World War II Day by Day: July 1941

The Allies continued fighting in North Africa, where they now faced General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps, and the war in the Balkans intensified with Germany conquering Yugoslavia and Greece. In the Mediterranean and Atlantic, the Allies fought a bitter campaign to defend their vital sea-lanes. The Axis powers’ declarations of war on the Soviet Union and the United States proved a critical turning point. Germany undertook a bitter campaign on the Eastern Front, while Japan had to safeguard its conquests in the Pacific. The Axis powers had to face the might of the Soviet Union and the United States.

1 July

Politics, Britain

General Sir Claude Auchinleck replaces General Sir Archibald Wavell as the commander of British Middle East forces. Wavell’s Middle East Command has achieved considerable success against numerically-superior Italian forces, despite supply shortages. However, subsequent commitments in Greece, Iraq, and Syria have overstretched his forces. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Winston Churchill wants a decisive offensive in the Western Desert and Wavell’s failure to achieve this has led to his transfer.

1-11 July

Eastern Front, Belorussia/Ukraine

The German advance continues. Army Group North crosses the Dvina River. Army Group Center moves across the Berezina River and efforts now center on bridging the Dniepr River in order to prevent the Soviets forming any defensive line that would obstruct the Moscow advance. Army Group South overcomes Soviet fortifications on the Stalin Line and moves forward on July 10. The panzer divisions are just 10 miles (16 km) from Kiev, the Soviet Union’s third-largest city, by the 11th.

Such armored units, however, are unsuitable for urban fighting and risk suffering heavy losses, especially as Kiev is strongly defended. General Gerd von Rundstedt plans to lure the Soviet units into the open steppes with the threat of encirclement. Once exposed, they might be annihilated.

3 July

Africa, Ethiopia

Italian resistance ends in the south after 7000 men surrender.

4 July

Politics, Yugoslavia

Joseph Broz, known as ‘Tito,’ emerges as the leader of the Yugoslavian resistance movement, although the government-in-exile does not support him. Tito, a communist, has popular support and proposes a Yugoslavian federation that overrides ethnic and national differences.

7 July

Sea War, Iceland

US troops garrison the country to protect shipping from U-boat attacks.

10 July

Politics, Soviet Union

Joseph Stalin, in an attempt to halt the advancing Germans, appoints a number of ‘commander-in-chiefs of direction’ in three command areas (Fronts - groups of armies). These are Marshal Semën Budënny (South and Southwest Front), Marshal Semyon Timoshenko (Central West Front), and Marshal Kliment Voroshilov (Northwest Front).

12 July

Politics, Allies

Britain and the Soviet Union sign a Mutual Assistance Pact, which includes a declaration that neither will make a separate peace with the Axis powers.

Air War, Soviet Union

Moscow suffers its first air raid. The bombing then intensifies with three large-scale attacks this month and 73 minor raids that last until the end of the year.

14 July

Middle East, Syria

Vichy soldiers are marched into captivity after the surrender of Syria
Vichy soldiers are marched into captivity after the surrender of Syria

General Henri Dentz defies the Vichy French authorities and surrenders Syria to the Allies. British forces begin occupying the colony and pro-Allied administrations are formed in Syria and neighboring Lebanon. The Allies have sustained about 2500 casualties in the campaign, while the Vichy French forces have suffered some 3500 casualties defending their colonies in the region.

16 July

Eastern Front, Soviet Union

Following the crossing of the Dniepr and Dvina Rivers, the encirclement of Smolensk by Germany’s Army Group Center commences. The city falls after 300,000 Red Army troops and 3200 tanks are trapped in the vicinity of the city but, despite this, the surrounded Soviet forces are not finally defeated until August.

18 July

Politics, Czechoslovakia

Britain recognizes the Czech government-in-exile led by Edouard Beneö. The Czechs also make a mutual assistance agreement with the Soviet Union and promise to form an army.

19-29 July

Eastern Front, Soviet Union

General Heinz Guderian’s 2nd Panzer Group, plus supporting infantry, leading the advance toward Moscow, receives orders to swing south and help tackle the Soviet Fifth Army, which is situated in the Pripet Marshes. This Soviet force vastly outnumbers the opposing German units and poses a serious threat to Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau’s southern operations. Army Group Center’s remaining panzer unit, the 3rd Panzer Group, is assigned to assist Army Group North take Leningrad. Guderian and other commanders are hostile to this decision and attempt to persuade Adolf Hitler not to halt the Moscow advance, but to no avail.

21 July

Sea War, Mediterranean

Operation Substance, the British transportation of supplies from Gibraltar to Malta, begins. Besieged Malta, a naval base, occupies a key location across the short sea and air route between North Africa and Italy.

22 July

Eastern Front, Baltic

Germany’s Army Group North halts west of Lake Ilmen, south of the city of Leningrad. Troops and equipment along the entire Front are suffering from the rigors of the advance and stronger Soviet resistance. During such rest periods the Soviets reinforce their lines, especially those in Front of Moscow and Leningrad. The resources needed to take these two cities will be immense.

24 July

Eastern Front, Ukraine

Hitler orders Army Group South in the Ukraine to close the pocket around the concentration of Soviet forces based on Uman. They seal it 15 days later, isolating three Soviet armies from Red Army forces around Kiev. This leaves the Soviet South and South-west Fronts seriously weakened, and Odessa is now only accessible by sea. The Germans trap some 100,000 men and 317 tanks in the pocket.

26-29 July

Politics, Britain/United States

Britain and the United States freeze Japanese assets in their countries. Japan retaliates likewise against both. Holland freezes Japanese assets in the Dutch East Indies on the 29th. As a consequence, much of Japan’s foreign trade is lost.

31 July

Politics, Germany

Reinhard Heydrich, Germany’s security chief and head of the SS secret police, receives orders to begin creating a draft plan for the complete destruction of the Jews, which becomes known as the ‘Final Solution.’ Heydrich will become the infamous administrator of the state apparatus that persecutes and murders millions of people.

Africa, Libya

General Ludwig Cruewell takes command of the Afrika Korps and General Erwin Rommel takes charge of Panzer Group Africa (one infantry and two panzer divisions).