Sunday, September 11, 2016

September 13, 1940: Zeros Attack!

Friday 13 September 1940

13 September 1940 Japanese Zero
A Japanese Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" fighter.
Overview: The British know that this, 13 September 1940, is the decisive period of the Battle of Britain; a glance at the calendar can tell them that, as Prime Minister Winston Churchill said in his speech to the nation on the 11th. Tide conditions also are favorable to a landing. Accordingly, the Royal Navy begins final preparations to counter an invasion, including transferring battleships HMS Nelson and from Scapa Flow to Rosyth and HMS Revenge to Plymouth. HMS Hood also is detailed to Rosyth.

Meanwhile, Hitler is in the final stages of deciding whether to authorize an invasion. He requires Luftwaffe air superiority, and there is no sign of that. In addition, the barges assembled for the invasion require low winds and calm seas, and the weather has not been cooperating. The Wehrmacht wants to invade, the Kriegsmarine wants to do other things, and the Luftwaffe basically wants the issue to just go away.

Hitler has lunch with his senior Luftwaffe commanders (Goering, Milch, Kesselring etc.) and Wehrmacht operations staff where he makes equivocal statements about Operation Sea Lion. He seems much more interested in the bombing of London than in actually invading England. However, he reserves his decision until the morrow.

13 September 1940 RAF Spitfire
F/O Francis N "Fanny" Brinsden undertakes a cockpit check of Spitfire Mk I QV-B prior to takeoff from RAF Fowlmere on 21 September 1940. The aircraft was received by No 19 Squadron RAF on 13 September 1940.
Battle of Britain: The weather remains unsettled, with rain and clouds. The Luftwaffe concentrates on "pirate raids," lone bombers taking advantage of cloud cover to bomb selected targets. These daylight raids are light and sporadic, but they also can hit targets further to the West than usual.

Among these targets are the Air Ministry offices at Harrowgate, a railway junction outside of Reading, and an aluminum factory in Oxfordshire. A Junkers Ju 200 Condor even attacks shipping off of Northern Ireland, a rarity during daylight hours, but it misses.

A small raid just before noontime by Heinkel He 111s splits up to hit various targets, including Wiltshire, but to little purpose. Many bombers abort their missions when intercepted by the RAF. Some bombers hit RAF Tangmere. A couple of bombers penetrate to central London and bomb Whitehall, Downing Street, Chelsea Hospital and Buckingham Palace grounds again. The raid on Buckingham Palace is the third one so far, and the King is in residence when the bombs miss. A few bombs hit the buildings and cause damage, but no royal lives are lost.

After dark, things pick up a bit, with London the primary target. Various areas in the vicinity are hit, including Westminster, Battersea, Mitcham, Clapham Junction, Wembley, and Hammersmith. The raids slack off after midnight but then resume about an hour later with hits on the London docks and areas nearby. The raids continue almost until daylight.

Overall, the day is pretty much a wash. The RAF loses a few planes and the Luftwaffe about 10 planes. The Luftwaffe, though, loses over a dozen aircrew.

13 September 1940 Daily Mirror

European Air Operations: In line with the general strategy of frustrating an invasion, the RAF steps up its attacks on German shipping along the coast. It makes a daylight raid on a convoy of tankers off Zeebrugge; the plane crews report sinking one, that it is unclear if that actually happened. Bomber Command shifts its priority from strategy targets in Germany to the likely invasion ports.

13 September 1940 Buckingham Palace King George Queen
The King and Queen inspecting bomb damage to Buckingham Palace, 13 September 1940.
Battle of the Atlantic: Mines take a huge toll on shipping today, and for once the British are not on the receiving end. While the British have developed countermeasures to the feared German magnetic mines, they are costly and bulky. The only silver lining for the British is that the much scarcer Axis shipping is equally vulnerable to them, as shown by today's events.

A Vichy French convoy of 11 troopships in the Mediterranean near the island of San Pietro, off Sardinia, blunders into a minefield laid by the Italians, the "San Pietro minefield." The day turns into a series of explosions as one ship after another is struck.

The first to hit a mine is the Cap Tourane at 09:10. It is badly damaged but is able to proceed to Ajaccio. Along the way, it hits another mine, a rare instance of a non-military ship hitting two mines and surviving.

Next is 1544 ton ship Cassidaigne. It comes to the Cap Tourane's assistance and, at 09:22, also hits a mine. It sinks in five minutes. Everybody aboard survives.

The third ship in the convoy to hit a mine is the 1610 ton Ginette Le Borgne at 09:28. It explodes, breaks apart into two pieces, and sinks within two minutes.

Minefield troubles also occur elsewhere.

Kriegsmarine auxiliary minesweeper M-1306 "Hermann Krone" hits a mine and sinks off Hanstholm, Denmark in the Skagerak.

Soviet minesweeper T-104 hits a mine and sinks in the Gulf of Finland.

Other incidents also take a toll on shipping. The oddest thing about the day is that none of the day's many shipping incidents involve direct attacks, they are all passive.

Kriegsmarine trawler UJ-173 Hinrich Wesselhöft runs aground at Harandgerfjord, Norway and is badly damaged. It is floated off, but the damage is too significant and it sinks on the 14th while in tow.

The British, preparing for an invasion, is sinking blockships at the entrances to vulnerable harbors. While towing the British 9577 ton cargo ship Protesilaus to Scapa Flow to sink as a blockship, the Protesilaus - previously very badly damaged on 21 January 1940 by a mine - springs a leak. The ships are scuttled to no purpose off Skerryvore.

The British remain in pursuit of Vichy French Force Y, three cruisers which the British permitted to escape through the Straits of Gibraltar en route to Dakar. British Force H from Gibraltar combines with Force M coming up from Freetown, but there is no sign of the French cruisers.

British Convoy OB 213 departs Liverpool with passenger ship City of Benares. The Benares is transporting British schoolchildren being evacuated to Canada.

USS destroyer USS Kearny (DD 432, Commander Anthony L. Danis) is commissioned.

13 September 1940 map Operation E Italian invasion Egypt
The Italian Army's plan, September 1940.
Battle of the Mediterranean: After several days trudging through the hot desert sand, the Italian invasion force (Operation E) of 200,000 men from Libya finally reaches the Egyptian frontier in force. Two divisions of the 10th Army's XIII Corps (five divisions) advance along the coast road. A southern prong of the Italian advance, led by the Maletti Group (armored), has been canceled due to difficulties navigating in the desert, so the advance along the vulnerable coast road constitutes the entire invasion, though it has been split into closely separated prongs.

In the northern prong, the 1st Blackshirt Division (23rd Marzo, in honor of the date of the founding of the Fascist party in 1919) retakes Fort Capuzzo at just west of Sollum, which the British had taken at the start of the war. This is still on the Libyan side of the border. The Italians bombard Musaid, which is a British base just across the border. The Italians also open fire on Sollum airfield, which the British have not used. An Italian attack takes the barracks near the airfield, so the Italians "take Sollum," though the British still hold the port.

Meanwhile, slightly inland on the southern prong, the Italians send two divisions and the Maletti Group toward Halfaya Pass. This creates a converging attack, as these troops will be met at the other end of the pass by the two divisions advancing past Sollum.

Opposing the Italians are two divisions of the British Western Desert Force under General O'Connor, the 7th Armoured and the 4th Indian. The British have orders to hold their positions. The Italians cut the barbed wire along the frontier but do not yet advance very far across it.

The British Long Range Patrol Unit (the "Desert Rats") reaches Siwa near the Libyan border, where they stock up on supplies.

In Ethiopia, the Italians also are on the move, but on a much smaller scale. Light forces penetrate 20 miles north into Kenya.

One apparent side effect of the Italian operations in North Africa is a period of quiet at Malta, which experiences no air raids again. Four Short Sunderland flying boats arrive for three days of operations, otherwise, it is a quiet day. Governor Dobbie informs the War Office that compulsory evacuation of British civilians would harm island morale, though voluntary evacuations at the person's own risk would be acceptable.

13 September 1940 Wehrmacht propaganda filmmakers
The Luftwaffe filming for the newsreels, 13 September 1940 (Jaeger, Federal Archive, Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2007-0200).
German/Japanese Relations: German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop has his aide Heinrich Stahmer meet with Japanese Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka. They reach a tentative agreement for an alliance, which of course must be negotiated further, written up and approved by both governments.

US Military: The USAAC drops the P-44 program, an attempt to upgrade a high-altitude Republic P-43 Lancer fighter with a Pratt & Whitney R-2180-1 Twin Hornet engine rated at 1,400 hp (1,000 kW). This is due to combat reports from Europe suggesting that the basic P-43 design already is obsolete. Incidentally, although the designation for the P-44 is "Rocket," it was never intended to use an actual rocket engine - a fact which confuses a lot of people.

China: Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" fighters have been operational for months now, with pilots qualifying on the planes which are a quantum leap ahead of previous Japanese fighters. The workup period, however, is now complete and they are ready for action.

To date, they have seen little action aside from routine escort duties. Today, however, 13 Zeros led by Lieutenant Saburo Shindo serve as an escort for a bombing raid on the Nationalist capital, Chungking, and all that changes. For once, the Nationalist air force sends up a large formation to challenge the bombers, which have been ravaging the city for months. They meet the Zeros in combat with nine I-16 (monoplane) and 25 Polikarpov I-15 (biplane) fighters.

The Zeros shoot down 27 of the Nationalist fighters. They only suffer damage to four of their own planes. It is perhaps the most one-sided encounter in military aviation history.

Now, admittedly the Nationalists only have old Soviet fighters, Polikarpov I-15s and I-16s. These are not up to the standards of the European combatants, though of course, they have machine guns that are fully capable of taking down a Zero. Thus, the victory is not quite as fantastic as it appears from the numbers alone. However, this incident begins to open the world's eyes to the new kid on the block, a Japanese fighter that quickly gains the reputation of being unbeatable. It also imbues the Imperial Japanese Air Force with extreme confidence, perhaps overconfidence, in its new fighter.

The 27 Japanese G3M bombers thus get through to the target.

German Homefront: The government bows to reality and completes a plan to help parents voluntarily evacuate their children from Berlin.

Future History:  Óscar Arias is born in Heredia, Costa Rica. becomes President of Costa Rica and a Nobel laureate.

13 September 1940 Australian Imperial troops
Australian Imperial troops, 13 September 1940. They likely are headed to the Western Desert.
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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