World War II Day by Day: December 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.

1 December

Politics, Britain

A report by Liberal economist Sir William Beveridge outlines proposals for postwar Britain that aim to provide a state pension and health care for everyone. This reflects aspirations for social justice to tackle society’s problems.

2 December

Technology, United States

The first successful controlled nuclear ‘chain reaction’ is made. It is a key step in making an atomic bomb. In this reaction, neutrons from the splitting of uranium atoms split other uranium atoms, releasing enormous energy rapidly in the form of a massive explosion.

6-9 December

Africa, Tunisia

Two German tank columns try to retake Medjez-el-Bab, 35 miles (40 km) southwest of Tunis. However, Allied armor and aircraft block one column as it advances, while artillery fire stops the second.

9 December

Politics, United States

General Alexander Patch succeeds Lieutenant General Alexander Vandegrift as commander of operations on Guadalcanal. The 1st Marine Division is replaced by the US XIV Corps.

10 December

Pacific, Solomons

Dead Japanese troops lying in a river bed on Guadalcanal
Dead Japanese troops lying in a river bed on Guadalcanal

The Japanese are establishing a well-defended Front some six miles (9 km) west of Henderson Field, Guadalcanal. Japan has a 20,000-strong force, however, while there are 58,000 US troops who are better equipped and supplied on the island. Japanese prospects are poor.

11 December

Sea War, France

A British commando force of 10 men canoes up the Gironde River and disables six vessels in Bordeaux harbor with mines in a daring raid.

19 December

Eastern Front, Ukraine

Soviet troops battle their way forward in the ruins of Stalingrad as the Red Army tightens its grip on the city
Soviet troops battle their way forward in the ruins of Stalingrad as the Red Army tightens its grip on the city

Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s attempt to relieve the German Sixth Army with an attack by Army Group Don (13 divisions formed from Army Group A in the north) advances to within 35 miles (56 km) of Stalingrad in the face of heavy resistance. Despite Manstein’s pleas for General Friedrich von Paulus’ Sixth Army to launch a break-out, Adolf Hitler orders him not to retreat, but fuel shortages limit any possible action anyway. The year ends with Soviet offensives pushing the German relief force westward. In Stalingrad, German troops are suffering severe hardships, chiefly due to the weather and supply shortages.

24 December

Politics, Vichy France

Admiral Jean François Darlan, high commissioner in North Africa, is shot dead by a young Frenchman who accuses him of betraying the Vichy regime.

30-31 December

Sea War, Arctic

At the Battle of the Barents Sea, the German pocket battleship Lützow, heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, and six destroyers attempt to destroy the Allied Arctic convoy JW-51B. Although outnumbered, the British use superior tactics and exploit the German caution arising from orders not to sustain serious damage. Germany has one destroyer sunk, while the British also lose a destroyer and have one badly damaged. The battle outrages Adolf Hitler, who believes that the German fleet is tying down a huge amount of manpower and resources for very little result. Indeed, the Battle of the Barents Sea will lead to the end of significant sorties by major German surface vessels for the rest of the war.