November 21st, 1941...The 2nd New Zealand Division attacks Italian frontier forts from behind while the 4th Indian Division does so from the front, capturing the Beau Geste-style Fort Capuzzo.
In Berlin, Albert Speer asks Hitler for 30,000 Soviet PoWs to help build Berlin's new monumental buildings. To impress the Fuhrer, Speer brings in some models of the proposed Great Hall, which is to be a gigantic indoor arena for speeches and rallies, with the largest dome in the world. Speer leaves his plan with Hitler, and it is found in the Fuhrerbunker in 1945 by a British army colonel, who takes it home as a war souvenir.
In the United States, only 57 percent of the people live in cities (vice 78 percent today). 20 percent of all homes lack electricity, and 39 percent lack telephones. Americans enjoy some new technology: frozen food, instant coffee, fluorescent lighting, foam rubber, penicillin, radar, electric typewriters, electric blankets, drive-in movies, color film, and Alka-Seltzer. They can even stay at motels, even though J. Edgar Hoover fulminates against them as hotbeds of crime. Paperbacks have been around since 1935, ballpoint pens since 1938. Marvels yet to come include the bikini (1946), the credit card (1950), the transistor radio (1954) and Lego (1955). There are no food processors, toaster ovens, microwaves, microchips, or even electric dishwashers.
For entertainment, Americans are watching Gary Cooper (Sergeant York), or Humphrey Bogart (The Maltese Falcon) at movie theaters that offer two movies, a newsreel, a serial, and selected short subjects.
In sports, Joe Louis is the unbeatable champ. Jockey Eddie Arcaro rides Whirlaway to the Triple Crown. Ted Williams hits .406, but that's not good enough to earn him the MVP, because Joe DiMaggio hits safely in 56 straight games. Three hot baseball rookies are Pete Reiser, Pee Wee Reese, and Phil Rizzuto.
Polio is still a killer: 45 out of 1,000 babies die before their first birthday as opposed to today's 9.1 per 1,000.
While Americans look upon that era as one of innocence, life is harder for women and minorities. Magazines and newspapers tell housewives that their job "is to please him."
If women have it hard, so do Jews. Despite continuing revelations of anti-Semitic outrages in Germany, there are no widespread protests or efforts to loosen immigration quotas to help European Jewish refugees. Far from it. Isolationist leader Charles Lindbergh publicly denounces Jews as being the cause of America's efforts to improve its defense posture, and calls them "warmongers." Employment ads say "Christians wanted only," while resort hotel ads say, "No Hebrews taken."
Blacks have it even worse. Segregation is the law of the land, and "darkie" stereotypes the order of the day, in national advertising copy. Blacks are barred from serving in the Navy as anything but mess attendants. Newspaper headlines refer to the Japanese, individually or collectively, as "Japs." And Hispanics are simply ignored.
November 22nd, 1941...A convoy of 60 trucks sets off across the ice road over Lake Ladoga with 33 tons of flour for the besieged city of Leningrad, where starvation threatens. Driver Ivan Maximov later recalls, "I was with that column. A dark and windy night shrouded the lake. There was no snow yet and the black- lined field of ice looked for all the world like open water. I must admit that an icy fear gripped my heart. My hands shook, no doubt from strain and also from weakness -- we had been eating a rusk a day for four days...but our column was fresh from Leningrad and we had seen people starving to death. Salvation was there on the western shore. And we knew we had to get there at any cost." One truck and its freezing driver is lost in the crossing when it falls through ice.
In the Warsaw Ghetto, starvation is also a daily menace. Diarist Mary Berg writes "Frozen human corpses are an increasingly frequent sight." She writes of a mother cuddling "a child frozen to death, and tries to warm the inanimate little body. Sometimes a child huddles against his mother, thinking that she is asleep and trying to awaken her, while, in fact, she is dead." 200 people die daily of starvation in the Warsaw Ghetto.
In the North African desert, the British 8th Army tallies a loss of 530 tanks to the enemy's 100. Superior German tactics and weapons are the reason why. Even so, NZ 4th Brigade cuts the road between Tobruk and Bardia.
The Daily Mail's Paul Bewsher, "Somewhere in North Africa," reports that the British have won a smashing victory.
In Japan, the First Air Fleet, under Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, arrives in Tankan Bay in the remote Kurile Islands. This force of six aircraft carriers, two battlecruisers, two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and 10 destroyers, is the first multi-carrier task force assembled in history. Its presence in Tankan Bay is a total secret. The six carriers' radio operators are left behind in Sasebo and Kure to bat out imaginary traffic to fool Western radio eavesdroppers. Sailors from other ships are driven on public bus tours of Japanese national shrines to give the impression the fleet is staying in home waters. And at Tankan Bay, Chief Engineer Yoshiburi Tanbo is ordered to dispose of the carrier Akagi's trash. He does so by burning it at pierside. On the battleship Hiei, communications officer Cdr. Kanjiro Ono removes a vital part from his main transmitter, and hides it under his pillow. Meanwhile, Japanese negotiators in Washington present a new document to the Americans.
In the South Atlantic, however, the Allies get some good news, as the disguised German merchant raider Atlantis, with a record 22 kills and 140,000 British tons to her credit, meets up with the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire while refuelling a German submarine. Devonshire's 8-inch shells are too much for Atlantis's 5.9-inchers, and the German is quickly sunk. The U-boat avoids trouble, and rescues the survivors.
November 23rd, 1941...More trucks struggle across the disintegrating Lake Ladoga to feed besieged Leningrad. German forces maintain the drive on Moscow, using schnapps and vodka to heat their vehicles. They move to within 30 miles of the capital.
In Tankan Bay, Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo assembles his senior officers to the wardroom of his flagship Akagi and reveals to them that their target is Pearl Harbor. He does so in dramatic fashion, yanking a sheet of a massive and excellent physical map of the island of Oahu
6th NZ Brigade attacks Point 175 near Sidi Rezegh and 25th Battalion suffers 100 dead. This is the greatest number killed in any one single action by New Zealand forces in World War II. 5 NZ Brigade isolates the enemy at Sollum, while 28th Maori Battalion captures the upper Sollum Barracks.
November 24th, 1941...German troops seize the town of Klin, bringing the panzers astride the main highway from Moscow to the north. With Rostov fallen, Leningrad besieged, and Moscow threatened, the Soviet Union is in great danger.
In Leningrad, everything from food to electrical power is in short supply. Factories lack electricity, and exhausted workers man lathes driven by bicycle wheels. The sewage system breaks down under German shellfire.
Workers seek anything consumable to be turned into food. Dust from flour mills is swept up and bagged. Yeast is turned into soup. Soup is turned into jelly. Horses that collapse are slaughtered on the spot. Seaweed is turned into broth. Wallpaper is stripped from walls and the dried flour that had backed it as adhesive paste is turned into bread.
A young boy, recalling these days as a grown man later, says, "I watched my father and mother die -- I knew perfectly well they were starving. Bu I wnated their bread more than I wanted them to stay alive. ANd they knew that about me too. That's what I remember about the blockade: that feeling that you wanted your parents to die because you wanted their bread."
The US War Department issues a warning to all Pacific commanders that there is a possibility of a "surprise aggressive moment in any direction, including an attack on the Philippines or Guam." No mention of Pearl Harbor.
In North Africa, the Germans begin to retreat. The Nazis despatch two Italian ships to Benghazi with a critical load of aviation fuel for the Luftwaffe. They send the messages through their unbreakable Enigma cipher, which the British have broken, and the two ships are sunk that day. The African Luftwaffe's fuel supply is now perilously low. Rommel is urged to retreat. Instead he hurls three armored divisions on a classic raid, sweeping around the back of the British Army like J.E.B. Stuart during the American Civil War, frightening the Allied commanders, barely missing the British main fuel dumps.
But Rommel has to cancel his stunning move when the 2nd New Zealand Division saves the day by driving on the besieged garrison in Tobruk. Rommel is now nearly surrounded himself. He swings his armor back through the rapidly closing British gap, to safety.
November 25th, 1941...General Sir Claude Auchinlek, sensing victory in Libya, orders his 8th Army to "Attack and pursue. All out everywhere." Winston Churchill telegraphs Auchinlek, "A close grip upon the enemy by all units will choke the life out of him."
However, the Germans hit back at sea, as Lt. von Tiesenhausen's U-331 torpedoes and sinks the British battleship HMS Barham off Sollum. An escorting destroyer films the ship as it curls over on its portside, then explodes when the magazines detonate. 868 men are drowned.
In Berlin, Hitler's allies celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Anti-Comintern Pact, most nations being Nazi puppet states like Croatia, Slovakia, Rumania, and Bulgaria. On the Eastern Front, anti-Soviet rhetoric is turned to firepower as German troops maintain their two-pronged encircling drive on Moscow. Soviet troops yield unknown towns named Yakhroma, Dimitrov, Peshki, and fall back to Kryukovo, where Gen. Konstantin Rokossovsky rallies his men to make a stand. He also gets a blunt order from Josef Stalin: "Kryukovo is the final point of withdrawal. There can be no further falling back. There is nowhere to fall back to."
In the evening, Hitler ruminates to his aides that his great plans for the conquest of Russia may be falling apart. The campaign started a month late (June), and chose the wrong objective (Moscow over Leningrad. Time and weather prey on the Fuhrer's mind.
At Buchenwald Concentration Camp, however, Dr. Fritz Mennecke has plenty of time to write his wife that 1,200 Jews have arrived from Russia, and been sent to a clinic at Bernburg to be gassed by carbon monoxide. A further 1,500 Jews, some of the last in Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt, are led out that day from a fort they have been held in for three days without food or drink, freezing amid ice-covered walls and icy winds. The Jews are led to pits prepared for them, ordered to undress in the bitter wind. The Jews refuse to do so. All are shot. The Nazis note for the record that 1,159 male Jews, 1,600 females, and 175 children were shot.
It takes 36 hours for a single day to traverse all the world's time zones, so it is night in Berlin when American cryptographers break a key message from Tokyo to its diplomats in Washington. This sets Nov. 25th as the deadline for diplomacy, and if no solution to America's oil embargo against Japan (in retaliation for Japan's invasion of French Indochina) is found, "Things are automatically going to happen." That same day, US Army Air Corps and Royal Air Force reconnaissance planes spot eight Japanese transports heading from Formosa to Malaya, carrying the 25th Army, under Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita.
Adm. Harold Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, tells Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, CINCPAC, that neither Stark nor FDR nor Secretary of State Cordell Hull would be surprised if the Japanese were to launch a surprise attack. The two admirals discuss the probable location and decide it will be the Philippines, which would be "most embarrassing," though Stark also guesses Burma.
Kimmel reacts by discussing anti-aircraft guns with Gen. Walter E. Short, who commands all US Army troops in Hawaii. Kimmel wants to deploy ships and AA guns at Wake and Midway, but is short of the latter. Can the Army help out? No, it's short of guns, too.
Shortly before midnight, at Tankan Bay in the Kurile Islands, Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo's six carriers and 15 escorts weigh anchor amid thick gloom and thicker secrecy, and sail west, heading for the International Date Line...and Pearl Harbor.
November 26th, 1941...Handshakes are the order of the day as 2nd New Zealand Division links up with the besieged garrison at Tobruk. 19th NZ Battalion hooks up with the 44th Royal Tank Regiment (British) northwest of Sidi Rezegh.
On the battleship USS Washington, moored at Norfolk Navy Yard, Lt. Ray Hunter logs at 2100 that a "Burning life jacket reported by portside main deck security patrol. Hauled aboard and identified as a total loss."
In Washington, the Americans offer the Japanese ten points for a settlement. Japan must yield territory she has occupied in both China and Indochina, end recognition of their puppet Chinese government in Nanking, and withdraw from alliance with Hitler. The Japanese reject the demands. Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo's force has been at sea for a day.
November 27th, 1941...Stalin's order not to retreat pays off, as the Soviets finally halt the German advance on Moscow. Marshal Georgi K. Zhukov, commanding the Moscow Front, reports "Prisoners taken." Soviet partisan operations are continuous, too. Partisans attack the 3rd SS Totenkopf Division's billets south of Lake Ilmen, killing four Germans, wounding 12, and destroying all the vehicles in the motor pool. The Germans notice, for the first time, new enemy reserves. "They arrived in endless succession and caused delay after delay for our exhausted troops.
In Washington, Roosevelt and his advisors decide that Japan is bent on war. With Gen. George Marshall attending maneuvers in Georgia, his aide, Lt. Gen. Miles Gerow, sends out a pre-written war warning to all Army commands in the Pacific, stressing that the "United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act." In Hawaii, Gen. Short puts his men on anti-sabotage alert, fearing that the 350,000 Japanese in Hawaii are actually Fifth Columnists. Adm. Kimmel despatches the carrier Enterprise to Midway to deliver Marine air units and the Lexington to Wake to do the same, sailing at top speed all the way. This decision leaves eight of the Pacific Fleet's nine battleships in Pearl Harbor (USS Colorado is at Bremerton Navy Yard in Washington).
In North Africa, Rommel plays his favorite card, the counterattack, smacking the 2nd New Zealand Division. Lt. Col. J.M. Allen, commanding 21st Battalion is killed. Brig. James Hargest suffers a more embarrassing fate, as he is taken prisoner by the Italians. He is shipped off to Campo Guerro 12, and successfully escapes captivity, returning via Spain to Allied lines. Hargest is the highest-ranking Allied officer to escape captivity. After his escape, Hargest is appointed New Zealand's observer to the Normandy front, and writes brilliant reports of what he sees there. In August, 1944, Hargest is summoned back to New Zealand to high office. Before leaving, he goes to the front to say goodbye to some friends. While shaking hands at a battalion headquarters, he is killed by a German mortar round.
Off the North African coast, a German U-boat torpedoes and sinks the Australian sloop HMAS Parramatta, sinking it and drowning 138 Sailors.