Friday, April 14, 2017

April 8, 1941: Yugoslavia Crumbling


Tuesday 8 April 1941

8 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Blitz damage
Land mine damage in Great Yarmouth on April 8, 1941 (Archant Library).

Operation 25/Operation Marita: At day's end, the Germans have broken through the Greek lines along the Bulgarian border, while the Germans have isolated Yugoslavia from the outside world and are in the vicinity of Zagreb and advancing toward Belgrade.

Belgrade is the prize in Yugoslavia, and Ewald von Kleist wants it. He sends his panzers off at 05:30 toward the city from the northwest. They capture Nis in Serbia and head down the Morava Valley toward the capital. The Yugoslav is giving ground everywhere.

The weather is poor over Belgrade, so the Luftwaffe's Operation Punishment ends today. There is tremendous devastation, but total casualty estimates vary from the as low as 1500 to 17,000. Later estimates of the extent of the damage also vary wildly, with some stating that half of the housing stock is destroyed. Among many other national treasures, the National Library of Serbia is destroyed, along with its medieval manuscripts and other irreplaceable artifacts.

The 1st SS Division Adolf Hitler has moved into the front lines and now sits astride the main railway link between Belgrade and Thessalonica (Thessaloniki). The Yugoslavs in Belgrade now are effectively isolated.

8 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Bf 109E Max Dobislav
Max Dobislav, who becomes an ace, with his Bf 109E of 8,/JG 27, April, 1941.

In Greece along the Bulgarian border, still a secondary theater as events play out to the north, the Greek Army vigorously defends at the Rupel Pass. The British 1st Armoured Division moves forward when the Wehrmacht's XXX Infantry Corps begins breaking out through the Dorian Gap. The weather is poor here as well, a typical late-winter scene of snow at the higher elevations and rain in the valleys. The Germans begin to push through the Florina Gap. The British further back on the Aliakmon Line prepare for the onslaught on their own positions, which is only a day or two away now.

The British hurry some of their units (such as the 16th Australian Brigade) forward to help the Greeks along the frontier battle in what is rapidly becoming a lost cause. The Australians are inexperienced in snow and there is virtually no transport in the mountains they are crossing. The Germans, meanwhile, have mountain troops leading their attack, with the 6th Mountain Division in the vanguard. The 164th Infantry Division captures Xanthi, and the 50th Infantry Division has Komotini and is advancing beyond it.

Strategically, what is happening is obvious on the map. While von Kleist in the north picks apart the internals of the Yugoslav state virtually at his leisure, the panzer forces in southern Yugoslavia have completely bypassed the Greeks and the British to the south. Worst of all for the Allies, the Germans have taken almost no casualties in their drive west through a non-essential portion of the country (from the Yugoslav view). The Greek High Command, of course, notices this, and they put out a communique to that effect which states that the German advance is "exposing the left flank of our brave army."

Some Yugoslav units do see what is going on and take pains to try and prevent it. The 20th "Bregalnička" Infantry Division, part of the 3rd Territorial Army of the Yugoslav army, ties in with the Greeks on the Metaxas Line. It works hard to stop the German 2nd Panzer Division of XVIII Mountain Corps from outflanking the Greek divisions, a task which is vital for the Metaxas Line to have any chance of holding. The 20th Infantry Division, however, can do nothing about the Germans heading due west to the north in what everyone recognizes is a deep flanking maneuver.

Meanwhile, the Yugoslav 3rd Army is fighting well - but headed in completely the wrong direction. While the Germans invade from the north and east, the Yugoslavs are heading... west. In what must have seemed like an extremely clever strategy over holiday dinners, the Yugoslavs intend to defeat the Italians in Albania before dealing with the Germans. This, the strategy posits, would free the mass of the Greek Army stuck in Albania to head east and stop the Germans flooding in from Bulgaria. However, while the Italian Army is weak, it isn't that weak, and in fact has been dramatically strengthened for their recently concluded Primavera Offensive. It is a high stakes gamble based upon the assumption that the Germans can be held at the frontiers until the Italians surrender - a fatal misreading of the situation.

German General Stumme in command of LX Corps, the spearhead cutting east through southern Yugoslavia, is not troubled by any of the Allied moves. He consolidates his grip on southern Yugoslavia and sets his sights on the real prize: the Greek port of Thessalonica (Thessaloniki) not far across the border to the south.

So, some units of the Yugoslav Army do make some progress in the wrong direction. The Yugoslav "Komski" Cavalry Regiment takes the village of Koljegcava in the Valjbone River Valley of Albania, while the 31st "Kosovska" Division breaches the Italian line along the Drin River. However, the Yugoslav High Command begins hedging its bets and recalls the "Vardarska" Division to confront the XL Panzer Corps at Skopje. The Greek Western Macedonian Army Section in Albania also makes some progress toward Durrës, capturing about 250 Italians. However, in strategic terms, the slight gains made by the two armies are meaningless.

The Luftwaffe pays Piraeus another visit, which they are doing every day during this period. They previously virtually destroyed the port on the 6th when they scored a lucky hit on ammunition ship Clan Fraser. Today, the Germans damage 7777 ton Greek tanker Ekaterini Coumantarou.

Yugoslavia, always a tenuous state created out of disparate elements, begins to crumble. Croatian separatists proclaim a new Croatian government in Zagreb. German troops of von Kleist's 1st Panzer Group already are at the city's outskirts. On cue, Croatian soldiers mutiny in Bjelovar. The Luftwaffe quite noticeably is not targeting any Croatian cities, as Croatians tend to favor the Axis over the Allies - as opposed to Serbians, whose cities are getting savaged.

Convoy ASF 24 (five freighters) departs from Piraeus bound for Alexandria. Other convoys at sea are AN 25 and AG 11.

8 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com LA Times headlines
As during the Polish campaign, early headlines are all favorable to the Allied cause as the Germans sweep through Yugoslavia. LA Times, 8 April 1941.

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe returns to Coventry with 230 bombers. They drop a combined 330 tons of high explosives, causing extensive damage and casualties. Among the devastation, the main body of the "new" Christchurch off New Union Street, built in 1830-32, is destroyed.

RAF Bomber Command, No. 2 Group, continues to focus on Axis shipping. The bombers hit the Kiel Canal with 160 bombers, Bremerhaven with 22 bombers, and shipping off the Danish coast. The RAF also attacks a bridge under construction at Ringkøbing on the west coast of the Jutland peninsula in western Denmark.

Princess Mary visits Hull.

8 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Greenwich Village coffee shop
"Coffee shop at 278 10th Avenue in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, April 8, 1941." Photo courtesy of the  New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) photo collection at the La Guardia and Wagner Archives/CUNY.

East African Campaign: British troops enter Massawa after a brief struggle, but the battle is not yet over. The 7th and 10th Infantry Brigades lead the charge as they capture hill forts surrounding the port. The French Foreign Legion captures the Italian Admiralty building, at which point Rear Bonetti quickly surrenders, sending 9590 surviving Italian troops into captivity.

The Italians still man the ships in the harbor, and four Italian submarines escape, but the Allies have their eyes on the 17 large merchant ships and many smaller ones anchored there. General Cunningham already has designated the 4th Indian Infantry Division, one of the key components of Operation Compass, for shipment back to Egypt, and he would love to use the port to do it. The port has modern facilities, but the Italians have wrecked the equipment and scuttled ships in the harbor, making it quite a chore for the British to return the port to working order.

After learning of Admiral Bonetti's surrender, the Italian crews of many ships finally bow to the inevitability of the British occupation today and scuttle their ships:

  • Destroyer Vincenzo Giordano Orsini
  • Torpedo boats MAS 204, 206, 210, 213 and 216
  • Italian 11,760 ton passenger ship Colombo
  • Italian 3245 ton freighter Clelia Campenella
  • Italian 5211 ton tanker Giove
  • Italian 4958 ton freighter Prometeo
  • Italian coasters San Giorgio (90 tons), Pirano (108 tons), and Trieste (96 tons)
  • Italian trawlers Ardita (19 tons) and Sole (15 tons)

In addition, the RAF bombs and sinks Italian minelayer Ostia. Italian 18 ton coastal ship Mario M. sinks in the Red Sea of unknown causes.

These sinkings greatly complicate the British task of putting the port back into service to repair vessels damaged in the conflict in the Mediterranean.

At Addis Ababa, the British occupation forces turn their attention to securing their lines of communication back to Asmara. The Duke of Aosta and his Italian and colonial forces now are bottled up in the mountains and no longer poses an immediate threat. However, at some point the British will have to flush these troops out.

8 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com NYA workers
"Two NYA workers and a chef prepare meals for other NYA workers at the Los Angeles City Playground and Recreation Center Project, April 8, 1941." Photo courtesy of the National Archives via The Living New Deal).

Battle of the Atlantic: U-107 (K.Kapt. Günther Hessler) is on its second patrol. U-107 is one of the war's most successful U-boats, and this extended patrol (it lasts for over two months) is its most successful. Today, U-107 is stalking dispersed ships from Convoy OG 57 south of the Azores, and it torpedoes and sinks two ships:

  • 3314 ton British freighter Helena Margareta (27 deaths, 9 survivors, Captain Owen T. Jones gets the Lloyd's War Medal for Bravery, U-107 surfaces and sinks it with gunfire)
  • 3829 ton British freighter Eskdene (all 39 aboard survive)

Hessler in U-107 continues stalking the convoy after the attack.

U-124 (Kptlt. Georg-Whilhelm Schulz), operating in the same general area as U-107, is north of the Cape Verde Islands and sinks 2697 ton British freighter Tweed. There are three survivors and 25 deaths.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 2848 ton British freighter Cormarsh off Sheringham Buoy (near Cley, Norfolk). The ship makes it to Hull.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages British 5792 ton freighter Chaucer near the Humber Light Vessel.

British 8621 ton tanker Ahamo hits a mine and sinks in the North Sea east of Sutton on Sea. There are fourteen deaths.

German freighter Kurzesee sinks from unexplained causes off Skjervøy, Norway. A likely cause is a mine.

Royal Navy armed merchant cruiser HMS Bulolo captures Vichy French 4279 ton freighter Fort de France in the Atlantic between Martinique and Casablanca. Bulolo's crew takes it to Gibraltar.

German raider Atlantis crossed into the South Atlantic from the Indian Ocean.

Royal Navy destroyer HMS Intrepid lays minefield JO in the English Channel.

Convoy SL 71 departs from Freetown.

Canadian corvette HMCS Chilliwack (K 131, Lt. Leslie L. Foxall) is commissioned.

U-80 (Oberleutnant zur See Georg Staats) is commissioned.

8 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com New Berlin schoolkids
The New Berlin, Illinois Island Grove school, 8 April 1941 (New Berlin Area Historical Society).

Battle of the Mediterranean: The Afrika Korps takes the fortress of Mechili in the morning. The remnants of the 2nd Armoured Division get some new stragglers from the west during the night to reinforce their position and try to break out, but the 5th Light Division (Major Bolbrinker) takes the fortress by 08:00. Major-General Gambier Parry, General Officer Commanding 2nd Armoured Division, surrenders and now joins Generals Neame and O'Connor in captivity.

General Erwin Rommel quickly tasks the Italians with occupying Mechili while the sends the German 5th Light Division troops to help out at Derna. By nightfall, the Germans have taken the Derna airfield, the town itself, and about 800 prisoners. While some British still hold out, their cause is hopeless.

With Benghazi, Derna and Mechili in their pocket, the Germans now can focus on Tobruk. Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell flies out of Tobruk, but his plane experiences engine trouble (likely due to desert sandstorms) and lands in the desert near Sollum. An armoured car picks him up.

Meanwhile, the British still don't know what has happened to General O'Connor and Lieutenant General Philip Neame, their military leaders in Libya (they are in German custody). As visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies notes in his diary following discussions at the War Cabinet:
Balkans bad. O'Connor & Neame missing in Libya. The clouds are dark and there is a lurid patch in the sky - I hope not sunset.... The generals of the War Office are still behind the times. "We have so many divisions" - as if divisions counted. Armour and speed count, and when we catch up to that idea, we will catch up to the Germans.
Menzies notes that "we hope to make a stand" at Tobruk. Until Neame can be located, Major General John Lavarack assumes his duties.

British mooring vessel Moor hits a mine and sinks near the Ricasoli Breakwater Light Vessel at the entrance to Grand Harbour, Malta. There is only one survivor and 28 deaths. The ship suffers a massive explosion around 17:00 that attracts attention from many viewers, turns on its side, and sinks rapidly.

An Axis convoy of five freighters departs Naples for Tripoli.

US/Greenland Relations: Greenland is an odd case. While it is part of Denmark, Greenland's government has announced its effective independence. However, the Danish Minister to the United States, Henrik de Kauffmann, still represents Greenland's interests. He prepares a document, "Denmark-United States: Agreement Relating to the Defense of Greenland," setting forth joint defense of Greenland. This effectively grants the United States responsibility for Greenland's defense from the Axis powers.


8 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com King Peter II
King Peter II of Yugoslavia.

US/Yugoslavian Relations: The Yugoslav attaché in Washington has requested as much US assistance that it can provide. In fact, the US can offer virtually no assistance except words, some of which President Roosevelt provides today. He states:
the United States will speedily furnish all material assistance possible in accordance with its existing statutes. I send Your Majesty my most earnest hopes for a successful resistance to this criminal assault upon the independence and integrity of your country.
The Germans already have a stranglehold on Yugoslavia, and the Italians and Luftwaffe dominate the skies, making any shipments by sea extremely unlikely.

US/Polish Relations: President Roosevelt meets with General Sikorski, leader of the Polish government in exile.

US Military: Evans Fordyce Carlson, considered a Far East specialist due to his experience in China, resigned his commission in 1939. Today, he is recommissioned at the rank of Major. Carlson has extensive experience working with Chinese Communist guerillas fighting Japanese invaders.

8 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Joe Louis Tony Musto
Joe Louis and Tony Musto at their weigh-in for their 8 April 1941 title fight (Boxing Hall of Fame in Las Vegas).

American Homefront: Earle W. Graser perishes in an automobile accident when he apparently falls asleep at the wheel while driving to his radio station in Detroit. Graser, a young radio actor, has played The Lone Ranger since 30 January 1933 - coincidentally, the same date that Adolf Hitler took power. His is the voice that yells "Hi Yo, Silver" in both the radio and television series and likely the one that most people would recognize.

Joe Louis knocks out Tony Musto in the Arena at St. Louis, Missouri. It is his 16th successful defense of the World Heavyweight Championship.

Future History: Margaret Anne Lennon is born in Los Angeles, California. As Peggy Lennon, she will begin appearing with her sisters Dianna Barbara, Kathy and Janet as the Lennon Sisters on the Lawrence Welk Show from 1955-1968. Peggy will continue performing with the group - which still tours as of this writing - until her retirement in 1999.

Vivienne Isabel Swire is born in Tintwistle Cheshire, near Glossop, Derbyshire. As Vivienne Westwood due to her marriage to Derek Westwood, she and her second husband Malcolm McLaren become clothes designers, with McLaren managing the Sex Pistols. When the Sex Pistols wear Vivienne's clothing, she garners a lot of attention. Westwood becomes a key mover behind the fashions of the punk movement, with a definite edge of leather bondage gear, spikes, chains and the like. She goes on to form her own fashion company, designs clothing for many celebrities such as the characters in "Sex and the City," and become politically active.As of this writing, Dame Vivienne Westwood continues to be perhaps the top fashion celebrity in England, at least in certain circles - though there are several claimants to that throne.

Darlene Faye Gillespie is born in Montreal, Quebec. She becomes famous as a child actress, appearing as a singer and dancer on the original Mickey Mouse Club television series from 1955-1958. She goes on to a singing career and various other adventures.

8 April 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Earle Graser
Earle Graser, the first radio "Lone Ranger," perishes on 8 April 1941 in an automobile accident.

2017

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