War of attrition worldwide: Guadalcanal - Stalingrad - North Africa

War of attrition worldwide: Guadalcanal - Stalingrad - North Africa

World War of Attrition - Guadalcanal - Stalingrad - North Africa
Three of the longest and bloodiest campaigns of World War II were conducted between August 1942 and the end of February 1943. The Russians fought a life and death war of attrition with the German army at Stalingrad. The British began advancing in North Africa, this time westwards, following Rommel's retreating army after their victory in the battle of El-Alamain.  At the same time the Americans sent their forces to two different parts of the World--to the Pacific to wage a war of attrition    against the Japanese army in the Solomon Islands, starting with the invasion and  fierce battle of Guadalcanal , and to North Africa to carry out  Operation "Torch " the landing in North Africa  together with the   British, with the aim of carrying out a hugh strategic pincer movement against the German  army  in the  North of the  African Continent . 


In the six months between August 1942 and February 1943, the US and its allies in the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand fought a complex, cruel and hard campaign against the Japanese for control of- Guadalcanal (a small island in the Solomon Island complex with a total area of 150 km 40 km), which was of strategic importance   as it afforded control of shipping routes to Australia and the campaign being waged in New Guinea. This was the first US attack in the Pacific arena during World War II. It was a serious gamble because Japan still enjoyed considerable naval superiority in the Pacific. After the collapse of the ABDACOM Command (Joint Command of the United States, Britain, Australia and the Netherlands), the situation required a reorganization of the Allied command and control system in the fight against the Japanese.

The Battle zone was divided between the US Army and the Navy. Southeast Asia Command was run by the Army under the command of General Douglas MacArthur (who had just escaped from the Philippines) and was responsible for Australia, New Guinea, the Philippines and Formosa. The Navy commanded by Admiral Chester Nimitz (the victor of Midway) was given  responsibility for all the islands and waters of the Pacific Ocean, as far as the Japanese Home Islands, and it was clear that in these two new commands, the Army and Navy would have to cooperate closely because of the geographical characteristics..

The Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal were part of the Navy's zone of responsibility. The Pacific Command of the Navy divided its vast area of operations into a number of sub-commands when, for the purpose of fighting in the Solomon Islands and the adjacent zone, the Southern Command was established under the command of --- Vice -Admiral Jormley, who commanded all US naval, air and  land forces in this campaign, including the Marine Division force fighting on the island.

The Japanese occupied the island of Tulagi, north of Guadalcanal immediately after the Battle of the Coral Sea and set up a naval air base as a  part of their plan to  maintain from the east the campaign in New Guinea and cut off the sea routes to Australia.  It was with this in mind that they took control of Guadalcanal and began to construct an airfield there.

Under these circumstances, the first Marine  Division landed on August 7, 1942 (with a force of 16,000  marines ) in order  to capture  the airfield which was almost completed by the Japanese (who at that time numbered 2,900 soldiers, some of whom were engineering-construction personnel) in Lunga Point as well as an anchorage at the nearby island of Tulagi, at the end of a maritime strait that would soon be called "Ironbottom Bay"  (due to the large number of ships which were sunk there during the campaign).

The  attack surprised the Japanese, who thought it was only a raid, and so went straight, when their response in the form of air strikes were costly in casualties and were ineffective.

But only two days later, the Allied, US and Australian fleets suffered the first naval defeat in this campaign near the island of Savu, and Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, commander of the Japanese 8th Fleet, on hearing of the American landing immediately left, at the head of his forces from south of Rabaul (about 1,000 km to the north).

He arrived at the battle zone on the night of August 9 and in a well-conducted night battle sank four Allied cruisers, causing considerable damage to an additional cruiser and two destroyers. But this success was not exploited by him to sink the transport ships that landed the Marines in Guadalcanal and were now helpless against the Japanese Navy. He retreated at dawn for fear of being exposed to attack from American carriers (which were not in the area but he did not know that) and was reprimanded by the naval Commander Yamamoto. In this battle alone, the Allies suffered 1,790 dead and 709 wounded (against 57 and 70, respectively, for Japanese, with only one cruiser damaged).

The Japanese troops on the island belonged to the Japanese 17th Army under the command of Lt. General Hirayuchi Hayakutaka who began a race against the Americans to reinforce the fighting forces on the island. A stubborn struggle was waged around the Lunga Point airfield, which was called Henderson Field. Despite the continued bombardment o by the Japanese, the latter continued to be operational and provide close assistance to the fighting ground forces, and also made the Japanese efforts to reinforce their forces on the island very problematic. The fighting on land was difficult and carried out in very bad climatic conditions. Both sides tried during the entire campaign to bring in reinforcements and to maintain regular  supplies to their forces. The convoys of Japanese supply ships accompanied by their fleet operated mostly at night and were nicknamed "Tokyo Express". The harsh (tropical) climate and diseases exacted a higher price from the soldiers than the battlefield itself.

The Marines reached their limits after three months of fighting in which they managed to establish a bridgehead 10 kilometers wide and only 5 kilometers deep around the airfield and protect it  at all cost. And so the 1st Marines Division, commanded by Major General Alexander Vandergrift, the first American field formation to launch an offensive in the war, stood up to all the Japanese attacks to throw them back into the sea. Fortunately for them, the Japanese held the US soldiers in contempt (after their previous battles against them) and their attacks were carried out with understrength forces although with much fervor  This  serious mistake of the Japanese command, which had sinned by not concentrating sufficient force allowed the  Marines  to  hold out  for so long. However, their strength was sapped and the Americans finally had to replace the Marines with an Army Corps.

The First Marines Division was relieved to rest and recuperate after the ordeal it had gone through on the island. The replacement force initially included the American Division (a mixed formation from various units that arrived in Australia after the outbreak of the war) under the command of Major General Alexander Patch.

Earlier, the Navy decided to replace the commander of the area (and the campaign), who had recommended several times to give up the fighting and withdraw from the island, and Admiral Jormley, who was accused of hesitancy and to replace him with Vice-Admiral William Halsey, who was known to be more aggressive in nature and an expert on combat with aircraft carriers and naval air.

The strength of the US Army began to gradually increase to Corps magnitude - the 14th Corps (a new headquarters established during the fighting by the South Pacific Command of the Army under Major General Harmon) and General Patch was appointed as its commander. The Corps consisted of two divisions of the Army: the American and the 25th National Guard Division and one Marine Division - the 2nd Marines, bringing the force to 30,000 soldiers at its peak. This force with some assistance of British and Australian settlers who ran a network of "coastwatchers" throughout the Solomon Islands succeeded in holding out   and gradually pushed back  the Japanese units, which, in all of the days of the campaign,  amounted to 29,000 soldiers, due  only to superior firepower and stubbornness.

At sea, during the campaign, two battles took place between Japanese and American aircraft carriers with the Americans suffering more losses. In addition, there was a great deal of submarine and naval activity, which gave the Allies a certain advantage. There were five noteworthy naval battles and a large number of encounters between the fleets. All this demonstrated how much better the Japanese navy was at night fighting (mainly gunnery) and torpedo warfare. However, the outcome of the campaign was not resolved for four months until on February 8, 1943, the Japanese decided to give up Guadalcanal and evacuate their forces from the island in secret and managed to do so under the noses of the Americans and without the latter feeling it.

The two sides suffered heavy losses in the campaign: the Americans: who  employed in the campaign about 60,000 soldiers lost 1,592 dead, 4,183 wounded and another 14,000 evacuated due to tropical diseases (malaria, typhus, diphtheria, etc.). The Navy lost another 5,492 dead and 405 injured. The Japanese had 14,800 dead and another 9,000 died of tropical diseases. The Japanese tradition of not falling into captivity led to the large number of soldiers killed on their side. The 1,000 prisoners who eventually fell into the hands of the Americans were mostly wounded or suffering from battle trauma.

Both sides suffered heavy losses in ships and planes and although the Allies suffered more, their losses were quickly completed while those of the Japanese were irreplaceable. The US Navy learned important lessons from the battle at sea and saw great difficulty in dealing with the Imperial Japanese Navy under the command of Admiral Ishoko Yamamoto, who had given it some of the most damaging and humiliating defeats in its history. Two months after the campaign ended in April 1943, the Americans liquidated Admiral Yamamoto in a targeted operation .From the  tactical point of view this campaign, which had started at the  Battle of Midway, checked the Japanese .This was a turning point in the war and from now on the Japanese were on the defensive  although fighting stubbornly for every island and position.  The United States  had still to fight two and a half years of hard warfare  and two atomic bombs in order to finally subdue Japan in September 1945.


The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the most prominent battles during World War II, and perhaps the most important battle that led to the turning point in the war in general. In this battle the 6th Army of the Wehrmacht attempted to capture Stalingrad  until it was destroyed by the Red Army.


After the battle of the defense of Moscow in the winter of 1941 and the "Moscovit" counterattack in December 1941, the German  and  Russian armies found themselves in a static  front stretching thousands of kilometers. The two General Staffs, the Russian Stubke and the German OKW , sought ways to break the enemy lines, and to launch a summer offensive that would cover the losses of the past year.

Hitler's policy of "not retreating one meter," which he dictated to the German General Staff with the defeat of the winter, in effect saved the German army, because in a winter retreat its chances of survival were small: Hitler was right, and he found himself in a position to dictate to the army any plan which he decided without any trace of opposition.

The campaign planned by the generals was supposed to be a limited campaign designed to preserve and consolidate the achievements of the summer of 1941. Hitler, who claimed to see the economic needs of the war as a whole, dictated an ambitious plan, mainly the capture of Stalingrad and the area between the Don and Volga Rivers. His intention was to use the city as an axis northward with the Volga to cut off the transportation lines of the armies defending Moscow, and perhaps even to turn east toward the Ural Mountains. At the same time General Von Manstein's army was to evacuate the Don Basin southward, conquer the Caucasus, cut off the Soviet fuel supply, and reach the Persian and Turkish border.

Already at this stage it was clear that the objectives of the plan required a significant split between the forces attacking the Caucasus and the force that aimed to conquer Stalingrad. However, the size of the forces (despite the terrible losses suffered during the winter by the German army) was even greater than the size of the forces that carried out the Barbarossa attack in the summer of 1941.

This ambitious plan was aided by the failure of a series of Russian attacks in the Crimean and Kharkov regions in May and June 1942. As soon as these attacks ended in failure, three armies attacked the Russian lines on the wide steppes leading to the Stalingrad area.

Within a few weeks the armored vehicles had gone hundreds of miles, almost without resistance, until they reached the bend of the don, and the basin between the Don and the Volga. On August 23, 1942, German troops arrived at the Volga River north of Stalingrad. Two days earlier, the highest mountain in the Caucasus Elbrus had been conquered, as a prelude to the occupation of the abundant oil fields of Maykop. The active front stretched hundreds of kilometers from the Caucasus in the south to Voronezh in the north, and in its center was the city of Stalingrad. The capture of this city would have removed the last of the Russian forces west of the Volga and brought a worse Russian defeat than that of 1941.

The course of the battle

At the end of August, the First Forces of the Sixth Army reached the outskirts of Stalingrad. The city itself had suffered for several days from huge bombing attacks of the Luftwaffe, which killed a large part of the civilian population and caused the destruction of a high percentage of the buildings.

In most parts of the city, the 62nd Army of the Soviet Army, led by Zhukov, withstood a desperate German attack, which was faced with a stubborn Russian defense.  The battle was among the cruelest ever, and every destroyed house, every factory, every building became a fortified stronghold in  which Red Army soldiers fought against superior forces to their last drop of blood.

Many huge attacks took place between August and November 1942, each with the aim of reaching the Volga at as many points as possible and preventing the passage of equipment, supplies, and reinforcements to Zhukov's forces.

The German offensive, which had begun so brilliantly with a rapid movement of armor, was now engaged in a face-to-face battle over streets, and sometimes individual houses, where the Wehrmacht's manpower and supply reserves were being sucked in  . Hitler regarded the capture of the city named after Stalin as a personal issue  and  became obsessed by it . On the other hand, Zhukov's forces suffered heavy losses, and in November 1942 the Russians held narrow strips on the banks of the Volga, sometimes only 300 meters wide. It is important to emphasize that, although the losses among the Russians were enormous, the losses of the Germans were even more severe.

On November 19, 1942, it turned out that Zhukov's stubbornness was not in vain, but was part of a plan to trap the German army.

In Operation Uranus fresh forces that had been secretly concentrated in recent weeks on the banks of the Volga north and south of Stalingrad, broke out taking advantage of the fact that the elite units of the Wehrmacht were not held in the front wings, but units of the satellite states: Romanians, Italians and Hungarians. Within a few days, the forces that broke out from the south joined up with the forces that broke out from the north, and  created a ring of encirclement  around the German Sixth Army  trapped in Stalingrad.

At this stage, it was possible, with a combination of breaking through on both sides of the ring of encirclement, to rescue the Sixth Army and save most of its personnel and equipment. Hitler firmly rejected this plan. Under the heavy pressure of his generals, Hitler agreed to a Westward attempt only.

The task was assigned to General Von Manstein. He assembled units from secondary fronts, available General Staff reserves, and part of the Fourth Panzer Army, which was called the "Armies of the Don Group", but the attempt to assist the Sixth Army failed. German General Hoth, Commander of the Fourth Army, reached a distance of 30 kilometers from Stalingrad, but he did not possess sufficient force  to break the siege without receiving assistance from the besieged soldiers themselves. -Their commander, General Von Paulus considered himself committed to Hitler's command not to withdraw from the Volga line and not to release his foothold on the city of Stalingrad and therefore did not cooperate with the force sent to rescue him.

In December 1942 there were about two hundred and fifty thousand Germans trapped in Stalingrad. In January 1943, weather conditions, and the supremacy of the Soviet air force in the sector, made the Luftwaffe airlift, promised by Hermann Goering, impossible. The German Air Force lost 488 transport planes and 1,000 air crew members in the failed attempt to meet the needs of the besieged Army during the months of December and January.

After weeks of agony, cold and hunger, and the constant assaults of the fresh Red Army forces, the surrender of the Sixth Army was imminent.. Hitler forbade the army to surrender, and ordered her to fight to the last man, appointing General von Paulus to Field Marshal. It did not help. On February 2, 1943, von Paulus surrendered to a Soviet unit under the command of a young officer of the rank of lieutenant, who reached the basement of the Universal department store.

Out of the force of 285,000 soldiers at the beginning of the encirclement in September 1942, 91,000 soldiers were captured, including 24 generals and Field Marshal Paulus at their head. Only 5,000 of the prisoners returned to Germany ten years later. The Germans had about 71,000 dead in battle, and tens of thousands died of disease, hunger, and the terrible cold. The resistance of the Russian army in Stalingrad became a symbol and marked the turning point in the war. Later, a series of victories by the Russians began to liberate all the occupied territories.

North Africa

After Churchill convinced Roosevelt that the most suitable place for a landing from the sea was North Africa, the order was given for execution in July 1942.

The Western Task Force brought 35,000 troops directly from the United States to Casablanca. The main task force sailed with 40,000 soldiers from Britain to Oran, and the Eastern Task Force also left Britain and attacked Algeria. The commander of the operation was Lieutenant-General Dwight Eisenhower.

The invasion began on November 8, 1942. German forces were flown quickly to Tunisia, while much of the French naval force was sunk.

Despite the stormy weather, and with the joining of the 8th Army from the South and the 1st Army from the north, Allied forces were deployed against the armored forces of Rommel in Tunis, and by12 May 1943 they defeated  the Germans and for the first time  Africa was cleansed of Axis  soldiers

In the campaign in North Africa, several armies took part:

The British Army - comprising the British Indian Army, the Australian Army, the New Zealand Army, the South African Army, the Free French Army, the Free Polish Army, the Free Czech Army and the United States Army in all of which served Jews.

The Australian Army fought in North Africa from 1939. In 1942, after the El Alamein battle, and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the air raids on Australia, three Australian divisions returned from North Africa to their homeland to defend it against the Japanese. In the Australian army there were 3854 Jews.

The US Army - became involved in the war, beginning on November 8, 1942, in a landing in North Africa Operation "Torch"  the commander of the expeditionary force was General David Eisenhower.

Army of South Africa – participated in the campaign in North Africa, with two divisions. This army was a volunteer army, with 8366 Jews, volunteering, fighting and influencing, a very high proportion of volunteers relative to the population and the army.

The Free French Army, established after the defeat of France, participated in the campaigns in North Africa. The army took part in North Africa with two brigades, the First and the Second, together with General Jacques Philippe Leclerc's column, which attacked the Axis forces from south to north, from Chad to Tripoli, which they captured in late January 1943 and joined up with the Eighth Army in February 1943. In the army, there were numerous Jews who had much influence. From examining the medals of excellence, the prestigious  Ordre de la Liberation ("Order of Liberation"), This medal has been distributed to 1038 people, of all armies, French and non-French. At least 70 Jewish officers have received this medal, some of whom have reached the rank of four-star general in the French army and served in many other positions.

The Free Polish Army - fought in this battle zone with one brigade - the Carpathian Brigade. Its initial training was carried out in Latrun and it replaced the Australian forces in besieged Tobruk.

Among the soldiers who fought in these regular armies  noteworthy are Brigadier Kish from the British Army, Major General Maurice Rose of the United States Army, Wing Commander Julius Rose of the Australian Army, Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Paniakof of the British Army, Rear –Admiral Edward Elsberg of the United States Navy, Lieutenant Victor Mirkin of the Free French Army, Maj. Gen. Paul  Cullen of the Australian Army, -Admiral Louis  Kahn of Free France, and José Aboulker, leader of the French Resistance in Algiers.