World War II Day by Day: April 1942

Japan’s territorial conquests appeared to signal its triumph over Europe’s colonial powers in the Far East. The United States, however, was now on the offensive and won crucial strategic victories at sea over the Japanese. These had serious repercussions for Japan’s ability to sustain both its domestic and overseas power. In North Africa and on the Eastern Front, Axis offensives, although initially successful, were halted and then defeated by a series of Allied counterattacks. Control of the sea-lanes continued to be a crucial factor in the war.

2-8 April

Sea War, Far East

Japan’s First Air Fleet attacks British air and sea bases in Trincomalee and Colombo, Ceylon. It fails to hit the main fleet, though, which is at sea. A British air attack against the Japanese force fails. Over several days, Japanese aircraft destroy the carrier Hermes, two heavy cruisers, an Australian destroyer, and several merchant ships.

3-9 April

Pacific, Philippines

Japan launches its final offensive on Bataan, beginning with air and artillery bombardments. The US line is penetrated on the 4th. Major General Jonathan Wainright, commanding the US and Filipino forces, cannot mount an effective counterattack with his decimated units. Following the surrender on the 9th, some 78,000 US and Filipino troops are forced to make a 65-mile (104-km) march without sustenance, and are constantly beaten. Many die along the way. Wainright escapes with 2000 men to Corregidor Island off Bataan.

10-23 April

Far East, Burma

Japan begins an offensive after reinforcements arrive. Lieutenant General William Slim fails to prevent the Japanese advancing on the oil fields at Yenangyaung in the south and sets large amounts of crude oil ablaze. The Chinese Sixty-fifth Army enters Burma to bolster the faltering defense against the Japanese. Around the central towns of Loikaw and Taunggyi, the Japanese 56th Division overwhelms the Chinese Sixth Army by the 23rd.

17 April

Air War, Germany

A U-boat in port
A U-boat in port

The RAF launch one of the war’s most hazardous bomber raids, attacking a diesel engine factory in Augsburg. Seven of the 12 Lancaster bombers assigned to the daylight attack are lost and the other five sustain damage.

18 April

Politics, Vichy France

Pierre Laval returns to head the government; Henri-Philippe Pétain continues as head of state. Laval is eager to enhance Franco-German relations and undermines the more hesitant approach advocated by Pétain.

Air War, Japan

Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle leads 16 B-25 bombers, launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet, on a daring mission to strike targets in Japan, including the capital Tokyo.The damage inflicted by the daylight raid is secondary to the impact on Japan’s leaders, who are alarmed that US aircraft can strike at the heart of their homeland. This reinforces a decision to seek a decisive engagement to destroy US naval power in the Pacific.

23 April

Sea War, Atlantic

The first ‘milch cow’ submarine (U-459) delivers fuel and supplies to Germany’s U-boats. This supply vessel doubles the operational range of the U-boats, which are no longer restricted by having to return to base for refueling.

24 April

Air War, Britain

The German bombing of Bath damaged many fine buildings. This was one of the targets in the
The German bombing of Bath damaged many fine buildings. This was one of the targets in the "Baedeker Raids" on historic English towns and cities

Germany bombs Exeter at the start of an air campaign against historic towns and cities, following the British attack on Lübeck. Hitler has ordered raids against every English city featured in the famous Baedeker tourist books.

29 April

Far East, Burma

The Japanese cut the Burma Road after seizing the town of Lashio, where the route ends. Chinese Nationalists are now almost wholly dependent on supply by air. The Japanese, being reinforced through the port at Rangoon, are advancing up the river valleys and plan to encircle the Allies in the Mandalay area. The Allies will then have to fight with their backs to the Irrawaddy River. The Burma Corps aims to fall back to India, whose defense is the main priority. Rapid Japanese advances, however, force the British to make a hurried (and potentially disastrous) retreat rather than an organized withdrawal.

30 April

Politics, Soviet Union

Premier Joseph Stalin declares that the USSR has no territorial ambitions except to wrest its own lost lands from Nazi control.