Friday, August 19, 2016

August 22, 1940: Hellfire Corner

Thursday 22 August 1940

22 August 1940 Battery Todt
This is a well-known picture of 38 cm gun of Battery Todt (the name of the Siegfried Battery later in the war after the addition of more guns). Photograph by Herman Harz. Library of Congress Photograph ID LC-USZ62-17640.
Western Front: At its narrowest point, the English Channel is only 20 miles (30 km) wide. This is a shipping bottleneck when England is warring with the Continental powers. During World War II the British nickname it "Hellfire Corner" due to the numerous battles that take there. The Germans have positioned artillery to bombard the English coastline at this point, which is well within reach of the naval guns they have installed at Cap Gris Nez. The artillery also is nicely positioned to shell any ships traversing this area.

The Germans already have shelled Dover itself with the guns on 18 August. Today, 22 August 1940, the Germans try attacking some ships which are in a coastal convoy ("Totem") near Dover. Opening fire at 09:00, they create quite a surprise for the British sailors, who suddenly see 100-foot waterspouts appearing nearby. The escort destroyers quickly make smoke, and the Germans make no hits with their big guns after firing for 80 minutes. The guns at this point include:
  • The Siegfried Battery at Audinghen, south of Cap Gris Nez, with one 38 cm (15 in) gun;
  • Four 28 cm (11 in) guns at Grosser Kurfürst Battery at Cap Gris Nez.
  • Three 30.5 cm (12 in) guns at Friedrich August Battery, to the north of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
The British also have big naval guns at Hellfire Corner, including two BL 14 inch Mk VII (35.6 cm) guns positioned behind St Margaret's. They are taken from spares for battleship King George V. One of them, "Winnie," is ready and engages in counter-fire whenever the German guns start firing. The RAF also flies missions against the guns, but they are well-defended and in strong emplacements and virtually impervious to ordinary air assault.

22 August 1940 British Pooh Battery
One of the main British guns (this is "Pooh") which responded to the German battery on Cap Gris Nez.
The whole affair is a big show without results - nothing of value is hit - but some of the German shells land uncomfortably close to the British ships. The British guns are too slow to aim at shipping, and their accuracy is insufficient to pose a serious threat to the German guns. After the convoys pass, the Germans switch to shelling Dover itself in the evening for 45 minutes and cause a number of casualties.

22 August 1940 Battery Todt
The Pas de Calais gun firing.
Battle of Britain: There are strong winds and rain, with heavy seas in the Channel. Operations are very light. However, there is one tremendous and terrible portent.

Just past noontime, the Luftwaffe follows up on the German guns firing in the Channel and attacks the same "Totem" convoy. RAF No. 54, 610 and 615 Squadrons rise to defend. They prevent the attack but lose a Spitfire of No. 54 Squadron (pilot G.R. Collett killed). In addition, there is a case of friendly fire, with one Hurricane of No. 615 Squadron shooting down another. The pilot lived, and you can bet there were words at supper later on.

In the early evening around 18:30, another raid comes across near Deal. It is a Freie Jagd or fighter mission without bombers. RAF Fighter Command has a practice of not challenging such missions forcefully, but they send up Squadron No. 616 (not a favored mission) anyway. Among the fighters is a large group of Bf 110s from EprGr 210 that heads for RAF Manston. The Bf 110s get through, drop thirty bombs on Manston, and destroy a couple of hangars and two Blenheim bombers. Not only is the airfield temporarily put out of action, but the intercepting fighters lose a Spitfire.

There are some other scattered attacks. RAF No. 302 (Polish) Squadron claims to have downed a couple of Junkers Ju 88 bombers. Special Luftwaffe unit KGr 100 attacks Bristol with 23 Heinkel He 211s flying out of Vannes, France just before midnight using its cutting edge electronic guidance system (X-Verfahren) that the RAF doesn't even know about yet. As usual, they attack the aircraft factories at Filton, which this time seriously damages the works. Best of all for the Luftwaffe, they don't lose any of the unique planes.

The day's most significant event, though, occurs in the early morning hours around 03:30. Bombs fall on Harrow and Wealdstone. Technically, they are not in London, but for all intents and purposes (and in the view of the Home Guard) they are indeed part of London. The sector is part of the London Civil Defence Area.

22 August 1940 Millbay Docks Plymouth
Damage outside the Military Police headquarters at Docks Gate, Millbay Docks, Plymouth. The area was hit by an incendiary bomb of the "oil" type. © IWM (A 261)
This marks the first time bombs appear to have been dropped on London intentionally. In and of itself it means little. However, it begins a long, slow process - call it a slippery slope - that ends in absolute devastation of most of the major cities of Europe.

HMS Peregrine sends off Swordfish torpedo bombers of RAF No. 812 Squadron to bomb the invasion barges gathered at Daedereide, the Netherlands. They lose one plane. Bomber Command sends off 52 bombers to various targets in Germany and 33 to bomb French targets, but the poor weather hampers their operations, too.

The day is a rare victory for the Luftwaffe, the first time that they lose fewer planes than the RAF in aerial combat (not counting losses on the ground. Most accounts give the totals as 4 losses for the Luftwaffe and 5 for the RAF. When you include the RAF losses on the ground and the fact that the Luftwaffe put RAF Manston out of operation, it was a very good day indeed for the Germans.

22 August 1940 Millbay Docks Plymouth
Damage to steamer Sir John Hawkins and the surrounding area of Millbay Docks, Plymouth on 22 August 1940. © IWM (A 259).
German Military: Major Adolf Galland returns to JG 26 and takes over as the new Kommodore. He is replaced as Gruppenkommandeur of III,/JG 26 by Hptm. Gerhard Schöpfel. Galland quickly appoints a new Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG 26, Rolf Pinget, showing that he, too, feels there is a need for new blood.

The Luftwaffe awards the Ritterkreuz to:
  • Theo Osterkamp, former commander of JG 51;
  • Major Max Ibel, Kommodore of JG 27;
  • Obstlt. Harry von Bülow-Bothkamp, Kommodore of JG 2 and a former Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 77.
Giving the Ritterkreuz to von Bülow-Bothkamp is a bit of an odd choice. He has no victories since World War I, and is one of the old-timers that Goering is getting rid of. The Luftwaffe praises his "leadership" as it eases him toward a desk job (like Osterkamp).

The Luftwaffe shifts JG 2, 27 and 53 from Cherbourg to Calais and transfers them from Luftflotte 3 to 2. Calais is a bit handier for operations against the Channel convoys, and the flight across is a bit shorter, giving British radar smaller lead-time to track interceptors to meet them. It also gives the fighters slightly more time over England and makes it more likely that damaged fighters can make it back to base. Finally, it also is handy to have more fighters nearby to protect the big artillery being put into service at Cap Gris Nez.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-37 () torpedoes and sinks Norwegian cargo ship Keret in the Atlantic. There are 7 survivors and 13 crew perish.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks Canadian cargo ship Thoroid in the South Irish Sea near Small's Lighthouse. There are 11 deaths.

Convoys OA 203 and MT 147 depart from Methil, Convoy FN 260 departs from Southend, Convoy FS 259 departs from the Tyne.

Convoy AP.1, part of Operation "Apology," departs the Clyde. This is a convoy of transports (converted liners: HMT Duchess of Bedford, Denbighshire, and Waiotira) headed to Suez, part of the continuing effort to reinforce British garrisons in the Middle East. They are transporting 3rd Hussars, 2d RTR and 7th RTR, including a number of tanks, artillery, and Hurricanes. The convoy is heavily defended and carries with it 150 tanks. This delivery is pursuant to the decision made earlier in August during discussions with Middle East commander General Wavell.

Corvette HMS Gloxinia (K 22,  Lt. Commander Arthur J. C. Pomeroy) and sloop HMAS Warrego (L 73, Commander Ross V. Wheatley) are commissioned.

22 August 1940 Millbay Docks Plymouth
Damage to steamer Sir John Hawkins at Millbay Docks, Plymouth on 22 August 1940. © IWM (A 256).
Battle of the Mediterranean: Italian submarine Iride is conducting training operations in the Gulf of Bomba off Cyrenaica when it is spotted by the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. HMS Eagle launches Fairey Swordfish of RAF No. 824 Squadron which sink the Iride. The Italian sub has been preparing for a secret operation to send four manned torpedoes against the anchored Royal Navy base at Alexandria. This sets back the operation significantly - but does not stop it. The same Swordfish attack also sinks Italian depot ship Monte Gargano and damages torpedo boat Calipso (which had brought the manned torpedoes) around the same spot as the Iride.

Force A (destroyers) and Force B (cruisers and destroyers) operating out of Alexandria depart to patrol around Gavdo Island. This is Operation MD 7.

At Malta, Governor Dobbie receives a telegram from the War Office listing supplies being sent to Malta around Africa and through the Suez Canal. They include three ships carrying:
  1. Ship 1: ammunition, 11 tractors, 2 3.7" antiaircraft guns, and 746 tons of supplies for the Royal Engineers;
  2. Ship 2: ammunition, 12 3.7" antiaircraft guns, 10 40mm Bofors guns, 70 tons for the Royal Engineers, and other supplies;
  3. Ship 3: ammunition, 11 tractors, 2 3.7" antiaircraft guns, and other supplies.
While these supplies will be welcome, a trip around the Cape of Good Horn will take weeks - assuming the ships make it.

German Propaganda: While no decision to bomb London has been made by the Luftwaffe - actually, it must be ordered by Hitler personally - German radio threatens the destruction of London using "aerial torpedoes carrying many tons of high explosive and guided by radio." While not a completely nonsensical threat, such weapons are still in the very early development phase. It is quite odd that the propaganda service would reveal anything at all about their supposed existence. This shows the high importance placed by the Germans on psychological warfare.

22 August 1940 Italian submarine Iride
Italian submarine Iride, sunk 22 August 1940.
German Military Intelligence: With little else to do because of the futility of planning an invasion of England that is receding further into the distance every day, the OKH (Army high command) is engaging in meticulous planning for another operation that has little chance of ever happening. This is Operation Felix, the invasion of Gibraltar. Captain Anton Staubwasser of OKH Intelligence gives General Halder his estimates on British forces at Gibraltar:
  • 10,000 British troops;
  • Numerous underground tunnels and galleries, more fortified than the Maginot Line;
  • Enough food to last for 18 months;
  • 19 RAF bombers, 13 reconnaissance planes, 34 fighters;
  • numerous anti-aircraft guns.
These actually are very good estimates that tend to conform with reality (certainly not the case with estimates of Soviet strength being made at the same time). Staubwasser points out some flaws in the defenses - positions are not mutually supporting, some gun positions have been neglected, and the British defenses focus almost exclusively on the narrow isthmus connecting Gibraltar to the mainland - and suggests that the operation would be feasible once the German troops actually get on the rock. However, especially given the poor state of the Spanish military (of which the Germans are well aware given their recent collaboration during the Spanish Civil War), Staubwasser argues against the operation because of the difficulty of doing just that.

Italian Government: Mussolini has his military command secretly preparing plans for the invasion of Greece, but he tells them to stop the planning for the time being.

US Government: James V. Forrestal becomes the Undersecretary of the Navy responsible for procurement.

British Government: Prime Minister Winston Churchill visits RAF Kenley in southern London, which has been badly damaged in recent Luftwaffe raids.

22 August 1940 Claude Pepper hung in effigy
Claude Pepper hung in effigy on Capitol Hill, August 22, 1940. This is part of the turbulence associated with the possible reinstatement of the draft, which Senator Pepper supports. Image courtesy of the Washington Post.
August 1940

August 1, 1940: Two RN Subs Lost
August 2, 1940: Operation Hurry
August 3, 1940: Italians Attack British Somaliland
August 4, 1940: Dueling Legends in the US
August 5, 1940: First Plan for Barbarossa
August 6, 1940: Wipe Out The RAF
August 7, 1940: Burning Oil Plants
August 8, 1940: True Start of Battle of Britain
August 9, 1940: Aufbau Ost
August 10, 1940: Romania Clamps Down On Jews
August 11, 1940: Huge Aerial Losses
August 12, 1940: Attacks on Radar
August 13, 1940: Adler Tag
August 14, 1940: Sir Henry's Mission
August 15, 1940: Luftwaffe's Black Thursday
August 16, 1940: Wolfpack Time
August 17, 1940: Blockade of Britain
August 18, 1940: The Hardest Day
August 19, 1940: Enter The Zero
August 20, 1940: So Much Owed By So Many
August 21, 1940: Anglo Saxon Incident
August 22, 1940: Hellfire Corner
August 23, 1940: Seaplanes Attack
August 24, 1940: Slippery Slope
August 25, 1940: RAF Bombs Berlin
August 26, 1940: Troops Moved for Barbarossa
August 27, 1940: Air Base in Iceland
August 28, 1940: Call Me Meyer
August 29, 1940: Schepke's Big Day
August 30, 1940: RAF's Bad Day
August 31, 1940: Texel Disaster


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