Thursday, February 22, 2018

May 31, 1941: British Take Baghdad

Saturday 31 May 1941

Dublin bomb damage 31 May 1941
Damage caused by four high-explosive bombs dropped by German aircraft on the North Strand area of Dublin City during the early morning hours of 31 May 1941. The casualties were many: 28 dead and 90 injured, with 300 houses damaged or destroyed. The Irish Red Cross provided emergency shelter for people made homeless by the bombing at the Mansion House and in parish halls throughout the city. This is known as the North Strand Bombing 

Anglo/Iraq War: The end is at hand at Baghdad for the Iraqi government on 31 May 1941. With the Rashid Ali government and the Grand Mufti having fled to Persia (taking refuge in the Japanese legation), the surrender is left to the Mayor of Baghdad and his delegation. The Mayor meets the British at the Washash Bridge along with British Ambassador Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, who has been confined to the British Embassy all month.

The British decide not to occupy Baghdad, which is a very practical decision due to the small strength (1200) of British forces in the vicinity. The British invite Prince 'Abd al-Ilah to return to the city. As part of the armistice, both sides release prisoners (except for German and Italian POWs of the British). The British allow the Iraqi troops to return o their barracks with their equipment.

Without an effective government, Baghdad descends into an orgy of looting and attacks. The government heretofore has protected the city's Jewish Quarter, but now that protection is gone. About 120 Jewish inhabitants perish and 850 are injured before the British and the incoming (returning) government restore order.

Without flyable planes, the German military mission (Sonderkommando Junck) departs for Syria on foot (the last arriving 10 June). The eight or so Italian Fiat CR-42 fighters of 155th Squadriglia still operational at Kirkuk fly to Syria, thence to Rhodes (two are destroyed by the Italians as unusable).

In the Reich, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering  makes a lame attempt to explain the Iraq disaster to Hitler and Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop:
They don't know anything about aviation out there, and airlifting fuel would have been pointless and costly.
It is a feeble excuse for the utter failure of the Luftwaffe in Iraq. The British have managed to win in Iraq precisely because of its adroit use of airpower. The failed Iraq campaign probably never was a winnable proposition for the Axis due to the inherent British advantages in the region (large numbers of Indian troops close at hand, for instance), but Germany could have made a better showing and thereby curried stature within the Arab world.

Lieutenant General Bernard Freyberg 31 May 1941
"Lieutenant General Bernard Freyberg VC, commanding officer of the British forces on Crete, gazes over the parapet of his dug-out in the direction of the German advance, May 1941." © IWM (E 3020E). Freyberg leaves Crete on a Sunderland flying boat in the early hours of 31 May 1941.

European Air Operations: In the early morning hours, the Luftwaffe bombs Dublin at 02:00. There are 28 killed, 87 seriously injured and hundreds made homeless. The Irish lodge a diplomatic protest with London, who characterize the incident as a navigational error caused by high winds. The Luftwaffe also bomb Liverpool and areas along the Mersey and the Bristol area during the night, so there is some plausibility to the German denial of intent as those areas are not too distant from Dublin.

May 1941 marks the end of The Blitz, or at least the most effective and devastating phase of it. The Luftwaffe is busy moving aircraft to Poland in order to support future operations in the Soviet Union. British civilian losses for the period September 1940 - May 1941 inclusive, which do include some military personnel on leave and the like, are estimated to total 39,678 dead and 46,119 injured.

At Black Tarset Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, four people, including a seven-year-old girl and an eleven-year-old Boy Scout, succumb to gas fumes emanating from a bomb crater. Two firemen (Larry Young and Leading Fireman Bruce) descend into the crater to rescue them. Young manages to retrieve the bodies and also rescue Bruce, who passes out from the fumes. Larry Young receives the George Medal for his gallantry and Bruce is commended. One of the victims, Auxiliary Fireman Wanless, earns a posthumous commendation.

London air raid drill 31 May 1941
Londoners wearing gas masks during a gas drill in Richmond Surrey, 31 May 1941. The Blitz is over, but nobody knows that.

East African Campaign: The British are  mopping up throughout various areas of Abyssinia. Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell also is preparing a plan of attack against French Somaliland. Next on the docket is an assault on the last Italian port on the Red Sea Assab. Planned for mid-June, this will be Operation Chronometer.

Battle of the Atlantic: It is a big day for the U-boat fleet. A massive presence of U-boats has been sent into the Atlantic in support of (now sunk) battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, and today the move pays off - though it is fairer to say that the U-boat fleet sinkings are simply time-shifted due to the dispositions rather than there being any net increase over what would normally have taken place.

U-106 (Kptlt. Jürgen Oesten), on its extended second patrol out of Lorient, spots an unescorted freighter north of the Cape Verde Islands. Oesten pumps one torpedo into 6843 ton British freighter Clan Macdougall, the first at 03:31, the second at 03:45. There are two deaths and 85 survivors who make it to the islands.

U-69 (Kptlt. Jost Metzler), on its third patrol out of Lorient, penetrates the harbor of Accra, Ghana and fires a torpedo at 5445 ton British freighter Sangara. The Sangara sinks in 33 feet of water, and her bow remains visible. The Sangara will be salvaged in 1943 (refloated, cargo recovered and sold) and returned to service in 1947.

U-107 (Kptlt. Günther Hessler), on its second patrol out of Lorient, is operating near Freetown, Sierra Leone when it spots 5664 ton British freighter Sire. Hessler hits Sire on the starboard bows with a torpedo, and the Sire sinks in ten minutes. There are three deaths, while the 46 survivors (including the master) are picked up by HMS Marguerite.

SS Gravelines 31 May 1941
SS Gravelines, sunk by U-147 on 31 May 1941.

U-147 (Oblt. Eberhard Wetjen), on its third patrol out of Bergen, is operating northwest of Bloody Foreland, Ireland in the shipping lanes when it spots 2491 ton British freighter Gravelines. The Gravelines was part of Convoy HX-127, but fell behind for some reason and convoys don't slow down for stragglers. A torpedo splits the Gravelines in half, though the forward part of the ship remains afloat and later is towed to the Clyde, beached at Kames Bay, and scrapped in 1942. There are 11 deaths, including the master, and 25 survivors who are picked up by escort HMS Deptford and taken to Liverpool.

U-204 (Kptlt. Walter Kell), on its first patrol out of Kiel, is operating in the Denmark Strait (northwest of Dyrafjordur, Iceland) when it spots 16 Icelandic fishing boat Holmsteinn. Kell decides not to waste a torpedo on it, and also wants to disable its wireless before the position can be broadcast, so surfaces and sinks it with gunfire. All four aboard perish.

U-38 (Kptlt. Heinrich Liebe), on its extended ninth patrol out of Lorient and operating off Liberia, hits independent 6029 ton Norwegian freighter Rinda with two torpedoes at 00:24. There are five deaths immediately, including the master, and more when the ships sinks before the boats can be launched. There are 18 survivors. The ship's sinking is noted by the rescue of ship's cat Rinda, who is found swimming after the ship sinks by the men in the lifeboat, which the survivors manage to right. Rinda serves out the war on the rescue ship, HMS Pict.

German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen spends its last full day at sea in the Atlantic, heading toward Brest with engine trouble. Despite numerous Royal Navy warships in the vicinity and RAF patrols, nobody spots it.

US Navy Task Group 1, led by aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5), departs from Bermuda on a two-week neutrality patrol. It will cover over 4500 miles (7424 km). Yorktown carries VF-41, VS-41 and VS-42, and VT-5.

For the month of May 1941, total Allied shipping losses in the Battle of the Atlantic fall slightly, from 616,469 tons to 486,796 tons. This is primarily due to a steep drop in losses to surface raides, from 91,579 tons to 15,002 tons, and to the Luftwaffe, from 323,454 tons to 146,302 tons. U-boat losses actually rise, from 249,375 tons to 325,492 tons.

New Zealand soldiers 31 May 1941
"New Zealand soldiers from 19th Battalion on board an Australian destroyer (either HMAS Nizam or HMAS Napier) following their evacuation from Crete, c. 31 May 1941." (New Zealand History). 

Overall, merchant shipping losses in May 1941 total 119 Allied ships with 436,544 tons in the Atlantic, and 20 Allied ship with 74,498 tons elsewhere in European waters. On the other hand, the Axis loses 20 ships with 74,498 tons in the Mediterranean. Royal Navy losses are heavy due to the loss of HMS Hood in the Atlantic and a bunch of warships in the waters around Crete.

There is 1 U-boat sunk in the Atlantic (U-110, briefly captured), Arctic or Baltic, and 32 serviceable U-boats are on duty in the Atlantic. The Italians continue to maintain a strong submarine presence out of Bordeaux, but, while they make occasional sinkings, generally their patrols are much less efficient in terms of enemy aircraft sunk that Kriegsmarine craft.

Commodore L.W. Murray RCN is appointed Commander of the Newfoundland Escort Force (NEF). He reports to Commander-in Chief, Western Approaches, Admiral Sir Percy Noble in Liverpool.

Convoy OB 329 departs from Liverpool, Convoy WS 8X (Winston Special) departs from the Clyde bound for Freetown and thence Capetown. WS 8X is escorted by aircraft carrier HMS Victorious, showing its importance - it includes large transports Duchess of Bedford (20,123 tons) and Waiwera (10,800 tons), among other ships.

Royal Navy tug HMS Dart is commissioned.

Canadian corvette HMCS Sudbury is launched at Kingston, Ontario.

U-502 (Kptlt. Jürgen von Rosenstiel) is commissioned, U-435 is launched, U-291 and U-617 are laid down.

Soviet submarine SC-411 is launched.

Evacuation of Crete 31 May 1941
"Evacuation: The troops being served with tea on the quayside after disembarking at an Egyptian port. Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Freyberg VC ordered the evacuation to commence on the 28 May 1941. 16,500 were rescued, including 2000 Greeks. The rest were left dead or prisoners in German hands." 31 May 1941 © IWM (E 3295).

Battle of the Mediterranean: The British evacuation from Crete begins winding down as Luftwaffe domination over the waters south of the island increases. Capture of new airfields at Heraklion (Candia), Retimo (Rethymno), and elsewhere raises Luftwaffe power to new heights, and the RAF is powerless to prevent extremely accurate Junkers Ju 87 Stuka attacks on warships during daylight hours. The problem for the Royal Navy is that, while they can make it to the key embarkation posts such as Sfakia during darkness, they can't get clear of the island before dawn - and Luftwaffe pilots are early risers.

During the night of 31 May/1 June, about 4,000 men are taken off. These are the final evacuations from Sfakia. Light cruiser HMS Phoebe leads the evacuation contingent there. They are covered by a large force including cruisers Calcutta and Coventry. The Luftwaffe damages destroyer Napier, one of the ships at Sfakia.

There are 16,511 men landed at Alexandria today from Crete. However, this is just a fraction of the thousands of British and Dominion troops still on the island, let alone thousands of Greek soldiers. Many of the Allied soldiers barely escaped from the mainland during the Germans' Operation Marita, and now they find themselves caught in the same kind of trap on Crete. A small number can be taken out by two Sunderland flying boat, but only 54 senior officers (including General Freyberg) make it out that way.

Crete cave British air raid shelter 31 May 1941
A British soldiers stands by a cave on Crete being used as an air raid shelter. Many British Commonwealth troops left behind after the evacuation would make use of such caves to avoid capture (© IWM (E 3022E)).

The tables on Crete turn - the RAF now is the air force that bombs Maleme and Heraklion during the night.

The Germans and Italians seize a large number of ships at Suda Bay:
7258 ton British freighter Araybank (damaged, taken to Trieste)
6343 ton British freighter Dalesman (beached, taken to Trieste)
6397 ton Greek freighter Nicolauou Ourania, beached but refloated and renamed Nikolaus for German use
7073 ton British tanker Olna (beached, but refloated and used).
The Italians have a case of friendly fire when one of their bombers accidentally drops a bomb on Italian torpedo boat Pleiadi near Tobruk. The master runs it aground and eventually is written off.

At Malta, it is quiet day in the air. However, the ruins of the building that housed the former Courts of Justice fall into the city's main street. This blocks Kingsway until the street can be cleared.

Evacuation of Crete 31 May 1941
"Evacuation: A wounded soldier being brought ashore on a stretcher at an Egyptian port after the evacuation from Crete. A total of 16,500 were rescued , including 2000 Greeks. The rest were left dead or prisoners in German hands."  31 May 1941 © IWM (E 3284).

War Crimes: On or around 31 May 1941, the courts-martial reach verdicts of at least three men (the commanding officer, a regimental sergeant major and a sergeant) aboard HMT Dunera. Held at Chelsea Barracks in London on 26-27 May 1941, the secret proceedings are given no media attention and no record of the proceedings have survived. The Dunera transported refugees from England to Australia under fantastically abysmal conditions during June/September 1940.

Predatory actions alleged against the crew and those aboard to look after the 2700 refugees aboard include savage beatings and theft. One refugee jumped overboard. Many aboard the vessel are Jews fleeing continental Europe, and it is believed that some already had been in concentration camps.

The courts-martial hold three men guilty. These include Major William Patrick Scott, the ship's master, who is severely reprimanded. His regimental sergeant major is jailed for 12 months.

Not enough is known about the Dunera Chelsea Barracks proceedings to affix firm dates to matters related to them. Note that other relevant dates are 18 February 1941, when a decision to hold a court of enquiry is confirmed, and 13 May 1941, when the issuance of a report of the court of enquiry is confirmed. References are made to the proceedings in the the 24 February 1941 Commons Official Report and the 17 January 1979 records of the House of Lords.

General Freyberg 31 May 1941
General Freyberg on the cover of Illustrated London News, 31 May 1941.

The latter report confirms regarding the Dunera incident that it is:
clear that a court of inquiry was held. No details are given about its composition, though it is recorded that only one internee was available to give evidence to it. This is the only available evidence relating to the holding of the inquiry, and it must be assumed that the full record of the proceedings was subsequently destroyed in accordance with the rules about disposal of public records applicable at the time.
This Dunera incident is a rare incident of a warring power prosecuting its own military personnel for improper and abusive conduct during World War II. While the Germans did this at times, it was rare despite many occasions when it most certainly was warranted, and the Wehrmacht was under standing standings at times throughout the war to be given "leave to not prosecute" soldiers for war crimes.

As a coda to this sad chapter, many of the HMT refugees ultimately returned to England after the war. A sizeable fraction remained in Australia and began new lives there. All traces of the camp where they were interned have disappeared save the access road and a memorial plaque.

On Crete, temporary commander of Crete General Kurt Student responds to demands from his Fallschirmjäger by publishing an order authorizing reprisals against the local population. Many German troops are incensed at military actions taken against them by Greek civilians on the island and want revenge. This order plants the seeds for long-lasting hatred between Cretan civilians and Germans that extends long past the war.

The reprisals are to consist of shooting, fines, burning villages or even extermination of the male population. Several senior officers leave the conference in protest of the order, but the goes into effect and reprisals are taken. This will lead to charges made against Student after the war.

Evacuation of Crete 31 May 1941
"Evacuation: Women and children, civilian refugees from the fighting come ashore at an Egyptian port after their evacuation from Crete. A total of 16,500 were rescued including 2000 Greeks." 31 May 1941 © IWM (E 3288).

Spy Stuff: German Lt. Col. Edwin Scholl confides to Richard Sorge in Tokyo that 170 to 190 German divisions are massed on the Soviet border and the invasion will begin on June 15.

POWs: Lieutenant Peter Allan of the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, who escaped from the Colditz Castle POW camp in a mattress carried by French Army POWs on 10 May 1941, makes it to Vienna. He had attempted to escape for Switzerland, but had insufficient rations, so headed east to Vienna. Allan had walked into the US consulate there asking for help to reach Budapest and neutral Hungary. After the consul refused (there are German staff who witness the encounter), Allan went across the street and fell asleep in a park. Frozen by the night air, Allan crawled to a nearby house and surrendered. He is is taken to a hospital, then back to Colditz today.

US Military: The US Army Air Corps assigns the P-40 Warhawk fighters of 22nd and 23rd Fighter Squadrons to St. Croix Airfield, US Virgin Islands.

 Minor changes are ordered for naval uniforms. Henceforth, the eagle is to face to the left for the Seaman Branch, Boatswain Mate, Turret Captain, Signalman, Gunners Mate, Fire Controlman, Quartermaster, Mineman and Torpedoman's Mate.

Parade magazine 31 May 1941
Parade magazine, 31 May 1941.

Soviet Government: The government issues a decree permitting the children of traitors to be charged upon reaching the age of 15.

Switzerland: Rationing of coffee, tea and cocoa is instituted.

Belgium: The government begins expropriating the property of Jewish residents.

Fallschirmjäger memorial 31 May 1941
A memorial built on Crete on the outskirts of Canea by Germans in honor of their fallen during Operation Mercury. The memorial stood intact into the 21st Century - the bird ("Evil bird" to locals) since has fallen off.

German Homefront: The Church complains that the government's encouragement of children to leave cities for special country camps is an attempt to create secular "education by the state," which it implies involves brainwashing. Hitler Youth leader Artur Axmann is in charge of the camps.

British Homefront: Preston North End beat Arsenal 2-1 in the Cup Final replay.

Rationing of eggs begins. Rationing of Fish and milk tightens.

American Homefront: Isolationist Senator Hiram W. Johnson (California) makes a radio broadcast for the America First Committee. He notes that the US now is "at the brink of war," which he attributes to President Franklin Roosevelt breaking a long string of promises to keep the country out of war. He cites advocates for war as:
a smattering of good citizens, the vociferous little puppets of J. P. Morgan and Co., a large part of the press, practically all the columnists, the newspaper correspondents, all crying for war with Germany and against Hitler.
He admits that support for Britain is popular, but "with the proviso that it should be 'short of war.'"

Evacuation of Crete 31 May 1941
"Walking wounded British troops disembarking at a port in Egypt after the evacuation of Crete, 31 May 1941." © IWM (E 3282).


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

May 30, 1941: Sorge Warns, Stalin Ignores

Friday 30 May 1941

Fordson Armoured Car 30 May 1941
On or about 30 May 1941, a Fordson Armoured Car of No. 2 Armoured Car Company RAF, operating with 'Habforce', waits outside Baghdad, Iraq, while negotiations for an armistice take place between British officials and the rebel government (Imperial War Museum Collections Collection No.: 4700-20; Reference Number: CM 923). 

Anglo/Iraq War: The British 4th Cavalry Brigade of 1st British Cavalry Division, an advance party of Habforce troops, arrives at Baghdad on 30 May 1941 and opens talks for surrender. The entire Habforce only numbers 1200 men, with eight guns and a few armored cars, but the numerically superior Iraqi troops refuse to fight them. The British occupy the nearby airfield.

Iraqi leader Rashid Ali has left for Persia, taking his soldiers' monthly payroll of 17,000 dinars. Accompanying him are the Grand Mufti and the rest of the Iraqi government. They head for Germany.

The British are expanding their cushion around their main base at Habbaniya airfield. They attack Ramadi, about a dozen miles northwest of Habbaniya. Another large British force from Basra advances past Ur. The Indian 25th Infantry Brigade arrives aboard ship at Basra.

Dr. Fritz Grobba, the head of the German diplomatic mission to Baghdad, leaves the capital today. There now is no longer any German presence in Iraq, as the small Luftwaffe contingent is in disarray with all of its planes out of operation. There is a force of about ten Italian Fiat Cr 42 biplane fighters, but they also prepare to flee from their base at Kirkuk.

British Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell's Air Force releases a statement:
In Iraq our fighter squadrons flew patrols throughout the day in support of our advancing troops while Italian aircraft tried to prevent them. One of these aircraft was shot down ar Khanugh (Iraq). A number of British reconnaissance planes and bombers operated in cooperation with motorised units. We have destroyed the hangars on the airfield at Deir ez Zor in Syria. In Abyssinia, South African aircraft attacked Italian troops still fighting near Gimma. Direct hits were observed on buildings, as were a number of fires. Several Italian motor trucks went up in flames north of Alegh. Forts Azozo and Digya were bombed at Gondar (Ethiopia). In Libya, an enemy bomber wing yesterday undertook an assault on Tobruk; anti-aircraft succeeded in shooting down four of them and several others were damaged. Five of our own aircraft failed to return from these operations.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is still concerned about the Iraqi oil fields - he sends a memo to General Ismay warning of a "fierce and justifiable outcry if we fail to destroy these oil fields before they fall into enemy hands."

Lockheed Hudson 30 May 1941
"Lockheed Hudson Mark IIs and IIIs of No. 233 Squadron RAF based at Aldergrove, County Antrim, flying in starboard echelon formation over Northern Ireland." 30 May 1941 © IWM (Daventry B J (Mr), CH 2841).

European Air Operations: After dark, Luftwaffe bombers attack the Bristol area and the Mersey industrial area.

About 30 German planes cross England and bombs Dublin just after midnight on 31 May. The local inhabitants send up a flare to denote their status as neutrals, which the Germans disregard. Areas hit include Phoenix Park (home of the Dublin Zoo) and the North Strand area. Overall, 34 people perish, 90 are wounded, twenty homes are destroyed, 55 greatly damaged and 400 people left homeless. The Irish lodge a diplomatic protest in Berlin, to which the Germans reply that "there can be no question of any intentional attack on Éire territory." The Reich blames "high winds" on the "error."

RAF Bomber Command sends a dozen aircraft on a coastal sweep.

Churchill tells Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State for Air (and also leader of the Liberal Party) that the RAF should supply the Army with "the modest force they require" for Army co-operation squadrons. This means transferring 30 Blenheim bombers now and 30 more (for an army reserve) at a later date.

Pilot Officer James 'Ginger' Lacey 30 May 1941
"Pilot Officer James 'Ginger' Lacey DFM and Bar, hard at work on a model aeroplane in No 501 Squadron's dispersal hut at Colerne, 30 May 1941." © IWM (CH 2814).

East African Campaign: Churchill sends Middle East Commander Wavell a cable about "Jibuti," meaning French Somaliland:
It will be convenient to have this place in the near future, and I shall be glad if you will consider what forces would be necessary to break the French resistance.... The time to strike depends, of course, upon events in Syria which ma lead to a breach with Vichy.
In the meantime, he urges a continuation of the blockade "with the utmost strictness."

The East African 22nd Infantry Brigade, advancing west from Soddu, reaches Sciola in Galla-Sidamo. The Italian defenders withdraw from Sciola after dark.

SS Empire Protector 30 May 1941
Empire Protector, sunk 30 May 1941 by U-38 off Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-106 (Kptlt. Jürgen Oesten), on its second patrol out of Lorient and operating west of the Cape Verde Islands, torpedoes 6373 ton British freighter Silveryew at 00:36. There is one death. The 53 survivors take to the boats and land at San Antonio, Cape Verde Islands.

U-38 (Kptlt. Heinrich Liebe), on its 9th patrol out of Lorient and operating off Freetown, Sierra Leone, torpedoes and sinks 6181 ton British freighter Empire Protector. There are five deaths, including the Master, John Cringle. The 33 survivors are taken aboard Dutch freighter Arundo.

Italian submarine Marconi, operating on its third patrol out of Bordeaux as part of BETASOM, torpedoes and sinks 8129 ton British naval tanker Cairndale southwest of Trafalgar. There are 4-5 killed. A large group of Royal Navy escorts attack the Marconi, but it gets away.

An unidentified submarine torpedoes 6990 ton British tanker British Yeoman in the same general vicinity where the Marconi is operating. However, apparently the torpedo is defective, because minimal damage is caused. The British Yeoman makes it to Gibraltar for inspection.

British 2842 ton freighter Westavon hits a mine and sinks south of Clacton-on-Sea in the Thames Estuary. Everyone survives.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 700 ton British freighter Kyleclare off Limerick.

HMCS Ottawa and Restigouche arrive in St. John's, Newfoundland to join the new Newfoundland Escort Force (NES).

Convoy SL 76 departs from Freetown bound for Liverpool.

Royal Navy corvette HMS Myosotis (Lt. Gerald P. S. Lowe), sloop Gorleston (Commander Ronald W. Keymer) and submarine P-33 (Lt. Reginald D. Whiteway-Wilkinson) are commissioned.

New York Times 30 May 1941
New York Times, 30 May 1941.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Evacuations continue of British soldiers on Crete. At Sfakia, destroyers HMS Napier and Nizam take off 1510 men. The Luftwaffe catches them as they sail for Alexandria and damage both with near misses. Overall, 6029 Commonwealth are taken off on 30 May before dawn and again before midnight, but there are many more waiting for evacuation.

German motorcycle troops moving east from Suda and Canea (Chandia) link up with Italian troops and armor heading west from their landing ground at Sitia. They can now head south toward Sfakia, where the British are busy evacuating their troops. Troops of the 1st Fallschirmjäger Regiment reach Heraklion (Candia), linking up with the German garrison there. While in doubt only days earlier, Operation Mercury is turning into a roaring success.

The Luftwaffe attacks the Royal Navy ships evacuating the Commonwealth troops from Crete. These include Australian cruiser HMAS Perth, damaged in its engine room with 13 dead, destroyer HMS Kelvin, also damaged, and cruiser Calcutta sunk northwest of Alextrania.

New York Times 30 May 1941
A map on page 2 of the 30 May 1941 New York Times showing the situation on Crete.

Brigadier Vasey's Australian 19th Infantry Brigade serves as the rearguard for the evacuation, but British, Greek and New Zealand troops also fight hard.New Zealand soldier Charles Hazlitt Upham receives the Victoria Cross for his services on Crete through 30 May. Today, his platoon disperses an advance party of German soldiers coming down a ravine near Force Headquarters at Sfakia.

There are British troops left behind all across Crete. Remnants of Australian 2/1 and 2/11 battalions, which have been cut off, surrender near Retimo (Rethymo).

Partisan activities continue  on Crete. At this stage, they mainly involve helping Commonwealth troops defend specific locations, but there are instances of sniping and full-scale armed defense of villages. The German are quite upset that non-soldiers are fighting them and vow revenge.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 105 ton Greek freighter Aghios Pantlemon off Tobruk.

There is a major incident when 3821 ton Bulgarian freighter Knyaguinya Maria Luisa (Fürstin Maria Luisa) explodes at Piraeus, Greece. As it blows up, it also destroys 2140 ton German freighter Alicante and 3127 ton Romanian freighter Jiul (Ziul). There are multiple casualties on all three ships, a tug, and also Italian freighter Adis Abeba. Damage to the city of Piraeus is minimized only because the ship does not explode at once, but only while being towed to a shipyard by tugs. There is dispute as to the cause of this explosion: Greek partisans claim that their sabotage sinks the Maria Luisa, while RAF Wellington bombers also may be the cause.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Triumph torpedoes and damages 3667 ton Italian armed merchant cruiser (AMC) Ramb III. The Ramb II is sailing from Tripoli to Benghazi, and makes it to port.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Utmost attacks an Italian convoy off Sirte, but causes no damage.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Torbay claims to sink two caiques in the Aegean using its deck gun.

At Malta, the Cheshire Regiment lands on Gozo, which the British fear may be used for an invasion of Malta.

Spy Stuff: In Tokyo, Richard Sorge sends another message to Moscow. It begins:
Berlin informed [German Ambassador to Japan] Ott that German attack will commence in the latter part of June. Ott 95 percent certain war will commence.
As he has with numerous other warnings about Operation Barbarossa, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin disregards this warning. In fact, he has had his staff work up plans for an invasion of Germany (see the Zhukov Plan of 15 May 1941).

Hansi Knoteck on the cover of Filmwelt 30 May 1941
Actress Hansi Knoteck on the cover of Filmwelt, 30 May 1941.

Anglo/US Relations: The US Coast Guard transfers the tenth Lake-class cutter, USCGC Itasca, to the Royal Navy as HMS Gorleston. The Itasca is famous for being the ship anchored at Howland Island in the Pacific which received the final transmissions from aviators Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.

Anglo/Arab Relations: Prime Minister Winston Churchill sends a memo to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden telling him that "No encouragement should be given to those suggestions of treachery and bad faith on our part towards the Zionists." The Revisionist Zionist Movement has alleged that the British are moving toward a more conciliatory policy toward Arab interests due to the war in Iraq. He notes that "I am quite certain that we should lose in America far more than we should gain in the East."

German Military: Admiral Raeder meets with Hitler to argue for his "peripheral strategy" against Great Britain. He proposes that the Wehrmacht launch a "decisive Egypt-Suez offensive for the autumn of 1941 which would be more deadly to the British Empire than the capture of London." Hitler decides to wait until after he defeats the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. There remains a large body of opinion among members of the German government and Wehrmacht that is opposed to Operation Barbarossa, and this is one of their final attempts to dissuade Hitler from invading the Soviet Union.

Ireland: The Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera signs into law the Second Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland. Among other things, it includes restrictions on the right to habeas corpus, an extension of the right of the government to declare a state of emergency, changes to provisions dealing with the reference of bills to the Supreme Court by the president and various changes needed to bring the official Irish text of the constitution into line with the English text.

Siam: King Rama VII Prajadhipok, former King of Siam from 1925 to 1935, passes away.

Holocaust: The German occupation authorities introduce repressive measures against the Jewish population of Yugoslavia. Among other things, all persons now identified as Jews (the definition has just been decided) are forced to wear the yellow Star of David.

Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas 30 May 1941
Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas, who tear down the Reich swastika flag on the Acropolis on 30 May 1941.

Greek Homefront: Two university students named Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas climb on the Acropolis and tear down the swastika flag. This is considered a seminal point in the Greek resistance of World War II.

American Homefront: Drivers Floyd Davis and Mauri Rose win the Indianapolis 500. This is the last race involving a winning car carrying two drivers. After this, the race is suspended until 1946.

Abbott and Costello comedy "In the Navy" is released. The Andrews Sisters, Dick Powell and Shemp Howard also appear. This is the comedy duo's follow-up to smash hit "Buck Privates" and is another big hit, becoming the sixth  most popular film of 1941.

Future History: Marisa Solinas is born in Genoa, Italy. She goes on to become a popular singer and actress in Italy. She appears in Bernardo Bertolucci's film debut, "La commare secca" (The Thin Gossip) (1962).

Roberto Calasso is born in Florence. He becomes a top Italian intellectual and writer.

USS North Carolina 30 May 1941
USS North Carolina. "View looking aft from the battleship's bow, showing her forward superstructure and 16"/45 guns. Photographed during her maiden voyage, circa May 1941. Note Measure 1 camouflage paint, CXAM-1 radar antenna, anchor chains and deck planking." (US Navy).


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

May 29, 1941: Royal Navy Mauled Off Crete

Thursday 29 May 1941

Flight Lieutenant J H "Ginger" Lacey 29 May 1941
"Flight Lieutenant J H "Ginger" Lacey of No. 501 Squadron RAF, in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire Mk I at Colerne, Wiltshire, 29 May 1941." At this time, he has 23 victories gained in 1940 (Imperial War Museum CH2793).

Anglo/Iraq War: The end is at hand on 29 May 1941 in Iraq for the Rashid Ali pro-Axis government as British troops near the capital from the south and west. The German military mission, which effectively means Special Force Junck (Sonderkommando Junck) led by Luftwaffe Oberst Werner Junck, flies out after dark in its last two serviceable Heinkel He 111s. There are still Italian Fiat Cr-42 fighters operating over Baghdad, but their effectiveness is minimal. When the RAF attacks the Italians' airfield at Kirkuk, the Italians (2nd Lt. Valentini) damage a RAF Audax and wound the pilot, forcing it to land. An RAF Gladiator (Wing Commander W.T.F. ‘Freddie’ Wightman of No. 94 Squadron) shoots the Fiat down. It is a rare World War II battle where biplane fighters take each other on, with both sides losing planes.

Rashid Ali, the Grand Mufti, and Ali's cabinet flee to Persia. The British under Major-General Clark are still five miles from Baghdad, but rioting and panic have begun there as Iraqi control collapses. The disparity of forces between the two sides is immense - some 20,000 Iraqi troops face about 1450 British troops - but the British are used to facing such odds against native forces and prevailing against them.

The British air-lift the 2/4th Gurkha Battalion of Indian 20th Brigade from Basra to Habbaniya, which now is well behind the lines.

The real action now is in Syria, which is in British sights because it has been providing the Luftwaffe with transit hubs for flights to Iraq at Palmyra and Aleppo. Germans on 29 May 1941 send forces from the Italian Dodecanese Islands to the port of Latakia in northern Syria. These troops, in armoured cars, head down to Beirut.

Wrecked Junkers Ju 52 transports 29 May 1941
Wrecked Junkers Ju 52 transports on the beach at Maleme airfield, Crete, May/June 1941 (Federal Archive Bild 101I-166-0512-39).

European Air Operations: It is a quiet day on the Channel front, with the Luftwaffe sending its units to Poland for Operation Barbarossa and the RAF only performing normal patrol operations.

East African Campaign: According to the evening War Cabinet minutes, Churchill feels that French Somaliland is ripe for invasion. He suggests that "the Foreign Office should be prepared to take action in French Somaliland at the psychological moment of our entry into Syria."

Daily Sketch 29 May 1941
Daily Sketch, Number 1941, 29 May 1941.

Battle of the Atlantic
: U-38 (Kptlt. Heinrich Liebe), on its ninth patrol out of Lorient and operating hundreds of miles off of Freetown, Sierra Leone, torpedoes and sinks 6251 ton British freighter Tabaristan. There are 39 survivors.

U-557 (KrvKpt. Ottokar Arnold Paulssen), on its first patrol out of Kiel, is part of patrol line West, formed in support of the Bismarck operation. At 20:43, Paulssen puts a torpedo into 7290 ton British freighter Empire Storm south of Cape Farewell. The Empire Storm goes down, and three crew are killed. The 40 survivors are picked up by freighter Marita and taken to St. John's.

West of Gibraltar (northwest of Rabat), an inconclusive action develops between Royal Navy destroyers and Italian submarine Venero. Destroyer HMS Forester reports attacking the Venero on the surface, and Venero reports torpedoing a destroyer. Neither side suffers any damage.

Putting a final period on the failure of Operation Rheinübung, German cruiser Prinz Eugen - the always overlooked part of the operation - develops engine trouble and heads for France. Her destination is Brest, and she will make it there unhindered on 1 June. She has not sunk a single ship. In a cable today to President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill notes how "most important" it is to find the Prinz Eugen quickly. He also notes in passing that the Bismarck was "a terrific ship and a masterpiece of naval construction."

The Royal Navy decides to make a sweep of the Atlantic for supply ships sent out by the Kriegsmarine to support battleship Bismarck (now sunk) and the Prinz Eugen. A powerful force led by aircraft carrier HMS Eagle departs from Freetown to seek out such German ships in the South Atlantic.

U.S. Navy Patrol Squadron Fifty Two (VP-52), based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Argentia, Newfoundland with PBY-5 Catalinas, expands its reach. It sends planes to survey the remote east coast of Greenland, suspected of being used by the Germans at abandoned Danish weather stations.  Royal Navy auxiliary oiler Teakwood arrives at St. John's to support the Newfoundland Escort Force (NEF), which has a lot of ships but virtually no support services. The NEF already is up and running, however, escorting its first convoy bound for Liverpool.

U-262 29 May 1941
U-262, a Type VIIC U-boat of German Kriegsmarine during World War II. She was laid down on 29 May 1941 at the Bremer Vulkan yard at Bremen-Vegesack as 'werk' 27, launched on 10 March 1942 and commissioned on 15 April under the command of Kapitänleutnant Günther Schiebusch

The U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) activates the Air Corps Ferrying Command. This is designed to supply US pilots to ferry planes built in the United States to England and anywhere else the British need them. At this stage, the pilots fly the planes to Canadian airports, where RAF pilots take them over. This is a far cry from the early days of the war, when the USAAC refused to fly planes into Canada and instead flew them to airports in Maine and then pulled them across to Canada using tractors and barges.

The US Navy sends Task Group Three (TG3), led by aircraft carrier USS Ranger and heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa, departs from Bermuda for a neutrality patrol in the Atlantic. They will cover over 4000 miles (6400 km). The US today extends its boundaries for Neutrality Patrols to include both the North and South Atlantic.

Royal Navy ocean boarding vessel Malvernian captures 407 ton German weather ship August Wriedt in the mid-Atlantic northwest of the Azores. The Malvernian puts a prize crew aboard and sends it to St. John's. The August Wriedt will be renamed Maria and used by the Royal Navy.

Convoy OB 328 departs from Liverpool.

Dutch destroyer HNLMS Isaac Sweers (Commander acques Houtsmuller) is commissioned.

Royal Navy destroyers HMS Grove and Southwold and minesweeper Whitehaven are launched.

Canadian minesweeper HMCS Swift Current is launched at Montreal.

US destroyer USS Swanson (Lt. Commander Marvin P. Kingsley) is commissioned, and destroyers Carmick, MacKenzie and McLanahan are laid down.

U-132 (Oberleutnant zur See Ernst Vogelsang), U-452 (Kapitänleutnant Jürgen March) and U-572 (Kapitänleutnant Heinz Hirsacker) are commissioned, U-262 and U-618 are laid down.

U-132 29 May 1941
U-132, a Type VIIC U-boat laid down on 10 August 1940 by Vegesacker Werft, Bremen-Vegesack as 'werk' 11, launched on 10 April 1941, and commissioned on 29 May 1941.

Battle of the Mediterranean: The British evacuation from Crete moves into high gear today. During the early morning hours, 4000 men of the British 14th Infantry Brigade are taken off from Heraklion, and after dark another 1500 men are taken off. The German 1st Fallschirmjäger Regiment takes possession of Heraklion as the British leave.

Force D evacuates 6029 men from Sfakia, including the Greek Commander in Chief. Light cruiser HMS Phoebe takes some minor damage from a bomb, but otherwise the large force escapes unscathed.

The Germans, of course, notice what is going on. The Luftwaffe shifts its focus from the north coast ports that the Germans need for supplies to the south shore ports such as Sfagia where the Royal Navy is frantically loading as man men as possible. It becomes a situation of "every man for himself" both on Crete and in the waters to the south.

Junkers Ju 87 Stukas catch light cruisers HMS Orion and Dido on their way back to Alexandria during the afternoon and and damage them. While the ships remain maneuverable, Orion suffers 105 crew and 260 troops killed, with 280 troops wounded. Dido has 27 crew and 100 troops killed by fire or water pumped in to prevent the magazine from exploding. Destroyer Decoy also is damaged during this action. The flotilla makes it to Alexandria around 20:00.

HMS Dido 29 May 1941
HMS Dido bombed, 29 May 1941 (Australian War Memorial).

The Stukas also hit sink destroyer Hereward about five miles south of Crete. With daylight approaching the rest of the Royal Navy force abandons Hereward and its crew to its fate. The Hereward's captain tries to make it to shore to beach his ship, but Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 87 Stukas finish the job and the ship sinks before he can make it. Italian motor boats pick up some survivors. There are 165 survivors and 76 deaths.

Also during the early morning hours, Italian bombers from 41° Gruppo damage I-class destroyer HMS Imperial. While the ship makes it partway to Alexandria, the steering goes out. The crew tries to make repairs, but ultimately they are forced to scuttle the Imperial (with the assistance of HMS Hotspur) 55 nautical miles (102 km; 63 mi) east of Kassos.

There are British Commonwealth troops trapped all over Crete who have no hope of making it to an embarkation point on the south coast. Colonel Campbell, for instance, is trapped at Heraklion because he has too many men for the meager evacuation convoys to take off. A large contingent also remains at Rethymno (Retimo), where the original drop of German Fallschirmjäger have not made a dent in the British defenses. However, the Fallschirmjäger from Maleme are rapidly approaching from the west.

Walt Disney Studios strike 29 May 1941
The Walt Disney Studios strike officially begins on 29 May 1941.

The Italians who have landed at Sitia with their 13 tanks move westwards to link up with the Germans heading east from Maleme, Canea and Suda. They are harassed as much by local proto-partisans as by the fleeing British.

In Cairo, Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell is planning another offensive on the Libyan frontier. British intelligence reports tell him that the Germans have placed about two-thirds of their tank force on the Tobruk perimeter, leaving the frontier sparsely defended. Assuming that the "Tiger Cub" tanks will arrive from Alexandria quickly, Wavell sets 7 June as the start date for Operation Battleaxe.

Churchill is increasingly annoyed about General Wavell. Private Secretary John Colville notes in his diary:
PM [Churchill]  much upset by telegram from Wavell, who shows some sign of defeatism. "He sounds a tired and disheartened man," said the PM.
Churchill long has felt that Wavell lacks an aggressive spirit and does not use his troops efficiently. Wavell's quick plea to give up Crete after Churchill had sent a message only hours earlier on the 27th clearly still rankles. It is worth mentioning here that Wavell has kept the British position intact in the Middle East and has consolidated it by largely eliminating the longstanding Italian presence from East Africa with minimal troop investment.

Winston Churchill sends General Ismay a memo telling him to hold off for now on seizing the Vichy French ships being detained at Alexandria. "We must wait at present to see how things go in Syria."

At Tobruk, the Luftwaffe (Junkers Ju 87 aircraft of II Staffeln, Sturzkampfgeschwader 2) sinks 913 ton anti-submarine trawler HMT Sindonis. On Malta, the government sets up a mobile machine-gun company to guard against Fallschirmjäger dropping on the island as they did on Crete. The company is formed from 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment.

Battleship USS Washington 29 May 1941
Battleship USS Washington off the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, United States, 29 May 1941 (United States National Archives). She is departing for her shakedown cruise after her recent commissioning.

POWs: Winston Churchill sends a memo to David Margesson, Secretary of State for War, suggesting that "Italian white prisoners" be brought to Great Britain to work in industry. Churchill makes a backhanded slap at the Irish in his memo, saying that it would involved "complications," but concludes:
However, it might be better to use these docile Italian prisoners of war instead of bringing in disaffected Irish, over whom we have nothing like the same control.
Churchill proposes bringing "say, 25,000 of these Italians" and using them as farmers. Churchill's proposal is at the very least arguably contrary to accepted rules of war, as prisoners of war are not supposed to be used as slave labor in war industries.

At Colditz Castle, the Oflag IV-C "Officer's Camp," a dozen British and Polish prisoners attempt a breakout. They crawl through a sewer pipe from the canteen to an outer courtyard, where they have to descend a 40-foot wall. To pull of the escape, they have bribed a seemingly sympathetic guard. However, the guard double-crosses them and reports the escape plan, and other guards are waiting. The prisoners, including later author Pat Reid, are sent to solitary confinement (the "Cooler").

US Summer Khaki uniform 29 May 1941
Staff Sergeant William Light, Service Company, 12th Infantry (motor maintenance sergeant)modelling the World War II Summer Khaki Uniform. Standing at attention wearing garrison cap and the khaki summer service uniform. Arlington Cantonment, Arlington, VA, 29 May 1941.

Propaganda: During the evening War Cabinet meeting, President Roosevelt's recent speech beginning a state of emergency is discussed. The minutes state:
Referring to the comment on the disappointing reception accorded in the British Press to President Roosevelt's speech, the Prime Minister directed that the Ministry of Information should arrange for a more enthusiastic line to be taken.
Of course, it goes without saying that the entire German press is controlled and a mouthpiece for the German government to a much, much greater extent than any other government uses its media (outside of Moscow). However, this is evidence that the British press also is not completely independent during the war. Great pains are made throughout the conflict to shape public opinion through manipulation of the British press.

Anglo/US Relations: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sends a cable to President Roosevelt in which Churchill praises Roosevelt for his recent fireside chat declaring an unlimited state of emergency. He hints at upcoming events:
[US Ambassador John Gilbert] Winant will tell you what I managed to send out there secretly, and the hopes I have of some good news coming to hand before long.
Churchill apparently is referring to the 200+ tanks sent to Alexandria in the Tiger convoy, and the "good news" the upcoming operation planned on the Libyan border, Operation Battleaxe.

Douglas A-20 Havoc 29 May 1941
A USAAF A-20A Havoc ('70') painted with the early-war USAAF stars flies over Oahu Island, in the Hawaii Islands, on 29 May 1941. Handwritten caption on reverse: '38365.' Printed caption on reverse: '38365 AC - Douglas A-20-A in flight over Oahu, T.H., 29 May 1941. U.S. Air Force Photo.' Also on reverse: U.S. Air Force Photo 1361st Photographic Squadron AAVS (National Archives).

US Military: In Washington, the Joint Board (the oldest inter-service agency, established in 1903 to facilitate Army-Navy planning) draws up contingency plans to be put into effect should the Wehrmacht invade Spain and Portugal. The plan envisions an occupation force of 14,000 Marines and 14,000 Army troops being sent to the Azores. They would be under the command of Major General Holland M. "Howlin' Mad" Smith, Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division.

British Government: Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden gives a talk at The Mansion House. He argues that the German "vast and sinister fabric" of "tyranny" cannot last because the "despotism is utterly ruthless" and "no system that is built upon hate can survive." In a remark that is part prescient and part massive understatement, he states:
In speaking of the reconstruction of Europe I do not overlook the fact that its settlement may affect and may be affected by developments elsewhere, such as, for example, in the Far East.
He disavows any British interest in "economic exploitation either of Germany or of the rest of Europe" after the war.

King George VI, wearing the uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet, visits HMS King Alfred, a training establishment at Hove.

Croatia: The Duke of Spoleto (newly crowned King Tomislav II of Croatia) pays Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano a visit. According to Ciano's diary, "the tone of his conversation was distinctly anti-German."

British Homefront: The London Daily Mail writes a scathing editorial bemoaning the state of the war:
When are we really going to get down to the job of winning the war? When are we going to run machines, factories, and shipyards to full capacity; when are we going to see an end of masterly retreats ...?
Most of British media, however, is focused on the victory of battleship Bismarck to the exclusion of continuing problems elsewhere. This is a low point in the war for the British despite flashy victories in the Atlantic.

Walt Disney Studios strike 29 May 1941
Strikers holding very artistic and witty signs outside of the Walt Disney Studios building in Burbank, California on or about 29 May 1941.

American Homefront: A strike ("The Great Disney Strike") by the AFL Animators Union gets under way at the Walt Disney Studios building in Burbank, California. The Screen Cartoonists Guild has been working on this since the fall of 1940. Walt Disney himself instigated the timing of the strike by firing one of his workers who was organizing the union. There are a lot of hard feelings generated by this strike on both sides. Disney workers also protest in front of theaters showing Disney Studios films such as "Pinocchio." Incidentally, there are many female strikers because the Disney ink and paint department - which colors animated films up until the 1980s - is staffed almost exclusively by women.

Future History: Robert David Simon is born in The Bronx, New York. As Bob Simon, he becomes a well-known correspondent for CBS News and a fixture on news programs "60 Minutes" and "60 Minutes II." He becomes as 60 Minutes' senior foreign correspondent. He perishes on 11 February 2015 in an auto accident in New York City.

Robert F. Logan, Jr. is born in Brooklyn, New York. While attending the University of Arizona at Tucson, Logan is spotted by a Warner Bros. talent agent. He goes on to a long television and film career, including starring in "77 Sunset Strip" from 1958-1963 and "Daniel Boone" in 1965-66.

Dr. Seuss cartoon 29 May 1941
A Dr. Seuss cartoon from 29 May 1941. Hamilton Fish is a well-known isolationist congressman from New York (image from "Dr. Seuss Went to War" by Richard H. Minear).


Monday, February 19, 2018

May 28, 1941: Crete Lost

Wednesday 28 May 1941

9th Cavalry 28  May 1941
The 9th Cavalry passes in review at its new home at Camp Funston, Ft. Riley, Kansas, 28 May 1941.

Anglo/Iraq War: Things begin heating up in Syria on 28 May 1941, which is on the list of British targets because it is considered the gateway to the ongoing battle in Iraq. The RAF raids Aleppo, a key transit hub for Axis support of operations in Iraq. During this raid, a RAF Blenheim reconnaissance is shot down by Vichy French pilot Lt. Vuillemin of 7 Squadron, 1st Fighter Group (GCI/7) in a Morane 406. This is the first aerial victory of a Vichy French pilot over the RAF.

The Vichy French also send 28 new Dewoitine D.520s of the 6th Squadron, 3rd Fighter Group (GCIII/6) from Algeria via Athens, which arrive today at Rayak (two planes failing to make it).

The British continue their concentric attack on Baghdad. The main thrusts are from the south (Indian troops from Basra) and west (Habforce advancing from Fallujah). Today, the 20th Indian Brigade captures Ur after a march of 110 miles.

In Baghdad, rioting and looking take hold as the British approach. Dr. Fritz Grobba, head of the German diplomatic mission, cables Berlin with the warning that the British are approaching with "one hundred tanks." While this is a vast exaggeration, it conveys the key message that the city is about to fall. The Luftwaffe mission, Special Force Junck (Sonderkommando Junck) led by Luftwaffe Oberst Werner Junck, has only two Heinkel He 111s left and only four bombs for them. A force of eleven Italian Fiat CR-42 fighters has arrived but is having little effect.

London Blitz damage 28  May 1941
A London housewife gets her washing up to dry, Monday, May 28, 1941 in London. (AP Photo).

European Air Operations: RAF Fighter Command conducts an anti-shipping sweep off the French coast. RAF Bomber Command sends 14 planes to attack Kiel. This is one of countless RAF raids throughout the war that targets German battleship Tirpitz. The planes make no hits.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill instructs General Ismay to begin setting up "Air Squadrons and also at least a Brigade Group" composed of Yugoslav expatriates. A similar agreement is reached with Norwegian refugees.

Churchill also sends a telegram to William Averell Harriman ("My dear Harriman"), one of President Franklin's "special envoys," thanking him for a recent note promising delivery of six Douglas DC-2 transports and fourteen Lockheed transports.

London Blitz damage 28  May 1941
A censored war photo taken by a press agency photographer on 28 May 1941. © IWM (HU 131478).

Battle of the Atlantic: U-107 (Kptlt. Günther Hessler) continues its lengthy second patrol off of Freetown, Sierra Leone. AT 14:52, it torpedoes and sinks 3748 ton Greek freighter Papalemos. The Papalemos is an independent, and the hit on the stern in the port side destroys the superstructure and a lifeboat. Captain Hessler has his men accelerate the sinking with some target practice with the anti-aircraft gun, then sails over to the two lifeboats. In a rare act of kindness, he gives the survivors some food, cigarettes and other provisions after asking them a few questions.

HMS Edinburgh intercepts German blockade runner Lech about 400 nautical miles (740 km) north of the Azores, at the Bay of Biscay. The Lech's crew scuttles it. Some sources place this as happening on 22 May.

The Luftwaffe is active over the Atlantic searching for Royal Navy ships returning from the interception battleship Bismarck. Many of the Royal Navy ships are low on fuel and travelling slowly and without zig-zagging or other precautions. The German planes attack Canadian destroyer HMCS St Clair (formerly USS Williams (DD-108)) and HMS Mashona about 100 miles west of Galway Bay, Ireland. The handful of German planes (Junkers Ju 88 aircraft of I Staffeln, Kampfgeschwader 77) sink the Mashona, and the St Clair picks up the survivors.

German flakship (vorpostenboot) V 1610 "Innsbruck" sinks today of uncertain causes, probably RAF bombing.

British freighter City of Rangoon spots and rescues three survivors of Greek freighter Marionga, sunk by U-103 on 24 May, off Freetown. The U-boats have sunk so many ships in the area recently that there are lifeboats and rafts in many places.

Convoy OB 327 departs from Liverpool

Royal Navy destroyer HMS Lightning is commissioned, and destroyer Panther, corvette Cowslip, and minesweeping trawler Professor are launched.

Canadian minesweepers HMCS Kelowna launched at Prince Rupert and Guysborough laid down at North Vancouver.

Polish destroyer ORP Krakowiak (formerly HMS Silverton) is commissioned (Tadeusz Gorazdowski).

Free French corvette Roselys (formerly HMS Sundew) is launched.

U-579 and U-580 are launched, U-183 is laid down.

British 6-inch howitzers 28  May 1941
"6-inch howitzers towed by AEC Matador artillery tractors of 79th (The Scottish Horse) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, pass over a bridge near Huntly in Banffshire, 28 May 1941." (Lockeyear W T (Lt), War Office official photographer, Imperial War Museum).

Battle of the Mediterranean: With the British decision to evacuate Crete having been made at the highest levels on the 27th, Commonwealth troops fight rearguard actions as they head south for pickup at Sfakia (Sphakia, south of Canea/Chandia) and other points. Two companies of the Māori Battalion under Captain Rangi Royal in the New Zealand 5th Brigade make a temporary stand at Stylos, beating up the 1st Battalion of the 141st Gebirgsjäger (Mountain) Regiment and 85th Gebirgsjäger Regiment in order to allow the main force to gain ground. Sgt Alfred Clive Hulme (1911-82) of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force wins the Victoria Cross for actions here and elsewhere on Crete throughout the past week. Many other anonymous soldiers also fight valiantly.

However, not all of the Commonwealth troops get away clean. The 800 men of Layforce (so named for commander Colonel Robert Laycock), which landed at Suda Bay on the 26th and 27th, are caught there along with some other units (20th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery). At the end of the day, Laycock's men stage a night retreat to Beritiana, but it is too late - most are killed or captured. In all, only 179 of the 800 Commandos of Layforce make it to Egypt. Laycock himself, along with brigade major Evelyn Waugh (the famous author), escape in one of the unit's three tanks.

The Luftwaffe is active over the ports and airfields on the north coast such as Heraklion, Suda and Rethymno which the Germans need to bring in more reinforcements. This gives the retreating British time to get to the southern embarkation points - but they have to hurry. The German planes sink 667 ton Greek freighter Georgos at Heraklion (Candia) Harbour and 298 ton Greek freighter Aghia Kyriaki at Cape Kephola.

Fallschirmjager Crete 28  May 1941
Fallschirmjager heading back to Major Edgar Stentzler’s temporary field headquarters, near Platanius, Kreta, 28 May 1941 (Federal Archive Bild 1011-166-0508-15).

The Italian relief convoy which set out on afternoon of 27 May from Rhodes arrives at Sitia at 17:20. They are surprised to encounter no Royal Navy ships at all, which they don't realize are all to the south of the island supporting the evacuation. The Italians bring 13 L3/35 tanks and 3000 men of the 50th Infantry Division. This is the first Axis armor on Crete. The Italians ignore the retreating British and hook up with the German troops at Ierapetra.

The Royal Navy sends Force B, led by light cruisers Ajax, Dido and Orion, from Alexandria from Alexandria to take men off from Heraklion. They arrive at 23:30 and evacuates 3486 men from Heraklion after dodging Luftwaffe bombs, with Ajax hit and forced to return to base. On the way home, the Luftwaffe bombs and sinks destroyer Hereward, with 71 men killed or missing and 85 taken prisoner.

Royal Navy Force C heads for Sfakia. Consisting of destroyers Kandahar, Kelvin, Napier and Nizam, it takes off 608 men without loss.

Arizona Daily Star 28  May 1941
President Roosevelt's declaration of a National Emergency during a radio broadcast takes precedence over the sinking of German battleship Bismarck in the Arizona Daily Star, 28 May 1941.

Evacuations from Sfakia generally wait for the 29th. There are 32,000 Commonwealth troops on Crete, which is a manageable number to evacuate, but they are spread out throughout the island and some either can't make it to the south coast or have to fight their way through to get there. Men try to get off every which way they can - motor launch HMML 1030 (Lt W. M. O. Cooksey RNVR)  sinks while trying to escape from Suda Bay.

Greek civilians participate in the attacks on the advancing Wehrmacht. There are snipers, groups of civilians actively participating in the defense of key points, and supply services given to the defending Commonwealth troops. The defense is fiercest around Heraklion. The Germans view such civilian participation as illegal and treacherous, beginning a cycle of hatred between the local inhabitants and the occupying forces.

While the disastrous situation on Crete is being wound up, the British turn to other sectors. Winston Churchill sends Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell with "observations" about the Middle East which Wavell is much more able to judge himself. Churchill opines that "Everything must now be centred upon destroying the German forces in the Western Desert" considering that "you and Freyberg pronounced situation [on Crete] hopeless." He urges Wavell to fight until he has "beaten the life out of General Rommel's army." He hopes that in this way "the loss of Crete will be more than repaired."

Woman reading Iowa 28  May 1941
Woman reading to children outside, The University of Iowa, May 28, 1941 by The University of Iowa Libraries, via Flickr (photo by Kent, Frederick W. (Frederick Wallace), 1894-1984).

As usual, Churchill cannot resist some covert digs at Wavell. He notes that "We were all very much puzzled" at some of Wavell's appointments of commanders. It is akin to a baseball team owner questioning a manager's lineup. Churchill notes that, while one such appointment to command troops in the western desert, Noel Beresford-Peirse, "is a good Divisional Commander, it is difficult to believe that he can compare with Wilson [sent to Palestine] in military stature, reputation or experience." One can only imagine Wavell's reaction to such second-guessing from afar.

Wavell indeed is planning his next operation on the Libyan frontier. He signals London that this operation, codename "Battleaxe," will include all available armored strength. This includes the "Tiger cub" brought in by the Tiger convoy of which Winston Churchill is so fond. The 7th Armoured Division will lead the advance. Wavell includes in his message some criticism of British armour - he considers the army's armoured cars too lightly armoured and inadequate to provide protection against either Luftwaffe strafing or Wehrmacht armoured cars.

The RAF attacks Italian shipping off Tripoli, damaging Italian freighters Sebastiano Venier and Marco Foscarini. The master of the Foscarini beaches it near Tripoli.

On Malta, soldiers begin wearing summer dress. The government decides to clamp down on a long-standing issue of soldiers selling their uniform equipment such as boots and shirts to civilians by stamping clothing with the soldiers' serial numbers.

Haile Selassie speech 28  May 1941
Original capture on back of photograph: “The motley tribal army listens to Haile Selassie message after the defeat of 30,000 Italians.” 28 May 1941.

Anglo/US Relations: Hamilton Fish, a New York congressman who chairs the naval affairs committee (and who is not a favorite of President Roosevelt), reviews some data about US cooperation with the British. He reveals that the Royal Navy has filed 132 requests with the US government for permission to have damaged warships repaired at US naval yards. This, of course, violates the rules of war for neutrals, but the US is a neutral in name only at this point.

Today, light cruiser HMS Liverpool adds to the list of Royal Navy ships repaired in the US as it departs from Manila bound for repairs in San Francisco due to damage sustained in October 1940.

South Africa: Prime Minister Jan Smuts officially vests as the first South African Field Marshal in the British Army.

Maximilian Kolbe 28  May 1941
Maximilian Kolbe.

Holocaust: Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar, future saint of the Catholic church, arrives at the German Auschwitz camp from Warsaw.

British Homefront: Minister of Food Lord Woolton introduces egg, fish and  milk rationing. He also announces that successful prosecutions under Food Control Orders now totaled 17,319, a sign that the black market is thriving.

American Homefront: Animation workers vote to go on strike at the Walt Disney studios after Walt Disney fires Union leader Art Babbitt. They are members of the AFL Screen Cartoonists Guild.

Great Walt Disney Cartoonists Strike 28  May 1941
Original caption: "Bringing mention of 'Mickey Mouse' and 'Pluto' into the picket line, members of the A.F. of L. Screen Cartoonists Build are shown picketing the Walt Disney studios today after a strike call. Some of the placards they carry show pictures of Disney characters and such slogans as 'Are We Mice or Men?'" This incident is known as The Great Walt Disney Cartoonists Strike of 1941. The photo is dated 28 May 1941, though many accounts state the strike officially begins on 29 May.