Friday, September 9, 2016

September 11, 1940: British Confusion at Gibraltar

Wednesday 11 September 1940

11 September 1940 London Blitz
Firefighters battle a gas explosion from the previous night's air raid, Kingsway, London, September 11, 1940.
Battle of Britain: While Prime Minister Winston Churchill is sanguine on 11 September 1940 about prospects of a German invasion, he still thinks they might be stupid enough to try (see below). He sees the coming week as the period of maximum danger - which may be the result of good military intelligence because that is when Hitler will make his final decision one way or the other.

Since 7 September 1940, the Luftwaffe has changed its tactics from staggered morning and afternoon raids against airfields to massive raids against cities beginning in the late afternoon and continuing well past midnight. The RAF issues orders that Hurricanes, which are the true workhorses in Fighter Command, are to attack the bombers, while higher-performance Spitfires take on the escorts flying above.

The weather is good, and the weather is good. While we can always second-guess Luftwaffe tactics, today it has a very good day despite doing actually what all the armchair Generals (like us) say is the wrong thing.

The first major raid comes across at 14:45 from the Calais region, crossing the British coast at Ramsgate. There are two staggered formations, one ahead of the other. After following the Thames toward London, one group heads toward central London and the other toward Brooklands. Due to heavy RAF opposition, only 36 bombers actually bomb London, primarily on the docks, particularly the Surrey Commercial Docks. RAF Nos. 41, 249 and 609 Squadrons intercept bombers over north London and shoot down eight bombers, with 12 others damaged.

Another attack coming up from the south at Cherbourg hits Southampton and Portland. The RAF gets an early crack at this formation over the ocean, but the bombers get through and cause significant damage. There are 28 killed and 70 other casualties at the Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft factory at Eastleigh, and the Eastleigh Naval Air Station is attacked but receives no damage due to fierce RAF opposition.

After that, the remainder of the day is taken up with scattered raids over Kent until the usual massive raids on London after dark. The Luftwaffe fighters amuse themselves with shooting down barrage balloons over Dover while the bombers deliver the most powerful raid on it to date. These hammer the dock areas and central London, including Buckingham Palace.

Losses for the day are roughly even in the mid-20s, with many accounts putting RAF losses slightly higher for a change. While the Luftwaffe bombers suffer heavy losses over London, the British fighters and bombers also incur losses. The RAF loses half a dozen Spitfires and 19 Hurricanes, which is a pretty bad day. Worst of all for the RAF, it loses a dozen pilots killed and another four badly wounded.

While the Luftwaffe has a good day, more troublesome facts about its equipment are becoming apparent. The Bf 109 fighters, the only air superiority fighter in the Luftwaffe, operate at the extreme limits of its range over London. Many fighter pilots find they must choose between combat or returning back to France before their fuel runs out. Landings on French beaches by fighters that have run out of fuel or sustained damage are not uncommon.

Elite Squadron JG 26 has a good day, as Oblt. Joachim Müncheberg of 7./JG 26 gets his 19th victory, a Spitfire over Ashford, and Lt. Gustav Sprick of 8,/JG26 gets his 17th. Gerhard Schöpfel, Gruppenkommandeur of III./JG 26, shoots down a Blenheim for his twentieth victory. This earns him the Ritterkreuz (Knight's Cross).

Both Major Werner Mölders of Stab./JG 51 (Spitfire) and Major Adolf Galland of Stab./JG 26 (Hurricane) claim victories. Hans-Joachim Marseille scores his third victory, a Hurricane over the French coast. He receives damage, though, and has to crash-land on the beach at Wissant.

The coastal guns at "Hellfire Corner" open up again, exchanging bombardments that hit Dover and Cap Gris Nez.

11 September 1940 Battle of Britain RAF Pilot Alec Lindsay
P/O Alec I Lindsay reports to flying duties with No 72 Squadron RAF at RAF Croydon on 11 September 1940. He has not yet flown any combat missions.
European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command bombs Berlin again, damaging railway installations and the airfield. Other targets are the north German ports (Bremen, Wilhelmshaven, Hamburg), warehouses at Hamm, Cologne, Coblenz, Ehrang and Mannheim), a munitions plant in Frankfurt, oil installations at Monheim, and the usual airfields in northwestern Europe.

During the late afternoon, RAF Coastal Command sends a dozen Blenheim bombers to attack the German barges assembling for the invasion in Calais. No. 826 Squadron loses an Albacore and has two others damaged, with one death and several wounded airmen.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-28 (Kapitänleutnant Günter Kuhnke) stalks Convoy OA 210 about 200 miles northwest of Ireland. During the middle of the night, it strikes quickly. He lets loose three torpedoes and hears three explosions - apparently two on the same ship.

At 03:26, U-28 torpedoes and sinks 1234 ton Dutch freighter Maas. There are 20 deaths and two survivors.

At 03:28, U-28 torpedoes and damages British freighter Harpenden. The torpedo strikes kill one crewman, but the Harpenden just makes it back to the Clyde in tow, where it is beached at Kilchattan Bay and can be salvaged.

U-99 (Kapitänleutnant Otto Kretschmer) torpedoes and sinks 2468 ton British iron ore freighter Albionic in the Atlantic southeast of Rockall (northwest of Ireland). All 25 crew on board perish.

The Luftwaffe attacks Royal Navy 209 ton trawler HMT Beathwood while it is at anchor in the North Sea just east of Montrose Coastguard lookout (east coast of Scotland). The planes attack at 22:00 and sink it. It is unclear how many perished aboard it, but local newspapers noted that "Most of the crew were below deck when the plane attacked."

British destroyers HMS Malcolm, Veteran, and Wild Swan, on a more-or-less routine patrol off of Ostend, encounters a German convoy on the radar. The destroyers contact the RAF for assistance, which sends planes to drop flares over the convoy. The destroyers open fire and sink an escort ship, two trawlers towing barges, and a large barge.

Kriegsmarine tug Escaut sinks off the French coast of unknown reasons, perhaps due to hitting a mine.

Kriegsmarine freighter Cordoba hits a mine in the English Channel and is towed to Le Havre. The Cordoba is beached, but is a total loss and, after some preliminary repairs, ultimately scuttled in September 1944 to avoid capture by the Allies.

The Luftwaffe attacks convoy CW 11 and damages destroyer HMS Atherstone in the English Channel off Ramsgate.

In the Luftwaffe attacks on Dover, British motor torpedo boats MTB 29 and 71 are damaged, the latter severely.

In London, the Luftwaffe damages Swedish freighter Torkel and British freighter Norman.

Convoy FN 278 departs from Southend, Convoy MT 166 departs from Methil, Convoy FS 278 departs from the Tyne, Convoy OB 212 departs from Liverpool, Convoy SL 47 departs from Freetown.

British submarine HMS Porpoise lays minefield FD 26 in the North Sea, while several minelayers operating out of Loch Alsh lays mines in Operation SN 41.

Corvette HMS Asphodel (K 56, Lt. Commander Kenneth W. Stewart) is commissioned.

11 September 1940 Amman Jordan parade Arab Revolt King Hussein
Amman celebrates the 24th anniversary of the Arab revolt under King Hussein & Lawrence of Arabia, Sept. 11, 1940 - Date Created/Published: 1940 September 11. - Library of Congress. 
Battle of the Mediterranean: The Italian advance from Libya toward Egypt continues. By most accounts, they have not yet crossed the border. There are air battles overhead as the RAF tries to slow them down.

The Vichy French flotilla (Force Y) heading from Toulon to Dakar (unknown to the British) is spotted at 05:15 in the Mediterranean 50 miles from the Straits of Gibraltar by destroyer HMS Hotspur. British battleship HMS Renown asks their destination, and in a friendly exchange, the French captain simply says they are southbound. The British tell the French to go no further south than Casablanca, Morocco.

It radios for instructions, but nobody is told to intercept the ships. The three cruisers and accompanying smaller ships speed through the Straits at high speed (25 knots), passing within sight of the British at 08:35. Long after the ships are out in the Atlantic, at 16:00, the Admiralty finally orders the battleship HMS Renown to pursue Force Y to make sure it goes no further south than Casablanca. Their presence at Dakar would cause problems for upcoming Operation Menace, the British attack on Dakar. The French ships put into Casablanca for the night by design, thereby avoiding a major confrontation with former ally Great Britain.

The fact that the British let the powerful flotilla pass through the straits without incident amazes both the French and British governments since the cruisers are easy targets without air cover and with minimal escorts. They easily could have been attacked by air, sea and land bombardment. Gibraltar commander Admiral Sir Dudley North is relieved of his command. Ultimately North is exonerated since the true blame lies with Whitehall. However, the smell of this incident lingers due to subsequent events, and North's career essentially is over.

The entire affair is confused. Ships on "opposing sides" sight each other and don't know whether to attack or wave hello. Whitehall also appears confused and conflicted - which actually may be appropriate under the circumstances, and certainly is understandable. Nobody really knows where the Vichy France/British relationship is headed, but it doesn't look good.

In Malta, it is a quiet day. Governor Lt. General Dobbie sends a request for more anti-aircraft guns in addition to the 60 already "on order," making a total request of 92 in all. He also requests searchlights and sound locators. A patrolling Skua reports spotting two Italian destroyers at Augusta, another destroyer outside Messina, and other small craft in Syracuse harbor.

11 September 1940 King Queen England Buckingham Palace
The King and Queen of Great Britain inspect the damage to Buckingham Palace, 11 September 1940.
Battle of the Indian Ocean: The Italians bomb Convoy BS 4 in the Red Sea, without success.

Japanese/Vichy French Relations: The Vichy French, upset at the infiltration of French Indochina by Japanese troops in China, have been slow-walking further negotiations with the Japanese. Today, Japanese Army Major General Issaku Nishihara complains to the government in Tokyo about the impasse.

German/Norwegian Relations: Adolf Hitler meets with Vidkun Quisling and Reichskommissar for Norway Josef Terboven. With all political parties in Norway outlawed except for Quisling's pro-German party, Quisling has become a key player in maintaining peace in the country.

US/Japanese Relations: Okuda Ojiro becomes acting Japanese consul general in Hawaii. Part of his mission is to spy on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor.

11 September 1940 Cowra Australia
"Cowra, NSW. 11 September 1940. Bren Gun Carriers of the 2/1st Australian Medium Regiment moving down the main street of Cowra during a parade. The street is lined with cars and people, some of whom are standing on the backs of trucks in order to get a better view. (Donor K. Warner)."
US Military: The US Navy continues its crash shipbuilding program, financed by the exorbitant fiscal year 1941 (the US fiscal year begins in September) appropriations that have just been approved. It orders six new Cleveland-class light cruisers, to be built by the William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

German Military: The Germans make their first expansion of the Schutzstaffel (SS) outside of the Reich: they form the Nederlandsche SS (Dutch SS).

Generalfeldmarshall Fedor von Bock begins taking his Army Group B headquarters east in preparation for Operation Barbarossa.

British Homefront: Winston Churchill addresses the nation in a radio broadcast. Soaring into his usual rhetorical heights, he says:
If this invasion is going to be tried at all, it does not seem that it can be long delayed. The weather may break at any time. Besides this, it is difficult for the enemy to keep these gatherings of ships waiting about indefinitely while they are bombed every night by our bombers and very often shelled by our warships which are waiting for them outside.
Therefore, we must regard the next week or so as a very important week for us in our history. It ranks with the days when the Spanish Armada was approaching the Channel and Drake was finishing his game of bowls, or when Nelson stood between us and Napoleon's Grand Army at Boulogne. We have read about all this in the history books, but what is happening now is on a far greater scale and of far more consequence to the life and future of the world and its civilization than those brave old days of the past. Every man and woman will therefore prepare himself and herself to do his duty whatever it may be, with special pride and care.
The Lord Mayor of London starts an Air Raid Relief Fund. It quickly receives massive support.

Future History: Brian De Palma is born in Newark, New Jersey. He begins filming documentaries in the 1960s which make money and receive good notices (such as "The Responsive Eye" exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in 1965). He turns to features and casts young actor Robert De Niro in "Greetings" (1968) and "Hi, Mom!" (1970). In the 1970s, he moves to Hollywood and has a major breakthrough with the film "Carrie," starring John Travolta and Sissy Spacek. De Palma also wins acclaim as a screenwriter. He goes on to become one of the top directors in Hollywood. Brian De Palma remains active in Hollywood today.

11 September 1940 US Naval Air Station Lee Field Green Cove Springs Florida
On September 11, 1940, the U.S. Navy opens Naval Air Station Lee Field at Green Cove Springs, Florida. It was named after Ensign Benjamin Lee, a Great War soldier. It is used to train pilots for aircraft carrier landing operations and later is renamed Naval Air Station Green Cove Springs. It was used to store the "Mothball Fleet" after the war.

September 1940

September 1, 1940: RAF's Horrible Weekend
September 2, 1940: German Troopship Sunk
September 3, 1940: Destroyers for Bases
September 4, 1940: Enter Antonescu
September 5, 1940: Stukas Over Malta
September 6, 1940: The Luftwaffe Peaks
September 7, 1940: The Blitz Begins
September 8, 1940: Codeword Cromwell
September 9, 1940: Italians Attack Egypt
September 10, 1940: Hitler Postpones Sealion
September 11, 1940: British Confusion at Gibraltar
September 12, 1940: Warsaw Ghetto Approved
September 13, 1940: Zeros Attack!
September 14, 1940: The Draft Is Back
September 15, 1940: Battle of Britain Day
September 16, 1940: italians Take Sidi Barrani
September 17, 1940: Sealion Kaputt
September 18, 1940: City of Benares Incident
September 19, 1940: Disperse the Barges
September 20, 1940: A Wolfpack Gathers
September 21, 1940: Wolfpack Strikes Convoy HX-72
September 22, 1940: Vietnam War Begins
September 23, 1940: Operation Menace Begins
September 24, 1940: Dakar Fights Back
September 25, 1940: Filton Raid
September 26, 1940: Axis Time
September 27, 1940: Graveney Marsh Battle
September 28, 1940: Radio Belgique Begins
September 29, 1940: Brocklesby Collision
September 30, 1940: Operation Lena


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