Thursday, September 1, 2016

September 3, 1940: Destroyers for Bases

Tuesday 3 September 1940

3 September 1940 condensation trails
Spectators easily can watch the air battles over Kent as the planes form condensation trails in the blue sky on 3 September 1940. (AP Photo).
German Military: Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering convenes his Luftlotten commanders along the Channel (Kesselring, Sperrle) and others at the Hague on 3 September 1940. Apparently, Hitler either is in attendance or following the discussion closely elsewhere. The topic is the future strategy against England. Goering first asks for suggestions (as he has in the past, without ever taking anyone's advice). This is a common German command method at such conferences, and not just in the Luftwaffe: to ask for opinions before announcing a decision already made by the high command.

Kesselring advocates bombing London. Sperrle, however, contends that the attacks on airfields are of primary importance, are working, and must continue. Everyone gets into a violent argument.

To reach a resolution, Luftwaffe intelligence provides its estimate of British fighter strength. Staff officer (and Goering crony) German Intelligence Chief Oberst Josef ‘Beppo’ Schmid, claims the RAF only has 100-350 fighters left. This may be based on a combination of wishful thinking and anecdotal reports from pilots, but it certainly is not based on solid intelligence. Goering accepts the estimate and announces that there is to be a change in the air objective (Zielwechsel). Since the RAF is finished, he orders, the final destruction of the British economy and morale will commence with the terror bombings of London. Or so Goering hopes.

3 September 1940 Beppo Schmid
Major (later Lt. General) "Beppo" Schmid, head of Luftwaffe Intelligence.
Initiating terror bombing in London, of course, is a decision that only Hitler can make, pursuant to his 16 July Fuhrer Directive. The best reading of this conference is that Hitler already has made the decision to bomb London in private with Goering, and the Hague conference is just a formality. Goering would have known Schmid's figures going in, so they add nothing to the discussion. In such situations, the only chance to influence the patently bad decision made here (and this happens at several key junctures of the war) is for the local commanders to express unanimous opposition. Since Kesselring (unwisely) favors the change to terror bombing, as he has in the past with even less foundation, that does not happen. There always is someone at these conferences who supports the decision, no matter how profoundly stupid it may be.

Since the opposition to the change in direction is split, the change of tactics is implemented (as it likely would have even in face of unanimous opposition). London is to be bombed. Aside from Hitler and Goering, the blame here lies with lousy Luftwaffe intelligence and with Kesselring, who places far too much faith in the power of terror bombing due to his experiences at Warsaw and Rotterdam. Kesselring throughout the war has a well-known reputation for being very optimistic (he is known to both sides as "Smiling Albert"). This serves him quite well at times and is usually considered an admirable trait in a leader. However, in this specific case, it hurts the German war effort. Hugo Sperrle, on the other hand, who receives virtually no press, displays sound judgment throughout the war but is forced into bad tactics by dreadful orders and declining forces.

Adolf Hitler regards the conference's decision with satisfaction (since it ultimately is his decision) and states:
[T]he British air force is down to its last reserves, they cry for pity, and I will give them pity. I will wipe London from the face of the earth! I want fire everywhere, thousands of them and then they will unite into one gigantic area of conflagration.
As the wording of this statement suggests, there may be things other than purely military logic at play in this decision. It is worth pointing out that Hitler several times during the war seems to take a fetishistic delight in wishing to burn out his enemies.

Hitler also reaches a decision on Operation Sea Lion based on this discussion or at least flowing from the decision announced at it. Operation Sea Lion is on. Hitler's orders provide that the Wehrmacht will be given 10-days lead time before the invasion. The new earliest date for Operation Sea Lion landings now is moved from 15 September to 21 September (S-Day), with the ships to sail on 20 September.

The plan now (it has gone through numerous revisions) is to land two airborne divisions first, followed by nine other divisions. Included will be 250 panzers. The 16th Army will land four divisions at Folkestone, while 9th Army will and 2 divisions at Eastbourne and 3 divisions at Brighton. They would face a dozen British divisions of varying states of readiness. The UK has an inventory of roughly 350 Valentine and Matilda tanks (Prime Minister Churchill having just sent off several shiploads to the Middle East) and 500 antitank weapons - a strong, but not overwhelming, defensive force. The 9 picked Wehrmacht divisions against the assorted British divisions would be a fair fight.

With the benefit of omniscience derived from hindsight, knowing the true state of affairs on both sides as of 3 September 1940, the decision to invade England probably already is too late. The British military has recovered, strengthened its defenses, and fought the Luftwaffe to a standstill. RAF Fighter Command is bowed but not broken; even after large recent losses, it has 600-700 fighters ready to defend the beaches - not the 100-350 believed by the Luftwaffe. The Royal Navy remains amply able to defend the Channel. More importantly, the British (via Churchill's rapport with Roosevelt) have solidified their arrangements with the Americans and made them virtual allies in the war. An invasion in July 1940, with a maximum Luftwaffe effort to establish temporary local air superiority rather than frittering away strength on other attacks, would have made infinitely more sense despite the obvious risks.

However, as it stands in early September, if Sea Lion is ever to be attempted, it should be done immediately. The imminent arrival of the 50 destroyers from the United States (see below) would turn the naval equation solidly and permanently against the Germans, but those ships will take time to arrive. Having Luftwaffe bases established on both sides of the Channel before their arrival would largely nullify their local impact.

It is now or never for the Wehrmacht in terms of defeating England by frontal assault (as opposed to either economic strangulation at sea or a peripheral strategy in the Mediterranean, neither of which have worked against the British previously). At least making the effort with a reasonable possibility of success would be worth any number of losses. Leaving the British undefeated at your back - especially if you have some half-cocked notions of starting new wars in the East - is never a winning proposition. The British must be finished off once and for all, and any price is worth paying once they have their hands around your neck. Peace terms must be slapped down on the throne at Buckingham Palace quickly or the British will never go away and ultimately find a way to beat you: there is 300 years of history to prove that, going back to Philip II. Napoleon would nod in agreement.

Operation Sea Lion is a huge gamble, and Hitler is the biggest military gambler of the millennium. The attempt seems worthwhile - but right away, not in 1941. Time is the Wehrmacht's enemy. This decision is perhaps the biggest of the war.

3 September 1940 Bf 110 debris England Essex
Soldiers with part of a Bf 110 that came to a violent end over Essex, England, 3 September 1940 (AP Photo).
Battle of Britain: While the German high command makes far-reaching decisions, the day-to-day battle continues over the skies of England. The weather continues clear and bright, and the Luftwaffe once again gets off the mark by mid-morning.

The first major attacks begin around 09:15, as two large formations approach over the Thames estuary and North Foreland. Further formations follow directly behind. Keith Park's No. 11 Group gets 11 squadrons in the air, and Leigh-Mallory's 12 Group adds the Czech No. 310 Squadron. Fighter Command continues its recent practice of waiting as long as possible to intercept to gain a tactical advantage, and once again it allows more bombers to get through to their targets than if the interceptions had been made earlier.

RAF North Weald takes a beating, with extensive damage to the main buildings. The airfields at Debden and Hornchurch also suffer heavy damage, with RAF Manston being attacked around 11:40. The London docks also take a pounding.

Noontime is when massive dogfights take place along the coast. Other raids take place along the Kent coast around 14:00, but the RAF gets its fighters in the air earlier and chases most of them off.

After dark, the Luftwaffe continues its raids on Liverpool and areas to the south of it. Bristol and South Wales receive their usual visits. The Avonmouth docks are one target, but the bombers' aim is particularly bad and bombs fall all around without many falling on the target.

The RAF bombs the Grunewald Park in the north of Berlin, apparently by accident. It also drops bombs on oil installations at Magdeburg, storage facilities at Schwere and Hamm, a blast furnace at Merzig, and the barges at Beveland Canal and the Scheldt estuary, and the Ostend docks. Special attention is paid to various airfields in northwest Europe, particularly those near the Pas de Calais where most of the recent Luftwaffe attacks have come from.

Losses for the day are about even, in the mid-teens for both sides. This is a rarity and further grist for the mill of those in the Luftwaffe who think the RAF may be on the ropes. The conclusion certainly can be drawn that the current Luftwaffe strategy - after much trial and error - finally is achieving results.

Adolf Galland of JG 26 gains his 28th victory during the noontime battles. Several other pilots in the squadron get their first victories, while Lt. Gustav Sprick of 8./JG 26 gets his 15th kill.

Hitler directs the Luftwaffe to procure larger bombs than usual - 2200lb - for attacks on cities.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-57 (Oblt.z.S. Erich Topp), returning from her 11th patrol, collides with Norwegian freighter Rona at Brunsbüttel (northwest of Hamburg at the entrance to the Kiel Canal). There are six deaths and 19 crew survive. The U-boat sinks in shallow water where it can be recovered.

U-60 (Oblt.z.S. Adalbert Schnee), on her 8th patrol, torpedoes and sinks 1401 ton British freighter Ulva northwest of Donegal, Ireland. There are three deaths and 17 crew survive.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Truant stops the German wheat freighter Tropic Sea in the Bay of Biscay. The crew of the Tropic Sea scuttles the ship. The submarine takes the Captain and some others aboard as prisoners, and a fishing boat and a Short Sunderland flying boat rescue the other crewmen. The Tropic Sea had been captured by the German raider Orion, and among the prisoners on the ship are some crew from the Haxby.

British 880 ton British collier Philotus collides with the SS Lublin and sinks about 8km northwest of St. Govan's lighthouse off Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire.

The RAF bombs and sinks 3077-ton Norwegian ship Anna Sofie at Haugesund, Norway. The ship settles in shallow water and can be salvaged.

U-101 (Kptlt. Fritz Frauenheim) undergoes a depth charge attack (five passes) northwest of Ireland. U-101 survives, but with some flooding.

Convoy FN 271 departs from Southend, Convoy MT 159 departs from Methil, Convoy FS 271 departs from the Tyne, Convoy OB 208 departs from Liverpool, Convoy SL 46 departs from Freetown.

British submarine HMS Upright (N 89, Lt. Francis J. Brooks) is commissioned.

U-455, a longer Type VIIC submarine, is laid down in Kiel.

3 September 1940 MAS Italian motor torpedo boat
A typical Italian Motor Torpedo Boat (MAS).
Battle of the Mediterranean: Operation Hats winds down. The convoy ships (Force P, Garland, Gallant, Griffin, Greyhound, and Hotspur) have made their deposits at Malta and quickly scurried back for Alexandria. Admiral Somerville’s Force H returns safely to Gibraltar early in the day. The Mediterranean fleet, reinforced by Force F (split off from Force H), sails back through the Aegean north of Crete looking for targets.

Light cruisers HMS Orion and HMAS Sydney, accompanied by destroyers, bombard the Italian bases at Scarpanto (Karpathos) and Port Valecana in Stampala in the Dodecanese. Italian motorboats VAS 356 and VAS 537 attack the force off Stampal, with destroyer Ilex sinking MAS 357. (Some accounts place this action on 1 September).

At Malta, an Italian MAS (Motor Torpedo Boat) buzzes the island at dawn but makes a clean getaway despite attempted interceptions by the RAF. An Italian submarine also is reported northeast of the island, but depth charge attacks produce no result.

Battle of the Pacific: Australian cargo ship Coraline runs aground on Point Kialla, New South Wales (Jervis Bay) and is wrecked. There are six survivors and one crewman perishes.

3 September 1940 Destroyers for bases

US/Anglo Relations: Subsequent to the exchange of notes between US Secretary of State Cordell Hull and British Ambassador Lord Lothian on 2 September 1940, President Roosevelt sends a message to Congress setting forth the terms of the exchange of US destroyers for British bases:
  • "The right to bases in Newfoundland and Bermuda are gifts";
  • "in exchange for fifty of our over-age destroyers."
  • "act of preparation for continental defense in the face of grave danger."
The British bases to be turned over to the US, most under 99-year leases, are set forth as:
  • on the eastern side of the Bahamas, 
  • the southern coast of Jamaica, 
  • the western coast of St. Lucia, 
  • the west coast of Trinidad in the Gulf of Paria, 
  • on the island of Antigua and 
  • in British Guiana within fifty miles of Georgetown.
President Roosevelt emphasizes throughout his official communication that the bases are important for the defense of the Western Hemisphere - though why the defense from those locations would be better in the hands of the neutral US military occupying those bases and not the Royal Navy and Air Force is not explained. Some things are better left to the imagination.

US Rear Adml J. W. Greenslade, along with his team ("the Greenslade Board"), boards the cruiser USS St. Louis at Norfolk to inspect British bases acquired under the deal. They head toward Bermuda first.

3 September 1940 Destroyers for bases
"Two destroyers, HMS CASTLETON (formerly American Wikes Class destroyer USS AARON WARD) and HMS CLARE (formerly Clemson Class, USS ABEL P UPSHER), sit moored alongside each other alongside the Devonport Dockyard, September 1940. They still show their US Navy pennant numbers. Dockyard workers are aboard preparing the ships for service in the Royal Navy." © IWM (A 724). You can see that the "dockyard workers" (probably British sailors) have cans of paint at the ready. They don't look that over-age.
US Military: Cruisers USS Wichita (CA 45) and Quincy (CA 39) depart from Buenos Aires, Argentina for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as part of their "Show the Flag" mission.

Soviet/German Relations: Responding to Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov's complaints about the Second Vienna Award, German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop denies any German wrongdoing. In addition, he accuses the Soviets of breaching the pact in the Baltic States.

3 September 1940 Walt Disney
Walt Disney stands before his new Animation Building in Burbank, California, in September 1940.
Romanian/Hungarian Relations: Many Romanians in northern Transylvania are not happy about the Second Vienna Award and stage demonstrations. There also are reports of incidents between Romanian and Hungarian troops as the Hungarians move in to occupy the region.

Romania: The fascist Iron Guard agitates to have Ion Antonescu appointed Prime Minister. Antonescu is considered a somewhat moderate figure - among those in the far right - since he is a member of the elite and thus (presumably) not interested in any "death ride" military campaigns. However, Antonescu does sympathize with the aim of restoring the borders of "Greater Romania" in the East. King Carol refuses.

Vichy France: Pierre Laval issues orders to arrest anyone who poses a threat to national security, with priority given to communists.

China: The Nationalist 18th Army moves to block the Communist advance under Mao Tse-tung along the Yangtze River in Jiangsu Province. Heretofore, the two forces have had an uneasy alliance or at least co-belligerency against the Japanese.

German Homefront: The government releases figures showing that the unemployed number only 32,000. This type of number typically suggests a labor shortage - and with millions of men in the Wehrmacht, that is understandable. In 1932, right before Hitler came to power, the figure was around 5 million and 30% of the workforce was unemployed. Those mystified by Hitler's popularity - and he was popular across a broad swathe of the country - should take note. In addition, the low number hints as to why the Germans embraced forced/slave labor.

The Germans seize the French television service, which has a television antenna on the Eiffel Tower. Eventually, the German Ministry of Post and Radiodiffusion Nationale will resume programming in Paris, broadcasting in both German and French (Fernsehsender Paris) from 7 May 1943.

American Homefront: Long Island daily Newsday begins publication under the editorship of Alicia Patterson, daughter of the founder of New York Daily News.

3 September 1940 Canadian Forestry Company
The recently recruited No. 12 Forestry Company, Canadian Forestry Corps gets in the local papers today. The unit "gave a good account of itself" at Kirkland Lake Ontario on 3 September 1940.

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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