Tuesday 17 December 1940
|Royal Navy river gunboat HMS Aphis saw these Italian ships at Sollum Harbor and blew them up. 17 December 1940.|
Battle of the Mediterranean: Operation Compass, originally intended by the British to be a five-day tank raid between Italian camps, now, as of 17 December 1940, has bagged Sidi Omar, Sollum and the Halfaya Pass, never even contemplated before the operation. The Western Desert Force has taken 38,300 prisoners, captured 237 guns and 73 tanks, and had minimal casualties for such large gains (133 killed, 387 wounded, eight missing). The captured Italians will be sent to prison camps in India at Ahmednagar, Ramgarh and Deolali.
British 7th Armoured Division continues advancing westward toward Bardia, but it consolidates its position in the vicinity of Fort Capuzzo while General Wavell brings forward the 6th Australian Division (Major General Iven Mackay) for a large-scale assault. This will take until the new year.
The Royal Navy stands offshore Libya and pounds the Italian positions at Bardia. Monitor HMS Terror, gunboat HMS Ladybird and HMS Aphis, accompanied by HMS Voyager and Vendetta, have little to fear from the disappearing Italians. Among other damage they cause, the British ships sink Italian coasters Giuseppina D. and Vincenzinano in the harbor.
Italian/Greek Campaign: Greek I Corps captures Hormova. The Greek 3rd Infantry Division continues its offensive from Porto Palermo toward Himara. The major objective is to capture the intervening Giami Heights. Once those are in the Greek grip, the Italians likely will start evacuating the port. However, the weather is making all operations difficult, and the Italians have an effective artillery battery on the heights nearby, protected by strings of barbed wire. Further north, a fierce battle rages over the pass at Klisura.
European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command sends 50 Whitley and Hampden bombers against the Island of Sylt in the Frisian Island chain off Holland. The Luftwaffe seaplanes based there have been extremely successful in recent months in their attacks against British shipping. The Luftwaffe is very quiet throughout the day and night, but does manage to lose a bomber during one of the few raids.
|The plaque at Tower Hill Memorial, commemorating the six men of the Malrix buried there (a seventh, Master Albert Edward Straw, is buried at Kilsyth Cemetery). The ages of the crew ranged from 20 to 62.|
Battle of the Atlantic: Mines take quite a toll on the British today. The Germans are using multiple types of mines, including contact, magnetic and acoustic, and while there are ways to counter all of them, there simply aren't the resources to sterilize the waters around Great Britain of mines or protect smaller ships. The British Isles rely upon sea trade for survival, and that must go on regardless. So, brave men venture out every day knowing that it may well be their last.
In a horrendous incident, a group of British freighters runs into a minefield between the No.1 and No.2 Sea Reach Buoy off Southend in the Thames Estuary. The ships sunk are:
- Inver (1543 tons, 17 deaths, including the pilot)
- Malrix (703 tons, 7 deaths)
- Beneficent (2944 tons, 6 deaths)
- Aqueity (370 tons, 6 deaths)
- Belvedere (869 tons, 4 deaths).
British 93 ton fishing boat Carry On also is lost to a mine, east of Nore Sand Light Vessel. There are 7 deaths.
British 290 ton boom defense ship Thomas Connolly hits a mine in the Medway Channel off Sheerness. There is one death, and skipper A. Martell RNR is injured.
Royal Navy destroyer HMS Acheron (Lt J. R. Wilson) has just finished being repaired from Luftwaffe bomb damage and is near the Isle of Wight undergoing sea trials when it hits a mine off the Needles and sinks. There are 176 deaths deaths and 15 survivors. Among the dead are 22 dockyard workers (only three of them survive), while only 16 crew of the destroyer survive.
Mines also inflict pain on the Germans today. However, the German economy is not nearly so dependent upon seagoing commerce as is Great Britain's (though barge traffic in canals indeed is very important to the German economy). German 9425 ton freighter Paranaguá hits a mine and sinks off Den Helder, Holland.
German cruiser Admiral Scheer, operating deep in the Atlantic, captures 8651 ton British refrigerator ship Duquesa. The Duquesa carries 14 million eggs and 3000 tons of frozen meat. The Admiral Scheer's crew is delighted at this delicious find, which they immediately put to good use. They nickname the ship, which they keep handy, "The Floating Delicatessen" and "Wilhelmshaven South Catering Store." Spoils of war indeed.
The Luftwaffe bombs and damages Greek 3050 ton freighter Mentor. The Mentor, however, survives to be sunk another day in the not too distant future.
Finnish freighter Inga collides with another ship (the Silkeborg) in the Kiel Canal and sinks.
U-593 and U-594 are laid down, while U-339 and U-340 are ordered.
Convoy FN 361 departs from Southend, Convoy FN 362 is held back, Convoys FS 362 and FS 363 depart from Methil.
|A British Matilda ‘I’ tank getting some assistance to Halfaya Pass, Sollum Bay beyond. December 1940.|
German/Vichy French Relations: The Germans continue to pressure French leader Marshal Petain to restore Pierre Laval to all of his offices, but Petain will not budge. German Ambassador Abetz threatens some kind of retaliation, but Petain holds firm. Matters are not helped by Petain's gratuitous slight of not appearing with Hitler a couple of days ago at the reburial of Napoleon II in Paris. In any event, Petain's dismissal of his vice premier appears to have been motivated more by personal dislike than by larger issues, as his replacement, Pierre Flandin, just continues Laval's policies anyway.
Anglo/US Relations: Having given it much thought, President Roosevelt today announces at a press conference his Lend-Lease plan (though he never uses that phrase) to continue supplying Great Britain despite its looming inability to pay its bills. Roosevelt emphasizes, "We should do everything to help the British Empire defend itself" because it "is important from the selfish viewpoint of American defense." He produces one of his great quotes, putting a very complicated arrangement in plain terms that anyone can understand:
Suppose my neighbor's home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose four or five hundred feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him to put out his fire. Now, what do I do? I don't say to him before that operation, "Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it." What is the transaction that goes on? I don't want $15—I want my garden hose back after the fire is over. All right. If it goes through the fire all right, intact, without any damage to it, he gives it back to me and thanks me very much for the use of it. But suppose it gets smashed up—holes in it—during the fire; we don't have to have too much formality about it, but I say to him, "I was glad to lend you that hose; I see I can't use it any more, it's all smashed up." He says, "How many feet of it were there?" I tell him, "There were 150 feet of it." He says, "All right, I will replace it." Now, if I get a nice garden hose back, I am in pretty good shape.Of course, "everything" would include a lot more than what the US currently is doing, so it is not quite clear what Roosevelt means by that. If it is "important" to the American defense, why not take direct action? There are some thorny issues involved, some of which are brought up by the reporters at the press conference itself, including who actually owns this "garden hose" while it is being used to spray the Nazis. And, of course, if the house burns down and takes the neighbor and the hose as well, there won't be any satisfactory return of a worn garden hose and you will be at even greater risk yourself from the fire, having given away your garden hose.
However, Roosevelt's plan is a clever way to sidestep legal niceties. It allows the production of mass quantities of weapons which are then "lent" to an armed combatant to use against an (apparently, but unspoken) common enemy rather than simply "giving" them as aid or using them yourself. Once you start poking even slightly beneath the surface of this ruse, the entire thing collapses, but Roosevelt obviously intends to fight Hitler as best he can without actually going to war. Hitler, of course, notices what is going on,, and this inflames his resentment against the United States in general and Roosevelt in particular.
Separately, Colonel "Wild" Bill Donovan arrives in London (via Lisbon) by clipper flying boat, the first step of his second fact-finding mission during the war on behalf of President Roosevelt. Roosevelt has a habit throughout the war of sending his cronies such as Donovan and Harry Hopkins as "envoys" to allies and, often, future enemies.
|HMS Aphis bringing water to the army in Sollum, which can be seen in the distance, 17 December 1940.|
Spy Stuff: British housewife Dorothy Pamela O'Grady becomes the first British woman to be convicted of treason during World War II. The sentence is death, but she will appeal. O'Grady had a habit of walking her dog in restricted areas along the Isle of Wight coast after dark. She was noticed, security services started monitoring her, and they found in intercepted mail that she was making detailed drawings of beach defenses. The security services then waited until they caught her red-handed cutting some telegraph wires. Grady has no obvious connection to Germany and later passed the whole incident off as a thrill. The maps drawn by O'Grady are not made public until 2009, and then mysteriously disappear, but apparently they were quite accurate.
US Military: Admiral Stark removes Navy War Plan Orange from active status. The Orange Plan, he states, is out of date. Naval planners are in the final stages of creating a new plan, Rainbow Three. This is the final Orange plan, all subsequent war plans are Rainbow plans.
Rear Admiral Ernest J. King becomes Commander Patrol Forces, US Fleet. He will fly his flag on the USS Texas (BB-35).
British Homefront: The government temporarily increases rations for Christmas week.
Future History: María Elena Velasco Fragoso is born in Puebla, Mexico. She goes on to become a noted Mexican comedienne and director, creating and portraying La India María, a comical character based on indigenous Mexican women. She passes away in 2015.
Anna Prucnal is born in Warsaw, Poland. After the Nazis kill her father, she is raised by her mother. She later studies at the Studencki Teatr Satyryków, in Warsaw and becomes a top Polish actress and singer.
The Lend Lease idea floated by President Roosevelt, as everyone knows, becomes Great Britain's primary source of funding its military operations during World War II (together with low-interest loans). In essence, the British fight while the Americans pay their expenses - sort of like mercenaries. The lending mechanism continues even after the war, and repayments do not commence until 1950. Supposed to take place in 50 annual installments, the repayments pose a tremendous burden on the British economy, especially during the early years when the national debt is 200% of GDP.
One can draw a direct line from their debt repayments to the British devaluations of the pound sterling in the 1960s. These contribute to the destruction of the traditional international currency framework of fixed exchange rates (eliminated under US President Richard Nixon). The British government even is forced, during the 1970s, to seek relief from the International Monetary Fund, a source of funding usually reserved for Third World countries. However, to its eternal credit, Great Britain does finally pay off the debt discussed today, on 17 December 1940, with its final payment made to the United States on 31 December 2006.
|Holiday shoppers in Gadsden, Alabama, December 1940. (Photogrammar/John Vachon).|
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