Saturday, December 17, 2016

December 16, 1940: Operation Abigail Rachel

Monday 16 December 1940

16 December 1940 Italian prisoners North Africa
A British Tommy watches over a horde of Italian prisoners from a Bren Gun carrier. The Western Desert, 16 December 1940.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Operation Compass reaches its terminal phase on 16 December 1940 - having achieved vastly greater results than envisaged by anyone. The 7th Hussars and 2nd Royal Tanks of the British 4th Armoured Brigade of the Western Desert Force now stand in Sidi Omar and Sollum, while the Italians abandon Fort Capuzzo and other frontier outposts. The British continue resorting to the same trick, circling around behind the Italian camps and attacking from the southwest, and this continues to work because the Italian artillery faces east.

The British gladly take over the fortified Italian positions. Tobruk continues to hold out but is bombarded by sea and surrounded on land. The British turn Fort Capuzzo into their own supply depot, designating it Number 9 Field Supply Depot.

The British are now across the border in force. The Italians are forming a defensive line along the coast road far to the northwest. The next objective is Bardia, and the British plan is to leave a "Golden Road" open from Bardia to the seemingly impregnable Tobruk so that the Italians in Bardia will attempt to get there - and be cut down in the process.

The Italians send a large force of planes from Italy, including 23 CR 42 fighters and 23 Savoia-Marchetti SM.79s. The SM 79 is considered the best Italian bomber, but the Italian biplane fighters are hopelessly outclassed.

Much further south, in Kenya, the British begin stirring as well. South African troops under Major General Goodwin Austin retake a frontier outpost, Wajir, along the border with Italian Somaliland. The RAF lends support with a small force.

In very poor weather, the Royal Navy Mediterranean Fleet based at Alexandria embarks upon Operation Hide. This is a typical, very elaborate convoy mission to Malta which includes various ancillary distractions. Battleships HMS Valiant and Warspite and the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious lead the fleet, which is running interference for Convoys MC 2, MW 5A, MW 5B, AS 9 and AN 10. Several of the ships stop off at Suda Bay to refuel, illustrating the value of Crete to naval operations.

As part of the fleet movement, HMS Illustrious launches raids against the Italian bases at Rhodes and Stampalia. HMS Warspite and Valiant, meanwhile, bombard the Italian base at Valona. The Greek Navy joins in, sending half a dozen destroyers to help cover the British battleships.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Truant (Lt Cdr Haggard) torpedoes and sinks 8177-ton Italian tanker Bonzo off Punta Stilo, Calabria in the Ionian Sea.

16 December 1940 Italian prisoners North Africa
"Italian prisoners captured at Sidi Barrani are marched into captivity, 16 December 1940." © IWM (E 1378).
Italian/Greek Campaign: The Greek offensive is stalled virtually everywhere except in the coastal sector, primarily because of the weather. Heavy snow and winds, especially in the mountains, have reduced the pace of advance to a crawl. Greek I Corps (2nd, 3rd, and 4th Divisions) make some progress toward Himarë after restarting their offensive from Porto Palermo on the 15th. Greek II Corps is attempting to capture a key mountain pass near Klisura and facing more difficulty from the weather than the Italians. Greek V Army Corps (a corps in name only, it only has the 10th Division), attempts to secure Mount Tomorr, which divides II and III Corps. The RAF raids the Italian supply depot at Durazzo.

16 December 1940 Life Magazine
Life Magazine, 16 December 1940.
European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command sends 134 bombers against Mannheim (200 bombers had been readied, but weather prevents the use of the full force). Codenamed Operation Abigail Rachel, this attack constitutes the intentional destruction of Mannheim as a laboratory experiment for the development of RAF area bombardment techniques. As originally constituted, Operation Abigail Rachel is the largest RAF aerial attack to date against a single target (and still only about a third of a Luftwaffe maximum effort).

This is a standard area bombing raid of the type the Germans have been sending against British cities since 7 September 1940. Mannheim, in theory, is a significant target because it contains the Mannheim Motorenwerke and naval arms factories. However, those are not the night's real targets (though that is what the official RAF Operation Record Books states, as a cover-up in advance). Rather, the orders from the RAF to the pilots, apparently only given verbally, simply are to aim for the center of town and hope to cause as much chaos as possible.

The bombers drop 100 tons of high explosives and 14,000 incendiaries, but bombing aim is poor and, as with many of the Luftwaffe's raids, the damage causes is not nearly commensurate with the ordnance used. The problem is that the pathfinder bombers, which go in advance of the main force and drop flares (a tactic used by both sides) for guidance, drop them in the wrong spot - so all the following heavy bombers drop their bombs also in the wrong spot. Some bomb loads even drop on Ludwigshafen, some distance away. This incident causes the RAF to rethink its tactics and draws it closer to the concept of the "Bomber Stream," wherein bombers fly in tight formations that concentrate bomb loads closer together and thus wipe out entire sections of a city.

Mannheim straddles the Rhine, and the incendiaries start fires on both sides of the river that burn for days. The RAF loses three planes due to various causes. This is considered the first "area bombardment" by the RAF on a German city, which is a euphemistic term for a standard terror raid. There are 34 killed and 81 injured, with 240 buildings destroyed, including a military hospital. These figures still pale in magnitude with what the Luftwaffe is achieving in England at this time. This raid is considered "experimental" and is not publicized by the British government.

While not a resounding success, it is the first British step toward the RAF's large-scale city raids that characterize the last half of the war. That said, the RAF returns to its precision attacks on military targets after Operation Abigail Rachel until... well, we'll get to that when it happens.

The RAF has enough planes now that this isn't the night's only raid, either. It also sends bombers against Berlin, Heilbronn, and Speyer-am-Rhein as well. The British bombing offensive is still at such an early stage that the Germans in Berlin immediately send out crews to repair the damage to railway lines.

The Luftwaffe sends only occasional raiders against East Anglia and southeast England during the day. After dark, bombers hit London, Liverpool, and the Midlands.

16 December 1940 Mannheim bombing
This photo was taken during the first raid on Mannheim on 16 December 1940. For those who know Mannheim, "1" are incendiary fires burning in the Lindenhof and Schwetzingerstadt areas, "2" are the Heinrich Lanz AG factory, "3" is the Hauptbahnhof (train station), and "4" are the marshaling yards for the Hauptbahnhof. Notice that some of these intended targets did not receive much damage, notably the railway, which was the real prize. The Rhine is toward the lower left.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-37 (Kptlt. Asmus Nicolai Clausen), on its 9th patrol out of Lorient and with a new captain, remains surfaced and sinks 223-ton wooden Spanish freighter San Carlos with its 88mm deck gun about 30 miles south of Cape Juby, Morocco. Clausen apparently used his deck gun because he missed with a torpedo and didn't feel like wasting two on such a small target. However, after 21 shots, the gun breaks down and the shells that do hit the ship didn't penetrate the solid wooden hull - sometimes old tech is better than new. The Spanish crew abandons ship, and ultimately the Germans just row over to the San Carlos and scuttle it. There are one death and 28 survivors. U-37 is a wildly successful boat, this is its 49th victim under four different captains. Some boats just have that magic touch, whoever sails them starts getting victories. Some sources place this action on the 15th.

German 103-ton trawler Heltraud sinks due to unspecified enemy action, perhaps a mine.

Italian 103-ton freighter Arrigoni sinks in the Adriatic off Francavilla, Italy. There aren't any accessible records of what happened to it, it perhaps ran aground.

The Luftwaffe bombs 3921-ton Canadian freighter Bic Island in the Northwest Approaches, but it manages to make port.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Tribune spots 6864-ton German tanker Karibisches Meer and attacks but misses.

Captain Lindemann of the Bismarck takes holiday leave, and Korvettenkapitän Adalbert Schneider takes temporary command.

Canadian troop Convoys TC 8A (fast) and TC 8B (slow) depart from Halifax. As with all troop convoys, it has elaborate destroyer protection (for the time), with 8 destroyers protecting two liners in TC 8A and five destroyers protecting two liners in TC 8B.

Convoy OB 260 departs from Liverpool, Convoy FN 360 departs from Southend.

U-401 launched.

U-761 laid down.

Finnish/German Relations: Finnish Major General Paavo Talvela arrives in Berlin for talks with the Reich's top soldiers, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering and General Halder. He has been recalled from civilian life for this task after retiring following the end of the Winter War and will remain on active duty. Talvela is considered to be a "specialist" at interacting with the Germans, most likely because he commanded a Finnish Jaeger battalion in Germany during 1916 and 1917.

Italian Military: General Giovanni Messe forms the Special Army Corps of the Italian 11th Army.

US Military: Heavy cruiser USS Louisville continues an extended "Show the Flag" mission in Latin America, departing from Rio de Janeiro for Bahia, Brazil.

The US Asiatic Fleet forms Patrol Wing 10.

Taiwan: Admiral Kiyoshi Hasegawa becomes the new Governor-general of Taiwan.

Sweden: The Nobel Committee cancels the Peace Prize for 1940.

16 December 1940 skaters Volendam Holland
Girls in costume skating in Volendam, Holland, 16 December 1940. (ANPFOTO/CO ZEYLEMAKER)

December 1940

December 1, 1940: Wiking Division Forms
December 2, 1940: Convoy HX 90 Destruction
December 3, 1940: Greeks Advancing
December 4, 1940: Italian Command Shakeup
December 5, 1940: Thor Strikes Hard
December 6, 1940: Hitler's Cousin Gassed
December 7, 1940: Storms At Sea
December 8, 1940: Freighter Idarwald Seized
December 9, 1940: Operation Compass Begins
December 10, 1940: Operation Attila Planned
December 11, 1940: Rhein Wrecked
December 12, 1940: Operation Fritz
December 13, 1940: Operation Marita Planned
December 14, 1940: Plutonium Discovered
December 15, 1940: Napoleon II Returns
December 16, 1940: Operation Abigail Rachel
December 17, 1940: Garden Hoses and War
December 18, 1940: Barbarossa Directive
December 19, 1940: Risto Ryti Takes Over
December 20, 1940: Liverpool Blitz, Captain America
December 21, 1940: Moral Aggression
December 22, 1940: Manchester Blitz
December 23, 1940: Hitler at Cap Gris Nez
December 24, 1940: Hitler at Abbeville
December 25, 1940: Hipper's Great Escape
December 26, 1940: Scheer's Happy Rendezvous
December 27, 1940: Komet Shells Nauru
December 28, 1940: Sorge Spills
December 29, 1940: Arsenal of Democracy
December 30, 1940: London Devastated
December 31 1940: Roosevelt's Decent Proposal


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