World War II Day by Day: February 1944

In the Pacific, Japanese defeats at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and around the Mariana Islands, plus losses in Burma, signaled the growing might of the Allies. In Europe, Axis forces suffered reverses and withdrawals in Italy, France, and on the Eastern Front, as the Allies invaded northern France and the Red Army virtually wiped out Army Group Center.

1-4 February

Pacific, Marshalls

The amphibious assault against the islands of Kwajalein Atoll is launched. Some 40,000 US Marines and infantry land on the islands of Roi, Namur, and Kwajalein. Japanese resistance is fanatical. It takes the Americans two days to secure Roi and Namur at a cost of 737 killed and wounded; four days to conquer Kwajalein for the loss of 372 killed and wounded. Total Japanese losses are 11,612 men killed.

4 February

Italy, Cassino/Anzio

A mortar of the US 34th Division shells German-held positions around Cassino
A mortar of the US 34th Division shells German-held positions around Cassino

Allied attacks edge closer to Monte Cassino, but then fierce German counterattacks stop the advance in its tracks. At Anzio, the Germans, located on the high ground, contain the Allied bridgehead, which now holds more than 70,000 men and 18,000 vehicles.

4-24 February

Far East, Burma

The Japanese launch Operation Ha-Go with their 55th Division, designed to cut off the forward troops of the Allied XV Corps and force the Allies back to the Indian border. Initial Japanese attacks are successful and push Allied troops back to a defensive position near Sinzweya called the ‘Admin Box.’ The Japanese ring around the position is not broken until the 25th, when the 123rd Brigade fights its way through the Ngakyedauk Pass and reaches the ‘Admin Box.’ The failure of Ha-Go is a watershed in the Burma campaign, as Japanese enveloping tactics have failed to produce the expected results.

5 February

Far East, Burma

The 16th Brigade of Orde Wingate’s Chindits begins to move south from Ledo, India, toward Indaw in northern Burma. Its mission is threefold: to aid General Joseph Stilwell’s advance on Myitkyina by drawing off enemy forces; to create a favourable situation for the Yunnan armies; and to inflict the maximum amount of damage and loss on the Japanese in northern Burma.

12 February

Sea War, Far East

The Japanese submarine I-27 sinks the British troopship Khedive Ismail with the loss of many lives. The submarine is then sunk by the destroyers Petard and Paladin.

16-17 February

Italy, Cassino

The US 34th Division makes a last attempt to capture the German-held monastery. Its attack is halted, however, and the unit is replaced by the 4th Indian and New Zealand Divisions of the British Eighth Army.

16-19 February

Italy, Anzio

With massive artillery support, 10 German divisions attack the Anzio beachhead in an attempt to wipe it out. By the morning of the 17th, the Germans have created a wedge one mile (1.6 km) deep in the Allied line. However, that afternoon aircraft from the entire Italian Front bomb and strafe the German units in an effort to save the beachhead. Allied air attacks, supported by artillery on the ground, eventually force the Germans to retire on the 19th.

18-22 February

Pacific, Marshalls

US forces complete their conquest of the islands with the seizure of Eniwetok Atoll. This combined army and Marine operation is a bloody affair, with 3400 Japanese defenders dying, along with 254 US Marines and 94 army personnel being killed. The Marshalls are the first Japanese prewar territories to fall to the Allies so far in the war.

26 February

Eastern Front, Baltic

The Red Army captures Porkhov and regroups on the Novorzhev and Pustoshka line. In the course of a six-week campaign the Volkhov, Leningrad, and 2nd Baltic Fronts have inflicted a shattering defeat on Germany’s Army Group North. They have wiped out three German divisions, routed another 17, and captured 189 tanks and 1800 artillery pieces. In addition, units of local partisans have killed over 21,500 German troops, destroyed 300 bridges, and derailed 136 military trains during a series of wide-ranging attacks.

29 February

Pacific, Admiralties

As part of their strategy for isolating the Japanese base at Rabaul, American forces land on the islands, a staging post through which the Japanese can reach Rabaul. The fall of the Admiralties will secure the southwest Pacific for the Allies.