Red Army launches Operation Uranus
Thursday, November 19, 1942 www.onwar.com
On the Eastern Front... Operation Uranus. After weeks of planning and preparation, General Zhukov’s offensive begins. The intention is to extend a pincer movement with armies from the Southwest Front (Army Group) lead by Vatutin and the Don Front, lead by Rokossovsky, attacking southward from the Don concentrating between Kletskaya and Kotovskiy. The Stalingrad Front (Army Group) under the command of Yeremenko, is to attack westward from the south of the city. The Soviets have assembled more than half a million men, 900 new T34 tanks, masses of artillery and over 1,000 planes. The northern arm of the pincer strikes first. The 5th Tank Army, 21st Army and part of the 1st Guards Army breakthrough near Kletskaya held by seven divisions of the Romanian 3rd Army. The attacks is intense and rapid and the Romanians have no chances of withstanding the onslaught. Meanwhile in the Caucasus, the Soviet win an important battle near Ozdzhonikidze. Bad weather in the area ends most major operations, but Soviet small gains continue.
In Tunisia... French forces at Medjez el Bab hold off the German attacks and are reinforced by British and American troops. The German are now led by General Nehring. French General Barre as planned turns his forces over to the Allies. Meanwhile in Libya, The British 8th Army enters Benghazi.
In New Guinea... US troops from Pongani begin their attack on the well fortified Japanese positions at Buna, believing that it is lightly held. The Australians are closing on Gona and a mixed Allied force is moving toward the Japanese positions at Sanananda.
From London... Admiral Horton takes over the British Western Approaches Command from Admiral Noble. Horton brings a more forceful attitude to the job. German U-boat commanders soon notice the difference.
November 19th, 1942
UNITED KINGDOM: The command of British Western Approaches Command is taken over by Admiral Sir Max Horton. This change is reflected in operations which is soon noticed by U-Boat leaders.
Submarine yards at Vegesack, Bremen, and Kiel, Germany, are added to day bombardment program of the USAAF Eighth Air Force as top priority objectives. (Jack McKillop)
Minesweeper HMS Skipjack laid down. (Dave Shirlaw)
FRANCE: RAF Bomber Command dispatches 11 Wellingtons to lay mines off two Bay of Biscay ports: five aircraft lay mines off St. Nazaire with the loss of one and four lay mines off Lorient. (Jack McKillop)
GERMANY: John Amery, son of Leopold Amery, Churchill’s Secretary of State for India and Burma, makes his first broadcast from Berlin, attacking the British government for its alliance with the USSR and ‘the Jews’. Amery himself is, possibly, half-Jewish, but his actions are enough to ensure his execution as a traitor a little more than three years later. (Adrian Weale)
Chancellor Adolf Hitler refuses a withdrawal plan by General Kurt Zeitzler, who had replaced General Franz Halder as Army Chief of Staff, that would have allowed General Friedrich Paulus, commander of the Sixth Army, to pull out of Stalingrad and strike the Soviet forces from the rear, crippling their offensive.
U-479 laid down.
U-649 commissioned. (Dave Shirlaw)
NORWAY: Operation Freshman, a British-Norwegian assault on the heavy water plant at Vermork, fails completely after the sabotage team’s glider crashes. They were transported in two Horsa gliders towed by Halifax MK IIIs. (22)
U.S.S.R.: Stalingrad: At 7.30am today, on a foggy, dank morning, 3,500 Russian guns thundered out the opening of a massive attack by the Red Army on the German salient before Stalingrad. The attack, codenamed URANUS, was planned in strict secrecy by Zhukov and is aimed initially at the weakest links in the Axis positions - the Romanian forces north and south of the city.
Petre Dumitrescu’s Romanian 3rd Army was in a difficult position. Its eight divisions were each holding at least twice the normal divisional frontage. Four of those divisions had every battalion of footsoldiers—even the engineers— actually in the front line. The other four each had one battalion in reserve, instead of the recommended two. Shortages of mines and barbed wire left much of 3rd Army’s extended front inadequately fortified (3rd Army was also short of every type of munitions, except grenades, 60mm mortar, and antitank ammo). The Romanians were largely situated on open terrain— perfect for tank attacks. Since late August, the Russians already possess two bridgeheads across the (now frozen) river Don, the only natural defence barrier in the 3rd Army sector.
The Soviets outnumber the Romanian units actually being attacked by nine to one, and this advantage is multiplied because the main attack— and most of the attacking forces— will be concentrated against two points totalling barely 13 miles of front. In the preceding weeks, both Dumitrescu, and also Romania’s military dictator and commander-in-chief Marshal Ion Antonescu, have pointed out the 3rd Army’s vulnerability to the German high command. Noting the signs of the Soviet build-up, they press for either significant reinforcements, or permission to withdraw to better defensive positions, but receive no satisfaction.
The Soviet offensive is preceded by a bombardment from 3,500 guns and mortars, which pound the Romanian lines for an hour and twenty minutes, the heaviest artillery barrage yet seen in the war in any theatre. Although some Romanian units resist staunchly, the powerful concentrations of Russian forces quickly achieve breakthroughs (in part because the 47mm and captured Soviet 45mm antitank guns used by most Romanian units cannot stop the heavier Russian tanks). The intact lines of the Romanian 6th Division— under Mihai Lascar, one of the best Romanian commanders— form a rallying point for other Romanian units driven back by the onslaught. The 13th Division resists stubbornly, knocking out 25 Soviet tanks before its right flank is overwhelmed by three Russian infantry divisions. Part of the division manages to fall back into the pocket forming around 6th Division. Mazarini’s 5th Division is overrun by Soviet tanks, but most of this unit also falls back into the 3rd Army pocket (Mazarini will later be appointed by radio to command these encircled forces, but, deeply pessimistic and discouraged, he defers to the more determined Lascar instead). Sion’s 15th Division, on the shoulder of the breakthrough area, defeats an attack by 35 Soviet tanks supported by infantry, knocking out five tanks and taking 45 prisoners. Later a significant portion of 15th Division will break out and reach Axis lines, but Sion will be killed during the attempt.
On the right flank, the 1st Cavalry Division, attacked by several Soviet infantry divisions, grudgingly falls back a few kilometres, but it is forced away from the rest of 3rd Army, to the south and east, and eventually winds up being trapped in the Stalingrad pocket along with the German 6th Army. The three divisions of 3rd Army’s 1st and 2nd Corps on the left flank are not heavily attacked, and later (early December) they will play a useful role in stabilizing the Axis front along the Chir river.
Despite the tough Romanian resistance in most places, the Soviets achieve their planned breakthroughs in both sectors of main effort. The central portion of the Romanian 3rd Army’s front, consisting of all or part of the 5th, 6th, 13th, and 15th Divisions, is bypassed and soon completely encircled, while the Soviet spearheads race on deep into the Axis rear, making for Kalach, where the road and rail lines supporting the Germans in Stalingrad cross the Don. An Axis armored corps stationed in reserve behind 3rd Army, and consisting of the German 22nd Panzer and the Romanian 1st Armored Division, attempts to counterattack to seal off the breech, but find themselves attacked and separated instead, and are quickly forced over to desperate defensive fighting. The surrounded Romanian 3rd Army pocket will hold out for five days before surrendering, the Romanian Army chief-of-staff Steflea’s pleas to Hitler for an early break-out attempt denied. Losses to the 3rd Army will reach 75,000 men and 34,000 horses in less than five days. Aside from parts of 15th Division, only one detached battalion of 6th Division— which held a rear-area airfield with Luftwaffe help until early December— will manage to break out and regain Axis lines. (Mike F. Yaklich)
The first signs are that the Romanians have been swept away by the onslaught, their officers leaving desks littered with maps and documents. In the Romanian Fourth Army sector, the Russians have taken 10,000 prisoners. The Germans are desperately trying to stem the tide, but they face ten new Russian armies spearheaded by 900 T-34tanks backed by 13,500 heavy guns.
The offensive, along 250 miles, involves the forces of three Russian fronts, the south-west under General Vatutin, the Don under General Rokossovsky, and the Stalingrad under General Eremenko. They are supported by 1,100 aircraft, one quarter of all the Red Air Force. Equipped with new Lavochkin La-5 and Yakovlev Yak-9 fighters, a new version of the Sturmovik battlefield bomber and US-supplied Boston bombers, they are facing a worn-down Luftwaffe depleted by the need to reinforce the Middle East.
The Russian plan is a bold one. It involves two concentric pincer attacks with the first striking down from Serafimovich and up from Lake Barmantsak to meet at Kalach, and the second, inner, encirclement to cut off the city itself. Chuikov’s Sixty-Second Army and Zhadov’s Sixty-Sixth Army, which have defended Stalingrad so valiantly, are also to go over to the offensive. This is the counter-stroke which the Germans have feared. They have heard rumours of it from PoWs, but its strength and audacity have astonished them.
At Stalingrad, a two-week long supply operation has ferried 160,000 men, 10,000 horses, 430 tanks, 600 guns, 4,000 vehicles and 7,000 tons of ammunition across the Volga.
The Italian Navy 12th Flotilla which has been operating on Lake Ladoga arrives in Tallinn to winter. (Arturo Lorioli)
NORTH AFRICA: The British Eighth Army today recaptured the key Libyan port of Benghazi as Rommel’s Afrika Korps continued to retreat westwards, but that was the only good news for the Allies in North Africa. Elsewhere their armies are meeting tough resistance from German forces now reinforced by an airlift into Tunis. Already the Germans have forced the British back to Djebel Abiod, although a German assault there two days ago was repelled. Today the French garrison withdrew from Medjez el Bab to Oued Zarga after repulsing German attacks utilizing tanks and infantry under General Nehring, for two days backed by US artillery and British troops. Yesterday General Louis Barre, the C-in-C if the French 19th Corps, rejected a German ultimatum to evacuate, signalling a switch from Vichy to the Allies.
TUNISIA: General Louis Jacques BarrC), French XIX Corps, rejects a German ultimatum to evacuate Medjez el Bab, where German tank-infantry assaults supported by artillery and air are repulsed by French aided by U.S. artillery and British troops. The Germans have been utilizing tanks and infantry under General Walther Nehring, commander of the LXXXX Corps.
USAAF Twelfth Air Force B-17 Flying Fortresses, escorted by P-38 Lightnings, bomb Carthage Airfield, 1.6 miles (2,6 kilometers) west of El Aouina. (Jack McKillop)
NEW GUINEA: US forces advance from Pongani to attack Buna. The well prepared Japanese defence forces easily push the Americans back.
Australian forces advance toward Gona and a mixed force advances toward Sanananda.
In Papua New Guinea, forward elements of the Australian 25th Brigade, Maroubra Force, encounter the Japanese 1 mile (1,6 kilometers) south of Gona while the Australian 16th Brigade, Maroubra Force, makes contact with the Japanese just outside Soputa. After establishing contact with Australians near Popondetta, the 126th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 32d Infantry Division, heads for Buna hut, since the Japanese appear to be concentrated west of the Girua River, and is directed to assist Major General George A. Vasey’s Australian 7th Division instead. Major General Edwin Harding, Command General 32d Infantry Division, thus loses half his assault force; the left flank of Task Force Warren is left exposed. The 1st and 3d Battalions of the 128th Infantry Regiment, Warren Force, attack in parallel columns, the 1st Battalion from Boero and the 3d Battalion from Simemi. Both meet accurate Japanese fire from concealed positions and suffer heavy casualties; a maximum gain of 200 yards (183 meters) is made on right along the coast.
SOLOMON ISLANDS: On Guadalcanal, the 1st Battalion, 182d Infantry Regiment, crosses the Matanikau River and moves west along the shore with Company B, 8th Marine Regiment, covering the left flank; they dig in just east of Port Cruz. A gap of over 1,000 yards (914 meters) separates the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 182d Infantry Regiment west of the Matanikau River. During the of night 19/20 November, the Japanese move forward from Kokumbona and open fire on the 1st Battalion. (Jack McKillop)
TERRITORY OF ALASKA: ALEUTIAN ISLANDS: USAAF Eleventh Air Force reconnaissance aircraft over Attu and Agattu Islands sight two unidentified float monoplanes east of Buldir Island. (Jack McKillop)
Minesweeper HMCS Sole Bay laid down Toronto, Ontario.
HMC ML 090 and ML 094 commissioned. (Dave Shirlaw)
U.S.A.: Minesweeper USS Nuthatch commissioned. (Dave Shirlaw)
MEXICO: Mexico reestablished diplomatic relations with Russia. (Dave Shirlaw)
U-130 was damaged during very heavy weather in the mid-Atlantic.
U-413 was attacked by a British Hudson aircraft with 5 bombs and was damaged so severely that she had to return to base.
U-177 sank SS Scottish Chief.
U-181 sank SS Gunda. (Dave Shirlaw)