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The Axis Conquers the Philippines: January 1942-July 1942

World War II Timeline: May 12, 1942-May 25, 1942

Fuel rationing began in May 1942 in 17 cities along the U.S. eastern seaboard. Learn about this and the other important World War II events that occurred during the month of May 1942 below.

World War II Timeline: May 12-May 25

May 12: Thirteen Nazi German transport planes go down in the Mediterranean after an RAF engagement off the coast of North Africa.


Overwhelming monsoon-induced mud brings operations in Southeast Asia to a standstill.

May 14: Not entirely trusting British guarantees to return Madagascar to France at war's end, General Charles de Gaulle sends troops under his command to force the issue.

Congress establishes the U.S. Women's Army Auxiliary Corps.

May 15: Fuel rationing begins in 17 cities along the United States' eastern seaboard.

­Chinese troops retreat into China and British troops retreat into India, officially completing Japan's occupation of Burma.

May 16: Franklin Roosevelt appeases the Soviets by releasing Earl Browder from federal prison. Browder, the leader of the Communist Party in the U.S., had served 14 months for passport violations.

May 20: Thanks to outstanding work by U.S. intelligence cryptologists, the Allies possess advance knowledge of a Japanese attack on Midway Island and a simultaneous diversionary attack on the Aleutians. The U.S. command responds by deploying a defensive force to Midway.

May 21: Adolf Hitler delays a planned invasion of Malta indefinitely, as he is afraid of losses to airborne troops after the experience on Crete. He opts to focus on the conquest of Egypt.

May 22: Mexico declares war against the Axis.

May 25: A small Japanese fleet steams out of Hokkaido en route to Alaska. The Japanese stage an attack on the Aleutians that they hope will draw attention away from the real target of Midway Island in the South Pacific.

World War II Headlines

Below are more details that outline the events of World War II, including the Battle of the Coral Sea.

British troops fight Vichy forces in Madagascar: British troops rush ashore from landing craft at Madagascar on May 5, 1942. Seizure of the Vichy French-controlled island was prompted by fears that Japanese long-range submarines might use it as a base to interdict Allied communication lines and shipping in the Indian Ocean. This was critical for supply lines to India, the Soviet Union, and the Middle East. Vichy forces, consisting mostly of Madagascan and Senegalese troops, offered more resistance to the operation than expected. Low-level fighting dragged on until November 5, when the Vichy commander finally surrendered.

Battle of the Coral Sea: A major turning point in the Pacific war, the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 foiled a Japanese amphibious assault on New Guinea's Port Moresby, which could have led to the invasion of northern Australia. Fought by carrier aircraft, this was the first naval engagement in which the surface ships never sighted or directly fired on one another. The U.S. lost the carrier Lexington, and the Yorktown was badly damaged. The Japanese lost the small carrier Shoho, while Shokaku was severely damaged. Though a tactical victory for the Japanese, the Allies were the strategic winners because the Japanese invasion was aborted. It was Japan's first real setback of the war.

Arthur Travers Harris promotes city bombing: Arthur Travers Harris, the head of the RAF Bomber Command, implemented area bombing -- the indiscriminate destruction of cities instead of specific military targets. The British adopted this policy in winter 1942-1943 after learning that their bombers could not hit specific targets. Harris believed that this tactic alone would destroy enemy morale and force Nazi Germany to surrender. His most controversial action was the bombing of Dresden on February 13, 1945, which caused a firestorm that killed tens of thousands of civilians. After the war, Harris grew bitter that his methods were increasingly criticized.

The deadly Mosquito fighter bomber proves successful: Operational from 1942, the RAF's De Havilland Mosquito fighter bomber is generally regarded as the most successful and versatile combat aircraft of the war. With its revolutionary lightweight, wood-based construction, the "Mossie" could fly at 408 mph up to 2,206 miles while carrying its two-man crew and a total bomb load of 5,000 pounds. A Mossie could fly to Berlin and back twice in one night to deliver its devastating 4,000-pound "Blockbuster" bombs. When configured as a fighter bomber, it had four 20mm cannons and four machine guns and could carry 1,000 pounds of bombs or eight rockets.

The next page offers a timeline and details on the major World War II events of late May and early June 1942.

Learn more about the significant events and players of World War II in these informative articles: