19 November 1942

19 November 1942



Eastern Front

Soviet Southwest and Don Fronts launch the northern part of their great Stalingrad counterattack

Important Events From This day in History November 19th

1955: It was a grave (sad and serious) day in Morocco. Political violence took place in the palace courtyard. The Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Youssel was inside in the palace while blood-shed took place. People had shown up at the Sultan's palace to give honor to the monarch, which had recently returned. One of the most prominent of those died was Khalifi Berdadi. One other had died as well, and five were wounded-two of which were not expected to live.

The 100 year celebration of the famous Gettysburg Address delivered by President Lincoln's given during the consecration of the Soldiers' National Cemetery at the site of the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, defends his decision to devalue the pound by lowering the exchange rate from for the Pound from $2.80 to $2.40 and has told the British people that it does not mean that the pound here in Britain, in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalued, but allows us to sell our goods abroad on a more competitive basis.

Senator Thomas J. McIntyre charged the major American oil companies of incompetence and selfishness. McIntyre alleged that they did not prepare for the upcoming energy crisis, and as a result have betrayed the American people.

1994: The new UK lottery operated by Camelot has it's first lottery draw with an estimated jackpot of £7m . As part of the franchise awarded to Camelot to run the lottery a percentage of the money raised from ticket sales will help fund the arts, sports, charities, national heritage and millennium celebrations.

Technology sensors were soon to be planted in various places in order to detect weapons of mass destruction hidden. This particular action had taken place the day after searches for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons took place. One of the most-suspected culprits was Saddam Hussein. No weapons of mass destruction were found during this time yet. The sensors were implemented in order to make finding them easier.

Nintendo releases its newest video game console the Wii in North America with an MSRP of US$249.99 Expected launch in Europe December 8th.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN's Secretary General, has called for an immediate ceasefire after Israel's bombardment of Gaza entered its sixth day, while Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that he wanted expand the military operation.

The Iranian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon was hit by two suicide bomb attacks. Over twenty people were killed in the attack and nearly 150 people were injured as a result.

19 November 1942 - History

Stalingrad was a strategically important city in their campaign to occupy the south of Russia and take control of the Caucasus oilfields.

It was also of symbolic importance as the city named after the Russian leader, Joseph Stalin.

The Red Army fought from inside the city, forcing the German soldiers into intense, house-to-house urban warfare under heavy shellfire from the German army and its allies surrounding the city.

Then on 19 November 1942, a massive force including three entire Soviet armies counter-attacked from outside the city.

Two more Soviet armies attacked the following day, 20 November.

They smashed the German siege and encircled Stalingrad themselves, trapping 300,000 soldiers of the 6th Army inside.

The defeat at Stalingrad threw Hitler's offensive in the Soviet Union into disarray, and was a turning point in the war in Europe.

It was also one of the bloodiest battles in modern history.

Nobody knows exactly how many people died at Stalingrad.

On the German side, estimates put the number of dead from the 6th Army and its allies at about 300,000.

The Soviet government never released accurate figures. A conservative estimate is that at least 500,000 Red Army soldiers died in the fighting.

Civilian casualties are thought to have been even higher.

The population of Stalingrad - now Volgograd - fell from 850,000 to just 1,500 at the end of the war.

Presidential runs and vice presidency

Biden pursued the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination but withdrew after it was revealed that parts of his campaign stump speech had been plagiarized from British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock without appropriate attribution. His 2008 presidential campaign never gained momentum, and he withdrew from the race after placing fifth in the Iowa Democratic caucus in January of that year. (For coverage of the 2008 election, see United States Presidential Election of 2008.) After Barack Obama amassed enough delegates to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, Biden emerged as a front-runner to be Obama’s vice presidential running mate. On August 23 Obama officially announced his selection of Biden as the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee, and on August 27 Obama and Biden secured the Democratic Party’s nomination. On November 4 the Obama-Biden ticket defeated John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, and Biden also easily won reelection to his U.S. Senate seat. He resigned from the Senate post shortly before taking the oath of office as vice president on January 20, 2009. In November 2012 Obama and Biden were reelected for a second term, defeating the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

As vice president, Biden played an active role in the administration, serving as an influential adviser to Obama and a vocal supporter of his initiatives. In addition, he was tasked with notable assignments. He helped avert several budget crises and played a key role in shaping U.S. policy in Iraq. In 2015 his eldest son, Beau, died from brain cancer Biden recounted the experience in Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose (2017). Several months later, Biden—who enjoyed high favourability ratings, partly due to a candour and affable manner that resonated with the public—announced that he would not enter the 2016 presidential election, noting that the family was still grieving. Instead, he campaigned for Hillary Clinton, who ultimately lost the election to Donald Trump.

Biden’s close relationship with Obama was evident when the latter surprised him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with distinction, on January 12, 2017, just days before they left office. When Obama presented the rarely given honour, he referred to Biden as “my brother.” Later that year Biden and his wife established the Biden Foundation, a charitable group involved in various causes.

This Day in Hockey History – November 21, 1942 – NHL Stops Working Overtime

War impacted hockey the way it affected almost everything else during the 1940s. Being able-bodied, athletic men, many players served for their countries. Trains and other public transportation options were needed for moving servicemen, so they had to run on schedule. The NHL had to take these issues into consideration when setting rules. As solutions, the NHL decided, on November 21, 1942, to eliminate overtime and then, two days later, the NHL reduced the minimum number of players required for each team’s roster.

The Montreal Gazette shared NHL President Frank Calder’s announcement regarding overtime play, and the major newspapers for the four U.S. cities with Original Six teams published variations of Montreal’s Associated Press (AP) story. Calder stated, “Due to wartime travel conditions games in which the score is tied at the end of the regulation 60 minutes will be regarded as draws and no overtime will be played.” Apparently, the trouble really stemmed from teams trying to leave New York City after games. Jack Adams, manager of the Red Wings, commented, “The overtime period was only 10 minutes, it is true, but it usually resulted in a half hour’s delay. Railroads will not hold trains for athletic teams nowadays, and so something had to be done.” Adams went even further saying “that he felt the abolition of the overtime period would meet with the approval of the public and become permanent.”

Calder’s announcement also mentioned that “a proposal that rosters be cut will be reconsidered at a league gathering in Boston November 23.” On behalf of the Boston Bruins, Art Ross had proposed that instead of 15 players, rosters need only 13. Although the proposal had to do with the reduced number of players due to so many leaving for military service, Detroit blamed Boston for complaining because their team was short of players. Adams told the Detroit Free Press that he would vote against the measure like he had already earlier in the season.

The meeting, at Boston’s Copley-Plaza, was attended by Frank Calder, R.R. Duncan (Boston), Lester Patrick (NY), T.P. Gorman (Montreal), James Norris (Detroit), William J. Tobin (Chicago), and Frank J. Selke (Toronto). The end result was a compromise with team rosters being limited to 14 (instead of 15) players each game. In addition, the minimum number of players (12) was abolished, so a team could have as few as six players a game. Ross commented, “It’s certainly a step in the right direction.” Calder assured everyone, “Both of these changes have been made as wartime measures. They will remain in effect until further notice.” The new rule would go into effect that very night when the Bruins played the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins would no longer be at a disadvantage, but other teams faced having to drop a player. For example, in Detroit “Johnny Holota, utility forward, will be cut from the roster and probably sent to Indianapolis.”

Three other rule changes were passed at the same meeting.

  1. If a player catches and drops the puck anywhere but directly at own feet, there will be a faceoff.
  2. If an official is hit with the puck, play continues from inside the penalty lines (rather than blue lines).
  3. “Faceoffs after intentional offsides shall be in the faceoff spots instead of at the blue line.”

Rather than being a temporary wartime measure, overtime was not reinstated for over 40 years. With the 1983-84 season, sudden death overtime was set for up to five minutes. The number of players who skated during overtime was reduced to four-on-four in 1999 and then down to three-on-three in 2015. As for players, the roster numbers did go back up after the war. The season before overtime returned, the NHL went up to its present mandates of at least a 20-player game roster (which must include two goaltenders) and a maximum 23-player active roster.

The Cocoanut Grove Revisited

By Daniel J. Fleming

Angelo Lippi, the maitre d' of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, poses in the main dining room sometime before the devastating fire. (Courtesy of National Fire Protection Association)

Saturday, November 28, 1942, at the U.S. Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts, had been, for the most part, a relatively uneventful day.

According to the duty log, 19 ships were berthed at the yard or at nearby auxiliary piers along Boston Harbor. Duty officers performing periodic patrols took note of the vessels that navigated in and out of the yard and the South Boston Naval Annex throughout the calm yet cold, freezing day. Indeed, such activity was common for this strategic shipbuilding facility, which produced and repaired numerous vessels for use during World War II.

However, before Saturday had elapsed, the sailors and Marines of the yard would heed a call for aid that was anything but routine.

Boston newspapers greeted their readers with the day’s updates of the war in Europe and the Pacific, which, nearly a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, had become and would continue to be regular practice throughout the war. In late 1942, Bostonians were reading of the Allies’ months-long struggle against the Imperial Japanese forces at Guadalcanal and the Soviet Red Army’s counteroffensive against the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad.

Local college football fans diverted their attention to Fenway Park for the annual late-season Jesuit-school rivalry game, in which the Holy Cross Crusaders achieved a stunning 55-12 upset victory, over the top-ranked Boston College Eagles, denying BC an undefeated season and an invitation to the Sugar Bowl.

Despite the outcome of the game, it was Thanksgiving weekend, and many servicemen throughout the First Naval District were looking forward to enjoying leave away from their duties. For many officers and enlisted men with free time, it was an opportunity for an evening of dinner, drinks, and dancing with their dates. And there were few more desirable places to do just that in Boston than at the famous Cocoanut Grove night club.

At 10:15 p.m., a Small Fire Begins to Spread Quickly

For nearly a decade following the end of Prohibition, “The Grove,” located in the Bay Village neighborhood of Boston, was one of the most popular social scenes in the city. Sporting a South Seas–style ambiance, the club treated patrons to food, hospitality, and entertainment, as well as the occasional appearance of music artists or movie stars gracing the dinner-goers with their presence.

The fire began in the basement bar, known as the Melody Lounge it sustained major damage. (U.S. Army Signal Corps, Boston Public Library)

On this Saturday night, more than 1,000 patrons packed the main dining room and cocktail lounges at the Cocoanut Grove. Despite the cancellation of a Boston College victory celebration after the football team’s defeat that afternoon, the club had no difficulty in filling the establishment, especially with a floor show about to begin.

Then suddenly, at approximately 10:15 p.m., a small fire broke out in the club’s basement Melody Lounge. Eyewitnesses recounted that they had first spotted the fire in a decorative palm tree in the lounge, working its way up to the ceiling. According to U.S. Naval Reserve Ens. William G. Burns, who had been present in the Melody Lounge around that time, the fire began slowly and appeared to be of such a nature that club employees could extinguish it. Suddenly, to everyone’s alarm, the fire raced across the ceiling, causing the crowd to scatter for safety.

Within eight minutes of the first sight of flames, the fire, fueled by ample wall and ceiling decorations, had engulfed the entire club, spreading upstairs into the street-level foyer and main dining room. As shouts of “Fire!” rang out while heavy smoke and flames emerged from downstairs, the club lights went out and panic ensued. U.S. Naval Reserve Lt. John Kip Edwards, Jr., who had been upstairs in another of the Grove’s lounges and escaped the fire, noted that “it seemed that when the lights went out everybody’s intellect went with them.”

Black Smoke, Darkness, and Jammed Doors

Unable to see and increasingly unable to breathe due to the billowing, black smoke, patrons stumbled over dining room furniture, frantically searching for a way out of the danger. Amidst the chaos and confusion, many were trampled and crushed, especially at the club’s main exit, a revolving door that jammed after being overwhelmed by the rush of patrons seeking to escape.

A second outlet, consisting of an inward-opening door, effectively became a wall as the panicked crowd pushed forth in an attempt to flee to the streets. Additional exits, if they could be located in the dark, were either blocked or obscured, leaving hundreds trapped within the inferno, desperately hoping for outside rescuers to break through the barriers.

Those unable to escape during the fire’s first moments faced little chance of survival, given how rapidly the fire spread and consumed the building. In the end, the conflagration would claim the lives of 492 persons—a count exceeding the building’s approved occupancy level. Causes of death were mainly due to asphyxiation and extreme burns sustained from the fire. To this day, the Cocoanut Grove is remembered as the location of the deadliest nightclub fire and second deadliest single-building fire in American history, only surpassed by a 1903 fire at Chicago’s Iroquois Theatre that took 602 lives.

The duty log from the U.S. Navy Yard notes “Received call from Boston Police requesting aid in case of the fire at the Cocoanut Grove Night Club.” (National Archives, RG 181)

Boston firefighting units had responded to the Grove just moments after the blaze began, and, almost as quickly, realized the severe, life-threatening nature of the fire and the dire need for additional resources to combat it. Within a 45-minute span, Boston’s Fire Alarm Headquarters received five alarms, and city officials put out a call for all available ambulances to rendezvous at the night club.

At 10:45 p.m., the Boston Navy Yard received that call for aid from the Boston Police Department and immediately mobilized every resource at their disposal. As the duty log notes, the Marine Barracks dispatched three trucks manned with five men each, while the yard’s medical crew produced six station wagons with drivers and hospital corpsmen. They raced the approximate 3.5-mile route from the Navy Yard to the Cocoanut Grove in Bay Village.

Many other military stations within the city and in the surrounding region also responded and rallied personnel to the scene of the fire. Among these were the U.S. Naval Hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts, which dispatched three ambulances with stretchers, four medical officers, and 12 hospital corpsmen. The U.S. Coast Guard’s Shore Patrol dispatched two companies of men with stretchers and trucks, while the Naval Shore Patrol provided 60 men with stretchers and beach wagons. Individual servicemen, who had been in the neighborhood that evening and observed the situation, responded to provide assistance as well.

Military, Civilian Personnel Work to Rescue Victims

Once on scene, these sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen coordinated with city emergency response personnel to provide crowd control in the immediate vicinity of the nightclub (alongside Army military police units), to break down building exits, to rescue and care for those injured, and to recover the dead. They systematically formed stretcher lines to remove victims from the still burning building and to bring them into waiting ambulances for transport to one of the many hospitals throughout the city, or, in the case of the deceased, to one of the two city mortuaries.

The sheriff's office joined the Boston police and fire departments in commending the U.S. Navy's assistance at the fire and during the recovery. (RG 181, National Archives at Boston)

Describing the magnitude of the work being performed by naval personnel, Lt. Comdr. John J. Reilly of the Naval Shore Patrol recounted that Navy units had removed 165 bodies from the building through one exit alone. Boston’s police and fire officials would later compliment the servicemen for their superb work in accomplishing such near-impossible tasks in short order. Reilly recalled Boston Police Capt. James T. Sheehan offering high praise when he stated, “Nothing can take the place of discipline and training. The Navy boys were grand.”

In his official report on the fire, Boston Fire Commissioner William Arthur Reilly took note of the “incalculable value” of assistance rendered at the Cocoanut Grove by so many organizations, including the military and civilian defense units located in the Boston area.

While rescue and recovery efforts were ongoing, the First Naval District sought to account for all of its personnel and to verify the nature of any serviceman’s absenteeism from their duties. According to the Administrative History of the First Naval District in World War II, by early 1943, the district comprised approximately 17,000 enlisted men, 4,000 officers, and tens of thousands of civilian employees stationed at bases and installations throughout its jurisdiction, stretching from Newfoundland to Newport, Rhode Island.

Accounting for this sizable force spread out across a wide geographic region required keen coordination among the district’s many units. Navy medical staff established temporary posts at the city’s civilian hospitals to identify any military personnel whom may have been transported there. Those who could be transferred to Chelsea Naval Hospital were moved accordingly so that they could receive the Navy medical resources intended for them while also alleviating the strain on civilian hospitals.

Similarly, the First District assigned personnel to the city mortuaries in order to identify the bodies of deceased servicemen and to facilitate transfer of their remains to Chelsea Naval Hospital. District intelligence officers also canvassed the hospitals and mortuaries, as well as the scene of the nightclub itself, to ascertain information that might explain how the fire occurred and why so many had perished.

Searches Are Launched to Identify Dead, Injured

Military caps lay abandoned, a grim reminder of the many victims of the Cocoanut Grove blaze. (Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library)

Numerous dispatches were sent and received between the commandant’s office at the Boston Navy Yard and posts throughout New England, seeking to share and obtain information as to the whereabouts and status of absent officers and enlisted men, and whether they might have attended the Cocoanut Grove that evening.

At the U.S. Naval Training School located at Harvard College, officers established a call center to facilitate such communication in order to determine the status of unaccounted for trainees and personnel.

One missing officer, Ens. John Bauer, stationed at the Navy’s communication school at Harvard, had not reported for duty during the first three days following the fire. Students at the school informed officers that Bauer had gone to the Cocoanut Grove on Saturday night and feared the worst for him. While his wallet and uniform cap had been recovered from the nightclub following the fire, his body had not been identified, and companions who might have been able to corroborate Bauer’s whereabouts had either died at the Grove that night or were in life-threatening condition in hospitals. Then on December 7, eight days following the disaster, the district’s medical corps confirmed that they had identified Bauer’s body through dental records and other personal markings on clothing, verifying that his death was a direct result of injuries sustained during the nightclub fire.

Bauer’s fate was one of hundreds that would be reported by Boston newspapers as information was learned and disseminated in the days and weeks following the tragedy. On Sunday morning, November 29, the Cocoanut Grove fire dominated the headlines in Boston, and would do so for several days, displacing war updates that normally would have been front page news. Even other big city dailies, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, made room on their front pages to report on the events in Boston.

The media printed firsthand accounts of the fire from survivors, eyewitnesses, and emergency responders while publishing lists of the victims, as well as those injured and hospitalized, as such information could be verified. The death of Buck Jones, a popular movie star of the era and attendee at the nightclub, also made national news.

On Sunday morning, November 29, the Cocoanut Grove fire dominated the headlines. (ProQuest)

Busboy Is Cleared of Any Wrongdoing

Newspapers also printed stories speculating upon the causes of the tragedy and who might be to blame. One explanation for the fire’s origin that quickly gained traction in the papers was the role played by Cocoanut Grove busboy Stanley Tomasewski.

In an interview with Boston fire investigators, the young employee described how he had replaced an extinguished light bulb in a corner of the dimly lit basement Melody Lounge. Presumably, a couple seeking privacy had removed the light bulb from its fixture. Tomasewski, acting on a club manager’s directions to replace the light bulb at once, lit a match in order to see his surroundings, replaced the bulb, and extinguished the match.

Media reports immediately speculated on the busboy’s culpability, for eyewitnesses had first observed the fire close to where Tomasewski had been working. In his official report, however, Fire Commissioner Reilly stated that, after reviewing the evidence, as well as Tomasewski’s testimony, he was unable to conclude that the busboy’s conduct had caused the fire. In fact, Reilly’s report would officially determine that the cause of the fire was of an unknown origin.

Further public and media scrutiny focused on city officials who were responsible for enforcing safety and building codes for businesses such as the Cocoanut Grove. While Boston’s mayor, Maurice J. Tobin, promised an immediate inquiry into the fire, many doubted that city investigations would yield the accountability needed and desired by the public.

Suspicions concerning Cocoanut Grove owner Barnett Welansky’s associations with Tobin and other local officials prompted questions about whether those relationships had compromised the city’s ability to enforce building compliance and to perform objective investigations in the aftermath of the fire. Welansky, a lawyer who had represented Boston mob boss Charles Solomon, had taken ownership of the Cocoanut Grove after Solomon died in 1933.

In the years following the repeal of Prohibition, Welansky sought to build the club into the premier nightlife spot in the city. But in his zeal to achieve success and profit, Welansky disregarded city building standards and permitting processes as he renovated and expanded the club. As the public became further aware of Welansky’s noncompliance and the absence of sanctions imposed against the club for building violations, many wondered whether city officials had condoned Welansky’s behavior and for what purposes.

Appeals for Aid, Reform Made to U.S. Navy Officials

After the fire, Navy personnel returned to the scene to account for the whereabouts and status of absent officers and enlisted men. (Boston Public Library)

Given this political climate in Boston, those interested in seeking accountability and public building safety reforms petitioned for assistance from more reputable authorities, such as the U.S. Navy.

In a December 21, 1942, letter to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Alfred Bauer, now a gold star father of the late Ensign Bauer, offered a measured plea that the Navy investigate and intervene with local authorities in order “to protect other Navy boys and service men against such a debacle and ignominious end to their lives and service careers.”

On January 5, 1943, Alfred Bauer’s letter reached the First Naval District commandant, Rear Adm. Wilson Brown. By that time, the admiral was aware of the recommendations for remedial legislation offered by Massachusetts Governor Leverett Saltonstall in his recent inaugural address and deemed that the Navy need take no further action regarding the matter.

Alfred Bauer may have been unaware that the First Naval District had made no delay in pursuing its own investigation to determine why so many armed services personnel had perished at the Cocoanut Grove. Less than 24 hours after the fire, Brown had convened a board “for the purpose of investigating and reporting upon the circumstances attending the deaths and injuries to officers and enlisted men of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard.”

This board of investigation gathered evidence and held seven days of hearings to acquire witness testimony from the district’s medical and intelligence units regarding the identification of deceased servicemen and the logistical operation of Navy resources: from officers who participated in the mobilization of support to the scene of the fire, including Lt. Comdr. Reilly, as well as from sailors present at the nightclub, such as Ensign Burns and Lieutenant Edwards, who could provide firsthand accounts.

On December 10, the board concluded its investigation and issued its findings of facts and opinion. The board identified that, as of the date of their findings, 39 servicemen (31 Navy, 5 Coast Guard, 3 Marine Corps) had died as a result of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire, while 27 (19 Navy, 8 Coast Guard) had sustained injuries. The casualties at the club had resulted mostly from either asphyxiation due to the heavy toxic smoke filling the building or burns sustained from the fire itself. All of these servicemen had been on authorized leave from their duties.

The main entrance to the Cocoanut Grove nightclub shows damage from the fire of November 28, 1942. (U.S. Army Signal Corps, Boston Public Library

Probe Found Exits Blocked or Sealed

The board also determined that the significant loss of life was exacerbated by the building’s lack of effective exits. None of the club’s exits were marked, and those exits that were known to the public, such as the main revolving door, became blocked in the mad rush to evacuate. While service doors allowed many employees and a small number of patrons to escape, most customers had no knowledge of these passageways and would not have known to use them. One exit was equipped with a “panic” lock, designed to release its door open in the event of an emergency. However, the lock had been overridden by a bolt securing the door shut, rendering the exit useless. During the post-fire inspection of the club, another exit was discovered to have been removed and replaced by brick wall. The public and the media suspected that Welansky had locked or blocked a number of the club’s exits in order to deter deadbeat patrons from attempting to evade paying their tabs.

Criminal investigations would result in a grand jury’s indictment of Welansky on charges that he had contributed to the deaths of hundreds at the Cocoanut Grove by failing to abide by building standards and allowing overcrowding. For the state court trial jury, it was immaterial whether he was aware of the life-threatening risks of disabling exits. On April 10, 1943, the jury convicted Welansky on 19 counts of manslaughter. Welansky was sentenced to a prison term of 12 to 15 years, but was released in 1946, and died shortly thereafter, due to failing health. Nine others, including a Boston fire lieutenant, police captain and building inspector, as well as employees and contractors of the club, faced charges related to building code violations and lax enforcement, but almost all were acquitted.

Military personnel joined Boston fire and rescue teams in rescue and recovery. (Boston Public Library)

The Cocoanut Grove fire shocked and saddened the nation, but this tragedy inspired a resolve to improve the safety and security of the American public both during the war and in following years. The fire became an impetus for enacting safety reforms and code enforcement.

The fire commissioner’s report made a number of recommendations to improve the safety of public buildings and to increase the chances of escape and survival in the event of an emergency. Among these measures, the report called for the installation and use of automatic sprinklers the equipping of exit doors with panic locks and the use of powered, illuminated “EXIT” signs improving and increasing egress in public assembly spaces as well as the prohibition of flammable fabrics or materials in such spaces.

Since this tragedy, many states, as well as the U.S. government, have passed measures intended to improve fire safety standards, while fire prevention organizations continue to advance the study of fire safety and advocate for implementation.

In the decades following the fire and the conclusion of World War II, with the needs of the Navy changing in the face of new global conflicts, the Boston Navy Yard gradually reduced its production of new vessels and officially closed as an active installation in 1974. Today only a portion of the yard remains open in order to support the maintenance and operation of America’s oldest commissioned warship, USS Constitution.

Despite these changes over time, the character of those who answered the call for aid on November 28, 1942, is remembered and continues to inspire today. In a letter thanking Mayor Tobin for his appreciation of the Navy’s assistance at the Cocoanut Grove, Rear Admiral Brown took solace in the performance of all those who provided assistance, stating:

I think that perhaps we are justified in deriving some mild consolation for the tragedy in the behavior of all of our people—Service and civilian—as it provides some measure of their behavior if our cities should ever be subjected to enemy air attack. To me it is comforting to know that we can always rely on courage, presence of mind, and united action.

Daniel J. Fleming is an archives technician at the National Archives at Boston and a Certified Archivist. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Boston College and his master’s degree in history/archives from the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

Note on Sources

A researcher visiting the National Archives at Boston to access correspondence files of the First Naval District Commandant’s Office keenly observed that a file marked with the U.S. Navy Filing Manual subject term “L-11-Salvages” included a substantial amount of material pertaining to the Cocoanut Grove disaster and brought it to the attention of Archives staff.

In recognition of this year’s 75th anniversary of this significant event in Boston’s history, the National Archives at Boston has digitized this file unit and made it available on the National Archives Catalog. It is hoped that these records will enhance and support existing research on the tragedy while further fostering the public’s knowledge and understanding of this subject.

The author consulted the following materials of Record Group 181, Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, held by the National Archives at Boston:

Administrative History of the First Naval District in World War II (series) [National Archives Identifier 1138081].

Boston Navy Yard Log Entry, November 28, 1942 (item) [National Archives Identifier 6924864] contained by Shipyard Logs (series) [National Archives Identifier 1175011]. This item is available for viewing on the National Archives Catalog.

L-11-1—Salvages—Casualties: Cocoanut Grove Disaster (file unit) [National Archives Identifier 30623174], contained by General Correspondence s) [National Archives Identifier 1137274]. This file unit is available for viewing on the National Archives Catalog.

To supplement the historical content of this article, the author consulted the following sources outside the National Archives that support the research of this subject:

John C. Esposito, Fire in the Grove: The Cocoanut Grove Tragedy and its Aftermath. Cambridge: Da Capo Press (2005).

Historical newspaper editions of the Boston Globe, New York Times, and Washington Post, accessed via ProQuest Direct. Full text of New York Times and Washington Post newspapers are accessible on ProQuest Direct at National Archives research locations nationwide.

William Arthur Reilly, Report Concerning the Cocoanut Grove Fire, November 28, 1942. Accessed online at Internet Archive.

File #455: "Operations Directive No. 34 Nov. 19, 1942.pdf"

. The Commanding Officer of each CAP Coastal Patrol and
Liaison Patrol is hereby charged with the responsibility for the organization, equipment and training of a Crash Crew for the unit under his

umless adequate crash facilities are already available at the
airport on

hich the unit is based.
2. This work shall be handled in accardance with the procedure
s e t f o r t h i n Tr a i n i n g D i r e c t i v e N o . 8 , C r a s h P r o c e d u r e , t h i s H e a d q u a r t e r s ,
March 20, 19

2 and shall be accomplished as expeditiously as circumstances
permit. Such equipment and supplies as may not be on hand or available for use
from other sources shall be procured

com available base funds.
3. In addition to the equipment listed in Training Directive No, 8,
there shall be provided a pair of strong, industrial-type gloves far each
m e m b e r o f t h e C r a s h C r e w.
By direction of National Commander JOHNSON:

The Archer County Times (Archer City, Tex.), Vol. 18, No. 19, Ed. 1 Thursday, November 12, 1942

Weekly newspaper from Archer City, Texas that includes local, state and national news along with advertising.

Physical Description

eight pages : ill. page 23 x 15 in. Digitized from 35 mm. microfilm.

Creation Information

Creator: Unknown. November 12, 1942.


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Cocoanut Grove Fire

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Cocoanut Grove Fire, one of the deadliest fires in American history that led to significant improvements in safety laws.

WHERE: Cocoanut Grove nightclub, Piedmont Street, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.

DEATH TOLL: 492 dead, including a honeymoon couple, all four servicemen sons of a Wilmington family celebrating their leave, and Buck Jones, the Hollywood cowboy movie star.

SUMMARY: The only entrance to the “Grove” was the revolving front door. Other exits had been bricked or welded shut during Prohibition when the club was one of Boston’s hottest speakeasies. Now, a year into World War II, it was still one of Boston’s swankiest nightspots—a version of Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca. It had edge, it had style, and it had wide lapels. The owner was also “in with the mayor”—what he saved on taxes he added to by not bothering to rectify obvious safety violations and city officials turned a blind eye. The legal capacity of the Cocoanut Grove was 460 people, but on Saturday, November 28, 1942, nearly 1,000 patrons, entertainers and staff were there dining and dancing. Downstairs in the Melody Lounge a young couple looking for a moment’s privacy unscrewed the light bulb over their booth. The barman told a busboy to replace it. The boy stood on a chair and lit a match to find the socket. As he leaned forward, the flame caught the fronds of the artificial palm trees decorating the room, which then ignited the cloth-covered ceiling. The room was suddenly a fiery inferno, which mushroomed up the stairwell and sent an explosive fireball through the dining room. The only exit from the Melody Lounge was bolted piles of blackened corpses showed where terrified patrons had stormed the blazing stairwell. Upstairs the revolving door was jammed with people clawing for the freedom of the other side of the glass. The 26 fire engines and 187 firefighters could do nothing to prevent people dying. There was talk of sabotage, because 50 sailors died and the club represented the America the boys were fighting for.

The Grove’s owner was jailed for involuntary manslaughter for three and a half years the busboy was exonerated and the Boston Licensing Board prohibited any club from ever again using the name “Cocoanut Grove.” The disaster resulted directly in the creation and enforcement of new safety laws (such as visible exit signs and outward-swinging exit doors). Witness statements referred to a “flashover,” and 50 years later this was confirmed by a former Boston firefighter whose research revealed the presence at Cocoanut Grove of methyl chloride—a highly flammable gas propellant used in refrigeration in place of Freon, which in wartime was in short supply.

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