Tuesday, February 7, 2017

February 6, 1941: Operation Sunflower


Thursday 6 February 1941

6 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com U-107
U-107 returning from a successful patrol, as evidenced by all the victory pennants. Today, 6 February 1941, it sinks its third ship on its very first patrol, the 3388 ton Canadian freighter Maplecourt.

Italian/Greek Campaign: Operations in Greece remain at a standstill on 6 February 1941. The weather is inhibiting both sides. The Greeks have captured the gateway to the strategic port of Valona, the Klisura Pass, but so far they have been unable to capitalize on this success. The Greeks are planning another attack for the middle of the month. At this point, the Greek hopes to capture Valona fast so that they can shift forces to the Bulgarian frontier to oppose an expected German invasion there  have been frustrated despite early indications of success. The RAF bombs Italian positions west of the Telepini Heights which the Greeks have recently recovered despite fierce resistance from Italian Blackshirts.

East African Campaign: At Keren, Eritrea, the British troops (the 11th Indian Brigade of the 4th Indian Division) are supplemented by the arrival of the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade. The Indian soldiers retain an exposed position to the left of the Dongolaas Gorge which controls entry to Keren proper, much like a drawbridge and gate control entrance to a castle. However, while the British are off to a good start, the Italians have heavily fortified positions in the surrounding heights and retain a tight grip on the gorge itself, which, because of the terrain, the British troops cannot bypass. The Indian troops rest after their march from Agordat and prepare for a major attack on the 7th.

European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command attacks Boulogne with 25 bombers during the day, and Dunkirk with 24 bombers after dark. The Luftwaffe does little during the day or after dark.

6 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Scharnhorst Operation Berlin
German battlecruiser Scharnhorst in rough North Atlantic seas during Operation Berlin in February 1941. This picture was taken from the Gneisenau.

Battle of the Atlantic: German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau refuel from tanker Schlettstadt south of Cape Farewell, Iceland and proceed south toward the shipping lanes. Admiral Lütjens, in command of Operation Berlin, decides to first attack the HX and SC convoys between Canada and Great Britain. He heads to the southwest, closer to the North American mainland than previous naval battles south of Greenland.

The Allies still have no idea where the German raiders are, though they are looking for them furiously. The Germans are under standing orders to avoid engagements with capital ships and certainly do not want to draw any attention until they strike a convoy. While most convoys have few escorts at all in the mid-Atlantic, much less battleships, it is impossible to know in advance which do and which do not. Thus, as much as anything, the two German ships are heading into the unknown.

The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau aren't the only German surface ships in operation. The Kriegsmarine 2nd MTB Flotilla makes a sortie against a convoy in the Ipswich area. S-30 sinks 501 ton British freighter Angularity. There are two deaths, and one crewman is picked up by the Germans and made prisoner.

U-107 (K.Kapt. Günther Hessler), on its first (and very successful) patrol, torpedoes and sinks 3388 ton Canadian freighter Maplecourt. It is travelling in Convoy SC 20 in the Northwest Approaches. Everybody on board perishes.

Battleship HMS King George V arrives back in Scapa Flow from its journey to America to deliver Lord Halifax to Washington.

Convoy WS (Winston Special) 6A forms off Liverpool. It includes more large troop transports bound for the Middle East.

Convoy HG 53 departs from Gibraltar, bound for Liverpool.

Royal Navy destroyer HMS Quantock (Lt. Commander David J. A. Heber-Percy) and minesweeping trawler HMS Coriolanus (W. D. Bishop) are commissioned.

U-556 (Kapitänleutnant Herbert Wohlfarth) is commissioned, U-176 is laid down.

6 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Metropolitan Museum of Art
At the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wing B, 2nd Floor, Gallery 18A, an exhibit opens today called “French Fashions, 1800-1900.” It runs from February 6 to March 26, 1941 (© The Metropolitan Museum of Art.) This is such a timeless historical picture; while taken in 1941, it could just as easily have been taken at a similar exhibit last week. Roughly speaking, this exhibit in 1941 showed a period which is about as far back in time as World War II is as I write this.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Many histories place today as when the British capture Benghazi. That, however, seems a bit premature. The Italians are evacuating the city, but it remains in their hands as the day ends. In any event, the actual date of the "fall" of the city is of little moment, as the Italians have no intention to defend it.

South of Benghazi, in the Battle of Beda Fomm, the Italian 10th Army is trapped on the main road (the Italo Balbo) between the Australian 6th Infantry Division behind them and the Combe Force in front of them. The retreating Italian column is strung out along 7 miles of the road.The Italians have new tanks and a 4:1 advantage in numbers, but their tanks - though new - are inferior and the Italian tactical situation dire.

Lieutenant-General Annibale Bergonzoli in command of the XX Motorised corps tries to break out first thing in the morning, making a diversionary frontal attack while sending the Babini Group (mainly tanks) through the desert to try to get behind Combe Force. However, the British have brought up 32 cruiser and 42 light tanks, and the Italians make little progress. The Australians, meanwhile, reach Benghazi and attack it from the north.

The Italians continue evacuating Benghazi, sending a greater force to the southwest, but the British block on the main road to the south holds. Italian M13 tanks arrive from the city, but many are quickly knocked out - the Italians quickly lose 40 tanks. The Italian artillery proves effective against the British cruiser tanks, though, and Italian vehicles manage to make some progress over rough terrain to the south. A running battle develops, with some Italian vehicles making a run for Tripoli, others surrendering, and more British armor arriving. In confused actions, the Italians make some progress, but the mass of British armor remains intact and draws a tighter cordon around the Italians.

While Operation Compass is an astounding success, it also has imposed a huge strain on the British forces. While the Italians are not much of an obstacle, the climate and terrain is. The desert air becomes loaded with sand at regular intervals, playing havoc with aircraft and other engines. The Middle East Command's RAF headquarters wires Whitehall today, noting that problems are developing with engine maintenance. Simply operating in the desert without adequate engine filters and equipment especially designed for such conditions is softening the British up for a possible counterstroke by fresh Axis forces.

6 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Erwin Rommel DAK
Erwin Rommel already is a legend in February 1941. A hero of two world wars, if he never does another thing, his place in history still would be secure. However, fate now leads him to entirely new challenges.

In Germany, events of far-reaching significance for the war in Africa take place today which in fact promise just such a counterstroke. Having watched the continuing collapse of Italian resistance despite good defensive possibilities, the German high command - Hitler - issues an order to deploy German troops to North Africa. This is Operation Sonnenblume - “Sunflower.” Chosen to command Operation Sunflower is General Erwin Rommel, hero of the Battle of France while leading the 7th Panzer "Ghost" Division.

The Operation Sunflower force is envisaged as a supplement to the Sperrverband (blocking detachment) previously authorized in Fuhrer Directive No. 22 of 11 January 1941. This is just a couple of divisions, the 5th Light Afrika Division (Generalmajor Johann von Ravenstein) and elements of the 15th Panzer Division (Oberst Maximilian von Herff). None of those troops have reached North Africa yet, but the 5th Light Division is almost ready to go. The North African Wehrmacht force (later named Afrika Korps (DAK)) is not intended as a war-winning effort by itself, but simply as a way of stiffening Italian troops already there so that the Italian position can be maintained and the Italians perhaps encouraged to fight better.

Rommel apparently is not Hitler's first choice to lead this new operation. Lieutenant General Friedrich Paulus, deputy chief of the German General Staff (Oberquartiermeister I), later recalls that he was offered the position first, but turned it down. However, when discussing it with his wife, she apparently says that, being a secondary theater, North Africa is not a place where a General could ever make a name for himself. Russia - that was the place for a German General to really succeed.

Force H out of Gibraltar departs for another attempt to launch Operation Result (now Grog), the bombardment of Genoa. The Force (Group 1) is lead by battleship HMS Malaya, aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, and battlecruiser HMS Renown. The operation will include a feint toward Sardinia, the scene of the recent aerial attack on a dam which failed and presumably the Italians may believe will be repeated.

The British lose two more ships due to the German mining of the Suez Canal. The ships, 1500 ton hoppers No. 34 and No. 39, compound the problems the British are facing in clearing the Canal, which remains blocked from earlier sinkings. There are two deaths on No. 39.

Anglo/US Relations: President Roosevelt nominates John Gilbert "Gil" Winant as Joseph Kennedy's Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Winant is publicly on record as supporting Roosevelt's own view that Great Britain constitutes the "front lines" against Hitler, and its war effort should be supported wholeheartedly without any thought of negotiation or the possibility of Great Britain losing. This is directly contrary to Kennedy's view that England was sure to lose to Germany and should be negotiating, not fighting.

German/Spanish Relations: Adolf Hitler already basically has given up on Operation Felix due to the logistical requirements of preparing for upcoming Operation Barbarossa. However, today he sends another lesson to Caudillo Francisco Franco. In it, Hitler says that England has no intention of helping Spain, while German already has promised 100,000 tons of grain. He concludes that "the British power in Europe is broken," and that the Wehrmacht is "the mightiest military machine in the world."

Anglo/Japanese Relations: The War Cabinet minutes for today mention a report by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Anthony Eden about Japan. According to Eden, the Japanese government has told its Embassy staff in London to be ready to "leave the country at short notice," and that Washington has been apprised of this information. A separate diary entry by Sir Alexander Cadogan addresses this more bluntly: "Some more very bad-looking Jap telephone conversations, from which it appears they have decided to attack us."

6 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com 104th Medical Regiment
104th Medical Battalion, 29th Infantry Division as it moves to its new post at Fort Meade, 6 February 1941. The 104th later landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day.

German Military: Adolf Hitler issues Fuhrer Directive No. 23, "Directions For Operations Against The English War Economy." It begins "Contrary to our former view" - apparently meaning that the Luftwaffe bombing command on English factories has failed - "the heaviest effect of our operations against the English war economy has lain in the high losses in merchant shipping." The order candidly confesses that:
The least effect of all (as far as we can see) has been made upon the morale and will to resist of the English people.
Thus, those who supported the switch to terror bombing on 7 September 1940 are recognized as having been wrong - and disastrously so, though that will not become apparent for some time.

The "consequences" of all these mistakes in the aerial campaign against Great Britain are:
More focused air attacks against British shipping assets;
An increased orientation on stopping British imports.
The striking thing about this Directive is how pessimistic it is and how low a priority Great Britain is to become. Operations are to be continued "by such forces as remain available for operations against England." It also gets into minutiae of target priorities, showing that the high command feels the Luftwaffe needs special guidance to attack the right places. The order may not be a slap in the face of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering (who opposes Operation Barbarossa), but it certainly comes close.

6 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Santa Anita racetrack
Grooms and stablehands at Santa Anita Park vote to strike, 6 February 1941 (LA Times).

British Military: The RAF establishes the Directorate of Air Sea Rescue aka Air Sea Rescue Services (ASRS) aka the RAF Search and Rescue Force. This force operates closely with Coastal Command.

British Government: The British House of Commons votes for a£1,600,000,000 war credit, money which the country essentially does not have.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill continues his war against the British press. He sends a memorandum to Information Minister Alfred Duff Cooper noting a recent BBC report that apparently gave hints as to future British strategy in North Africa. He tells Duff Cooper to "clean up your arrangements and tone up your men."

US Government: Charles Lindbergh testifies before Congress again today. This time, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he opposes the Lend Lease Bill, saying that it will only deplete US defenses.

Australian Government: Prime Minister Robert Menzies continues his lengthy journey from Melbourne to London. Today, he is in Cairo. Menzies has dinner with British Middle East Commander General Wavell and RAF chief Longmore, among others. Menzies notes in his diary that his talk "seems encouraging to these Generals & Marshals." His words of encouragement are probably very welcome by the Middle East command team, as London has been far from encouraging recently with all of its talk about the supposedly inefficient "tooth to tail ratio" and switching forces to Greece.

Norway: The Bishops of Norway begin to resist the German occupying forces.

China: The Chinese 5th War Area takes possession of Nanyang, burnt to the ground by the departed Japanese 11th Army.

Future History: Gigi Perreau is born in Los Angeles, California. Gigi goes on to become a child actress in films such as "Madame Curie" (1943). She remains popular until she is too old for her child roles, and in 1959 turns to television. Gigi Perreau remains active in the industry, doing voice work in "Time Again" (2011) and other recent films. She also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is or was a member of the board of directors of both the Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts and the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum.
6 February 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth cuts the cake in his New York City apartment at the Ansonia on his 46th birthday, 6 February 1941. 

February 1941


February 1, 1941: US Military Reorganization
February 2, 1941: Wehrmacht Supermen
February 3, 1941: World Will Hold Its Breath
February 4, 1941: USO Forms
February 5, 1941: Hitler Thanks Irish Woman
February 6, 1941: Operation Sunflower
February 7, 1941: Fox Killed in the Open
February 8, 1941: Lend Lease Passes House
February 9, 1941: Give Us The Tools
February 10, 1941: Operation Colossus
February 11, 1941: Afrika Korps
February 12, 1941: Rommel in Africa
February 13, 1941: Operation Composition
February 14, 1941: Nomura in Washington
February 15, 1941: Churchill's Warning
February 16, 1941: Operation Adolphus
February 17, 1941: Invade Ireland?
February 18, 1941: Panzerwaffe Upgrade
February 19, 1941: Three Nights Blitz
February 20, 1941: Prien's Farewell
February 21, 1941: Swansea Blitz Ends
February 22, 1941: Amsterdam Pogrom
February 23, 1941: OB-288 Convoy Destruction
February 24, 1941: Okuda Spies
February 25, 1941: Mogadishu Taken
February 26, 1941: OB-290 Convoy Destruction
February 27, 1941: Operation Abstention
February 28, 1941: Ariets Warns Stalin


2017

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