1942 was a year of contrasts. The war in Russia was still ferociously fought, yet the first signs of final Allied victory could be seen on the horizon.
On August 12, 1942, when Winston flew to Moscow, the Russian capital, to meet with Josef Stalin, he found the Soviet leader volatile, veering between anger and despondency. Stalin had a great deal to be angry and despondent about.
Winston in Moscow
Fourteen months after the German invasion, the Russians were in under enormous pressure, with the enemy forces so close to Moscow that they were in sight of the Kremlin, the Russian government complex.
Winston’s task was to reassure Stalin that his Anglo-American allies were doing all they could to lessen the strain on the Russians, although in 1942 this could not as yet include acceeding to Stalin’s request to open a ‘second front’ in northern Europe.
Winston was careful to keep his temper and his tough, retributive talk succeeded in thawing Stalin’s hostility. The Soviet leader was cheered by the British Prime Minister’s promise that air raids would shatter almost every dwelling in almost every German city.
“This had a very stimulating effect upon the meeting,” Winston later recalled “and henceforward, the atmosphere became progressively more cordial.”
Winston’s five-day visit ended with a banquet hosted by Stalin. It had been a nervy experience, but the meeting brought an important benefit; the Soviet leader agreed to provide long-range air cover for the September convoy carrying supplies and matériel to the Arctic port of Murmansk.
This, together with a powerful destroyer escort, ensured that when the convoy sailed on September 14, the number of ships sunk by German U-boats and other vessels was reduced by nearly one third.
Triumph in North Africa
However, October of 1942 brought much brighter news. That fall, Winston could at last see the first glimmer of victory on the horizon.
On October 23, a tremendous artillery barrage flashed across the night sky over the desert near El Alamein, an Egyptian town some fifty miles west of Alexandria. It was the prelude to an advance by the British Eighth Army, which was moving inexorably towards the defense lines of the German Afrika Korps.
By November 4, the Korps was in fujll retreat westwards. Winston was delighted. He ordered church bells to be rung all over Britain to acknowledge the victory.
This, though, was not all. On November 8, Anglo-American troops landed along the Algerian coast of North Africa in Operation Torch. Algiers, the capital of the French colony of Algeria, surrendered two days later and a ceasefire was arranged with the Vichy French forces on November 9.
In London, Winston spoke of the triumph at El Alamein at the Lord Mayor’s luncheon in the Mansion House.
“I have never promised anything but blood, tears, toil and sweat,” he told his audience. “Now, however, we have a new experience. We have victory, a remarkable and definite victory. The bright gleam has caught the helmets of our soldiers, and warned and cheer all our hearts.”
Neither El Alamein nor Operation Torch were isolated triumphs. They were only two in a series of hard-won successes that turned the gloom of 1940/1941 into fresh hope for the future.
Midway and the Atlantic
In June 1942, off Midway Island in the north Pacific Ocean, the Americans defeated the Japanese in the first sea battle fought exclusively between naval air forces. Four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk. That represented fully half their total carrier force. It was a critical loss from which the Japanese Imperial Navy – and the Japanese war effort as a whole – never fully recovered.
By the end of 1942, the British and Americans were at last getting the better of the German U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic. Faster convoy escorts had now been introduced. Hunter-killer convoy support groups were formed, comprising ships and aircraft dedicated to the detection, pursuit and destruction of German submarines.
Aircraft such as Liberator bombers were equipped for the purpose with the latest high-detection radar, airborne searchlights, machine-guns and depth charges.
At the end of January 1943, the Russians had destroyed the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad. The Germans had lost two hundred thousand men in a five month struggle fought in atrocious winter conditions. Stalingrad was later counted as one of the most savage battles of the entire war.
Contrary to Adolf Hitler’s express orders, the Sixth Army commander, Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, was forced to surrender. although remnants of the Army fought on until February 2.
From then on, the Germans like the Japanese, were never able to regain the upper hand. The tide of World War Two had finally turned.
- Symonds, Craig L.The Battle of Midway (Pivotal Moments in American History) (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011
- ISBN-10: 0195397932/ISBN-13: 978-0195397932 New York
- Battistell, Pier Paolo:Battle Story: El Alamein, 1942 by Pier Paolo Battistelli Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: The History Press, 2011) ISBN-10: 0752462024/ISBN-13: 978-07524624