Thursday, January 19, 2017

January 18, 1941: Luftwaffe Pounds Malta

Saturday 18 January 1941

18 January 1941 USS Arizona
Battleship USS Arizona (BB 39) in the Puget Sound Navy Yard on January 18, 1941. This is the last such photo of the ship known to exist. (US Navy Institute).
Italian/Greek Campaign: On 18 January 1941, following the Greek capture of the key Klisura Pass, the lines have stabilized. Despite having the pass, which is considered the gateway to the key Italian port of Valona, the Greeks are unable at this time to push further down toward the Italian port. The Italians are building up troops for an attempt to retake the pass.

European Air Operations: A major snowstorm begins over England and the Continent that essentially shuts down operations on both sides for three days. The Luftwaffe squeezes in a few minor raids during the day, dropping some bombs on the outskirts of London and shooting up a train in East Anglia. Neither side is in the air after dark. The coastal guns at Hellfire Corner (Dover/Calais) are in action during the day.

Following up on a story from 17 January, the locals on Fair Isle, Orkney continue to hold a group of three Luftwaffe airmen who crashed in their reconnaissance Heinkel He 111. The seemingly simple task of retrieving them turns into a nightmare as the first launch sent to take them into custody runs aground on the southern tip of the island, and then a second launch is sent and also runs aground. The islanders help to refloat the craft, and then the Germans are finally taken away.

Feldwebel Mickel of 1./JG 1 downs a Blenheim over the North Sea for his first victory.

18 January 1941 Balitmore News-Post
Baltimore News-Post, 18 January 1941.
Battle of the Atlantic: German raider Kormoran is operating seven hundred hundred miles (1100 km) west of Western Sahara when the lookouts spot smoke on the horizon just before sunset. The ship is the 6987-ton British tanker British Union. Kormoran Captain Detmers guesses (correctly) that the ship is an Allied vessel and opens fire, hitting with the third salvo. As the Kormoran approaches in the darkness, the crew of the tanker opens fire but misses. The crew of the Kormoran returns fire and does not miss, starting raging fires. The British crew then abandons ship, and Detmers sinks it with gunfire and three torpedoes (one fails to explode). There are 28 survivors (and a pet monkey) in two lifeboats taken aboard the Kormoran. The British Union was able to get off a distress call during the capture, drawing the British armed merchant cruiser (AMC) HMS Arawa to the scene around midnight. While it does not find the Kormoran, which quickly left the scene, the Arawa does pick up the crew of a third lifeboat missed by the Kormoran. This incident is puzzling to the Admiralty because they are unaware of the presence of the Kormoran and Admiral Scheer is later proven to be far from the scene. There also are reports from the men rescued in the third lifeboat that the Kormoran had fired on the other two lifeboats, a claim later proven to be false.

German cruiser Admiral Scheer, in fact, is operating in the South Atlantic. Today, it captures 8038-ton Norwegian tanker Sandefjord, which is carrying 11,000 tons of crude oil. The Sandefjord is sent with a prize crew to France, where it is renamed Monsun. Some sources place this on the 17th, so I have included this event there as well.

The Luftwaffe attacks Portsmouth and has some near misses on destroyer HMS Castleton, damaging it further while it is undergoing repairs for an earlier incident. Another Luftwaffe attack on Swansea damages 3489-ton Greek freighter Chelatros.

German 4664-ton freighter Godfried Bueren hits a mine and sinks in the Kattegat.

Royal Navy AMC Asturias intercepts 8199-ton Vichy French freighter Mendoza sixty miles east of Montevideo. The two ships proceed to Freetown.

Convoy OB 275 departs from Liverpool, Convoy FS 391 departs from Methil, Convoy BS 12D departs from Port Sudan bound for Aden.

Royal Navy corvettes HMS Mimosa and Pentstemon are launched, the destroyer HMS Eskdale is laid down.

U-177 (Oberleutnant zur See Heinrich Schonder) commissioned.

Battle of the Mediterranean: The Australian/British attack on Tobruk, originally planned for 20 January, is postponed 24 hours due to sandstorms. British ships HMS Terror and Aphid bombard Tobruk during the night, and the RAF also raids the port.

The Luftwaffe, after a day off, returns to the skies over Malta today. Fliegerkorps X attacks the Malta airfields during a 90-minute sustained attack on Hal Far and Luqa fields. The raid is a success, destroying hangers, barracks and cratering runways. All but one runway at the two airstrips, at Hal Far, are put out of service during the attack.

Aside from half a dozen parked planes lost at the airfields, the British lose two Fairey Fulmars (one man dead) of RAF No. 806 Squadron. The Luftwaffe loses at least five Stukas and Junkers Ju 88s. The Germans lose five men, including two pilots.

The government of Malta is faced with a humanitarian crisis in the bombed areas downtown. Governor Dobbie visits Senglea and Vittoriosa, sees the devastation, and orders an immediate evacuation of the entire Three Cities. He also calls in the troops to help with continuing rescue efforts. These efforts are bearing fruit, as a dozen people - the Costa and Mizzi families - are found alive in a family air raid shelter two days after the start of the Illustrious Blitz. There are others perhaps also waiting to be discovered, so the workers dig around the clock.

Italian 1384 ton freighter Lelio hits a mine and sinks at La Spezia.

18 January 1941 Brisbane rainstorm
While it is summertime Down Under, that does not mean the skies always are sunny. A flash storm drenches Brisbane with 79 mm of rain in the first 30 minutes. Here, patrons at Albion Park shelter from the rain just after the third race. In the true spirit of "the show must go on," the races proceed and the betting windows remain open. A man perishes when lightning hits him whilst playing golf at Victoria Park (State Library of Queensland).
German/US Relations: German Charge d'Affaires Hans Thomsen gives his "most emphatic protest" to an incident in San Francisco. Someone has taken down a German Swastika flag flying over the German Consulate in that city, which was then torn apart by a raging mob. The Germans protest that this is a violation of international law, as they have national sovereignty over their facilities. Consul General Fritz Wiedemann was flying the flag in honor of the country's unification in 1871. Secretary of State Cordell Hull swiftly promises a full investigation (that will take over four months, until 25 May 1941).

Anglo/US Relations: The British Minister of Economic Warfare, Hugh Dalton, alleges that some US producers are skirting the economic blockade of Europe by selling items needed by the Germans to Russia, which then passes them along to the Germans. There also are other potential routes for such transactions (which often involve cotton shipments), such as contraband shipments from the United States to Portugal, thence to Switzerland, and finally to Italy. A route for cotton which does not involve the US is from Turkey north through various neutrals such as Russia.

The Germans do indeed experience a shortage of cotton, which they are attempting to overcome by the use of artificial fibers (with limited success because the ersatz replacements do not insulate as well as natural cotton). Cotton - or the lack thereof by the Germans - will play quite a pivotal role in the war at the end of the year.

The Ministry of Economic Warfare is concerned because it perceives that the Russians are buying much more cotton than they previously had needed. The problem with this concern is that the US is the biggest supplier of cotton in the world, and the US perceives cotton as one of its biggest cash crops. This makes the Roosevelt administration at best lukewarm to these British concerns, because Roosevelt's Democrats rely on the support of the cotton-growing regions in the south (a political dynamic which disappeared only decades after the war). Part of incoming Ambassador Lord Halifax's agenda when he arrives in Washington will be to confront Roosevelt on this trade. This remains a lingering issue until military and political events later in the year conclusively end it.

18 January 1941 Admiral Husband E. Kimmel
Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel learns that he is to become commander of the US Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC) at Pearl Harbor, 18 January 1941 (Photo: Bettmann).
Anglo/Japanese/Chinese Relations: The British close the Burma Road again. During the rainy season in mid-1940 the British also closed it, but at that time kept the reasons murky. This time, the British explicitly do so in hopes of improving relations with Japan. The Burma Road is Nationalist China's lifeline, with valuable supplies entering from India and Burma. With the Chinese ports closed to them due to Japanese occupation, the Nationalist Chinese have no other trade routes.

Vichy French Government: Marshal Pétain meets with former minister Pierre Laval to discuss his concerns about Laval. Laval remains a private citizen after the meeting, but this proves to be a key step toward Pétain inviting Laval back into the government.

Sudan: The British are making exploratory attacks into Abyssinia, and the Italians evacuate Kassala.

China: The Chinese infighting between the Communists and the Nationalists (Kuomintang) continues, both on the battlefield and in press releases. Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek basically has outlawed the communist army, while the communists retaliate today by stating that the recently Nationalist attack on the Communist New Fourth Army by the Kuomintang was "planned by pro-Japanese conspirators and anti-Communist diehards." Since it is obvious by now that Kai-Shek was the one who ordered the operation, this is a direct shot at him by the Communists.

American Homefront: Warner Bros. releases "Honeymoon for Three," starring Ann Sheridan and George Brent.

Future History: David Eli Ruffin is born in Whynot, Mississippi. David loves to sing and moves to Detroit at the age of 16 to pursue his career. He releases his first singles in 1958 with Vega Records, and around this time meets Berry Gordy, Jr. Ruffin helps Gordy's father build the future headquarters for Junior's Tamla Records aka Motown Records. After a while, Gordy meets a group called The Temptations and, in January 1964, becomes a member. Smokey Robinson, the group's producer, writes a song for Ruffin, "My Girl," which becomes a huge hit and the Temptations' signature song. This makes Ruffin the group's lead singer and frontman. Ruffin, however, has personal issues within the group, including drug addiction, and is fired on 27 June 1968. This results in legal actions, and Ruffin embarks on a successful solo recording career. David Ruffin passes away on 1 June 1991 from an accidental drug overdose (though his family feels it was part of a successful robbery).

18 January 1941 Saturday Evening Post
Saturday Evening Post, 18 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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