Monday, January 9, 2017

January 8, 1941: Billions For Defense

Wednesday 8 January 1941

8 January 1941 HMS Gloucester
HMS Gloucester enters Grand Harbour, Malta on 8 January 1941.
Italian/Greek Campaign: Greek Commander-in-chief Papagos on 8 January 1941 launches a major attack on the Italian Julia division defending Klisura Pass. The Greek II Corps leads the attack, with the 1st Division on the left and the 15th and 11th Divisions on the right. The Greeks make good progress in very hard fighting, putting themselves in a position to finally capture the pass.

The Klisura Pass is considered necessary for the Greeks to press on and take the critical Italian port of Valona and free troops for the defense of eastern Greece against an anticipated German invasion from Bulgaria. The Italian commander in Albania, Cavallero, immediately begins transferring troops from other sectors with which he intended to launch his own offensive.

European Air Operations: The RAF air command on Malta launches a night raid against Naples. The Italians have dispersed their fleet to Naples and other points, but the RAF is tracking them down. Battleship Giulio Cesare is damaged slightly by three near misses and must be moved to La Spezia for repairs. It is not as significant a blow as it might be, because the Italians are not using their capital ships anyway - though they have plenty of fuel to do so if they wished.

Another benefit of the mission for the British is that it induces the Italians to move their battleship Vittorio Veneto to La Spezia as well, to get it out of harm's way - a rather incongruous way to handle what should be your mightest offensive weapon. The Italian naval command at this point appears obsessed with keeping a "fleet in being," a strategy that in a calculated fashion uses the threat of warships to draw enemy airpower away from on-shore targets. There are pros and cons to this strategy, which certainly appears to fit with the overall Italian mindset during the conflict, but essentially removes these warships from active operations where they might actually be of strategic use (such as off North Africa or Albania).

RAF Bomber Command also sends seven Wellington bombers to raid Wilhelmshaven. The target is German battleship Tirpitz, still under construction but almost finished. The RAF does not score any hits, though some near misses scuff up the paint a bit. This is another example of Axis warships drawing fire away from other, arguably more productive, targets. It is the one area in which the Axis navies constantly excel.

For its part, the Luftwaffe sends a few scattered raiders across during the day but stays on the ground after dark.

8 January 1941 Vultee XP-54
The prototype Vultee XP-54, nicknamed the "Swoose Goose."
Battle of the Atlantic: The Luftwaffe (Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condors of I,/KG 40) bombs and sinks 6278-ton British freighter Clytoneus in the Western Approaches. Everybody survives. KG 40 has just been turned over to Admiral Doenitz's forces to assist with U-boat operations.

British 683 ton Trinity House tender Strathearn hits a mine and sinks in the North Sea. There are 15 deaths.

Royal Navy minelayers HMS Adventure and Teviotbank lay minefields ZME 12 and BS 48, respectively. These are in the St. Georges Channel and off the east coast.

Convoy OB 271 departs from Liverpool, Convoy FN 378 departs from Southend, Convoy FN 379 is postponed, Convoy HG 50 departs from Gibraltar.

Royal Navy destroyer HMAS Nizam (Lt. Commander Max J. Clark) commissioned.

U-559 launched.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Operation Excess, the latest supply operation for Malta, continues with a complicated series of ship movements. Force A departs from Suda Bay, Crete and heads toward Malta. Force B warships arrive at Malta and disembark their troops, then quickly depart for escort duties of convoys still headed toward the island. Force D is reinforced by Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney and the destroyer HMAS Stuart. Force D then joins Force A southeast of Malta but then switches to escort Convoy ME 6. So far, Operation Excess is running as smoothly as previous convoys and virtually without incident.

The Australian 6th Division begins active patrols around the Tobruk perimeter, probing Italian defenses. They find a similar layout to the one at Bardia, two defensive lines with antitank ditches, barbed wire, and concrete pillboxes.

General Archibald Wavell, British Middle East Commander, replies diplomatically to Prime Minister Churchill's insinuations of the past couple of days that his army has become a haven for slackers:
I can assure you that I have always had question of rearward services constantly in mind and have been as anxious as anyone to cut down on non-fighting units. Except for anti-aircraft.... But the more I see of War, especially present-day War, the more I am impressed by the part that administration plays.
This dispute about the "Tooth-to-tail Ratio" will continue on both sides, though it really has not begun yet on the German side. As much as anything, such concerns are a sure sign of a military that is overstretched and unable to meet all of the threats that are popping up. Wavell, incidentally, is absolutely correct that modern wars are won not by valor in combat (alone), but by logistics and weaponry. This is a lesson that is and will be hammered home brutally to some participants during the course of the conflict.

At Malta, cruisers HMS Gloucester and Southampton dock just long enough to disembark their troops, then head back out to sea. These troops buttress the island's antiaircraft defenses.

The Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) approaches the Italian administration center of Murzuk, in the southwest corner of Libya and hundreds of miles distant from other British forces. They are aided by local French and tribesmen. Their intent is to attack the Italian airfield and headquarters at Murzuk both to disrupt Italian administration and to incite violence throughout Libya.

Convoy AS 10 departs from Piraeus for Suda Bay.

Battle of the Pacific: Contract workers arrive on Wake Island onboard the USS William Ward Burrows. They are to construct a naval air station (NAS) there.

8 January 1941 USS Wasp
USS Wasp (CV-7), in Norfolk Naval Shipyard for refitting, 8 January 1941.
Anglo/Free French Relations: The British release Vice Admiral Muselier, imprisoned since New Year's day on espionage and treason charges. The British MI5 intelligence branch concludes that Muselier has been set up with fake documents planted by two security people (Commandant Howard and Adjutant Colin) hired on their own recommendation. The reasons for the smear are murky, apparently, Muselier offended Howard in some way and he had Colin draw up the phony documents which, among other things, suggested that Muselier compromised Operation Menace (the failed attack on Dakar). Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Anthony Eden tenders a note of abject apology.

This decision avoids a very sharp rupture in Anglo/French relations. Charles de Gaulle views the entire affair as a plot by MI5 to discredit him personally, and had been on the brink of turning his back on the British - to the extent possible, as he essentially is a British client ruler - had the charges not been dropped.

This is a much better outcome politically than if Winston Churchill had followed his initial inclinations and had Muselier shot outright. However, de Gaulle forever after holds a grudge against the British intelligence service due to this incident. Muselier, for his part, returns to his duties in charge of Free French naval forces.

US/Vichy French Relations: Admiral William D. Leahy presents his credentials to the Petain government in Vichy. This comes one day after Roosevelt accepted former ambassador Bullitt's resignation.

Anglo/US Relations: Roosevelt observer "Wild Bill" Donovan arrives in Cairo for talks with British Middle East Commander General Wavell.

8 January 1941 North Fort Lewis Nebraska
North Fort Lewis, Pierce County, Nebraska, home to the US 41st Infantry Division. President Roosevelt has inducted the 41st Division into federal service for a term of one year. January 8, 1941 (Courtesy Lewis Army Museum).
German Military: Adolf Hitler convenes a meeting of his senior military advisors at Berchtesgaden. He admits that Germany cannot invade England until it is "crippled" and the Luftwaffe "has complete air superiority." Neither of those things has happened or appears likely to happen any time soon (though the U-boat campaign is showing great promise in the former area). Hitler places his hopes on eliminating all opposition on the Continent, relying on the clear superiority of the Wehrmacht on land. Hitler plans to shore up the Italians both in Greece and North Africa, but he does not trust them and wants no communications to them which they can pass along to the British.

This meeting is the beginning of Hitler's acknowledgment that he has no real allies in Western Europe. He does not trust the Italians, and he knows now the Vichy French and Spanish will never help him conquer the British. Planning for Operation Attila, the occupation of Vichy France and seizure of the French fleet at Toulon continues.

Hitler evidently has been paying attention to events in Washington, too. President Roosevelt's veiled threats during his recent State of the Union speech obviously did not escape his attention. He tells his leaders that war with the United States may be approaching as well. Hitler and his cronies live under the delusion that the US cannot intervene on the Continent in any time frame that might affect the current wars in progress or others being contemplated. This is because of, among other reasons, the so-far successful U-boat campaign and the huge head start that Germany has in military preparations and achievements.

British Military: While Hitler is busy with his war conference at the Berghof, Winston Churchill is holding similar meetings at Whitehall. The Defence Committee is studying the Balkan situation. Anthony Eden, having a busy day, strongly advocates sending British troops to Greece immediately in order to induce Turkey to join the Allied side and form a "Balkan bloc." Churchill himself says that "there was no other course open to us but to make certain that we had spared no effort to help the Greeks who had shown themselves so worthy." Thus, the matter basically is decided, although it must be ascertained whether it is possible.

The Chiefs of Staff thus cable Commander-in-Chief of the RAF's Middle East Command Air Marshal Sir Arthur Murray Longmore and ask him if air units are available for immediate transfer to Greece. Longmore replies that he wants to keep his units supporting General Wavell's advance, but he does not have the final say. Discussions of the Defence Committee on this key strategic question continue into the 9th.

Japanese Military: Army Minister Tojo Hideki issues a military decree, "Instructions For the Battlefield," which essentially commands Japanese soldiers to fight to the death rather than be captured.

Soviet Military: The second round of war games begins. This time, General Zhukov commands the Soviet forces, and General Kulik commands the invading "Blue" forces.

US Military: The USAAC orders the first prototype of the Vultee XP-54.

Due to lingering disagreements about whether the US Pacific fleet should be based at Hawaii (among other things), President Roosevelt decides to replace Admiral James Richardson as Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet (CinCPac) and CinCUS (should the Pacific and Atlantic fleets ever merge). Admiral Husband E. Kimmel will replace him effective 1 February 1941. In addition, Admiral Ernest J. King, an advocate of a strong US naval presence in the Pacific, will become Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet (CinCLant). Richardson will hold no further active commands.

8 January 1941 Baltimore News-Post headlines
Baltimore News-Post, 8 January 1941.
US Government: Following President Roosevelt's militaristic State of the Union address, his administration releases a proposed budget of $17.5 billion for the Fiscal Year 1942 (beginning 1 July 1941). This budget includes a massive $10.8 billion war (defense) budget (it is still called the War Department, not the Department of Defense, at this point). With military expenditures exceeding 50% of all government spending, this is a record peacetime commitment, the highest in US history.

Canadian Government: Accepting the recommendation of its subcommittee, the Canadian war council excludes Japanese-Canadians from military service.

Indochina: The conflict between Thailand and the Vichy French continues to sizzle. The Royal Thai Air Force attacks the French at Siem Reap and Battambang.

German Homefront: It has taken the better part of a year, but the port facilities at Narvik, Norway have been repaired. It is the key port for the shipment of Swedish iron ore to German war factories. Today, the first freighter departs for Germany carrying ore.

British Homefront: Lord Baden-Powell, the inspiration for the Boy and Girl Scout movement, passes away at age 83. Baden-Powell is one of the very few prominent British people ever to have kind words for Hitler's "Mein Kampf," calling it "A wonderful book, with good ideas on education, health, propaganda, organization etc. - and ideals which Hitler does not practice himself." Having spent the last few decades of his life in Africa, he passes away in Kenya.

American Homefront: Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" is nearing completion. Newspaper critics have received an advance rough-cut screening (minus the score), and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (uninvited) watches and later writes that the film is a "vicious and irresponsible attack on a great man" - the great man being William Randolph Hearst. Hearst hears about this and remonstrates with his own gossip columnist, Louella Parsons, about why she hasn't told him that the film was calculated to attack him.

Parsons, on or about this date, then angrily demands a private screening of the film herself (apparently she did not crash the critics' screening like Hedda). She threatens a lawsuit (on Hearst's behalf" and hints darkly about other means of professional retaliation. Nobody messes with William Randolph Hearst, not only because of his money, power, and influence as the boss of a national chain of newspapers but also because of the dead guy once found on his private yacht. RKO Pictures studio head George J. Schaefer accedes to Parsons' demands and schedules a private screening for her (and Hearst's lawyers) on 10 January.

Future History: Graham Arthur Chapman is born in Stoneygate, Leicester. Chapman develops an interest in writing and teams up with John Cleese, another struggling comedian, whilst still in school. They write for various television comedy series, then team up with other young comedians (Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam) in the 1960s to form a sketch comedy group, Flying Circus. Together, they develop various classic comedy sketches, which lead to a television series of their own and a series of comedy films. Everyone within the group basically agrees that Chapman is the best actor in the troupe (at least at that time, though John Cleese also becomes a renowned comedy actor outside the group). Perhaps Chapman's high point with the group is playing the lead role in classic "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Chapman continues with Monty Python and branches out into his own successful career but passes away in 1989 from cancer at age 48.

8 January 1941 Roosevelt Congress cartoon S.J. Ray
Not everyone is enthusiastic about President Roosevelt's massive military preparations. "Thin Ice," published January 8, 1941, by S. J. Ray.

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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