Wednesday, January 11, 2017

January 10, 1941: Malta Convoy Devastation

Friday 10 January 1941

10 January 1941 Italian torpedo bomber Savoia SM 79
An Italian Savoia SM79 torpedo bomber in action.
Italian/Greek Campaign: The Italians pull out of Klisura Pass on 10 January 1941, handing it to the Greeks. Well, not all of the Italians; some of them are encircled and will become Greek POWs. The Toscana Division, which marched 24-hours straight to run into the battle without preparation or rest, is devastated. The Julia Division which has been holding the pass, however, retreats in reasonably good order. The Cretan 5th Division of II Corps leads the Greek victory.

The capture of the pass has been a Greek priority due to the access it provides to the key Italian port of Valona. Expectations soar that the Greeks can now storm down and take the port. British Middle East Commander in Chief Archibald Wavell sends Greek Commander in Chief a congratulatory telegram. The Italians do not retreat very far, however, and the Greeks experience great difficulty in exploiting this success.

European Air Operations: The "Circus" operations begin. The British launch a large daylight raid over the Pas de Calais. The tables now have turned: rather than the Luftwaffe trying to entice the RAF fighters into battle, now the RAF tries to entice the Bf 109s into the air. About 72 RAF fighters and a tiny force of six Blenheim bombers target an ammunition dump south of Calais. After dark, Bomber Command hits Brest, where Kriegsmarine cruiser Admiral Hipper continues to linger.

After dark, the Luftwaffe sends 150 bombers against Portsmouth. They drop 50,000 incendiaries, and despite increased British efforts to extinguish them quickly, over two dozen large fires destroy large swathes of the working-class sections of the city and six churches. The historic Guildhall is hit and the fires melt its copper cupola. Aside from the bomb damage, there are 171 deaths and 430 injured.

Battle of the Atlantic: The Luftwaffe (Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor of KG 40) attacks Convoy SL 62 in the Atlantic 240 km west of County Galway. They sink 3677-ton Norwegian iron ore freighter Austvard. There are 23 deaths and only 5 survivors.

Royal Navy patrol ship HMS Maron intercepts Vichy French 3178 ton freighter Cantal. The Maron sends the captured ship to Gibraltar.

British 9683 ton freighter Middlesex hits a mine just off Flat Holm Island (south of Cardiff in the Bristol Channel) and sinks. Everybody survives.

Royal Navy cruiser HMS Adventure lays minefield ZME 14 in St. George's Channel.

In Operation Monsoon, Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Furious flies off 39 Hurricanes and 9 Fulmars to Takoradi, Ghana.

German tanker Nordmark and supply ship Eurofeld rendezvous in the Atlantic.

Convoy OB 272 departs from Liverpool, Convoy FN 380 departs from Southend, Convoy FS 385 departs from Methil, Convoy SL 62 and SLS 62 departs from Freetown, Convoy BS 12B departs from Suez.

U-560 is launched.

10 January 1941 HMS Gallant
HMS Gallant in Malta Harbor after having its bows blown off.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The Royal Navy's luck with its Malta convoys finally runs out despite the fact that Convoy MW 5 1/2 makes it to Grand Harbour without any damage (and turns around and leaves in under four hours) and Convoy ME 6 departs from there without incident.

While the Italian air force remains largely ineffective, the German Luftwaffe now is around to generate some real results. The ships of British Operation Excess reach the Sicilian Strait, and that provides a target that is just too tempting to ignore. Crack Luftwaffe unit Fliegerkorps X, now based on Sicily and with pilots specially trained for service on unfinished aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin, sends 30 Junkers Ju 87 Stukas against the warships passing from west to east just south of Malta. They illustrate what the Italians could have been accomplishing all along. The order from Oberstleutnant Karl Christ, Kommodore of the Stukagruppen:
The Illustrious has got to be sunk.
The Stukas are successful in finding and bombing the brand-new Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious. It is part of Force A, and the Stukas hit it half a dozen times; they also badly damage cruiser HMS Southampton, but the Illustrious is the prize.

The Axis operation is clever, with two Savoia SM79 torpedo bombers sent first to draw off the defending fighters and disrupt the formation. After that, the Stukas come on in successive waves that last into the late afternoon. The Illustrious has 200 casualties (83-125 deaths, accounts vary) and, with her steering wrecked, barely makes it to nearby Malta with blazing fires and a pronounced list caused in part by all the water used to fight the fires. Captain Boyd on the Illustrious even has to hoist the ominous flag signal, "I am not under control." However, the engines are carefully controlled to keep the carrier on course, and it is able to make 17 knots. The RAF also loses five Swordfish and five Fulmars in the attack. The fires on the Illustrious take another four hours to put out after the carrier makes port around 22:15.

The Royal Navy's problems do not end there. Destroyer HMS Gallant hits a mine about 120 miles west of Malta, which blows off her entire bows all the way back to the bridge. There are 58 deaths, 25 other casualties, and 85 crew survive. After being towed back to Grand Harbor stern-first, the Gallant is written off and her remaining guns and equipment used in other ships.

Battleships HMS Warspite and Valiant also receive minor damage, with on dead and two wounded on the latter. An Italian submarine, the Settimo, attacks the warships, but without success.

The Italians also sortie, but with less success than the Germans. Italian torpedo boats attack the Operation Excess ships in the Sicilian Narrows off Cape Bon. The Italians only lose one of their own, torpedo boat Vega. In fighting off the Italian attack, however, Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Bonaventure uses up 75% of its ammunition and sustains one death and four other casualties (one of whom later also perishes). Italian torpedo boat Circe barely gets away with splinter damage.

On land, the RAF bombs Italian airfields at Benina, Benghazi, and Berea. The Fleet Air Arm raids Palermo on Sicily.

In an odd postscript to the day, Lieutenant Commander Frederick P. Hartman, U.S. Naval Observer on board the Illustrious, later is commended for gallantry in action. This may make him the first US soldier to receive a distinction for combat service in the line of duty during World War II. Quite a footnote to history.

10 January 1941 HMS Illustrious bomb damage
Bomb damage on HMS Illustrious' aft flight deck, 10 January 1941.
Battle of the Pacific: German raider Orion begins a refit at Maug Island.

Soviet/German Relations: The two nations, still operating under the Ribbentrop/Molotov Pact of August 1939, agree to population exchanges in the Baltic States. They also agree to a new economic pact, in which the Soviets supply raw materials in exchange for German machine tools. As part of the agreement, the Soviets "buy" a slice of Lithuania for 1.5 million reichsmarks, or roughly US $7.5 million.

The Soviets are quite happy with the agreement, announcing:
This new economic agreement marks a great step forward.
With perfect hindsight, we can agree that it does "mark a great step forward," but not quite in the manner the Soviets intend.

Soviet Military: The second round of war games continues. General Zhukov is doing quite well in command of the "Red" or Soviet forces, which heartens the Stavka.

10 January 1941 HMS Illustrious
Final attacks on HMS Illustrious, 10 January 1941.
British Military: After days of deliberation, the Chiefs of Staff and the Defence Committee have made their decision regarding priorities in the Mediterranean sector. They cable Wavell that:
[A]ssistance to Greece must now take priority over all operations in the Middle East once Tobruk is taken, because help for the Greeks must, in the first instance at least, come almost entirely from you.
General Wavell and his RAF chief, Air Marshal Arthur Longmore, are aghast. Wavell is not convinced of the need to switch focus immediately to Greece. He reasons that this would interrupt a successful campaign in favor of one of much more doubtful profit. He claims that the German troop movements are just another:
...move in a war of nerves designed with object of helping Italy by upsetting Greek nerves, inducing us to disperse our forces in Middle East and to stop our advance in Libya. Nothing (repeat nothing) we can do from here is likely to be in time to stop German advance if really intended...
The Chiefs of Staff, however, are firm. They base their decision not just on a strategical assessment, but on Ultra decryptions. They instruct Wavell to begin preparing the strong ground and air forces to Greece, including three Hurricane squadrons, a squadron of tanks, and anti-aircraft troops and guns.

Churchill, of course, is behind all this. Somewhat incongruously, though, he tells visiting Roosevelt crony Harry Hopkins today that he does not really believe anything can be accomplished in Greece. Hopkins cables Roosevelt that Churchill:
thinks Greece is lost - although he is now reinforcing the Greeks - and weakening his African Army - he believes Hitler will permit Mussolini to go only so far downhill - and is now preparing for the attack which must bring its inevitable result.
Thus, for some reason, Churchill is supporting a shift in priorities that he knows must be a failure. It is an odd posture, presumably based upon high-level geopolitical calculations upon which subsequent events shed no light.

US Military: First flight of the Vought SB2U-3 Vindicator, which is an extended-range version of the dive bomber with floats.

10 January 1941 HMS Illustrious fires
Damage to HMS Illustrious, 10 January 1941 (IWM has the wrong date on this). © IWM (A 20638)
US Government: Representative John McCormack of Massachusetts introduces the Lend-Lease Bill (HR 1776) in Congress. It proposes that the United States provide arms to Great Britain without immediate payment - a reversal of the "cash and carry" policy. This essentially grants Great Britain unlimited credit to spend the nation's money as it sees fit.

Just prior to the bill's introduction, President Roosevelt holds a press conference at 10:55 a.m. which he disarmingly begins by claiming "Don't think I have any news this morning." During it, he addresses some of the most consequential decisions of the 20th Century. First, he announces that he has signed a "proclamation" restricting the export of six key strategic materials: copper, brass, bronze, zinc, nickel, and potash. This appears aimed as much against Germany as Japan, the usual target of such sanctions.

The reporters, however, are much more interested in the lend-lease bill. Roosevelt downplays the whole thing and instead goes off on a weird tangent, talking about unrestrained population growth in Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean. When pulled back to the lend-lease bill, though, he emphasizes "speed is a great essential" in getting the "British aid bill" passed and that "it is proper to call attention to those very simple statements of fact." Basically, he wants to ram this extremely consequential bill through quickly so that "quick action can be taken." It is an astonishingly brief explanation of far-reaching legislation that will affect the entire world's destiny and brings to mind similar attitudes toward extremely significant legislation of the 21st Century.

Indochina: The Thais attack in their quest to wrest control of portions of the Mekong Delta from the French. Thailand considers these "lost provinces" that it thinks the French stole late in the 19th Century. The Thai infantry is supported by tanks and advances toward Battambang.

China: The Nationalist (Kuomintang) forces continue to attack the encircled portions of the Communist Chinese New 4th Army near Maoling on the Yangtze.

Antarctica: Auxiliary icebreaker Bear (AG 29) arrives in West Base. Its mission is to evacuate Admiral Byrd's exploratory force. It will take a couple of weeks to complete the evacuation. The mission is successful, but they leave behind the famous snow cruiser in its ice cage.

Dutch Homefront: Reich Commissar for Occupied Netherlands Artur Seyss-Inquart decrees that Jews register with the authorities. The specifics are:
Registration of all persons of part or full Jewish blood. Sec. 2 defines as a Jew any person one of whose grandparents was a full blooded Jew. Any grandparent who belonged or belongs to the Jewish religious community is considered as such. Failure to register entails an imprisonment not exceeding 5 years and the confiscation of property.
Of course, those who register may wind up in more difficulty than just losing their property and being imprisoned. Many people must make very hard choices.

American Homefront: Louella Parsons (gossip reporter of the Hearst newspaper chain) and two of William Randolph Hearst's lawyers receive a private screening of Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane." It is still in rough-cut form, without music, but Parsons sees enough to know it is big trouble. She is outraged (perhaps as much by being scooped by Hedda Hopper a week earlier, humiliating her to her boss, as by the film itself). Parsons stalks out of the film before it is even finished, a rather rare occurrence for a film that widely is considered (subsequently) perhaps the greatest motion picture ever produced.

Parsons wastes no time. She quickly calls RKO Pictures studio head George J. Schaefer and threatens a lawsuit if he releases the film. She then rings up Radio City Music Hall and threatens them not to screen it. She also calls her boss, Hearst, who immediately imposes a ban by all of the papers in his chain from promoting any RKO films at all - not just "Citizen Kane." This begins with Ginger Rogers' "Kitty Foyle," in theaters for less than two weeks and considered one of the top films of 1940. With no television, there are few outlets besides newspapers (and radio) to promote films.

Schaefer is a big believer in Welles and the film, so he does not back down in response to the threats. Welles also has a contract giving him final cut (the first such deal in Hollywood history), so Schaefer has little leverage over what is in the film. Parsons, furious at making no progress with the studio boss, then begins calling other studio heads and prominent people in the industry to get RKO blacklisted. She also threatens Welles with exposure of his illicit affair with actress Dolores del Rio. Welles responds by issuing a statement that the film is not about Hearst at all - but anyone who knows the true meaning of the first word spoken in the film, "Rosebud," knows that to be just a smokescreen (which includes Hearst and presumably Parsons). Hearst is furious about the entire situation and has his lawyers prepare to file a temporary restraining order against the picture's release.

Separately, the Gallup Organization publishes the results of polls regarding the war - the one in Europe, that is, and not Hollywood. The results show a population still divided on military interventions.

In response to the question, "Which of these two things do you think it is more important for the United States to try to do — to keep out of the war ourselves, or to help England win, even at the risk of getting into the war?":
  • Help England: 60%
  • Stay Out: 40%
In response to the question, "If you were asked to vote on the question of the United States entering the war against Germany and Italy, how would you vote — to go into the war, or to stay out of the war?":
Stay Out: 88%
Go In: 12%
These results present a much more mixed picture than some of the other Gallup polls taken during the past year. All of them show a country that has not yet been convinced to declare war. These results must hearten the America First Committee and other isolationists.

10 January 1941 HMS Illustrious Stuka attack
A Stuka (yellow in the upper right) has just dropped a bomb which makes a near-miss on HMS Illustrious, 10 January 1941.

January 1941

January 1, 1941: Muselier Arrested
January 2, 1941: Camp Categories
January 3, 1941: Liberty Ships
January 4, 1941: Aussies Take Bardia
January 5, 1941: Amy Johnson Perishes
January 6, 1941: Four Freedoms
January 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor Plans
January 8, 1941: Billions For Defense
January 9, 1941: Lancasters
January 10, 1941: Malta Convoy Devastation
January 11, 1941: Murzuk Raid
January 12, 1941: Operation Rhubarb
January 13, 1941: Plymouth Blitzed
January 14, 1941: V for Victory
January 15, 1941: Haile Selassie Returns
January 16, 1941: Illustrious Blitz
January 17, 1941: Koh Chang Battle
January 18, 1941: Luftwaffe Pounds Malta
January 19, 1941: East African Campaign Begins
January 20, 1941: Roosevelt 3rd Term
January 21, 1941: Attack on Tobruk
January 22, 1941: Tobruk Falls
January 23, 1941: Pogrom in Bucharest
January 24, 1941: Tank Battle in Libya
January 25, 1941: Panjiayu Tragedy
January 26, 1941: Churchill Working Hard
January 27, 1941: Grew's Warning
January 28, 1941: Ho Chi Minh Returns
January 29, 1941: US Military Parley With Great Britain
January 30, 1941: Derna Taken
January 31, 1941: LRDG Battered


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