World War II Day by Day: September 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 September

Eastern Front, Baltic

German forces near Leningrad are now within artillery range of the city. Soon, the city’s rail and road approaches are cut off and a bitter siege commences that lasts until early 1944. Leningrad is a key industrial center and is used by the Soviet Baltic Fleet, which potentially threatens vital Swedish iron ore shipments to Germany.

3 September

Final Solution, Poland

Experiments using Zyclon-B gas chambers to slaughter Jews and others deemed ‘undesirable’ by the Nazis are carried out in Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland. The experiments are a success, and will lead to the widespread use of the gas.

4 September

Sea War, Atlantic

A U-boat mistakes the US destroyer Greer for a British vessel and attacks it. This is presented as an act of aggression and US warships are ordered to ‘shoot on sight’ in waters integral to national defense.

6 September

Final Solution, Germany

Restrictions on Jews are reinforced with an order requiring them to wear a Star of David badge. Their freedom of movement is also restricted.

15 September

Eastern Front, Ukraine

Guderian’s 2nd Panzer Group links up with Army Group South at Lokhvitsa, 100 miles (160 km) east of Kiev, trapping four Soviet armies. This seals the fate of the Soviet Southwest Front and its 500,000 men.

17-19 September

Eastern Front, Ukraine

Soviet forces begin a fighting withdrawal from Kiev, having been delayed in abandoning the city by Joseph Stalin’s insistence on holding it. This delay enables the Germans to cut off their escape routes. The Germans seize Kiev on the 19th, killing or capturing 665,000 men after 40 days of bloody combat. This seals the fate of the western Ukraine.

24 September

Sea War, Mediterranean

The first U-boat enters the Mediterranean (half the entire U-boat force will be operating there later in the year). The Operation Halberd convoy leaves Gibraltar bound for Malta. During the six-day trip, Italian warships attempt to intercept the convoy, but an Italian submarine is sunk. The British bombard Pantellaria, an Italian island situated between Sicily and Tunisia.

29 September

Final Solution, Ukraine

Nazi troops kill 33,771 Jews in Kiev.

30 September

Eastern Front, Ukraine

The 1st Panzer Group begins the offensive against the southern Ukraine from the Dniepr and Samara Rivers, and immediately severs a vital Soviet rail line. The advance toward Rostov moves behind three Soviet armies. General Erich von Manstein’s Eleventh Army then advances to trap 106,000 Soviet troops and 212 tanks between the two German forces on October 6 in a classic encirclement operation. One Soviet force, the weakened Twelfth Army, retreats northeastward.

Eastern Front, Soviet Union

Operation Typhoon, the attack on Moscow, officially begins. Germany’s Army Group Center’s 73 divisions face 85 Soviet divisions plus 10-15 in reserve. General Heinz Guderian’s Second Panzer Group thrusts toward Bryansk and Orel. Two days later, the 3rd and 4th Panzer Groups move to encircle Soviet forces around Vyazma.