Monday, October 3, 2016

October 4, 1940: Brenner Pass Meeting


Friday 4 October 1940

4 October 1940 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Tillbury bombing raid
Bombs dropping on Tillbury, England. This port is the source of London's food supply. The bomb cluster on the left will hit ships, the second to the right will hit the docks. 4 October 1940.

Battle of Britain: The weather remains lousy on 4 October 1940, and air operations remain minimal. In any event, given the pattern of the battle so far, this probably would have been an "off" day for the Luftwaffe anyway, which has alternated periods of attacks and quieter days since June.

RAF Fighter Command, for its part, is focusing on developing more lead-time for its fighters. These measures, championed by Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, include a new reconnaissance squadron based at Gravesend. The new guidelines are that Spitfires are to assemble at 25,000 feet and Hurricanes at 20,000 feet before embarking on patrol.

The new pattern of using primarily fighter-bombers by day and regular bombers by night continues, but especially on days like this with heavy clouds and rains, the Luftwaffe does sneak a fair number of Junkers Ju 88s, Dornier Do 17s and Heinkel He 111s into the mix.

The morning is occupied with lone bombers seeking out specific targets. Some hit London, others various other targets in the southeast. Among the areas hit are RAF Penrhos, which destroys some buildings, and Fairlight (home of the Air Ministry). Some bombers are intercepted at sea before they can even make land.

Around 13:00, the Luftwaffe sends over some Bf 109E-7 Jabos (fighter-bombers) and Bf 110s. This is the first organized raid, but does not accomplish much in the muck.

Another raid at 17:00 crosses the coast apparently heading for London. A timely interception by RAF No. 605 Squadron Hurricanes, though, sends them running.

The weather clears up a bit after dark, just in time for the Luftwaffe to get to its main task, the bombing of English cities. Airfields around Abbeville send out a steady stream of bombers beginning around 19:00. The aircraft are in parade formation, regularly spaced in true Germanic precision. These raids last for about two hours and all head for London, which is fairly easy to find even in the poor weather conditions. Southwest and Northwest London take the brunt of the attack, with some bombers hitting the RAF stations at North Weald and Debden. The most significant damage to infrastructure is at the Hawkers Aircraft Factory at Kingston, the New Cross Telephone Exchange, and the railroad track near Crews Hill Station. This last stops all rail traffic on the line in both directions for a while.

The Luftwaffe also mines all along the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts.

Losses are light today. The Luftwaffe loses about 10 planes, the RAF about 3.

Squadron Leader M. Lister Robinson, DSO, DFC, becomes commanding officer of RAF No. 609 Squadron.

Hauptmann Walter Adolph becomes Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 26.

4 October 1940 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Wehrmacht soldier Dieppe
A Wehrmacht man enjoying wine and some artichokes. This is why France is one of the most sought-after billets in German Army. Dieppe, 4 October 1940.

Battle of the Atlantic: The Royal Navy once again tries to implement Operation Lucid, the fireship attack on Channel ports. Once again, creaking old tankers Nizam and War African, loaded with volatile fuel oil, diesel oil and petrol, head across the Channel. The previous time the Royal Navy attempted this, the Nizam broke down within sight of the target. This time, a massive force of 11 destroyers, 6 minesweepers and various torpedo boats escorts the tankers toward France. However, this time it is the weather that does not cooperate (the tankers are barely seaworthy), and once again the operation is scrubbed.

British paper mill tug HT Sirdar hits a mine and sinks in The Swale near Kent. Some accounts state that the Luftwaffe sank it, but an oral history by local Keith Chisman states that it hit a mine, with the loss of all three crew. The Luftwaffe story is unlikely due to the foul weather, but memories can be shaky 70 years later, too.

Convoys OA 224 and FS 300 depart from Methil, Convoy FN 299 departs from Southend, Convoy HX 78 departs from Halifax.

British patrol ship HMCS Otter is commissioned.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Due to the foul weather in the Atlantic, all of the action at sea today is in the Mediterranean for a change - where the weather also is cloudy and rainy. It is a very mixed day for British submarines in the Mediterranean. Despite some successes, it is a sad day for the Royal Navy's Mediterranean fleet.

British submarine HMS Rainbow (Lt. Colonel Moore), operating in the Adriatic 20 miles north of Brindisi, gets too close to 6860 ton Italian freighter Antonietta Costa, which is on a supply run to Durazzo. The sub is rammed and sunk, with all 55 crew perishing. This is a very rare instance of a freighter "evening the score" with the submarines that terrorize them.

British submarine HMS Triton approaches Genoa and uses its deck gun to get in some target practice and shell Savona and Vado Ligure. During this action, it sinks passing 1854 ton Italian passenger ship Franca Fassio about 30 km off Capo Noli, Liguria (Vado Roads, Gulf of Genoa).

British submarine HMS Tetrarch is operating in the same general area as Triton and attacks another (unknown) Italian freighter, but misses.

British submarine Rorqual lays mines off neutral Portugal.

At Lisbon, British troopship Neuralia takes off various refugees and Polish troops who failed to escape over the summer. The troopship makes it back to Gibraltar escorted by destroyer Wishart - which is only a marginally better location for the people aboard, and perhaps worse.

Italian 2180 ton freighter Nina Bianchi collides with fellow freighter Veloce near Brindisi. The Nina Bianchi sinks.

The RAF sends raids against railway infrastructure serving Italian bases in Eritrea and Abyssinia (Ethiopia).

Force H, which participated in Operation H, returns to Gibraltar.

At Malta, there is a sustained Italian air raid shortly after 10:00. The formation is composed of fighters, and the defending Hurricanes only rise to defend when they attack Luqa and Hal Far airfields. The Italians lose one Macchi C.200 Saetta ("Arrow") and the pilot perishes.

4 October 1940 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Hitler Mussolini Amerika Fuhrer train Führersonderzug
Hitler and Mussolini exchange a few last words through the window of his Führersonderzug "Amerika."

German/Italian Relations: Hitler and Mussolini meet in the Brenner Pass, which is convenient for their command trains. They talk for three hours. The main subject apparently is new plans in the Mediterranean, as the Germans have given up on Operation Sealion. This pleases Mussolini militarily, because his priority always is the "Italian Lake." However, there may be more to Mussolini's good humour than merely a convenient military decision. Foreign Minister Count Ciano confides to his diary that Mussolini appears to be delighted by this setback for the Germans, happier than at almost any other time. This is an attitude that Mussolini reprises throughout the war even as it can't be good news for himself personally in the long run.

However, Hitler also is in an expansive mood and declares "The war is won" - which somewhat contradicts the topic of the conference, to change the Axis' focus away from the country that he cannot defeat, Great Britain, to the Mediterranean. Hitler states that the British people are about to "crack" - a constant refrain of his about his accumulating enemies throughout the conflict.

Hitler offers support for Italy's (now stalled) drive into Egypt. Mussolini, however, indicates that he doesn't need the help yet, perhaps during the final drive into Alexandria and Cairo. Mussolini still sees his armed forces as capable of defeating Allied resistance and Italy being an equal partner in the relationship. Perhaps Mussolini feels it would be a slight to Italian prestige to require German help. This is one of Mussolini's quirks - perhaps fantasies is a better word - that leads him into a lot of difficulties and actual loss of prestige.

Another major issue at this conference is France. Hitler wants to upgrade Vichy France to virtually a full partner in the war. Mussolini, however, adamantly opposes any French rearmament, perhaps because he has his eyes cast in a completely different direction. France recently has shown its potential value in the successful defense of Dakar against Charles de Gaulle's and the Royal Navy's Operation Menace, and Hitler wants to build upon that. Vichy France occupies vast overseas dominions such as Madagascar, and could be a big help to the Axis. The outcome of the discussion on this point is unclear, but Hitler seems to have succeeded in keeping Mussolini from interfering with his plans for Vichy France.

What is most significant about this meeting is what is not said. Hitler does not bring up Operation Barbarossa - which is consuming Wehrmacht planning. Mussolini also (apparently) does not mention that he also has plans of his own. These involve perennial Italian nemesis Greece, Italy's ancient enemy stretching back before even Roman times. Mussolini has a springboard against Greece in Albania - the traditional European route of the Middle Ages to attack Constantinople/Istanbul - and he intends to use it, and soon. In Mussolini's defense, these meetings according to accounts of other meetings usually turn into Hitler monologues, with Mussolini probably trying to stay awake in a comfortable chair.

Little is known about this meeting, and there are some subtle indications that maybe the topic of an Italian invasion of Greece did come up, at least tangentially. It is known that Mussolini speaks at the meeting with contempt of Greek "double-dealing," but Hitler may not "take the hint." Hitler's later reaction to the Italian invasion suggests that this meeting at least did not bring him completely on board. Immediately after this meeting, Mussolini quickly gives up plans to invade Yugoslavia as well - which is almost always overlooked by historians - so Hitler and Mussolini may have made some kind of deal on that score.

Back in Berlin, one of the Foreign Ministry's tasks is to brief neutral governments (such as the United States) about what is going on with things like the Mussolini/Hitler meeting. A spokesman says that the discussion at the Brenner Pass was about reaching a peace deal with Great Britain - which is far-fetched because Great Britain would need to be interested, or at least consulted, and it isn't. The Italian newspaper Il Popolo di Roma harps on the fact a German invasion of Great Britain is impossible in 1940. There is always an underlying resentment during World War II of the Italians at their military domination by the Germans, who in the 1920s were seen as practically beggars across the Alps.

4 October 1940 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Camden Tennessee still
Cole sorghum mill near Camden, Tennessee, October 4, 1940. This sorghum mill belongs to John Cole, located about 5-6 miles South of Camden, Tennessee on Highway 69. Nelson Cole, grandson of John Cole, reports that the individuals in the photograph are Pauline Hargis, Rural Cole (son of John Cole), Fay Howe, Johnell Moore, Reba Nell Pace, and Harold Cole. Two mules are visible, "Bigun" and "Littleun." Department of Conservation Photograph Collection, Courtesy of the Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, TN (USA).

Anglo/US Relations: Churchill sends a message to President Roosevelt requesting a US naval presence in Singapore.

British Government: The re-shuffling of government and military posts that began on the 3rd continues. Sir Charles Portal takes over as British Chief of Air Staff from Sir Cyril Newall, who becomes Governor General of New Zealand. This change is effective 24 October 1940. Sir Richard Peirse takes over at RAF Bomber Command.

Free France: Charles de Gaulle (still referred to as a "General," but in fact no longer a member of any army) arrives in Douala, French Cameroon. His arrival fits into grand British strategy to wrest all of Africa from the Axis by picking off the low-hanging fruit first. While an overlooked part of World War II, control of central and southern Africa is of immense importance for many reasons, not least the ability it gives to extend the range and scope of U-boat and Luftwaffe operations against vulnerable British supply routes.

4 October 1940 worldwartwo.filminspector.com PM Magazine
PM Weekly Magazine, 4 October 1940.

Vichy France: The Petain/Laval government continues the persecution of communists that has lasted ever since the first days of the German invasion and arrests communists in Paris.

China: The Japanese launch a typical raid by 27 G3M bombers escorted by 8 A6M Zero fighters against Chengdu, Sichuan. Half a dozen Nationalist Hawk 75 fighters intercept. The Zeros once again demonstrate their superiority and destroy three of the Hawks.

The Nationalists at Huangqiao attack the communist Chinese New 4th Army forces which have been advancing along the Yangtze. The communists struggle to hold the town.

American Homeland: "Knute Rockne, All American" premieres at four separate venues in South Bend, Indiana, the home of Rockne's alma mater, Notre Dame. The film stars Pat O'Brien and Ronald Reagan. Ticket prices range from $1.10 to $1.65 for reserved seating on the main floor (about $23 today).

Boxer Fritzie Zivic beats Henry Armstrong for the world welterweight title at Madison Square Garden.

Future History: Barbara-Maria "Barbi" Henneberger is born in Oberstaufen, Bavaria. Germany. She becomes a top alpine skier who competes in the 1960 and 1964 Winter Olympics, winning the bronze medal in the Slalom in the former. She perishes in an avalanche accident not long after the latter Olympics.

4 October 1940 worldwartwo.filminspector.com War Illustrated
The War Illustrated magazine, 4 October 1940. One of the reasons we have so many excellent photographs of World War II is that picture magazines were in vogue in the 1940s, much more so than today when television and other media has lessened their importance.

October 1940

October 2, 1940: Hitler's Polish Plans
October 3, 1940: British Cabinet Shakeup
October 4, 1940: Brenner Pass Meeting
October 5, 1940: Mussolini Alters Strategy
October 6, 1940: Iron Guard Marches
October 7, 1940: McCollum Memo
October 8, 1940: Germans in Romania
October 9, 1940: John Lennon Arrives
October 10, 1940: Führer-Sofortprogramm
October 11, 1940: E-Boats Attack!
October 12, 1940: Sealion Cancelled
October 13, 1940: New World Order
October 14, 1940: Balham Tragedy
October 15, 1940: Mussolini Targets Greece
October 16, 1940: Japanese Seek Oil
October 17, 1940: RAF Shakeup
October 18, 1940: Convoy SC-7 Catastrophe
October 19, 1940: Convoy HX-79 Catastrophe
October 20, 1940: Convoy OB-229 Disaster
October 21, 1940: This Evil Man Hitler
October 22, 1940: Aktion Wagner-Burckel
October 23, 1940: Hitler at Hendaye
October 24, 1940: Hitler and Petain
October 25, 1940: Petain Woos Churchill
October 26, 1940: Empress of Britain Attack
October 27, 1940: Greece Rejects Italian Demands
October 28, 1940: Oxi Day
October 29, 1940: US Draft Begins
October 30, 1940: RAF Area Bombing Authorized
October 31, 1940: End of Battle of Britain

2016

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