Operation Tidal Wave: U.S. forces attempt risky air raid on Axis oil refineries

Year
1943
Month Day
August 01

On August 1, 1943, 177 B-24 bombers take off from an Allied base in Libya, bound for the oil-producing city Ploiești, Romania, nicknamed “Hitler’s gas station.” The daring raid, known as Operation Tidal Wave, resulted in five men being awarded the Medal of Honor—three of them posthumously—but failed to strike the fatal blow its planners had intended.

Operation Tidal Wave began ominously, with an overloaded bomber crashing shortly after takeoff and another plunging into the Adriatic Sea. 167 of the original 177 bombers made it to Ploiești, whose oil fields and refineries provided the Germans with over 8.5 million tons of oil per year. Whereas most Allied bombing in World War II was carried out from a high altitude, the bombers that raided Ploiești flew exceptionally low in order to evade the Germans’ radar. The bombers lost the element of surprise, however, when one group veered off on the wrong direction, forcing the others to break radio silence in order to direct them back on course. This unplanned adjustment also led to the bombers approaching from the south, where the Nazis had concentrated their anti-aircraft batteries.

READ MORE: One of the Most Daring WWII Air Raids Targeted Hitler’s Critical ‘Gas Station’

The ensuing attack was dramatic, chaotic and costly. The Allies suffered heavy casualties, and smoke from the explosions caused by the first wave of bombers made visibility difficult for subsequent waves. Survivors reported debris like branches and barbed wire hitting and even ending up on the inside of their planes. Lt. Col. Addison Baker and Maj. John Jerstad were awarded the Medal of Honor for their (unsuccessful) attempt to fly higher and allow the crew to bail of our their badly damaged plane. Another pilot, Lt. Lloyd Herbert Hughes, also received a posthumous Medal of Honor for flying his critically-damaged B-24 into its target. Col. John Kane and Col. Leon Johnson, who each led bombing groups that reached their targets, were the only men who won the Medal of Honor and survived the raid.

Although the Allies estimated that the raid had reduced Ploiești’s capacity by 40 percent, the damage was quickly repaired and within months the refineries had outstripped their previous capacity. The region continued to serve as “Hitler’s gas station” until the Soviet Union captured it in August of 1944. 310 airmen died, 108 were captured and another 78 were interned in neighboring Turkey. 88 of the original 177 B-24s returned, most of them seriously damaged. Despite setting the record for most Medals of Honor awarded to airmen in a single mission, Operation Tidal wave was never repeated—the Allies never again attempted a low-altitude assault against German air defenses.

READ MORE: Meet the Night Witches, the Daring Female Pilots Who Bombed Nazis By Night

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Zoot Suit Riots begin in Los Angeles

On June 3, 1943, a group of U.S. sailors marches through downtown Los Angeles, carrying clubs and other makeshift weapons and attacking anyone wearing a “zoot suit”—the baggy wool pants, oversized coats and porkpie hats favored by many young men of color at the time.

Over the next week, the so-called Zoot Suit Riots spread throughout the city, including the largely Mexican-American neighborhood of East Los Angeles and the largely black neighborhood of Watts. The riots marked the culmination of simmering racial tensions in Los Angeles, set against the backdrop of World War II

After originating in Harlem jazz clubs in the 1930s, the zoot suit style had become popular with young men in black and Latino communities across the country. In Los Angeles, which had a large Mexican-American population, many more conservative citizens (including both older Mexican Americans and whites) objected to the young zoot-suiters who called themselves “pachucos,” associating them not only with cultural rebellion but also with criminality and gangsterism.

These negative views only increased during World War II, when the rationing of wool in early 1942 led the manufacturing of zoot suits to be banned and the wearing of them to be seen as unpatriotic. The Los Angeles news media in particular devoted itself to portraying pachucos as dangerous, especially after the so-called Sleepy Lagoon Murder of August 1942. In thatnotorious case, hundreds of Mexican-American youths were rounded up and 22 of them tried and convicted in the murder of another young Mexican-American man, Jose Diaz—a decision that was later overturned, and viewed as a major miscarriage of justice.

READ MORE: What Were the Zoot Suit Riots? 

On May 30, 1943, a verbal confrontation between a group of U.S. sailors and a group of zoot-suiters ended in the beating of one of the sailors. In retaliation, about 50 sailors left the local U.S. Navy Reserve Armory on the evening of June 3, armed with makeshift weapons and targeting zoot-suiters (even those as young as 12 or 13 years old). On the second night of rioting, the sailors headed into the city’s Mexican-American communities, barging into cafes, bars and theaters to seek out and attack their victims.

Military personnel and civilians joined in the violence, some traveling to Los Angeles from elsewhere to take part. While news reports portrayed such rioters as heroes fighting against a supposed Mexican crime wave, many of their attacks were clearly racist in nature, targeting Latinos, African Americans and other minorities even when they weren’t wearing zoot suits. Meanwhile, police arrested hundreds of young Mexican Americans—many of whom had been attacked themselves—compared with comparatively few sailors or civilians involved in the rioting.

The Zoot Suit Riots finally died down after June 8, when military officials banned all military personnel from Los Angeles and called on military police to patrol the city. The L.A. City Council subsequently passed a resolution prohibiting the wearing of zoot suits on city streets.

No one was killed during the Zoot Suit Riots, though many people were injured. In the aftermath, Governor Earl Warren tasked an independent citizens’ committee with investigating the riots and determining their cause. Though several factors were involved, the committee concluded that racism was the central cause, exacerbated by inflammatory, biased media coverage and an uneven response by the Los Angeles Police Department. 

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British navy sinks the German battleship Bismarck

Year
1941
Month Day
May 27

On May 27, 1941, the British navy sinks the German battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic near France. The German death toll was more than 2,000.

On February 14, 1939, the 823-foot Bismarck was launched at Hamburg. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler hoped that the state-of-the-art battleship would herald the rebirth of the German surface battle fleet. However, after the outbreak of war, Britain closely guarded ocean routes from Germany to the Atlantic Ocean, and only U-boats moved freely through the war zone.

In May 1941, the order was given for the Bismarck to break out into the Atlantic. Once in the safety of the open ocean, the battleship would be almost impossible to track down, all the while wreaking havoc on Allied convoys to Britain. Learning of its movement, Britain sent almost the entire British Home Fleet in pursuit. On May 24, the British battle cruiser Hood and battleship Prince of Wales intercepted it near Iceland. In a ferocious battle, the Hood exploded and sank, and all but three of the 1,421 crewmen were killed. The Bismarck escaped, but because it was leaking fuel it fled for occupied France. 

On May 26, the ship was sighted and crippled by British aircraft, and on May 27 three British warships descended on the Bismarck, inflicting heavy damage. By mid-morning, the pride of the German navy had become a floating wreck with numerous fires aboard, unable to steer and with her guns almost useless because she was listing badly to port. Soon, the command went out to scuttle the ship, and the Bismarck quickly sank. Of a 2,221-man crew, only 115 survived.

READ MORE: The Pictures that Defined World War II 

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Eight hundred children are gassed to death at Auschwitz

Year
1944
Month Day
October 10

On October 10, 1944, 800 Romani children, including more than a hundred boys between 9 and 14 years old, are systematically murdered.

Auschwitz was really a group of camps, designated I, II, and III. There were also 40 smaller “satellite” camps. It was at Auschwitz II, at Birkenau, established in October 1941, that the SS created a complex, monstrously orchestrated killing ground: 300 prison barracks; four “bathhouses,” in which prisoners were gassed; corpse cellars; and cremating ovens. Thousands of prisoners were also used as fodder for medical experiments, overseen and performed by the camp doctor, Josef Mengele (“the Angel of Death”).

READ MORE: Horrors of Auschwitz: The Numbers Behind WWII’s Deadliest Concentration Camp

A mini-revolt took place on October 7, 1944. As several hundred Jewish prisoners were being forced to carry corpses from the gas chambers to the furnace to dispose of the bodies, they blew up one of the gas chambers and set fire to another, using explosives smuggled to them from Jewish women who worked in a nearby armaments factory. Of the roughly 450 prisoners involved in the sabotage, about 250 managed to escape the camp during the ensuing chaos. They were all found and shot. Those co-conspirators who never made it out of the camp were also executed, as were five women from the armaments factory—but not before being tortured for detailed information on the smuggling operation. None of the women talked.

Romani people, too, had been singled out for brutal treatment by Hitler’s regime early on. Deemed “carriers of disease” and “unreliable elements who cannot be put to useful work,” they were marked for extermination along with the Jews of Europe from the earliest years of the war. Approximately 1.5 million Romani people were murdered by the Nazis. In 1950, as Romani people attempted to gain compensation for their suffering, as were other victims of the Holocaust, the German government denied them anything, saying, they “have been persecuted under the Nazis not for any racial reason but because of an asocial and criminal record.” They were stigmatized even in light of the atrocities committed against them.

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Marcario García becomes first Mexican national to receive U.S. Medal of Honor

Year
1945
Month Day
August 23

Though he had landed on the beaches of Normandy and been wounded in battle fighting with the U.S. Army, Staff Sergeant Marcario García was not yet a U.S. citizen when President Harry S. Truman awarded him the Medal of Honor on August 23, 1945. García became the first Mexican national to receive the American military’s highest honor.

García was born in the Mexican state of Coahuila, which borders Texas, in 1920. When he was young, his family moved to Texas to work on a cotton farm, and the work prevented him from progressing beyond a grade-school level of education. At the age of 22, he enlisted in the Army and was deployed to the European Theater of World War II. García was wounded in action during the D-Day landings, spent four months recovering, and then re-joined his unit as it advanced into Germany. On November 27th, 1944, García was acting squad leader when his unit was assigned to clear two German machine gun nests. García single-handedly cleared the first, advancing with little cover and receiving multiple wounds in the process. He returned to his unit, where it was suggested that he seek medical attention, but the second nest opened fire. “Utterly disregarding his own safety,” in the words of his Medal of Honor citation, García charged the second nest, killing three more Germans, taking four prisoners, and achieving his unit’s objective. He was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Medal of Honor.

Shortly after receiving the Medal of Honor, García was denied service at a restaurant in Richmond, Texas because of his ethnicity. A brawl ensued, during which the restaurant owner beat García with a baseball bat. The assailant even pressed charges against García after the incident, although they were dropped when the national media caught wind of the racist attack against a military hero. 

García later received his high school diploma and went to work in the Veterans’ Administration. García met President John F. Kennedy on the last night of the president’s life. When Kennedy visited Houston in November 1963, he made an evening appearance at an event for civil rights activists at which García was assigned to greet him. The next day, Kennedy was assassinated.

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D-Day is called off and postponed until June


Year
1944
Month Day
January 31

June 6, 1944 is considered one of the most pivotal moments in modern history. Better known by its codename, D-Day, the Allied assault on five beaches in Nazi-occupied France was the result of over a year of planning and jockeying amongst various military and political leaders. On January 31, 1944, several key leaders agreed to postpone the invasion over concerns that there would not be enough ships available by May, finally setting the stage for the June invasion.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began urging British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to open a second front almost as soon as the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941. After the American entry into the war at the end of that year, the three nations agreed that such action was necessary but disagreed on how it should proceed. British leadership, for whom the slaughters and stalemates of World War I’s Western Front were still relatively recent memories, eventually prevailed upon the other Allies to first attack Italy, which Churchill called Europe’s “soft underbelly.” With plans to attack German-held North Africa and the Italian island of Sicily underway, the three leaders agreed in May of 1943 to assault the European mainland. In December of 1943, American General Dwight D. Eisenhower and British General Bernard Montgomery were presented with a detailed plan for the invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord.

READ MORE: D-Day’s Deadly Dress Rehearsal

Both generals argued for increasing the scope of Overlord from three divisions to five divisions supported by three airborne divisions. Eisenhower was eager to enact such a plan in May, but had concerns over the availability of landing craft. The Italian campaign, which provided the Allies with valuable experience in amphibious landings, was also taking up many of the boats that would be necessary for the Normandy invasion. By the 31st, all relevant commanders had come around to this way of thinking and signed off on an early-June invasion.

D-Day would be postponed once more, by a single day—high winds on June 4 forced Eisenhower to push the “great crusade” back one more day. Finally, on the morning of June 6, the long-awaited invasion of France began. By the time the sun set the Allies had established a foothold, the first step in a march that would lead them all the way to Berlin and the defeat of Nazi Germany.

READ MORE: D-Day: Facts About the 1944 WWII Invasion 

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Deportations from Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka begin

Year
1942
Month Day
July 22

On July 22, 1942, the systematic deportation of Jewish people from the Warsaw ghetto begins, as thousands are rounded up daily and transported to a newly constructed concentration/extermination camp at Treblinka, in Poland.

On July 17, Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi SS, arrived at Auschwitz, the concentration camp in eastern Poland, in time to watch the arrival of more than 2,000 Dutch Jews and the gassing of almost 500 of them, mostly the elderly, sick and very young. The next day, Himmler promoted the camp commandant, Rudolph Hoess, to SS major and ordered that the Warsaw ghetto (the Jewish quarter constructed by the Nazis upon the occupation of Poland, enclosed first by barbed wire and then by brick walls), be depopulated–a “total cleansing,” as he described it–and the inhabitants transported to what was to become a second extermination camp constructed at the railway village of Treblinka, 62 miles northeast of Warsaw.

READ MORE: Holocaust Photos Reveal Horrors of Nazi Concentration Camps

Within the first seven weeks of Himmler’s order, more than 250,000 Jews were taken to Treblinka by rail and gassed to death, marking the largest single act of destruction of any population group, Jewish or non-Jewish, civilian or military, in the war. Upon arrival at “T. II,” as this second camp at Treblinka was called, prisoners were separated by sex, stripped, and marched into what were described as “bathhouses,” but were in fact gas chambers. T. II’s first commandant was Dr. Irmfried Eberl, age 32, the man who had headed up the euthanasia program of 1940 and had much experience with the gassing of victims, especially children. He compelled several hundred Ukrainian and about 1,500 Jewish prisoners to assist him. They removed gold teeth from victims before hauling the bodies to mass graves. Eberl was relieved of his duties for “inefficiency.” It seems that he and his workers could not remove the corpses quickly enough, and panic was occurring within the railway cars of newly arrived prisoners.

By the end of the war, between 700,000 and 900,000 would die at either Treblinka I or II. Hoess was tried and sentenced to death by the Nuremberg Tribunal. He was hanged in 1947.

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Germany invades Yugoslavia and Greece

Year
1941
Month Day
April 06

The German air force launches Operation Castigo, the bombing of Belgrade, on April 6, 1941, as 24 divisions and 1,200 tanks drive into Greece.

The attack on Yugoslavia was swift and brutal, an act of terror resulting in the death of 17,000 civilians—the largest number of civilian casualties in a single day since the start of the war. Making the slaughter all the worse was that nearby towns and villages had emptied out into the capital city to celebrate Palm Sunday. All of Yugoslavia’s airfields were also bombed, destroying most of its 600 aircraft while still on the ground.

As part of a comprehensive Balkan offensive, German forces also bombed the Greek port city of Piraeus as army divisions swept south and west, en route to Salonica and the eventual occupation of Greece.

Also on this day: British General Alan Cunningham’s troops enter Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, formally expelling the Italian occupiers and setting the stage for the return of Ethiopia’s emperor, Haile Selassie.

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U.S. troops recapture Philippine island of Corregidor


Year
1945
Month Day
February 26

On February 26, an ammunition dump on the Philippine island of Corregidor is blown up by a remnant of the Japanese garrison, causing more American casualties on the eve of U.S. victory there.

In May 1942, Corregidor, a small rock island at the mouth of Manila Bay, remained one of the last Allied strongholds in the Philippines after the Japanese victory at Bataan. Constant artillery shelling and aerial bombardment attacks ate away at the American and Filipino defenders. 

Although still managing to sink many Japanese barges as they approached the northern shores of the island, the Allied troops could not hold the invader off any longer. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, commander of the U.S. armed forces in the Philippines, offered to surrender Corregidor to Japanese Gen. Masaharu Homma, but Homma wanted the complete, unconditional capitulation of all American forces throughout the Philippines. Wainwright had little choice given the odds against him and the poor physical condition of his troops—he had already lost 800 men. He surrendered at midnight. All 11,500 surviving Allied troops were evacuated to a prison stockade in Manila.

But the Americans returned to the Philippines in full strength in October 1944, beginning with the recapture of Leyte, the Philippines’ central island. It took 67 days to subdue, with the loss of more than 55,000 Japanese soldiers during the two months of battle, and approximately another 25,000 mopping up pockets of resistance in early 1945. The U.S. forces lost about 3,500.

Following the American victory of Leyte was the return of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the struggle for Luzon and the race for Manila, the Philippine capital. One week into the Allied battle for Luzon, U.S. airborne troops parachuted onto Corregidor to take out the Japanese garrison there, which was believed to be 1,000 strong, but was actually closer to 5,000. Fierce fighting resulted in the deaths of most of the Japanese soldiers, with the survivors left huddling in the Malinta Tunnel for safety. 

Ironically, the tunnel, 1,400 feet long and dug deep in the heart of Corregidor, had served as MacArthur’s headquarters and a U.S. supply depot before the American defeat there. MacArthur feared the Japanese soldiers could sit there for months. The garrison had no such intention, though, and ignited a nearby ammunition dump—an act of defiance, and possibly of mass suicide. 

Most of the Japanese were killed in the explosion, along with 52 Americans. Those Japanese who survived the blast were forced out into the open and decimated by the Americans. Corregidor was officially in American hands by early March.

READ MORE: Douglas MacArthur – General, WWII & Korean War

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The U-505, a submarine from Hitler’s deadly fleet, is captured

Year
1944
Month Day
June 04

One of Adolf Hitler’s deadly submarines, the U-505, is seized as it makes its way home after patrolling the Gold Coast of Africa on June 4, 1944. The German submarine was the first enemy warship captured on the high seas by the U.S. Navy since the War of 1812.

If ever there was a submarine laden with bad luck it was Germany’s U-505.

Despite sinking eight Allied ships early in the war, the German WW II U-boat suffered repeated damages while on a number of patrols and was further marred by the suicide of its second commanding officer while on board.

Spotted during a sonar sweep 150 miles from the coast of Rio De Oro, Africa by a “hunter-killer” task group commanded by U.S. Navy Capt. Daniel V. Gallery that included the USS Chatelain, USS Guadalcanal, USS Flaherty, USS Jenks, USS Pillsbury and USS Pope, the submarine had been being tracked by Allied intelligence via radio waves.

After the surrendered German survivors were picked up from the U-boat (all but one lived), Lt. (junior grade) Albert L. David led a group of nine men down the hatch of the U-505, salvaging the U-boat and recovering invaluable code books and papers that were used by Allied forces to help in code-breaking.

David was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. The 58 captured Germans, deemed prisoners of war, were sent to a POW camp in Ruston, Louisiana, while the U-505 was towed 2,500 nautical miles to Bermuda.

The top-secret capture of the submarine was not made public until after Germany’s May 7, 1945 surrender, and the U-505 was eventually part of a military fundraising tour. On September 25, 1954, the submarine was named a war memorial and, in 1989, it received National Historic Landmark designation. 

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