Thursday, September 15, 2016

September 17, 1940: Sealion Kaputt

Tuesday 17 September 1940

17 September 1940 Sm-79 Italian bomber
With HMS Kent already hit off Bardia, an Italian SM 79 attacks British light cruiser HMS Liverpool (September 17, 1940).
German Military: Adolf Hitler meets on 17 September 1940 with Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, his two closest military advisors, to discuss the prospects for Operation Sealion. He concludes that there are three insuperable obstacles to the invasion:
  1. The Luftwaffe has not established aerial supremacy over England;
  2. Such supremacy is not likely to be achievable before winter;
  3. The three service branches cannot adequately coordinate their activities to overcome these other obstacles.
After mulling it over, Hitler issues five copies of the lapidary order "Nr. 00 761/40 g. Kdos" to the heads of the three military services. It provides that his previous 3 September 1940 order "Nr. 33 255/40 g. Kdos. Chefs." establishing S-Day as 21 September 1940 is canceled, with no new date established.

Operation Sealion effectively has been canceled. The order also provides that no new barges are to be moved to the invasion ports, although the shipping already collected in them (1700 barges and 200 ships) are to remain there. Goering is ordered to continue attacks on England, but the sense of urgency is lost. The plan is to continue the illusion of a threatened invasion of Great Britain.

Later in the day, the OKW sends a radio message telling the German authorities in Holland to dismantle the special equipment required to load transport aircraft for the invasion. This signifies to everyone there that the invasion is off for good, though of course, the official order from Hitler does not actually say that.

The question arises whether this was a good decision. At best from the German perspective, it is a good decision that flows from a series of really terrible decisions that made Operation Sealion's success impossible. War Games held at the Sandhurst Military Academy in 1974 concluded that Operation Sealion could not have succeeded at this point in time. A series of absolutely horrible military decisions followed by an undeniably good one that prevents outright catastrophe is a hallmark of the German World War II strategy.

Hitler most likely figures that, like a year previously while contemplating the invasion of France, he can simply suspend operations for the winter and just pick them up again in the spring where he left off. In the meantime, Hitler's bombers and U-boats can weaken Great Britain as he plans for a really important project in the East. However, this is a much different situation than the invasion of France, and Hitler is under extreme time pressure to finish off England quickly for a variety of reasons that he does not appreciate, some of his own making (such as the contemplated Operation Barbarossa).

Separately, and in an indication of where the real priority in the German High Command now lies, the deputy chief of the German General Staff (Oberquartiermeister I), Lieutenant General Friedrich Paulus, presents a revised plan for Operation Barbarossa. This new plan expands the operation from focusing just on the northern sector to three separate thrusts in the north (Leningrad), center (Moscow) and south (Kiev).

17 September 1940 Liverpool bomb damage
A surface shelter that received a direct hit on Stevenson Street, Wavertree, Liverpool. 17 September 1940.
British Government: The Enigma decoding operation at Bletchley Park (Ultra) intercepts Hitler's order postponing Operation Sealion, and also the second, seemingly less important, order about the Luftwaffe equipment in Holland. The Air Ministry concludes from the latter order that the invasion really is off for real and that the invasion cannot take place in 1940.

Battle of Britain: Hitler's order postponing Operation Sealion arrives before the day's raids, while morning reconnaissance is out and about. The day is cloudy and rainy again, though it clears up a bit during the afternoon. The Luftwaffe has new orders from Goering issued on the 16th to press the RAF with fighter sweeps and shoot it out of the sky, but the weather prevents any big attacks until late in the day.

The largest raid occurs in the afternoon against Bristol, a favorite target, and further north in Kent. A major dogfight breaks out over Dover, with the Germans losing several Bf 109s. Another dogfight over Ashford sends two Hurricanes and a Bf 109 down.

During the night, the raids begin about 20:00, with London the main target. Subsidiary attacks are launched against Liverpool, Glasgow, South Wales, East Anglia, and Middlesborough. Overall, the bombing accuracy is particularly poor. The bombers use 1000kg cylindrical bombs that are adapted from sea mines and which fall with parachutes. These are particularly fearsome bombs that cause widespread damage.

Losses for the day are even, with both in the single digits.

RAF No. 29 Squadron, equipped with new Beaufighter Mk.1F night fighters, uses them for the first time on patrol after dark. Two other squadrons (No. 600 and 640) also have the day version.

Hans-Joachim Marseille receives the Iron Cross 1st Class for his fourth air victory.

James Lacey is shot down over Ashford, England, but is quickly back at his base.

17 September 1940 London dockland bomb damage
The dockland area of London, 17 September 1940.
Battle of the Atlantic: At Dakar, Vichy French Force Y (two cruisers) joins with other Vichy units based at Dakar departs for stressed Vichy possessions to the south (Douala, Cameroon, Libreville, Gabon, and Pointe Noire, Congo) in a "Show the Flag" mission. The Royal Navy fleet assembling for Operation Menace, the attack on Dakar, is docked in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

A wolfpack composed of U-65 (K.Kapt. Hans-Gerrit von Stockhausen) and U-99 ( Kptl. Otto Kretschmer)is stalking Convoy HX-71. Both U-boats notch successes.

U-99 torpedoes and sinks 2372 ton British freighter Crown Arun at 08:32. All 25 men aboard survive.

U-65 waits until the afternoon to strike. At 16:26, it torpedoes 5242-ton steel British freighter Treganna. There are only four survivors, 33 men perish.

At 23:45, U-48 (Kplt. Heinrich Bleichrodt) at 23:45 launches two torpedoes at the British liner City of Benares, carrying refugees to Canada, but misses. He remains in a position to attack as the day ends.

The Italians chip in success in the Atlantic, too. While their success rate is far below that of the U-boats, the Italian submarines do get their share of ships. Operating to the south, they tend to get more Spanish and Portuguese ships than do the U-boats, which feast on British shipping.

Italian submarine Alpino Bagnolini (Lieutenant Commander Tosoni Pittoni) torpedoes and sinks 3812-ton Spanish freighter Cabo Tortosa in the Atlantic off Oporto, Portugal. The ship takes 90 minutes to survive, and everybody aboard survives. The Alpino Bagnolini has just arrived from its base at Trapani, Sicily to take up station in the Atlantic, and will be based at Bordeaux. Commander Pittoni tries to signal the ship to see if it was carrying war material, but smoke on the horizon compels him to attack before the Spanish ship can tell him that it is simply a local freighter not going to the UK.

The Luftwaffe scores a major success At Glasgow, Renfrewshire. It bombs and sinks the British cruiser HMS Sussex. Three crewmen are lost. The ship sinks in shallow water and is refloated to re-enter service.

The Luftwaffe (1,/KG40) bombs and severely damages Greek freighter Kalliopi S about 10 nautical miles northeast of Tory Island, Ireland. The crew abandons ship, but the Kalliopi S remains afloat and eventually drifts ashore at Sheephaven Bay, where it breaks in tow and is a complete write-off.

Norwegian freighter Hild gets caught in a storm and grounds while approaching the pier at Petite-Vallée, Quebec, Canada. A court of inquiry is held on 30 September. It finds that the Hild had picked up some sailors from another ship sunk in the Atlantic, but already offloaded them at Sydney, Nova Scotia. There, it received orders from the British Ministry of Shipping to proceed to Petite Vallee to pick up some timber. The ship also had been cleared to enter Petite Vallee by a local patrol boat. In fact, the ship is too large for the port. The master blames his decision to follow orders and try to dock at the pier anyway on poor charts. The ship comes to rest on a reef and is lost, condemned by the underwriter on the 19th.

Kriegsmarine 296-ton flak ship (vorpostenboot) V-304 hits a mine and blows up.

The Bismarck exits the Kiel Canal and docks at Scheerhafen, Kiel.

Destroyer USS Lansdale (DD 426, Lt. Commander John D. Connor) is commissioned.

17 September 1940 German land mine Bomben B
A 1000 kg Luft Mine B (called Bomben B when used against land targets) of the kind dropped on 17 September 1940. These were known informally as "Land Mines." They had a charge ratio of 60-70% and descended with parachutes. The blast radius typically was 0.25 miles.
Battle of the Mediterranean: HMS Illustrious launches 15 of its Swordfish torpedo bombers against the port of Benghazi. Six of the planes (RAF No. 819 Squadron) lay mines, the rest (No. 815 Squadron) attack shipping. The Italians lose two destroyers (Aquilone from a mine, Borea from a torpedo) and two merchant ships (5551 ton Gloria Stella (formerly Klipfontein) and 4601 ton Maria Eugenia, the ships can be salvaged). Cruiser HMS Kent, shelling Bardia around noontime, is severely damaged in the stern by an Italian torpedo plane, with 31 dead. Separately, RAF Blenheim bombers destroy three Italian planes on the ground at Benina.

The Alexandria fleet sends two destroyers (HMS Janus and Juno) to shell the new Italian position at Sidi Barrani, while gunboat HMS Ladybird does the same to the vulnerable coast road on the escarpment near Sollum. The raids are very successful and damage Italian morale, causing them to move their camps further inland. Marshal Graziani already is worried about his supply line, so this enhances his caution. After this, the Italians stay put, dig in, and work on their supply lines.

At Malta, a pilot of a downed Stuka Ju 87 is fished out of the sea and gives the British valuable intelligence. He reveals that the Stukas are operating out of the fortified island of Pantelleria and are Italian.

There are two air raids during the day, one at 10:40 and the other at 16:00. The attackers lose two Stukas and an Italian CR 42 fighter in the morning raid, the afternoon one turns out to be only Italian reconnaissance. Three are 15 unexploded bombs at Luga which require a big area to be fenced off for a week to see if they have time fuzes.

Spy Stuff: In the murky world of "black propaganda," the British are second to none. Black propaganda is the circulation of false rumors by the government for covert purposes. In this case, the British conduct a "whisper campaign" claiming that the Germans had attempted an unsuccessful invasion with heavy losses on 7 September 1940. The cause of this supposed German defeat is ascribed to using flaming oil on the seas near the beaches, a particularly vivid image. The rumors are complete rubbish that both the German and British governments officially deny. However, they gain currency (as intended) among the Americans, who see in the fictional victory a resolute England fighting off the dreaded German hordes and likely to survive.

Vichy French/Japanese Relations: The two sides return to the bargaining table over French Indochina, but the Japanese alter their attitude. They become more demanding and less willing to negotiate. Behind the scenes, they have begun shifting troops to the Chinese border with the territory.

German/Spanish Relations: Spanish Interior Minister Serrano Suner continues his meetings in Berlin, meeting with Hitler. Minister Suner responds to German requests for bases in Spanish possessions with a laundry list of items that Spain wants in return.

Holocaust: Polish workers - not just Jewish ones - now are required to wear yellow badges. Those for Poles have the letter "P" on them (P-badges).

17 September 1940 bomb blast German land mine Bomben B
A crater caused by a German "Land Mine" Bomben B bomb.
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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