Saturday, November 26, 2016

November 25, 1940: Molotov's Demands

Monday 25 November 1940

25 November 1940 B-26 Marauder maiden flight
Prototype Martin B-26-MA Marauder 40-1361 taking off on its maiden flight, 25 November 1940 (US Air Force).
Overview: There is a tendency among students of the war to see Hitler and the Germans as holding the stronger hand during negotiations with the Soviet Union in 1940. The Soviet Union is portrayed as weak and trying to make a deal, whereas the Germans are in a position of strength and ability to dictate the terms of the relationship. To be fair, the Germans felt the same way at the time. The evidence for Soviet diplomatic inferiority is scant but generally relies on Stalin's accommodating attitude toward Germany during the weeks preceding Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. However, Stalin had personal reasons to fear an invasion that had little to do with overall Soviet power.

The Soviets, however, at no point saw their diplomatic position as inferior. In fact, the Stavka (Soviet General Staff) never felt a sense of military inferiority toward Germany in the months before the invasion. During planning for their own operations against Germany - which is ongoing on 25 November 1940 - the Stavka focuses not on defensive strategies, but on offensive plans that would respond to an act of aggression. Thus, the question posed in their operational studies was not how to defend areas of the Soviet Union, but instead where the strongest German forces would be located so that the effect of an immediate Soviet counterstrike would be as devastating as possible when the German advances were reversed. Once you defeat the enemy at his strongest point, the rest of the battle becomes easy - at least, if you can do that.

There is no question there was some self-deception on both sides during this period. The German leaders felt that the Soviet system and government were inherently weak and unpopular - both untrue to one extent or another - while the Soviet leaders were a bit too complacent in their own military strength. Of the two sides, history shows that the Soviets were closer to reality than the Germans. The gulf between their versions of how things stood was enormous. This made a true, lasting deal utterly impossible.

Hence, when Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov adopts a stance of diplomatic equality with the Germans, it comes as quite a shock to the Germans, because Hitler and much of the Wehrmacht resented these "subhumans" pretending to be equals. In fact, Molotov's proposals really are fairly mild, address real concerns, and represent an honest attempt at accommodation. In other words, the Molotov proposal of November 1940 is not an intemperate and overreaching grasp at German rights and influence, as the Germans felt, but instead an honest diplomatic attempt to reach a modus vivendi.

The Germans should have taken Molotov's proposals much more seriously than they did. They are quite reasonable, do not really impact core German interests, and are infinitely more acceptable than betting the life of the German nation on an uncertain campaign in Russia. In hindsight, this is a decisive moment of World War II.

If you believe that Operation Barbarossa is Germany's greatest mistake of the war, then reaching some kind of agreement now with the USSR would avoid that entire invasion and create a new paradigm. This may be the single moment that seals the fate of the Axis. With some negotiation, the rougher edges could be smoothed over and the Soviets would sign the Tripartite Pact, presenting a united front to the Allies. However, the German grasp of reality about the true balance of global power - for now, the entire globe is revolving around the European conflict - is very shaky at this time due to their cheap run of successes on the Continent.

25 November 1940 B-26 Marauder maiden flight
The prototype B-26 Marauder, 25 November 1940 (US Air Force).
Soviet/German Relations: Soviet Minister Molotov summons German Ambassador Count von Schulenburg to the Kremlin and presents him with the official Soviet reply to German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop's October proposal of a "New World Order." The Molotov reply states that the USSR would be willing to sign the Tripartite Pact, but only under certain conditions:
  1. The area of the south of Batum and Baku - the Persian Gulf - is recognized as within the Soviet sphere of influence;
  2. The Soviets require a naval base in the Dardanelles;
  3. Turkey must either join the Tripartite Pact willingly or be subject to "the necessary military and diplomatic steps" to remove it as a hindrance;
  4. Germany must withdraw all troops from Finland;
  5. Japan must renounce its rights to energy resources in Northern Sakhalin;
  6. Bulgaria must be recognized as lying within the Soviet sphere of influence, with a separate Soviet/Bulgarian pact to be negotiated.
The Germans quickly discount the entire Soviet counterproposal. It flies in the face of current German activities. In particular, German troops are standing by to pour into Bulgaria in order to invade Greece (and Bulgaria already would have joined the Tripartite Pact except for Bulgarian hesitancy, see below). Revealing this to the Soviets might, in light of Molotov's demands, provoke an open breach. The Germans consider any Soviet infringement on the Baltic - which is an obvious implication of German troop withdrawals from Finland - as quite out of the question (this point, in fact, seems to be the Germans' main objection to the Molotov proposals).

The Germans never reply to this Molotov letter, despite repeated Soviet requests for such. This represents the final attempt at an agreement between the two powers before Operation Barbarossa.

Italian/Greek Campaign: The Greek offensive continues. Greek I Corps continues moving into Albania along the Drinos River, and Greek II Corps continues in the direction of Frashër. The Italians are forming a new defensive line east of Berat on the Tomorr Mountain range. Greek 1st Infantry Division takes Mali Piscalit and Gostivisti.

European Air Operations: Weather is poor, so flying operations are reduced. RAF Bomber Command sends out 36 bombers to bomb Kiel and Wilhelmshaven. Other attacks are made against Willemsoord, Hamburg, and the former Dutch seaplane base at De Mok, Texel. Five British bombers attack the Tirpitz, with no success.

The Luftwaffe engages in light day raids due to the weather against targets in southern England, losing four aircraft. It only launches a few isolated attacks after dark.

The official handover from Air Marshal Dowding to Air Officer Commanding, RAF Fighter Command Sholto Douglas takes place.

25 November 1940 East Surrey Regiment
"Soldiers of the East Surrey Regiment pose with fixed bayonets at Chatham in Kent, 25 November 1940." © IWM (H 5694). (Photo by Mr. Putnam of the War Office).
Battle of the Atlantic: Royal Navy 225-ton trawler HMT Kennymore (T/Skipper J. W. Greene RNR) hits a mine and sinks in the Thames Estuary. There are four deaths and Greene is wounded.

While rescuing people from the Kennymore, 224-ton British naval trawler HMT Conquistador (T/Skipper J. Paterson (act) RNR) collides with a passenger vessel and sinks in the Thames Estuary. The Conquistador is carrying survivors of HMT Kennymore.

Royal Navy Fairmile A motor launch HMS ML 111 (Lt A. V. C. Hoadley RNR) hits a mine and sinks off the mouth of the Humber. There are two deaths, and Lt. Hoadley is wounded.

British 698-ton hopper barge Tees Hopper No. 3 hits a mine and sinks off Stockton on Tees, County Durham. Everybody survives.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Talisman reports torpedoing a German tanker off of Lorient in the Bay of Biscay. It is unclear what ship this is or what happened to it. The Talisman reports that a trawler was taking off the crew.

HMS Talisman also captures a French fishing vessel, the 40-ton Le Clipper, in the same general area. The British later use this as a spy ship.

Convoy HX 91 departs from Halifax, a Greek convoy (seven freighters) departs from Suda Bay for Piraeus.

Canadian corvettes HMCS Cobalt and Orillia are commissioned, along with antiaircraft ship HMS Springbank (converted freighter).

The Germans are stepping up their U-boat construction. They lay down U-92 and U-177 today.

25 November 1940 East Surrey Regiment
"A lance corporal of the East Surrey Regiment poses with a 'Tommy gun,' Chatham in Kent, 25 November 1940." That is a Thompson m1928 submachine gun (drum magazine).  © IWM (H 5680). (Photo by Mr. Putnam of the War Office).  
Battle of the Mediterranean: Operation Collar, a supply run to Malta with associated subsidiary operations, continues. Force H (Admiral Somerville) from Gibraltar is led by battlecruiser HMS Renown and the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. Force F is led by two cruisers, HMS Southampton and Manchester and is heading for Alexandria. The Mediterranean Fleet also is at sea for Operation Collar, led by battleships HMS Warspite and Valiant and aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious. The overall plan is for Force H to escort Convoy ME 4 to the area of Sardinia/Sicily, at which point the Mediterranean Fleet will escort them to Malta. The handoff is scheduled for 27 November.

The British Western Desert Force is preparing in great secrecy an offensive in Egypt. Under Operation Compass, British Troops Egypt (Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson) is planned as a five-day raid, with extensions based on the progress of the attack. Today, the British forces involved undergoing training exercises.

The RAF bombs Assab and performs reconnaissance missions over Sicily, Bari, and Taranto.

In Malta, the government bans the operation of motorcycles without a special permit. There are three air raid alerts, and the first two accomplish nothing, as the planes turn back quickly. During the third raid, the Italians lose a CR 42 fighter and the British lose a Hurricane, with both pilots perishing.

Battle of the Pacific: German raiders Komet and Orion (with tanker/supply ship Kulmerland) are operating about 400 miles (650 km) east of New Zealand (about 40 km southwest of Chatham Island) when they spot a ship at 07:20. The Germans stop it and identify it as 546-ton New Zealand coastal freighter/passenger ship Holmwood. The Germans take off the 29/30 people on board (including four women and four children) and 1370 sheep, two dogs and a horse and distribute them among the three ships (they kill the horse). The Germans then sink the ship.

Applied Technology: In the continuing technology battle of the war at sea, the British take a step forward when they fit minesweepers with devices that successfully explode three acoustic mines. The solution? Specially modified jackhammers that generate enough noise to blow the mines up at a safe distance.

25 November 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge Galloping Gertie
Tacoma Narrows Bridge, 25 November 1940 (photographer unknown). The bridge sags on the left because of the lack of weight where the central span should be. Eventually, the entire roadway will be salvaged for scrap, though the central piers will be re-used for the next attempt.
German/Bulgarian Relations: Hitler and Ribbentrop have been trying to get Bulgaria to sign the Tripartite Pact. If they had their way, the Bulgarians would be present in Berlin right now with the representatives of Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia to add their signature. However, Bulgarian minister in Berlin Parvan Draganov scotches these plans, at least for the time being. Bulgaria fears reprisals from both the Soviet Union and Turkey. Draganov also explains that Bulgaria has a natural affinity for the peoples of Russia and its associated republics which might make an agreement now politically unpopular at home. However, Draganov is clear on one point: Bulgaria may be ready to sign at a later date.

Things are very confused about the Soviet/German/Bulgaria issue at this time. Both sides may be making somewhat overstated promises to the Bulgarians in exchange for short-term concessions. For instance, today the Soviet Secretary-General of Soviet Foreign Ministry, Arkadi A. Sobolev, arrives in Sofia to confer with Bulgarian Prime Minister Bogdan Filov. Sobolev requests permission for Soviet troop transfers across the country - for what purpose is unclear - in exchange for the Soviets dropping their objections to Bulgaria joining the Tripartite Pact. Sobolev broadly hints that with just a little cooperation from Bulgaria, both Bulgaria and the USSR might join the Tripartite Pact. These discussions appear tightly coordinated with Foreign Minister Molotov's letter to Ribbentrop.

Anglo/Italian Relations: The London press is full of speculation about the course of the war against Italy. The current rumor is that Mussolini would be willing to conclude a peace deal with the Allies. There is nothing concrete to prove this - yet. However, Mussolini indeed is having serious anxiety attacks about his failed offensive in Greece and the stalled offensive in North Africa.

25 November 1940 Mosquito prototype bomber
Prototype DH.98 Mosquito marked W4050 taking off on its first flight at Hatfield, 25 November 1940. While you can't tell from the picture, the bomber is painted yellow overall. Interesting that they already have the service markings on this prototype's maiden flight, but then, neither side's pilot's would recognize the plane as belonging to their side. (Royal Air Force)
British Military: Geoffrey de Havilland and John E. Walker, Chief Engine Installation designer, take the new serial number E0234, msn 98001, prototype of the De Havilland D.H. 98 Mosquito bomber on its maiden flight at Hatfield, England. The flight goes smoothly, and the plane reaches 220 mph (350/km). The only issues spotted are a problem with the undercarriage doors and a tendency of the plane's left wing to drag slightly. Both problems are fixed eventually, though the undercarriage problem takes some time.

US Military: Glenn L. Martin Company test pilot William K. "Ken" Ebel at Martin Airport in Middle River, Maryland takes the new serial number 40-1361, msn 1226 B-26 MA Marauder on its first flight. It goes smoothly, and deliveries to the US Army Air Corps at Wright-Patterson field in Ohio are scheduled to begin in February 1941.

The US Army calls up two more National Guard units to active duty, Alabama's 31st and Texas' 36th.

Heavy cruiser USS Louisville departs Santos, Brazil for Rio Grande du Sol, Brazil as part of its continuing "Show the Flag" operation in Latin America.

25 November 1940 SS Patria Haifa Palestine
The Patria listing heavily after the bombing.
Palestine: At Haifa, the 11,885 ton SS Patria is loaded with about 1800 Jewish refugees from Occupied Europe. The British authorities have denied entry to the refugees due to their lack of entry permits. The ship is to be sent to Mauritius. Zionist paramilitary group Irgun aka Irgun Zvai Leumi, a subsidiary of Haganah, decide to bomb the ship in order to disable it and prevent its departure (but not necessarily kill anyone, though that seems unavoidable). Miscalculating the force required (the ship is old and fragile), the Zionists plant a bomb that blows a huge hold in the side, causing the Patria to sink within 16 minutes. There are 267 dead and 172 injured (these are disputed British government estimates, and 50 dead are British crewmen).

In 1957, Munya Mardor claims responsibility for planting the bomb, clearing up the mystery of the explosion. The British allow the survivors to remain in Palestine, so Haganah/Irgun accomplish their objective. Needless to say - but I'll say it anyway, despite how controversial this entire subject is - this is a humanitarian disaster that needlessly kills hundreds of innocent people, but which some feel worthwhile for the greater good of the right of Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories.

China: The Japanese 11th Army attacks the Chinese in Hubei Province. This is known variously as the Han River Operation and the Central Hupei Operation. The Japanese send five separate columns to attack the Chinese 5th War Area.

German Homefront: Hitler issues a decree entitled "Basic Law of Social Housing Construction." Robert Ley's Labour Front is directed to build 6 million dwellings, at 300,000 per year. Simple math shows that this program would take two decades to complete. The decree gets into minutiae such as how big the homes must be (62 square meters), what rooms they must include (kitchen, two bedrooms, a bathroom, a hallway, and a balcony), and - tellingly - that they must have air raid shelters large enough for all occupants. The German bureaucracy has a well-defined habit of cutting corners to present large statistical achievements which reap glory on those in charge - as Hermann Goering likes to say, "The Fuhrer does not ask me how large my bombers are, only how many I have" - thus the need for the detail.

American Homefront: Andy Panda cartoon "Knock Knock" is released. It features an annoying woodpecker who disturbs the two pandas. The woodpecker's name is the not-very-original Woody Woodpecker. He is drawn by Alex Lovy and voiced by Mel Blanc, who gives Woody his distinctive laugh. The film is produced by the Walter Lantz animation studio and distributed by Universal Pictures.

While Lantz did not actually draw Woody Woodpecker for this short, he created the character along with legendary storyboard artist Ben "Bugs" Hardaway - the artist who earlier came up with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck at Warner Bros. Lantz has been looking for a replacement for tired star Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, and Woody is perfect. The character is an instant hit, and Woody Woodpecker will star in films during the war and cartoons on television beginning in 1957.

25 November 1940 Life Magazine
Life Magazine, 25 November 1940.

November 1940

November 1, 1940: Hitler Irate
November 2, 1940: U-31 Sunk - Again
November 3, 1940: Kretschmer's Master Class
November 4, 1940: Spain Absorbs Tangier
November 5, 1940: Jervis Bay Meets Admiral Scheer
November 6, 1940: San Demetrio Incident
November 7, 1940: Galloping Gertie
November 8, 1940: Italian Shakeup in Greece
November 9, 1940: Dutch Fascists March
November 10, 1940: Fala and Doc Strange
November 11, 1940: Taranto Raid
November 12, 1940: Molotov Takes Berlin
November 13, 1940: Molotov Foils Hitler
November 14, 1940: Moonlight Sonata
November 15, 1940: Warsaw Ghetto Sealed
November 16, 1940: France Keeps Battleships
November 17, 1940: Malta Hurricane Disaster
November 18, 1940: Hitler Berates Ciano
November 19, 1940: Birmingham Devastated
November 20, 1940: Hungary Joins Axis
November 21, 1940: Dies White Paper
November 22, 1940: Italians Take Korçë
November 23, 1940: U-Boat Bonanza!
November 24, 1940: Slovakia Joins In
November 25, 1940: Molotov's Demands
November 26, 1940: Bananas Be Gone
November 27, 1940: Cape Spartivento Battle
November 28, 1940: Wick Perishes
November 29, 1940: Trouble in Indochina
November 30, 1940: Lucy and Desi Marry


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