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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

May 9, 1941: U-110 Captured

Friday 9 May 1941

Nottingham 9 May 1941
Damage at Friar Lane, Nottingham, picture taken 9 May 1941.

Anglo/Iraq War: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on 9 May 1941 sends a telegram to Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell which states:
Our information is that Rashid Ali and his partisans [actually Iraqi government military forces] are in desperate straits. However this may be, you are to fight hard against them... [Y]ou should exploit situation to the utmost, not hesitating to try to break into Baghdad even with quite small forces and running the same kind of risks as the Germans are accustomed to run and profit by.
Churchill adds that "There can be no question of negotiation with Rashid Ali" unless he surrenders unconditionally. Furthermore, Wavell is to aid Free French General Catroux in an invasion of Syria "In face of your evident feeling of lack of resources" - a typical Churchillian dig at what he personally judges to be Wavell's lack of fighting spirit.

At Fort Rutbah, the RAF bombs the fort and loses a plane to small-arms fire. The Iraqi government sends a convoy of 40 trucks armed with machine guns to reinforce the small garrison. The British of the Arab Legion who are an advance party of Habforce continue to wait for reinforcements from the main column before attacking and withdraw to a more defensible position.

A jihad has been proclaimed by the Grand Mufti.

Ju-52 9 May 1941
A Junkers Ju-52 transport being used for training exercises in preparation for Operation Mercury, the airborne assault on Crete, 9 May 1941.

European Air Operations: The two sides engage in a war of communiques today. Berlin Radio announces successful raids on Derby and Nottingham, where they targeted the critical Rolls-Royce aircraft engine plant. The British Air Ministry engages in a little humor when it responds that, during last night's raids, two cows and a few chickens had been killed in the East Midlands. What the RAF actually is saying in surprisingly candid fashion (if you know what actually happened) is that many Luftwaffe bombers missed their target cities due to successful deception measures. The Germans aren't told about that little secret, however, and no doubt take it as a little innocent bravado.

London is the main target during the night when about 500 Luftwaffe bombers attack. There are subsidiary attacks at RAF airfields including RAF Waddington, where a direct hit on an air raid shelter kills ten people, including seven women.

Liverpool, Hull, and many other cities in the industrial north are devastated by the recent Luftwaffe raids. In Hull alone, there are an estimated 1000 dead and 40,000 homeless out of a population of 330,000. The Germans have been extremely effective at targeting the docks in its target cities recently, but the British are stepping up their jamming attempts of the crude German navigational system based on radio waves. That jamming already is having some effect, as evidenced by the "cows and chickens" remark.

Attacks continue at Hull, but few planes hit anything of importance. The Luftwaffe focuses on the port and damages 64 ton sailing barge Whitaker's No. 17, 5117 ton British freighter Dan Y Bryn, and 3067 ton British freighter Castilian. There are two deaths on the Castilian.

During the day, RAF Bomber Command attacks coastal targets. It then sends 146 bombers against Mannheim and Ludwigshafen during the night.

East African Campaign: The perimeter at Amba Alagi remains quiet as the British forces await reinforcements which are only a day away. The East African 22nd Infantry Brigade moves to the southwest around Laka Shala in Galla-Sidamo.

Winston Churchill sends Abyssinian Emperor Haile Selassie and congratulates him on being "the first [monarch deposed by the fascists] to return in triumph."

U-110 HMS Bulldog 9 May 1941
HMS Bulldog alongside U-110, 9 May 1941.

Battle of the Atlantic: Events of 9 May 1941 are little remembered by the public after the fact, but they are of far-reaching consequence. They are so important that this almost could be considered a case of losing a battle, but thereby winning a war.

The British recently captured German weather ship Munchen near Iceland, securing prized Kriegsmarine naval codes, and today they pull off an even greater intelligence coup. U-100 (Kptlt. Fritz-Julius Lemp), one of the top U-boat commanders (he sank the Athenia on 3 September 1939), is operating off of Cape Farewell, Greenland and shadowing Convoy OB-318 as part of Wolf Pack West. Lemp attacks the convoy, and all goes well at first as he sinks to ships:

  • 4976 ton British freighter Esmond (all survive)
  • 2609 ton British freighter Bengore Head (40 survivors, one dead).

However, the convoy escorts (HMS Bulldog, Broadway and Aubretia) force the U-boat to the surface with depth charges. Lemp and his crew abandon ship (15 dead, 32 survivors) a little too quickly, and U-110 fails to sink. Lemp himself perishes during the incident under very murky and controversial circumstances.

Noticing the U-boat failing to sink, a boarding party from the Bulldog, led by 20-year-old Sub-Lt. David Balme, quickly rows over to the U-boat despite the ever-present fear that scuttling charges could go off at any moment. The Royal Navy sailors grab the extremely valuable Enigma coding machine along with its code books, rotor settings and charts.

After everything of value has been removed from the U-boat (including the submarine's chronometer), the British sink it (during a storm, so perhaps not intentionally) to maintain the secret of its capture. It is an astonishingly lucky find for the British Ultra operation at Bletchley Park, who have been in need of the equipment and information. Of immediate benefit, the documents aboard enable the British to break the German Reservehandverfahren code, a reserve German hand cipher. The capture also becomes is a key step on the road to British scientist Alan Turing's first computer, Colossus. The capture of U-110 is so significant that it later is given the code name Operation Primrose. Winston Churchill will not even tell President Roosevelt about it until January 1942.

Fritz-Julius Lemp U-110 9 May 1941
Fritz-Julius Lemp, Captain of U-110, KIA 9 May 1941.

U-103 (KptLt.Viktor Schütze), on its fourth patrol out of Lorient and operating off of West Africa, torpedoes and sinks 7120 ton British freighter City of Winchester. There are 91 survivors and six deaths.

U-201 (Kptlt. Adalbert Schnee), on its first patrol out of Kiel, also attacks convoy OB-318 as part of Wolf Pack West a couple of hours after the capture of U-110. Schnee hits two ships:

  • 5969 ton Empire Cloud (badly damaged)
  • 5802 ton Gregalia (sunk)

While the Empire Cloud is disabled and considered unsafe, so the crew abandons ship. However, a tug is called from Greenock, which manages to tow it back to port, where it is repaired and returned to service. There are no casualties on either ship.

Italian submarine Enrico Tazzoli torpedoes and sinks 8817 ton Norwegian tanker Alfred Olsen several hundred miles off Freetown. Everyone survives.

Off Freetown, Royal Navy Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Cilicia captures 4564 ton Vichy French transport SS Criton. The Criton is carrying shells for the French base at Dakar. The British send the ship to Freetown, with a skeleton party of armed guards supervising the Vichy French crew.

U-107 (KrvKpt. Günter Hessler), on its second patrol and operating off of Freetown, Sierra Leone, is in the midst of a wildly successful patrol during which it sinks or damages a phenomenal 14 ships during more than two months at sea. To stay at sea that long, U-boats need regular supply from "Milch" ships. Today, U-107 is supplied with food and 14 torpedoes when it hooks up with the Egerland, which is disguised as an American freighter.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 3010 ton Royal Navy mine destruction ship HMS Queenworth in Outer Dowsing Channel. Everybody survives.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 97 ton British trawler Tankerton Towers off St Govan's Light Vessel in the mouth of Bristol Channel. All eight aboard survive.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 1737 ton British freighter Ostrevent near Helwick Light Vessel in the Humber.

The Luftwaffe damages mine destruction ship HMS Corfield with near misses in the Humber.

The Luftwaffe damages 4950 ton British freighter Fishpool at Barrow.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages British tankers San Roberto (5890 tons) and British Statesmen (6991 tons) just over twenty miles northeast of Spurn Point, East Riding of Yorkshire. The tankers are towed to Immingham.

Spanish fishing trawler Luis Puebla hits a mine and sinks in the Bay of Biscay north of Gijón, Asturias. There are three survivors and nine deaths.

US aircraft carrier USS Ranger and heavy cruiser Vincennes, with a destroyer escort, conduct a neutrality patrol in the Atlantic.

Another Italian submarine that has escaped from Eritrea, the Ferraris, arrives at Bordeaux after a long journey.

Convoy SC 31 departs from Halifax, bound for Liverpool.

Royal Navy destroyer HMS Brocklesby, minesweeper Polruan (Lt. Commander John S. Landers), and Anti-Submarine Warfare trawler Tarantella (Lt. Robert A. Balfour) are commissioned.

Canadian minesweeper HMCS Ungava and corvette Matapedia (Lt. Ronald J. Herman) are commissioned.

HMS Nigella 9 May 1941
HMS Nigella, which picked up 45 survivors from Empire Cloud northeast of Cape Farewell. The Empire Cloud had been torpedoed by U-201.

Battle of the Mediterranean:  The first four ships related to Operation Tiger (MW 7A and 7B out of Alexandria) reach Malta. They carry 30,000 tons of supplies. In addition, two tankers and a destroyer loaded with supplies, HMS Breconshire, also arrive. This is the largest convoy to arrive at Malta during the war and is aided by very cloudy weather. The main force of Operation Tiger coming from Gibraltar is still at sea.

One ship, however, fails to make it. British 9200 ton freighter Empire Song hits a mine during the night which sets off its ammunition cargo, causing it to explode. The Empire Song and its 57 tanks, 10 aircraft and several trucks quickly sink. There are 18 deaths and 130 survivors.

In addition, freighter New Zealand Star hits a mine, but manages to make it to Malta.

At Tobruk, General Rommel's men intercept a British wireless communication that leads them to suspect that a major British offensive may be in the offing. Rommel orders defenses along the perimeter of Tobruk strengthened and orders Kampfgruppe von Herff to initiate offensive patrols.

The Royal Navy's nightly shuttle to Tobruk continues as Australian destroyer HMAS Vendetta evacuates wounded and takes them to Alexandria.

At Malta, Governor Dobbie draws up a plan to replace soldiers with female auxiliaries. The jobs will include service as cooks, dining hall waitresses, messengers and similar functions. Among other things, this involves an increase in pay for the women (subject to Whitehall approval).

Convoy AS 30 departs from Suda Bay, Crete under heavy escort, bound for Alexandria.

U-124 Enigma Machine Ultra 9 May 1941
An Enigma machine (lower left) aboard U-124 in March, 1941 (Dietrich, Federal Archives).

Spy Stuff: Bulgarian agents confirm other warnings, such as the one on 6 May from Richard Sorge in Tokyo, that the Germans are planning an attack on the Soviet Union.

Anglo/Free French Relations: There is a muddle within the British hierarchy about how to deal with Vichy Syria, which is in the formative stages of being used to transfer German planes and troops to Iraq. The British have been allowing the Vichy government in Syria wide latitude and even been paying some Vichy sailors interned at Alexandria. This passive attitude has extended to permitting regular passages of French transport SS Providence between Marseille and Beirut - even as other Vichy ships have been captured on the high seas. In effect, the British Middle East Command has been conducting its own independent foreign relations with the Vichy forces in Syria even though there is a growing sense that the French will soon be allowing the Germans transit rights to Iraq.

First, Major-General Edward Spears, who is on the staff of Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell, is a fervent Francophile and has been acting as a liaison to General De Gaulle, cables De Gaulle in Brazzaville that there is no need for him to visit Cairo to plan an attack on Syria. "There would in fact be some disadvantage to your doing so," he writes, which presumably means that De Gaulle's presence would antagonize the Vichy authorities in Syria.

However, in the evening Winston Churchill himself cables De Gaulle. Among other things, Churchill casually mentions that De Gaulle should go to Cairo. Surprised, De Gaulle quickly replies (in English, which is very rare for him) "I shall go to Cairo soon." The entire incident is very revealing of the general confusion that infests relations between Great Britain and France during this period. Another outcome of this incident is that relations between Spears and De Gaulle deteriorate, to Spears' personal regret.

Ju-52 9 May 1941
Junkers Ju-52 transports standing in wait for Operation Mercury, the airborne assault on Crete, 9 May 1941.

Australian/US Relations: Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies is in Washington, D.C. In the morning, he meets with Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Menzies notes that:
I gather that the whole Cabinet would come into the war tomorrow if Roosevelt would say the word. But he hangs back, preferring an "incident" (e.g., as a result of the Atlantic patrol) to a formal declaration.
Menzies notes that Dean Atcheson is "friendly but confused. Famous Harry Hopkins a great disappointment - a sort of gangling yokel."

Soviet/Yugoslav Relations: The Soviet Union withdraws diplomatic recognition of the Yugoslav government-in-exile. Led by King Peter, the exiles have been camping out in Jerusalem under British protection, along with remaining remnants of the Yugoslav Army, Navy and Air Force that managed to leave the country. Some army elements do remain in Yugoslavia, and they are in the process of regrouping as partisans and forming the primarily Serbian "Yugoslav Army of the Fatherland" (Jugoslovenska vojska u otadžbini, or JVUO, or Četniks) under Royalist General Draža Mihailović. However, communist partisans in the region also are stirring, and the Soviets may prefer to back them. The official reason for withdrawing recognition is that the German government now controls the country.

Soviet/Belgian Relations: The Soviets also withdraw recognition of the exiled government of Belgium.

Soviet Norwegian Relations: The Soviets also withdraw recognition of the Norwegian government.

Fort Rutbah 9 May 1941
Fort Rutbah, Iraq, 9 May 1941. This photograph was taken from a RAF Blenheim bomber that attacked the fortress.

Japanese/Vichy French Relations: The inconclusive border wall between Thailand and French forces in Indochina comes to an official end with the signing of a peace treaty in Tokyo. Thailand basically gets all the territory that it sought in the war. The Japanese, who have been serving as an "honest broker" in the affair (but actually strongly favor the Thais), guarantee the new borders. The Vichy French in Indochina are isolated and have been largely powerless to influence the one-sided negotiations.

British Military: The Air Ministry announces the existence of "a large number of paratroops who have completed their training and are ready for action."

Philippines: Now that his staff has arrived on USAT Washington, Brigadier General Clagett, the newly arrived commander of the Philippines Department Air Corps, sets about organizing his command. Ernest Hemingway, on his way back to the States from his six-week stay in Asia, is in Manila and parties with the enlisted men, at least one of whom he knows personally through a mutual female acquaintance. Hemingway, who claims never to have gotten anywhere near the war, makes eerily insightful comments about the situation in China. These include views that the Nationalists and Communists soon will be fighting each other in addition to the Japanese, and that Japan might well be at war with the United States soon.

City of Winchester 9 May 1941
City of Winchester (Master William Samuel Coughlan), sunk on 9 May 1941 by U-103 (Victor Schutze) while transiting from London to Capetown. The City of Winchester carried 6500 tons of general cargo and was sunk off Freetown about 400 miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands. The 91 survivors included the master, and they were rescued by Norwegian freighter Herma and taken to Takoradi.

Serbia: At Sanski Most, the Germans kill 27 Serb civilians as reprials for the recent uprising. The troops force townspeople to hang the bodies in the town square for two days. This incident leads to bitter hatred between the Serbs and the Ustaše, who start contemplating how to wipe out (ethnically cleanse) the population of the entire region. A reign of terror against the Serbian locals commences. There remain many rebels in the nearby hills who will lay low until July.

China: At the Battle of South Shanxi, the Japanese North China Front Army continues to attack the 9th Army of the Chinese 1st War Area at Fengmenkou and Lungwanwo. The Japanese also capture Wangyuan and attack Tungfeng. In addition, the Japanese Imperial Air Force raids the Nationalist capital of Chungking.

American Homefront: Singer Billie Holiday records "God Bless the Child" at the Okey Records studio on Seventh Avenue in New York City. It is the first recording of the jazz song written by Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr. "God Bless the Child" will not be released until 1942. The song will become one of Holiday's signature songs and a major event in her eventual autobiography "Lady Sings the Blues."

Future History: Operation Primrose, the capture of U-110, will become the starting point for the screenplay of "U-571" (2000).

A memorial to the Sanski Most Revolt will be set up at Šušnjar in 1971, and designated a national monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2003.

Sanski Most Revolt memorial 9 May 1941
Monument to the Sanski Most uprising of May 1941. The monument was constructed in 1970 and designed by Sarajevo architect Petar Krstić. The monument is controversial because tiles bearing the names of muslim victims of the revolt have been removed.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

May 8, 1941: Pinguin Sunk

Thursday 8 May 1941

Merseyside 8 May 1941
Merseyside Bomb Damage, Stanley Road Bridge, Bootle, May 1941.

European Air Operations: In a long war, there are often small changes that some like to call "inflection points." In one small area, May 8, 1941 could be called an inflection point in the air war. For the first week of May 1941, the Luftwaffe absolutely pounded several British cities. Liverpool, the critical gateway to North American supplies, has been reduced to 25% of capacity, and many other industrial cities in the north also have been ravaged. London, the most worthless target of the German air campaign, has been spared. In essence, the first week of May 1941 has shown what the Luftwaffe is capable of achieving given proper focus and target selection.

However, now it is the second week of May 1941, and things begin to change. Tonight, RAF Bomber Command launches a massive 359-aircraft raid on Hamburg, Bremen and diversionary targets, its largest effort of the war to date (317 against Hamburg and Bremen alone, with 19 sent against the Kiel Canal). The Luftwaffe gives up on Liverpool - right when the port is reeling - and shifts to the Rolls Royce works at Derby (which, of course, manufactures the all-important aircraft engines that some say are war-winning material). The British institute radio countermeasures that they have been refining for months, and this appears to have the desired effect of confusing the German navigators. Bombs fall all across the countryside in the Peak District, Nottingham, the agricultural Vale of Belvoir and nearby locations.

The Luftwaffe, which finally has figured out how to make its city raids pay real dividends by destroying port infrastructure, now shifts back to attacking 20 airfields during the night. While much damage is still being wrought in England, the air battle never again will be as one-sided in favor of the Luftwaffe as it was from 1-7 May 1941.

The Luftwaffe raids the Clyde, setting back construction of destroyer HMS Pakenham and monitor Roberts. An attack on the Tyne damages destroyers Vivacious and Whaddon, but nobody is aboard them because they are under repair.

The Luftwaffe raids Hull for the second consecutive (and last) night. The military helps with rescue work. The Germans hit Alexandra Dock and sink:
  • 89 ton barge Delite
  • 91 ton barge Ladore
  • 48 ton barge Whitakers No. II
  • 38 ton ketch (lighter) Welcome Home
Portsmouth also receives attention. The Germans sink 99 ton tug Irishman and 83 ton dredger F.W. No. 20. There are 8 deaths total, five on the Irishman and three on the dredger.

Nottingham suffers extensive damage in what comes to be called, appropriately enough, the Nottingham Blitz. Fortunately, the city government has built numerous shelters. The British successfully jam the X-Gerät beams being used to guide the Luftwaffe bombers, and most of their bombs fall harmlessly in the moors. In addition, a Starfish decoy (fires lit intentionally in the countryside to misdirect Luftwaffe attackers) confuses some of the German planes, and they drop their bombs harmlessly near Cropwell Butler in the Vale of Belvoir. However, there are over 100 bombers in this raid, which is directed at the Rolls Royce works, and they begin 12 serious fires, 40 major fires and 42 medium fires.

Damage to Liverpool continues to be assessed. In the final raid on the 7th, which crept into the early hours of the 8th, the following ships were hit:
  • 4969 ton British freighter Marton (sunk)
  • 143 ton barge Rose (sunk)
  • 3079 ton freighter Trentino (sunk)
  • 127 ton barge Burmah (sunk)
  • 591 ton freighter Royal Daffodil (damaged)
  • 2544 ton Finnish freighter Annenberg (damaged)
  • 2902 ton Belgian freighter Leopold II (damaged)
  • 1376 ton Norwegian freighter Stromboli (damaged)
  • 652 ton British crane Hercules (damaged).

The Hercules crane, very important to operations, is sunk but later raised and returned to service.

Kommodore Moelders of JG 51 claims a Spitfire from RAF No. 92 Squadron in his brand new Bf 109F. It is his third victory in the last few days in the new version of the Reich's front-line fighter, a good omen for future use of the plane by the rest of the Luftwaffe.

Arab Legionnaires 8 May 1941
"Arab Legionnaires guard the landing ground at H4 pumping station on the Iraq Petroleum Company pipeline in Transjordan, as Gloster Gladiators of No. 94 Squadron RAF Detachment refuel during their journey from Ismailia, Egypt, to reinforce the besieged garrison at Habbaniyah, Iraq. On arrival at Habbaniyah these aircraft formed No. 1 Flight of 'A' Squadron for operations against the Iraqi rebels." 8 May 1941. © IWM (CM 774).

Anglo/Iraq War: The war in Iraq itself is going well for the British, but Prime Minister Winston Churchill remains a troubled man. It is clear that the Germans have designs on the oil of the Middle East, and the Vichy French in Syria appear to hold the key. Churchill writes to General Ismay:
I must have the advice of the Staffs upon the Syrian business available for Cabinet this morning. A supreme effort must be made to prevent the Germans getting a foothold in Syria with small forces and then using Syria as a jumping-off ground for the air domination of Iraq and Persia. ... We ought to help in every way without minding what happens at Vichy.
While it is not clear what Churchill means by "a supreme effort" against Syria, that is the subject of the evening's War Cabinet meeting.

The British and Transjordanian forces crossing the desert from Palestine arrive at Rutbah Fort. They find it occupied by Iraqi forces under Rashid Ali, but the defenders are mostly just local policemen. The RAF sends four Blenheim bombers of No. 203 Squadron to bomb the fort while the British troops wait outside.

At the port of Basra, the Indian 10th Infantry Division continues fighting its way out of the port and consolidates its capture of Ashar.

East African Campaign: After an opening attack by Indian troops at Amba Alagi that proved unsuccessful, fighting largely has died down at the Italian stronghold of Amba Alagi. An Indian 9th Infantry Brigade diversionary attack through the Falagi Pass to the east makes some progress and essentially clears the pass. However, the Italians counterattack and recover Centre and Khaki Hills. The British have reinforcements on the march that are only days away.

HMS Sickle 8 May 1941
HMS Sickle (P224). Laid down: 8 May 1941. Launched: 27 August 1942. Commissioned: 1 December 1942. Fate: Sunk June 1944.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-97 (Kptlt. Udo Heilmann), on its third patrol out of St. Nazaire, is operating off of Cape Farewell on 7 May when it spots two freighters that have been dispersed from convoy OB-317. After missing in its first try and having to engage in a long chase, U-97 finally catches and sinks 4553 ton freighter Ramilles. There are 29 deaths and 12 survivors, who are rescued by freighter Geddington Court and taken to Halifax.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 521 ton anti-submarine yacht HMY Viva II about 13 miles west of Trevose Head. There are 22 deaths and ten survivors.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 93 ton naval drifter Uberty at Lowestoft. There are 13 deaths.

Royal Navy 79 ton drifter Thistle V hits a mine off Lowestoft and sinks. There are nine deaths and one survivor.

British 16 ton smack Thistle hits a mine and sinks off Clacton-on-Sea. Everyone survives.

Spanish 106 ton fishing trawler Luis Puebla hits a mine and sinks 160 miles northeast of Gijon. All nine aboard the ship survive.

Royal Navy patrol sloop Puffin has an accident with depth charges during exercises off the Humber. It requires two days of repairs.

Convoy OB 320 departs from Liverpool.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Sickle is laid down.

U-569 (Kptlt. Hans-Peter Hinsch) is commissioned, U-515 is laid down.

German raider Pinguin 8 May 1941
German raider Pinguin (Ship No. 33), sunk 8 May 1941.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: German raider Pinguin, which is operating in the Arabian Sea and has been cruising since 15 June 1940, added to its phenomenal victory string on 7 May by sinking 3663 ton British freighter British Emperor. However, before being silenced, the radio operator on the British Emperor managed to get off a radio signal. The British have been searching fruitlessly for the Pinguin for months, and once again they send out an assortment of vessels to track it down. Heretofore the effects have failed, but today is different.

British cruiser HMS Cornwall, which had been 500 nautical miles (930 km) to the south of Pinguin, heads north and intercepts the German raider 400 miles off Somaliland. The Pinguin spots the Royal Navy ship first and tries to run away to the southwest at flank speed, but the Cornwall's Supermarine Walrus search plane spots the fleeing ship. The Cornwall is cautious: there are a lot of innocent ships in the vicinity, and Cmdr. Ernst-Felix Krüder of the Pinguin has disguised his ship carefully as Norwegian freighter Tamerlane. After returning to the Cornwall, the Walrus returns for a closer look. Once again the Walrus returns to the Cornwall, but then the decision is made to look over the suspicious ship a third time, and the captain of the Cornwall decides to take a look himself.

Ernst-Felix Krüder 8 May 1941
Ernst-Felix Krüder (6 December 1897 – 8 May 1941).

The Cornwall approaches and fires a warning shot, but the Pinguin attempts to flee. After numerous warning messages, the Pinguin finally runs up her battle flag and opens fire, straddling the Cornwall. It scores a hit in the cruiser's stern, causing one sailor to perish and wounding three, and the Cornwall has to retire. However, the damage is quickly dealt with and the Cornwall returns to the attack and begins to score hits. Within 27 minutes, the Pinguin receives a direct hit that triggers the 130 high-explosive mines stored in its hold, blowing the Pinguin apart. Cornwall then heads to Durban for repairs which take about one month.

There are 60 survivors of the Pinguin (Krüder goes down with his ship), and 24 of of 238 prisoners held on the ship survive. In total, 214 prisoners and 341 crew of the Pinguin perish in the encounter. In total, during its 59,000-mile cruise, the Pinguin sank or captured 28 ships for a total of 136,642 gross register tons, and it has laid mines that have sunk an additional four ships of 18,068 tons. The biggest prize of all was the Pinguin's capture of the entire Norwegian Antarctic Whaling fleet, including two factory ships, eleven whalers, and a tanker.  That is all over now, though, and the Pinguin has the additional distinction of becoming the first German raider to be sunk.

Minesweeper HMAS Warrnambool is launched.

HMAS Warrnambool 8 May 1941
Warrnambool slides down the slipway at Mort's Dock, Sydney, 8 May 1941.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Tobruk is quiet, but the sea war in the Mediterranean is becoming ferocious. The Tiger Convoy bound from Gibraltar to Alexandria has come within the reach of the Regia Aeronautica and the Luftwaffe, and today the first attacks on the critical convoy occur. Italian planes based on Sardinia are the first to attack, but Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal sends up its dozen Fairy Fulmars and they drive off the attacking 50+ aircraft at the cost of one of their own. The loss, however, is felt deeply, because the dead pilot is Admiral Somerville's nephew. Another Fulmar also is lost, but the crew is picked up.

Winston Churchill keeps the pressure on his staff regarding the Takoradi route, which shuttles planes from the west coast of Africa to Cairo. He tells the War Cabinet that "greater efforts" are necessary, and that "It was evident that inadequate steps had been taken to secure American aid in erecting American aircraft."

Royal Navy submarine HMS Truant is proceeding from Malta to Gibraltar for repairs when it spots and captures 1775 ton French freighter Gallium. The Truant takes the Gallium as a prize and continues with it toward Gibraltar. However, the Gallium has alerted the Vichy French of its situation, and the French decide to dispatch ships from Oran to recover it. This continues the very murky pattern of naval incidents between the Royal and French Navies during this period.

Bf 109E 8 May 1941
Bf 109E3B of 9.JG27 Brown 8, Gela, Sicily, May 1941.

The Luftwaffe mines the Suez Canal, as it has in the past, during the night.

Royal Navy submarine Cachalot arrives in Malta from Alexandria. It carries badly needed supplies. The bombing has become so regular at the island that the government there decides to relocate facilities underground. There is only one problem: everyone is in the military and there aren't enough miners to do the job. Governor Dobbie requests that miners be sent from Gibraltar for the job. Dobbie also bans dissemination of all printed material, including newspapers such as the Government Gazette.

German/Spanish Relations: German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop signs an agreement with his Spanish counterpart by which Spanish workers will head north to work in German war plants.

Strawberry Festival Tennessee 8 May 1941
The Strawberry Festival Parade in Humboldt, Tennessee. May 8, 1941.

Anglo-US Relations: Winston Churchill keeps a very close eye on political developments in the United States, and is quick to react. He notices an article in the London Times quoting isolationist US Senator Vandenberg on 6 May that Churchill interprets as representing "efforts to belittle our losses." He tells his staff to publish actual shipping losses. While this may provide useful information to the Germans, Churchill views "the present state of American opinion" as more important. By the evening War Cabinet meeting, Churchill has a telegram ready to send to Harry Hopkins containing the true figures, which goes out before midnight. The telegram states:
Our shipping losses for April amount to  just under 500,000 tons sunk and 285,000 damaged. Of tonnage lost, over 300,000 were incurred in the Atlantic and the rest in the Mediterranean fighting. Besides the loss in ships sunk and damaged at sea we are losing very heavily in the bombing of our western ports when cargoes are destroyed or damaged.
Churchill adds that he will publish the figures on "this very bad month" on 15 May.

Australian/US Relations: Having met with Malcolm Macdonald in the morning, Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies boards a train from Ottawa to Toronto and then flies down to Washington. He notes in his diary that "the French Canadians... are OK," an allusion to worries that they may choose to align with Vichy France rather than the Allies.

British Military: Vice Admiral L. E. Holland, CB, formerly Vice Admiral 18th Cruiser Squadron, is named temporary commander of the 18th Cruiser Squadron, replacing Vice Admiral W.J. Whitworth. Holland will raise his flag on HMS Hood on 12 May.

Nottingham 8 May 1941
Bomb damage at the bottom of Friar Lane, Nottingham, night of 8-9 May 1941 (Photo courtesy of John Beckett, 1990. Book of Nottingham. 1st Edition. Barracuda Bks).

Italian Government: The Italians have been given large swathes of Dalmatia to govern by the Germans (the thinking being that the Italian military at least will be a match for the partisan movement already developing there), and the issue of who is to govern Croatia has become a subject of debate. The Duke of Aosta is considered the best choice, but he is hunkered down in Abyssinia with no way to get out and, besides, the King doesn't really like him. Essentially by a process of elimination of everyone the royal court can't stand, the choice is made today. Benito Mussolini, Foreign Minister Count Ciano and Anton Pavelic' meet at Monfalcone and confirm the lucky man: Prince Aimone, the trapped Duke of Aosta's brother.

It is not a popular choice - Mussolini can't stand the prince - but he is acceptable to the King and everyone else, so that is that. There's only one problem: nobody can find the prince. The rest of the day is spent searching for the lucky 41-year-old to tell him he has just been made king of the independent State of Croatia. Prince Aimone, however, is hiding out with his mistress and, quite frankly, doesn't want to be found. As Ciano writes in his diary:
When we looked for him, to give him the news, we managed to find him, only after twenty-four hours, in a Milan Hotel, where he was hiding in the company of a young girl.
When finally found, the prince laughs it off and says his proposed royal name, Tomislav II, sounds like "the name of a ruler in an operetta or that of a music-hall comedian." Finally, the King himself has to announce the selection for Prince Aimone to realize it is a serious proposition and accept the decision.

P-35A fighters 8 May 1941
P-35As of the 17th Pursuit Squadron, photo taken from USAT Washington as it arrives in Manila on 8 May 1941 (Walter Hinkle via Clyde Childress).

Philippines: USAT Washington arrives at Pier 7 in Manila, carrying Philippine Department officers, including 39 Class 41-B graduates who are recent flying school graduates. The pilots will be divided between the 17th Pursuit Squadron and the 3rd Pursuit Squadron. The Washington will spend six days in Manila, then head back to the States carrying officers' wives and other dependents. Commanding Brig. Gen. Henry B. Clagett, who himself only arrived in the Philippines on 4 May along with his chief of staff Col. Harold Huston George, greets the pilots and several staff forces for his new command, including Captain Charles Sprague, who will serve as operations officer.

Serbia: The Sanski Most revolt continues, and the Germans respond today with extreme force. General Rudolf Sintzenich sends 3rd Battalion of the 436 Infantry Regiment by train from Banja Luka to Sanksi Most via Prijedor. Other troops arrive from Bosanski Novi and Prijedor. The German counterattack opens at 8 a.m., and by 11 a.m. the Serb revolt is crushed. The Wehrmacht troops sweep the area of revolt with the local Ustaše troops, with most of the rebels throwing down their weapons and surrendering but dozens perishing in the fighting. The Germans have difficulty distinguishing rebels from the rest of the population, so they wind up capturing many civilians who had nothing to do with the fighting. Reprisal executions are planned for the 9th.

China: The Japanese offensive by the North China Front Army called the Battle of Southern Shansi (Chungyuan Operation) gathers steam. They attack Tungfeng and capture Tsiyuan, Menghsien, Fulochen, and Yuanchu. The Chinese Nationalist forces in the area are in trouble and call on nearby Communist forces for help, but the communists are slow to respond due to previous incidents with the Kuomintang.

Marmon Herrington armoured car 8 May 1941
A Marmon-Herrington Mk II armoured car armed with an Italian Breda 20mm gun, near Tobruk, 8 May 1941." © IWM (E 2872).


Saturday, January 20, 2018

May 7, 1941: May Blitz

Wednesday 7 May 1941

Hull Blitz 7 May 1941
"Smouldering grain cascades slide into the river at Hull after the raid on the night of 7/9 May 1941." © IWM (HU 660).

Anglo/Iraq War: In a cable on 7 May 1941 to Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill note that "It would seem that the Habbaniya show has greatly improved, and audacious action now against the Iraqis may crush the revolt before the Germans arrive." Churchill sends Wavell the actual text of an Ultra decrypt of Wehrmacht wireless communications, something that very few people even within the highest levels of the military were privy to.

The British troops at Habbaniya continue pushing the Iraqi troops back toward Baghdad. Further south, the Indian 20th and 21st Brigades sortie out of the port of Basra and attack nearby port Ashar. Brigadier Slim arrives at Basra as chief of staff to General Edward Quinan.

The Italians have some planes in Iraq, and today they score a rare success when they damage 176 ton British tanker barge Safiyeh in the Persian Gulf. The barge is towed to Abadan for repairs.

Both sides are planning to send reinforcements - the Germans via Viche-held Syria - but the British have troops already on the march and already are having success on the ground in Iraq.

The Germans send Fritz Grobba to Iraq to become their official representative in Baghdad.

Guy Mk Ia Armoured Car 7 May 1941
One of 50 Guy Mk IA armoured cars, seen here during anti-invasion exercises in Southern Command, 7 May 1941. It sports a 15 mm Besa MG.

European Air Operations: The May Blitz reaches its climax. The Luftwaffe pattern of focusing on single cities over multiple nights continues as they begin raids on Kingston on Hull for the first of two consecutive nights. There is massive damage, and an estimated 40,000 are made homeless. In the harbor, 53 ton freighter Ril Ida sinks at Victoria Dock, Hull.

The May Blitz on Liverpool and Merseyside continues for a seventh consecutive (and last) night. The entire dock area is destroyed or still in flames. A hit on a school shelter kills 160 people, and a hospital sees 60 patients and staff perish.

There is more destruction in the harbor, too. Destroyer HMS Hurricane takes a direct hit and sinks, but fortunately it is in shallow water and is raised and returned to service by January 1942. Destroyer Viscount and CAM ship Maplin also are damaged by the ship, with the Viscount also out until January 1942. 43 ton flat Ellesbasnk sinks at Stanley Dock, and 201 ton tug Hornby also is sunk, but later raised and returned to service. Other ships hit at Liverpool:

  • 46 ton sailing barge Ida Burton (sunk)
  • 4672 ton British freighter Clan Macinnes (damaged).

There are fires throughout Liverpool, but it continues to function both as a city and a port (though the port is reduced to only 25% of previous capacity now). As has been done before in other cities, troops are brought in to maintain order and clear debris. Cars are no longer permitted downtown - where streets are full of debris anyway - and most of the phone system is out. Overall, it is estimated that 1450 people have been killed since the bombing began on 1 May.

Other Luftwaffe attacks occur on Tynemouth Borough in Northumberland, West Hartlepool, Hartlepool and Billingham in Co Durham and Middlesbrough in Yorkshire. The attacks are not large - Hartlepool is bombed by nine planes - but they stretch out British air defenses and cause a lot of pain and suffering and damage to property.

The Luftwaffe continues attacking British shipping elsewhere as well, sinking 260 ton minesweeping trawler Susarion east of Humber Light Vessel and 96 ton naval drifter Gowan Hill at the port of Greenock. Also sunk at Greenock is 106 ton British freighter Bluestone (everyone survives).

The RAF conducts a Roadstead Operation to Gravelines. After dark, Bomber Command sends 15 bombers against the U-boat pens at St. Nazaire and another 89 bombers against the port of Brest. There also are attacks by 16 planes against coastal targets.

RAF ace Douglas Bader shoots down a Bf 109 during the day and also claims another probable.

The first B-17 Flying Fortress in RAF service arrives in Great Britain at RAF Watton. RAF No. 90 Squadron, a World War I unit, is reformed to handle the heavy bombers, which soon will relocate to West Raynham.

East African Campaign: The situation at Amba Alagi temporarily settles down into garrison duty as the Allied forces await the arrival of reinforcements.

HMS Somali 7 May 1941
HMS Somali in a prewar 1939 photo. The Somali captured German weather ship Munchen on 7 May 1941. 

Battle of the Atlantic: U-94 (Kptlt. Herbert Kuppisch), on its fourth patrol, spots Convoy OB 318 southwest of Iceland, and the convoy's escorts spot it as well. The escorts drop 98 depth charges, but fail to sink Kuppisch's boat. After shaking the Royal Navy ships off, Kuppisch resumes stalking the convoy and torpedoes and sinks 5658 ton Norwegian freighter Eastern Star (three dead) and 10,263 ton British tanker Ixon (everyone survives). The escorts attack U-94 again after this, but Kuppisch gets away.

Italian submarine Enrico Tazzoli spots 4310 ton Norwegian freighter Ferlane a few hundred miles off of Guinea Bissau and sends it to the bottom. Everybody aboard survives.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 12 ton fishing trawler Waterlily at Bessom Creek, West Mersea (near Clacton-on-Sea).

British 72 ton steam barge Kineenan hits a mine and sinks at Liverpool. All five men aboard are killed.

U-93 (Kptlt. Claus Korth) is on its fourth patrol near Greenland when it has an incident involving its machine gun. Three men are wounded, but the U-boat continues its patrol.

Two Italian submarines, Archimede and Guglielmotti, complete the long journey from Eritrea when they arrive in Bordeaux.

Convoy OB 319 departs from Liverpool.

Royal Navy corvette HMS Mignonette is commissioned.

Destroyer USS Woolsey is commissioned (Lt. Commander William H. Von Dreele).

U-352 is launched, U-260 and U-662 are laid down.

Athens anti-aircraft gun 7 May 1941
A flak gun deployed in front of the ruins of the Temple of Zeus, a short distance from Constitution Square in the center of Athens. Mt Hymettus is in the background. May 1941 (Heber, Federal Archive).

Battle of the Mediterranean: The at Tobruk has turned into normal patrols and artillery exchanges. The Royal Navy has begun a nightly supply shuttle from Alexandria, with fast destroyers dashing in, unloading and returning to port before dawn.

The pace at sea is picking up, though. Operation Tiger, which left Gibraltar on the 6th, continues steaming toward Alexandria. The transports carry tanks, but the more important tank personnel are still sent on the much longer, but safer, route around South Africa.

Royal Navy cruiser HMS Ajax and destroyers Havock, Hotspur and Imperial are passing by Benghazi to meet the Tiger convoy when they detour to bombard the city. They sink Italian freighters Capitano Cecchi and Tenace.

The Luftwaffe attacks Tobruk Harbor and scores some successes. Sunk is minesweeper Stoke, while minesweeping whaler Svana is damaged by a near miss.

The Luftwaffe raids Suda Bay, the center of British operations on Crete. They damage 1545 ton Greek freighter Tanais, which the Germans later raise and return to service.

The Germans are still consolidating their hold on mainland Greece. The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 1216 ton Greek freighter Katina P. at Astakos on the west coast.

Italian 2939 ton freighter Pascoli hits a mine and sinks near Saseno (Sazan) Island (near Vlore).

Churchill allows General Freyberg, commander in Crete, to receive actual Ultra decrypts of German wireless transmissions using the Enigma code machine. These decrypts show in real time that the Luftwaffe is planning an aerial assault by paratroopers. However, the Secret Intelligence Service cautions Freyberg not to act on the Ultra decrypts unless and until he received independent verification of their contents so that the Germans would not suspect a security breach. Freyberg dutifully complies, and thus does not rearrange his defenses from the beaches to prospective aerial landing zones at Maleme Airfield and elsewhere despite having a very clear picture of how the battle will develop.

During his speech to the House of Commons (see below), Winston Churchill states that:
The loss of the Nile Valley and the Suez Canal and the loss of our position in the Mediterranean, as well as the loss of Malta, would be among the heaviest blows which we could sustain. 
Basically, Churchill confirms the wisdom of German Admiral Raeder's "peripheral strategy" which so far has worked well and still retains a lot of promise.

At Malta, there are several air raid alerts. The planes attack Luqa Airfield and some other military positions, and the RAF loses two Hurricanes when the planes collide (one pilot killed).

Lord Gort arrives at Gibraltar as the new Governor and Commander-in-Chief.

Daily News 7 May 1941
Front page of the New York Daily News, 7 May 1941.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: German raider Pinguin is operating in the Arabian Sea a few hundred miles off Somalia when it spots and sinks 3663 ton British tanker British Emperor. There are 45 deaths total; while many men are taken on board the Pinguin, it will sink on the 8th and take them to their deaths. This is because the radio operator on the British Emperor manages to get off a distress call, which draws in Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Eagle and heavy cruisers Cornwall and Hawkins from the port of Mombasa. New Zealand light cruiser Leander and light cruisers Glasgow and Liverpool also join in the search for the Pinguin.

Spy Stuff: In an unusual incident, the Royal Navy has diverted three light cruisers (HMS Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester) from their coverage of minelaying Operation SN 9A to seek out a German weather ship off Iceland. This is Operation EB, and it succeeds when the cruisers capture 306 ton German weather ship Munchen. The weather ship is taken to Thorshavn.

Capturing the German ship itself, though, is not the real prize. Among other things, quick action by men on destroyer Somali recovers valuable Enigma codes from the Munchen. Such codes can be extremely valuable so long as the Germans don't know they have been broken, because Kriegsmarine Enigma operators are extremely careful and it is difficult to break their codes otherwise. Such codes also typically remain in effect for extended periods.

Australian/Canadian Relations: After an exhausting trip across the Atlantic by flying boat from Portugal to New York, Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies boards a Douglas bomber and flies up to Ottawa for talks with Canadian leader MacKenzie King. Australia and Canada have a tight relationship because many Australian pilots are being trained in Canada at Empire Air Training Schools in Canada. Menzies gives five speeches and shows films of bomb damage in England.

Liverpool Blitz 7 May 1941
View from the Victoria Monument in Derby Square, Liverpool during the May Blitz (Stewart Bale).

British Government: Winston Churchill gives a speech, giving a nod to his erstwhile French allies by making kindly references to Napoleon (who British troops defeated, caught and exiled, of course):
Some have compared Hitler’s conquests with those of Napoleon. It may be that Spain and Russia will shortly furnish new chapters to that theme. It must be remembered, however, that Napoleon’s armies carried with them the fierce, liberating and equalitarian winds of the French Revolution, whereas Hitler’s empire has nothing behind it but racial self-assertion, espionage, pillage, corruption and the Prussian boot.
During his remarks, Churchill bashes Leslie Hore-Belisha, the former Secretary of War under Neville Chamberlain. He accuses Hore-Belisha at length and in great detail for not focusing sufficiently on tank development and production. Hore-Belisha, who is present, retorts that Churchill is "indulging in petty recriminations," has not been in that position "for 20 months," and that Churchill has "enjoyed unprecedented powers" since becoming Prime Minister and thus - presumably - should bear blame for any current deficiencies. The exchange reflects deep worry among the British about the state of their tank forces as compared to the feared panzers.

The House of Commons holds a vote of confidence in the government, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill prevails by 447 to 3. This evidences a slight firming in his overall support despite recent reversals in Libya and Greece.

China: The Battle of South Shanx, aka the Battle of Jinnan and Zhongtiao Mountains Campaign and the Chungyuan Operation, begins. The Japanese Imperial Army's North China Front Army with six divisions and three brigades under Hayao Tada attacks to secure the Zhongtiao Mountains. The Japanese 3rd Air Group supports the ground operations. The Chinese defense is hampered by extreme friction between the separate Nationalist (Kuomintang) and Communist (CPC) forces. The Japanese quickly move to surround the Nationalist Chinese forces, and they call on aid from nearby Communist forces of the 8th Route Army.

Serbia: The Sanski Most revolt continues. Ustaše authorities take prominent hostages at the railway station army barracks to prevent any more attacks on their people. The Germans respond to Ustaše calls for assistance and send 42 soldiers from their base at Prijedor and secure the area of the revolt. However, word has gotten out about the revolt to the surrounding area, and Serbs begin to pour into Tramošnja looking for a fight. The Ustaše kill three Serbs, while the Germans take three casualties. The day ends with Serbs forming a defensive perimeter on the slopes of Kijevska Gora above Sjenokos. The Germans order more troops to the area.

American Homefront: Detroit Tigers baseball star Hank Greenberg, who was drafted on 16 October 1940, is inducted into the US Army and reports to Fort Custer at Battle Creek, Michigan. Greenberg initially was turned down by the draft board (marked 4F) due to "flat feet," but Greenberg requested to be readmitted and ultimately was found fit for military service. He states: "I made up my mind to go when I was called. My country comes first." He trains as an anti-tank gunner and ultimately, with a temporary break in service, will serve for 47 months, the longest of any major league player.

Diphtheria immunizations 7 May 1941
"Ronald Ford (aged 7) climbs a drainpipe to show that there are no ill effects following his inoculation against diphtheria, which took place the day before (7 May 1941) at Argyle Street School Clinic." © IWM (D 3179).


Friday, January 19, 2018

May 6, 1941: Stalin In Command

Tuesday 6 May 1941

Suda Bay Crete 6 May 1941
Australian 6th Division Troops landing at Suda Bay, Crete after their evacuation from Greece (Australian War Memorial).

Anglo-Iraq War: The British on 6 May 1941 gradually have been pushing the Iraqis back from their stronghold at Habbaniyah Airfield west of Baghdad. Today, they clear the plateau to the south which overlooks the airfield from which the Iraqis have been shelling the airfield with 28 artillery pieces. The Iraqis flee in disarray after taking 1000 casualties, falling back on Baghdad with the rag-tag British troops (chiefly the King's Own Royal Regiment) in pursuit in armoured cars. The British catch up to the Iraqis at Sinn El Dhibban, taking 433 prisoners while losing 7 killed and 14 wounded.

Hitler still wants to send troops and planes to Iraq. His representative in Paris, Otto Abetz, receives tentative permission from Admiral Darlan, the Foreign Minister of Vichy France under Petain, to do so (in exchange for cutting the French indemnity owed to Germany from 20 million to 15 million Reichsmarks per day). Of course, there is the little matter of getting German troops to Syria in the first place, which is a tricky proposition given Royal Navy command of the eastern Mediterranean. The British already have two columns of troops of their own on their way across the desert from their possessions in Palestine and today receive the 21st Indian Brigade at the port of Basra, so the possibility of a remote battle between Axis and Allied troops in the desert looms.

Hermann Goering is eager to increase his prestige with operations in Iraq. He organizes Fliegerführer Irak with 12 Messerschmitt Bf110 fighters and 12 Heinkel He111 bombers under the command of Luftwaffe Colonel Werner Junck. Of course, this force also must find its way to Iraq.

In London, British Prime Minister writes an angry memo to General Ismay about a military appreciation he has received of the Iraq situation. The analysis by Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell and General Bernard Auchinleck of the Indian Command suggests that the British troops in Palestine, which are headed to relieve the British forces in Iraq, are insufficient to overcome the Iraqi Army. Wavell and Auchinleck are pessimistic and project that the outnumbered British will be forced to surrender by the 12th of May. Churchill notes that British losses in Iraq "have been nominal as so far reported" and rejects the recommendation that negotiations with Iraqi leader Rashid Ali be planned. "We should treat the present situation like a rebellion," Churchill concludes, and the British Army has a century of experience in handling those.

Belfast 6 May 1941
Damage in Belfast, Ireland from the Belfast Blitz which concluded on 5 May 1941 (Belfast Telegraph).

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe attacks Liverpool again as part of the May Blitz. The bombing causes additional damage.

The Germans damage several ships. These include:

  • 4861 ton British freighter Industria, but it manages to make it to Greenock for repairs
  • 3874 ton Greek freighter Moscha D. Kydoniefs

The Germans also attack Greenock, Scotland. This is the first of two consecutive nightly attacks that collectively are known as the Greenock Blitz. The Luftwaffe loses at least two bombers during the night.

The RAF sends a Roadstead operation to Gravelines during the day. RAF Bomber Command sends 8 aircraft to attack shipping. After dark, it sends 16 bombers against Le Havre and 115 to attack Hamburg.

Kommodore Mölders of JG 51 shoots down a RAF No. 601 Squadron Hurricane for another victory in his new Bf 109F fighter.

East African Campaign: Indian Troops attacking at Amba Alagi are pinned down by withering Italian crossfire throughout the day. They retreat after dark.

HMS Camito 6 May 1941
HMS Camito, sunk on 6 May 1941.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-103 (Kapitänleutnant Viktor Schütze) torpedoes and sinks 5529 ton British freighter Surat about 100 miles off Conakry, Guinea. There are three deaths. There is still an element of chivalry in the sea war, with the Germans helpfully righting a lifeboat for the struggling British crew.

U-103 also torpedoes and sinks 4752 ton British freighter Dunkwa in the same area. There are three deaths.

U-556 (Kptlt. Herbert Wohlfarth)  is on its first patrol out of kiel when it uses its deck gun and sinks 166 ton Faroes fishing trawler Emanuel west of the Faroe Islands. There are three deaths.

U-105 (Kptlt. Georg Schewe) torpedoes and sinks 4255 ton British freighter Oakdene midway between Guinea-Bissau and Brazil. Everyone survives.

U-97 (Kptlt. Udo Heilmann) torpedoes and sinks Royal Navy boarding vessel HMS Camito southwest of Ireland. There are 28 deaths and a few survivors. U-97 also torpedoes and sinks 6466 ton Italian freighter Sango in the same area. The Camito has been escorting the recently captures blockade runner Sango to port in England - obviously ineffectively.

Convoy HG 61 departs Gibraltar bound for Liverpool, Convoys HX 125A and B depart from Halifax also bound for Liverpool.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Sea Nymph is laid down.

U-613 and U-614 are laid down.

Igor Sikorsky VS-300 6 May 1941
Igor Sikorsky, wearing his customary homburg, at the time of his record-breaking helicopter flight in VS-300 on 6 May 1941.

Battle of the Mediterranean: The battle on land at Tobruk has subsided for the moment, so attention turns to the war at sea. Both sides depend completely on supplies from their home countries, with the Axis troops favored by the short but somewhat risky route from Naples to Tripoli. The Allies have a relatively clear supply route - setting aside the omnipresent threat of U-boats - around Cape Horn and up toward Suez. However, that passage takes several weeks, time that the Allies cannot spare. So, with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as the main instigator, the decision has been made to send a convoy "up the gut" from Gibraltar all the way across the Mediterranean to Malta and Alexandria. This is the Tiger Convoy.

Tiger leaves Gibraltar today. It is composed of five large transports escorted by aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, battleships Renown and Queen Elizabeth, cruisers Fiji, Gloucester, Naiad and Sheffield, and the 5th Destroyer Flotilla. Ark Royal has a new commander, Captain Loben Maund, as Captain Holland has been relieved due to "stress." The convoy is limited in speed by its slowest ship, as all convoys are, and travels at a still-brisk 14 knots (26 km/h). Italian aircraft quickly spot it, and the Luftwaffe readies its forces on Sardinia and Sicily to intercept it. Curiously, the Italian Navy remains in port.

Winston Churchill, who apparently is in a foul mood throughout the day, sends an angry memo to Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal which includes in relevant part:
Here is another shocking week at Takoradi. Only 18 aircraft have been despatched, whereas I think a programme of nearly double the number was promised. I am afraid it must be realized that this is a very great failure in our arrangements, which may play its part in a disastrous result to the great battle proceeding in the Nile Valley [by which Churchill apparently means North Africa in general].
Takoradi is the airfield in the British colony of the Gold Coast (Ghana) which serves as the key transit hub for flights to Cairo (a 3700-mile air route) aka the the West African Reinforcement Route (WARR). Churchill wishes more planes to be shuttled from Takoradi to Cairo to help in the defense of North Africa. Bemoaning the "complete breakdown," Churchill demands an accounting.

Churchill also sends a sarcastic memo to General Sir John Dill, asking that the suitability and supply of maps by Allied forces in Crete be determined, "Otherwise we shall soon find that any German arrivals will be better informed about the island than our men."

In another memo, Churchill demands of Admiral Pound an inquiry into a "lapse of Staff work" over problems transporting a mobile naval base defence organization to Suda Bay, Crete. The base took 12 weeks to arrive and was packed in a disorganized fashion, he notes.

British military intelligence is hardening that Crete will be the next German objective in the Mediterranean. This is largely based on Ultra decrypts of coded Wehrmacht transmissions. However, Churchill is desperate to not let the Ultra secret out, so he allows commanding General Bernard Freyberg to believe that the Germans will arrive in ships rather than by air.

The German 8th Panzerregiment arrives at Tripoli aboard a convoy to Tripoli.

The RAF (830 Squadron) attacks Tripoli, losing a plane. Two crew are made prisoner and one perishes.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Taku torpedoes and sinks 2322 ton Italian freighter Cagliari about three miles (5 km) off Fuscaldo, southern Italy.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Truant torpedoes and sinks 1716 ton Italian freighter Bengasi a few miles off Cavoli, Elba, Italy.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Triumph spots a German convoy heading north from Tripoli. It attacks, but misses.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Cachalot arrives at Gibraltar from England loaded with supplies for Malta. It will continue toward the island on the 8th.

At Malta, the air defense is refined to alternate defense by fighters and anti-aircraft fire. During a large 36-plane Luftwaffe raid in the evening on Grand Harbour, the fighters shoot down one or two raiders and damage another. In addition, two Junkers Ju 88s are shot down by anti-aircraft fire elsewhere.

Convoy AN 30, composed of four freighters, departs from Haifa and Port Said bound for Suda Bay, Crete.

Joseph Stalin 6 May 1941
Joseph Stalin, 1941.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: Convoy US 10B departs from Colombo. It includes three large liners - 44,786 ton Aquitania, 43,450 ton Ile De France, and 35,739 ton Mauretania. It is escorted by New Zealand light cruiser Leander.

War Crimes: Churchill sends a memo to General Ismay which states in relevant part:
Surely I gave directions that the C-in-C was to have full liberty to capture enemy hospital ships in retaliation for their brutality.
On its face, this memo is evidence of Churchill authorizing war crimes (Churchill asks for previous correspondence on the matter to be found, but it is unclear if such exists).

Attacking or capturing hospital ships is against the rules of war. There have been many instances on both sides of attacks on hospital ships, though, so it is open to interpretation how much of a breach of international law Churchill's stance really is. Certainly, whoever wins the will is likely to hide their own breaches of the rules of warfare and prosecute the other side's transgressions, this is known sardonically on both sides as "victor's justice."

Hemingway 6 May 1941
Ernest Hemingway with Madame Chiang Kai-shek (left) and Martha Gellhorn in provisional capital Chungking (Chongqing), China.

Spy Stuff: Soviet spy Richard Sorge, posing as a hard-partying newspaperman in Tokyo, warns Stalin of German plans to invade the Soviet Union. In his dispatch today, he writes:
Possibility of outbreak of war at any moment is very high…. German generals estimate the Red Army’s fighting capacity is so low…[it] will be destroyed in the course of a few weeks.
This information, of course, is extremely accurate and jibes with more general warnings coming from various other sources, such as his military attache in Berlin. However, Stalin does not think much of Sorge - viewing him as a sort of ne'er-do-well more interested in partying than providing useful information. Accordingly, Stalin does not change his own dispositions to any great extent.

Separately and coincidentally, Ernest Hemingway, who many suspect to be a US spy (though this is only hypothetical and never proven) and who accurately predicts the eventual outbreak of war between the National and Communist Chinese, departs today from Hong Kong aboard a Pan Am Clipper to return to the United States. Hemingway has been in Asia for 100 days on a very curious trip accompanying his new bride, Martha Gellhorn. Hemingway has led a hard-partying lifestyle (which seems to have been common among expatriates in Asia at the time). Hemingway in fact has spent much of the trip alone - or, shall we say discreetly, without his wife - and his solo departure is commonly seen as marking the end of his brief marriage. Gellhorn, who actually may have been the spy in the couple (all of this is conjecture), will carry a grudge against Hemingway for the rest of her life. Hemingway will have many more direct interactions with World War II over the next few years.

US/Australian Relations: Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, aboard a Clipper flying boat, arrives safely in Bermuda. He has breakfast, then departs immediately for New York aboard a Douglas DC-3. He is ensconced in the Ritz-Carlton by dinnertime.

Vichy French/Japanese Relations: The Japanese conclude a trade agreement with French Indochina.

Republic XP-47 6 May 1941
Republic XP-47B Thunderbolt prototype, 40-3051, at Farmingdale, New York, 1941. (Republic Aviation Corporation).

US Military: First flight of the Republic XP-47B (40-3051), with Lowry P. Brabham as the pilot, at Republic Field in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York. The aircraft performs well, and the US Army Air Corps approves further development. Designed by Alexander Kartveli, the large all-metal fighter with elliptical wings has had several redesigns, but this one sticks. After much further development, the design will become the famous P-47 Thunderbolt, of which 15, 579 will be built.

Igor Sikorsky continues working on his helicopter design, the VS-300, which has been the designation for a constantly changing design. Today, he scores a major success when he flies the experimental chopper (hovering) for 1 hour, 32 minutes and 26 seconds, which is a new record, beating that of the Luftwaffe's Focke-Wulf Fw 61.

The Douglas Aircraft Company begins taxiing tests of its new XB-19 four-engine bomber at Santa Monica Airport. The plane is the largest in the world, and is so heavy (86,000 lbs or 39,009 kg) that it breaks through the airport pavement. The U. S. Government has paid $1,400,064 for it and Douglas itself has spent almost $4,000,000 in company funds to complete it.

Looking ahead, the XB-19 is remembered as the B-19, but after a long period of development (which aided the development of other planes) was not accepted for production and was scrapped. Two of its enormous main tires will be saved and put on display at the the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah and the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, though apparently they are no longer there. Of course, the Germans would love to have any effective four-engine bomber, while the Americans have the luxury of testing out different kinds, keeping some and rejecting others.

Radio star Leslie Townes "Bob" Hope does a rare personal appearance at March Field in Riverside, California, broadcasting his Pepsodent show from there. Hope unexpectedly finds that he enjoys performing before a live audience, particularly servicemen who are not too demanding about the quality of the show. This will lead to Hope's long association with the USO during World War II and thereafter. Hope is a US citizen, naturalized at the age of 17 in 1920 after having immigrated from the United Kingdom, but is well past draft age and is not compelled to participate in the war. Hope will be a leading figure among a select group of celebrities including Hemingway and John Wayne who will work with the US military to provide various specialized services without actually mustering in.

Aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV 5) is transiting the Miraflores Lock of the Panama Canal at night when it scrapes the side and sustains slight damage.

B-19 bomber 6 May 1941
A postcard of the B-19. It receives a lot of attention in the media throughout its unsuccessful life.

Soviet Government: In a decision approved several days ago, Stalin officially succeeds Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov as the Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars. Thus, Stalin takes on the de jure as we as the de facto leadership of the Soviet Union - but there never at any time has been any doubt whatsoever that he is the boss. This ruling-from-behind-the-scenes strategy is a recurring theme in Russian politics.

The change is noted by the German ambassador to the Soviet Union, Count Werner von der Schulenburg. Schulenburg opposes any military action against the Soviet Union, though he has not officially been made aware of the plans for Operation Barbarossa (though he may at this time be aware through rumors and personal observations). Ambassador Schulenburg reports the change in Soviet leadership to Berlin, but passes it off as nothing but a public rebuke of Molotov for allowing German/Soviet relations to wither. The reasons for the change in fact are murky and subject to interpretation, especially considering that on the 5th of May, Stalin had given two bellicose secret speeches to graduating military officers in the Kremlin which strongly suggested that he, too, was contemplating beginning a war with Germany. Molotov, in any event, is not out of favor. Stalin may, viewing the change in that context, be preparing his leadership role for the war he himself intends to start.

Netherlands German soldiers 6 May 1941
Wehrmacht soldiers chatting with Dutch kids, May 1941.

Philippines: Newly arrived Brigadier General Henry B. Clagett assumes command of the newly created Philippine Department Air Force. His chief of staff is Colonel Harold Huston George.

Poland: A Polish doctor, Zygmunt Klukowski, observes the Germans conscripting local civilians to build military installations. Klukowski finds this curious as he notes it in his diary, since there seems little need to do so in peacetime conditions.

Yugoslavia: Serbs in Kijevo and Tramošnja villages are celebrating Đurđevdan slava, a Eastern Orthodox holy day in honour of Saint George, when the Ustaše do something that provokes them. This develops into a massive revolt called the May 1941 Sanski Most revolt, or alternatively the Đurđevdan uprising or the revolt of the Sana peasants. The Serbs generally were pro-British before the war, and there is an element of baiting going on by the Ustaše regime. The revolt quickly spreads, and the Serbs chase the Ustaše out of town. The escaping Ustaše request German military aid from the garrison at Prijedor.

American Homefront: US Secretary for War Henry L. Stimson makes a radio broadcast in which he announces his support for using US warships to protect British freighters. He says that Americans must sacrifice in defense of freedom. According to Stimson:
The world is facing so great a crisis that all of our efforts must be turned toward the defense of our nation's safety. . . . our own self-defense requires that limits should be put to lawless aggression on the ocean. The President has said that we must not allow the steps which we have already taken to become ineffective.
USS Grayback 6 May 1941
USS Grayback during a shakedown cruise in Long Island Sound, 6 May 1941 (United States National Archives and Records Administration).