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Archive for December 5th, 2008

Yesterday, the German army was standing at the edge of Moscow, with victory little more than a dozen miles away.  Yesterday, Army Group Centre had reached its goal, bloodied, exhausted, and stretched almost to the breaking point.  Yesterday, Adolf Hitler’s intelligence network said the Russians didn’t have enough left in the tank (nor enough tanks) to strike back.  Yesterday, warmth for the Wehrmacht and fuel for the Panzers, along with a little rest, were all that was required to surround the Soviet capital and force its surrender.

But that was Yesterday.

Today, December 5, 1941, the Russian army awoke with a shocking roar, as more than a million soldiers, nearly 1,000 tanks, and almost 700 aircraft came crashing against the Germans.  Joseph Stalin had taken a desperate gamble and moved many of his troops west from the Far East and Siberia.  Small wonder that when the Uritsky found the Japanese fleet heading for Pearl Harbor, the Russian dictator played hardball with the Japanese.  Troops that would have been used against Japan were now at war…with Germans.

The nearly 60 divisions that launched to the west still only just outnumbered their German foes, but they had advantages more important than numbers.  They were rested and they were well-armed.  They fought at the end of a 6-mile supply chain rather than Germany’s 600-mile support system.  Their vehicles all ran in the bitter cold and the guns on their tanks and artillery all worked.  But most of all, the Russian soldier was warm, being properly outfitted for the deadly Russian winter.

There was no way that Hitler’s order to hold position, given that very day, could be followed.  And so the German forces began to fall back, regardless of Der Fuhrer’s commands.  Moscow, for the time being, would remain in Soviet hands.

Recommended Reading: Operation Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-45

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On November 26th, the Japanese fleet left its home waters in the Kurile Islands.  Destination: Pearl Harbor.  As we have mentioned numerous times around here, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (the creator of the Pearl Harbor attack plan) knew a prolonged war with America was a perilous venture.  His aim was to stealthily move his designated fleet into range of the Hawaiian islands and wipe out the U.S. Navy before it could leave port.  Having done so, he believed the two governments would negotiate an end to hostilities (before they really could get underway), negotiations favorable to Japan.

And so the Japanese fleet, centered around six aircraft carriers, made its way east, using the most non-traditional sealanes available.  Its commander, Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, had ordered all ships and subs (there were more than 20 of those, too) to sink any non-Japanese vessel it encountered as quickly as possible to avoid detection and radio messages giving away the Japanese location.

A fleet of this size is nearly impossible to hide, but Nagumo somehow managed…until December 5, 1941, when they ran smack-dab into the Russian transport trawler Uritsky.  Instantly, the intrigue began to build.  Russia was at war with Japan’s ally, Germany, but Russia was not in open conflict with Japan, thanks in part to the Tripartite Pact, which allowed Japan to maintain its non-aggression pact with Russia.  Furthermore, Japan wasn’t really interested in open war with the Soviets…they were on there way to Hawai’i to try and stifle an open war with the United States.

There’s more.  Some have said (though I’m not sure it’s been proven) that the Uritsky notified Russian officials of the Kido Butai (roughly translated as “Mobile Force”), who then quickly told the Japanese that allowing a certain transport to continue floating would insure that nobody, particularly the United States, was informed of a certain carrier force moving east.

But it wasn’t just about protecting a transport carrying a few tanks.  Joseph Stalin had good reason to keep quiet about the fleet, too.  He was in a desperate situation with the Germans (as we saw just yesterday), and military moves he was making (which we’ll discuss shortly) meant he really didn’t want a war with Japan, which would tie up troops in the Far East.  What’s more, while Stalin was a pretty good guesser, it didn’t take a scientist to see that the Kido Butai heading east pretty much meant one thing:  Pearl Harbor.  So Stalin bet that an attack was coming…an attack that would bring America into the war, which he really did want.

So Nagumo allowed the Uritsky to continue unmolested to its destination:  Vladivostok.  And the Russians apparently kept quiet, too, as the Kido Butai closed in on sleepy Sunday morning Oahu.

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