Sunday, March 26, 2017

March 23, 1941: Malta Under Siege

Sunday 23 March 1941

23 March 1941 Vittorio Veneto
Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto at Naples, 23 March 1941.

Italian/Greek Campaign: The Italian Primavera Offensive has been a giant dud as of 23 March 1941. It has accomplished only local gains at the expense of massive casualties. However, the silver lining for the Italians is that at least they have stopped the Greek progress toward the key port of Valona. Given that the Germans are preparing to invade Greece within the next few weeks, that is sufficient to preserve an Italian presence in the country.

The Italians, despite their failures, continue to believe they can make progress. After dark, the Italians attack around Bubesi in the north and have some success. In fact, they manage to break into the Greek lines. However, the Greeks quickly counterattack and restore their front. It is just another continuation of the long-standing pattern, with a lot of Italian soldiers dead and nothing to show for it.

The RAF raids Berat in south-central Albania.

The Italians continue to reinforce their army in Albania. Four Italian transports/freighters depart from Bari bound for Durazzo in Albania. Greek submarine Triton (Lt.Cdr. D. Zepos, HN) is lying in wait. It torpedoes and damages 5154 ton Italian transport Carnia about 30 nautical miles east of Cape Galo, Brindisi. The Carnia is towed to Brindisi, but ultimately the ship is written off and scrapped. The Triton also attacks 1216 ton freighter Anna Capano, but misses.

East African Campaign: Major-General Lewis Heath, in command of 5th Indian Infantry Division, prepares his troops for the next British attack on Keren. Specifically, Dongolaas Gorge is the keyhole that must be entered in order to take the strategic city, but it is heavily defended by Italian troops placed behind the entrance. While the British have made some progress on the flanks, most importantly taking Fort Dologorodoc to the right of the gorge, the gorge itself is as well-defended as ever. After dark, Heath sends reconnaissance patrols to the areas of East Gate Spur and Hillocks "A" and "B," which are major objectives of the coming attack.

The Italians have blocked the gorge itself with boulders and other debris which the British must clear simply to enter it. Given this situation, Heath has decided to attack the Italian defenders of the gorge with a flank attack, which he hopes will give the sappers time to clear the boulders blocking the gorge. This will enable a thrust "up the gut" of the gorge which the Italians cannot stop. The attack is planned for the 24th.

The South African 2nd Division arrives by sea at Berbera, British Somaliland.

23 March 1941 Berlin raid
An RAF reconnaissance photo showing the damage to Berlin from the attack of 23 March 1941. Damage is light and scattered... now. If the damage seems hard to see, you're not alone: the RAF personnel who study these films use special lenses to spot the damage.

European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command sends 48 aircraft against Berlin, 31 against Kiel (18 tons of high explosives dropped) and 26 against Hanover (large fires and three large green explosions seen by the bombers returning from Berlin). Coastal Command attacks Quiberon in Brittany just south of Lorient and destroys some barracks. The Berlin attack targets the inland port in the vicinity of Putlitzstrasse Station. The bombers drop 10,000+ incendiaries which start several fires. The RAF crews report heavy antiaircraft fire and thick haze over the target. The British lose one medium bomber.

The Luftwaffe apparently takes a rest after their major raids on London, Plymouth and other cities recently. It launches only scattered lone-raider attacks both during the day and after dark.

Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies visits recently bombed Plymouth, which he was barred from re-entering on the 22nd due to the catastrophic night attacks. He tours Admiral Nelson's flagship HMS Victory, which Menzies notes has been hit by a bomb. He also witnesses a delayed-fuse bomb being dug up "and try to look as if I feel safe." He then travels to Winston Churchill's estate at Chequers for dinner.

23 March 1941 freighter Tabarka
British freighter Tabarka, sunk on 23 March 1941 as a blockship at Scapa Flow.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-110 (Kptlt. Fritz-Julius Lemp), on its first patrol out of Kiel, has a very bad day. It attacks 2468 ton Norwegian freighter Siremalm with three torpedoes - a lot for a relatively small ship. Two of the torpedoes miss, and the third hits but proves to be a dud (a common occurrence in northern waters at this stage of the war). Frustrated and unwilling to use any more torpedoes, Captain Lemp surfaces and has his men use the 105 mm deck gun. However, the crew is green, and this is their first time using the gun in action. They forget to remove the gun's tampion (plug) from the barrel, which causes it to explode with the first round. Three men are wounded. Lemp then has his crew use the 37 and 20 mm antiaircraft guns against the ship, but these are like flea bites on an elephant. The Siremalm escapes, and U-110 has to head to its new port of Lorient due to the gun incident.

U-551 (Kptlt. Karl Schrott), on its first patrol, is attacked by anti-submarine warfare trawler HMT Visenda about 93 miles south of Iceland. The depth charge attack succeeds, sinking the U-boat, and all 45 men on board perish.

U-97 (Kptlt. Udo Heilmann), on its second patrol operating out of Lorient, is between Cape Farewell, Greenland and southern Ireland (600 miles west of Land's End) when it spots 8077 ton British tanker Chama. Some accounts place this incident on the 24th because it happens right around midnight, and technically the ship may sink on the 24th - but the attack is launched at 23:26 on the 23rd. This is one of those grey areas where different dates are equally valid. All 59 men on board perish.

Royal Navy destroyer HMS Richmond runs aground off Benbane Head at Holyhead, Ireland. After it refloats, it requires repairs at Holyhead and then Southampton that take until 28 May.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 197 ton British trawler Elmira between the Scottish mainland and the Faroe Islands. There are ten deaths and one survivor. To the southwest, the Luftwaffe also damages 221 ton British trawler Samurai.

The Royal Navy scuttles 2624 ton British freighter Tabarka (requisitioned French ship Pollux) in Kirk Sound, Scapa Flow. It later will be temporarily refloated and moved elsewhere.

Minelayer HMS Teviotbank lays minefield BS 52 off the English east coast.

Convoy OB 301 departs from Liverpool, Convoy SL 69 departs from Freetown.

23 March 1941 SS Perthshire
SS Perthshire, set on fire at Malta today immediately after arriving with Convoy MW 6.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Four freighters of Convoy MW 6 arrive at Malta's Grand Harbour as part of Royal Navy Operation MC 9. They make port in the mid-morning and quickly unload.

The Germans notice the arrival (apparently) and within an hour the Luftwaffe arrives overhead with another major raid. A large formation of 15 Junkers Ju 88 Stukas attacks, prompting a large RAF response. As usual in these attacks, the Luftwaffe suffers heavily - the RAF and antiaircraft crews claim 13 planes - but the defensive forces on Malta are slight. The British observe that the Luftwaffe Stuka pilots do not attack as aggressively as they have in the past, releasing their bombs before completing a standard dive. There is another raid in the afternoon around 16:00 which damages freighters City of Lincoln and Perthshire, which is set on fire. There apparently is only one death, a sergeant manning an antiaircraft Bofors gun.

After losing 5 planes on the 22nd, the RAF loses another two today. It is becoming clear that the Germans can eliminate the British air defense if they are willing to continue sustaining such large losses. Based on today's raid and the preceding ones, along with invasion fears, the British reach a decision to withdraw all bombers and flying boats from the island. This will vastly reduce reconnaissance capabilities and the ability to bomb Naples and other Italian targets, but the large planes are proving extremely vulnerable to the Luftwaffe attacks, with several recently destroyed and damaged.

The British now are moving troops to Gozo - the island northwest of the main Malta island - due to invasion fears. This is Operation Picnic, and it is disguised from the Italian spies on the island as simply normal troop exercises.

Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel, having received the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross at the hand of Adolf Hitler, returns to North Africa. While under orders not to do anything major until he receives his full complement of troops, Rommel orders a small attack on the most advanced British positions west of El Agheila. His Afrika Korps troops in the vicinity of Marada run into British artillery, so they call in the Luftwaffe. Three Bf 110s (known as a Kette) shoot up an English armored car patrol, without much effect, while others attack Solluch.

The recently arrived Brescia Division takes up defensive positions west of El Agheila. Rommel's convoys have been getting through, and the Afrika Corps is stocked with fuel and ready to rumble. The British, meanwhile, have been replacing experienced troops with well-armed but green troops which can charitably be described as garrison units. For instance, the battle-tested 4th Armoured Division has been pulled from the front and sent to Greece. In its place is the 2nd Armoured Division, which is new to the front line and manning a key stretch of the line near El Agheila.

23 March 1941 Marilyn Monroe
Norma Jeane Baker (Marilyn Monroe) acting "fresh" outside her home at 11348 Nebraska Avenue in West Los Angeles. This is some time in March 1941. Norma Jeane is imitating Claudette Colbert's famous scene in "It Happened One Night" (1934). The film also happens to be a favorite of both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin (according to William L. Shirer in "Berlin Diary").

Battle of the Indian Ocean: New Zealand light cruiser Leander is operating between Madagascar and Mauritius when it spots 5267 ton Vichy French freighter Charles L.D. The Leander takes the freighter to Mauritius to be interned.

German 8516 ton freighter Oder and Italian 6366 ton freighter India make a run for it from Massawa, Eritrea. The British are patrolling the seas nearby, and escaping will not be easy.

US/Australian Relations: Rear Admiral Newton takes his cruiser squadron (USS Chicago and Portland, along with five destroyers) out of Sydney Harbour after a highly successful visit. He heads to Brisbane for another three-day visit. There have been astonishing street demonstrations in Sydney, with residents acting as if the American ships are their own ships returning from some great, winning battle. Acting Prime Minister Arthur Fadden cables President Roosevelt:
It is my privilege and pleasure to inform you personally that the visit of the squadron has been in every way an outstanding success and has, I am sure, done even more than we here had hoped to strengthen ties of friendship between australia and the United States of America.
The government and population remains highly apprehensive about Japanese aggression to the south, which no doubt contributes to all the warm feelings.

German/Hungarian Relations: Hitler meets with Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs László Bárdossy de Bárdos. Bardossy believes that Germany will win the war and works well with Hitler. In general, within the Hungarian government there is less a sense of kinship with the Germans and more a sense of fatalism that there is no sustainable path other than falling into the German orbit. However, Bardossy is viewed within the Hungarian government as more in line with Hitler than most others and a true fascist.

Yugoslavia: News of regent Prince Paul's decision to sign the Tripartite Pact has seeped out to the population, and demonstrations erupt. Hitler, meanwhile, has imposed a deadline on Yugoslavia to sign the pact on the agreed terms, which include no demands placed upon the Yugoslavian Army to assist the Wehrmacht. If the Yugoslavs do not sign the Pact by the deadline, then these special dispensations (similar to those granted to Bulgaria) will be withdrawn. In essence, Hitler simply wants the Yugoslavian government to permit right of transit of the Wehrmacht to attack Greece. Of course, once Greece is subdued, Yugoslavia will be surrounded by German-occupied countries, so any hope of retaining an independent foreign policy after that would be forlorn.

23 March 1941 Vancouver Coast Brigade Marching Band
The Band of the 15th (Vancouver) Coast Brigade marches down Georgia Street past the Vancouver Hotel. 23 March 1941 (Vancouver Gunners).

Brazil: Brazil has large coffee surpluses as a result of the closing of the European markets to imports. Typically, Europe purchases 805 million pounds per year, but due to the war it is purchasing essentially nothing. The US is the only remaining large customer. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the 1941 coffee crop is predicted to be the best in years. Coffee prices have collapsed.

Today, the government announces that new uses have been found for the 198,000,000-pound coffee bean surplus left over from 1940 and an additional 1,436,160,000 pounds purchased by the government. Specifically, it states that plastics created by US scientist Herbert Spencer Polin on the 71st floor of the Chrysler Building called "cafelite" can be created from coffee beans. It is heat-resistant and noise-proof, has good insulating properties, and also is resistant to termites and other pests. The discovery gives hope to Brazilians that the warehouses full of aging coffee beans will prove useful and profitable.

Holocaust: Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler sends a memorandum to Adolf Hitler entitled, "Some thoughts about the treatment of foreign peoples in the eastern Territories." This topic has been under study by the German government recently as the plans for Operation Barbarossa are finalized. The memo states:
I hope to see the very concept of Jewry completely obliterated.
Hitler tells Himmler to keep this top secret.

Polish automobile designer Tadeusz Tański, who among other things designed the first Polish armored car and the first Polish serially-built car, perishes in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

China: The Battle of Shanggao continues, with both sides regrouping after the latest Japanese attack. The Japanese are preparing for another surge on the 24th, and today put in minor attacks around Shangkao.

British Homefront: Britain holds a National Day of Prayer at the request of the King.

23 March 1941 New Yorker
The New Yorker - 23 March 1946 - Issue # 1101 - Vol. 22 - N° 6 - Cover by Helen E. Hokinson.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

March 22, 1941: Grand Coulee Dam

Saturday 22 March 1941

22 March 1941 Beaufighter
"The first production Beaufighter Mark IIF night fighter, R2270, fitted with dihedral tailplanes and equipped with AI Mark IV radar, in flight. This aircraft served with No. 406 Squadron RCAF." This Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter makes its maiden flight on 22 March 1941 and uses 1200 hp Merlin XX engines. © IWM (MH 4560).

Italian/Greek Campaign: Fighting in the diminishing Italian Primavera Offensive continues on 22 March 1941 despite an Italian request for a temporary truce. The Puglia and Bari Divisions have lost thousands of men on the slopes of Monastery Hill in the center of the line, and they remain unburied. Italian army chaplains approach the Greek defenders of Monastery Hill under a flag of truce, but the Greeks refuse because the Italians will not or cannot guarantee the cessation of hostilities along the entire front.

East African Campaign: The British offensive west of Jijiga, Abyssinia continues. Having occupied the Babile Pass upon an Italian withdrawal during the night, the British also occupy the abandoned city of Harar. Further west, Belgian colonial troops occupy Gambela.

At Keren, the Italians continue to launch fierce attacks to recover Fort Dologorodoc, the fortress to the right of the Dongolaas Gorge. The British troops holding Fort Dologorodoc despite these attacks have got to be wondering why, when the Italians are barely fighting anywhere else, here they are acting like the future of Italy itself depends on this one fort.

22 March 1941 Robert Menzies
Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies in Plymouth, 22 March 1941. © IWM (A 3556).

European Air Operations: Plymouth has been devastated by two nights of Luftwaffe attacks. The entire region sends fire equipment and men to assist with recovery efforts. In addition, enlisted sailors from the ships in the harbor clear the streets and fill in bomb craters. Visiting Prime Minister Robert Menzies leaves Plymouth and visits nearby Devonport, but is denied entrance to Plymouth itself:
Cannot enter city of Plymouth today, public being excluded because of delayed action bombs. Hear that the Astor house [mayor of Plymouth], where we were to stay, was bombed!
The first production Beaufighter Mark IIF night fighter, R2270, rolls out of the factory and makes its maiden flight. It is fighted with dihedral tailplanes, a Merlin engine and equipped with AI Mark IV radar. It will serve with RCAF No. 406 Squadron.

Battle of the Atlantic: Escorted by destroyers (which meet them at 03:00) and the Luftwaffe, German heavy cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst make port at Brest, France. Gneisenau quickly enters dry dock No. 8 for periodic maintenance. Scharnhorst,  berthed alongside the Quai de la Ninon, also requires work on the superheater tubes in her boilers which will keep her in Brest until July. Admiral Lütjens begins packing his bags for his next command - that of the two-ship operation that will include battleship Bismarck in May.

Operation Berlin has been a resounding success, with the two ships sinking or capturing 22 ships totalling about 115,000 tons. While covering 17,800 miles in 60 days, they have terrified Allied convoys throughout the Atlantic and kept the Royal Navy on high alert. If any German Atlantic cruiser proves the value to the Kriegsmarine of surface raiders to wreak destruction and spread out the Allied defenses, Operation Berlin is the one.

The British, despite occasional aircraft sightings of the two ships, remain oblivious of the fact that "Salmon and Gluckstein" (the British nickname for the two German ships, after a tobacco shop) have made port. The Admiralty diverts from another mission four destroyers based at Londonderry (HMS Jackal, Kashmir, Kelly and Kipling) to search for them, to no avail. Aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal is forced to divert to Gibraltar after a catapult malfunction leads to one of its own Fairey Swordfish depth charge exploding under the ship, damaging it. All of this illustrates the value to the Germans of having surface ships on the loose, a huge distraction for the Royal Navy.

The Gneisenau and Scharnhorst are far from the only German ships operating with impunity on the high seas. Kriegsmarine raider Kormoran is in the mid-Atlantic between Brazil and Africa when it spots empty 3552 ton British (Shell) tanker Agnita with gunfire. The British crew becomes POWs and the Kormoran scuttles the Agnita using a torpedo, 105 mm gunfire and demolition charges.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 495 ton British freighter St. Fintan about seven miles (12 km) northwest of Smalls Lighthouse, Wales. The crew of nine perishes.

The Luftwaffe bombs 1418 ton Norwegian freighter Inger about ten miles (18 km) south of Smalls. The ship makes it to Plymouth.

The Luftwaffe bombs 2154 ton British freighter Dashwood in the Barrow Deep. The ship makes it to port.

The RAF bombs and damages Norwegian coaster Vestlkyst I off Skadberg, Norway. The captain manages to beach the ship to prevent sinking. However, the RAF later attacks the ship, further damaging it. Eventually, it is refloated and repaired.

Royal Navy destroyer HMS Belmont is damaged in a collision with a freighter about 15 miles northwest of the Isle of Man. It returns to Liverpool for repairs.

Royal Navy destroyers attack U-48 (Kptlt. Herbert Schultze) with depth charges. The U-boat is damaged but gets away. U-48 is on its 11th patrol and is one of the most successful boats in the U-boat fleet, but it is nearing the end of its combat life due to its small size.

Three Royal Navy destroyers (HMS Icarus, Intrepid and Impulsive) lay minefield GN in the English Channel.

U-126 (Kapitänleutnant Ernst Bauer) and U-202 (Kapitänleutnant Hans-Heinz Linder) are commissioned.

22 March 1941 Jimmy Stewart induction ceremony
Actor Jimmy Stewart, a recent Oscar winner for Best Actor in "The Philadelphia Story," at his induction ceremony in the US Army. 22 March 1941.

Battle of the Mediterranean: It is a very bad day for the British on Malta. At 16:05, a large force of 10 Junkers Ju 88 bombers and 14 Bf 109 fighters crosses the island from north to northeast. After bombing from St. Thomas Bay to Grand Harbour, they try to make their escape back to Sicily. The RAF manages to scramble eight Hurricanes to follow them - the most in months, perhaps ever. They attack the Germans about 35 miles north of Malta. A Hurricane and a Bf 109 shoot each other down, and four other Hurricanes disappear completely. No sign of them ever is seen again. The Germans lose another fighter during the raid, but the losses of the dwindling defending fighter force are terrible. Oblt. Mietusch of 7./JG 26 claims two fighters, so apparently the missing fighters were shot down and didn't simply get lost and run out of fuel (which is quite possible in such situations). Some accounts state that the British lose seven fighters.

Things are heating up in North Africa in more ways than one. The Luftwaffe attacks a column of 70 British vehicles driving north from Agedabia. Aerial reconnaissance reports British troops in the area of Sollum/Ghemines/Magrum. Three RAF Hurricanes make a strafing attack on Marada.

The Luftwaffe (III,/KG 30 Junkers Ju 88s) bombs and badly 8070 ton damages Norwegian freighter Solheim south of Crete. Attempts are made to salvage it, but she eventually sinks. All 32 crew survive. Some accounts place the sinking of the 3798 ton Greek freighter Embiricos Nicolaos in this action, others on the 21st.

British 58 ton tug Chabool is presumed lost today of unknown causes. It had departed Aden on 15 March bound for Berbera.

Convoy AN 22 (nine ships) departs Alexandria bound for Piraeus. The New Zealand 6th Infantry Brigade arrives at Piraeus.

An Axis convoy of four ships departs from Naples bound for Tripoli.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: German raider Pinguin completes its resupply from supply ship Alstertor.  Fregattenkapitän (later Kapitän zur See) Ernst-Felix Krüder makes plans to finish his refit and depart within the next few days.

Battle of the Pacific: Two of the Italian ships that escaped from East Africa before their port, Massawa, was captured arrive in Kobe, Japan. These are auxiliary cruiser Ramb II and Italian colonial sloop Eritrea. Virtually all of the other ships have been captured, scuttled or sunk.

22 March 1941 Robert Menzies Plymouth
Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies during his visit to Plymouth, 22 March 1941. Commander-in-Chief Plymouth Command, Admiral Sir Dunbar-Nasmith, VC KCB, greets him. © IWM (A 3558).

Anglo/Yugoslav Relations: The British Minister in Belgrade has obtained a copy of the documents which regent Prince Paul would sign when Yugoslavia joins the Tripartite Pact. They show that Yugoslavia would not have to conduct any military operations, merely permit passage of the Wehrmacht through the country to attack Greece. This is known as an "opt out" clause which would remain secret unless the Yugoslavian government considered it politically necessary.

Humanitarian Aid: President Roosevelt has been advocating the shipment of humanitarian aid to Occupied Europe since 1940. However, the British - primarily Prime Minister Winston Churchill - have objected on the grounds that this helps the Wehrmacht. British approval is necessary to get such supplies through the Royal Navy blockade. Today, the British approve the passage of two ships carrying American flour to Vichy France.

US Military: Actor Jimmy Stewart begins a long military career when he reports for induction at Fort McArthur, California. He begins his career as a private, serial number 0433210. Stewart still has to send his agent in Hollywood 10% of of his $21 per month army salary. An accomplished private pilot, Stewart is heading for service in the US Army Air Corps.

Vichy French Government: Vichy French President Philippe Pétain signs a decree to construct a trans-Saharan railway. Plans are to cut costs by using POWs and concentration camp inmates.

22 March 1941 Antarctic snow cruiser Beechcraft D17A
The Beechcraft D17A sitting atop the mammoth Snow Cruiser.

Antarctica: With Antarctic winter fast approaching, the Antarctic Service evacuates East Base, U.S. Antarctica Service, Marguerite Bay. All 24 men are brought out in two flights of the base's Curtiss R4C-1 Condor. They land at the emergency airfield at Mikkelson Island, 25 miles northeast of Adelaide Island. There, they board USS Bear (AG 29) for transfer at Punta Arenas, Chile to USS North Star. The Condor is abandoned on the island (the other plane used by the expedition, a Beechcraft D17A, already has been shipped back to the States). The Condor remains buried under ice (or on the seafloor) along with the fabled Snow Cruiser.

China: The Battle of Shanggao continues. Today, the main action shifts to the air, where the Japanese attack the next Chinese defensive line (the second of three). This attack is successful, leading to the deaths of 100-200 Chinese soldiers. The Japanese 11th Army ground forces then advance through the breach created, using a formula perfected by the Germans: tanks and armored cars first, followed by infantry. However, the Chinese forces on the flanks of the breach are intact, and they rain fire on the Japanese. After losing about half of their vehicles and infantry, the Japanese retreat. The Japanese are not willing to give up and launch a poison-gas attack, one of the few during World War II. The Chinese, however, abandon the second defensive line before the poison gas shells are launched, so the poison gas largely falls in unmanned areas.

22 March 1941 Grand Coulee dam
The Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State as pictured in 1941 (Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress).

American Homefront: The Opening Ceremony for the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State is held. It is still not complete - that will not happen until 1974 with the installation of a third powerhouse - but two small service generators go online today. These send 10,000 kilowatts of electricity into the Bonneville Power Administration's transmission network. Some 10,000 attend the ceremony, which is two years ahead of schedule. The dam has been contemplated since William M. Clapp first proposed the idea in 1917, and it has been under construction since 6 December 1935. The small generators today are more for show than meaningful production - that will not begin until 4 October 1941, when the first of the dam's 18 main generators go into service without notice to the public and begin commercial production. The power generated by this and other western dams (such as the Hoover Dam) will greatly aid the war effort.

Future History: Edward Heath is commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Regiment of Artillery. Lt. Heath will go on to become the Prime Minister of England from 1970-1974.

22 March 1941 Beechcraft D17A Curtiss R4C-1 Antarctica
The  Beechcraft D17A Staggerwing and Curtiss R4C-l Condor assigned to the West Base of the U.S. Antarctic Service. The Staggerwing was designed to be carried on the roof of the giant Snow Cat and, on 31 January 1941, was shipped out on the USS North Star and returned to the US. It quickly was sold off to an Australian citizen from Alice Springs and was destroyed in an accident on 22 December 1963. The Condor, meanwhile, had good carrying capacity, but was old and creaky. After being used on 22 March 1941 to evacuate the last personnel from Little America, the plane was left in the Antarctic, where it remains (Wings Magazine, February 1980).


Friday, March 24, 2017

March 21, 1941: Plymouth Blitz

Friday 21 March 1941

21 March 1941 Plymouth Blitz
Plymouth, 21 March 1941. Original caption: "Long distance view taken when St Andrew's Church (in background) caught fire. The fire can be seen lighting up the church." Naturally, this is night-time and there is a total blackout, so everything would be black but for the fires. Plymouth Libraries, Local Studies Library.

Italian/Greek Campaign: Operation Lustre, the British reinforcement of Greece on the Bulgarian border, continues at full speed. The 1st Armoured Brigade is setting up outposts that are designed simply to delay, not stop, the expected Wehrmacht onslaught.

Mussolini essentially gives up on the stuttering Primavera Offensive. Even as his troops continue to attack, Mussolini leaves Tirana and flies back to Rome. The Italians continue battering against the Greek troops, supported by preceding artillery barrages, without success.

21 March 1941 RAF No. 300 Squadron
A picture of four crews from RAF No. 300 Squadron, based at RAF Swinderby, 21 March 1941. These crews were known as the first to bomb Berlin. No. 300 Polish Squadron Photo Gallery.

East African Campaign: Having taken Jijiga, Nigerian troops of the 11th African Division moves west into the Marda Pass. At around noontime, they attack, but the Italians hold firm. The Italians withdraw after sundown, handing the easily defensible location to the British.

At Keren, Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell makes a rare appearance to observe the proceedings. He sees the 3 Royal Garhwal Rifles move into Happy Valley. The move is purely defensive and diversionary, with the troops put there simply to protect other units and create the impression in the watching Italians that they are about to attack the Acqua Gap.

21 March 1941 Plymouth Blitz
"Bluejackets filling in a crater made by a large bomb." Plymouth, 21 March 1941. © IWM (A 3550).

European Air Operations: The pattern of the Luftwaffe bombing the same targets on successive nights has become common knowledge. Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies arrives in Plymouth, which was heavily bombed on the 20th, and writes in his diary:
At dinner we are warned that the Hun arrives two nights running. Sure enough, just as the port arrives we are hurried into the cellars.... A frightful bombing breaks out.
He notes that the "all clear" sounds after midnight. Menzies then vividly records a trip downtown to view the damage:
A frightful scene. Street after street afire; furniture litters the footpaths; poor old people shocked & dazed are led along to shelter. The Guild Hall is a beacon of fire. Buildings blaze and throw out sparks like a bush fire. There are few fire appliances and firemen.... Every now and then a delayed action bomb explodes (two were so close as to make me duck) or a building collapses.... I am all for peace when it comes, but it will be a tragedy for humanity if it comes before those beasts have had their own cities ravaged.
At Clydeside in Scotland, the inhabitants are digging themselves out from the raids of a week ago - literally. Two men buried in a tenement basement finally are rescued.

RAF Bomber Command, meanwhile, sends 66 bombers against the U-boat pens at Lorient. The RAF also attacks German shipping off the Heligoland Bight and in the Heligoland Bight.

21 March 1941 Plymouth Blitz
"Bluejackets filling in a crater made by a large bomb. Plymouth, 21 March 1941." © IWM (A 3551).

Battle of the Atlantic: Admiral Lütjens brings his Operation Berlin cruisers toward Brest in heavy fog. It clears at 16:30, permitting three Heinkel He-115s to depart to provide air cover, and at 19:00 torpedo boats Iltis and Jaguar meet Gneisenau and Scharnhorst to escort them in. While this may all seem mundane, it gives a preview of what Lutjens would reasonably expect to happen while aboard the Bismarck in May. A Fairey Fulmar from aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, which has left Gibraltar to search for Lutjens' ship, spots them but experiences a radio malfunction and cannot report in time for any interception to be made today.

The Ark Royal loses an aircraft of RAF No. 818 Squadron when it crashes on takeoff, with the crew killed. It is even worse than that: the plane is carrying a depth charge which explodes under the Ark Royal, damaging it.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a former First Lord of the Admiralty, continues to meddle in the Royal Navy's priorities. He memos the First Sea Lord that "No effort to destroy the Focke-Wulfs [Fw 200 Condors] should be spared." He even suggests placing a radar station on Rockall, an uninhabited rocky outcropping in the Northwest Approaches.

During the Luftwaffe raid on Plymouth, the Germans hit 303 ton minesweeping trawler HMT Asama. The captain beaches the Asama, but it is a total loss.

The Luftwaffe attacks shipping in the Bristol Channel. It sinks:

  • 1260 ton British freighter London II in the Bristol Channel. The crew quickly abandons the blazing ship. There are are four deaths
  • 617 ton British freighter Millisle. There are ten deaths.

U-105 (Kapitänleutnant Georg Schewe) is operating off the Cape Verde Islands. It has been stalking Convoy SL-68 and already has sunk two of its ships, the Medjerda and the Mandalika. Today, it adds three more victims from the convoy.

U-105 torpedoes and sinks:

  • 5920 ton British freighter Benwyvis (34 deaths)
  • 5802 ton British freighter Clan Ogilvy (61 deaths)
  • 4038 ton British freighter Jhelum (8 deaths, the rest make it to Senegal and are interned).

Like a wolf feeding on a herd, U-105 makes its first attack at 00:46, sinking the Benwyvis and Clan Ogilvy. After shadowing the convoy throughout the day, U-105 returns at 22:00 to sink the Jhelum.

British 2365 ton freighter Halo hits a mine off Beckton Pier in the Thames. The ship sinks, but is later refloated and used for storage. There are four deaths.

Armed merchant cruiser HMS Derbyshire departs from the Clyde carrying troops bound for Reykjavik, Iceland.

Convoy HX 116 depars from Halifax.

Royal Navy corvette HMS Dahlia (Lt. Commander Magnus S. Work) and minesweeping trawler HMS Fluellen (Lt. Denys P. Richardson) are commissioned.

U-562 is commissioned, U-205, U-569 and U-570 are launched, and U-258 is laid down.

21 March 1941 Plymouth Blitz
"The Norwegian sailors who helped in the clearing up of "blitzed" Plymouth, receiving well deserved refreshment." 21 March 1941. © IWM (A 3545).

Battle of the Mediterranean: The 15-week Australian/British siege - well, not much of a siege, more like simply watching them - of the Italian fort at Jarabub (Giarabub), Southern Libya finally comes to a successful conclusion. The Italians decide to abandon the position rather than risk damage to religious artifacts of importance to the Muslim Senussi sect. The Australian 2/9th Battalion troops move in and also leave the religious items intact. Led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a strong faction of the Arab world has pro-Axis sympathies, and everyone treats these types of situations with extreme sensitivity.

The Italian Brescia Division relieves the German 5th Light Division at its forward positions during the night.

The Allied convoys from Alexandria to Greece have been passing largely unmolested for weeks. Today, Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 bombers of III,/KG 30 operating southeast of Crete (off Gavdo Island) spot Convoy AS-21 returning to Alexandria. They sink 3798 ton Greek transport Embiricos Nicolaos and damage 8070 ton Norwegian tanker Solheim, killing two men on the former and one on the latter. The tanker stays afloat until early on 24 March. Another convoy departs today from Piraeus, Convoy ASF-21.

The Luftwaffe also attacks Convoy AN-21. The two Junkers Ju 88s bomb and damage Danish tanker Marie Maersk. After the crew abandons ship, Lieutenant C.G. Hill, RANR of HMAS Warehen boards the blazing ship with some men regain control of the tanker. They manage to sail it to Suda Bay. Lt. Hill is awarded the OBE for this.

Italian torpedo boats attack the British port at Suda Bay, Crete. One puts a torpedo into the side of cruiser HMS York which causes the ship, at a dock, to settle into the mud. This begins a chain reaction of events which ultimately results in the ship's destruction.

At Malta, a single Junkers Ju 88 bomber escorted by seven Italian Macchi fighters and two German Bf 109s attack shipping off Dellmara Point. The bomber brackets destroyer HMS Defender, damaging it and wounding six sailors. Defender makes it back to port, but is full of holes above the waterline.

General Italo Gariboldi officially replaces Rodolfo Graziani as Governor-General of Libya and Commander in Chief of Italian forces in North Africa. Gariboldi has been the de facto commander there since Graziani flew back to Italy in disgrace on 8 February.

21 March 1941 Afrika Korps halftrack
An Afrika Korps halftrack towing a 3.7 cm Pak antitank gun. Tripolitania, 21 March 1941 (Moosmuller, Federal Archive).

Japanese/German Relations: Japanese freighter Tatsuta Maru, which arrived in San Francisco yesterday, departs again for Japan. It carries Werner Thiel, a long-time resident of the United States who is heading back to Germany to attend a school for saboteurs (see Operation Pastorius).

German/Hungarian Relations: Hungarian Foreign Minister László Bárdossy meets with Hitler and Joachim von Ribbentrop in Munich.

US Military: Navy Secretary Frank Knox writes to President Roosevelt - who is fishing off the Florida coast - with recommendations for aiding the British that are both based upon requests previously made by Winston Churchill:

  • Seize interned German/Italian ships and use them in convoys to England;
  • Begin convoy operations using US Navy ships.

Knox is working on Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson to agree to the use of US Navy ships in convoys.

Separately, Captain George Murray takes command of USS Enterprise (CV-6).

21 March 1941 Plymouth Blitz
 "Bluejackets filling in a crater made by a large bomb." Bluejackets are enlisted sailors. Plymouth, 21 March 1941. © IWM (A 3549).

Yugoslavian Government: The uproar within the government over regent Prince Paul's decision to sign the Tripartite Pact continues. Four ministers either resign or threaten to resign.

China: A lull in the Battle of Shanggao continues today, with the Japanese 11th Army capturing Shangchichia. Both sides are bringing up reinforcements. The Japanese also are stocking up with poison gas.

British Homefront: Churchill remonstrates with Minister of Food Lord Woolton - but this time it is not about the appeal of the recently introduced Woolton Pies. Instead, Churchill is concerned about the name Woolton has given to new government-sponsored eateries: "Communal Feeding Centres." Calling this name "suggestive of Communism and the workhouse," Churchill proposes that they be named "British Restaurants" instead. This is because "Restaurants" connotes a "good meal," and since they will be serving Woolton Pies, "they may as well have the name if they cannot get anything else."

American Homefront: The Liberty Badge Campaign begins around this date to raise funds to help Greece.

The NYC bus strike is settled after an 11-day walkout.

Warner Bros. releases "The Sea Wolf," starring Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield and Ida Lupino. Directed by Michael Curtiz, "The Sea Wolf" follows a cruel German sea captain and is adapted from a Jack London novel.

Joe Louis knocks out Abe Simon in the thirteenth round in Philadelphia. Louis remains the world heavyweight champion .

21 March 1941 Plymouth Blitz
"A sailor eats his dinner on the edge of a huge crater which he has been helping to fill up." Plymouth, 21 March 1941. © IWM (A 3547).


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

March 20, 1941: Romeo and Juliet

Thursday 20 March 1941

20 March 1941 King Queen Plymouth
"Their Majesties being greeted by the C in C, Admiral Sir Martin E Dunbar-Nasmith, VC, KCB." This is at Plymouth on 20 March 1940. © IWM (A 3481).

Italian/Greek Campaign: The desultory Italian Primavera Offensive continues today without any progress on 20 March 1941. Italian 11th Army attacks the Greek Epirus Army near Klisura. Meanwhile, Operation Lustre, the British reinforcement of Greece to oppose an expected German invasion, continues. The Tommies take up positions on the Aliakmon Line facing Bulgaria.

East African Campaign: The British at Keren make one last attempt to clear the Dongolaas Gorge in order to ram a column through it despite strong Italian defensive positions. The attempt fails, with the British taking 19 casualties, and a later attempt with two I tanks also fails. After this, the British spend their time repositioning their forces for flank attacks on the gorge, so ground activity is light. However, RAF and South African RAF planes bomb the Italian positions in the hills that overlook the key Dongolaas Gorge.

British forces to the south are proceeding practically unimpeded. The British troops that landed at Berbera make more good ground and link up with the 11th African Division at Hargeisa. That said... the ground being occupied in this region is largely worthless - only the ports and major cities have any strategic value, and that only slight.

20 March 1941 King Mountbatten Plymouth
"On his arrival at Flag staff steps His Majesty was greeted by his cousin, Captain the Lord Louis Mountbatten, GCVO, DSO. His personal ADC." This is at Plymouth on 20 March 1940. © IWM (A 3485).

European Air Operations: The King and Queen have been on a tour of Wales and southern England to boost morale. Yesterday, they were at Swansea, and today the royals visit Plymouth. It is a standard visit, and around dusk the King and Queen depart at 18:00 on their private train. As they are at the station, the air raid sirens sound. The royals continue on to their next destination without incident, but many other important personages remain behind. The actual raid by 125 bombers begins around 20:30, and the VIPs adjourn to basements. It is an unusually heavy raid, destroying the center of town and sinking:

  • 338 ton Royal Navy tug HMT Sir Bevois
  • 35 ton Royal Navy fishing vessel HMT Dox
  • Hulk Mackay-Bennet (an old cable layer involved in the aftermath of the RMS Titanic sinking, later refloated and repaired)
  • Tug Elan II (later refloated and repaired)
  • 5248 ton British freighter Lindenhall (sunk at Victoria Dock, later refloated and repaired)
  • 1395 ton British freighter Mari II (later refloated and repaired)

The colorful Lady Nancy Astor are unhurt and makes some inspirational comments to the press.

Some Luftwaffe bombers hit Bristol during the night, where visiting Australian Prime Minister Menzies is spending the night. He makes an interesting comment in his diary about how the RAF now can predict the location of attacks before they occur:
Air raid warnings from London. They study beams from Germany, and where they cross is the place. Loud noises from the city after dinner, but we talk, as usual, until midnight.
A small force of three Manchester bombers attacks the U-boat pens at Lorient. One of the bombers has an engine fire which quickly consumes the aircraft. The pilot and crewman Charles Leonard Wheatley try to bring the plane home, but it hits a tree and crashes. Wheatley survives the crash and, knowing that the fire might set off the plane's bombs, successfully fights the fire at close range. He will receive the George Medal for this. RAF Bomber Command also sends 42 aircraft on minelaying operations along routes used by U-boats to and from bases in the Bay of Biscay (Brest, Lorient and St. Nazaire).

20 March 1941 King Plymouth
"HM The King inspecting an Indian contingent paraded in the grounds of Admiralty House." This is at Plymouth, 20 March 1941. © IWM (A 3497).

Battle of the Atlantic: German heavy cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst are on their way to Brest at 23 knots. The British have numerous ships out looking for them, and they succeed: the ships are spotted by an airplane flying from HMS Ark Royal, which is part of Force H out of Gibraltar. Admiral Lütjens on board the Gneisenau is apprised of the RAF plane and alters course slightly to the north. During the day, the two Operation Berlin cruisers pass Norwegian tanker Polykarb, which Gneisenau captured on 15 March and is heading for the Gironde estuary with a prize crew.

While the Polykarb continues on its way unmolested, tankers Bianca (5688 tons) and San Casimiro (8046 tons), also captured by Gneisenau on the 15th, are not so lucky. The same aircraft that spots the cruisers also spots those two ships which are heading for France. Royal Navy battleship HMS Renown approaches the tankers, whose crews scuttle them. There are 46 Germans on the two ships taken as prisoners.

U-106 (Kptlt. Jürgen Oesten) continues operating in the area north of the Cape Verde Islands and west of the African coast where it has been stalking Convoy SL-68. Today, late in the say at 23:23, U-106 launches two stern torpedoes at the convoy - basically potshots taken in poor light. One torpedo hits 31,100 ton Royal Navy battleship HMS Malaya on its port side, causing extensive damage and a list of 7 degrees. Malaya makes it to Trinidad, and then to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Malaya thus beats damaged aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious to become the first Royal Navy ship repaired in a US shipyard during the war.

The other U-106 torpedo hist 7995 ton Dutch freighter Meerkerk. The Meerkerk also is damaged, but much less than Malaya. It sails back to Freetown, where it is under repair until late April 1941.

Royal Navy heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk returns to service after repairs to its damage from its April 1940 bombing. However, it still has some engine issues that need attention.

In a striking coincidence which may not actually be so coincidental - let's call it serendipitous instead - Royal Navy Minesweeping trawlers HMS Juliet and Romeo are commissioned and launched, respectively, while HMCS Truro and Digby are laid down.

The Luftwaffe sinks 21 ton Royal Navy fishing boat HMT Gloaming and 25 ton fishing boat Joan Margaret off the Humber. There are five deaths.

The Luftwaffe sinks 1386 ton Polish freighter Cieszyn a few miles off Manacle Point. Everyone survives.

The Luftwaffe indirectly sinks 174 ton British trawler Bianca in the Irish Sea (this Bianca is different than tanker Biance that is scuttled today in the Bay of Biscay). Bianca is dragging its net as usual when it has an unwelcome catch - a Luftwaffe bomb or aerial mine. There are five deaths.

Royal Navy 72 ton drifter HMT Soizic is lost in action, perhaps due to a mine or Luftwaffe attack.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 40 ton tug Charlight at Milwall.

RAF Coastal Command bombs and sinks 7500 ton Sperrbrecher-12 (minesweeper) Stolzenfels in the North Sea off Ameland, Friesland.

Convoy OB 300 departs from Liverpool, Convoy SC 26 departs from Halifax.

Three Royal Navy destroyers (HMS Intrepid, Icarus and Impulsive) lay minefield GU in the English Channel.

U-562 (Oberleutnant zur See Herwig Collmann) is commissioned.

20 March 1941 HMS Malaya
HMS Malaya (Maritime Quest).

Battle of the Mediterranean: Troops continue to arrive in Tripoli. Among the men arriving today are members of a medium tank battalion of the Ariete Division. The local commanders send OKH (the German army command) an assessment of the strategic situation late in the day which places the German line as follow:
Forward forces still southwest of Agedabia. Defensive line Mersa el Brega (security patrols at Bescer) – southern tip Sebeha es Seghira and mobile tank security at Uadi Faregh from Bettafal to Ain en Naga, security in Haselat, reserves around Bilal, Gtafia.
Tentatively, the Germans plan to launch an offensive to take Mersa el Brega and then Gialo with battalion troops stationed at Marada (Major Appel commanding). The Germans request that the Italian Commando Supremo set aside troops to guard the rear, flanks and gaps of any offensives.

The Royal Navy has begun another elaborate supply operation to Malta. The Admiralty instructs Admiral Cunningham, Commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, to assist aircraft carrier HMS Argus to deliver a dozen Hurricanes and two Skuas to the embattled island. As per standard practice, the Hurricanes will fly off in two groups, each group led by a Skua.

Operation Compass was a phenomenal success for the British. However, it is still easy to overstate the success. While the British removed the Italians from Egypt and took several key Italian ports and bases, they still only occupied a thin coastal slice of Libya. Today, Australian 2/9th soldiers begin trying to expand this strip of occupied land to the south, attacking Giarabub (Jarabub) Oasis, located about 225 km (140 miles) to the south of Bardia. The Germans set aside two Junkers Ju 88 bombers for support against the attacks.

Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel becomes the 10th person in the Wehrmacht to receive the Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross.

There is a resumption of invasion jitters on Malta. "Sources" suggest that that Germans are accumulating flat-bottomed landing craft in Sicily. However, this time the rumors have a unique twist: rather than the main island of Malta, the target is said to be Gozo, the second-largest island in the group just to the northwest. The Royal Army begins preparing defenses on Gozo, which apparently has been undefended until now.

Convoy BN 22 departs from Bombay bound for Suez.

20 March 1941 Queen Plymouth
"HM The Queen talking to girls who work in the dockyard." This is at Plymouth on 20 March 1941. © IWM (A 3484).

US/Australian Relations: The cruiser squadron (USS Chicago and Portland) under the command of Vice Admiral John H Newton, Jr, Commander, Cruisers, Scouting Force, Pacific Fleet, arrives in Sydney Harbor. The government in Canberra has adjourned so that the ministers can watch the arrival and subsequent parade. While played very low key on the US side, the arrival is feted by the Australian press and it is a watershed moment in US/Australian relations. An estimated half million Australians watch the fleet arrive. Tellingly, the event completely overshadows the arrival of the first Japanese ambassador, Tatsuo Kawai, to Australia on the 19th. The fleet's arrival is recounted in an official government summary:
Owing to misty rain the entry of the detachment into the harbour, originally scheduled for 8 a.m., was delayed until about 8:45 a.m. A salute of 21 guns was accorded to the ships as they passed the Heads, and public enthusiasm expressed itself in the hooting of sirens and motor horns and the cheering of the dense crowds lining the foreshore as the detachment proceeded up the Harbour.
"Visit of United States Naval Detachment to Sydney and Brisbane - March 1941," National Archives of Australia:A981, War S23.

After the parade, there is a luncheon for the US sailors at the Sydney Town Hall. Later, there is a dinner at which Acting Prime Minister Arthur Fadden toasts "our guests" and noted that this visit "signified a new and higher plane of friendship" between the two countries."

US/New Zealand Relations: Captain Ellis S. Stone and his TG 9.2 cruiser squadron departs from Auckland, New Zealand after a three-day visit. They proceed toward Tahiti.

20 March 1941 British wireless set
An infantryman with a No.18 wireless set, Royal School of Signals. Catterick, 20 March 1941 (IWM COM 1126).

US/Soviet Relations: Acting Secretary of State Sumner Welles meets privately with Soviet Ambassador Konstantin Umansky and reiterates his previous statements that Germany is planning to invade the USSR. Welles' source, which he cannot reveal, is top secret decrypts of Japanese coded transmissions to and from Baron Oshima, the Japanese ambassador to Germany. It is unclear if the Americans decoded these, or the British - for the British cracked the Japanese diplomatic code some time ago. See below for the beginnings of Japanese recognition that at least some of their codes have been broken.

US/Anglo Relations: The United States quickly takes up Winston Churchill's suggestion that interned Italian and German vessels in US ports be put to some kind of use. The US Coast Guard begins surveying these ships and finds some evidence of sabotage on an Italian ship being held at Wilmington, North Carolina. For the record, there are 28 Italian, 2 German and 35 Danish such vessels vessels available. The US does not yet requisition these vessels, but the idea of doing so is being bruited about in the highest levels of the US government.

US/Japanese Relations: Japanese passenger ship Tatsuta Maru arrives at the port of San Francisco carrying Colonel Hideo Iwakuru. He is on a special mission from Prime Minister Hideki Tojo to repair diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Spy Stuff: The British have been reading the Japanese diplomatic codes, and the Americans also have broken some of their codes. Japanese Ambassador to the US Admiral Nomura Kichisaburo sends a message to the Foreign Ministry:
Though I do not know which ones, I have discovered that the United States is reading some of our codes. As for how I got the intelligence, I will inform you by courier or another safe way.
Yugoslavia: Prince Paul meets with the Royal Council to discuss Adolf Hitler's ultimatum that Yugoslavia either join the Tripartite Pact within the next few days or face the consequences. Prince Paul is ready to sign on the dotted line and gets a vote of 16-3 in favor of signing. However, there is extreme disagreement within the government and military about this path. In fact, disagreement about allying with the Germans within the Royal Council (and perhaps over Prince Paul's strongarm tactics in getting the outcome that he desires) causes four ministers to resign.

Prince Paul takes some direct action, too. In a murky incident, he hands over Premier Milan Stoyadinovich to the British, who will keep him in Cairo "for safekeeping." Stoyadinovich apparently has attempted to regain power with a much more pro-Axis agenda than Prince Paul. Some accounts state that British agents kidnap Stoyadinovich, but press reports at the time suggest this was a voluntary move by the legitimate Yugoslav government.

20 March 1941 Leeds antiaircraft gun
"4.5-inch anti-aircraft gun, Leeds, 20 March 1941." © IWM (H 8263).

US Military: Admiral Bloch, the commandant of the Fourteenth Naval District, replies to a 15 February 1941 letter from Admiral Stark concerning defenses at Pearl Harbor. Bloch notes that the depth of Pearl Harbor is 45 feet, which is far less than the minimum depth of 75 feet required for air-launched torpedoes. He agrees with Admiral Kimmel's previously expressed view that, for this reason, anti-torpedo baffles (nets) are unnecessary there. The Japanese, meanwhile, are well aware of the mechanics of air-launched torpedoes and are studying if these minimum depths can be made compatible with an attack on the US Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor.

German Government: Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler meets with his top cronies - including Rudolf Heß, Fritz Todt, and Reinhard Heydrich - and discusses plans for the future of soon-to-be-invaded eastern Europe. Along with this meeting, racial theorist Alfred Rosenberg becomes "Delegate for Central Planning for Questions of the Eastern European Area." Rosenberg has definite ideas about how captured territories in the East - those to be acquired during Operation Barbarossa - should be organized. This will involve organizational units called Reichskommissariats. This is not an original idea - Reichskommissariats are used in Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and France - but the ones in the East will cover vast tracts of land and be notorious for their exploitative agendas.

China: The Battle of Shanggao continues, but there is a lull in the battle. The Japanese retain a penetration into the first of three Chinese defensive lines. Both sides are bringing up reinforcements. There are some Japanese attacks near the Chin River at Szehsi and Kuanchiao.

German Homefront: The Propaganda Ministry's Reich Press Chief instructs his media outlets to highlight recent comments by Charles Lindbergh that the USAAC produces as many combat-ready planes as Germany produces every week. This actually is roughly true... now.

20 March 1941 Leeds antiaircraft gun
"Spotter and predictor operators at a 4.5-inch anti-aircraft gun site in Leeds, 20 March 1941." © IWM (H 8271).


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

March 19, 1941: London Hit Hard

Wednesday 19 March 1941

19 March 1941 Queen Elizabeth, Swansea
King George and Queen Elizabeth visit Swansea on 19 March 1941 (WalesOnline).

Italian/Greek Campaign: Following a three-day pause, the Italian Primavera Offensive resumes on 19 March 1941. The Italian Sienna Division attack Height 731 for the eighteenth time. As in the preceding 17 times, nothing comes of it except more dead soldiers on both sides. Operation Lustre, the British reinforcement of Greece, continues. The Australian 16th Infantry Brigade and General Blamey arrive at Piraeus.

East African Campaign: Major-General Lewis Heath, in command of the Indian 5th Infantry Division, is planning a thrust straight up the Dongolaas Gorge that controls access to Keren. The Italians rather unhelpfully have dumped rocks and other debris into the gorge to make travel through it impossible except by hikers. The Italians are sitting at the head of the gorge with clear fields of fire against anyone attempting to advance through it. Heath's plan is to neutralize those Italian positions via diversionary flank attacks which draw their fire elsewhere, giving the Royal Engineers time to clear a path through the gorge. This will require taking positions overlooking the gorge. Heath begins assembling his entire division, which will take some time. Thus, the Battle for Keren once again goes into abeyance for a few days while the British build up their troop strength and logistics.

The Italian attacks on Fort Dologorodoc continue. At 04:00, the 10th Alpini Battalion attacks and gets to within 70 yards of the fort. However, the British defenders beat them back, pursuing them with bayonets and grenades. The British reshuffle their forces, with Indian 3/5 Mahratta occupying the fort and the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment taking up positions outside the walls.

The British forces at Jijiga begin advancing further. They now are about eight miles beyond the town. Indian troops continue advancing from Berbera and are about 100 miles past it.

19 March 1941 HMS Helvellyn
HMS Helvellyn, sunk during the Luftwaffe attacks on London on 19 March 1941.

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe has been ramping up its raids this month after essentially a two-month lull. Most of the attacks have been against secondary city targets such as Bristol and Glasgow. Tonight, the Luftwaffe returns to its primary target, London, in a major way. About 370-479 bombers drop 122,292 incendiaries. The weekly Home Security Situation report states:
On the 19th/20th March : Bombing was concentrated on East London and the London Docks, where there were more major fires than on any date since the 29th December, causing considerable damage.
The fires and other damage kill about 750 people. In addition, many ships in harbor are damaged or sunk, including:
4962 ton British freighter Nailsea Meadow (damaged at Victoria's Dock, two deaths)

  • 5780 ton British freighter Telesfora De Larringa (one death)
  • 5248 ton British freighter Lindenhall (sunk and refloated)
  • Royal Navy auxiliary anti-aircraft ship HMS Helvellyn (sunk).

RAF Bombing Command attacks Cologne (36 bombers) and Rotterdam oil installations and the Lorient U-boat pens.

Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies is in the north visiting manufacturing plants. He is in Sheffield and notes:
Sheffield has suffered gravely. 60,000 out of 180,000 houses affected - But Industries going magnificently. Spirits superb. No surrender. No compromise (emphasis and punctuation in original).
The factories in Sheffield, Menzies notes, are manufacturing 14" plates and 14" gun barrels.

19 March 1941 U-boats headline Glasgow Herald
Glasgow Herald, 19 March 1941. This headline about U-boats heading toward the US coast is a bit premature - but the Battle of the Atlantic indeed is creeping ever closer to North America.

Battle of the Atlantic: Following orders, Admiral Lütjens sets a course toward Brest for Brest, France for his Operation Berlin cruisers, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. Steaming at 23 knots, he has timed it so that the ships will make the final approach during the early morning hours and reach Brest - and Luftwaffe and destroyer protection - at dawn on the 22nd. The Royal Navy is completely unaware of Lütjens' location or destination.

The Luftwaffe (KG 40 Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condors) attacks Convoy OB 298 in the Northwest Approaches and sinks 5193 ton British freighter Benvorlich. There are 5-20 deaths (accounts vary), the rest of the crew is picked up by another convoy freighter, the Zamalek.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 1367 ton Norwegian freighter Leo northwest of the Butt of Lewis. Everyone survives.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 8245 ton Dutch tanker Mamura in the mid-Atlantic. Tankers are tough to sink, and Mamura is able to make it to Halifax.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 642 ton British freighter Juno at the Surrey Commercial Dock. The Juno is written off.

U-105 (Kapitänleutnant Georg Schewe), on its second patrol out of Lorient, continues his attacks on Convoy SL-68. Just after midnight, at about 00:25, he fires a spread of torpedoes at the ships. Only 7750 ton transport Mandalika is hit and sunk. There are three deaths and 62 survivors, picked up by HMS Marguerite. Some sources claim that U-106 makes this attack.

Convoy SL-68 is experiencing all sorts of strains due to the German attacks, and this kind of unrelenting stress can lead to mistakes and disaster by itself. British 6114 ton freighter Clan MacNab collides with Norwegian freighter Strix and sinks near the Cape Verde Islands.

British 4762 ton freighter Tottenham hits a mine and is damaged at the Southend Anchorage. It is towed to Gravesend.

Norwegian coaster Nyegg runs aground at Egersund, Norway.

German tanker Nordmark meets German raider Kormoran for resupply midway between Africa and Brazil.

Convoy OB 299 departs from Liverpool.

19 March 1941 freighter Benvorlich
The Benvorlich, sunk by the Luftwaffe today.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel is in Berlin to meet with Adolf Hitler, Army Commander-in-Chief Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Brauchitsch, and OKH Chief of Staff General Franz Halder. The German high command has other fish to fry right now, but promise Rommel the 15th Panzer Division in May. Rommel is itching to get started with his offensive, but this is not yet the time. During this visit, Hitler makes Rommel the 10th recipient of the Oak Leaves to the Iron Cross for his service in command of the 7th Panzer Division.

British Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell now is receiving Ultra decrypts. He learns from them that Luftwaffe leaves have been cancelled and the Germans are planning an offensive.

Another Malta resupply convoy operation, MC 9, gets under way. Three ships, with escorts, departs from Haifa, and another departs from Alexandria. The convoy is MW 6/Force C.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Truant attacks an Italian barge at Buerat El-Hsun, Libya, but misses.

The Admiralty makes the difficult decision to pull the remaining Sunderland flying boats from their base at Kalafrana and send them to Alexandria. The Luftwaffe has destroyed or damaged several of them recently, and they are too vulnerable lying at anchorage when the Luftwaffe has dominance of the skies. Weather is poor today, and there are no bombs dropped on the island though there are some close approaches to the island.

An Italian convoy carrying troops and supplies for the Afrika Korps departs from Naples bound for Tripoli.

Battle of the Pacific: US destroyers USS Aylwin and Farragut collide during night tactical exercises off Hawaii. There is one death aboard the Aylwin.

19 March 1941 East Ham Blitz bomb damage
Lonsdale Avenue, East Ham bomb damage. 19 March 1941.

Anglo/US Relations: Prime Minister Winston Churchill asks President Roosevelt, who is about to go fishing off the Florida coast, to extend the US Navy's patrols to cover more of the Atlantic. It is common knowledge that the US Navy is helping the Royal Navy by quickly alerting the British when they spot any German ships. Churchill wants the US Navy's eyes everywhere that the Royal Navy's eyes are not, though they don't have to do anything other than locate German ships:
It would be a very great help if some American warships and aircraft could cruise about in this area as they have a perfect right to do.
Churchill, of course, would like a great deal more than this, but feels this is both helpful and fairly benign in terms of US neutrality. In addition to this, Churchill wants the US Navy to seize interned Axis ships and use them as Allied shipping, and also to begin convoys of their own. Roosevelt and his team, such as Navy Secretary Frank Knox, are very sympathetic and looking into some other ways to help, too, including having US Navy aviators fly British search aircraft. However, it will take a little time before everyone in the US government has meetings about this and actual steps are taken.

German/Yugoslav Relations: Adolf Hitler is running up against some hard deadlines. Spring is approaching, and with it the campaigning season. The Wehrmacht needs to know what role Yugoslavia and its military will play in the events that are about to unfold in the Balkans. Accordingly, Hitler tells Yugoslav regent Prince Paul that he wants Yugoslavia to sign the Tripartite Pact by the beginning of next week, five days hence.

German/Japanese Relations: Following up on discussions he has had with Hitler, Admiral Raeder floats the idea of attacking Singapore with the Japanese ambassador.

19 March 1941 Jackson Daily News
Jackson Daily News, 19 March 1941.

Japanese/Australian Relations: A reception is held for the first Japanese minister to Australia, Tatsuo Kawai, in Canberra. The Australian parliament adjourns so that members can make their way to Sydney to welcome US Admiral Newton's cruiser squadron at 08:00.

German Dissidents: German refugees in London form the Union of German Socialists, a group which opposes Hitler and his form of government.

US Military: The 99th Pursuit Squadron is activated. This formation, based at Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois, trains hundreds of enlisted men for ground support duties for formations such as the famous Tuskegee Airmen.

British Government: Churchill's "Battle of the Atlantic" committee has its first meeting.

US Government: "Wild Bill" Donovan has just returned from his extended fact-finding mission in Europe. He meets with President Roosevelt to discuss his findings.

China: At the Battle of Shanggao, the Japanese now are in possession of the first line of Chinese defenses. Both sides call in reinforcements, the Japanese from their bases, the Chinese from the third line of their defenses. Basically, this is the beginning of a short lull in the battle.

British Homefront: Woolton Pies - mass produced vegetable casseroles - go on sale for 8 pence per pound. They are composed primarily of potatoes, onions and other foods in plentiful supply. Cheese rationing is to begin next week.

19 March 1941 Weegee Fire Rescue
Arthur Fellig aka Weegee is a tabloid news photographer in New York City who has a permit to monitor the police bands and arrives at the scenes of crimes and fires with the authorities. He has an elaborate set-up in the trunk of his 1938 Chevy with where he types his copy for quick submission to his clients. Here is one of his photos of a fire rescue on 19 March 1941.  (Weegee / International Center of Photography).