Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 840 December 18, 1941

Battle of convoy HG-76. At 9.45 AM 560 miles West of Gibraltar, British destroyers HMS Stanley and HMS Blankney bring U-434 to the surface with depth charges. U-434 crew places scuttling charges and abandons ship (42 survivors taken prisoner by HMS Blankney, 2 killed in Blankney‘s propellers during maneuvering). U-434 explodes and sinks before HMS Blankney can get a boarding party aboard.

Invasion of Hong Kong Island. Japanese bombardment continues, setting fire to an oil refinery which casts a pall of dense smoke over the North shore. Fog and rain also reduce visibility. At 10 PM, Japanese 3500 soldiers cross the Lye Mun Channel and establish a bridgehead at North Point, followed by another 4000 troops at midnight. In the confusion, senior Allied officers at HQ are unaware that the invasion has begun. Japanese massacre 20 Hong Kong Volunteer Defense Corps anti-aircraft gunners who have surrendered at Sai Wan Hill and they shoot or behead 26 male medical staff & 2 wounded soldiers at the Salesian Mission Advanced Dressing Station (female staff are forced to watch and then set free).

Philippines. Japanese troops capture the town of Naga, 50 miles North up the main road from their landing site at Legaspi on the Bicol Peninsula, Southeast Luzon. They repair roads and bridges blown yesterday by retreating US forces.

Operation Crusader. Rommel has so few tanks operational (Afrika Korps has 8, Italian Ariete Division has 30) that he decides to retreat all the way to strong defensive position at Mersa Brega, whence he launched his attack in April. The infantry will follow the coastal road while the tanks will cut across the desert South of the Green Mountain (Jebel Achdar). British 4th Armored Brigade is slow to get going from Bir Halegh el Eleba, (wary of previous maulings by Rommel's anti-tank guns when they chased the Afrika Korps) and reaches Mechili, 25 miles West, too late to catch the retreating tanks. Operation Crusader has achieved the objectives of pushing Rommel back out of Eastern Libya and relieving the siege of Tobruk but, in doing so, the British have used up all their reserves of tanks. Rommel's Afrika Korps has survived, barely, and will soon receive fresh supplies of tanks.

Red Army fails to keep contact with the retreating German forces Northwest to West of Moscow, allowing 3rd Panzer Army to fall back over the Lama River while 4th Panzer Army gets behind the Ruza River. Although the rivers are frozen, Soviet troops will fail to cross and allow the Germans to dig in and establishes defensive positions.

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