March 15th, 1942....USS Enterprise is issued something new...the Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighter. This replacement for the F4F-3 features self-sealing fuel tanks, cockpit armor, and folding wings for improved stowage and shipboard handling. On the carrier's catwalks and gun tubs, .50-caliber water-cooled Browning machine guns are replaced by 20mm Oerlikon antiaircraft guns, more powerful than the Brownings.
In New Zealand, car and bicycle tire shortages become apparent.
In Syria, Lt. Gen. Bernard Freyberg, commanding 2nd NZ Division, studies Turkish forts from the Syrian side of the border. As the Allied retreat continues, concerns grow that Turkey may join Hitler and attack British holdings in the Middle East.
At Del Monte airfield in Mindanao, the Philippines, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his party wait for B-17s to take them to Australia. Officers in Melbourne are trying to scrape together the necessary aircraft. While MacArthur waits, his aide, Sid Huff, takes Jean MacArthur's mattress off PT 41. This will lead to a wild story that the mattress is supposedly full of gold bars. In fact, it's full of feathers.
At a staff meeting in Berlin, Adolf Hitler and his generals study the situation in Russia. Moscow has not fallen, and will not fall. German casualties from Soviet firepower and frostbite have been immense, but the Soviet counterattack at Moscow, Staraya Russa, and the Crimea is petering out as the Soviets run out of supplies. The initiative is going back to the Nazis, and Hitler forecasts the annihilation of the Red Army in summer. That evening he repeats himself at the Sportspalast. Winston Churchill reacts by promising more British air attacks on Germany.
March 16th, 1942....Soviet partisans, now numbering in the thousands, continue to make life miserable for the Germans in Russia. "The activity of the partisans has increased notably in recent weeks," Joseph Goebbels diaries. "They are conducting a well-organized guerrilla war." To solve this little problem, the Nazis set up a special air detachment in Bobruisk, with orders to bomb partisan camps and seek partisan units from the air. They will take part in Operation Munich, a three-week anti-partisan sweep to begin in the third week of March.
In Mindanao, two B-17s arrive around midnight, the runway lit by two flares, one at each end. Lead pilot Lt. Frank P. Bostrom drinks eight cups of coffee to fortify himself for the return flight while mechanics repair his defective supercharger. Bostrom tells MacArthur his party must abandon their luggage. Jean MacArthur boards carrying only a silk scarf and a coat with a fur collar. MacArthur gives Jean's mattress to Lt. Bostrom.
Meanwhile in the Philippines the war goes on. Japanese siege guns hammer American forts in Manila Bay. One 240 mm shell detonates beneath a Fort Frank powder room, breaking up the concrete and hurling 60 filled powder cans about. Miraculously, none of them explode or catch fire.
March 17th, 1942....In Casco Bay, USS Washington is joined by the cruiser USS Tuscaloosa, and six tincans of Desron 8.
Shortly after midnight, Gen. Douglas MacArthur's two B-17s taxi out Del Monte airfield, lit by two flares. The General sits in the radio operator's seat, his chief of staff, Gen. Richard Sutherland, squeezed into the bomb bay. Bostrom's overloaded B-17 staggers into the air with one engine spluttering. Then it heads south for a five-hour flight, covering the distance from Boston to New Orleans. It is MacArthur's son's first airplane flight, and he is excited until turbulence renders him airsick. The two planes hurtle over captured enemy islands -- Celebes, Timor, northern New Guinea -- and avoid enemy Zero fighters. When the plane reaches Darwin, the city is under Japanese attack, and MacArthur is diverted to the emergency strip, Batchelor Field, 50 miles away. They deplane at 9 a.m., barely able to stand. "It was close," MacArthur tells Sutherland, "But that's the way it is in war. You win or lose, live or die -- and the difference is just an eyelash."
MacArthur spots an American officer and asks him about the buildup to reconquer the Philippines. The officer says, "So far as I know, sir, there are very few troops here." Startled, MacArthur turns to Sutherland, and says, "Surely he is wrong."
MacArthur and his party breakfast on canned peaches and baked beans. The General demands a motorcade to the nearest train station, Alice Springs, a thousand miles away -- the distance from Boston to Chicago -- because his wife is exhausted from air travel. But MacArthur's son, also exhausted is now on intravenous feeding. The doctors cannot guarantee "little Arthur will make it over a long desert drive without shelter or food." MacArthur and his party board two DC-3s borrowed from a local airline, and take off as a Japanese air raid is starting. They reach Alice Springs, which resembles an Old West town replete with saloon, wooden boardwalks, and flies, without further incident. MacArthur watches a double feature at the local movie theater, his first film since leaving Manila, and the party sleeps on cots on the hotel's verandah.
In Kovno, Lithuania, the Nazis shoot 24 Jews found outside the ghetto who were trying to buy food from local Lithuanians. North of Minsk, in Ilja, the Nazis shoot 900 Jews.
March 18th, 1942....A new broom arrives to head British Combined Operations in the form of Adm. Lord Louis Mountbatten, Queen Victoria's grandson. Mountbatten, an energetic man, revitalizes the organization, toughens commando training, and commences long-lead planning for the Allied invasion of France.
In the morning, Gen. Douglas MacArthur sends his staff officers by plane south from Alice Springs, while he orders up a special train for himself and his family. Jean MacArthur will have no more flying. The MacArthurs board a three-car wooden train drawn by a steam locomotive, that scuttles down a narrow-gauge line. The train chugs off on a 70-hour journey down 1,028 miles of track to Adelaide.
March 19th, 1942....Operation Munich is launched, joined by the new air detachment. German troops attack partisan bases around Yelnya and Dorogubuzh. German communications clerks go berserk trying to spell those towns. Operation Bamberg kicks off near Bobruisk, with SS Police troops attacking Russian villages. The Nazis burn the villages and kill 3,500 people, which only infuriate the survivors more, and make them join the partisans, making the whole exercise very counter-productive. Third Panzer Army diaries: "There are indications that the partisan movement in the region of Velikye Luki, Vitebsk, Rudnya, Velizh, is now being organized on a large scale. The fighting strength of the partisans hitherto active is being bolstered by individual units of regular troops."
In Australia, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his party endure travelling in a tiny railroad coach with two hard wooden seats running lengthwise. The second car is a diner with a long wooden table, washtubs full of ice, and an Australian army stove. Two Australian sergeants and an army nurse do the housekeeping. To switch from diner to passenger car, the train has to be stopped, and passengers have to get out of one car and walk along the ground to the other. MacArthur and his families sit in the car, besieged by flies. MacArthur goes to sleep. At one point, the engineer stops the train, surrounded by sheep ranchers. The general thinks they want a speech from the war hero. Actually they want a doctor to assist one of the ranchers. After the surgery, the train leaves.
In Serbia and Croatia, the Nazis face Yugoslav partisans, too. The Nazis issue a directive ordering houses and villages supporting partisans to be levelled. "Removal of the population to concentration camps can also be useful," the directive notes. "If it is not possible to "apprehend or seize" partisans themselves, "reprisal measures of a general nature may be in order, for example, the shooting of male inhabitants in nearby localities." The directive sets a ratio, 100 Serbs shot for one German killed, 50 Serbs shot for one wounded.
In Burma, Japanese troops attack Toungoo, the original training base of the Flying Tigers. Lt. Gen. Bill Slim, new commander of Burcorps, aims to hold the Japanese on the Prome-Toungoo line, blocking two roads. Between the roads is 80 miles of jungle and hills, with no connecting roads. Two Chinese armies hustle down to Toungoo to block that route. While Chinese divisions are the strength of British brigades, they are good troops with years of experience in fighting the Japanese. However, their top leader, Chiang Kai-Shek, more concerned with fighting rival Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-Tung), is reluctant to commit his troops. And communications between Slim and the American commanding the Chinese troops, Gen. "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, are slow and complicated. British forces are in poor shape, too, demoralized and in retreat. 17th Division has been on the run, and 1st Burmese is untested. Slim's HQ's radio batteries have to be recharged by operating a pedal-driven generator. Slim has one trump card, though, the 7th Armoured Brigade, superior to the tankless Japanese.
March 20th, 1942....The US and New Zealand agree that the US shall have responsibility for the defense of American Samoa and Western Samoa, a New Zealand possession.
In the Polish town of Zgierz, 100 Poles are taken from a nearby labor camp to be shot. All 6,000 citizens of this market town near Warsaw are driven to the market place and forced to watch the execution.
That same day, at the Wolf's Lair in Rastenberg, Adolf Hitler chats with Joseph Goebbels after dinner. Goebbels notes Hitler's words in his diary: "The Jews must be got out of Europe, if necessary by applying the most brutal methods."
March 21st, 1942....Former merchant ship sailor and early Nazi street fighter Fritz Sauckel gets a new job from Adolf Hitler, Reich Plenipotentiary General for Labour Mobilization. His job to to obtain, by whatever force necessary, the labor force required to push the German war economy (which is lagging behind its enemies, despite Teutonic efficiency) to its highest possible productive capacity. Sauckel is empowered to bring labor from all of occupied Europe, even off the streets. Sauckel will round up slave labor very efficiently. And for that, he draws a death sentence at Nuremberg, in 1946.
Late in the afternoon, Gen. Douglas MacArthur's train reaches Kooringa, 80 miles north of Adelaide. One of his staff officers, Col. Dick Marshall, who had been sent on ahead, boards the train. He has bad news for the general. MacArthur has believed that a huge army awaits him. Instead there are fewer than 32,000 Allied troops, American, British, and Australian, in the whole country, most of them service forces. There are fewer than 100 aircraft, many Australian Gypsy Moths, with fabric-covered wings and propellers that have to be started by spinning them by hand. There is not a single tank in the nation. The only combat-ready force is one brigade of 6 Australian Division. Australian planners intend to withdraw to the "Brisbane Line," holding the settled southern and eastern coasts, abandoning the northern ports to the Japanese. Supply lines to the rest of the Allied world -- committed to defeating Germany first -- are long. "God have mercy on us," MacArthur whispers. It is, he writes, his greatest shock and surprise of the whole war.
In Adelaide, MacArthur swaps his little train for a luxurious private car provided by Australia's commissioner of railways. The press is there to greet him, seeking a statement. MacArthur scrawls on the back of an envelope, "The President of the United States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines ...for the purpose, as I understand it, of organizing the American offensive against Japan, a primary object of which is the relief of the Philippines. I came through and I shall return."
That last sentence proves the galvanizing statement of the Pacific war, inspiring Filipinos. It becomes, as MacArthur himself writes, "the battle cry of a great underground swell that no Japanese bayonet could still." Throughout the war American submarines provide Filipino guerrillas with cartons of buttons, gum, playing cards, and matchboxes bearing the message, and they are widely circulated. Scraps of paper with "I shall return" written on them are found in Japanese files. Filipino leader Carlos Romulo later says the phrase "served as a promise and command to the Philippine peoples. They knew his words were his bond."
Two years later, MacArthur, grimly scowling at the beachmaster as he splashes ashore at Leyte's Red Beach, redeems that pledge. After inspecting the American invasion of the Philippines, he grasps a microphone at a mobile communications truck. The crack of riflery and thunder of naval gunfire, the power of an overwhelming American force, can be heard in the background, beneath a steady downpour. MacArthur clears his throat and says, "This is the voice of freedom, General Douglas MacArthur speaking. People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil -- soil consecrated in the blood of our two people. At my side is your president, Sergio Osmena, a worthy successor of that great patriot, Manuel Quezon...the seat of your government is now, therefore, firmly re-established on Philippine soil. The hour of your redemption is here...Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on. As the lines of battle roll forward to bring you within the zone of operations, rise and strike. Strike at every favorable opportunity. For your homes and hearths, strike! For future generations of your sons and daughters, strike! In the name of your sacred dead, strike! Let no heart be faint. Let every arm be steeled. The guidance of Divine God points the way. Follow in His name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory."