Friday, April 7, 2017

April 3, 1941: Convoy SC-26 Destruction


Thursday 3 April 1941

3 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Hitler Count Teleki
Hitler and Count Teleki - both would commit suicide, Teleki today.

Italian/Greek Campaign: Hitler has made up his mind by 3 April 1941 to attack both Yugoslavia and Greece, and soon, despite many other alternative pathways that might be better in the long run (such as taking up Yugoslavia's apparent willingness to adhere to the Tripartite Pact terms after all). Fuhrer Directive No. 26, issued barely a week after the previous one, is entitled "Cooperation With Out Allies In The Balkans." It sets forth how the newly conquered territories in the Balkans - well, those about to be conquered - will be divvied up amongst Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and, of course, Germany. The directive is not very sexy, focusing on such mundane matters as chains of command and the like. So sure of victory is Hitler that he concludes the directive with a dismissive nod to "the occupation duties of the various countries," as if the campaign itself is but a trifle, a mere bag of shells.

German Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop also is busy preparing for the post-invasion world in the Balkans. He sends Edmund Veesenmayer of the shadowy Dienststelle Ribbentrop - sort of a private Foreign Ministry which Ribbentrop used as a back-door channel during times of turmoil -  to Zagreb. Veesenmayer is there to meet with General Slavko Kvaternik of the Ustaša to sort out who will be doing what after the pesky matter of the Yugoslavian military is brushed aside. The plan is to have Ante Pavelić and the Ustaša rule Croatia after things settle down. Veesenmayer himself is focused on the Balkans and becomes instrumental in persecuting Croatian and Serbian Jewry.

Throughout the Balkans, it is every man for himself. Nobody has a coherent plan, and the overwhelming sentiment is that the German wave is about to come crashing down on everyone. Croatian pilot Captain Vladimir Kren of the Royal Yugoslav Air Force defects to the Germans, telling all he knows so that the Luftwaffe will know how to best coordinate its opening strikes.

Operation Lustre, the British reinforcement of Greece, continues. Convoy ANF-24 from is in the Antikithera Straits when the Luftwaffe spots it. They bomb and sink 10,917 ton munitions ship HMS Northern Prince. Everyone survives, but the cargo is badly needed in Greece. Australian 19th Infantry Brigade arrives at Piraeus.

Yugoslavian General Jankovic meets with Greek General Papagos and British General Wilson in Athens to coordinate strategy.

East African Campaign: Italian Admiral Bonetti at Massawa plans to use his remaining destroyers to bombard Port Sudan in a virtual suicide mission. However, it does not go so well. En route, destroyer Cesare Battisti breaks down. The accompanying Italian destroyers scuttle it. As the Italian ships approach the port, the RAF sends up Swordfish of RAF No. 813 and 824 Squadrons from aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, which happens to be in the harbor. The Swordfish sink destroyers Daniele Manin and Nazario Sauro, while destroyers Tigre and Pantera are disabled by the air attacks and later sunk by HMS Kingston. The incident is notable in another way because, during the night, sloop HMAS Parramatta passes the Italian destroyers (before they are sunk) at close range, but nobody on either side sees the other. That's the reality of war, weird things happen.

On land, the British tighten their grip on Asmara as advanced troops continue down the road toward Massawa.

Italian freighter Urania attempts to escape in the Red Sea from advancing British troops. However, RAF planes disable it, and the crew scuttles the ship off Dahlak Kebir, Eritrea to avoid capture. After the war, the ship is raised for scrap. The RAF also damages Italian patrol boat Acerbi in the Massawa harbor.

Italian authorities in Addis Ababa see the end approaching. The Duke of Aosta opens negotiations.

3 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Cunningham
"All the Brothers Were Valiant." If it seems as if you see the name "Cunningham" a lot in histories of World War II, you are: the brothers Cunningham led the war at sea and on land in Africa during 1941 (by Strube, 'The Daily Express', April 3, 1941).

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe, perhaps to emphasize that it is still not there and not completely flown off to Bulgaria, attacks Bristol in its first big raid in many days. It sends 94 bombers, of which 76 (some accounts say 86) arrive to make bombing runs. The bombers are from KG 1, KG 26, KG 76, KG 27, KG 54 and KGr 806. The bombers are led to the target by fourteen Heinkel He 111s that are specially equipped with X-Verfahren guided radar. Another group of nine Luftwaffe bombers hit Hull. In both cities, the priorities are docks and factories, and while much damage is done, it is contained and does not cause as many casualties as some raids earlier in the Blitz.

RAF Bomber Command, meanwhile, attacks Brest, where German cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst are in dry dock. The bombers miss the two ships, but hit the Continental Hotel - where many sailors are quartered. Many are killed by the "lucky hit." The RAF also does some minelaying in the Bay of Biscay during the night with 15 planes.

3 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Swedish freighter Daphne
Swedish freighter Daphne was en route from Newport News to Petsamo carrying coal when U-76 torpedoed and sank it on 3 April 1941.

Battle of the Atlantic: A wolfpack has gathered around Convoy SC 26 in the mid-Atlantic south of Iceland. The U-boats go to work. This is one of those classics of the Battle of the Atlantic, with ships burning left and right, men in the water, U-boats everywhere, and everyone fighting for their lives.

U-73 (Kptlt. Helmut Rosenbaum) torpedoes and sinks three ships:

  • 4313 ton British freighter Alderpool (after being damaged by U-46)
  • 6875 ton British tanker British Viscount
  • 5724 ton British freighter Westpool (35 dead and 8 survivors, sinks quickly because it is carrying scrap iron)
  • 5409 ton Belgian tanker Indier (some claim U-74 sank this, 42 dead).

U-74 (Kptlt. Eitel-Fredrich Kentrat), on its first patrol, sinks two ships and damages a third nearby:

  • 4274 ton Greek freighter Leonidas Z. Cambanis (sunk, 2 dead)
  • 11,402 ton Royal Navy armed merchant cruiser HMS Worcestshire (damaged, 28 dead)

The Worcestshire only gets away because Kptlt. Kentrat runs out of torpedoes.

U-76 (Kptlt. Friedrich von Hippel), in the same vicinity, torpedoes and sinks 1939 ton Finnish collier Daphne, though it apparently is not part of Convoy SC-26 - it just crossed paths with the convoy at the wrong time. During the night, U-76 also sinks 5414 ton British freighter Harbledown (three dead) which most definitely is part of SC-26.

U-98 (Kptlt. Robert Gysae), on its first patrol, torpedoes and sinks:

  • 2467 ton Norwegian freighter Helle (all survive)
  • 5122 ton British freighter Wellcombe (15 dead)

The action surrounding Convoy SC-26 is confused. Some ships are hit multiple times by different U-boats, and exactly when some sinks and by whom is a matter of guesswork, as few in the water struggling for their lives kept a close eye on their watches. In other words, it is a typical Wolfpack attack.

Combined with other attacks in the surrounding days, such as by U-46 on the 2nd, Convoy SC-26 is devastated. The convoy scatters, then reforms later in the day. But the U-boats continue to prowl.

3 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Belgian tanker Indier
Belgian tanker Indier, sunk with other ships of Convoy SC-26 on 3 April 1941.

The Royal Navy does get one back. British submarine HMS Tigris torpedoes and sinks 5436 ton German tanker Thorn about 100 miles southwest of St. Nazaire in the Bay of Biscay. Thorn has been part of the German supply network in the Atlantic, which so far has operated with little interference. The Royal Navy knows that the German ships and U-boats traverse the Bay of Biscay and lie in wait. Far to the south, German raider Kormoran meets up with another supply ship, the Rudolf Albrecht. The German network of supply ships is the key to successful Kriegsmarine surface operations at sea, but also is their Achilles Heel.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 250 ton British freighter Cairnie southwest of Tod Head. Everyone survives.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 6903 ton British freighter Geddington Court off St. Andrews.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks Royal Navy patrol boat HMS Fortuna in the Irish Sea.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 499 ton British freighter Assuan off Montrose, Scotland. The captain manages to beach the Assuan near Scurdy Ness. The ship later is refloated and taken to Montrose.

British 748 ton coaster Greenawn sinks from unknown causes in the North Sea off Montrose, Scotland. There are Luftwaffe attacks in the area during the day, but also many mines laid by both sides.

Royal Navy patrol boat HMS Bahram sinks when it hits a Luftwaffe IX Air Corps mine in the Humber Estuary. There are 8 deaths and only one survivor.

Royal Navy mine destructor vessel HMS Bushwood gets involved in a collision in the Bristol Channel. Taken to Cardiff, it is back in service by 7 May 1941.

Convoy OB 306 departs from Liverpool.

U-boats U-564 (Kptlt. Reinhard 'Teddy' Suhren) and U-652 (Oberleutnant zur See Georg-Werner Fraatz) are commissioned. U-564 will be the subject of a well-known film showing how U-boats can be resupplied with torpedoes while at sea - it isn't that easy.

3 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com El Rancho Vegas
El Rancho Vegas, the first hotel resort on what would become the Las Vegas Strip, is completed on 3 April 1941. At this time, Las Vegas is just a stop on the Union Pacific Railroad (visible in the distance). You are looking at some mighty pricey real estate - in about 50 years. And, no, Bugsy Siegel did not build it. The hotel will burn to the ground in 1960. Most of this property remains a dirt lot today, with a portion taken up by the Hilton Grand Vacation Club. This is the future corner of Las Vegas Blvd, aka “The Strip,” and Sahara Ave.

Battle of the Mediterranean: With the British 2nd Armoured Division reeling due to its orders to avoid pitched battles, British Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell "goes to the well" again. At the behest of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Wavell sends newly decorated Lieutenant-General Richard O'Connor, the hero of Operation Compass to the headquarters of General Officer Commanding & Military Governor of Cyrenaica Lieutenant General Sir Philip Neame. O'Connor, who is still recovering from earlier experiences in a Cairo hotel, is there to advise Neame, but not take over. He finds a chaotic situation where nobody knows where the Afrika Korps is at any point in time and the armored forces are full retreat.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel in command of the Afrika Korps and flying about from point to point in his handy Fieseler Storch, can't believe his good fortune. The Luftwaffe, scouting ahead, reports that the Via Balbia is desolate for 60 km past Agedabia, with a few British tanks here and there in the desert after they broke down or ran out of fuel. With the British in astonishing flight to the north and northeast, Rommel orders an attack on the British southern flank. He orders 5th Light Division to move out of Marada and join the advance, sending Italian forces to garrison it.

The Luftwaffe's Junkers Ju 87s mount a successful attack on a retreating British column around Antelat/Solluch, losing a Stuka and an escorting Bf 110. Rommel orders Lt. Colonel Gerhard von Schwerin, commanding Special Purposes Regiment No. 200, to lead a spearhead to Ben Gania, and he sets off in the evening. There is enthusiasm and dash in the Afrika Korps that for some reason is sadly lacking at this time on the other side.

Late in the day, Rommel drives to the front and orders reconnaissance troops to make a lightning occupation of Benghazi. Informal intelligence - an Italian priest - is that the British have fled Benghazi. Rommel has every vehicle that isn't actively fighting drive to a supply depot in the rear to get the necessary fuel.

Italian General Gariboldi, supposedly in charge of all Axis forces in North Africa, is nonplussed. He stumbles into the Afrika Korps headquarters at 21:00 demanding to be told what is going on. He remonstrates until midnight with Rommel, demanding to be allowed to give the orders to attack or not. Rommel counters that supplies are in good order and the situation is too fluid to go up the chain of command for every decision. OKW (the German military command) gets wind of the situation and quickly sends Rommel a message authorizing the offensive. While technically the OKW itself doesn't have authority to do this, the message effectively takes the heavy burden of command off Gariboldi's shoulders. From this point forward, Rommel basically does what he wants and tells Gariboldi about it whenever he gets the chance. Since Gariboldi can now, unlike almost all of his peers, go to Mussolini with victories, it is a happy arrangement for everyone.

Malta is relieved when a dozen Hurricanes are successfully flown off of aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal and Argus and make it to the island as part of Operation Winch. However, one Hurricane crashes on landing and is lightly damaged. Off Malta, the Luftwaffe catches Royal Navy minesweeper/high speed launch HMS Abingdon, which has been sent to wait 40 miles off the coast in case any of the planes has to ditch (as as happened on some previous convoys). They hit the Abingdon, but it makes it to port, along with its fellow minesweeper Jade.

Convoy HG 58 departs from Gibraltar, bound for Freetown.

3 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Count Teleki
Count Teleki's suicide note.

Anglo/German/Hungarian Relations: Following the suicide of pro-English Hungarian Prime Minister Count Pál János Ede Teleki de Szék during the night and his replacement with the pro-German László Bárdossy, Great Britain severs diplomatic relations. Count Teleki's suicide note says in part:
We broke our word, – out of cowardice [...] The nation feels it, and we have thrown away its honor. We have allied ourselves to scoundrels [...] We will become body-snatchers! A nation of trash. I did not hold you back. I am guilty.
The breaking point for Count Teleki apparently was learning that others in the government had secretly permitted German troops to enter the country. There was little that Count Teleki could do, unlike Yugoslavia, the government and military in Hungary is solidly pro-German. Bárdossy, meanwhile, now combines his job of foreign minister with that of prime minister.

There is wild speculation in the British media that Teleki was murdered for opposing Hitler. There is no evidence of that, and the suicide note would seem to contradict that conspiracy theory.

Meanwhile, Wehrmacht troops are pouring across the Hungarian border to take up positions for a move south.

German/Yugoslav Relations: Despite definite indications from the new Yugoslavian government that it is willing to deal with Hitler, the German legation for the most part leaves Belgrade under orders from Foreign Minister Ribbentrop.

Anglo/Soviet Relations: Sir Stafford Cripps, a Socialist who is viewed as a specialist in dealings with the USSR, warns Joseph Stalin (at the behest of Churchill) about Wehrmacht troop movements in Poland that appear oriented toward the Soviet Union.

3 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Ford Motor Company Pulitzer Prize strike
Ford Motor Company's security forces at the River Rouge plant beating up a striking employee on April 3, 1941. The strike protests the firings of other employees for union organizing. This is how you win a Pulitzer, Detroit News photographer Milton Brooks did (the first Pulitzer Prize for photography). Ford finally will have to recognize the UAW after this strike.

US Military: Rear Admiral John H. Newton departs from Suva, Fiji with his cruiser force and heads for Pearl Harbor. It has been a fantastically successful "show the flag" operation put together at the very last minute, cementing relations with Australia at just the right moment in history and providing a jolt of confidence to a country that feels increasingly threatened and isolated.

In Washington, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold Stark pens and sends out a memorandum to his three fleets (Pacific, Asiatic and Atlantic) expressing confidence in keeping the US fleet at Pearl Harbor. He feels it presence there has a calming effect on Asia.

Iraq: Rashid Ali continues tightening his hold on the government. He has assurances from pro-German Vichy French officials in Syria that they will permit passage of Luftwaffe aircraft to Iraq to support him. These aircraft also could bomb British positions in Iran. However, there remains a large British garrison and RAF contingent at Habbaniyah Field just outside Baghdad that remains to be subdued.

Future History: Hans-Jörg Gudegast is born in Bredenbek, Germany. He emigrates to the USA "with only the money in my pocket" and attends the University of Montana at Missoula. Under the stage name Eric Braeden enters the acting field and plays a variety of roles, usually as a Wehrmacht soldier (as in television series "Combat!") or secret agent (as in "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.). However, he is perhaps best remembered for playing the fictional German Hauptmann (Captain) Hans Dietrich on the TV series The Rat Patrol (1966–1968) - a character that would have been active in the desert on the day that he was born. Eric Braeden appears to be semi-retired from acting as of this writing, but he remains active; Braeden published his autobiography, "I'll Be Damned," with Harper Collins in 2017.

El Rancho Vegas, the first resort hotel (complete with gambling) on what will become the Las Vegas Strip, opens today. After it burns down in 1960, Howard Hughes will buy the property but do nothing with it. While the site of the first hotel on the Strip, it now somewhat incongruously stands almost completely vacant.



And now, a little swing music from Berlin on 3 April 1941.


2017

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