Friday, April 28, 2017

April 19, 1941: London Smashed

Saturday 19 April 1941

19 April 1941 Romford London England Blitz damage
Devastation at Essex Road, Romford (Picture: "Hitler v Havering" by Peter Watt via Romford Recorder)

Operation Marita: With Yugoslavia out of the war now and the British settling into a new line running from Thermopylae to Corinth on 19 April 1941, the focus turns to the Greek Epirus Army in Albania. It has pulled out of some positions in Albania, which the Italians there somewhat tentatively have occupied, but the bulk of the Greek Epirus Army remains in the mountains along the Greece/Albania border.

The 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler ("LSSAH," still of brigade size at this point in the war) under SS-Obergruppenführer Sepp Dietrich (Hitlers former chauffeur) once again makes a radical change in its orientation to address this situation. Having moved west into Yugoslavia and then south into Greece, the LSSAH now heads west again into the mountains to confront the Greeks. The Greeks are trying to escape through the Metsovon Pass in the Pindus Mountains, which is at an altitude of 5000 feet, so the LSSAH has a bit of a climb on its hands.

However, the Germans don't even have to do fight the Greeks to defeat them - all they need to do is seize Ioannina, which controls the Greek's supply road. The LSSAH closes up on Ioannina today against light opposition, which is a mystery considering the city's strategic importance. In fact, reports coming out of the mountains, such as by Greek Generals Ioannis Pitsikas and Georgios Bakos, indicate that Greek troop morale has collapsed and they may not have the motivation any longer to continue a hopeless cause.

Elsewhere, the day is spent by the British occupying their new defensive line and the Germans closing up on it. The Germans of the XVIII Mountain Corps take firm control of Larissa, which bottles up any remaining Allied troops in the northeast of Greece and makes their escape route dependent either upon air or naval transport. The Germans find that the British at the airfield left so precipitously that they abandoned sufficient rations and other supplies to supply the German unit's continued move south.

Winston Churchill once again demonstrates the borderline contempt that he feels toward Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell. He sends him a querulous Secret memorandum that can best be characterized as snotty. It reads in part:
So far His Majesty's Government have not received from General Wilson or from you any account of the fighting in Greece, although heavy and prolonged actions have been in progress for several days, and lengthy newspaper reports of a confused character have been telegraphed home. This is not the way His Majesty's Government should be treated. It is also detrimental to the Service.... I wish you to make ... a short daily report of what is happening on the Front ... at least every twenty-four hours.
A clearer slap in Wavell's face is hard to imagine. This is akin to a teacher remonstrating with a student to turn in his homework on time. Wavell's main problem, though, is not Churchill, but that he probably doesn't really have a true picture of the course of the conflict, because it is moving at a rapid pace and his local commanders probably don't have time to submit precise reports of their own locations when they are rolling down the highway toward the next defensive line.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 1822 ton Greek freighter Teti Nomikou at Chalkis.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Regent, based in Malta, arrives at Kotor, Yugoslavia to rescue the British Ambassador, Sir Ronald Campbell, and other VIPs. However, the Germans are in possession of the port and bomb the submarine as it approaches, injuring an officer, rake it with machine gun fire from the shore. The Regent's commanding officer, Lt. Commander H.C. Brown, and a sailor are shot by the machine gun and seriously wounded. The Regent departs without the ambassador or an officer, Lieutenant D. Lambert, who is sent ashore to locate him.

The German 164th Infantry Division sends troops to occupy Samothrace.

19 April 1941 St. Peter's Hospital London Blitz Damage
Nurses doing what they can in St. Peter’s Hospital, Stepney, East London, to pick up after the bomb damage on April 19, 1941. Four hospitals, some say more, were among the buildings hit during a night of devastation. (AP Photo).

East African Campaign: The Indian 5th Infantry Division marches south from Amara, Abyssinia toward the 1st South African Brigade, which is marching north from Addis Ababa. In between them is 7000-man Italian stronghold Amba Alagi. The South Africans encounter Italian resistance at Dessi, which is is about 130 miles (200 km) south of Amba Alagi.

Iraq: The British seized Basra on the 18th with the landing of the Indian 20th Infantry Brigade. Legally, this is proper according to a 1930 treaty. However, the Iraqis see their chance to break free of colonial British rule, don't care about treaties.

The Rashid Ali government, defiantly pro-Axis, steps up its movement of large military forces to the vicinity of RAF Habbaniya, one of two major British airbases in Iraq. This airbase, about 50 miles (80 km) west of Baghdad on the Euphrates, is isolated and vulnerable to many forms of pressure. The Iraqis move an infantry brigade, a separate artillery brigade, a few tanks, a dozen armored cars, and assorted other units to a plateau that overlooks the airbase. The Iraqis demand that all movement to and from the base cease, but the British fly in half a dozen additional Gloster Gladiator fighters to Habbaniyah.

The British strategic problem is that they have large forces in Iraq, but they are widely separated by increasingly hostile territory. The Germans, upon whom Ali has called for aid, have a much bigger strategic problem. They cannot send ships to Iraq, so any presence must be via the Luftwaffe. However, the British control all the Iraqi airfields and the Germans, even if they could find a place to land, would have no logistical support. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, however, has high hopes of intervening anyway.

19 April 1941 St. Paul's London Blitz damage
Blitz damage to St. Paul's in London. LA Times, 19 April 1941.

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe returns to London again after dark with another massive raid. It is even more destructive than the previous raid on 16-17 April. As in 1940, the bombers continue arriving until the first glimmers of dawn. Total sorties (some planes fly multiple missions) equal 712, dropping about 1180 tons of bombs. The Luftwaffe loses only two planes. Casualties are not broken down between the missions, and total casualties are roughly 2300 killed and 3000 seriously wounded. The misery of London dwellers grows, with about 150,000 homes hit between the two raids.

Many important landmarks and public buildings are hit. These include the Speaker's House at Westminster, the Law Courts, Selfridge's, Christie's Auction House, and even St. Paul's, which takes a hit to the north transept and shatters the remaining stained glass windows. Eight London hospitals and many churches - including Christopher Wren's Holborn - are obliterated. London firefighters lose 13 men, the most so far during the war.

The devastation, of course, is worse in some districts than in others. It becomes known locally as "Essex Road Night" because of the damage inflicted upon Romford and Hornchurch. There are 38 dead there alone, mainly women and children. A bomb scores a direct hit on an air raid shelter at 144 Brentwood Road, killing nine members of a single family (the Gills).

RAF Bomber Command continues its patrols of the North Sea and also sends 36 aircraft to bomb coastal targets.

19 April 1941 Gill family London England Blitz casualties
The Gill Family at rest. You can win a war, but that won't bring back the fallen (Romford Recorder).

Battle of the Atlantic: The British receive a report at 01:17 that Kriegsmarine has moved battleship Bismarck around the tip of northern Denmark toward the Atlantic ("the Skaw"). In fact, the Bismarck remains in port, but this sort of false alarm preys on the nerves of the Admiralty. The Admiralty switches a lot of its capital ships around, such as  sending battlecruiser HMS Hood to the Bay of Biscay to relieve battleship HMS King George V.

Free French submarine Minerve sights German tanker Tiger being led by auxiliary minesweeper M.1101 along the coast of Norway southwest of Stavanger. The Minerve sinks the minesweeper, but misses the tanker.

The Luftwaffe attack on London damages some ships at the quays, including:

  • Destroyer HMS Wild Swan, in drydock
  • Destroyer HMS Winchester, in drydock

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 351 ton minesweeping trawler Kopanes near Coquet Island in Northumberland. Everyone survives.

British 133 ton dredger Fravis hits a mine and sinks at Langstone Harbour in Hampshire.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Sunfish collides with 707 ton netlayer HMS Minster. This sends the Sunfish to the repair yard for almost exactly five months.

To man the US coast guard cutters being transferred to the Royal Navy, sloop HMS Aberdeen departs Gibraltar bound for Halifax carrying 26 officers and 31 enlisted men to bring them to the UK.

German raider Atlantis transfers the captured passengers from sunk liner Zamzam to supply ships Alsterufer and Dresden, which will take them to Occupied France. Captain Rugge of the Atlantis orders the captives treated well. The Atlantis takes on board three crated Arado Ar-196 seaplanes for reconnaissance.

Convoy SC 29 departs from Halifax bound for Liverpool.

U-372 (Kapitänleutnant Heinz-Joachim Neumann) is commissioned.

19 April 1941 US Navy Vought Corsair
Navy Vought XF4U-1 Corsair parked on a Compass Rose, Bridgeport Airport, on April 19, 1941.

Battle of the Mediterranean: The front around Tobruk is settling down. Both sides are launching occasional patrol, but there is no chance of a breakthrough at this time by either side. Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel busies himself with organizational changes such as switching his German and Italian units so that they had the appropriate duties (for instance, he orders that only German troops should occupy Bardia, which has been subject to aggressive British sea bombardments). He also greets the new commander of the 15th Panzer Division, Colonel Freiherr von Esebeck.

While inspecting the troops in the Sollum sector, Rommel observes that the British do not appear to have many troops in this key area. He resolves to continue his offensive into Egypt at this point rather than wait for the conquest of Tobruk. Most German commanders stay in their offices, but making the effort to visit the troops at the front often pays off for Rommel like this.

The British have mounted a series of commando raids of varying success. After dark, they try again. The British use 9919 ton freighter HMS Glengyle to deposit 450 commandos who are part of Layforce (2000 British commandos on call in the the Middle East) at Bardia. The problems start even before the men get ashore, as there are difficulties with the landing craft. Then, there is supposed to be a shore party to guide them in, but it is delayed and not there. This probably contributes to the commandos landing on the wrong beaches. They can still complete their mission, but when they get to Bardia, they find it vacant. Searching for something to do, the commandos destroy an Italian supply dump and coastal artillery battery before returning to the beach for pick-up. The raid, though, come to an unhappy ending for the British when 70 men go to the wrong evacuation beach and are captured, and when a British sentry mistakenly shoots one of his own officers.

The British government put the best face on this fiasco by claiming that it later induces the Germans to over-garrison Sollum - but Rommel was sending German troops there to garrison it anyway. Layforce essentially is disbanded after this and its men used as infantry on various special projects. One of the reasons that the Bardia Raid, as it is called, is remembered at all is that author Evelyn Waugh participates. He records in his diary (as opposed to the triumphant media accounts that soon follow) that the entire affair is an incompetent debacle against no opposition.

The Luftwaffe is getting more aggressive as it receives more units. Today is the first aerial combat over Tobruk involving the Luftwaffe. Fighter unit I,/JG 27, which has arrived after a short detour in the Balkans, make its first patrol and has an immediate impact. It shoot down four Hurricanes of RAF Nos. 73 and 274 Squadrons based at Gerawla which intercept a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka mission against the port. The Germans accomplish this at a cost of one of their own number (force-landed).

Two of the claims go to Oblt. Karl-Heinz Redlich, giving him ten victories. This is Obfw. Hans-Joachim Marseille's unit, and he has seven victories at this time. The Luftwaffe has a number of advantages at this time in North Africa:

  • The RAF is becoming seriously short of fighters in the western desert, with units transferred to Greece;
  • The Luftwaffe has transferred in some top pilots from the Channel Front;
  • The RAF pilots are culls of the English fighter force;
  • The RAF is flying Hurricanes and do not have any Spitfires, generally considered the top RAF fighter;
  • The Germans are flying their latest model fighter, the Bf 109F, which has been fitted with air filters suitable to the desert.

The Italian Brescia Division shoots down a Blenheim Mk.IV from RAF No. 45 Squadron, killing the crew.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 3257 ton Panamanian freighter Margit  at Kalkara Creek, Malta.

The Italian 7th Cruiser Division lays a minefield with 321 mines and 492 explosive floats east of Cape Bon, Tunisia. The field will have a total of 740 mines when it is completed. This operation may be in response to the recent Royal Navy patrol near there that destroyed an Axis supply convoy to Tripoli.

The Luftwaffe bombs Malta, but the bombs fall in open fields and cause no damage.

Convoy ME 7 departs from Malta for Alexandria.

19 April 1941 East Ham London Blitz damage
Mountfield Road, East Ham, London. Bomb damage. 19 April 1941.

Anglo/Australian Relations: While Australia and England both belong to the Commonwealth and are thus more than just allies, some tension does exist between the two nations. One of those is the question of Australia's military participation in the European conflict. Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies has a meeting with CIGS John Dill in which he exerts pressure to get Australians more commands when their troops are heavily engaged in the fighting. Specifically, Menzies thinks that General Wavell at least should have a senior Australian officer on his staff. Dill is "agreeable," according to Menzies, who is worried about a peace faction in Australia that he characterizes in his diary as "a minority, but noisy, and with access to the press."

German/Bulgarian Relations: Hitler meets with King Boris III of Bulgaria.

German/Hungarian Relations: Hitler meets with the Hungarian ambassador.

Switzerland: Bertolt Brecht's play "Mother Courage and Her Children" has its world premiere at the Schauspielhaus Zürich in Switzerland.

China: The Japanese launch the Fuzhou Operation. This targets an important administrative center that also has a handy airfield. In addition, the Japanese launch the Zhedong Operation, which is in the eastern part of Zhejiang Province.

British Homefront: Today is the compulsory registration date for women aged 20-12. Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin has exempted certain categories of women, such as those with young children, but even they must register to indicate their status. Only the smallest of children will get a mother out of the queues, because the government is providing subsidized childcare. The government also is compelling companies to hire women via an Essential Work Order.

American Homefront: Les Pawson wins the Boston Marathon. He becomes the second man to win the race three times.

Weightlifter Steve Stanko lifts 1000 pounds total at the Mid-Atlantic Championships in York, Pennsylvania. This sets a new world record.

19 April 1941 The Saturday Evening Post cover Emmett Watson
"Snarling Tiger," Emmett Watson, Saturday Evening Post, 19 April 1941. 


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

April 18, 1941: Me 262 First Flight

Friday 18 April 1941

18 April 1941 bomb damage Greece Australian trucks
The approach to Farsala (Pharsala) bridge, Greece from the north. The Luftwaffe has just bombed a truck loaded with ammonal (Australian War Memorial).

Operation Marita: Yugoslavia officially is out of the conflict as of noon on 18 April 1941, and the Greek government is descending into chaos. Prime Minister Alexandros Koryzis, who succeeded Ioannis Metaxas on 29 January 1941, commits suicide by shooting himself. King George II, who has been running things anyway, assumes control of the government during the crisis of the German invasion. He imposes martial law on Athens.

Local British commander General Henry Maitland Wilson informs Greek Commander in Chief Alexander Papagos that his forces will fight until the first week in May on a new line, but to do so require the Greek Epirus Army in Albania to withdraw in good order to cover their flank. That, as everyone knows, is becoming increasingly problematic due to the swift German advance and the Greeks' very slow start and inability to hold the main roads. The main factor in the Allies' favor at this point is the rough terrain - while it is preventing the Epirus Army from moving south fast enough to help form a new line, it also is providing excellent defensive positions for the Commonwealth troops.

In the field, Germany's Operation Marita, the invasion of Greece, is proceeding at a brisk pace. The British are trying to make a fighting withdrawal to a line between Thermopylae and Corinth, but the Wehrmacht's panzers are hot on their heels. A key action takes place at the Battle of Tempe Gorge.

As a preliminary to the Battle of Tempe Gorge, the German 6th Mountain Division (General Ferdinand Schörner) has advanced to the Pinios River. Facing them on the other side is the New Zealand 21st Battalion, which has been conducting a series of delaying actions against the advancing Germans. Recently, the ANZAC troops successfully delayed advancing motorcycle troops and panzers at the Battle of Platamon, at which both sides took a fair number of casualties, and this is their next switch position. The ultimate goal is Larissa, a communications hub that essentially controls Greek north/south traffic.

18 April 1941 Australian troops
Australian troops on the march in Greece, circa April 1941 (Australian War Memorial).

The Germans attack at 07:00, with another attack at noon from Lieutenant-Colonel Hermann Balck's troops. The defending New Zealand 21st Battalion and two companies of the Australian 2/2nd Battalion had a bad experience (though positive strategically) with Balck's troops at Platamon previously, and they do not fare any better this time. The ANZAC troops are on their own, whereas the Germans are steadily getting reinforcements as additional Wehrmacht units close up on the river.

After some panzers and/or Stug assault guns of the 3rd Regiment, 2nd Panzer Division find a way across the Pinios River on a pontoon bridge against fierce opposition, the New Zealanders have to give up that crossing by 17:30 and retreat into the hills. This leaves a gap in the Allied defenses. With only the Australian 2/2nd left defending the river, the battle turns into a route. At 18:45, the remaining Allied troops are ordered to retreat with all due haste. They suffer terribly in this retrograde movement, and their ordeal is not yet over - they have to stage a fighting withdrawal throughout the night to find the protection of other Allied troops.

By dawn, the surviving Australians and New Zealanders are able to join the Allied convoys streaming south on the main road to Thermopylae, having suffered 80 casualties and an additional 120 captured. The Germans, who take about 140 casualties, occupy Larissa, which closes the escape route for any remaining Allied troops further north. The Australian 2/2nd Battalion's troops are apportioned to other units for the remainder of the campaign due to their heavy losses. While the ANZAC troops are not able to delay the Germans for more than a day, that time enables many other Allied troops to retreat through Larissa to the new British line.

The Luftwaffe strafes the Allied convoys heading south, but the British retreat in good order. One problem for the Allies is that the German forces are accumulating more power steadily, while the British no longer are reinforcing their troops and instead are making plans to evacuate them (British Rear Admiral Harold T. Baillie-Grohman arrives today to coordinate that effort). Thus any defensive lines will be temporary at best.

The Italians continue tentatively occupying towns that the Greek Epirus Army is evacuating in Albania. Today, they occupy Argyrokastro.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 7138 ton British freighter British Science north of the Kythera Channel. Everyone survives.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 1158 ton Greek freighter Fokion and 968 ton Greek freighter Leon off Euboea Island.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 1121 ton Greek freighter Chios off Chalkis, near Eretria. Near the same spot, the Luftwaffe badly damages 5199 ton Greek freighter Moscha L. Goulandri. The captain beaches her at Chalkis, where she makes a tempting target for further attacks.

Iraq War: The Indian 20th Infantry Brigade, sent from Karachi by GHQ India, lands at Basra, Iraq. The 20th Infantry Brigade quickly seizes the key port of Basra. It is the first new element to arrive of Iraqforce, at this time called Sabine Force, under the command of Major-General W.A.K. Fraser.

The British government does not recognize the new pro-Axis Iraq government of Rashid Ali and wishes to install a friendly government in Baghdad. Meanwhile, upstream, the Iraqis have begun moving troops and artillery toward the British airfield at Habbaniyah, but have not attacked at this time. Ali already has requested aid from Germany, but that technically is a very difficult thing to accomplish at such a distance with the Royal Navy in complete command of the seas. Luftwaffe support is possible, but the British control the airfields and much of the intervening airspace.

18 April 1941 Lockheed Hudson bomber
A Lockheed Hudson of RAF No 269 Squadron (shown) crashes upon landing at Kaldaðarnes, Iceland today. The crew survives and the plane is repaired and returned to service (source: RAF 269 Squadron History).

European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command returns to bombing coastal targets, sending 26 bombers to attack invasion ports in France and points north.

The Luftwaffe forms a new night-fighter unit, NJG 4 (Major Rudolf Stoltenhoff is Kommodore). The unit is based at Metz and at first is composed of Bf 110s and Do 217s.

18 April 1941 German blockade runners
An article about German blockade runners publicizes the recent arrival of German freighter Hermes in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from Bordeaux, France (St. Louis Star-Times, April 18, 1941).

Battle of the Atlantic: There are several collisions at sea today. That is both a reflection on the rough seas of April and the difficulties of operating without navigational lights during wartime.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Urge torpedoes and sinks 10,535 ton Italian tanker Franco Martelli in the Atlantic about 300 miles (500 km) west of St. Nazaire. The Franco Martelli was trying to pierce the Royal Navy blockade en route from Brazil.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 6998 ton British tanker Scottish Musician just off St. Ann's Head. The Scottish Musician is towed to Newport. There are two deaths.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 3938 ton Panamanian freighter Csikos off the Scottish coast. The ship manages to make it to Logh Foyle. There are two deaths.

The RAF torpedoes and sinks 289 ton German torpedo boat V-709 Guido Möhring in the Bay of Biscay off Port Ley. By some accounts, this is just a local fishing boat.

Two Royal Navy destroyers, HMS Newark and Volunteer, collide north of Rathlin Island and are seriously damaged. They are both towed to Belfast and take four months to repair. There are five deaths.

Destroyers HMS Whitshed and La Melpomene (French) are in a collision off of Harwich. The La Melpomene is under repair for just over a month.

Royal Navy 88 ton drifter Young Ernie collides with another ship in the Tyne and sinks.

French cargo ship Champenois, carrying a load of Barley, runs aground about 37 km north of Casablanca, Morocco. The ship is written off. Some accounts place this incident on the 19th.

Royal Navy minelayer HMS Teviotbank lays minefield BS 54 off the east coast of England.

Convoy OB 312 departs from Liverpool.

18 April 1941 Bren gun Indian troops
Indian troops of the 4th Infantry Division man a Bren machine gun on an anti-aircraft mounting, Western Desert near Sidi Barrani, 18 April 1941.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Prime Minister Winston Churchill memos CIGS General Sir John Dill about what is being done in North Africa. He chastises Dill (and indirectly Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell) for sending the 7th Armoured Division back to Cairo to refit. Churchill views this 400-mile journey as incredibly inefficient and unnecessary:
It was an act of improvidence to send the whole Division all his way back, in view of the fact that German elements were already reported in Tripoli. The whole of the Tanks in this division could not have been all in simultaneously in a condition of needing prolonged heavy repairs. Workshops should have been improvised at the front for lighter repairs, and servicing personnel sent forward.... General Wavell and his officers seem, however, to have thought that no trouble could arise before the end of May. This was a very serious miscalculation, from which vexatious consequences have flowed.
Generals Dill and Wavell, of course, know all about "workshops" and the like and do not need to be lectured to about same. Wavell is privy to the Ultra intercepts which did support a rational conclusion that the Germans would have to wait until May to launch an offensive. In fact, only Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel's initiative and dash contrary to orders resulted in the German offensive beginning early. Rommel confounded everyone - on both sides.

Churchill is not alone in his disparagement of the Middle East Command - his influence is affecting those around him, too. Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, who met with Wavell only a couple of months ago and at that time found him capable, now notes in his diary that:
I must insist upon Australians getting proper commands, for I have more confidence in them than I do in Wavell & Co., whose gross miscalculations have brought us to this pass.
This incident indicates why many military men who deal with Churchill directly, such as Dill, take a much dimmer view of Churchill than does the public at large.

On the ground in North Africa, little changes during the day. General Rommel moves his headquarters three miles from the Green mountain, about 30 km west of Tobruk. This is further from the port than where it had been previously and suggests that he is preparing for a lengthy siege. He awaits more units of the 15th Panzer Division before launching another attack - something that the German High Command wanted him to do before starting his most recent (and very successful) offensive.

Australian General Leslie Morshead, in charge at Tobruk, reorganizes his defenses. He has his men build a secondary defensive line behind the one built by the Italians and creates additional reserve forces in case of a breakthrough.

At sea, the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet puts out to sea for a major operation aimed at bombarding the German positions in Libya. The two related operations are MD 2 and MD 3. This will play out over the next few days.

The Luftwaffe begins receiving some reinforcements as I,/JG 27 begins arriving at Ain-el-Gazala.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 2190 ton Royal Navy convoy service ship HMS Fiona about 50 miles (80 km) off Sidi Barrani. There are 53 deaths flowing from the attack.

Two separate Italian convoys, one of four ships with five escorts and the other of four ships, depart from Palermo bound for Tripoli. The first convoy sails at 08:00, the other at 23:00.

18 April 1941 Australian Army convoy Greece
"Australian Army Ford 4x4 artillery tractor towing a No 27 Mk I limber and an 18 pounder Mk IV field gun in the Verroia Pass, Greece, April 1941" (Australian War Memorial).

Battle of the Indian Ocean: British steel flat Punduah sinks in rough seas while under tow in the Bay of Bengal.

Convoy BM 7 departs from Karachi with ten transports. It carries an Indian brigade and an artillery group bound for Malaya, with the first stop at Shatt el Arab.

POWs: About 80 Axis prisoners stage an escape attempt at the Angler POW Camp in Neys Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada. Everyone is recaptured, the last two at Medicine Hat, Alberta. This is known as the Angler Escape.

Anglo/Soviet Relations: Winston Churchill memos Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, asking, "Has Sir Stafford Cripps yet delivered my personal message of warning about the German danger to Stalin?"

Anglo/German Relations: Churchill and the War Cabinet order publication of a statement to the effect that if the Germans bomb Athens and Cairo, the RAF will bomb Rome. RAF Chief Air Marshal Sir Charles Portal objects that bombing Rome is not really within the RAF's capabilities without extraordinary effort, to which Churchill replies that they will assess the situation at the time should the need to bomb Rome arise arise. This is basically how the two sides communicate throughout much of the war - through press releases.

Pan-American Relations: The United States defines a Pan-American Security Zone based upon the 3 October 1939 Declaration of Panama. It extends to 26 degrees west longitude, which is about 2300 nautical miles west of New York City. It comes to within 50 miles of Iceland, where Royal Navy escorts can take over.

18 April 1941 Me-262 V1 Prototype
Looking little like its final form, Me 262 V1 with a Jumo 210G piston engine in the nose takes off on its first flight today, April 18, 1941.

German Military: The first test flights of the most advanced fighter under development anywhere in the world, the Messerschmitt Me 262, begin today. The Me 262 is designed around jet engines, but those are not ready yet. Instead, a Junkers Jumo 210 engine is mounted on the Me 262 V1 in the nose. Eventually, when they are ready, BMW 003 turbojets will be fitted to the Me 262. For now, however, the prototype airframe is tested for basic airworthiness and flight characteristics.

The Me 262 has been under development since shortly before the beginning of the war as Projekt 1065 (P.1065). It is not the only German jet fighter under development in Germany, either. In fact, the competing Heinkel He 280 already has flown on jet power. However, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM, Ministry of Aviation) is placing its bets on the Me 262, perhaps because it has more confidence in the BMW 003 engine than in the independently produced Heinkel engine. In any event, the RLM is not too concerned about jet aircraft at this time -  Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe, cut the engine development program to just 35 engineers in February 1940. Everything depends upon the engine, so critical decisions are being made at this stage of the war that will greatly impact the development of the Me 262 later, when it is really needed.

Japanese Military: The Japanese Imperial Air Force sends a Mitsubishi G3M2 "Nell" bomber based in Formosa (Taiwan) flies over Luzon for some photo-reconnaissance.

18 April 1941 Australian transport officers
Australian transport officers handling their transport vehicles in Greece. The one officer appears to be wearing an Australian hunting hat (Australian War Memorial).

US Military: There is a groundbreaking ceremony for the future Consolidated-Vultee aircraft plant in Fort Worth, Texas, United States. It is attended by General Gerald Brant and local civic leader Amon Carter, who was largely responsible for it being sited in Fort Worth. One of the inviolable rules for the siting of the plant was that it be well away from the coast.

Ground also is broken for the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Detroit, Michigan. The Willow Run plant, run by Ford Motor Company, will produce B-24 components that will be assembled by Consolidated at the Fort Worth plant (and also at the Douglas Aircraft plant at Tulsa, Oklahoma). Willow Run is to be built by Ford, sell it to the government, run operations there under a lease for the duration of the war, and then have an operation to purchase the plant after war production ends.

Vichy France: The French abandon the League of Nations, which is inert anyway.

China: The Japanese launch another in a series of air raids against Chungking.

American Homefront: An internal debate is raging at General Motors about how far it must go to support the Roosevelt administration in its anti-German posture. A main issue on the table is administration pressure for GM to sever its association with South American car dealers suspected of having pro-Nazi sympathies. Another issue is the administration's demand that US auto manufacturers drastically curtail their production to aid the war effort - when the US is not at war. The company is resisting both of these administration initiatives.

Today, Walter Carpenter, a GM board member, writes to GM President Alfred P. Sloane:
The country today seems to be pretty well committed to a policy opposite to Germany and Italy. If we don’t listen to the urgings of the State Department in this connection, it seems to me just a question of time... The effect of this will be to associate the General Motors with Nazi or Fascist propaganda against the interests of the United States.
Around this time, the US FBI is investigating GM senior executives for disloyalty to America. What they find is an absence of disloyalty, but some collusion with Germany by GM's head of overseas operations James D. Mooney. This issue will continue to haunt GM for decades.

18 April 1941 comic strip
A panel from a comic strip that appears in US papers today, 18 April 1941.


Monday, April 24, 2017

April 17, 1941: Yugoslavia Gone

Monday 17 April 1941

17 April 1941 Dubrovnik Italian troops
Italian Bersaglieri (Marksmen) march through the city streets of Dubrovnik as crowds watch on following the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia following the Yugoslav capitulation of 17 April 1941.

Operation Marita/Operation 25: Yugoslavia unconditionally surrenders to Germany and Italy on 17 April 1941. Or, rather, the Yugoslav Army surrenders, effective at noon on 18 April, which amounts in practice to the same thing. In addition, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Cincar-Marcovic signs surrender documents to Italy and Germany on behalf of the Yugoslav government - but he does not have authority to do so. While Hungary has invaded Yugoslavia, it decides that it is not "at war" with Yugoslavia and thus does not have to sign any peace treaties with it. And what about Bulgaria? And the new Independent State of Croatia? In fact, it's not clear what the heck actually happened today.

The situation may be legally muddled, but the inescapable conclusion is that Yugoslavia is now out of the war.

Yugoslav assistant to Commander General Danil Kalafatovic, Lieutenant General Mihailo Bodi, and German Colonel General Maximilian Freiherr von Weichs sign an armistice in the building of the Czechoslovak ministry in Belgrade. Separately, the Ban and National Assembly of Slovenia surrender to the Italians. The Yugoslavs resisted for twelve days.

Virtually the entire Yugoslav government, including King Peter II, already has fled to Athens via RAF Flying boat flying from the island of Kotor. The military situation clearly is hopeless for the Yugoslavs and has been for several days. All that remains is for them to see how the Axis powers will divide up the country. The Germans have very definite ideas on that, and they revolve around a complete abnegation of the treaties signed after World War I.

Others in Yugoslavia are not so fortunate as King Peter and Prime Minister Simovic. Around 6,000 Yugoslav officers and 335,000 troops are put in POW camps. The dispersal of Yugoslav units along the frontier and in remote areas where they have not been captured, though, provide the seeds for a partisan campaign.

Greece is still fighting alongside their British allies. However, it is plain to see how things are going. Prime Minister Winston Churchill reads the contents of a telegram from Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell. In it, Wavell recounts discussions held in Athens between local British commander General Henry Maitland Wilson and Greek Commander in Chief General Alexander Papagos. While agreeing to the British withdrawal down the waist of Greece, Papagos noted (according to Wavell's message):
as things might become critical in future, he [Wilson] should re-embark British troops and save Greece devastation.
The War Cabinet minutes note that "arrangements to this end [the British evacuation from the mainland] were being made."

17 April 1941 Westminster London Blitz damage
Jermyn Street looking towards St. James's Street, 17 April 1941 (Copyright Westminster City Archives).

However, that is not the extent of Papagos' requests:
In this telegram [from General Wilson], General Wavell had also been informed that Crete must be held in force, and that it was important that strong elements of the Greek Army should establish themselves in Crete, together with the King and Government.
The War Cabinet Minutes again state that the members "expressed their agreement with the line taken in this telegram."

In the field, British troops in Greece continue moving back to the line Thermopylae-Corinth that Papagos has approved. This requires a retrograde move of at least 100 miles for most units. The New Zealand 21st Battalion, which delayed the panzers at the Platamon railway tunnel yesterday, continue performing delaying maneuvers at the Tempe and Pinios Gorges.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 1196 ton Greek freighter Damaskini in Oreos Channel near Euboea.

The Luftwaffe bombs and badly damages 7020 ton Greek freighter Petrakis Nomikos at Piraeus. The skipper beaches the ship quickly, which saves it from sinking but also makes it an attractive target for further attacks.

The Yugoslavs scuttle destroyer Zagreb in Cattaro Harbor. There are four deaths. The Germans, however, capture largely intact destroyers Beograd and Dubrovnik and damaged destroyer Ljubjana.

The remaining 18 planes of the Yugoslav Air Force fly to Greece, ending their operations in Yugoslavia.

17 April 1941 Hayling Island Decoy site
Hayling Island, with the decoy site marked with an arrow (Natural History Museum in Cumberland House Portsmouth, via Portsdown Tunnels).

European Air Operations: The Wehrmacht High Command issues a statement:
In retaliation for the British air raid on the residential and cultural center of the German capital on the night of 9th-10th April, the German Luftwaffe last night carried out a grand assault on the British capital.... In future, any British air raid on residential quarters of Germany will be answered by increased retaliation.
Needless to say, perhaps, but the Luftwaffe has been pounding British "residential quarters" relentlessly since September 1940. Also, note the reference to "cultural" center - meaning, don't bomb the Berlin Opera House again.

Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies must drive through the London devastation to reach 10 Downing Street. He notes in his diary:
It takes a long time to reach Downing Street. All round Victoria there is damage and confusion. The Admiralty has a great chunk cut out of it. Charing Cross Station is ablaze, and the Halifax Building in the Strand also. Shell-Mex building has a great unexploded bomb, and is evacuated. Two bombs fell on either side of the street from Australia House. In Middle London, every street shows the marks. There are at least 1000 dead and 2000 seriously injured.
Among many, many others, Lord and Lady Stamp are killed. Stamp was the Government adviser on Economic Coordination.

RAF Bomber Command replies to the Luftwaffe's massive raid on London last night with another large raid of their own on Berlin. About 118 bombers, the largest raid so far, including for the first time in operations heavy Stirling bombers, hit the German capital. The RAF loses a Wellington, two Hampdens, five Whitleys and a Stirling. There also are diversionary raids by 35 planes against Cherbourg and 13 planes against Rotterdam. One RAF bomber can't make it to Berlin because of thick haze and cloud cover and drops its stick on Cologne or a nearby area instead. This factor also makes the entire raid inaccurate.

The Luftwaffe also is active after dark. It raids one of its favorite targets, Portsmouth. The raid, however, is very unusual. The large force of Luftwaffe bombers drop their 170 tons of high explosives and 5400 incendiaries on a brightly lit target that they assume to be the city of Portsmouth. In fact, it is a "Q" decoy site set up in Farlington Marshes on Hayling Island just to the south of Portsmouth in Hampshire. The decoy involves a number of decoy fires that burn for four hours, attracting the bomber navigators away from the city. The bombs destroy a Heavy Anti-aircraft Artillery battery at Southwest Hayling, killing the soldiers there, along with some pillboxes and other military installations. Portsmouth itself largely is spared. The residents of Hayling Island, though, are not, and they are somewhat annoyed at having the decoy site set up in their own backyards.

Churchill sends Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal a strongly worded "Action this Day" memorandum criticizing the RAF's failure to to "hit the enemy cruiser in Brest." In fact, the RAF has hit Gneisenau, but apparently the British do not know this yet. Churchill chastises the Air Ministry for "neglecting the dive-bomber type of aircraft," which of course is exemplified by the Luftwaffe's Junkers Ju 87 Stuka.

Lt. Ernest Oliver Gidden, RNVR, earns the George Cross for defusing a bomb on Hungerford Bridge.

17 April 1941 Hayling Island antiaircraft battery
South Hayling antiaircraft battery, destroyed as the result of a British Q decoy operation which spared Plymouth.

East African Campaign: The South African 1st Infantry Brigade skirmishes with Italian forces near Cambolcia Pass in Abyssinia.

Battle of the Atlantic: German raider Atlantis is operating in the south Atlantic when lookouts spot 8,299 ton Egyptian liner Zamzam in the pre-dawn hours. Captain Rogge mistakes the liner for a British liner being used as a troop transport. He orders his crew to open fire at a range of 5 miles (8 km). The Atlantis quickly destroys the Zamzam's radio and takes aboard 202 passengers as prisoners. Among those on board are 138 Americans, including Fortune magazine editor Charles J.V. Murphy. Rogge puts the neutrals on German supply ship Dresden for transport to Portugal.

One of the passengers is Life magazine photographer David E. Scherman, who takes some pictures of the ship. Rather than surrender the film to the Germans as they demand, he puts them in tubes of toothpaste and shaving cream and smuggles them out for publication in his magazine in the 23 June 1941 issue.

17 April 1941 German raider Atlantis
This is German raider Atlantis at dawn on April 17, 1941. This was taken by Life photographer David Scherman from a lifeboat shortly after the attack. He then successfully smuggled the film out past German guards.

Much farther north, off the coast of England, the Kriegsmarine sends its 2nd MTB Flotilla against Convoy FS 464 near Great Yarmouth. They hit:
1446 ton British freighter Effra (sunk, two dead)
1298 ton Dutch freighter Nereus (sunk, all survive)
5673 ton British freighter Ethel Radcliffe (towed to Yarmouth)
The Luftwaffe attacks the city of Rochester and, in the process, sinks 623 ton British coaster Montalto. Everyone survives.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 394 ton Danish trawler Naeraberg between the Faroes and its destination of Fleetwood. Everyone survives.

British 1578 ton collier Parnu sinks following its collision on the 16th with freighter Fluor about a dozen miles off Cape Wrath.

U-123 (Kptlt. Karl-Heinz Moehle), on its fourth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 6991 ton Swedish tanker Venezuela. This is an inefficient attack, requiring five torpedoes, which can be quite frustrating for a U-boat commander. Reportedly, the crew of 49 takes to the lifeboats, but there are no survivors... which may not be a coincidence with the difficulty of the sinking.

Norwegian 1608 ton freighter Profit hits a mine and sinks while en route from London to Hull. There are 12 deaths.

Convoy SL 72 departs from Freetown.

U-566 is commissioned.

17 April 1941 Westminster London Blitz damage
Jermyn Street, Westminster, 17 April 1941 (Copyright Westminster City Archives).

Battle of the Mediterranean: The British in Libya mount an attempt to retake Fort Capuzzo in the morning, losing four tanks. The German troops in Gruppe Schwerin also launch an attack against the northeast section of the Tobruk perimeter, but also are repulsed.

Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel personally supervises an attack on Tobruk by two companies of motorcycle troops, reinforced by artillery, at Ras Mdaauar. This attack makes progress close to the barbed wire, which is held as a jump-off point for future operations. Rommel decides to wait for reinforcements - which were supposed to arrive on the recent convoy that the Royal Navy destroyed off Tripoli - before launching a set-piece attack on Tobruk.

Both sides use their planes to harass the other. The Luftwaffe sends 41 Junkers Ju 87 Stukas against key points within the Tobruk perimeter, while the RAF bombs the investing German and Italian troops.

The Royal Navy has another success with its patrols off Libya. Submarine HMS Truant torpedoes and sinks 279 ton Italian ammunition barge Vanna off Appolonia. The Truant also attacks 2576 ton German freighter Samos near Benghazi, but misses. Some accounts state that the Samos sinks today due to a mine, but other accounts state that happens on 19 April.

Royal Navy destroyers HMS Greyhound and Voyager shells and sinks Italian barque Romagna in the Mediterranean off Libya.

A British flotilla of torpedo boats, the 3rd Motor Launch, arrives in Gibraltar. It is composed of seven launches.

The Luftwaffe bombs Malta with 15 aircraft at 20:47. They hit the St. Paul's Bay area.

Anglo/US Relations: The US turns over four newly completed fast freighters to the British under Lend Lease.

Canadian/US Relations: Canadian leader Mackenzie King continues his meetings with President Roosevelt. Among other things, they discuss defense production cooperation.

17 April 1941 Igor Sikorsky VS-300 helicopter pontoons
Igor Sikorsky, Homburg securely in place, flying his VS-300 helicopter with pontoons, 17 April 1941 (Sikorsky Historical Archives).

US Military: Igor Sikorsky slaps some "auxiliary floats" (pontoons) his VS-300 helicopter with which he recently set a US duration record. By lifting the helicopter, thus equipped, off water near his Stratford, Connecticut plant, Sikorsky sets another first. He lands the helicopter both on land and water, making it a truly amphibious aircraft.

US Government: William S. Knudsen, director of the Office of Production Management (OPM), announces that automakers and motor truck manufacturers agree to cut production by 20% beginning on 1 August 1941. He states that this is expected to cut the production of such civilian vehicles by about 1 million over the first year. The purpose is to switch resources to war production. The automakers agree to the cuts for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the likelihood that cut would be imposed upon them if they did not do so voluntarily.

OPM also is in discussions with manufacturers of tin cans to reduce the amount of tin being used. They are arguing with the manufacturers about the percentage, 10% less tin versus 17%. The savings are expected to amount to 5000-7500 tons of tin for a 10% cut.

17 April 1941 Westminster London Blitz damage
Duke Street looking toward Piccadilly, 17 April 1941 (Copyright Westminster City Archives).

Iraq: The situation in Iraq is tense. The British remain holed up in Habbaniyah Airfield near Baghdad, while new Iraqi leader Rashid Ali applies to Germany for military assistance to evict the British. The British have troops on the way by sea which are expected very shortly - some sources say the 1st Battalion King's Own Royal Regiment arrives today at Basra. Iraqi forces surround the British air base but make no provocative moves at this time.

Holocaust: At the direction of SS-Untersturmfuehrer Maximilian Grabner, Auschwitz Concentration Camp ceases sending Polish relatives the ashes of now-deceased political prisoners after they have been cremated.

American Homefront: Charles Lindbergh at 20:00 speaks to an overflow crowd of 10,000 at the Chicago Arena, with an additional 4,000 outside the arena, on behalf of the America First committee. By one count, he is interrupted by applause 31 times while giving an address of only about 2,000 words. His main points:
  • The US is being led into war by a minority of war-mongers;
  • That 80% of the public opposes joining the war;
  • The US is unable at this time to defeat Germany.
Among issues favored by the America First committee is an anti-convoy bill. Isolationists believe that participating in convoys inevitably would lead to war.

17 April 1941 Chicago Daily Tribune cartoon
The front-page cartoon on the Chicago Daily Tribune, 17 April 1941.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

April 16, 1941: Battle of Platamon

Wednesday 16 April 1941

16 April 1941 German motorcycle troops
Motorcyclists of Panzer Regiment 3 rolling toward the Platamon Railway tunnel. Things are going so smoothly that the lead motorcyclist appears to be enjoying a smoke (Jesse, Federal Archives).

Operation Marita/Operation 25: Things are going poorly for the Allies in the Balkans on 16 April 1941. The Yugoslav government - what there is left of it in the country, most of it having fled to Greece - sues for peace. The two sides arrange a meeting to discuss terms, but the Yugoslav representative is considered by the Germans to have insufficient authority to sign such a document. They send him back to Belgrade with a draft, and continue their operations.

Croatian strongman (and Mussolini pawn) Ante Pavelic assumes power over the Independent State of Croatia.

General Henry Maitland Wilson, commander of the British forces in Greece, meets with Greek Commander-in-chief Papagos at Lamia. He tells Papagos that the British are retreating to Theymopylae. This effectively cedes all of northern and central Greece to the Wehrmacht.

The British retrograde move to the south is complicated. Australian Lieutenant General Thomas Blamey, in charge of the ANZAC units which comprise the bulk of the British forces, has only a few good north/south roads at his disposal. General Freyberg commands the New Zealand Division which holds the center of the withdrawal, while Australian General Mackey's troops guard the flanks. The first switch position is a line running through the city of Larissa, the main communications center in the region. The Australians and New Zealanders have to get to this new line in good order - and before the Germans do.

16 April 1941 Ante Pavelic
Ante Pavelić at a ceremony with Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac in Zagreb, 16 April 1941.

The Germans of Kampfgruppe (Hermann) Balck are not giving Blamey much time. They are heading south at lightning speed. It is Blitzkrieg at its ultimate, motorcyclists leading the way, followed by the panzers. They are following an open, undefended road - but actually it's not a road at all, but a single-track coastal railway.

The coast railway line, however, is interrupted at Platamon, north of Larissa, by a large ridge on which sits Platamonas Castle. Under the ridge is a convenient tunnel (there are new, larger tunnels nearby, but this is a one-track tunnel). Wehrmacht motorcyclists have been using the railway tracks on the drive south from Katerini like a road, and, once past the Platamon ridge, the railway and nearby roads lead south all the way to Athens. The Germans intend to roll through the tunnel to continue the journey south on the tracks.

Unfortunately for the Germans, however, the New Zealand 21st Battalion has been in position there since the end of March and is blocking the tunnel. The Germans halted before the New Zealanders late on the 15th after making a perfunctory attack, but today the Germans make a determined effort.

Basically, the Germans are trying to seize a shortcut that would give them a quick route to Larissa and the main roads south that the city controls. Without it, they would have to make a circuitous journey through a gorge to the west between two mountains (Ossa Oros and Olympus Oros) or surmount the coastal mountain that the tunnel cuts through. The tunnel is critical for the bulk of the division's panzers to continue on this route in any timely fashion. If the Germans can take the tunnel, the short road to Larissa and Athens lies open, with the prospect of trapping huge Allied formations still evacuating from the north.

16 April 1941 Platamon Railway Tunnel

Exterior view of the old Platamon railway tunnel. (This photo of Platamonas Castle is courtesy of TripAdvisor).

At dawn, the German Kradschützen Truppen-Bataillon 2 (Motorcycle Battalion 2) of the 3rd Panzer Division attacks, preceded by mortar fire. The Germans make good progress, and around 09:00 about 50 panzers (PzKpfw IIs) arrive and start pounding the New Zealand positions. Some of the New Zealanders on the flanks withdraw, while others on the main hill hold firm.

The New Zealanders are overwhelmed by 10:15, when Lieutenant Colonel N. Macky, in charge of the 21st Battalion, issues the order to retreat. They block the tunnel - it is not completely destroyed, but demolished enough to prevent a quick pursuit. In one version of the battle, they blow explosive charges to seal it; in another, they disable a panzer in the tunnel, blocking it. Either way, the Germans can't use the tunnel quickly enough for it to be practical. Their German motorcyclists suffer 25% casualties during the attack and their unit is pulled out of the line.

Without the Platamon tunnel, the men of the I,/Panzer Regiment 3 have a decision to make: go west, or try to get over the ridge. By mid-day, they begin across the ridge on a narrow mule track. However, it is very rough going. The Panzer IIs are narrower than Panzer IIIs and would make it over the ridge easier, but the Panzer IIs were all disabled during the morning attack. The Panzer IIIs start across, but begin losing their tracks on the uneven and rocky surface or experience other issues with the slope and narrow path. Every time a panzer is disabled, it stops the entire column. Frustrated, the tankers try to go off-road - two get stuck in a swamp and a third runs into a minefield. After losing several tanks, the Germans late in the day finally clear the mule track, sweep it for mines, and get their tanks across - a process that would have taken fifteen minutes through the tunnel.

The New Zealand troops, meanwhile, use a ferry to cross a nearby river in a gorge. They then sink the ferry and take up defensive positions in the gorge.

Elsewhere, the Italians advancing down the Yugoslav coast occupy Split. They also make small gains in Albania as the Greeks pull out. The German 6th Mountain Division, taking the slow route, advances along mountain paths on Mount Olympos.

16 April 1941 Platamon Railway Tunnel
The old Platamon railway tunnel (Katarzyna DJ via

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 4359 ton Greek freighter Memas at Chalkis, Greece.

A Yugoslavian submarine, the Nebojsa, and two torpedo boats, the Kajmakcalan and Durmitor, leave port to escape the advancing Germans.

Royal Navy armed boarding vessel HMS Chakla runs aground in stormy weather, but later is towed off by netlayer HMS Protector.

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe on the Channel Front has entered one of its active phases again. So far in 1941, it has had long spells of inactivity, followed by bursts of heavy raids. Last night, the main target was Belfast (that raid only ends at 05:00 today), and tonight it is London.

There is another reason for the ferocity, indeed savagery, of tonight's raid, and it has nothing to do with London specifically. Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering send in the bombers in seemingly endless waves because of the Paris Opera House. One of the favored forms of amusement for the Third Reich's leaders is the opera - it is not only their preferred form of music, but a major form of socializing outside of the work environment. However, the RAF threw a spanner in the works with their raid on Berlin of 9 April which devastated the Paris Opera House. Hitler has ordered the building rebuilt and London flattened in reprisal.

About 300 bombers participate, and they each fly multiple sorties. This is one of the biggest raids of the entire Blitz, rivalling the one at the end of December and some of the others from 1940. The bombers make two and even sometimes three sorties, for a total of 685 payloads dropped over the city. The East End takes tremendous damage. This is probably not coincidental, as it plays to Hitler's pet theory that he can stir up class resentment against the "Plutocrats" by targeting certain districts. British night air defenses are getting better, and the Luftwaffe loses half a dozen bombers. There is no question that tonight's raid is one of the climaxes of the Blitz, perhaps not a turning point but with subtle hints of change in the air.

In a sense, Hitler achieves his aim of revenge in one grisly respect. Among the casualties of the night's raid is Al Bowlly, a Mozambican-born South African/British music hall performer. Thus, both sides are deprived of musical entertainment as a result of the initial RAF raid.

Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies is in London during the attack. He hears the bombers overhead, but believes at first that they are heading further west. He notes that "a dozen large bombs fell within 100 yards" of his hotel. The room he is in is damaged, with the windows and door blown in. He notes that "The sky beyond the Palace was red with fire and smoke, the sky was flashing like lightning." At 05:00 on the 17th he surveys the damage, and finds that "buildings were blazing" on Brook Street and that "gas mains blazed in Piccadilly." He wonders: "How can it go on for years?"

RAF Bomber Command continues its mission of attacking Axis shipping. Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs of No. 110 Squadron of No. 2 Group bomb Heligoland, while other Blenheims of No. 107 Squadron spot a submarine off Prestkjac, Norway and get a couple of near misses. Other similar operations are made, and overall, the RAF loses a couple of bombers. The RAF also conducts a Circus sweep over Berck-sur-Mer.

Kommodore Werner Mölders of Stab./JG 51 shoots down two Hurricanes of RAF No. 601 Squadron in a Bf 109F. This gives him 65 claims and opens some ground between him and No. 2 Adolf Galland.

16 April 1941 British Railway Workers Gas Masks
British railway workers at the main London terminal of Southern Railway (photo by Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images).

Battle of the Atlantic: During the April 15/16 night bombing of Belfast, aircraft carrier HMS Furious is lightly damaged. The damage does not interfere with operations.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks three ships, 1151 ton British freighter Angelesea Rose, 1548 ton British freighter Amiens and 1167 ton Norwegian freighter Bolette, north of St. Ives at the mouth of the Bristol Channel. There are eight deaths on the Amiens.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 2826 ton Norwegian freighter Favorit south of the Faroe Islands. Everyone survives.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 159 ton British trawler King Athelstan near Ballinskelligs, Ireland. The skipper beaches the ship, but it later floats off after minor repairs and makes it to port.

The Luftwaffe damages British 5379 ton freighter Swedru in the Northwest Approaches. There are 24 deaths, including 7 passengers. The ship remains afloat as a derelict and eventually has to be sunk by gunfire.

German raider Kormoran is southwest of the Azores, on her way back to Germany, when the lookouts spot 7739 ton Swedish iron ore carrier Sir Ernest Cassel. The Kormoran takes the crew aboard as guests/POWs depending on their nationality, then scuttles the Sir Ernest Cassel. This is the final hostile encounter by the Kormoran on its first cruise, which began on 6 June 1940.

British 1578 ton collier Parnu collides with freighter Fluor about a dozen miles off Cape Wrath, Scotland. The Parnu eventually sinks.

The Kriegsmarine supply network remains active in the Atlantic, as tanker Nordmark refuels Italian submarines Archimede, Ferraris and Gugliemotti.

Convoy OB 311 departs from Liverpool, Convoy HX 121 departs from Halifax.

16 April 1941 British anti-aircraft artillery
The 52nd Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery crew of a British 4.5 inch anti-aircraft gun unpack ammunition, 16 April 1941 (© IWM (H 8917))

Battle of the Mediterranean: The British have come to the realization that the battle for North Africa will be decided at sea. Specifically, the key area is the convoy route from Naples to Tripoli. Accordingly, they are positioning submarines in this area, and also sending surface patrols there at night.

Captain P.J. Mack is leading the 14th Destroyer Flotilla, composed of HMS Janus, Jervis, Mohawk and Nubian and based in Malta, on a more-or-less routine patrol off Tunisia. His lookouts spot an Italian/German convoy commanded by Commander Pietro de Cristofaro. It is composed of five freighters and escorted by three Italian destroyers. Mack attacks the convoy (called the "Tarigo Convoy" after the lead escort destroyer) and sinks not only all five freighters/transports, but also all three of the destroyers. Mack accomplishes this at the price of the Mohawk, which is scuttled off the Kerkenneh Islands. There are 168 survivors of the Mohawk and 43 deaths.

On the German side, there are 384 deaths of men who had been en route to the Afrika Korps, mainly from the 15th Panzer Division. The Italian navy puts to sea and eventually rescues 1248 out of about 3000 men who had been on the sunk ships.

The Axis ships lost are:

  • 4205 ton Andana
  • 2447 ton Aegina
  • 2452 ton Arta
  • 3704 ton Iserlohn
  • 1590 ton Sabaudia
  • Destroyer Tarigo
  • Destroyer Lampo
  • Destroyer Baleno

Winston Churchill immediately sends off a telegram to President Roosevelt informing him of the success. However, he does not tell him that the Royal Navy knew about the convoy in advance due to Ultra Intercepts. This is a wise move, because periodically throughout the war, Adolf Hitler receives copies of these telegrams (sent by underseas cable) from an unknown source.

On land, Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel "personally, from the most forward lines" leads an attack on the Tobruk perimeter (quotes are from the Afrika Korps War Diary). This is at Ras Mdaauar. He uses his Italian forces, specifically the armored battalion of the Ariete Division and infantry from the Trento Division. The attack fails "because of the hesitant advance of the armoured battalion" of the Ariete Division. The War Diary notes sourly that two Italian companies surrendered without putting up any fight.

General Wavell hurriedly stops further convoys of Operation Lustre bringing troops from Egypt to Greece. From now on, the convoys will move in the other direction, evacuating the expeditionary forces from Greece.

The British attempt a commando-style raid on Bardia, but the ships embarking the troops are recalled due to poor weather. The operation is rescheduled for when the skies clear. Another such raid is attempted on Marakeb, Libya, but destroyer HMS Decoy runs aground and the operation cannot be completed.

16 April 1941 Panzer III New Zealand prisoner
An officer in a Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. E of the 2nd Panzer Division interrogates a captured New Zealand prisoner at the village of Pandeleymon during the Battle of Platamon, 16 April 1941 (Ang, Federal Archive).

Anglo/US Relations: US heavy cruiser USS Vincennes (CA-44) arrives in New York. It has come from Simonstown, South Africa pursuant to Operation Fish, the transfer of British gold to the United States.

The first shipment of food to Great Britain under Lend Lease arrives.

Anglo/Japanese Relations: The Japanese government issues a statement flatly denying that it has any designs on Singapore.

US/Canadian Relations: Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King visits with President Roosevelt. They will spend the next four days conferring in Washington, Virginia Beach and Roosevelt's home at Hyde Park. At some point during these meetings, they sign a defense production agreement.

US Military: MacDill Air Force Base, operational since 16 April 1940, receives its name today. It is named after World War I veteran Colonel Leslie MacDill.

British Homefront: Around this date, the British demolish with explosives the north water tower of the old Crystal Palace. This is simply done - there is no reason given or fuss made about it. The Crystal Palace grounds are being used to manufacture radar equipment, and the reason may be to make more room for this. Another conjecture is that the tower provides a navigational aid to Luftwaffe crews. In any event, it is the final and definitive end to the 1851 Hyde Park structure.

Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin introduces a National Registration of Women for war work. Previous attempts to enlist women had been voluntary; this is compulsory. The first registrations for the youngest (20-21) age group are set for 19 April 1941.

16 April 1941 DC-3 Crash Site
Site of an Eastern Airlines DC-3 crash on 3 April 1941 in the Everglades west of Vero Beach, Florida. The crash is due to a storm. Photo taken 16 April 1941 (Photo courtesy of the Indian River County Historical Society via TCPalm)


Saturday, April 22, 2017

April 15, 1941: Flying Tigers

Tuesday 15 April 1941

15 April 1941 Igor Sikorsky VS-300
Igor Sikorsky with the second configuration of the VS-300, just after setting the endurance record for US flights on 15 April 1941.

Operation Marita/Operation 25: The Allied situation in Greece is deteriorating rapidly on 15 April 1941, and Yugoslavian resistance basically is over. The Germans are mushrooming out in all directions from the penetration across the Greek border. The Germans are heading west toward the coast in order to bottle up the Greek Epirus Army that has been fighting the Italians since October; the Germans are heading south toward Athens; and the Germans are heading east toward Larissa in order to cut off the retreating British on the Aliakmon Line. Essentially, it is a race to see who can get to the main roads in these areas first and secure them. If the Germans do, the large Allied forces to the north are trapped.

Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell meets with his deputies, and they resolve to begin evacuating from Greece rather than continue Operation Lustre - and there currently are ships loaded with troops and equipment still on their way to Greece. This is an indication of how quickly the situation has fallen apart. Wavell sends his man in Athens, General Henry Maitland Wilson, a message:
We must of course continue to fight in close cooperation with Greeks but from news here it looks as if early further withdrawal necessary.
Australian General Thomas Blamey, commander of the Australian and New Zealand troops in Greece (the ANZAC Corps), all along has assumed that he would have to evacuate his troops. He sets his units in motion to the south, preparing a series of rearguard positions to the Thermopylae/Corinth line. Blamey positions the 16th Australian Brigade at the Pinios Gorge in order to block a German breakout to Larissa - which, as a key crossroads near the east coast, would seal the fate of all Allied units to the north. The British already are putting men on transports at Volos (just south of Larissa) and other nearby ports.

The Wehrmacht has blasted south from western Yugoslavia and brushed aside Allied resistance in several key passes. The Greeks 12th and 20th Divisions are heading south over rough country, as the Germans now control the main roads. The Germans today attack Siatista Pass, and the Greek 12th Division is so worn down that it can only find 1000 men with which to defend itself.

The Italian 9th Army takes Koritsa (Korçë) from the retreating Greeks without a fight. The Axis forces now are sweeping up huge numbers of Greeks forced out of their secure positions in the mountains and attempting to walk south over the mountains.

15 April 1941 Sarajevo Gavrilo Princip memorial
Having taken Sarajevo, what do you suppose would be a good thing to do right away, with priority? Well, for the Germans, it is removing a plaque erected there in 1930 to commemorate the 28 June 1914 assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip. The plaque is sent to Hitler at his special train in Monichkirchen in time for his 52nd birthday (Serbianna).

The Germans (16th Motorized Division) heading south from Austria for a linkup with the Italians take Sarajevo from the Yugoslav 2nd Army. Many Yugoslavian army units are simply "going to ground" in the mountainous western part of the country.

The 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH, still of brigade size) attacks toward the Metsovon Pass at Grevena, which is on the main road to Ioannina. Already, the Germans have cut off many escape routes for the Greek forces in Albania, and each mile they advance tightens the noose. The Greek 13th and Cavalry Divisions there are encircled and surrender, opening the road west. Greek leader General Papagos frantically directs more troops in that direction to hold open his Western Macedonian Army's escape route.

15 April 1941 Battle of Platamon
Troops at the battle of Platamon, April 1941 (NZ Official History).

The Germans wish to get to Platamon on the east coast south of Thessaloniki. Doing this would cut off large Allied forces to the north, forcing them to fight their way out, evacuate from Thessaloniki, or surrender. The Germans try to gain control quickly of a ridge which dominates the mountain pass which leads to Platamon using motorcycle troops, but the New Zealand 21st Battalion (General Neil Macky) is in place and holds its ground. Later in the day, the Germans try again with a tank battalion, but the New Zealanders once again stand firm. The Germans accumulate forces for another attempt early on the 16th. There is a convenient railway tunnel that runs to the coast there which the New Zealanders desperately try to keep out of the German grasp.

Elements of the German 164th Infantry Division occupy the island of Thasos.

15 April 1941 RAF pilots Larissa Greece
RAF pilots of No. 33 Squadron at Larissa, Greece circa April 1941. Several of these pilots are KIA beginning today, 15 April 1941, and through and until 17 June 1941. Others become POWs in May on Crete. © IWM (ME(RAF) 1246).

The Regia Aeronautica attacks the RAF base at Paramythia, near the Greek/Albanian border, through which Yugoslavian King Peter II passed just yesterday. They destroy or damage 17 Yugoslavian aircraft, including many Dornier Do17 and Italian SM-79 bombers purchased from the Axis during the reign of former regent Prince Paul.

The Luftwaffe (II Staffeln, Lehrgeschwader 1) bombs Eleusis Bay at Piraeus. The Germans hit 7765 ton British transport Quiloa and 5314 ton freighter Goalpara. Everyone survives, and the ships are beached.

The Luftwaffe also bombs the RAF airfield at Larissa. They destroy 10 Blenheim bombers on the ground. Another attack on Niamata also destroys some Blenheims.

The RAF attacks the Italian base at Valona (Vlorë), Albania. Fairey Swordfish of No. 815 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm torpedo and sink freighters Luciano and Stampalia. Some accounts place these sinkings on the 14th.

Today marks the final combat between Hellenic Royal Air Force aircraft and the Luftwaffe. Twelve Greek fighters (five Bloch MB 151s, five Gloster Gladiators and two PZL P24s) take off from Vassiliki to challenge Junkers Ju 87 Stukas heading for Trikala. The Bf 109Es escorting the Stukas shoot down five Greek planes, while the Greeks down a Stuka. Luftwaffe pilot Gustav Rödel claims three victories. After this, the Greek Air Force does not challenge the Luftwaffe again.

Bulgaria severs diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia and sends its 5th Army troops across the border to take chunks of Morava and Macedonia.

Adolf Hitler sends Croatian strongman (Poglavnik) Ante Pavelić a congratulatory telegram upon his assumption of power in a new independent state of Croatia. Rome and Bratislava also immediately recognize the new government.

15 April 1941 Haile Selassi Orde Wingate
"The Emperor of Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia) [Haile Selassie] with Brigadier Daniel Arthur Sandford on his left and Colonel [Orde] Wingate on his right, in Dambacha Fort after it had been captured, 15 April 1941." © IWM (E 2462).

East African Campaign: The Italians remain holed up in western Abyssinia. Today, the Italian colonial forces at Gambela fight Belgian Congolese troops.

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe, after a pause while it focused on the Balkans, resumes its attacks on Great Britain. Tonight's target is Belfast in Northern Ireland, as 180 bombers focus on the Harland & Wolff shipyards (destroying three ships nearing completion) and York Road railway station. This is known as part of the Belfast Blitz.

William Joyce (known as “Lord Haw-Haw”) had announced in recent radio broadcasts that there would be "Easter eggs for Belfast."

During the afternoon, spectators at a football match at Windsor Park notice a Luftwaffe reconnaissance plane flying over Belfast. It is unclear what this means until the air raid sirens go off at 22:45; the attacks begins around 23:00 and last for six hours. One issue is that the government has not provided nearly enough antiaircraft defenses for the city, with only 16 heavy guns to protect all of Belfast.

The Germans drop bombs on the docks and nearby terrace houses, a working-class district. It is estimated later that bombs destroyed half the houses in the city and left 100,000 people homeless. The Dublin Fire Brigade helps put out the fires, crossing the international boundary twice, but 500 people are killed and 400 badly injured (some estimates are much higher). This assistance by Eire, incidentally, is a violation of neutrality laws, but Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera orders all but one fire crew from Dublin and nearby towns (Dun Laoghaire, Drogheda and Dundalk) be sent.

The Luftwaffe also attacks Liverpool with about 50 bombers, and the Newcastle region with 38 bombers. An additional 11 bombers attack Hull, killing 55 and injuring 20. As occasionally happens, a bomb hits a shelter and kills everyone inside at Ellis Terrace, accounting for roughly half of the deaths.

During the day, RAF Bomber Command targets Borkum with Blenheims of No. 105 Squadron. Bomber Command targets Kiel once again tonight. There are 110 deaths. Another attack with 23 aircraft hits Boulogne, and there are assorted other, smaller attacks up and down the French/Belgian/Dutch coast.

The Admiralty takes over control of RAF Coastal Command. This is very similar to the Kriegsmarine recently arguing for - and getting - control over some Luftwaffe air units.

Charles de Gaulle notes that Frenchmen serving in the RAF are violating French law. He gives them until 25 April to apply to serve in the Free French Air Force. It is a curious requirement and perhaps reflects a bit of empire-building by de Gaulle, whose reputation and prestige have suffered lately due to the disaster at Dakar and some other incidents.

Operating in the Balkans, Luftwaffe ace Lt. Hans-Jacob Arnoldy of II./JG 77 is shot down by a Hurricane and succumbs to his injuries.

Adolf Galland of JG 26 scores his 60th victory. The incident is noteworthy because Galland (with wingman Lt. Westphal) is heading for a birthday party for Theo Osterkamp at Le Tourquet but decides to take a detour on the way and fly over England. Galland shoots down a Spitfire, then scoots back to his destination and delivers the lobster and champagne he is carrying for the party.

Kommodore Major Mölders of JG 51 also downs a Hurricane over Boulogne in a brand new Bf 109F. This gives him 63 victories, the most in the world, and keeps him ahead a bit ahead of No. 2 Galland.

15 April 1941 Belfast Blitz
Damage in Belfast due to the 15 April 1941 Luftwaffe raid.

Battle of the Atlantic: Royal Navy destroyer HMS Bath collides with an unidentified ship during the night along the east coast of England and has to put into the Tyne for repairs. The repairs will last until 19 May. Navigating at night under blackout conditions, without running lights or radar, is extremely hazardous.

Italian submarine Enrico Tazzoli torpedoes and sinks 4733 ton British freighter Aurillac midway between the Azores and Portugal. There is one death among the crew (some accounts say there were no survivors).

The Luftwaffe attacks Hull and bombs and sinks 59 ton British tug Aquila.

A Vichy French flotilla of submarines (Acteon, Fresnel, and Henri Poincare) pass through the Straits of Gibraltar en route from Toulon/Oran to Casablanca.

Convoy OG 59 departs from Liverpool, Convoy HG 59 departs from Gibraltar bound for Liverpool.

Royal Navy minelayer HMS Abdiel (M 39, Captain Edward Pleydell-Bouverie) and Australian minesweeper HMAS Burnie (J 198, Lt. Commander Lt. George E. Gough) are commissioned.

15 April 1941 HMS Abdiel
HMS Abdiel.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies notes in his diary:
Tobruk is holding out and Sollum is recaptured pro tem, but the cutting of supplies to Tripoli is the only hope. The navy must take great risks to do this.
In fact, the British have not recaptured Sollum. This is an indication of how muddy the view of the battle in Libya has become even for those privy to reports directly from the front.

The British attack Forward Detachment Knabe, located near Sollum, at 05:30 with a company supported by artillery. The British climb over a rocky hill without the Germans noticing. The Germans hold their position. This is another probing attack, like the failed German assault on the 14th. In essence, the two sides are settling down already to an extended siege, the First Siege of Tobruk.

The Germans observe steady ship traffic in and out of Tobruk Harbor. Somewhat hopefully, they assume this means that the British are evacuating. In fact, it is simply normal supply and Royal Navy ship movements.

RAF Hurricanes attack the airfield at Bardia and destroy four Junkers Ju 52 transports. The airfield is deemed too vulnerable to make a base for operations. The RAF is active in attacking the Afrika Korps units surrounding Tobruk.

Royal Navy gunboat Ladybird bombards Gazala.

At Malta, there is a large Luftwaffe raid that targets Luqa and Ta Qali airfields and numerous other spots. There are many "duds" among the bombs, which cause their own problems because each has to be disarmed with great skill and care. Separately, Governor Dobbie opens up the labor pool to those over 60 years of age and those under 21 years due to labor shortages.

Anglo/US Relations: President Roosevelt's special envoy to Great Britain, W. Averell Harriman, tells Winston Churchill that England is not acting to create enough support in the United States. This is a very sensitive topic for Churchill that he has pondered before and rejected, feeling that it would be seen as presumptuous. He politely asks Harriman what he thinks the British government should do differently.

US/Soviet Relations: US Ambassador Laurence Steinhardt warns Joseph Stalin that Germany is preparing to invade the USSR. Stalin does not place much credence in these types of warnings, but is gradually firming up defenses in the western zone of the Soviet Union anyway. As the Stavka builds up forces in the west, however, they are placing them on the frontier and not further back in more defensible locations. The Soviet theory is that they will quickly counterpunch any German aggression and invade Poland.

US Military: While the Allies are far behind Germany in helicopter development, Igor Sikorsky is determined to catch up and take the lead. Flying his experimental Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 at his factory in Stratford, Connecticut, Sikorsky stays in the air for over an hour. Total flight time - much of it motionless - is 65 minutes and 14.5 seconds. While this is not yet an army project, the helicopter definitely is seen as having military applications once it is developed.

15 April 1941 Flatiron Building NYC
A view of the Flatiron building from the Worth Monument, NYC, 15 April 1941. The view is largely unchanged today.

US Government: President Roosevelt signs an executive order which provides for servicemen to fight the Japanese in Asia without declaring war. This is approved by the Chinese government. They cannot do this in an official capacity; the workaround is that they will sign contracts with a "private" company, the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO). After fulfilling a one-year contract fighting for CAMCO in Asia (many actually are based in Burma), the soldiers can automatically return to their military careers. This is a key step toward the formation of Claire Chennault's American Volunteer Group (AVG), which is better known as the Flying Tigers.

The US Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, aka the Truman Committee, holds its first meeting. Harry S. Truman, a senator from Missouri, heads an effort to investigate solutions to problems with US war production. In practice, Truman will crack down on war profiteering and waste in the procurement system. Personally driving his own Dodge car throughout the eastern half of the country, Truman will see first-hand how government contracts are enriching the few at the expense of the working people. He will work to open up the bidding process so that all regions of the country will benefit from military spending. Truman is not a Roosevelt backer and finds that many of Roosevelt's own programs are wasteful. While not a very sexy topic, procurement reform is vitally important to the development of the war effort and will propel Truman into the national consciousness.

Yugoslavian Government: The Yugoslavian government, headed by King Peter II, reunites in Athens after hurried flights from Belgrade. Peter is the acknowledged leader of the government in exile.

Mexican Homefront: The Colima earthquake hits the State of Michoacán. It is a roughly 7.7 earthquake that kills about 90 people and destroys the Colima cathedral and damages numerous other buildings in the city. Almost a quarter of all homes in the city collapse.

American Homefront: Miners from the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) attempt to post a picket line at Fork Ridge mine in Middlesboro, Tennessee. However, when 50 men try to cross the state line from Kentucky to set the line up, 15-18 armed company guards open fire on them. There is one death of a union worker, and the miners - also armed - take cover and return fire. Over a thousand shots are fired during the day and more men go to the hospital.

It is opening day for baseball season, with a game between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals at Crosley Field.

15 April 1941 Middlesboro state line
The state line about five miles from Middlesboro, where a gunbattle between company men and union workers took place on 15 April 1941 (Appalachian History).