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20 May 1942
  • Japanese troops completed the conquest of Burma. All Allied troops previously under the command of William Slim (who was transferred to Indian XV Corps) were reassigned to the British IV Corps, thus dissolving the Burma Corps. ww2dbase [Invasion of Burma | CPC]
  • US Navy Rear Admiral John S. McCain was named Commander, Air, South Pacific; in this position he directed operations of tender-based and land-based aircraft in the South Pacific. ww2dbase [John McCain | CPC]
  • American submarine USS S-39 conducted a reconnaissance mission at the Deboyne Islands north of New Guinea. ww2dbase [S-39 | CPC]
  • Tatsuta Maru departed Manila, Philippine Islands. ww2dbase [Tatsuta Maru | CPC]
  • Japanese submarine I-68 was renamed I-168. ww2dbase [I-68/I-168 | CPC]
  • German submarine U-155 damaged Panamanian freighter Sylvan Arrow (of the Standard Oil and Transportation Company) 40 miles southwest of Grenada, killing 1 of 44 aboard; there would be an attempt to tow her back to port, but she would ultimately sink before she reached port. 60 kilometers west of Havana, Cuba, German submarine U-753 sank American liberty ship George Calvert with three torpedoes; 10 of 61 aboard were killed during the attack, and 3 survivors were killed while being captured by the Germans; the survivors of George Calvert were freed after interrogation and sent to Cuba on lifeboats. Also on this date in the Gulf of Mexico, U-506 sank US tanker Halo 50 kilometers south of New Orleans, Louisiana, United States, killing 21 of 42 aboard; all but 3 of the survivors would not live before being rescued. ww2dbase [Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico Campaigns | CPC]
  • US Marine Corps airfield Cunningham Field was commissioned into service in North Carolina, United States. It would later be known as Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. ww2dbase [CPC]
  • USS Pollack sank two small boats with her deck gun off Kyushu, Japan. ww2dbase [Pollack | CPC]
  • Light carrier Hosho was assigned toe the Main Body Air Force of the 1st Fleet. ww2dbase [Hosho | CPC]
  • German submarine U-108 sank Norwegian tanker Norland 500 miles east of Bermuda; all 48 aboard survived. Also in the middle of the North Atlantic, U-158 sank British tanker Darina, killing 6 of 56 aboard. In the South Atlantic, German armed merchant cruiser Michel stopped Norwegian ship Kattegat at 1845 hours, captured the crew of 32, and sank the ship. ww2dbase [Michel | Second Happy Time | CPC]
  • Admiral Henry Harwood succeeded Sir Andrew Cunningham as Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean. ww2dbase [AC]
  • 202 Japanese-American internees, mostly from Oregon, arrived at the Portland Assembly Center in Oregon, United States. ww2dbase [Portland Assembly Center | CPC]
Atlantic Ocean
  • Alpino Bagnolini sighted an aircraft in the Atlantic Ocean at 1126 hours and then again at 1350 hours; she dove on both occasions to avoid detection. ww2dbase [Alpino Bagnolini | CPC]
  • Comandante Cappellini sighted an aircraft in the Atlantic Ocean at 2015 hours; she submerged to avoid detection. ww2dbase [Comandante Cappellini | CPC]
  • German submarine U-431 sank British ship Eocene 10 miles off Sollum, Egypt; all 43 aboard survived. ww2dbase [Sollum | CPC]
  • Alexander Löhr was mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht daily radio report. ww2dbase [Alexander Löhr | CPC]
  • The Japanese, having intercepted the fake message regarding Midway Atoll's water distiller breaking down, reported to the invasion fleet the news and advised the fleet to take on additional supplies of fresh water. This message was intercepted by the US Navy radio intelligence team at Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii, and it allowed the US to confirm that the target of the next Japanese offensive was indeed Midway Atoll. In response, US Navy and Marine Corps dispatched reinforcements to Midway Atoll and the Aleutian Islands in expectation of an assault. On the same day, US Navy intelligence also intercepted a Japanese message containing the order of battle for the Midway Atoll and Aleutian Islands assaults; this message would be decrypted over the next several days. ww2dbase [Pearl Harbor Navy Base and Ford Island Naval Air Station | Battle of Midway and the Aleutian Islands | Honolulu, Oahu | CPC]
  • Repair ship Akashi was drydocked at Kure, Japan. ww2dbase [Akashi | Kure, Hiroshima | CPC]
  • Captain Hisagoro Shimamoto was named the commanding officer of Settsu. ww2dbase [Settsu | CPC]
Pacific Ocean
  • USS S-38 came across a debris field which her officers believed was from the Battle of the Coral Sea. ww2dbase [S-38 | Coral Sea | CPC]
  • German 6th Army and 1st Panzer Army captured Protopopovka, Ukraine, further threatening the Soviet troops at Izium with encirclement. The Soviets continued to make break out attempts, but they were frustrated by German aircraft. ww2dbase [Second Battle of Kharkov | Izium, Kharkov | CPC]
United Kingdom
  • Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Minister for Foreign Affairs, met with Winston Churchill in London, England, United Kingdom and demanded to be told the date of the Second Front when British troops would again land in Europe. Churchill tried to explain that the time was not appropriate for an attack against fortress Europe (Dunkirk was still fresh in his mind and he had no desire to repeat the performance) until Britain was strong enough in arm, men and assault craft for such an ambitious operation. Angrily Molotov declared that he was not satisfied with Churchill's excuses and threatened to come to terms with the Germans unless the Allies came to the assistance of the Soviet Union immediately. ww2dbase [Vyacheslav Molotov | London, England | AC]
United States Photo(s) dated 20 May 1942
German SS troops at Kharkov, Ukraine, May 1942Dead American soldiers on the Bataan death march, 1942American soldiers resting during the Bataan death march, May 1942, photo 1 of 3American soldiers resting during the Bataan death march, May 1942, photo 2 of 3
See all photos dated 20 May 1942

20 May 1942 Interactive Map

Timeline Section Founder: Thomas Houlihan
Contributors: Alan Chanter, C. Peter Chen, Thomas Houlihan, Hugh Martyr, David Stubblebine
Special Thanks: Rory Curtis

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Winston Churchill, on the RAF

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