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Friday, December 30, 2016

December 29, 1940: Arsenal of Democracy


Sunday 29 December 1940

29 December 1940 worldwartwo.filminspector.com St. Paul's Church London
St Paul’s church in London, taken by Daily Mail photographer Herbert Mason from Fleet Street on the night of 29 December 1940. (US National Archives 306-NT-3173V). In many versions of this shot, including those used immediately after the raid, the destroyed building in the foreground are cropped out.

Italian/Greek Campaign: Greek submarine Proteus (Y3, Lt Cdr M. Hatsikostantis) torpedoes and sinks 11,452 ton Italian troop transport Sardegna in the Southern Adriatic on 29 December 1940, roughly a dozen miles off Saseno (east of Brindisi). One of the Italian escorts, torpedo boat R.N. Antares, then forces Proteus to the surface with 11 depth charges, then rams and sinks the Proteus. All 48 men on the Proteus perish. There were survivors from the Sardegna rescued by the Antares, but how many is unclear.

RAF Bomber Command raids the port of Valona in Albania.

Mussolini sacks Ubaldo Soddu, the Italian commander in Albania, after only four weeks. Ugo Cavallero takes over for Soddu, combining his position as Chief of the General Staff  (which he has held for only three weeks) with overall command in Albania. After reviewing the situation, Cavallero concludes that the "period of crisis [was] almost overcome."

29 December 1940 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Second Great Fire of London
"Windscreen, steering wheel and bell of fire engine silhouetted against burning building in south (?) London.." 29 December 1940. © IWM (IWM FLM 2319)

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe launches a relatively moderately sized raid against London of 136-244 bombers (accounts vary) which only lasts from 18:00 to 21:30. However, it is a very specially planned raid, intended to create a firestorm and timed specifically to coincide with low tide in the River Thames, hampering firefighting efforts. The Germans drop 22,068 incendiaries and 127 tons of high explosives. The attack originally was planned to be a maximum effort lasting all night long, as in September and October, but a storm blows up during the evening and keeps the follow-up bomber waves on the ground.

The incendiaries create a firestorm in the City of London, with over 1500 fires combing in three major centers that themselves later combine. Incendiaries individually are not terribly difficult to deal with, but typically multiple incendiaries fall on roofs near each other, and the small fires they create individually combine to create larger fires.

The headline for the attack is that eight historic Christopher Wren churches are destroyed - which certainly is terrible - but the damage goes far beyond that. It includes the utter destruction of the 500-year-old Guildhall, Paternoster Row with an estimated 5 million books, and about a dozen churches in addition to the Wren ones. This becomes known as the "Second Great Fire of London," the first being in 1666. Fortunately, for the damage caused, casualties are relatively light, with over 160 civilian deaths, 14 deaths of firemen, and 250 firemen injured.

The number of incendiaries dropped is larger than usual, and the British government quickly takes steps to try and minimize their effectiveness. Incendiaries create powerful effects only if left to work unhindered, so the government mandates fire-watching and makes workers responsible for dousing them at their places of business. Clergymen and 200 volunteer firewatchers ("St. Paul's Watch," recruited from the Royal Institute of British Architects) at St. Paul's reportedly save the church by actively patrolling the roof and putting out incendiaries before they can set uncontrollable fires - exactly what the government wants everyone to be doing.

The attack is considered to be the most destructive of the entire war in Britain, with devastation from Islington to St. Paul's Churchyard. This attack leaves a lasting impression. Arthur "Bomber" Harris, Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, watches the bombing from the roof of the Air Ministry. He comments: "Well, they have sown the wind."

RAF Bomber Command, meanwhile, raids Frankfurt, Boulogne and Hamm.

29 December 1940 worldwartwo.filminspector.com British war poster
After the raid on 29 December 1940, the government ramps up its campaign to guard against fires started by incendiary bombs.

Battle of the Atlantic: Royal Navy submarine HMS Trident (Lt.Cdr. G.M. Sladen, DSC, RN) spots a "darkened ship" enting Punta Delgada, Azores. After the ship acts suspiciously and suddenly breaks for the harbor entrance, the Trident fires five torpedoes at it - which all miss and some of which explode on Delgada Point, constituting possibly the only war damage in the Azores. The submarine almost is sunk by one of its own torpedoes which "failed to discharge" and simply falls to the ocean floor beneath the Trident and explodes. The ship, meanwhile, turns out to be the 4856 ton Panamanian Bonita, which whose captain perhaps thought the British sub was a U-boat.

German 997 ton freighter Adriana hits a mine and sinks off the Elbe River.

German 5642 ton freighter PLM-23 runs aground in a storm off Scharhörn in the Wadden Sea and is written off. This formerly was a French ship which the Nazis seized on 5 August 1940.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 41 ton British tug Monarch off Radcliffe Cross Buoy.

The Luftwaffe finds a straggler from Convoy SLS 58, the 5270 freighter Trevarrack, and bombs and damages it.

British 5218 ton freighter Catrine hits a mine and is damaged in Liverpool Bay.

Part of Convoy WS 5A, which had been attacked by German cruiser Admiral Hipper on 25 December, makes port at Gibraltar. The remainder continues on south in the Atlantic.

Convoy FN 37 departs from Southend, Convoys FS 374 and FS 375 depart from Methil, Convoy OG 48 departs from multiple ports including Liverpool, Oban, Glasgow and Bristol, Convoy HG 49 departs from Gibraltar, Convoy BN 11B departs from Aden.

Royal Navy destroyer HMS Cottesmore is commissioned and assigned to the 21st Destroyer Flotilla, and HMS Derwent laid down.

Soviet submarine K-56 is launched.

29 December 1940 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Second Great Fire of London
"Fireman carries rolled hose to hose dump after a night's work, passing bricks and other rubble." This was shot following the raid of 29 December 1940. © IWM (IWM FLM 2318).

Battle of the Mediterranean: For the first time in weeks, the Italians raid Malta with multiple bomber formations. However, as has often been the case during the war, the Italian bombers remain offshore and do not drop any bombs on the island.

Pursuant to the decisions made at the Cairo conference on 28 December, the Australian 6th Infantry Division practices its assault scheduled for the morning of 2 January 1941 using an elaborate mockup of the Italian perimeter.

The RAF raids Bardia and Italian airfields at Tobruk, Derna and Benina.

Australian destroyer HMAS Voyager intercepts 190 ton Italian ketch Zingarella on its way from Bardia to Tobruk. The Zingarella is transporting British POWs who now are freed.

US Government: The administration, according to an AP dispatch, is drafting a $17 billion budget for fiscal 1942 (begins in September 1941). This includes $10 billion for armaments.

Secretary of War Henry Stimson tells President Roosevelt (according to his diary entry of this date):
You cannot build a civilization based upon the questions of religion, which is what our civilization has been based on, and not recognize questions of right and wrong in the dealings between nations.
Ireland: The Irish Air Force has a rare mission when it attempts, and fails, to intercept a Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 which flies over Waterford to Dublin. The plane escapes undamaged.

Vichy France: The Petain government creates a commission for Jewish affairs.

29 December 1940 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Second Great Fire of London
This photo gives a better idea of the damage from the 29 December 1940 raid than most others. "Scene of desolation viewed from St Paul's Cathedral: photograph taken after the raid of 29 December 1940 from the Golden Gallery surmounting the Dome of the Cathedral, and showing the devastated area of burnt and broken buildings. It is mainly the famous booksellers' quarter bounded by Ave Maria Lane and Paternoster Row. The domed building is that of the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey), the four-spired church is St Bartholomew's." © IWM (HU 64317).

American Homefront: President Roosevelt gives the most famous and enduring of his "fireside chats." He begins with the effective rhetorical device of claiming that it is not a fireside chat at all - which implies coziness and warmth - but instead a "talk on national security." That frames the entire speech as not about "them," but about "us," which avoids many awkward questions.

Calling the current European war a "world crisis," Roosevelt calls the Axis "evil forces" and creates one of the great catchphrases of the 20th Century:
We must be the great arsenal of democracy.
He concludes that "I believe that the Axis powers are not going to win this war," and sets forth the agenda:
I have the profound conviction that the American people are now determined to put forth a mightier effort than they have ever yet made to increase our production of all the implements of defense, to meet the threat to our democratic faith. As President of the United States, I call for that national effort. 
Reading or listening to the speech out of context, one could easily assume that the United States is at war and fighting for its life. Instead, the reality is much different: there is a war, but the United States is not part of it, and there is no sign that it ever need be a part of it. However, the thrust of the "Arsenal of Democracy" is clear: the Axis must be defeated, and the United States is going to make that happen. The strategy appears to be, at least for the moment, to build the weapons but let the British and Britain's fighting allies take the casualties. This speech is generally viewed as introducing the concept of "Lend Lease" to the American people, though Roosevelt had used that phrase previously and does not use those words in this address.

Below is a little "behind the scenes" clip which shows how these speeches are created for inclusion in the newsreels: in individual segments. This is much different than the way Winston Churchill, for instance, gives his speeches, in one extended reading; or how Adolf Hitler gives his speeches, standing at a podium and giving a dramatic oration.



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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