World War Two Daily: May 24, 1940: Hitler's Stop Order

Friday, June 10, 2016

May 24, 1940: Hitler's Stop Order

Thursday 24 May 1940

24 May 1940 Spitfire Mark 1
Spitfire Mark.1A, P9374 on the beach of Calais sometime soon after 24 May 1940. It went down on 24 May 1940. F/O Peter Cazenove survived the crash-landing and ultimately became a POW. The plane was buried under the sand shortly after this shot for decades, but emerged in 1980 and has been restored. The plane is flyable and is at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.
German Military: The OKW (German military high command) issues a stop order (Fuhrer Directive 13) to General Paul Ewald von Kleist on 24 May 1940. It calls for "the annihilation of French, British and Belgian forces in the Dunkirk pocket." Panzer Group Kleist controls the Wehrmacht's spearhead which has been aiming at the sea and, more recently, specifically toward the Channel Ports. All troops are to stop and consolidate their current positions.

This order quite possibly is the most controversial incident of World War II, and not just among historians. The OKH (army high command) led by General von Brauchitsch and General Halder objects at the time. With General Guderian's XIX Corps only 18 miles from Dunkirk and the Germans already in possession of Boulogne, Hitler expresses concern about the "Flanders marshes" that he recalls as a World War I infantry corporal.

In truth, the OKW has been increasingly leery about the over-extension of the panzer forces since the crossing of the Meuse, and not just Hitler. There is a case to be made that the stop order is wise and prevents a chance for an Allied counter-stroke that could surround some of the more advanced Wehrmacht positions. There also is a military theory that you want to provide your enemy a "Golden Bridge," an escape route that is too inviting for them to take rather than stand and fight. In any event, the order is only in place for the day, so perhaps too much is made of it by historians.

The precise reason for the stop order is fertile ground for conspiracy theorists - was Hitler actually trying to save the BEF for some reason? - but will never be known. It existed only inside the head of Adolf Hitler, though Hermann Goering assures the Fuhrer that his Luftwaffe can prevent any escape. Hitler himself commented on this issue on 26 February 1945, claiming that he allowed the British to escape as a "sporting gesture." One way or the other, the order is widely believed to have affected the course of World War II.

Western Front: The XIX Corps is on the line Gravelines - Omer - Bethune. Only one portion of the line is active, at Calais.

The 10th Panzer Division (General der Panzertruppe Ferdinand Schaal) is attacking at Calais and that operation is not considered to be affected by the stop order. The British reinforcements have just arrived within the last day to hold the port, but now they form a solid defensive line and the Germans make no progress. However, the supply of the Allied troops now is a problem, as they are under constant air and ground attack and going through prodigious amounts of ammunition. General Guderian gives Schaal until the morning of the 26th to take the town, or he will withdraw the panzers and order the Luftwaffe to level it.

Both sides begin artillery fire early, at 04:45. German artillery fire destroys large sections of the docks. Some of the ships are evacuated without having unloaded all of their equipment.

The Allies have consolidated their positions into the heart of the town. The 10th Panzer Division attacks all along the line and makes some progress in the south, but British counterattacks push them back. The panzers try again in the afternoon with better success, and French Fort Nieulay surrenders. The panzers get through the defensive line on the south, aided by German snipers within the town (collaborators). While the 10th Panzer Division retains the southern part of the town, it also reports that it has lost a third of its equipment and half of its tanks.

The British maintain a steady stream of supplies to the town, and British destroyers offshore are bombarding the German positions, but the situation is deteriorating. The Admiralty orders all non-combatants to be evacuated. There is dissension on the Allied side, as the French do not want to evacuate the port. The British refuse to send any more reinforcements. There are reports of a relief column advancing from the north, but it is nowhere in sight. The German artillery and panzer fire destroys the dockside cranes, making the job of evacuating more difficult - especially of the wounded.

At Boulogne, there are still some British forces waiting to be evacuated as the day begins. HMS Vimiera takes the last lot off from the docks in the early hours of the morning, arriving back at Dover at 04:00. French General Lanquetot is out of touch with headquarters and continues to resist in the Haute Ville, the ancient citadel. He expects reinforcements that are no longer coming. The German 2d Panzer Division occupies the rest of the town and attacks Lanquetot's holdouts in the evening, but he holds out.

A party of Welsh Guards also has been left behind in Boulogne. They are congregated down by the docks along with a motley collection of other stragglers. Despite having no hope of rescue, they hold out until the 25th.

The 1st Panzer Division is at the Aa Canal, 10 miles from Dunkirk. There is one BEF battalion between them and the port, but they are forced to halt.

The German troops on other sectors of the front are unaffected by the stop order. The German Sixth Army under General Reichenau forces the Belgian 1st and 3rd Divisions back at Kortrijk. They take up a defensive position along the Lys River. The Belgian 9th and 10th Divisions soon join the line there, and the Belgian II Army Corps counterattacks and takes 200 prisoners. The Luftwaffe harasses the Belgian positions, and the RAF cannot respond quickly because it is operating out of England. A German attack on Ypres, which threatens to surround the Belgians, is checked with difficulty by the Belgian 2nd Cavalry Brigade and the 6th Infantry Division.

Maubeuge on the banks of the Sambre falls, with 90% of the town destroyed during the fighting. St. Omer also falls.

The Germans occupy Ghent and Tournai.

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe launches some raids after nightfall in Yorkshire, East Anglia, and Essex. There are 8 civilian casualties in Middlesbrough - the first such casualties in England (previous casualties were in Scotland).

The RAF bombs the Cologne railroad marshalling yards during the night with 59 bombers.

The RAF sends 69 bombers to attack German positions around Calais.

The Luftwaffe sinks British ship Brighton at Dieppe.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-37 (Kapitänleutnant Victor Oehrn) torpedoes and sinks 3,994 ton Greek freighter Kyma about 300 miles west of Ushant. There are 23 survivors and 7 perish.

The Royal Navy is active off the Channel Ports, aiding the BEF and French forces defending them. Royal Navy cruisers Arethusa and Galatea, Polish destroyer Okręt Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej (ORP) Burza, and destroyers HMS Grafton, Greyhound, Wessex, Wolfhound, and Verity support the troops.

Canada sends destroyers HMCS St. Laurent (H83), HMCS Restigouche (H00) and HMCS Skeena (D59) from Halifax to the UK to aid in the war effort.

The President of Panama, Augusto S. Boyd, sends diplomatic notes to Germany, Great Britain, the Dominican Republic and the Inter-American Neutrality Committee in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil regarding the Hannover incident of 8 March 1940. He claims that it was a violation of the Pan-American Neutrality Zone.

Convoy OA 154 departs from Southend, Convoy OB 154 departs from Liverpool, and Convoy HX 45 departs from Halifax.

The British commission corvette HMS Gardenia (K 99) (Lt. Commander Trevor A. O. Ellis).

Norway: The Supreme Allied War Council meets in Paris and decides to wind up the Norwegian campaign - but only after capturing the vital port of Narvik and destroying it. They do not inform the Norwegian government. The withdrawal is given the code "Operation Alphabet."

The German 2d Mountain Division continues pursuing Colonel Gubbins' troops north from Mo i Rana. Gubbins has some of his troops hold a switch position about 10 miles (16 km) south of Rognan. The men of the Irish Guards, Nos. 2 and 3 Independent Companies, and Royal Artillery Battery 203 wait for the Germans, equipped with mortars, machine guns and with 25-pound artillery emplaced to sweep the road. The Germans advancing toward Bodo will be walking into an ambush.

French Alpine troops land at Bjerkvik, which is across the fjord from Narvik.

At Narvik, the Germans essentially are surrounded, with the Norwegians on the north, the French on the west, and the Poles on the southwest. The RAF is operating Gladiator Glosters out of Bardufoss just to the north. As cover for Operation Alphabet, the British contemplate launching an attack on Narvik, but not right away. French General Béthouart in particular would like to teach the Germans a lesson here, where they are more vulnerable than back in France.

The Luftwaffe continues its gradual reinforcement of General Dietl's troops in Narvik, dropping another 55 mountain troops by parachute, while seaplanes bring 14 more. The rail line through Sweden also brings 40 German troops, violating Swedish neutrality.

Military Intelligence: Bletchley Park's Code and Cypher School has had great success recently in decoding certain (but not all) German Enigma Machine coded messages. It begins routing its finding in close to real-time to the BEF, the RAF and, of course, Prime Minister Winston Churchill. This is all top secret, of course, and the actual source of the information is rarely provided to any but the absolutely most highly placed individuals.

Belgian Government: King Leopold III remains in the increasingly narrow portion of the country still held by the Allies and has no intention of leaving like Queen Wilhelmina of Holland. He states, "Whatever happens, I have to share the same fate as my troops." His Prime Minister, Hubert Pierlot, strongly suggests that Leopold leave the country, but Leopold refuses. Some feel that his remaining in the country after a capitulation would be contrary to the best interests of the nation. In any event, whether to surrender is a question for the elected government, not the King.

24 May 1940 Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Soviet Government: Stalin has had it in for old rival Leon Trotsky for some time, and today he does something about it. Trotsky has emigrated to Coyoacán, Mexico, but nowhere is far enough when Stalin wants you dead. An armed force attacks Trotsky's fortified compound, throwing bombs and firing machine guns. The attackers eventually leave - but Trotsky and his wife Natalia survive by ducking under the bed.

British Government: King George VI addresses the public by radio broadcast on Empire Day. He states:
"The decisive struggle is now upon us ... Let no one be mistaken; it is not mere territorial conquest that our enemies are seeking. It is the overthrow, complete and final, of this Empire and of everything for which it stands, and after that the conquest of the world. And if their will prevails they will bring to its accomplishment all the hatred and cruelty which they have already displayed."
Sir Samuel is named ambassador to Spain.

German Military: Heinrich "Heinz" Trettner receives the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. He is a Major on the General Staff and 1a (operations officer) of the 7th Flieger-Division (parachute division). This is a recognition of the fine service of the paratroopers in the war so far.

Ireland: The government forms a Local Security Force.

Middle East: General Eugene Mittelhauser takes over command of French forces.

French Homefront: In an odd but purely Gallic expression of patriotism, 10 leading Paris fashion houses declare they will not close despite the war. "At this grave hour, couture will continue." Coco Chanel is making a controversial decision.

American Homefront: Night baseball games are introduced at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, New York and Sportsman's Park in St. Louis.

"Our Town," starring William Holden and Martha Scott, is released.

24 May 1940 night baseball Polo Grounds
The Polo Grounds, 24 May 1940.

May 1940

May 1, 1940: British Leave Åndalsnes
May 2, 1940: British Depart Namsos
May 3, 1940: Many Norwegians Surrendering
May 4, 1940: Bader Returns
May 5, 1940: HMS Seal Survives
May 6, 1940: Allies Focus on Narvik
May 7, 1940: In The Name of God, Go!
May 8, 1940: Exit Chamberlain
May 9, 1940: Enter Churchill
May 10, 1940: Fall Gelb
May 11, 1940: Eben Emael Surrenders
May 12, 1940: Germans at Sedan
May 13, 1940: Rommel at Work
May 14, 1940: German Breakout in France
May 15, 1940: Holland Surrenders
May 16, 1940: Dash to the Channel
May 17, 1940: Germans Take Brussels
May 18, 1940: Germans Take Antwerp
May 19, 1940: Failed French Counterattack
May 20, 1940: Panzers on the Coast
May 21, 1940: Battle of Arras
May 22, 1940: Attacking Channel Ports
May 23, 1940: British Evacuate Boulogne
May 24, 1940: Hitler's Stop Order
May 25, 1940: Belgian Defenses Creaking
May 26, 1940: Operation Dynamo
May 27, 1940: King Leopold Surrenders 
May 28, 1940: The Allies Take Narvik
May 29, 1940: Lille Falls
May 30, 1940: Operation Fish
May 31, 1940: Peak Day for Dynamo


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