Friday, April 7, 2017

April 3, 1941: Convoy SC-26 Destruction

Thursday 3 April 1941

3 April 1941 Hitler Count Teleki
Hitler and Count Teleki - both would commit suicide, Teleki today.

Italian/Greek Campaign: Hitler has made up his mind by 3 April 1941 to attack both Yugoslavia and Greece, and soon, despite many other alternative pathways that might be better in the long run (such as taking up Yugoslavia's apparent willingness to adhere to the Tripartite Pact terms after all). Fuhrer Directive No. 26, issued barely a week after the previous one, is entitled "Cooperation With Out Allies In The Balkans." It sets forth how the newly conquered territories in the Balkans - well, those about to be conquered - will be divvied up amongst Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and, of course, Germany. The directive is not very sexy, focusing on such mundane matters as chains of command and the like. So sure of victory is Hitler that he concludes the directive with a dismissive nod to "the occupation duties of the various countries," as if the campaign itself is but a trifle, a mere bag of shells.

German Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop also is busy preparing for the post-invasion world in the Balkans. He sends Edmund Veesenmayer of the shadowy Dienststelle Ribbentrop - sort of a private Foreign Ministry which Ribbentrop used as a back-door channel during times of turmoil -  to Zagreb. Veesenmayer is there to meet with General Slavko Kvaternik of the Ustaša to sort out who will be doing what after the pesky matter of the Yugoslavian military is brushed aside. The plan is to have Ante Pavelić and the Ustaša rule Croatia after things settle down. Veesenmayer himself is focused on the Balkans and becomes instrumental in persecuting Croatian and Serbian Jewry.

Throughout the Balkans, it is every man for himself. Nobody has a coherent plan, and the overwhelming sentiment is that the German wave is about to come crashing down on everyone. Croatian pilot Captain Vladimir Kren of the Royal Yugoslav Air Force defects to the Germans, telling all he knows so that the Luftwaffe will know how to best coordinate its opening strikes.

Operation Lustre, the British reinforcement of Greece, continues. Convoy ANF-24 from is in the Antikithera Straits when the Luftwaffe spots it. They bomb and sink 10,917 ton munitions ship HMS Northern Prince. Everyone survives, but the cargo is badly needed in Greece. Australian 19th Infantry Brigade arrives at Piraeus.

Yugoslavian General Jankovic meets with Greek General Papagos and British General Wilson in Athens to coordinate strategy.

East African Campaign: Italian Admiral Bonetti at Massawa plans to use his remaining destroyers to bombard Port Sudan in a virtual suicide mission. However, it does not go so well. En route, destroyer Cesare Battisti breaks down. The accompanying Italian destroyers scuttle it. As the Italian ships approach the port, the RAF sends up Swordfish of RAF No. 813 and 824 Squadrons from aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, which happens to be in the harbor. The Swordfish sink destroyers Daniele Manin and Nazario Sauro, while destroyers Tigre and Pantera are disabled by the air attacks and later sunk by HMS Kingston. The incident is notable in another way because, during the night, sloop HMAS Parramatta passes the Italian destroyers (before they are sunk) at close range, but nobody on either side sees the other. That's the reality of war, weird things happen.

On land, the British tighten their grip on Asmara as advanced troops continue down the road toward Massawa.

Italian freighter Urania attempts to escape in the Red Sea from advancing British troops. However, RAF planes disable it, and the crew scuttles the ship off Dahlak Kebir, Eritrea to avoid capture. After the war, the ship is raised for scrap. The RAF also damages Italian patrol boat Acerbi in the Massawa harbor.

Italian authorities in Addis Ababa see the end approaching. The Duke of Aosta opens negotiations.

3 April 1941 Cunningham
"All the Brothers Were Valiant." If it seems as if you see the name "Cunningham" a lot in histories of World War II, you are: the brothers Cunningham led the war at sea and on land in Africa during 1941 (by Strube, 'The Daily Express', April 3, 1941).

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe, perhaps to emphasize that it is still not there and not completely flown off to Bulgaria, attacks Bristol in its first big raid in many days. It sends 94 bombers, of which 76 (some accounts say 86) arrive to make bombing runs. The bombers are from KG 1, KG 26, KG 76, KG 27, KG 54 and KGr 806. The bombers are led to the target by fourteen Heinkel He 111s that are specially equipped with X-Verfahren guided radar. Another group of nine Luftwaffe bombers hit Hull. In both cities, the priorities are docks and factories, and while much damage is done, it is contained and does not cause as many casualties as some raids earlier in the Blitz.

RAF Bomber Command, meanwhile, attacks Brest, where German cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst are in dry dock. The bombers miss the two ships, but hit the Continental Hotel - where many sailors are quartered. Many are killed by the "lucky hit." The RAF also does some minelaying in the Bay of Biscay during the night with 15 planes.

3 April 1941 Swedish freighter Daphne
Swedish freighter Daphne was en route from Newport News to Petsamo carrying coal when U-76 torpedoed and sank it on 3 April 1941.

Battle of the Atlantic: A wolfpack has gathered around Convoy SC 26 in the mid-Atlantic south of Iceland. The U-boats go to work. This is one of those classics of the Battle of the Atlantic, with ships burning left and right, men in the water, U-boats everywhere, and everyone fighting for their lives.

U-73 (Kptlt. Helmut Rosenbaum) torpedoes and sinks three ships:

  • 4313 ton British freighter Alderpool (after being damaged by U-46)
  • 6875 ton British tanker British Viscount
  • 5724 ton British freighter Westpool (35 dead and 8 survivors, sinks quickly because it is carrying scrap iron)
  • 5409 ton Belgian tanker Indier (some claim U-74 sank this, 42 dead).

U-74 (Kptlt. Eitel-Fredrich Kentrat), on its first patrol, sinks two ships and damages a third nearby:

  • 4274 ton Greek freighter Leonidas Z. Cambanis (sunk, 2 dead)
  • 11,402 ton Royal Navy armed merchant cruiser HMS Worcestshire (damaged, 28 dead)

The Worcestshire only gets away because Kptlt. Kentrat runs out of torpedoes.

U-76 (Kptlt. Friedrich von Hippel), in the same vicinity, torpedoes and sinks 1939 ton Finnish collier Daphne, though it apparently is not part of Convoy SC-26 - it just crossed paths with the convoy at the wrong time. During the night, U-76 also sinks 5414 ton British freighter Harbledown (three dead) which most definitely is part of SC-26.

U-98 (Kptlt. Robert Gysae), on its first patrol, torpedoes and sinks:

  • 2467 ton Norwegian freighter Helle (all survive)
  • 5122 ton British freighter Wellcombe (15 dead)

The action surrounding Convoy SC-26 is confused. Some ships are hit multiple times by different U-boats, and exactly when some sinks and by whom is a matter of guesswork, as few in the water struggling for their lives kept a close eye on their watches. In other words, it is a typical Wolfpack attack.

Combined with other attacks in the surrounding days, such as by U-46 on the 2nd, Convoy SC-26 is devastated. The convoy scatters, then reforms later in the day. But the U-boats continue to prowl.

3 April 1941 Belgian tanker Indier
Belgian tanker Indier, sunk with other ships of Convoy SC-26 on 3 April 1941.

The Royal Navy does get one back. British submarine HMS Tigris torpedoes and sinks 5436 ton German tanker Thorn about 100 miles southwest of St. Nazaire in the Bay of Biscay. Thorn has been part of the German supply network in the Atlantic, which so far has operated with little interference. The Royal Navy knows that the German ships and U-boats traverse the Bay of Biscay and lie in wait. Far to the south, German raider Kormoran meets up with another supply ship, the Rudolf Albrecht. The German network of supply ships is the key to successful Kriegsmarine surface operations at sea, but also is their Achilles Heel.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 250 ton British freighter Cairnie southwest of Tod Head. Everyone survives.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 6903 ton British freighter Geddington Court off St. Andrews.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks Royal Navy patrol boat HMS Fortuna in the Irish Sea.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 499 ton British freighter Assuan off Montrose, Scotland. The captain manages to beach the Assuan near Scurdy Ness. The ship later is refloated and taken to Montrose.

British 748 ton coaster Greenawn sinks from unknown causes in the North Sea off Montrose, Scotland. There are Luftwaffe attacks in the area during the day, but also many mines laid by both sides.

Royal Navy patrol boat HMS Bahram sinks when it hits a Luftwaffe IX Air Corps mine in the Humber Estuary. There are 8 deaths and only one survivor.

Royal Navy mine destructor vessel HMS Bushwood gets involved in a collision in the Bristol Channel. Taken to Cardiff, it is back in service by 7 May 1941.

Convoy OB 306 departs from Liverpool.

U-boats U-564 (Kptlt. Reinhard 'Teddy' Suhren) and U-652 (Oberleutnant zur See Georg-Werner Fraatz) are commissioned. U-564 will be the subject of a well-known film showing how U-boats can be resupplied with torpedoes while at sea - it isn't that easy.

3 April 1941 El Rancho Vegas
El Rancho Vegas, the first hotel resort on what would become the Las Vegas Strip, is completed on 3 April 1941. At this time, Las Vegas is just a stop on the Union Pacific Railroad (visible in the distance). You are looking at some mighty pricey real estate - in about 50 years. And, no, Bugsy Siegel did not build it. The hotel will burn to the ground in 1960. Most of this property remains a dirt lot today, with a portion taken up by the Hilton Grand Vacation Club. This is the future corner of Las Vegas Blvd, aka “The Strip,” and Sahara Ave.

Battle of the Mediterranean: With the British 2nd Armoured Division reeling due to its orders to avoid pitched battles, British Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell "goes to the well" again. At the behest of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Wavell sends newly decorated Lieutenant-General Richard O'Connor, the hero of Operation Compass to the headquarters of General Officer Commanding & Military Governor of Cyrenaica Lieutenant General Sir Philip Neame. O'Connor, who is still recovering from earlier experiences in a Cairo hotel, is there to advise Neame, but not take over. He finds a chaotic situation where nobody knows where the Afrika Korps is at any point in time and the armored forces are full retreat.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel in command of the Afrika Korps and flying about from point to point in his handy Fieseler Storch, can't believe his good fortune. The Luftwaffe, scouting ahead, reports that the Via Balbia is desolate for 60 km past Agedabia, with a few British tanks here and there in the desert after they broke down or ran out of fuel. With the British in astonishing flight to the north and northeast, Rommel orders an attack on the British southern flank. He orders 5th Light Division to move out of Marada and join the advance, sending Italian forces to garrison it.

The Luftwaffe's Junkers Ju 87s mount a successful attack on a retreating British column around Antelat/Solluch, losing a Stuka and an escorting Bf 110. Rommel orders Lt. Colonel Gerhard von Schwerin, commanding Special Purposes Regiment No. 200, to lead a spearhead to Ben Gania, and he sets off in the evening. There is enthusiasm and dash in the Afrika Korps that for some reason is sadly lacking at this time on the other side.

Late in the day, Rommel drives to the front and orders reconnaissance troops to make a lightning occupation of Benghazi. Informal intelligence - an Italian priest - is that the British have fled Benghazi. Rommel has every vehicle that isn't actively fighting drive to a supply depot in the rear to get the necessary fuel.

Italian General Gariboldi, supposedly in charge of all Axis forces in North Africa, is nonplussed. He stumbles into the Afrika Korps headquarters at 21:00 demanding to be told what is going on. He remonstrates until midnight with Rommel, demanding to be allowed to give the orders to attack or not. Rommel counters that supplies are in good order and the situation is too fluid to go up the chain of command for every decision. OKW (the German military command) gets wind of the situation and quickly sends Rommel a message authorizing the offensive. While technically the OKW itself doesn't have authority to do this, the message effectively takes the heavy burden of command off Gariboldi's shoulders. From this point forward, Rommel basically does what he wants and tells Gariboldi about it whenever he gets the chance. Since Gariboldi can now, unlike almost all of his peers, go to Mussolini with victories, it is a happy arrangement for everyone.

Malta is relieved when a dozen Hurricanes are successfully flown off of aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal and Argus and make it to the island as part of Operation Winch. However, one Hurricane crashes on landing and is lightly damaged. Off Malta, the Luftwaffe catches Royal Navy minesweeper/high speed launch HMS Abingdon, which has been sent to wait 40 miles off the coast in case any of the planes has to ditch (as as happened on some previous convoys). They hit the Abingdon, but it makes it to port, along with its fellow minesweeper Jade.

Convoy HG 58 departs from Gibraltar, bound for Freetown.

3 April 1941 Count Teleki
Count Teleki's suicide note.

Anglo/German/Hungarian Relations: Following the suicide of pro-English Hungarian Prime Minister Count Pál János Ede Teleki de Szék during the night and his replacement with the pro-German László Bárdossy, Great Britain severs diplomatic relations. Count Teleki's suicide note says in part:
We broke our word, – out of cowardice [...] The nation feels it, and we have thrown away its honor. We have allied ourselves to scoundrels [...] We will become body-snatchers! A nation of trash. I did not hold you back. I am guilty.
The breaking point for Count Teleki apparently was learning that others in the government had secretly permitted German troops to enter the country. There was little that Count Teleki could do, unlike Yugoslavia, the government and military in Hungary is solidly pro-German. Bárdossy, meanwhile, now combines his job of foreign minister with that of prime minister.

There is wild speculation in the British media that Teleki was murdered for opposing Hitler. There is no evidence of that, and the suicide note would seem to contradict that conspiracy theory.

Meanwhile, Wehrmacht troops are pouring across the Hungarian border to take up positions for a move south.

German/Yugoslav Relations: Despite definite indications from the new Yugoslavian government that it is willing to deal with Hitler, the German legation for the most part leaves Belgrade under orders from Foreign Minister Ribbentrop.

Anglo/Soviet Relations: Sir Stafford Cripps, a Socialist who is viewed as a specialist in dealings with the USSR, warns Joseph Stalin (at the behest of Churchill) about Wehrmacht troop movements in Poland that appear oriented toward the Soviet Union.

3 April 1941 Ford Motor Company Pulitzer Prize strike
Ford Motor Company's security forces at the River Rouge plant beating up a striking employee on April 3, 1941. The strike protests the firings of other employees for union organizing. This is how you win a Pulitzer, Detroit News photographer Milton Brooks did (the first Pulitzer Prize for photography). Ford finally will have to recognize the UAW after this strike.

US Military: Rear Admiral John H. Newton departs from Suva, Fiji with his cruiser force and heads for Pearl Harbor. It has been a fantastically successful "show the flag" operation put together at the very last minute, cementing relations with Australia at just the right moment in history and providing a jolt of confidence to a country that feels increasingly threatened and isolated.

In Washington, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold Stark pens and sends out a memorandum to his three fleets (Pacific, Asiatic and Atlantic) expressing confidence in keeping the US fleet at Pearl Harbor. He feels it presence there has a calming effect on Asia.

Iraq: Rashid Ali continues tightening his hold on the government. He has assurances from pro-German Vichy French officials in Syria that they will permit passage of Luftwaffe aircraft to Iraq to support him. These aircraft also could bomb British positions in Iran. However, there remains a large British garrison and RAF contingent at Habbaniyah Field just outside Baghdad that remains to be subdued.

Future History: Hans-Jörg Gudegast is born in Bredenbek, Germany. He emigrates to the USA "with only the money in my pocket" and attends the University of Montana at Missoula. Under the stage name Eric Braeden enters the acting field and plays a variety of roles, usually as a Wehrmacht soldier (as in television series "Combat!") or secret agent (as in "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.). However, he is perhaps best remembered for playing the fictional German Hauptmann (Captain) Hans Dietrich on the TV series The Rat Patrol (1966–1968) - a character that would have been active in the desert on the day that he was born. Eric Braeden appears to be semi-retired from acting as of this writing, but he remains active; Braeden published his autobiography, "I'll Be Damned," with Harper Collins in 2017.

El Rancho Vegas, the first resort hotel (complete with gambling) on what will become the Las Vegas Strip, opens today. After it burns down in 1960, Howard Hughes will buy the property but do nothing with it. While the site of the first hotel on the Strip, it now somewhat incongruously stands almost completely vacant.

And now, a little swing music from Berlin on 3 April 1941.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

April 2, 1941:Rommel Takes Agedabia

Wednesday 2 April 1941

2 April 1941 Fermain
Collier Fermain, sunk today by the Luftwaffe in the English Channel.

Italian/Greek Campaign: The British Operation Lustre has brought over large British Army troop concentrations by 2 April 1941, and more are arriving daily. Major General Sir Bernard Freyberg positions his New Zealand Division on the Aliakmon Line, which follows the river Aliakmon from the Aegean coast around Katerini westwards on the river's south bank. This is as far forward as the British feel may be defensible, but the Greeks prefer a line along the border with Bulgaria.

East African Campaign: The Italians at Massawa know that, with The Indian 5th Infantry Division moving quickly from Asmara toward Massawa, time is short. They send five destroyers (Battisti, Manin, Pantera, Sauro and Tigre) on a one-way mission to attack Port Sudan and then scuttle themselves. The Royal Navy and RAF both have strong forces in the area, so the Italian destroyers face a daunting task in carrying out their mission.

Around this date, British Major General Lewis Heath, commander of the Indian 5th Infantry Division, gets on the telephone and calls Massawa. Italian commander Rear Admiral Mario Bonetti gets on the line and refuses an ultimatum to surrender. Heath also demands that Bonetti not block the harbor with sunken ships, else the British would not protect Italians from natives after the Italian troops are disarmed (which has become a problem recently for the Italians remaining behind in cities to be occupied by the British). Bonetti also refuses this obvious attempt at extortion.

The RAF bombs and sinks two Italian freighters near Dalac Island off Abyssinia: 7669 ton Giuseppe Mazzini and 7099 ton Urania. The British later will salvage these for their use.

2 April 1941 RAF Habbaniya
A Gordon bomber over Iraq operating out of RAF Habbaniya, April 1941.

European Air Operations: The RAF continues attacking Axis shipping off the Dutch coast. In addition, the RAF flies Circus and Rhubarb missions over occupied France. The British are aware that the Luftwaffe is sending units east and wants to take advantage of their absence and perhaps force the Germans to bring some back.

RAF Bomber Command conducts one of its most famous missions. It is a propaganda flight over Holland during which it drops 75,000 bags of Dutch East Indies Tea. Each bag contains about 20 grams (10 oz) of high-quality tea. The bags have tags bearing the Dutch flag and the words, “The Netherlands will rise again. Greetings from the Free Netherlands East Indies. Chins Up.” The Dutch East Indies Teaplanters donated the tea for this purpose. The Dutch News Agency reports the event:
“Never have the Dutch people so gratefully received a gift from the Dutch East Indies, Especially as it is almost impossible to get an ounce of tea in the Dutch shops.”
While undoubtedly a propaganda coup, the tea-raid presents a couple of odd contradictions. One, the British love tea, but Lord Woolton has had to ration it due to its short supply - making a showy expenditure of so much fine tea a slap in the face of British tea drinkers. Second, the British have been adamantly opposed to any US humanitarian aid to Occupied Europe - and then they drop perfectly usable tea on it.

A Hawker Hurricane from RAF No. 504 Squadron shoots down a  He 111 P-2 from 7./KG 55. The P-2 version of the He 111 medium bomber is specially armored and has various other improvements such as extra defensive armament and extra bomb capacity.

2 April 1941 Detroit Free Press
The Detroit Free Press, 2 April 1941. The Ford Motor Company refuses to recognize the United Automobile Workers union, and Ford head of security Harry Bennett has fired eight union workers, causing a walkout.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-boat Command has set up a picket line of 8 U-boats about 500 miles southwest of Iceland and southeast of Greenland. Among the U-boats are U-46 and U-48. As planned, an Allied convoy, in this case SC-26, appears, and the U-boats go to work.

U-46 (Kptlt. Engelbert Endrass) torpedoes and sinks 7000 ton British tanker British Reliance southeast of Greenland. Everybody survives.

Operating in roughly the same region as U-46, U-48 (Kptlt. Herbert Schultze) torpedoes and sinks 9957 ton British refrigerated cargo ship Beaverdale. There are 21 deaths.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Tigris (Lt. Cdr. H.F. Bone) attacks and sinks 5486 ton German armed tanker Thorn about 75 miles (110 km) southwest of St. Nazaire in the Bay of Biscay. The attack is distinguished by the huge amount of effort that Bone puts into the attack: no less than seven torpedoes and gunfire. Tankers are always difficult to sink because of their construction, but that is an inordinate amount of munitions for one medium-sized ship.

The Luftwaffe attacks shipping off St. Abb's Head in Berwickshire, Scotland. The planes sink two Royal Navy minesweeping trawlers, 180 ton HMT Cramond Island and 259 ton HMT Fortuna. Everybody on board the Fortuna, 15 men, perishes, while two perish and three are wounded on the Cramond Island.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 759 ton British collier Fermain in the English Channel off Boulogne. Everyone survives.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 873 ton British tanker Wild Rose about 12 miles (20 km) southeast of Tuskar Light House, County Wexford, Ireland. Towed to Rosslare Harbour and beached, the tanker is later refloated and taken to Dublin for repairs.

British 1908 ton freighter Melrose Abbey hits a mine and sinks north of Aberdeen in the River Ythan. It is later refloated and taken to Aberdeen for repairs.

British coaster Coombe Dingle runs aground at Carnalea, County Down and is written off.

Greek freighter Nestos runs aground in Liverpool Bay and is written off.

German battleship Bismarck is still receiving items for its planned sortie into the Atlantic. Today, it is supplied with two of the four Arado Ar 196 floatplanes that are to be housed in a hangar behind its main superstructure.

Royal Navy minelayer HMS Plover lays minefield ZME 27 in the Irish Sea. It is to lay multiple minefields in the ZME series over the next three weeks.

Convoy OB 305 departs from Liverpool.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Uproar (P 31, Lt. John Kershaw) is commissioned.

2 April 1941 Lisa Sergio of WQXR
WQXR News Commentator Lisa Sergio, April 2, 1941. WQXR broadcasts in FM, and Lisa Sergio is a pioneer female radio news commentator (NYWT&S Collection, Library of Congress).

Battle of the Mediterranean: The Afrika Korps maintains its momentum. When the Germans spot the British heading east around noontime, Lieutenant General Rommel at 13:00 orders the 5th Light Division panzers take Agedabia (Ajdabiya). Rommel also sends one column apiece toward Derna and Tobruk. Tellingly, Rommel only issues these orders verbally, knowing that they are contrary to standing orders not to attack.

After putting up a defense in the morning, the British 2nd Armoured Division withdraw under orders to Antelat about 35 miles (56 km) to the northeast. This leaves Benghazi open to attack.

Despite the stunning Afrika Korps advance, perhaps the most interesting thing that happens during the day is Italian Commander General Gariboldi's reaction to it. Gariboldi previously has forbade further advances until more Wehrmacht and Italian troops arrive. Late in the day, Rommel receives a message from the Commando Supremo:
From messages I have received I take it that your advance continues. This is contrary to what I have ordered. I politely request that you wait for me before you continue the advance.
This rather perfectly encapsulate the state of Italian generalship during World War II.

At sea, Operation Winch begins. This is a resupply of Malta, including a flight of a dozen Hurricanes to be flown off HMS Ark Royal. The Ark Royal is accompanied by battlecruiser Renown and light cruiser Sheffield.

The Luftwaffe attacks Convoy AS 23 in the Aegean off Gavdo Island. The German planes sink 4914 ton Greek freighter Coulouras Xenos and and badly damage 5324 ton British freighter Homefield. The Royal Navy escorts later need to sink the Homefield.  Greek 2747 ton freighter also is damaged by near misses, but makes it to port in Crete. The German planes also damage 6054 ton British freighter Devis of Convoy ANF 24 in the same area.

Two Yugoslavian freighters hit mines and sink off Croatian city Šibenik: 1293 ton freighter Karadjordje and 1726 ton freighter Prestolonaslednik Petar (Star). Everybody on both ships survives.

A convoy of five freighters departs from Naples bound for Tripoli.

2 April 1941 Chrysler Royal 4-door sedan
A 1941 Chrysler Royal 4-Door Sedan. This one survives in Indonesia.

Indian/German Relations: Subhash Chandra Bose, having fled British custody in India, finally reaches Berlin after a circuitous route.

Japanese/Italian/Papal Relations: Visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka visits with Mussolini that the US was trying to initiate a conflict. Matsuoka then visits with Pope Pius XII, and Matsuoka reports to Tokyo:
The Pope took an utterly detached attitude, free of any favoritism regarding the European war, and approached the question from the point of view of a general peace throughout the world.

Propaganda: Lord Haw-Haw, the German radio propagandist who speaks in curiously cultured tones, identifies himself as William Joyce.

2 April 1941 Fort Ord
The Shop Motor Repair building at Fort Ord, California, completed 2 April 1941 (Fort Ord Buildings, Completion Report Pictures.

US Military: Cruiser USS Astoria departs Hawaii for Long Beach, California. It is to be upgraded with quadruple-mount 1.1 in (28 mm)/75 cal anti-aircraft guns and preparations for air-search radar.

German Military: Some sources place the first flight of the Heinkel He 280 jet fighter under its own power today. However, other sources place it on 30 March, where we have put it.

Hungarian Government: Prime Minister Pal Count Teleki de Szek learns that Chief of the General Staff General Werth secretly has agreed to allow Wehrmacht troops into Hungary. Teleki denounces Werth as a traitor and then commits suicide because of his abhorrence of working with Hitler. The new Prime Minister is Foreign Minister Laszlo Bardossy, known to be extremely sympathetic to Germany.

Yugoslavia: The German government basically closes its embassy in Belgrade, reducing it to a skeleton staff and destroying all documents. Its counsellor, Gerhard Feine, reports that the Yugoslavs are having second thoughts about opposing Germany and even about the coup itself. Feine is told to warn members of friendly embassies to seek safety elsewhere.

The Yugoslavian military attaché reports to Prime Minister Simovic that the Germans are to invade on the 6th. Simovic continues to refuse to contemplate military coordination with Great Britain.

Iraq: Rashid Ali consolidates power in Baghdad after his successful coup. British ambassador Sir. Kinahan Cornwallis arrives to a situation vastly changed from when he set out from London.

China: The Japanese 11th Army continues its gradual withdrawal to its bases after the Battle of Shanggkao. The Chinese continue to pressure the Japanese and recover Hsishan, Wanshoukung, and Shihchachieh.

2 April 1941 Hatie McDaniel
Hattie McDaniel (Mrs. Donald Crawford) caught by photographers at the exhibit of the Press Photographers Exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in New York City. 2 April 1941 (© Bettmann/CORBIS).

American Homefront: Harlan County, Kentucky has been the scene of violent Union confrontations throughout the past decade. Today, it explodes into violence once again. On 1 April, miners went on strike due to expiration of a Union contract. Union pickets (United Mine Workers Association) enter the Crummies Creek Company Store at 10:00 today and attempt to purchase a Coca-Cola using cash. The store's manager refuses, citing company policy that only company script is accepted there. There are few other places in mining towns to buy supplies, which is a key element of company control. The Union men refuse to leave without their soft drink, and an altercation ensues (with the particulars disputed by both sides). The store has a machine gun hidden under a butcher's apron, mounted on a meat block, and an employee runs to it and opens fire.

There are four dead and four seriously wounded Union workers, along with a wounded African American bystander and a lightly wounded company worker. The Union charges that the company men opened fire "from the bushes." The Company, meanwhile states that the shooting occurred only after the Union men roughed up the store manager and tried to force him to sign Union "check-off" slips. He also alleges that the striking Union men had .45 pistols and "started trouble." There also are reports of various other assaults on journalists and company men.

Future History: Barret Eugene Hansen is born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Barry, as he becomes known, hangs out with rock band Spirit after earning his master's degree in the '60s, then catches on as an A&R man for Specialty Records. This leads to a radio show for Specialty, which leads to a job with Warner Bros. Records. Barry also writes extensively on the rock scene and does liner notes and other rock-associated tasks. His real love is radio, however, and he develops an on-air persona known as Dr. Demento who plays novelty records. The Dr. Demento Show becomes wildly popular playing offbeat tunes by artists such as Judy Tenuta, Emo Philips. Barnes & Barnes and "Weird Al" Yankovic. Dr. Demento remains on the radio and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in November 2009 and the Comedy Hall of Fame in June 2005.

2 April 1941 Canadian Railways train
Canadian Railways train 3665, oil-fired with wood pilot and stack exhaust deflector. Salmon Arm, April 2, 1941 (Bud Laws Collection).


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

April 1, 1941: Rommel Takes Brega

Tuesday 1 April 1941

1 April 1941 General De Gaulle Wavell
"General Charles de Gaulle with General Sir Archibald Wavell in Cairo, 1 April 1941." © IWM (E 2324).

Italian/Greek Campaign: The Yugoslavs mobilize the military on 1 April 1941 and dissolve the Senate. Hitler demands demobilization and adherence to the Tripartite Pact.

Ante Pavelić, with Mussolini's permission, uses Italian radio facilities in Florence to transmit an appeal to the people in Croatia calling for its liberation from the Belgrade government by the Axis. Croatia is notable for its strong pro-German sentiments, as opposed to the rest of Yugoslavia which favors the Allies.

British CIGS Sir John Dill is in Belgrade discussing joint defense with Yugoslavian Prime Minister Simovic. There is little that Great Britain can offer except promises of future aid whenever it can be made available.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Teleki cooperates with Admiral Horthy and authorizes the mobilization of the Hungarian Army. However, he remains opposed to any military participation by Hungary in attacks on Greece or Yugoslavia.

East African Campaign: The British stampede continues in Eritrea. The Indian 5th Infantry Division, now well past the broken Italian defenses at Keren, advances to Asmara. The Italian 2nd Colonial Division attempts to block the British at Adi Tecesan, which is 35 miles (60 km) from Asmara, but the Indian troops blow through the position. Italian General Nicola Carnimeo then declares Asmara an open city by sending a pair of policemen out with a white flag.

1 April 1941 Vittorio Veneto
Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto enters the Canale Navigabile at Taranto, 1 April 1941. It is heading for the dockyard in Mar Piccolo to repair damage from a torpedo during the Battle of Cape Matapan. Those are 15-inch guns, and next to them are 6 inch guns, with 8.5 inch antiaircraft guns seen along the side.

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe moves several units to Austrian airfields in preparation for Operation Marita. These include elements of JG 27, 54, 77, along with  LG 2  and ZG 26.

Some Luftwaffe planes do remain on the Channel Front. To prove it, Bf 109s strafe a train near Berwick.

Battle of the Atlantic: German cruiser Admiral Scheer completes its journey homeward from Brest to Kiel.

The Luftwaffe attacks Convoy HXM-114 off Smalls in Pembrokeshire. Five ships are hit:

  • 7982 ton British tanker San Conrado (sinks while under tow)
  • 7639 ton Norwegian tanker Hidlefjord (sunk, 29 dead)
  • 7984 ton British tanker Adellan (damaged, taken to Milford Haven)
  • 8955 ton British tanker Chesapeake (makes it to Walton Bay)
  • 9603 ton Norwegian tanker Kaia Knudsen (towed to Milford Haven)
The Luftwaffe attacks Royal Navy destroyer HMS Quorn in the River Medway. There are two near misses that cause some damage.

Swedish 5842 ton freighter Lidingo hits a mine and sinks west of Falsterbo. After the captain beaches it, the Lidingo is towed to Malmo, Sweden.

Two German freighters - 4833 ton Hermonthis and 5619 ton Muenchen - are trying to escape through the British blockade of Callao, Peru when they are spotted by Royal Navy armed merchant cruiser HMS Prince Henry. Both are scuttled by their crews.

A number of other German freighters scuttle themselves in Mexican and South American ports:

  • 1120 ton freighter Cerigo
  • 4323 ton freighter Eisenbach
  • 6310 ton freighter Friesland
  • 5898 ton freighter Leipzig
  • 4351 ton freighter Hameln
  • Freighter Seostris
  • 5578 ton freighter Monserrate.

Italian freighter Himalaya, a refugee from Massawa, makes it to Rio de Janeiro.

Commander-in-chief of the Home Fleet Admiral Sir John Tovey transfers his flag from battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth to newly commissioned King George V.

The German supply system in the Atlantic continues in fine operational form. German tanker Nordmark restocks from German tanker Ill in the Mid-Atlantic.

1 April 1941 British cartoon Strube The Daily Express
The British Navy gives the Italian Fleet a good ironing at Cape Matapan. By Strube, 'The Daily Express', April 1, 1941.

Battle of the Mediterranean: The British, under pressure from the Afrika Korps, withdraw toward Benghazi. Lieutenant General Sir Philip Neame, General Officer Commanding Western Desert Force, also warns the commanders in Benghazi to prepare the city for possible evacuation. The German 5th Light Division, which has a small position within the Mersa Brega (also known simply as Brega) defenses, finds to its soldiers' delight that the British have left. They immediately occupy the town and the surrounding area. Advance units of the division pursue the British east toward the Via Balbia. There is no fighting at all - the British 2nd Armoured Division simply bugs out.

The Luftwaffe aids the Afrika Korps advance, using Stukas to destroy British tanks and trucks. By the end of the day, the advanced German detachments of the 5th Light Division are approaching Agedabia. Italian Libyan Commander Gariboldi, meanwhile, tries to place the breaks on the German advance, sending a letter to Afrika Korps Commander Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel warning of the "strong enemy defense" and the need to wait for "necessary reinforcements." Rommel technically is subordinate to the Italian command in North Africa, but displays a strong tendency to ignore them (and, at times, the Wehrmacht high command as well). The Italians also fail to supply transport planes for Rommel's Gialo operation, so it is postponed again.

Convoys ANF and AG 10 depart from Alexandria bound for Piraeus, while Convoys ASF-22 and AS-23 depart from Piraeus.

An Italian convoy of four troopships departs from Naples bound for Tripoli.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: Royal Navy destroyer Kandahar stops 4188 ton German freighter Bertram Rickmers, which fled from Massawa on 31 March. The crew scuttles the freighter off Gondumiat.

Another German freighter, 7566 ton Lichtenfels, tries to make a run for it from Massawa as well. However, it spots the Royal Navy patrols and has to to return to Massawa.

Convoy BS-22 departs from Suez.

Anglo/Yugoslavian Relations: While things have changed in Belgrade following the March 27 coup, they haven't changed that much. The new Yugoslavian Prime Minister, General Dušan Simović, is under no illusions about the country's military power. British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, who had been on his way back to Britain when the coup took place, is now back in Athens and requests a meeting there with Simović. However, Simović is a former chief of the general staff and is well aware of the danger facing the country. He turns down the meeting so as not to provoke the Germans into a quick invasion.

Italian/Japanese Relations: Japanese Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka moves on from Berlin to Rome. He meets separately with King Victor Emmanuel III and Mussolini.

US/Mexican Relations: The US and Mexico reach an agreement in Washington for joint air defense. Each can use the other's airfields.

Anglo/US Relations: British Far East Commander RAF Air Marshal Brooke-Popham flies to Manila for consultations with US commanders General MacArthur and Admiral Hart.

1 April 1941 German spy Jan Willem Ter Braak
The body of Jan Willem Ter Braak, as found in an air raid shelter on 1 April 1941.

Spy Stuff: A boy finds the body of Jan Willem (or Wilhelm) Ter Braak in a Cambridge, England air raid shelter. Ter Braak is a German (actual name Engelbertus Fukken) spy who parachuted into Buckinghamshire on 2 November 1940. He had committed suicide using an Abwehr-issue pistol. The reason for his suicide requires speculation, but he had run out of money and faced eviction from his flat. He also had reason to suspect that British Intelligence was closing in on him. The British claim that they had learned about his spying and were waiting for him back at his room.

German Military: Hans-Joachim Marseille receives a promotion to Leutnant. His unit, JG 27, is scheduled to head east along with many other formations to aid in Operation Marita.

Werner Haase, Hitler's deputy personal physician, joins the SS.

US Military: Rear Admiral John H. Newton, fresh off his successful visit to Australia with his cruiser squadron, arrives at Suva, Fiji.

The US Navy takes over artificial Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Built for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, Treasure Island will be turned into Naval Station Treasure Island.

Iraq: Raschid Ali al-Gaylani and his military conspirators, known as the "Brethren of the Golden Squares," seize power. Ali initially announces that he is the Chief of the National Defence Government, then becomes Prime Minister. This is in part due to German support and funding, while regent 'Abd al-Ilah of Hejaz moves on from the British gunboat where he taken refuge to Amman, Jordan. The Germans have great hopes to use the uprising as a way to undermine British power throughout the Middle East. The British, meanwhile, have a large air base at Habbaniya and don't intend to leave. Thus, the stage is set for an epic clash in an unexpected theater operations.

1 April 1941 Plymouth ad
A Plymouth advertisement, April 1941.

Antarctic: US Interior Department ships Bear and North Star depart Punta Arenas, Chile. They carry the crew from Admiral Byrd's Little America outpost in Antarctica. North Star heads up the west coast, while Bear heads up the east coast.

Japan: Rice is rationed. While Japan is not at war, it greatly depends upon fertilizers based upon phosphate. The German raider Komet attack on Nauru of 27 December 1940 crippled phosphate exports upon which Japan greatly relied. Even though shipments have resumed recently, they are at greatly reduced levels. Japan thus has run short of fertilizer, which has strained its relations with Germany.

China: The Japanese 11th Army continues withdrawing under pressure after the Battle of Shangkao. The Chinese recover Kaoan and Hsiangfukuan.

American Homefront: The Ford Motor Company has fired several union members at its River Rouge plant in Michigan. The other workers go out on strike.

Joseph Creamer, owner/operator of Station W71NY of New York City signs the first contract for advertising on a commercial FM station. This is a big change for the radio industry, as advertisers to this point have felt that it was not worthwhile to advertise on FM.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

March 31, 1941: Cookie Bombs

Monday 31 March 1941

31 March 1941 Cookie Bomb Wellington
Loading a Cookie bomb on a Wellington for the raid on Emden, 31 March 1941.

Italian/Greek Campaign: The front in Albania is quiet on 31 March 1941. The RAF raids Italian road convoys, while the Greeks claim some minor successes in the hills along the approaches to the port of Valona.

Germany and Yugoslavia sever diplomatic relations following the pro-British coup of 27 March.

British CIGS General John Dill is in Belgrade for discussions of joint defense with the Yugoslav government.

East African Campaign: The Italians and Germans know that the end is near for Massawa due to the collapse of the defenses at Keren. After dark, three (Leone, Pantera and Tigre) of the last six destroyers there put to sea. Their intent is to raid the Gulf of Suez and then scuttle themselves. However, one of the destroyers, Leone, runs aground in the dark shortly after dark, cancelling the operation. Since the destroyer cannot be recovered quickly, the other two destroyers sink the Leone, then return to Massawa.

The Indian 9th Infantry Brigade takes Teclesan. This is on the road to Asmara.

31 March 1941 Cookie bomb Emden
The Cookie bomb (upper left) falling on Emden, 31 March 1941.

European Air Operations: After dark, the RAF raids Emden. While Emden is a favorite RAF target, this is an unusual raid. It includes the first use of a 4000 lb (1800 kg) high capacity (meaning it is 75% amatol rather than 50%) bomb. A four-engine Wellington bomber carries the massive bomb. The common name for this bomb is "Cookie." The Cookie bombs are dropped in conjunction with incendiaries, the intention being to create debris conducive to the creation of a firestorm. The Luftwaffe also drops large bombs like this, so the RAF is simply catching up.

RAF Bomber Command also attacks shipping off Le Havre, continuing its focus on Axis shipping. Another group of RAF aircraft attack shipping off the Frisian Islands. Bremen also receives attention.

The Luftwaffe sends 47 bombers to attack Hull, dropping 39 tons of high explosives and 22,688 incendiaries. The docks are hit, along with the police station and an infirmary. Estimates are that the raid destroys 500 houses and damages 2000 more. There are 44 deaths and 72 badly wounded.

The early part of the month featured several sharp raids on England. There are 4259 civilian deaths and 5557 injured. Many children have returned to the cities after a quiet period earlier in the year, and 598 of them perish during March.

31 March 1941 Cookie bomb
Dropping a Cookie bomb.

Battle of the Atlantic: Following Adolf Hitler's February order to form an air command to support the Kriegsmarine in the Atlantic, the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) forms the Fliegerführer Atlantik. This comes under the overall jurisdiction of Field Marshal Hugo Sperrle at Luftflotte 3. Martin Harlinghausen is the unit's first commander. The Fliegerführer Atlantik is allocated KG 40 and some units at various ports along the coast. At this time, it has an establishment of 21 Fw 200s, 26 He 111s, 24 Heinkel He 115s, and a mixed force of Messerschmitt Bf 110s and Junkers Ju 88s, numbering 12 aircraft. While the Condors are effective, the command never has aircraft with the proper capabilities, or sufficient numbers of any aircraft, to fully accomplish its mission.

U-46 (Kptlt. Engelbert Endrass) torpedoes and sinks 8714 ton Swedish tanker Castor southeast of Greenland. There are 15 deaths.

The Luftwaffe attacks 208 ton British trawler Ontario southwest of the Faroe Islands. They sink it, but the entire crew survives.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 182 ton British trawler Rattray a couple of miles southeast of Hook Point, County Wexford, Ireland. The Rattray makes it to port.

Royal Navy 247 ton minesweeping trawler HMT Lord Selborne hits a mine and sinks a few miles off Spurn Head Port War Signal Station. There are 17 deaths.

British 76 ton steam drifter Helpmate sinks off Newlyn, Cornwall. There is no known cause.

The German prize crews aboard Norwegian whalers Star XIX and XXIV scuttle their ships rather than allow them to fall into the hands of approaching Royal Navy warships. They were captured by German raider Pinguin early in the year.

The Italian crew of 6072 ton Italian freighter Fella scuttles the ship at Punta Arenas, Costa Rica. Another ship at Punta Arenas, German freighter Eisenach, also is scuttled. The same fate befalls 5169 ton Italian tanker Jole Fassio and 6205 ton tanker Trottiera at Puerto Cabello.

Shipping losses for March are high, but so are U-boat losses:
  • Atlantic: 136 Allied ships sunk, 517,551 tons 
  • Elsewhere: 3 Allied ships sunk, 12,155 tons
Axis losses are:
  • Mediterranean: 10 ships, 30,536 tons
  • U-boats: 5 or 6
Sinkings by U-boat rise from 196k tons in February to 243k in March, while the Luftwaffe total also increases from 89k to 113k. The other categories also show large increases, with surface raider sinkings increasing from 89k tons to 139k, and mines accounting for 16k tons in February and 24k tons in March. Overall, Allied ship sinkings rise from 372k tons to 475k tons. Overall, the figures alone suggest that it is a great month for the German blockade.

However - and it is a huge however - the U-boat fleet losses are among the worst of the war so far. Three top U-boat commanders - Schepke, Prien and Kretschmer - leave the scene permanently. Because the "bench" of U-boat commanders is very thin, these are serious losses which greatly reduce the U-boats' effectiveness.

Another issue for the Germans is that their top surface raiders - heavy cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau - are now in port and likely not to return to action for some time. However, the Kriegsmarine is working up battleships Tirpitz and Bismarck, which the German hope will tilt the Battle of the Atlantic further in their favor later in 1941.

Three Royal Navy destroyers (Icarus, Impulsive and Intrepid) lay minefield GZ in the English Channel.

Convoy HX 118 departs from Halifax.

Royal Navy battleship HMS Prince of Wales is commissioned and HMS Howe is completed.

US submarine USS Mackerel (SS 204, Lt. John F. Davidson) is commissioned.

U-331 (Oberleutnant zur See Freiherr von Tiesenhausen) is commissioned.

31 March 1941 Afrika Corps tanks
Afrika Korps panzers and scout vehicles on the road to Mersa Brega, 31 March 1941.

Battle of the Mediterranean: At 07:45, the Afrika Korps launches the next stage of its offensive, sending 50 tanks and taking part of the defenses at Mersa Brega. The Afrika Korps takes Ajdabiya. The British lose numerous armored cars and light tanks. This attack is into the "Mersa El Brega Gap," an area between the coast and desert which is prime tank country.

The British 2nd Armoured Division of XIII Corps is poorly sited in the area and its units are quickly overrun or sent packing. The attack features the 5th Light Division, the 5th Panzer Regiment, and two Italian divisions, Ariete and Brescia. Ariete Division sends its reinforced 12th Bersaglieri battalion into the heights north of Mersa Brega. The British counterattack but are beaten off, and the Italian air force attacks the British around Agedabia and Mersa Brega.

This attack is an unusual example of how British top secret Ultra intelligence can work against them. The British have been decoding messages from Berlin which effectively have ordered Lieutenant General Rommel not to attack until he has all of his projected forces assembled. This is not supposed to be the case until May. However, Rommel has decided on his own initiative to attack, confounding the British, who expected him to wait.

Rommel has other good news: elements of the 15th Panzer Division begin to arrive in Tripoli.

Italian submarine Ambra attacks British convoy GA 8 south of Crete. It torpedoes and sinks Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Bonaventure, but misses Australian destroyer HMAS Stuart. There are 310 survivors and about 139 deaths on the Bonaventure.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Rorqual (Lt. Commander Dewhurst) torpedoes and sinks Italian submarine HMS Pier Capponi south of Stromboli.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Upright (Lt. E. D. Norman) torpedoes and damages 1927 ton German freighter Galilea off Tripoli. Towed to port, the Galilea is beached and never repaired. the retreating Germans destroy the hulk on 20 January 1943 during the retreat from Tripoli.

The Italians seize 1397 ton Yugoslavian freighter Una when the ship makes port at Genoa.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: Captain Rogge of German raider Atlantis puts a prize crew aboard captured British freighter Speybank, taken in late January, and sends it to France.

POWs: British Army Private Laurence Arthur Coe of the Army Dental Corps escapes from a German POW camp and arrives in Switzerland. He will be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, as announced in the the Second Supplement to The London Gazette, 18 March 1941. Coe is the first escapee from a German POW camp (there already has been at least one German escapee from British captivity, Franz Xaver Baron von Werra).

31 March 1941 Japanese heavy cruiser Myoko
Japanese Navy heavy cruiser Myōkō, 31 March 1941.

US Military: Maj. Gen. Frederick Martin and Rear Adm. Patrick Bellinger, the air defense officers of the Army and Navy, submit a report to Admiral Husband Kimmel (CINCPAC) and General Walter Short, the commanders of naval and ground forces in Hawaii. The report states that there is a likelihood of a Japanese air attack on US forces on Oahu, with the greatest likelihood that such an attack would take place on a Saturday or Sunday at dawn.

At around this time - the exact date is unknown, but is in the final week of March 1941 - Captain Ellis M. Zacharias calls upon Admiral Kimmel (this is according to Zacharias' later testimony). Zacharias is the District Intelligence Officer at the 11th Naval District in San Diego, and has extremely good contacts within the Japanese military. Zacharias tells Kimmel that a Japanese attack:
would begin with an air attack on our fleet on a weekend and probably on a Sunday morning; [also] the attack would be for the purpose of disabling four battleships.
Zacharias predicts that the Japanese would use aircraft carriers operating north of Hawaii due to the direction of prevailing winds. He recommends a standing "daily patrol out to 500 miles." Kimmels demurs, saying that he does not have the aircraft (which is true), to which Zacharias responds:
Well, Admiral, you better get them because that is what is coming.
If anyone is to be trusted with this kind of warning, it is an intelligence officer such as Zacharia. However, Kimmel later testifies that he has no recollection of the meeting, and a third person at the meeting (Capt. W. W. "Poco" Smith) has a completely different recollection of what was discussed. Zacharias is known, however, to have issued similar warnings to others well before 7 December 1941. Zacharias is a controversial historical figure who elicits strong reactions.

Lt. Colonel William Lee becomes the commander of the Provisional Parachute Group at Fort Benning.

German Military: The OKH completes the first draft of the infamous Commissar Order discussed by Adolf Hitler on the 30th at the Reich Chancellery.

Hungarian Government: There is dissension within the Hungarian government. Admiral Horthy has told Hitler that Hungarian forces will contribute to the attack on Yugoslavia. However, Prime Minister Count Teleki disagrees.

Greenland: USCGC Cayuga (CGC-54) makes port at Godthaab, Greenland. It sailed on 17 March 1941 from Boston carrying the South Greenland Survey Expedition. The intent of the Expedition is to locate and recommend locations for various types of installations, including airfields, seaplane bases, weather stations and radio facilities. Cayuga is projected to stay in Greenland until relieved.

Iraq: Crown Prince and Regent of Iraq 'Abd al-Ilah flees Baghdad amidst rumors of a coup d'état. He first takes shelter aboard Royal Navy gunboat Cockchafter, then goes to Amman, Jordan as a guest of Prime Minister Nuri as-Said. He is replaced as regent by  Sherif Sharaf. Sherif Sharaf.

American Homefront: The US Supreme Court decides Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569 (1941). The Court holds that a New Hampshire state statute prohibiting unlicensed parades does not violate the First Amendment rights of Jehovah's Witnesses who staged a march in town without a permit. This decision allows local governments to regulate competing uses of public forums using a reasonable permit scheme tailored to the public interest.

31 March 1941 Japanese destroyer Hagikaze
Destroyer Hagikaze, the seventeenth ship of the Kagero-class, 31 March 1941.


Monday, April 3, 2017

March 30, 1941: Commissar Order

Sunday 30 March 1941

30 March 1941 Bristol Blenheim crashlanded
Bristol Blenheim TR-A of RAF No. 59 Squadron at RAF Hawkinge following the attack on shipping off Calais on 30 March 1941 (Photo by crew member Sgt. Len Hunt - from the book "Bristol Blenheim - Theo Boiten"').

Italian/Greek Campaign: The action at the Albanian front is desultory on 30 March 1941, with artillery exchanges but very little movement on the ground. As has been the case for several days, the main action is of the diplomatic variety. This activity necessarily concerns the fate of Yugoslavia, as nobody expects the Allies to be able to defend the long border stretching from Bulgaria to Albania. Thus, if the Wehrmacht invades Yugoslavia as well as Greece, the fate of both Yugoslavia and Greece depends upon the ability of the Yugoslav military as much as anything else.

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Momčilo Ninčić summons German ambassador Viktor von Heeren. Ninčić has a statement indicating that Yugoslavia will honor its international agreements, including the Tripartite Pact. Von Heeren prepares to send the diplomatic note on to Berlin when he receives instructions from Berlin to avoid any contact with Yugoslavian officials and to return to Berlin. It is unclear if von Heeren ever delivers the message, and Ribbentrop certainly never replies to it.

The Yugoslav Army begins deploying troops to the frontiers.

Deputy chief of the German General Staff (Oberquartiermeister I) Lieutenant General Friedrich Paulus arrives in Budapest for discussions with the Hungarian chief of staff. The chief of staff agrees to attack Yugoslavia. There is some confusion at the highest levels of the government, as Admiral Horthy approves of the attack, but Prime Minister Teleki is out of the loop entirely.

East African Campaign: General Lewis Heath's 5th Indian Infantry Division continues to pursue the fleeing Italian troops toward the port of Massawa. The 4th Indian Infantry Division has been redirected to Port Sudan for shipment to Port Sudan - showing the amount of confidence that Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell has in a single division's ability to subdue the port's garrison.

The Italians in Massawa realize the fate awaiting them. Italian 7565 ton freighter Piave makes a run for it and heads for Assab.

In Addis Ababa, the Italian commander, the Duke of Aosta, also realizes what is happening. He messages Rome that he will resist for as long as he can.

30 March 1941 Hawker Hurricane
Pilot Officer L.W. Stevens in his Hawker Hurricane during the Battle of Britain. While flying with RAF No. 145 Squadron, Stevens is KIA 30 March 1941. Photo from: "The Battle of Britain" Author: T.C.G.James.

European Air Operations: The British have learned that German heavy cruisers are in Brest following their very successful Operation Berlin. After dark, RAF Bomber Command sends 109 bombers to pay them a visit. They are both in dry dock, and neither is hit. Another force of 3 bombers based at Thorney Island raids shipping off Calais at 16:30.

The RAF loses at least one bomber during the Calais raid, TR-A of RAF No. 59 Squadron, which makes it back to RAF Hawkinge and crash-lands after losing hydraulics and throttle control. The crew survives, though two are wounded, one very seriously. The RAF also loses at least one Hawker Hurricane.

The Luftwaffe continues with its recent pattern of scattered raids by single planes. A Spitfire of RAF No. 41 Squadron shoots down a Junkers Ju 88 which lands at Wilton Moor, Eston, Yorkshire during the afternoon. All three Luftwaffe crew perish.

30 March 1941 USS Gar USS Grampus
USS Gar, USS Grampus in the background, 30 March 1941. Photo courtesy of The US Navy Submarine Force Museum.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-69 (Kptlt. Jost Metzler), on its second patrol out of Lorient, is southwest of Iceland when it spots and sinks 3759 ton British freighter Coultarn. There are three deaths.

U-124 (Kptlt. Georg-Wilhelm Schulz), on her fourth patrol and in the vicinity of the Cape Verde Islands, torpedoes and sinks 3767 ton British freighter/passenger ship Umona. There are 100 deaths, including 15 passengers. The Umona was carrying, among other things, jam, maize and similar goods that are in short supply in England.

British 210 ton trawler Nisus disappears near the Faroe Islands. There are many British minefields in the area, and it is a favored hunting ground for the Luftwaffe.

Dutch coaster Celebes disappears during a trip from Liverpool to Falmouth.

Royal Navy anti-aircraft ship Alynbank is back in action after repairs to its collision damage of 23 December 1940.

Convoy OB 304 departs Liverpool, Convoy SC 27 departs from Halifax.

30 March 1941 USS Gar USS Grampus
USS Gar, with USS Grampus in the background, 30 March 1941. Photo courtesy of The US Navy Submarine Force Museum.

Battle of the Mediterranean: General Rommel is ready to get moving. Since he does not have orders from OKH to attack, he gives his directives verbally. He tells 5th Light Division to attack Mersa Brega in the morning. The 5th Light has had patrols out and reports that it captured an armored car. The British 2nd Armoured Division defends Mersa Brega. Rommel is encouraged by recent skirmishes, including the capture of El Agheila, and also wants to advance to the Jebel Achdar (Green Mountain) south of Benghazi because it is a rare source of potable water in the desert.

The RAF raids Tripoli in the early morning hours, causing only slight damage. The Luftwaffe also is in action, claiming to have destroyed an armored car, self-propelled gun and tanker.

The damaged freighter Ruhr, carrying men and vehicles for the Afrika Corps, is towed back to Sicily. Troop casualties on it are reportedly 30 men. The rest of the ships of 15th Naval Transport Squadron accompanying it are in Tripoli at 09:00.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Rorqual (Lt. Commander Dewhurst) torpedoes and sinks 3645 ton German freighter Laura Corrado about 40 miles (70 km) north of Trapani, Sicily.

The Vichy French send a convoy of six freighters, escorted by destroyer Simoun, from Casablanca back into the Mediterranean. This, of course, requires passage through the Straits of Gibraltar. The Royal Navy has had conflicting views on how to handle such transits in the past, leading to at least one court-martial. This time, the Royal Navy sends out a large force led by light cruiser HMS Sheffield to intercept the French. This is Operation Ration by Force H.

The French ships pass under the guns of their forces at Nemours, and the British are unable to intercept the convoy when the French open fire. On their way back, the Royal Navy ships are attacked by French aircraft. Sheffield is damaged by a near miss and destroyer HMS Forester is hit and requires four weeks of repairs.

Italian submarine Dagabur attacks cruiser HMS Bonaventure escorting Convoy GA-8 south of Crete, but misses.

The victorious Royal Navy fleet, led by battleships HMS Barham, Valiant and Warship and aircraft carrier Formidable, arrives back at Alexandria around sunset.

At Malta, the Luftwaffe sends four Junkers Ju 88 bombers which bomb Ta Qali airfield. One Hurricane on the ground is slightly damaged, but overall it is an unsuccessful mission. Neither side loses any planes.

30 March 1941 Camp Hulen Texas
Camp Hulen, Palacios, Texas. View of the 300,000 elevated water tank. 30 March 1941 at 14:00. Camp Hulen is named after Major General John A. Hulen, who suggested the spot in the 1920s due to the availability of water.

US/Anglo Relations: In keeping with the expressed desires of English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the US Navy seizes 63 ships (26 Italian, 35 Danish and 2 German) interned in US ports. Over 900 Axis sailors (850 Italian, 63 German) are taken into custody. Some of the ships carry valuable cargo. A final decision has yet to be made whether to use them in North Atlantic convoy runs to Great Britain. The decision to seize the ships is a consequence of the recent ABC-1 Conference between US and British military leaders in Washington, D.C.

As part of Operation Fish, heavy cruiser USS Vincennes (CA-44) departs Simonstown (Cape Town) carrying gold bullion being used by Great Britain to pay for war supplies. Its destination is New York.

Visiting Australian Prime Minister Menzies note that Churchill, elated by recent victories, has been communicating with President Roosevelt. Menzies, never one to mince words in his private diary, writes:
Great news of naval victory in Mediterranean at which Winston sends off cables to Roosevelt.... What a genius the man has. He has maintained by cable and letter the most easy and informal correspondence with Roosevelt; always treating him as a friend and ally, and also U.S.A - 'Don't you think we could do so and so.' Result, F.D.R. has passed into the position of an ally without perhaps realising how some of the steps have come about.
While this entry is highly flattering of Churchill, it is not so high-minded about President Roosevelt.

Spy Stuff: Churchill learns through "sources" that the Wehrmacht has redirected three panzer divisions from Romania, thence to Southern Poland, and then further south. There, they will participate in the invasion of Yugoslavia. This crystallizes the belief in Churchill's mind that a German invasion of the Soviet Union is next on Hitler's list - after he takes care of Greece and Yugoslavia. The source of Churchill's knowledge is poor practices by a German Lorenz cipher machine operator, who sends the same 4000-character message twice.

30 March 1941 USS Barnett
USS Barnett (AP-11) McCawley-class attack transport off the Norfolk Navy Yard on 30 March 1941 (Photo No. 19-N-23945, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command).

German Military: Adolf Hitler holds a private meeting in the Cabinet Room of the Chancellery in Berlin with about 250 top leaders of the Wehrmacht, including Colonel General Franz Halder, Field Marshal von Bock and General Hermann Hoth, all of whom take fairly thorough notes or immediately write down their recollections. It is a fairly remarkable meeting, with issues discussed that will dramatically influence the Operation Barbarossa campaign.

Hitler directs that Army Group Center's mission was to head due east to the Dneiper River, and only then head north. Moscow, he casually mentions, is "absolutely irrelevant." This directly contradicts a very strong body of opinion among the men to whom he is speaking. They feel that Moscow is of the utmost importance as the entrance of the land bridge to Asia and the center of Soviet life (including the focus of the entire railway and road system). Nobody challenges Hitler on this strategy, but some in the room will make their own contrary views known eventually - and act on those views.

Hitler does not think the campaign will be much trouble. He thinks it will all be over by fall, declaring:
We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.
Moving from the specific to the general, Hitler remarks on the ultimate objective of the campaign. It is not just the conquest of the Soviet Union, but the "eradication" of Communism itself "for all time." To do this, he authorizes "liquidation of the Bolshevik commissars and the Communist intelligentsia." As recorded by Halder, Hitler says:
The war against Russia cannot be considered in a knightly fashion; the struggle is one of ideological and racial differences and will have to be conducted with unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness.... The commissars are the bearers of ideologies directly opposed to National Socialism. Therefore the commissars will be liquidated. German soldiers guilty of breaking international law... will be excused.
John Keegan, The Second World War (Hutchinson, 1989), page 186. The liquidations would be carried out by SS Einsatzgruppen following behind the fighting troops.

After being translated into an official OKW order, this directive becomes known as the "Commissar Order." As Hitler indicates himself (according to the notes), it is illegal under the terms of the Geneva Convention of 1929. Some will argue the Convention does not apply to the Soviet Union because the USSR never ratified the Convention (though the previous Russian government had). Article 82 of the Geneva Convention, however, states:
In case, in time of war, one of the belligerents is not a party to the Convention, its provisions shall nevertheless remain in force as between the belligerents who are parties thereto.
Thus, even if the USSR was not a party to the Geneva Convention, Germany, as a signatory at least arguably was bound to follow it (though, again, some will argue that it need be followed only in cases where both opposing governments, and not just one, have ratified it). The Geneva Convention, of course, forbids exterminating entire classes of captives. The OKW will begin working up drafts of this order quickly.

Luftwaffe jet prototype Heinkel He-280 makes its maiden flight under its own power under the command of test pilot Fritz Schäfer. It features tricycle landing gear and a compressed-air ejection seat. The Luftwaffe has expressed little interest in the plane, preferring to focus on other designs, so Ernst Heinkel has been continuing with the plane's development on his own initiative. The main holdup is the engine, the HeS 8, which has been behind schedule. On the bright side, the engines burn inexpensive kerosene. The Luftwaffe, specifically RLM development chief Ernst Udet, remains uninterested.

30 March 1941 Heinkel He 280 jet fighter
The Heinkel He 280.

US Military: Eight B-18 Bolo bombers of the USAAC 73rd Bombardment Squadron arrive at Elmendorf Field, Anchorage, Alaska. This is part of a slow but steady buildup of a US military presence in Alaska (not yet a US State); they are the first bombers to be based in Alaska.

First flight of the Vultee A-31 Vengeance prototype V-72 dive bomber. It takes place at Vultee's factory at Downey, California. The British Purchasing Commission, in need of a dive bomber, already has placed orders for 300 of them. The plane is well behind schedule, as delivers originally were scheduled to begin in October 1940.

Yugoslavia: With Belgrade in an uproar after the recent bloodless coup, Italian and German nationals have left.

Future History: Graeme Charles Edge is born today in Rochester, Staffordshire, England. He becomes a founding member of rock group Moody Blues alongside Denny Laine, Clint Warwick, Mike Pinder, and Ray Thomas. As of this writing, Edge  is the only remaining original member of The Moody Blues still performing in the band.

30 March 1941 Heinkel He 280 jet fighter
The Heinkel He-280.