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Livblogging World War II: November 6, 1942

World War 2 Plus 55:

German troops in the Caucasus continue their efforts to seize the Russian oilfields, making one last attempt to break through to Grozny. But Soviet troops stop the Germans cold at Ordzhonokidze. Winston Churchill reads the Luftwaffe messages from November 4th, ordering the bombing of Baku, and passes them to Stalin. "Many thanks for your warnings concerning Baku," replies the Russian dictator. "We are taking the necessary measures to combat the dangers.">German intelligence provides its latest assessments on the Russian Front to the OKW. The Soviet [winter] counteroffensive will hit Army Group Center, but suggests a possible attack on Army Group B and the Rumanian 3rd Army, with the objective of cutting the railroad to Stalingrad and compelling a withdrawal from the city. Hitler orders Paulus to take the two sections of Stalingrad the Soviets hold east of the gun factory and the Red October plant. "Only after the bank of the Volga is entirely in our hands in those places is the assault on the chemical plant to be begun," Hitler wires. The Lazur chemical plant, with its railway yards (named the "Tennis Racket" for their shape") is the objective. Paulus organizes his men for the next big push.

On Bougainville, Jack Read decides that the Porapora lookout has to be abandoned. Despite its proximity to the Japanese airbase on Buka island, north of Bougainville, Japanese troops are coming for him. He withdraws to the mountain village of Aravia. Cdr. Eric Feldt, the Australian head of the Coastwatcher Service, agrees, and orders Read off the air. At Barougo in southern Bougainville, Coastwatcher Paul Mason studies the Japanese anchorage, and reports 33 enemy vessels in harbor. Something big is brewing. On maps and in tabletop exercises, enveloping movements are neat, clean, arrows. In the jungles of Guadalcanal, they are all-day ordeals, as the 7th Marines and the 164th Infantry struggle through the jungle to the coast at Koli.

German intelligence isn't doing too well in the West, either. The Allied convoys in the Mediterranean are a puzzle. The German Navy in Rome suggests that the Allies are either re-supplying Malta, or landing on western and central Mediterranean coasts - or both. The Kriegsmarine tells the Fuhrer it expects a landing operation, "Most probably in the Tripoli-Benghazi area, next Sicily, Sardinia, the Italian coast, in last place, French North Africa."…

In Moscow, the Soviet leaders prepare to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the October Revolution (under the old calendar) that overthrew the Provisional Government. Soviet newspapers and broadcasts take an optimistic tone, with messages from Soviet units to Stalin, hailing the dictator. The largest article in Pravda is the "Oath of the Defenders of Stalingrad"…. The oath concludes: "In sending you this letter from the trenches, we swear to you, dear Joseph Vissarionovich, that to the last drop of blood, to the last breath, to the last heart-beat, we shall defend Stalingrad...We swear that we shall not disgrace the glory of Russian arms and shall fight to the end. Under your leadership our fathers won the Battle of Tsaritsyn. Under our leadership we shall win the great Battle of Stalingrad."…

With the entire Giraud party and luggage aboard, HMS Seraph heads out to sea. Giraud has a lot of messages to transmit, but Seraph's radio is broken. All night and all day, Seraph remains submerged near the Balearic Islands, while the passengers endure stuffy air, complicated toilets, overcrowding, and boredom….

At Gibraltar, Eisenhower holds a staff conference with various commanders, including Mark Clark, Governor Mason-MacFarlane, Air Marshal Welsh, and Air Vice-Marshal Sanders, to discuss one of the greatest unknowns of Operation Torch: Spanish reaction. Spain's Caudillo, Francisco Franco, is walking an uneasy tightrope of neutrality. Hitler has repeatedly sought Spanish intervention in the war, to close the Straits of Gibraltar. Franco is heavily in debt to Hitler and Mussolini for their support in the Spanish Civil War. But Franco, aware that his country depends on American and British trade to restore an economy blasted by that war, has been reluctant to enter the conflict. But if Allied troops invade French North Africa, Spain might enter the war on Hitler's side. Or it might use the opportunity to merely grab patches of French North Africa. Or Hitler might move into Spain Ike mulls over the situation and orders all concerned - do not pick a fight with the Spanish in any way….

After dinner, Ike finally briefs three correspondents who are assigned to the invasion: Wes Gallagher of Associated Press, Chris Cunningham of UPI, and George Ure of The Times of London and Reuter's. He gives them the full skinny on the invasion under terms of secrecy. The reporters honor Ike's request. But they're not happy. All of them assumed the invasion would be in Norway and have had heavy Arctic clothing packed. Ike writes a letter to his wife, Mamie, saying, "I have a new title: 'Allied C-in-C' in this region. It's high sounding, but won't amount to much unless all this goes with a swing. Before you get this note, you'll know all about it...With a lot of luck, maybe I can do something here that will hurt the Axis - and that's what I live to do….

At Alamein, the British realize that Rommel is slipping away. 1st Armoured Division is running out of fuel, and has to leaguer its armor until petrol trucks arrive. 10th Armoured is overwhelmed with POWs. Freyberg's New Zealanders continue to advance and scoop up 500 POWs, 100 of them Germans from 90th Light Division. Around 10 a.m., the British advance is slowed further when low clouds move in from the Mediterranean, and rain pours along the coastal strip and moves inland. The rain turns the newly captured landing grounds at El Daba to mud, and wheeled vehicles sink to their hubcaps. Sherman tanks need three gallons to travel one mile in the downpour. 26th Battalion is immobilized in a sea of mud. Trenches fill with water, while tarpaulins and groundsheets are soaked through. The men of 26th Battalion take time to shave and wash. Lt. D.S. Jenkins, a Tuatapere farmer in 23rd Battalion, writes, "We were just like cattle in a truck in winter weather in Southland and all the weapons and gear got plastered with mud." Travel is only possible on rocky ridges, isolated like islands in the rain. New Zealand troops are amazed to see miniature waterfalls and streams in the desert….

By afternoon, Rommel's retreating troops reach the Libyan border. There the Desert Fox has time to take stock. He has 7,500 men left, 5,000 of them German. He has only 21 tanks, 35 anti-tank guns, 65 pieces of field artillery, and 24 AA guns. Against this is the entire British 8th Army. Mussolini sends messages to Rommel, urging him to bring home the Italian infantry, who lack transport, and to counterattack. Not one inch of Italian North Africa can be surrendered to the foe. Rommel ignores these fatuous messages. Nonetheless, Rommel keeps his personal grip on the situation. He shepherds columns into order. He sends staff officers to establish traffic control points and establish ruthless authority. He orders supplies brought up from Benghazi. He gets word 5,000 tons of petrol has arrived there. Later he gets word that half of it has been destroyed by the RAF. And Rommel wonders why the British don't follow up and utterly destroy him…

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