World War II Day by Day: February 1943

Allied successes in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, together with hard-won British and Chinese advances in Burma, forced the Japanese onto the defensive in the Pacific and Far East. Allied forces also triumphed in North Africa and went on to invade Italy, triggering the fall of Mussolini, while in the Soviet Union the clash of armor at Kursk resulted in a key German defeat.

1-9 February

Pacific, Guadalcanal

Japanese Navy warships evacuate 13,000 troops in night operations from the island. Their abandonment of Guadalcanal marks the first major land defeat of Japan. The Japanese have lost 10,000 men killed; the Americans some 1600.

2 February

Eastern Front, Caucasus

The siege of Stalingrad ends: Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus and 93,000 German troops surrender. The Sixth Army has finally collapsed under the strain of supply shortages and constant attacks masterminded by Marshal Georgi Zhukov.

4 February

Air War, France

British and US bombers launch Operation Gondola with a series of raids aimed at destroying U-boats in the Bay of Biscay. Bombers use immensely powerful searchlights to illuminate submarines during attacks.

8 February

Eastern Front, Ukraine

In their continuing offensive Soviet forces take the city of Kursk, which will be the site of a major battle.

9 February

Sea War, Mediterranean

An Axis convoy carrying reinforcements to Tunisia leaves Italy. Malta-based Allied aircraft sink 10 vessels between February 9 and March 22. Minefields and British submarines also destroy several of the ships.

12-14 February

Eastern Front, Caucasus

The Soviets capture Krasnodar on the 12th and Rostov on the Don River two days later.

14-22 February

Africa, Tunisia

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel launches an attack northwest from his fortified zone at Mareth to break through Allied forces between the Axis Front and Bône on the coast. In the Battle of Kasserine Pass his forces strike the US II Corps and cause panic among the ranks.

US forces are 100 miles (160 km) from Gabs, a key part of Germany’s Mareth Line because of its crossroads, port, and airfield. German troops exploit poor US command, land and air coordination, unit dispositions, and the inexperience of some troops. Attacks reach Thala until they lose momentum and Rommel orders a withdrawal. He loses 2000 men; the Americans 10,000.

15 February

Eastern Front, Ukraine

Kharkov and other cities are liberated as Soviet forces reoccupy territory held by the Germans. Stalin has begun to think of total victory in 1943.

16-21 February

Home Front, Germany

Student demonstrations against Hitler’s regime take place in Munich. Protests in other university cities in Germany and Austria then occur. Hans and Sophie Scholl, leaders of the anti-Nazi White Rose student group at the University of Munich, are beheaded on the 21st.

18 February

Far East, Burma

Brigadier Orde Wingate launches the first British Chindit mission. This 3000-strong, long-range penetration force aims to operate behind Japanese lines and disrupt communications. The Chindits are to be supplied by air. The six-week mission has limited military success but Prime Minister Winston Churchill is impressed by Wingate’s unorthodox methods. As a result, further Chindit operations in Burma will be sanctioned.

18-27 February

Eastern Front, Ukraine

Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, commander of Army Group Don, launches a counteroffensive against the Red Army to crush the enemy thrust to the Dniepr River. Using four panzer corps, he isolates three Soviet armies, inflicting severe losses on the Red Army.

20-25 February

Sea War, Atlantic

During U-boat attacks, Allied convoy ON-166 loses 15 of its 49 ships. Only one German submarine is sunk.

21 February

Pacific, Solomons

US forces land on Russell Island. This is their first move in the campaign to capture the island chain. The operation, code-named Cartwheel, eventually aims to seal off the key Japanese air and sea base at Rabaul in New Britain. The US Pacific commanders Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Douglas MacArthur have devised an ‘island-hopping’; strategy whereby certain selected islands are retaken, while heavily-defended Japanese positions are bypassed. Allied aircraft and sea power will then isolate these strongpoints, preventing them from being a threat. They will ‘wither on the vine.’;

23-24 February

Sea War, Atlantic

Seven tankers from the UC-1 Allied convoy are sunk by a U-boat group.

26-28 February

Africa, Tunisia

Colonel General Jürgen von Arnim’s Fifth Tank Army in northeast Tunisia finally launches a counterattack from the Mareth Line that should have been made during the previous series of attacks. It is unsuccessful.

28 February

Politics, Germany

General Heinz Guderian is appointed ‘Inspector-General of Armored Troops’; and is given wide-ranging powers to strengthen Germany’s tank arm.

Western Front, Norway

Nine Norwegian paratroopers from Great Britain sabotage the Norsk Hydro power station where ‘heavy water’; is made for atomic research.