On December 2, 1942, physicists achieve the first nuclear chain reaction, a breakthrough that will make atomic weaponry a reality. Learn about this and the other important World War II events that occurred during the month of December 1942 below.
World War II Timeline: December 1-December 13
December 1: The United States institutes a gasoline-rationing program across the nation.
December 2: In a breakthrough that will make atomic weaponry a reality, University of Chicago physicists Enrico Fermi and Arthur Compton achieve the first nuclear chain reaction.
December 3: Attacking American bombers hamper the efforts of Japanese engineers to build an airfield on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.
December 4: Long-range U.S. Liberator bombers sink ships in a raid on Naples, Italy.
December 5: The Nazi German hospital ship Graz sinks after being torpedoed off the coast of Libya.
December 7: More than 700 young German Edelweiss Pirates, a group formed in response to the rigidity of the Hitler Youth movement, are arrested by the Gestapo in Düsseldorf, Cologne, and several other cities.
The USS New Jersey, the largest battleship in the U.S. fleet, is launched from the Philadelphia Navy Shipyard on the first anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
December 8: Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco delivers a speech in Madrid. He defends his Axis alliance by claiming he'd rather be a Fascist than a Communist.
December 11: Adolf Hitler orders that the surrounded and besieged German Sixth Army may not retreat from Stalingrad.
December 13: The "Shark" Enigma code, which was especially difficult to crack due to its use of an extra rotor, is finally deciphered. This intelligence breakthrough allows the Allies to resume intercepting Nazi German communications to U-boats in the Atlantic.
World War II Headlines
Below are more highlights and images that outline the details of World War II, such as the involvement of African American soldiers in the war.
B-17 Flying Fortresses have mixed results: Above, B-17 Flying Fortresses bomb Lae, New Guinea. Many B-17s were destroyed on the ground by Japanese attacks in the opening days of the war, and the heavy bombers that survived attempted to interdict enemy shipping, with mixed results. Pacific-based B-17s proved more useful in attacks against enemy bases in the island-hopping campaign that followed Midway. The B-17 was tough, though early models were vulnerable to attack from the rear. The "belly gunner" also faced a horrifying fate if the plane was forced to land without its landing gear.
Barbed-wire beaches on Hawaii: Once a vacation retreat for the rich and famous, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was leased by the U.S. Navy as a major rest and relaxation center for military personnel. The average stay was 10 days at $1 a day for officers and a quarter for enlisted men. Barbed wire in front of the Royal Hawaiian stretched the length of Waikiki Beach. An air of suspicion existed across the rest of the Hawaiian Islands because approximately 118,000 civilians were of Japanese descent. Plans had been developed to evacuate 100,000 to the continental U.S., but when discussion ended, only about 1,000 were transferred.
Five brothers killed in action: "I am writing to you in regards to a rumor going around that my five sons were killed in action in November," Alleta Sullivan began in a letter to the Bureau of Naval Personnel. Soon after she sent the letter, she learned that all five of her sons serving on the USS Juneau had not survived its sinking in November 1942. The War Department turned this tragedy into a propaganda piece by sending the boys' parents on a lecture tour across the United States and by having Mrs. Sullivan christen the USS The Sullivans on April 4, 1943. The tragedy led to a Navy policy that discouraged family members on the same ship.
Find out about the key World War II events that took place during the remainder of December 1942 in the timeline on the next page.