World War II Day by Day: May 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.

3 May

Politics, United States

General Frank Andrews, US commander in the European theater, is killed in an air crash. General Jacob Devers is named as his replacement.

5-7 May

Africa, Tunisia

Reinforcements sent by the Eighth Army help the First Army recapture Djebel Bou Aoukaz and enable the British 7th Armored Division to advance into open ‘tank country.’; General Sir Harold Alexander can now exploit the numerical and material superiority of his armies against the Axis forces defending Tunis. Massicault is reached on the 6th, and tanks enter Tunis on the 7th. The US III Corps reaches Bizerta the same day. The Axis forces in North Africa are facing imminent defeat, with no chance of escaping the Allies.

11-29 May

Pacific, Aleutians

A US 12,000-man amphibious force attacks Attu Island, one of Japan’s fortified positions in the northern Pacific. During the bitter offensive, only 29 of the 2500 Japanese survive. US forces sustain 561 fatalities and have 1136 men wounded.

12-25 May

Politics, Allies

The Allied Trident Conference is held in Washington. Churchill and Roosevelt reinforce the ‘Germany First’; strategy by agreeing to intensify bombing raids in Europe. A date is set for the cross-Channel invasion (May 1, 1944) and Britain urges that the Sicilian attack is extended to the Italian mainland. The British feel that the United States is committing increasing resources to the Pacific at the expense of European military operations.

13 May

Africa, Tunisia

Axis forces officially surrender. Some 620,000 casualties and prisoners have been sustained by Germany and Italy. Allied campaign losses: French 20,000; British 19,000; and US 18,500.

16-17 May

Air War, Germany

Water gushes from the damaged Möhne dam following the successful raid by the British Air Force
Water gushes from the damaged Möhne dam following the successful raid by the British Air Force

The dams on the Möhne and Eder Rivers are attacked by 19 British Lancaster aircraft, which are carrying specially-designed ‘bouncing bombs.’; The dams generate electricity and supply water to the Ruhr region. The squadron led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson loses eight aircraft. The raid causes some disruption to industry, and boosts morale in Great Britain. German casualties are high, particularly among forced foreign workers.

16 May

Home Front, Poland

The Warsaw Ghetto uprising ends. Some 14,000 Jews have been killed, 22,000 sent to concentration camps, and 20,000 to labor camps.

22 May

Sea War, Atlantic

Admiral Karl Doenitz suspends patrols in the northern Atlantic. Some 56 submarines have been destroyed since April alone in a campaign of attrition the Germans cannot afford.

Escalating losses of both vessels and experienced crews force him to redeploy his remaining forces to less hazardous Caribbean waters and the Azores. Improved tactics, radar, code-breaking, air cover, and the increased building of escorts have combined to strengthen convoy defenses.

23-29 May

Air War, Germany

A massive British raid is made on Dortmund. Another offensive against Wuppertal on the 29th kills 2450 people. British bombers are intensifying their large-scale night attacks against industrial centers.

26 May

Balkans, Yugoslavia

An Axis force of 120,000 men attacks 16,000 communist partisans in Montenegro. A British military mission arrives on the 27th to meet partisan leader Joseph Tito, who confirms their intelligence reports that the rival Chetnik resistance group now supports the Axis forces. Since the fall of 1941, Tito has led a full-scale campaign in the province of Serbia but has since endured several major attacks from the Axis occupiers. Partisan forces have been preserved by withdrawing to the mountains and are now to be strengthened by large quantities of Allied aid.