Pearl Harbor fleet blitzed

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.

Attack on Pearl HarborThe 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 magazine.

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 warplanes.

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 herself.

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.


In brief

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 the tank.

May 14. French police arrested 1,000 Jews in Paris and handed them over to the Nazis.

May 30. 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 life.

December 6. A huge Russian counter-attack pushed German forces back from Moscow.