircraft carrier Ark Royal was sunk off Gibraltar by a German U-boat.
November 17, 1941
Japan demanded that the U.S. lift its trade embargo.
November 20, 1941
German forces took Soviet Rostov.
November 24, 1941
German authorities established the camp-ghetto Theresienstadt in the garrison town of Terezin in the German-controlled Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Theresienstadt existed for three and a half years, until May 9, 1945. Neither exactly a ghetto nor strictly a concentration camp, Theresienstadt was an assembly camp and a concentration camp, and had recognizable features of both ghettos and concentration camps. It was a unique facility that served as a tool of deception for propaganda purposes for the Germans.
November 25, 1941
Adolf Hitler met Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, in Berlin. They agreed on the need for the destruction of the Jews.
November 27, 1941
Soviet troops took Rostov back.
November 30, 1941
A mass shooting of Latvian and German Jews occurred near Riga, Latvia.
December 4, 1941
The temperature fell to -30°F (-34°C) on the Russian Front.
December 5, 1941
The German attack on Moscow was abandoned.
December 6, 1941
The Soviet Army launched a major counter-offensive around Moscow and drove the German forces from the Moscow suburbs.
U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt made a final appeal to the Emperor of Japan for peace. There was no reply.
Later in the day, the U.S. code-breaking service in Washington, D.C. intercepted a fourteen-part Japanese message and deciphered the first thirteen parts. The deciphered messages were passed on to the President and Secretary of State. The Americans believed a Japanese attack was imminent, but believed it most likely to occur somewhere in Southeast Asia.
December 7, 1941
The attack on Pearl Harbor, the date which will live in infamy…
Japanese naval and air forces attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The Japanese also attacked the Philippines, Wake Island, Guam, Malaya, Thailand, Shanghai and Midway.
The last part of the fourteen-part Japanese message reached Washington in the morning and was decoded by 9 a.m. Washington time. It stated that diplomatic relations with the U.S. were to be broken off. About an hour later, another Japanese message was intercepted. It instructed the Japanese embassy to deliver the main message to the Americans at 1 p.m.
The Americans realized the stated time corresponded with early morning in Pearl Harbor, several hours behind Washington. The U.S. War Department issued an alert, but used commercial telegraph as radio contact with Hawaii was down. Delays prevented the alert from arriving at headquarters in Oahu until noon Hawaii time, four hours after the attack had already begun.
The Japanese attack force, under the command of Japanese Admiral Nagumo, consisted of six aircraft carriers with four hundred twenty three planes.
At 6 a.m., one hundred eighty-three planes took off from the Japanese carriers located two hundred thirty miles north of Oahu for their target, the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, in the first wave of the attack.
At 7:02 a.m., two Army operators at Oahu’s northern shore radar station detected the Japanese planes approaching. They contacted a junior officer who disregarded their reports, believing they were American B-17 planes which were expected in from the U.S. west coast.
A future airman of the 384th Bomb Group, Robert Thacker, was piloting one of those American B-17’s flying into Hickam Field that morning. His account may be viewed in this video.
At 7:15 a.m., a second Japanese attack wave of one hundred sixty-seven planes took off from the Japanese carriers and headed for Pearl Harbor.
At 7:53 a.m., the first Japanese assault wave arrived at Pearl Harbor.
The first attack wave targeted airfields and battleships. The second wave targeted other ships and shipyard facilities. The air raid lasted almost two hours, until 9:45 a.m.
American losses included:
- Two thousand three hundred thirty-five servicemen killed, including eleven hundred four men aboard the battleship USS Arizona.
- Sixty-eight civilians killed.
- Eleven hundred seventy-eight wounded.
- Eight battleships damaged, with five sunk.
- Three light cruisers lost.
- Three destroyers lost.
- Three smaller vessels lost.
- One hundred eighty-eight aircraft lost.
Japanese losses included:
- Twenty-seven planes.
- Five midget submarines.
The prime target of the Japanese, the three U.S. Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers Lexington, Enterprise, and Saratoga, escaped damage because they were not in port at the time of the attack. Base fuel tanks also escaped damage.
At 2:30 p.m. (Washington time), Japanese diplomats presented their war message to Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, at the same time Hull was reading the first reports of the air raid at Pearl Harbor.
Public radio bulletins interrupted Sunday afternoon radio programs to inform the American people of the attack.
Navy Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Army Lt. General Walter C. Short, senior commanders at Pearl Harbor, were relieved of their duties following the attack. Subsequent investigations faulted both for failing to adopt adequate defense measures.
Note: The U.S. annexed Hawaii in 1898 and it became a U.S. Territory in 1900. Hawaii did not become a U.S. state until 1959.
Adolf Hitler’s Night and Fog decree
In Germany, on December 7, 1941, Adolf Hitler issued “Nacht und Nebel” – the Night and Fog Decree.
The previous Nazi policy meant to undermine Underground activities was to take hostages, but the method was unsuccessful. Now those suspected of underground activities would simply vanish without a trace, into the night and fog.
SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler issued the following instructions to the Gestapo,
After lengthy consideration, it is the will of the Führer that the measures taken against those who are guilty of offenses against the Reich or against the occupation forces in occupied areas should be altered. The Führer is of the opinion that in such cases penal servitude or even a hard labor sentence for life will be regarded as a sign of weakness. An effective and lasting deterrent can be achieved only by the death penalty or by taking measures which will leave the family and the population uncertain as to the fate of the offender. Deportation to Germany serves this purpose.
German Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel also issued a letter stating,
Efficient and enduring intimidation can only be achieved either by capital punishment or by measures by which the relatives of the criminals do not know the fate of the criminal…The prisoners are, in future, to be transported to Germany secretly, and further treatment of the offenders will take place here; these measures will have a deterrent effect because: A. The prisoners will vanish without a trace. B. No information may be given as to their whereabouts or their fate.
Victims were primarily from France, Belgium and Holland. Arrested in the middle of the night, they would be secreted away to far away prisons where they would be questioned and tortured. If they survived, they would be placed in the concentration camps of Natzweiler or Gross-Rosen.
December 8, 1941
The United States and Great Britain declared war on Japan.
The United States entered World War II and President Roosevelt delivered a speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in which he described the previous day as “a date which will live in infamy…”
Japanese troops landed in the Philippines, French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), and British Singapore.
The Chelmno extermination camp became operational in occupied Poland near Lodz. Jews taken to Chelmno were placed in mobile gas vans and driven to a burial place. Carbon monoxide fed from the engine exhaust into the sealed rear compartment killed them. The first victims included 5,000 Roma (Gypsies) who had been deported from the Reich.
December 9, 1941
China declared war on Japan.
December 10, 1941
Japanese forces invaded the Philippines and seized Guam.
December 11, 1941
Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
Hours later, President Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war on Germany saying,
Never before has there been a greater challenge to life, liberty and civilization.
The U.S. entered the war in Europe.
Japanese forces invaded Burma.
December 12, 1941
The ship Struma, carrying 769 Jews, left Romania for Palestine. British authorities later denied permission for the passengers to disembark. (In February 1942, it sailed back into the Black Sea where it was intercepted by a Russian submarine and sunk as an “enemy target.”)
December 15, 1941
The first Japanese merchant ship was sunk by a U.S. submarine.
December 16, 1941
Japanese forces invaded British Borneo.
German General Erwin Rommel began a retreat to El Agheila in North Africa.
During a cabinet meeting, Hans Frank, Gauleiter (Governor General) of Poland, stated,
Gentlemen, I must ask you to rid yourselves of all feeling of pity. We must annihilate the Jews wherever we find them and wherever it is possible in order to maintain there the structure of the Reich as a whole…
December 17, 1941
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz became Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
December 18, 1941
Japanese forces invaded Hong Kong.
December 19, 1941
Adolf Hitler took complete control of the German Army.
December 22, 1941
Japanese forces invaded Luzon in the Philippines.
December 23, 1941
In the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur began a withdrawal from Manila to Bataan.
Japanese forces took Wake Island.
December 25, 1941
The British surrendered at Hong Kong.
December 26, 1941
Manila was declared an open city.
December 27, 1941
The Japanese bombed Manila.
This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:
The History Place:
Most recent post from the series:
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019