25

Axis triumphs

JULY 1942

The strong Russian resistance at Sevastopol, although it had been almost broken by 22 June 1942, had forced the Germans to delay their summer offensive. The aircraft needed for the offensive could not be transferred from Sevastopol to Kursk for another four or five days. In North Africa, on June 22, the British fell back across the Egyptian frontier to Mersa Matruh, less than 180 miles from Alexandria. On the Pacific coast of the United States, a Japanese submarine shelled a military depot at Fort Stevens, Oregon, on the estuary of the Columbia river. It was the first attack by any foreign power on a military installation on the continental United States since the British attacks during the war of 1812. The damage done was trivial, however, nor was the attack to be repeated.

In Berlin, on June 22, Adolf Eichmann informed his subordinates of the plan of Operation Heydrich: in the ‘first instance’, he explained, 40,000 Jews were to be deported from France, 40,000 from Holland and 10,000 from Belgium. They were to be sent to Auschwitz, at a rate of a thousand a day: one train a day. ‘No objections to these measures’, Eichmann noted, ‘had been raised on behalf of the Foreign Office….’

In German-occupied Poland, the euthanasia programme was suddenly accelerated, when Polish and Polish Jewish patients in mental institutions were deported to Auschwitz, the first group on June 23.

In the Far East, in an attempt to by-pass their vulnerable sea lines of communications, the Japanese had begun to plan a railway link between Burma and Thailand, using British, Australian and Dutch prisoners-of-war. On June 23, an advance party of three hundred British prisoners-of-war reached the base at Bampong, in Thailand, with orders to construct their own camp and also a camp for their Japanese guards. Three months later, three thousand Australian prisoners-of-war were to be sent to a camp at Thanbyuzayat, to begin construction of the Burma end of the railway, soon to be known as the ‘Railway of Death’.

To help relieve Britain’s immediate danger in Egypt, Roosevelt ordered a squadron of light bombers, then in Florida and about to be sent to China, to go instead to Egypt. A further forty Hurricane fighter bombers, then at Basra on their way to Russia, were likewise diverted to Egypt, as were ten American bombers then in India, which were intended for missions over China. A hundred howitzers and three hundred tanks were sent by convoy around the Cape of Good Hope to Suez. The engines for the tanks were sent separately. When the ship carrying them was sunk off Bermuda by a German submarine, Roosevelt and General Marshall at once ordered three hundred more tank engines to be sent in the fastest ship available, so as to overtake the Suez-bound convoy.

In the last week of June, while this American aid was still on its way to Egypt, Rommel launched Operation Aida, pushing the British back as far as El Alamein, and taking six thousand prisoners. Rommel was now only sixty miles west of Alexandria. Mussolini, eager to be seen as a victor and a conqueror, flew to Cyrenaica and prepared for a triumphal entry into Cairo. In nearby Palestine, the Jews, encouraged to do so by the British, worked on schemes to defend the southern approaches to Haifa. Doris May, an Anglo-Catholic friend of the Zionist leaders, wrote on June 25: ‘It may yet fall to our handful of half-trained, half-equipped people, to put up the only effective resistance to the advance—to crack the jaws that seek to devour them. I had hoped’, she added, ‘that the Land of Israel might be spared, but it does not look very like it.’

The Jews of Palestine knew what was in store for them if German occupation was to be their lot. On June 25 the Gestapo ordered the arrest of 22,000 Jews in the Paris region, for deportation ‘to the East’. On June 26, the British Broadcasting Corporation broadcast from London an account of the fate of the Jews of Poland, stating that 700,000 had already been murdered. This information had been smuggled out of Warsaw by the Polish underground, which had received it from the Polish Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum and his friends. ‘Our toils and tribulations, our devotion and constant terror, have not been in vain,’ Ringelblum wrote that night. ‘We have struck the enemy a hard blow’. Even if the BBC’s revelations did not lead Hitler to halt the slaughter, Ringelblum was content: ‘We have revealed his Satanic plan to annihilate Polish Jewry, a plan he wished to complete in silence’, he wrote. ‘We have run a line through his calculations and have exposed his cards. And if England keeps its word and turns to the formidable mass attacks it has threatened—then perhaps we will be saved’.

On the previous night, unknown as yet to Ringelblum, a thousand and six British bombers had cast their bombs on the North Sea port of Bremen. Forty-nine aircraft were shot down, a loss which was considered by many to approach the prohibitive. As to the effectiveness of the raid, cloud cover had made the accurate identification of targets virtually impossible.

Despite the bombing of Bremen, and the broadcast from London, the deportation of Jews continued, and on an accelerated scale. ‘You yourself, Reichsführer,’ Odilo Globocnik reminded Himmler on June 26, ‘once mentioned that you felt the job should be done as quickly as possible, if only for reasons of concealment.’ Terror also played its part; on June 27 the German administrator of the Przemysl district, Dr Heinisch, issued a clear public instruction. ‘Every Ukrainian or Pole’, it read, ‘who attempts by any means whatsoever to impede the campaign for the deportation of Jews, will be shot. Every Ukrainian or Pole found in a Jewish quarter looting Jewish houses will be shot. Every Ukrainian or Pole attempting to conceal or helping to conceal a Jew will be shot.’

In the month following this order, 24,000 Jews from Western Galicia passed through Przemysl in trains going eastward. They came from twelve towns and villages within Dr Heinisch’s jurisdiction. All were taken to Belzec and killed.

***

On June 26, as part of their main summer offensive, German troops launched an attack towards Rostov-on-Don. That day, at Rastenburg, Hitler decorated the commander of the SS Death’s Head Division, SS General Eicke, with the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross, for his bravery in holding out in the Demyansk pocket throughout the previous winter; eleven of Eicke’s officers and men were awarded the Knight’s Cross for their bravery. But Eicke stressed, in his talk with Hitler, that his men were in a much weakened position as a result of the fighting, had an acute shortage of weapons and vehicles, and wished to be transferred to France.

General Eicke was given home leave. Two days after his appearance at Rastenburg, the German Army launched Operation Blue, the long-awaited summer offensive. That same day, 966 Jews were sent by train from Paris across France, Germany and Silesia, to Auschwitz. One, Adolf Ziffer, who had been born in Belzec itself in 1904, was crossed off the list of deportees at the last moment with the notation: ‘Shot attempting to escape’.

***

In the last three days of June, the German new offensive on the Eastern Front pushed the Red Army back throughout the southern sector. In North Africa, however, Rommel, with only fifty-five tanks still operational, had come to a halt at El Alamein, as South African, New Zealand, British and Indian troops, daily reinforced with American military supplies, stood behind a strongly fortified line, organized by General Auchinleck. Mussolini, cheated of his triumphal ride through Cairo, returned to Italy.

In the Far East, an Australian unit raided the Japanese base at Salamaua, on New Guinea. It was a small act of defiance, but one which boosted the morale of the Allies in the Far East. A few days later a similar raid was carried out on the Japanese supply base at Lae. As so often in the war, however, triumph and disaster marched all too closely together; on July 1, off Luzon, 849 Australian prisoners-of-war, captured by the Japanese in Rabaul six months earlier, were drowned when the Japanese ship carrying them across the Pacific was sunk by an American submarine.

The war at sea knew no pause; at the beginning of July the Allies learned that 124 merchant ships had been sunk in the North Atlantic in June, a loss that constituted the highest monthly toll of the shipping war; these cargoes included the first three hundred American tank engines on their way to Suez to help maintain the Allied line against Rommel.

***

The part taken by women in the more dangerous tasks of war was highlighted twice in July 1942, first by Yvonne Rudellat, a French-born British agent, who landed by boat on the coast of the French Riviera, travelled northward to Tours, and established an escape route for Allied airmen; and second by Polina Gelman, a history graduate from Moscow University, and a Jewess, who, as a navigation officer in a bombing regiment, embarked that July on the first of many hundreds of missions against German headquarter staffs, trains, vehicles and supply dumps. On one night she was to make eight separate sorties, and, in due course, to be made a Hero of the Soviet Union.

For Soviet soldiers and airmen, capture held terrors not known to the Allied prisoners-of-war taken by the Germans in North Africa. In the Sixth Fort of Kovno, the German’s own records for one of the mass graves there gives the precise figure of 7,708 Soviet prisoners-of-war. On July 1, tens of thousands more Soviet soldiers were captured as, finally, and after one of the most tenacious defences of the war, German troops overran the last of the fortresses of Sevastopol. That day, to celebrate this victory, Hitler promoted General Manstein to Field Marshal. Two days later, having flown from his headquarters at Rastenburg to Field Marshal von Bock’s headquarters at Poltava, Hitler assured von Bock that the Red Army had ‘sapped its last reserves’.

Hitler’s confidence in victory was matched by the ruthlessness of his forces in combating partisan activity. On July 3 the German Army in Yugoslavia launched its final assault on the partisans then holding out in the Kozara region. Within a week, as many as two thousand partisans had been killed, for the loss of 150 German soldiers. But it was not against the partisans alone that the German fury turned; tens of thousands of peasants were rounded up and shot, or deported to slave labour. So massive was the scale of deportations, estimated at more than sixty thousand, that special statistical tables had to be drawn up, in order correctly to gauge how many truck and trains would be needed for the deportations. One officer who helped in this statistical work was Lieutenant Kurt Waldheim; on July 22 he was one of five German officers to whom the Croat leader Ante Pavelić awarded the Silver medal of the Crown of King Zvonimir, with Oak Leaves.

In German-occupied Poland, July 3 saw the murder by the Germans of ninety-three Gypsies—women, children and old people among them—in the village of Szczurowa, near Cracow. On the following day, in the Volhynian town of Lutsk, four thousand Jews were driven from their homes to the outskirts of the town, and killed.

***

The Fourth of July 1942 marked the 166th year of American independence. On that day, for the first time, American aircraft—six in all—joined a British bomber formation in a raid on German airfields in Holland. But in the inner circles of British and American war policy, July 4 saw the beginning of one of the most serious setbacks of the war, the scattering, that night, of the merchant ships of Convoy PQ 17, on its way to Russia with precious war cargoes. PQ 17 had sailed from Iceland on June 27, with twenty-two American, eight British, two Soviet, two Panamanian and one Dutch merchant ship, and an escort of six destroyers, supported by fifteen other armed vessels, and three small passenger ships which had been specially fitted for rescuing the crews of torpedoed merchant ships. This considerable convoy had been spotted by German submarines and aircraft on July 1 and, on the morning of July 4, as the first phase of a long-planned German attack, code-named Operation Knight’s Move, four merchant ships had been sunk from the air by the torpedoes of a Heinkel torpedo-bomber. Fearing the imminent arrival of four powerful German warships, TirpitzScheerLützow and Hipper and their destroyers, which, with the exception of Lützow, were then at Altafjord, the convoy was told to scatter.

Hitler, nervous about the fate of his finest ships, was to order them back to Altafjord on the following day, within ten hours of their setting sail towards the convoy. But his submarine and air forces wreaked a trail of havoc against the scattered Allied ships, of which nineteen were sunk, and only eleven reached Archangel. Of the 156,492 tons of cargo loaded, 99,316 were sunk, including 430 of the 594 tanks on board, 210 of the 297 aircraft, and 3,350 of the 4,246 vehicles; 153 men were drowned. Had the convoy not been told to scatter, the Tirpitz foray might have continued, and all the merchant ships been sunk.

During its voyage eastward, PQ 17 had passed a convoy returning from Russia to Iceland, QP 13. By an ill-fated error of navigation, this convoy, when off Iceland on July 6, ran into a British minefield. Five merchant ships were sunk, as was the British minesweeper Niger and the Russian ship Rodina, carrying on board the wives and families of Soviet diplomats stationed in London.

On the Eastern Front, July 6 saw the launching of yet another German attack against Soviet partisans. This was Operation Swamp Flower, against the large partisan units in the Dorogobuzh region which had been reinforced earlier in the year by Soviet airborne troops and artillery. In southern Russia, on July 7, despite the capture of Voronezh, the German Sixth Army was unable, in face of a strong Russian counter-attack, to advance further east. It was therefore sent further south, along the southern bank of the River Don, to attack Stalingrad.

Hitler was still confident that he could defeat Russia in 1942. His subordinates were equally confident that, behind the smokescreen of war and victories, they could pursue the Nazi racial policies unimpeded. On July 7, as the battle raged at Voronezh, Heinrich Himmler was in Berlin, presiding over a conference at which only three other men were present: the head of the Concentration Camp Inspectorate, SS General Richard Glueks; the German hospital chief, SS Major-General—and also Professor—Gebhardt; and a leading German gynaecologist, Professor Karl Clauberg. As a result of their discussion, it was decided to start medical experiments in ‘major dimensions’ on Jewish women at Auschwitz. The experiments would be done in such a way, the notes of the meeting recorded, that a woman would not become aware of what was being done to her. It was also decided to ask a leading x-ray specialist, Professor Hohlfelder, to find out if it were possible to castrate men by means of x-rays.

Himmler warned those present that these were ‘most secret matters’. All who became involved in them, he said, would have to be pledged to secrecy. Three days later, at Auschwitz, the first hundred Jewish women were taken from the barracks to the hospital block for sterilization and other experiments.

Deception and concealment remained an essential element of Nazi policy towards the Jews. On July 11, Martin Bormann, head of the Nazi Party Chancellery, informed SS leaders, ‘by order of the Führer’, that henceforth, ‘in public discussion of the Jewish question any mention of a future total solution must be avoided. However, one may discuss the fact that all Jews are being interned and detailed to purposeful compulsory labour forces’.

***

Two days after his conference in Berlin, Himmler was at Rastenburg. Victory in southern Russia seemed imminent. Himmler and Hitler discussed what to do with the Germans of Italy’s South Tyrol once the war was won. The two men were agreed that these German-speaking citizens of Fascist Italy should be resettled in the Crimea. Nor did such a scheme seem far-fetched or fanciful; on July 10, German forces seized Rossosh and crossed to the eastern bank of the River Don. On the following day, Lisichansk, on the River Donetz, was taken. The momentum of attack in the south was growing.

Increasingly confident of victory, on July 11 Hitler issued a directive for the planning of Operation Blücher, a German attack from the Crimea across the Kerch Straits and into the Caucasus. On the following day, Stalin appointed Marshal Timoshenko to be the commander of a new front, charged with the defences of Stalingrad.

From Britain, in an attempt to give the Russians information that would enable them to anticipate future German moves, material culled from the Germans’ own Enigma messages was sent on to Moscow. These messages included, on July 13, details of the precise defensive line which the Germans intended to hold in the Voronezh region, while pushing their armoured forces forward between the Donetz and the Don. On the following day, London sent Moscow further details of the objectives that had been laid down for three of the German armies then about to go into action.

***

In the Far East, Australian forces, advancing from Port Moresby, arrived on July 12 at Kokoda, intent on denying the Japanese any further gains in New Guinea, and determined to prevent them from occupying the northern coastal town of Buna; the plan being made for this was given the code name Operation Providence. At the same time, American troops began their preparations for the liberation of the Solomon Islands. In the Mediterranean, there was considerable relief for Britain on July 13, with the announcement that, in the previous six weeks, a total of 693 German and Italian aircraft had been shot down by the defenders of Malta, while a further 190 German and Italian aircraft had been destroyed by British aircraft based on Malta.

In North Africa, British forces now began to reverse the tide of Rommel’s advance, not gaining very much ground, but inflicting heavy losses on German forces which attacked the Ruweisat Ridge, and thereby ending once and for all Rommel’s hopes of entering Cairo and Alexandria. ‘My expectations for yesterday’s attack were bitterly disappointed,’ Rommel wrote to his wife on July 14. ‘It achieved no success whatever.’ The battle on the Eastern Front, he added, ‘is going splendidly, which gives us courage to hang on here’.

The German gains on the Eastern Front were now continuous; on July 15 the Red Army was forced to abandon Millerovo, on the Voronezh—Rostov railway, and Kamensk, where the railway line crossed the River Donetz. That day, in Britain, British cryptographers widened their mastery of the Eastern Front Enigma by breaking the cypher used by the German anti-aircraft units for their most secret messages; it was given the code name ‘Weasel’ and was to continue to be broken until the end of the war. The importance of the ‘Weasel’ Enigmas was considerable. The anti-aircraft units which used it served the dual purpose of engaging both aircraft and tanks; their 88 millimetre dual-purpose gun proved to be one of Germany’s most powerful anti-tank weapons.

The German offensive, July to November 1942

Unknown to British Intelligence, July 15 saw the despatch from Holland of the first two thousand Dutch Jews deported to Auschwitz. Their departure was known, but not their destination, nor their fate. They had been told by the Germans that they were going for ‘labour service in Germany’. On the morning of July 16, as the Dutch deportees were still on their three day journey to Auschwitz, Hitler, with victory over Russia apparently not far off, transferred his headquarters from the ‘Wolf’s Lair’ at Rastenburg to a new site, ‘Werewolf’, at Vinnitsa. Despite the ‘swarming flies and mosquitoes’ which so upset him, Hitler was to remain at Vinnitsa for more than two months. On his first day there, he was visited by Himmler, who had driven down from his own headquarters at Zhitomir, eighty miles to the north. The two men discussed the Caucasus, which once again seemed so nearly in the German grasp. ‘The Führer’s view’, Himmler wrote on the following day, ‘is that we should not visibly incorporate this territory into the German sphere of power, but only militarily secure oil sources and borders.’

On the following day, July 17, Himmler flew to East Upper Silesia, and to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. There, the first two thousand Dutch Jewish deportees had just arrived. Himmler was in time to watch the unloading of the Jews from the trains, the selection of 1,551 to be tattooed on the forearm and sent to the barracks at Birkenau, and the gassing of the remaining 449, mostly old people, children and the sick. He then watched while the corpses were thrown into pits, and the gas chamber cleaned, ready for the next group of deportees.

That evening, Himmler was the principal guest at a reception for the heads of the SS garrison at Auschwitz. On the following day he was shown over the ‘original’ Auschwitz, the punitive camp for Poles, and he asked to be shown some beatings in order ‘to determine their effects’. At the end of his visit, he urged the expansion of the barracks at nearby Birkenau and of the armaments industry within the camp perimeters, at which the deportees could be put to work. Before leaving, he raised the camp Commandant, Rudolf Hoess, to the SS rank of major. Then, on July 19, he ordered the ‘total cleansing’ of the entire Jewish population of the General Government ‘to be carried out and completed by December 31’.

Himmler’s orders were obeyed. Beginning on July 22, many thousands of Jews were rounded up each day in the Warsaw ghetto and sent by train to a camp near the village of Treblinka. There, all but a fragment needed to service the camp were gassed. In the first seven weeks of these Warsaw deportations, more than a quarter of a million Jews were taken to Treblinka and killed; it was the largest, swiftest slaughter of a single community, Jewish or non-Jewish, in the Second World War. The first Commandant of Treblinka was a German physician, the thirty-two-year-old Dr Eberl. As one of those earlier involved in the German euthanasia programme, he had been responsible for the murder of 18,000 German patients in a year and a half. Now, assisted by SS and Ukrainian guards, he supervised the first month’s killing, before being dismissed for inefficiency; his failure to dispose of the bodies quickly had created panic among those in the incoming trains.

Terror in the East, July 1942

Even as the Treblinka gassings began, and Warsaw Jewry was sent unsuspecting to its destruction, Jews from throughout Galicia continued to be killed at Belzec; while Auschwitz received almost daily trains from France, Belgium—beginning on August 4—Luxemburg and Holland. Jews were not sent, however, from Italian-occupied Croatia, where, in the last week of July, the German Foreign Ministry learned that the Italian Chief of Staff in the region, whose headquarters were in Mostar, ‘has declared that he cannot give his approval to the resettlement of the Jews, all inhabitants of Mostar having received assurance of equal treatment’.

In German-occupied Russia, the killing of Jews had continued without protest or respite, by slaughter in fields and ditches just beyond the villages; a thousand Jews had been killed in this way at Bereza Kartuska on July 15, and six hundred at Szarkowszczyzna on July 18, though a further nine hundred had managed to escape that day into the nearby forests.

On July 20 the Germans launched yet another anti-partisan operation in White Russia, Operation Eagle, against Soviet partisans in the Chechivichi region. That same day, in the village of Kletsk, several hundred Jews who were about to be murdered set their ghetto on fire and ran. Most were killed by German machine gun fire. A few, reaching the forests, joined the partisans, where their leader, Moshe Fish, was killed in a battle with the Germans six months later. On the day after the revolt in Kletsk, the Jews of nearby Nieswiez also fought back against their fate. They too were almost all shot down, though one of their leaders, Shalom Cholawski, reaching the forests, set up a ‘family camp’ of Jews who had managed to escape the daily slaughter, protected the camp against German manhunts, and set up a Jewish partisan unit to harass the German lines of communication.

***

On the night of July 21, in northern New Guinea, the Japanese, still intent on developing a threat to Australia, forestalled the Australians by landing sixteen thousand troops at Buna and Gona. Then they moved south, along the Kokoda trail, across rugged mountain terrain. The Australians, surprised by the size of the Japanese force, and defeated by the terrain, had to fall back towards Port Moresby. In Burma and Thailand, the Allied prisoners-of-war had been working on the jungle railway. ‘The third death in a few days,’ Colonel Dunlop noted in his diary on July 23, as he struggled to repair broken bodies with the absolute minimum of medicaments. Fifteen thousand prisoners-of-war were to perish on the railway, their fate recorded not only by diarists like Dunlop, but by artists such as Ray Parkin, whom Dunlop encouraged. ‘I hope that it will be a true record’, Dunlop wrote of Parkin’s work, ‘of the manner in which the human spirit can rise above futility, nothingness and despair, since truly we were left here with nothing.’

That night, the prisoners performed Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, ‘with modern dress’, as Dunlop wrote, and he added: ‘Audience very sympathetic, with absolutely no frivolity.’

***

On July 23 the city of Rostov-on-Don was once more occupied by the Germans. That day, Hitler, concerned to secure oil supplies essential to the conduct of any war, issued his Directive No. 45, ordering the seizure of the eastern Black Sea coast from Novorossiisk to Batum, on the Turkish border, and the capture of the Russian oilfields at Maikop, Grozny and Baku, on the Caspian Sea. Stalingrad, on the Volga, was also to be taken, and then, with a German defensive line to be set up on the River Don, the German forces should capture Leningrad. It was an ambitious plan, which alarmed Hitler’s generals, but he ordered it nevertheless. It failed because of the Russian decision to send three reserve armies to the defence of Stalingrad. This defence was so tenacious as to force Hitler to transfer men and materials from the rapidly advancing Caucasus front to the battle at Stalingrad. At the same time, despite the capture of Rostov, the Germans had failed to repeat their successes of 1941 whereby hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers were taken prisoner with every major battle. At Rostov, despite severe losses, the bulk of the Soviet forces had escaped the trap, and were thus able to fight again. But, with several units of the German Army only a hundred miles from Stalingrad by July 25, there was little to suggest that Stalingrad could halt the German thrust. That same day, however, to boost the morale of the citizens of Leningrad, several thousand German prisoners-of-war were paraded in the city, ‘the only Germans’, as one historian has written, ‘to reach the heart of Leningrad’.

On July 27 the German Army crossed the River Don south of Rostov, and entered Bataisk. On the following day Stalin issued Order No. 227: ‘Panic-makers and cowards must be liquidated on the spot. Not one step backward without orders from higher headquarters! Commanders, commissars, and political workers who abandon a position without an order from higher headquarters are traitors to the Fatherland, and must be handled accordingly.’

The day of Stalin’s ‘Not one step backward’ order was the day on which, behind the German lines in the Leningrad region, local Russian peasants and partisans killed Adolf Beck, a German official of the economic administration of the occupied territories, responsible for sending Russian agricultural produce to Germany, or to the German Army. They also set his barns and granaries on fire. Beck’s death, and the destruction of so much foodstuff destined for Germany, gave a boost to partisan morale throughout the Dno and Pskov regions. ‘Russians!’ declared the partisan pamphlet which announced Beck’s death: ‘Destroy the properties where the men responsible for your evil fate are hiding. Finish off the German landowners. Don’t work for them, but kill every one of them—this is the duty of every Soviet patriot. Drive the Germans from the land of the Soviets!’

In the Warsaw ghetto, from which 66,701 Jews had been deported in a single week, and where 250,000 remained, July 28 saw the setting up of a Jewish Fighting Organization, men and women determined to resist, if possible, the continuing deportations to Treblinka. But on the following day the Germans set a cruel trap, offering the starving Jews of Warsaw—more than four thousand Jews had died that month of hunger—a free issue of three kilogrammes of bread and one kilogramme of jam for each family that would volunteer for ‘the East’. For many of those who were starving, the offer was irresistible. Thousands volunteered. All received their bread and jam. And all were then deported to Treblinka, and to their deaths.

***

On July 29, the Japanese in New Guinea, after four days of fierce jungle fighting, finally wrested Kokoda from the Australians. That same day, the Germans reached Proletarskaya, the gateway to the Caucasus. That day, Stalin created a new military order for the direction of successful operations in the field, the Order of Suvorov, named after Catherine the Great’s general who, in 1799, had crossed the Alps. A second military order created that day, for regimental, battalion, company and platoon commanders who showed personal courage and successful leadership in battle, was named after the medieval hero, Alexander Nevsky, who had repulsed an earlier Teutonic invasion.

Meanwhile, German forces pressed on towards the Caucasus, reaching Salsk on August 1, and cutting the railway line between Novorossisk and Stalingrad. Some German units, pushing far ahead of the main force, even reached the Kuban river.

The British and Americans, unable to launch a Second Front on the European mainland to relieve the pressure on Russia in 1942, had decided to strike instead at the Vichy French coastlines of Morocco and Algeria—Operation Torch—and to combine this assault with the attempted destruction of the German and Italian forces now triumphant in the Western Desert. The two operations would, it was hoped, not only drive the Axis from North Africa, thus providing a springboard for an attack on the European mainland of Italy, but would also draw off considerable German resources from the Eastern Front. On August 1, Churchill prepared to fly to Moscow, to meet Stalin and to give him a personal account of this decision and plan. ‘The materials for a joyous meeting’, Churchill told King George VI, ‘are meagre indeed. Still I may perhaps make the situation less edged’.

In order to deceive the Germans as to the true points of landing of Operation Torch, a branch of the British War Cabinet secretariat, known deceptively as the ‘London Controlling Section’, headed by Colonel John Bevan, submitted on August 1 a series of spurious war plans designed to lure German reinforcements elsewhere. Three principal deceptions were put in train, Operation Solo against Narvik and Trondheim, Operation Overthrow against Calais and Boulogne, and Operation Kennecott against southern Italy, Greece and Crete.

By setting up false Army commands and using double agents such as ‘Garbo’ to send messages to Germany, reporting fictitious military preparations, Colonel Bevan and his team created doubt in the minds of the German General Staff as to the true destination of the Anglo-American forces, which even then were assembling and training in Scotland for some obvious amphibious landing on a large scale. Bevan also set up two deception schemes, whereby the two commanders of Operation Torch, General Eisenhower and Admiral Cunningham, on their arrival in Gibraltar to take charge of the final planning, were thought respectively to have been ‘recalled to Washington’ and ‘posted to the Far East’.

Whether these plans could come in time to help Russia would depend entirely upon the speed of the German advance. On August 3, the German forces driving into the Caucasus reached Stavropol. On the Stalingrad front, crossing the Don at Tsimlyansky, they pressed eastward to Kotelnikovo, less than a hundred miles south-west of Stalingrad. These German successes threatened not only Russia but also Britain. On August 4, while on his way to Russia, Churchill stopped in Cairo, where, he learned from the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir Alan Brooke, that if the German forces succeeded in their drive into the Caucasus, and were able from there to develop a ‘serious threat’ to the Persian Gulf, it might be necessary, in the view of the British Chiefs of Staff, to consider abandoning Egypt and North Africa altogether, and moving the British forces then in Egypt to the Persian Gulf. This would be necessary, Brooke explained, because if the oilfields of Abadan and Bahrein were lost, Britain would suffer a twenty per cent reduction in her military capability.

On August 5, while Churchill was still in Cairo, German forces crossed the Kuban river at Kropotkin and pressed on towards Armavir; the threat to the oilfields of the Caucasus was now acute. In the Atlantic, the threat to Britain’s food and armaments lifeline was likewise acute; that day a homeward bound convoy of thirty-six ships was attacked by German submarines off Newfoundland. One of the attacking submarines was sunk by the convoy escort, but, as the attack continued, five merchant ships were torpedoed in the space of three minutes. Later in the struggle, another German submarine was sunk, but so too were six more merchant ships.

The Germans, using slave labour, had built massive concrete submarine pens in four of the ports on the Atlantic coast of France, Lorient, Brest, St Nazaire and La Pallice. These pens were one of the main construction achievements of the Todt Organization now controlled by Albert Speer. On August 5, as the most recent of the Atlantic submarine attacks was under way, a Japanese submarine docked at the pens in Lorient, a measure of the range and versatility of Axis submarine power. Within six weeks that particular Japanese submarine was back in Malayan waters, where she was sunk.

***

Among the troops fighting alongside the Germans on the Eastern Front were volunteer units from France, Belgium and Holland. On August 6, the commander of the forces in which the Dutch unit was serving, General Kraus, wrote to Herman Goering: ‘We have thousands of Dutchmen in transport regiments in the East. Last week one such regiment was attacked. The Dutch took more than a thousand prisoners and were awarded twenty-five Iron Crosses.’ That week, more than a thousand Dutch Jews had been deported from Holland to Auschwitz, followed by 987 on August 7, and 559 three days later; of these deportees, more than half were gassed on reaching the camp. The others were sent to the barracks at Birkenau, to become slave labourers. It was on August 7, as the second of these deportations began, that Goering presided over a meeting to discuss the German Four Year Plan for industrial production. Slave labour was to be an essential part in the plan. But as the notes of the discussion show, there were areas from which Jewish labour could no longer come. In White Russia, the meeting was told, ‘Only a few Jews are still alive. Tens of thousands were eliminated.’

***

On August 7, the German refugee scientist Klaus Fuchs became a British citizen, taking an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. At that time, he was working in Britain on the ‘Tube Alloys’ project, the Anglo-American research on the atomic bomb. At the same time, he was passing the innermost secrets of the project to the Soviet Union. With the military struggle against Germany at its most intense, the Allies in that struggle remained alert to the basic division of ideology and aim which had pitted their systems against each other before the war, and would dominate their relationship again once they had been victorious against Germany. Even at the moment when such a victory could in no way be guaranteed, the minds that had to focus with all their power on the means to secure that victory were well aware of the conflicts that might come in the postwar era.

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