The year 2022 marks the 80th anniversary of many of the pivotal events of World War II. We will see so many 80-year anniversaries because 1942 was a pivotal year in the Second World War.
For example, 1942 saw four of World War II’s most important battles; Midway, First and Second El Alamein, and Stalingrad. Other major events in 1942 included some of the greatest defeats in American and British history, the beginning of Russia’s greatest victory, and the arrival of US troops in Europe and Africa.
Pivotal World War II events in 1942 include:
The Fall of Singapore
In the greatest British military defeat since the Battle of Yorktown in the American Revolutionary War. Over 80,000 British, Indian, Australian, and other troops surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army on 15 February 1942.
British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill called Singapore “the worst disaster” and “largest capitulation” in British military history.
The Battle of the Coral Sea
What historians call the “first modern naval engagement, the Battle of the Coral Sea, began on 3 May 1942. The Coral Sea was the first naval battle in which the ships involved never fired on each other. Instead, the American and Japanese aircraft fought the battle.
The Japanese won and invaded the Solomon Islands. However, the losses the Americans inflicted on Japanese forces prevented invasions of New Guinea and Australia.
The Fall of the Philippines
The surrender of US forces in the Philippines to Imperial Japanese Forces on 6 May 1942. This was the largest defeat of American military forces since the Confederate surrender in the Civil War.
Over 11,500 US and Filipino troops, including Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright, surrendered at the Fortress of Corregidor and elsewhere in the Philippines.
The Battle of Midway
US and Japanese forces fought the most important naval battle of World War II between June 4 and June 6, 1942. Ironically, they fought the battle of Midway over a tiny island at the center of the Pacific.
At Midway, US Naval aircraft sank four Japanese aircraft carriers. Without those carriers, the Imperial Japanese Navy was incapable of inflicting decisive defeats on the American and British navies. Victory at Midway gave the United States the time it needed to rebuild its navy and launch a counterattack across the Pacific.
The Fall of Tobruk
The German and Italian capture of Tobruk, a city in Libya, on 21 June 1942, marked the peak of Axis conquest in North Africa. British commanders abandoned Tobruk to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps and Italian forces.
Instead, British generals wanted to concentrate on the defense of Egypt and the Suez Canal. However, the capture of Tobruk shocked many people because it showed German forces could win battles almost anywhere.
The First Battle of El Alamein
Ironically, saw the worst British defeat of World War II, Singapore, and the first great British victory of the war.
In 27 days of fighting between 1 July and 27 July 1942, the British Eighth Army inflicted a decisive defeat on the German Afrika Korps and the Italian Army in Libya. First El Alamein ended the Axis threat to the Suez Canal and Hitler and Mussolini’s hopes of conquering the Middle East and linking up with their Japanese allies.
Battle of Guadalcanal Begins
The first large US invasion of World War II began on 7 August 1942, when the First US Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
The battle lasted until February 1943. The battle involved extensive naval combat and the sinking of several capital ships on both sides. By the end of the battle, 44,000 US troops were fighting on Guadalcanal.
What historians regard as the most important battle of World War II began on 23 August 1942. On that day, the Sixth Army of the German Wehrmacht launched its attack on the Russia city of Stalingrad (today’s Volgograd).
Like Guadalcanal, Stalingrad dragged on until February 1943. Soviet forces lost over 200,000 men defending the city. By November 1942, the Soviets had over 300,000 German and Axis troops trapped in Stalingrad. Stalingrad was the farthest east advance of the Wehrmacht.
When the Sixth Army surrendered in February 1943, only 100,000 of its troops were left. Stalingrad marked the beginning of the massive Soviet counteroffensive that would take the Red Army to Berlin.
Second Battle of El Alamein
The most successful British offensive of World War II began on 23 October 1942, when the Eighth Army attacked German and Italian forces at El Alamein on the Egyptian-Libyan border.
Fought on the site of the First Battle of El Alamein. Second El Alamein saw the destruction of the German Afrika Korps and Italian armies as offensive forces. Rommel’s motorized forces escaped, but the British captured most of the Axis infantry. However, fighting in North Africa continued until May 1943, when the last Axis forces surrendered in Tunisia.
US Invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch)
Ironically, American forces began their offensive against Nazi Germany by invading French territory in North Africa on 8 November 1942. In Operation Torch, US forces attacked the French naval base at Casablanca and other targets in Morocco, while British and American troops invaded Algeria.
Bizarrely, the first enemies American forces fought in North Africa were Vichy French Forces, not Germans or Italians. The Vichy were forces loyal to French President Marshal Philippe Pétain, who had signed an armistice with Hitler in 1940. Fortunately, Vichy forces quickly switched sides. The term Vichy comes from the French resort city Pétain used as his capitol.
1942 was the pivotal year in World War II. We will see many important World War II anniversaries in 2022.
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