Wednesday 12 March 1941
|"Infantry and Bren gun carriers of the 5th Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment pass through a village during 3rd Division exercises near Christchurch in Dorset, 12 March 1941." © IWM (H 7971).|
Italian/Greek Campaign: The Italian Primavera Offensive continues on 12 March 1941. However, Italian 11th Army gains no new ground. The Greek defenses hold firm, while the Italians incur heavy casualties while attacking the Greek 1st Division in the center of the line. Mussolini demands that the offensive continue.
The Italian Regia Aeronautica flies numerous sorties and loses many planes. The RAF, meanwhile, bombs Valona airfield and Sazan (Saseno) Island off Valona (Vlorë).
East African Campaign: Lieutenant-General William Platt continues preparing his troops for another assault on Keren. He is planning a set-piece attack for the middle of the month. The Italians also are reinforcing the area, particularly on Dologorodoc east of the Dongolaas Gorge which serves as a choke point. Fort Dologorodoc dominates Happy Valley and is the critical feature of the entire defensive position. Further south, British troops are about 600 miles north of Mogadishu.
European Air Operations: The weather over northwestern Europe improves dramatically today, and RAF Bomber Command takes advantage. It sends large raids against Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg. A total of 244 RAF bombers fly over the Reich, including Stirling and Manchester bombers. Even some of the new Handley Page Halifax four-engined heavy bombers participate despite only having seen their first combat ever a couple of nights ago over Le Havre. This is the first major raid on Berlin during 1941, and there will be nine more.
The Berlin attack by 72 bombers includes ten 1,900 lb. bombs and seven 1,000 lb. bombs. Bombing accuracy is good for the time period, perhaps due to the clear weather. At Bremen, 86 bombers of No. 2 Group attack a Focke Wulf airframe factory. One of the 1,000 lb. bombs destroys a factory building. Damage is spread throughout the factory district. The third city hit, Hamburg, also suffers heavily from 88 RAF bombers. The Blohm & Voss shipbuilding/seaplane area suffers the most damage, with bombs also dropping in the surrounding areas.
The Hamburg and Bremen attacks appear to have been targeted to implement British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's "Battle of the Atlantic" priority scheme. The Focke Wulf factory in Bremen manufactures Fw 200 Condors which have been operating with devastating effect against British shipping in the Northwest Approaches and St. George's Channel. Blohm & Voss, meanwhile, is a major shipbuilder which has branched out into manufacturing flying boats and seaplanes.
About another dozen RAF bombers attack airfields in northwest Europe such as Schiphol airfield at Amsterdam, and also invasion ports such as Boulogne.
The Luftwaffe (KG 55) uses the clear night to attack the Liverpool area. The dock areas of Birkenhead and Wallasey in Wirral in the Merseyside area (174 dead) suffer heavy damage. The effect on shipping is particularly devastating with 8 small ships sunk and a floating crane destroyed. The Germans lose two bombers to night fighters. These continuing raids on Liverpool are killing hundreds of civilians and wounding hundreds more.
Battle of the Atlantic: German heavy cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst complete their refueling from tankers Uckermark and Ermland and resume patrolling the sea lanes near the Cape Verde Islands. Admiral Lütjens now is under orders to continue his attacks until the 18th, and then proceed to Brest, France to conclude Operation Berlin.
U-37 (Kptlt. Asmus Nicolai Clausen), on its eleventh and final patrol, is operating south of Iceland. It uses its deck gun to sink 91 ton Icelandic trawler Pétursey. There are no survivors. This is U-37's final victim, and in a way it is fitting: the ship is attacked by mistake, and once Clausen sees the Icelandic flag on its side, he ceases fire. However, it is too late, and the mistaken victim sinks. The absence of survivors is a puzzle, because Clausen gives them plenty of time to abandon ship, which they do - but the waters in the North Atlantic are cold and treacherous.
The Luftwaffe bombs 7005 British freighter Empire Frost at the mouth of the Bristol Channel off Milford Haven. There are six deaths, and the freighter is taken in tow.
The Luftwaffe bombs 6625 ton British freighter Essex Lance in the Strait of Dover. Badly damaged, the Essex Lance is towed to Cromer and beached nearby. The ship later is repaired and refloated.
The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 1189 ton Swedish freighter Stella at Manchester, which is loading steel billets bound for Newport. Sunk at its berth, the badly damaged Stella later is refloated and renamed River Swift.
At Liverpool, numerous ships are damaged or sunk during the night attack:
- 5646 Swedish freighter Buenos Aires (sunk, later raised and used as a stationary supply ship)
- 1542 British floating crane Mammoth (sunk, later raised)
- 122 ton British coaster Excelsior (sunk)
- 5218 ton British freighter Catrine (damaged)
- 12,427 ton British transport Imperial Star (damaged)
- 7403 ton British freighter Elax (damaged)
- 8092 ton British tanker El Mirlo (damaged)
- 8120 ton British tanker Delphinula (damaged).
German motor torpedo boat S-28 attacks Convoy SF 32 off Orfordness, Suffolk. It sinks 5257 ton British freighter Trevethoe. There is one death.
British 324 ton freighter Camroux I hits a mine a few miles off Blyth. It is towed to that port.
Convoy OB 297 departs from Liverpool.
Royal Navy destroyer HMS Exmoor, corvette Vervain and anti-submarine warfare trawler Valse are launched.
U-167, U-605, U-606 and U-661 are laid down.
|Italian medium M13/40 tanks on parade in Tripoli on 12 March 1941. Picture from Wikipedia’s Bundesarchiv project (Sturm, Federal Archive: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B16002).|
Battle of the Mediterranean: The entire 5th Light Division now is active in Tripolitania. General Rommel returns from Berlin, where he was engaged in planning the first offensive of the Afrika Korps. A parade, apparently in Rommel's honor, is staged at 17:00 in front of the Castle in Tripoli by the German 5th Panzer Regiment and the tank battalion of the Ariete Division. The German panzers head out toward Sirte directly after the parade .
On Malta, the Luftwaffe is switching to night raids, just as it has on the Channel front in northwest Europe. Many of the night-time raids are nuisance raids, lone planes designed simply to strain the nerves of the island's residents. However, the residents of Sliema have had their homes destroyed in the previous night's raid, and the defending RAF fighters have been greatly reduced in number by recent attacks on Luqa and Hal Far airfields.
Convoy AG 5 departs Alexandria bound for Piraeus, Convoy US 9/2 departs from Bombay.
An Italian troop convoy departs from Naples bound for Tripoli. It has three troop transports and has a heavy escort.
Battle of the Indian Ocean: German raider Pinguin rendezvouses with fellow raider Komet 120 miles east of the Kerguelen Islands. They proceed to the islands and anchor at Port Couvreux. Accompanying Pinguin is captured whaler Pol IX, which is converted to an auxiliary minelayer and renamed Adjutant.
|Marika Rökk on the cover of Filmwoche Magazine, 12 March 1941.|
Anglo/US Relations: At a press conference regarding the new Lend Lease Act, Prime Minister Churchill goes into rhetorical overdrive. He calls the law "A new Magna Carta... an inspiring act of faith." Considering that many in the US simply want the British soldiers to fight Hitler and die rather than US boys, it's a little murky how much "faith" has to do with it. But, quibbles aside, it indeed is a war-winning law that directly addresses Churchill's perpetual paranoia about supplies getting through. There is no question that this is a decisive moment in the war and that Churchill appropriately celebrates it.
Churchill telegrams President Roosevelt (via Lord Halifax, who actually delivers it on the 13th). It concerns their simmering disagreement over humanitarian aid to areas occupied by the Germans and their various satellites and enablers:
Admiral Darlan’s declaration and threat make me wonder whether it would not be best for you to intervene as a friend of both sides and try to bring about a working agreement. We do not wish to push things to extremes, and we naturally should be most reluctant in a thing like this to act against your judgment after you have weighed all the pros and cons.Darlan has recently stated that he views it as his responsibility to feed 40 million people, and he will use force to do so if necessary. The only thing standing between US humanitarian aid and Vichy French possessions in North Africa is the comprehensive British blockade. In this telegram, Churchill states that "Dealing with Darlan is dealing with Germany," which is quite inaccurate.
Churchill suggests that perhaps slipping a ship or two through would appease everyone and perhaps aid the British war effort in the bargain:
Would you therefore consider coming forward on the basis of how shocked you were at the idea of fighting breaking out between France and Great Britain, which would only help the common foe. Then you might be able to procure Vichy assent to a scheme allowing a ration of wheat to go through, month by month to unoccupied France and something for French Africa as long as other things were satisfactory. These other things might form the subject of a secret arrangement of which the Germans will not know, by which German infiltration into Morocco and French African ports would be limited to the bare armistice terms, and by which an increasing number of French warships would gradually be moving from Toulon to Casablanca or Dakar.It is difficult to see how the Germans "would not know" of food shipments to Vichy French areas. Churchill also bemoans the possibility "any large number of ships which are needed for our life and war effort were used up in food carrying."
|In Liverpool, damage to the Overhead Railway line at Sandon dock resulting from the Luftwaffe raid of 12/13 March 1941.|
Thai/Soviet Relations: Thailand and the Soviet Union establish diplomatic relations.
US Military: CINCPAC (Admiral Husband E. Kimmel) sends a message to Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations in which he appears to take security at Pearl Harbor lightly:
[T]he Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet, recommends that until a light efficient net, that can be laid temporarily and quickly is developed, no A/T [aerial torpedo] nets be supplied this area.The Japanese at this time are working on their attack plans against Pearl Harbor which would be compromised by such nets. This will be an exhibit for the Hart Inquiry in 1942.
The Corpus Christi Naval Air School opens. It is a pet project of Representative Lyndon B. Johnson, President Roosevelt's primary Texas supporter during the 1940 election, and Roosevelt directly intervenes with the War Department by asking it to listen to Johnson. One could consider Naval Air Station a "political payoff" to Johnson for his support. Industrialist Henry Kaiser, another big Roosevelt supporter, helps to build the base. That's just how things get done. NAS Corpus Christi's first commander is Captain Alva Berhard. The school ramps up quite quickly and soon is training hundreds of students.
China: With the Japanese Western Hupei Operations terminated, the Chinese River Defense Force pursues the withdrawing enemy. The Japanese leave behind a scene of burnt-out villages and many dead civilians.
British Homefront: There are many who continue to keep an eye on how all this will affect business in the post-world. Australian Prime Minister Menzies, who is visiting London, dines with famous economist John Maynard Keynes. Menzies writes in his diary:
Keynes advocates a partnership in disposal of primary products, e.g. wool, and on the importance of blending war effort with an eye on post war world - e.g. aeroplanes & motor cars in Australia.The way that Australia currently is "blending the war effort and the post war world" is by sending its men to defend Greece from the Wehrmacht.
American Homefront: "Meet John Doe" premieres in Los Angeles, Miami and New York City. Directed by Frank Capra and starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, "Meet John Doe" is a prestige production from Warner Bros. continuing Hollywood's cynical take on politics and the media (such as in Jimmy Stewart's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"). It also is an early "populist political phenomenon" film which arguably reaches its peak with Warren Beatty's 1998 "Bulworth."
|A shop in Orange NSW, Australia. E A Young, owner. 12 March 1941.|
And now for some relaxing swing from occupied Europe.