December 7. In a surprise attack, Japanese bombers and
torpedo planes wrecked the US base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
In less than two hours the Japanese had destroyed five battleships,
14 other ships and 200 aircraft. About 2,500 people including
many civilians were killed and the survivors prepared for a Japanese
invasion, which never came.
aim of the attack was to knock out the American Pacific fleet.
And although it came perilously close to succeeding, two vital
aircraft carriers were away on manoeuvres and survived.
America was stunned. Although Japan had swept across south-east
Asia, the Pearl Harbor attack came as a total surprise. Even as
the bombs were falling, Japanese diplomats were meeting with US
officials in Washington.
US President Roosevelt later called it "a day that shall live
in infamy." But although America immediately declared war on Japan,
there were still powerful US voices urging against involvement
in the European war. Hitler settled the matter himself in December
11 by declaring war on the United States. If there was a defining
moment in the war, this was it.
May 27. Britain hit back in style when Royal Navy ships
traced and sank the German battleship Bismarck. It was a moment
of satisfaction, and revenge. In an earlier engagement, Bismarck
had sunk the pride of the British fleet, HMS Hood. Only a handful
of her 1,400 crew survived when a direct hit blew up Hood's main
Bismarck had been roaming the Atlantic for months, sinking Allied
supply ships. Once found, the end came swiftly, not only from
broadsides of heavy naval guns but by torpedoes launched by the
Swordfish biplanes of the Fleet Air Arm. Most of Bismarck's 1,000
sailors went down with her.
August 14. In a momentous meeting at sea, Winston Churchill
and President Roosevelt proclaimed the Atlantic Charter. While
much of it covered Britain and America's joint hopes for the post-war
world, the meeting also resulted in more immediate practical help
for Britain. Although still officially neutral, America's lend-lease
policy was already supplying Britain with thousands of tanks and
Ironically, neither Roosevelt nor Churchill would be in power
to see the final victory which their great alliance made possible.
The President died in 1945. Churchill was kicked out of Downing
Street in the 1945 General Election.
October 26. General de Gaulle, leader of the Free French
in Britain, called on his countrymen to hold a token five-minute
strike in protest at the execution of innocent French hostages
by the occupying Nazis. De Gaulle, an obscure French general at
Dunkirk, was becoming the focal point for French Resistance. The
early months of the occupation of France had gone easily for the
Germans but as they began deporting French men and boys as enforced
labour in Germany, resistance grew. By the end of the war de Gaulle
would be claiming that France had played a huge part in liberating
May 11. It was the night when some thought London had
died. From their bombers high overhead, German crews reported
that the entire capital was ablaze. Even the ever-chirpy Cockneys
were stunned at the scale of the Blitz damage. More than 500 Nazi
aircraft rained high explosives and fire-bombs on to the capital,
killing 1,400 civilians and laying waste much of the heart of
old London. The central tower of Westminster Abbey collapsed and
the 12th century roof of Westminster Hall was destroyed. But,
miraculously, St Paul's escaped serious damage. Its proud dome,
surrounded by the smoke and fire of war, came to symbolise Britain's
will to win.
January 1. The RAF bombed the Italian
fleet at Taranto.
February 24. Hitler threatened
to unleash the full fury of U-boat warfare.
March 17. Minister of Labour Ernest
Bevin announced plans to recruit 100,000 women for war work.
April 27. German forces marched
into Athens as Greece fell. British troops made a fighting
retreat, covered by the RAF.
May 4. Wolverhampton Home Guard
held a "tank-stopping exercise," using a saloon car to represent
May 14. French police arrested
1,000 Jews in Paris and handed them over to the Nazis.
Although coal was already rationed in Birmingham, Black
Country users were told that local rationing could be avoided
through sensible economies.
June 30. In his biggest misjudgment
of the war, Hitler invaded Russia. The operation went well
at first with German troops greeted as liberators. But Nazi
atrocities alienated the people and Russia's old ally "General
Winter" brought the invaders to a frozen standstill.
July. Evacuees who came to Wolverhampton
in 1940 were reported to be "happily settled with families"
in the Black Country.
August 8. The Soviet air force
carried out its first raid on Berlin.
August 13. Seisdon Rural District
Council announced a meeting to discuss stepping up the war
effort with tips on storing food and keeping pigs.
September 14. First RAF units arrived
in Russia to help the Soviets.
September 23. Former Staffordshire
Regiment commander, Brigadier P J Slater, of Walsall, was
appointed to command an anti-aircraft brigade.
October 23. Premiere of Walt Disney's
film, Dumbo, in New York.
November 13. Aircraft carrier Ark
Royal was sunk in the Mediterranean with little loss of
December 6. A huge Russian counter-attack
pushed German forces back from Moscow.