Monday, May 2, 2016

December 9, 1939: First British BEF Fatality

Saturday 9 December 1939

9 December 1939 Colonel Siilasvuo
Colonel Hjalmar Siilasvuo (left) during the battle of Suomussalmi (colorized).
Winter War Army Operations: Colonel Hjalmar Siilasvuo is in command of the Finnish 9th Infantry Division in the Suomussalmi area on 9 December 1939. While successful so far, he is facing two Soviet rifle divisions (the 44th and 163rd) approaching from two different sides (north and east), each backed by tanks and artillery. Siilasvuo only has a scattering of infantry between the Soviet troops: 4th Reserve Battalion, 15th Detached Battalion, 16th Detached Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, Battle Group Kontula, and the 5th and 6th Ranger Groups. All together, Siilasvuo has maybe nine infantry companies - less than a division. The only saving grace is that some of the men are elite Border Guard Rangers, and every single man is fully committed to the cause. The risk is that the Red Army divisions will hook up and create an overpowering force.

Siilasvuo makes the classic textbook mistake of dividing his forces in the face of a superior enemy. His plan is to defeat them in detail. Siilasvuo decides that his first step is to cut the Raatte Road which is supplying the main Soviet forces in Suomussalmi from the east. He begins rearranging his troops and getting them into position. It will take a couple of days, but the Soviets are having a rough time in the forests and snow so there may be sufficient time to arrange things just right.

Elsewhere, the Finns are holding tough at the Kollaa River - there is a vicious night battle there - and Soviet gains in the far north are minimal.

Western Front: Corporal Thomas Priday of King’s Shropshire Light Infantry is killed while leading a patrol on the Western Front. He becomes the first British soldier (as opposed to sailor or airman) killed in World War II. Reportedly, he is a victim of "friendly fire," a term not yet invented.

King George V completes a five-day review of the front.

HMS Exeter9 December 1939
HMS Exeter.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-20 (Kapitänleutnant Karl-Heinz Moehle) torpedoes and sinks the 1,339-ton Danish freighter, Magnus, off Peterhead in Scotland. One man survives, eighteen perish.

U-48 (Kapitänleutnant Herbert Schultze) torpedoes and sinks 7,397-ton British tanker San Alberto off Cape Clear, Ireland. Everyone survives but one crewman.

German freighter Adolf Leonhardt is scuttled near the Cape of Good Hope to avoid capture by Royal Navy cruiser HMS Shropshire.

German tanker Nordmeer decides to make a run from Curacao to Spain despite Allied patrols.

The British detain U.S. freighter Explorer at Gibraltar.

Royal Navy Force G (light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles, Commodore Henry Harwood) continues toward Montevideo on Harwood's hunch that the Admiral Graf Spee will head there next. He also orders HMS Exeter, just to the south at Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, to rendezvous there as well. Another heavy cruiser, HMS Cumberland, is also at Port Stanley but is unavailable.

The Germans commission auxiliary cruiser Orion.

Soviet Military: Dissatisfied with operations in the Winter War, the Kremlin (The chief of staff of the Red Army (Stavka), Boris Shaposhnikov) assumes more direct operational control of tactics from local commanders and strips Commander of the Leningrad Military District Kiril Meretskov of his overall command of the campaign. Meretskov is effectively demoted to the command of the Soviet 7th Army. It is the first official recognition by senior Soviet military leaders that something is going seriously wrong in Finland.

Peace Talks: The League of Nations meets as scheduled in Geneva to discuss the Soviet invasion of Finland. The US attends, the USSR does not.

Soviet Propaganda: Soviet news agency TASS releases a report claiming that the Germans are supplying Finland. This is very disquieting for the Germans, who are doing nothing of the kind and in fact, have allocated Finland to the Soviets per the terms of the Ribbentrop/Molotov Pact of 23 August 1939. Ironically, virtually everyone else in the world is aiding the Finns, including German ally Italy - but not the Reich.

Holocaust: Some 200 Jews out of 1800 survive a forced march through the winter snows from their homes in Hrubieszow and Chelm across the Bug River to their new home in Hans Frank's occupied Poland.

9 December 1939 Finnish ski troops

December 14, 1939: Quisling Meets Hitler
December 15, 1939: Chinese Winter Offensive in High Gear
December 16, 1939: Battle of Summa
December 17, 1939: End of Admiral Graf Spee
December 18, 1939: Battle of Heligoland Bight
December 19, 1939: British Disarm Magnetic Mines
December 20, 1939: Finnish Counterattacks Continue
December 21, 1939: Finns Plan More Counterattacks
December 22, 1939: Enter Chuikov
December 23, 1939: Failed Finnish Counterattack
December 24, 1939: Soviets on the Run
December 25, 1939: Fresh Soviet Attacks
December 26, 1939: Vicious Battles at Kelja
December 27, 1939: Grinding Finnish Victories
December 28, 1939: Liberators
December 29, 1939: Finns Tighten the Noose
December 30, 1939: Finnish Booty
December 31, 1939: Planning More Soviet Destruction


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