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Monday, April 3, 2017

March 30, 1941: Commissar Order


Sunday 30 March 1941

30 March 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Bristol Blenheim crashlanded
Bristol Blenheim TR-A of RAF No. 59 Squadron at RAF Hawkinge following the attack on shipping off Calais on 30 March 1941 (Photo by crew member Sgt. Len Hunt - from the book "Bristol Blenheim - Theo Boiten"').

Italian/Greek Campaign: The action at the Albanian front is desultory on 30 March 1941, with artillery exchanges but very little movement on the ground. As has been the case for several days, the main action is of the diplomatic variety. This activity necessarily concerns the fate of Yugoslavia, as nobody expects the Allies to be able to defend the long border stretching from Bulgaria to Albania. Thus, if the Wehrmacht invades Yugoslavia as well as Greece, the fate of both Yugoslavia and Greece depends upon the ability of the Yugoslav military as much as anything else.

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Momčilo Ninčić summons German ambassador Viktor von Heeren. Ninčić has a statement indicating that Yugoslavia will honor its international agreements, including the Tripartite Pact. Von Heeren prepares to send the diplomatic note on to Berlin when he receives instructions from Berlin to avoid any contact with Yugoslavian officials and to return to Berlin. It is unclear if von Heeren ever delivers the message, and Ribbentrop certainly never replies to it.

The Yugoslav Army begins deploying troops to the frontiers.

Deputy chief of the German General Staff (Oberquartiermeister I) Lieutenant General Friedrich Paulus arrives in Budapest for discussions with the Hungarian chief of staff. The chief of staff agrees to attack Yugoslavia. There is some confusion at the highest levels of the government, as Admiral Horthy approves of the attack, but Prime Minister Teleki is out of the loop entirely.

East African Campaign: General Lewis Heath's 5th Indian Infantry Division continues to pursue the fleeing Italian troops toward the port of Massawa. The 4th Indian Infantry Division has been redirected to Port Sudan for shipment to Port Sudan - showing the amount of confidence that Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell has in a single division's ability to subdue the port's garrison.

The Italians in Massawa realize the fate awaiting them. Italian 7565 ton freighter Piave makes a run for it and heads for Assab.

In Addis Ababa, the Italian commander, the Duke of Aosta, also realizes what is happening. He messages Rome that he will resist for as long as he can.

30 March 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Hawker Hurricane
Pilot Officer L.W. Stevens in his Hawker Hurricane during the Battle of Britain. While flying with RAF No. 145 Squadron, Stevens is KIA 30 March 1941. Photo from: "The Battle of Britain" Author: T.C.G.James.

European Air Operations: The British have learned that German heavy cruisers are in Brest following their very successful Operation Berlin. After dark, RAF Bomber Command sends 109 bombers to pay them a visit. They are both in dry dock, and neither is hit. Another force of 3 bombers based at Thorney Island raids shipping off Calais at 16:30.

The RAF loses at least one bomber during the Calais raid, TR-A of RAF No. 59 Squadron, which makes it back to RAF Hawkinge and crash-lands after losing hydraulics and throttle control. The crew survives, though two are wounded, one very seriously. The RAF also loses at least one Hawker Hurricane.

The Luftwaffe continues with its recent pattern of scattered raids by single planes. A Spitfire of RAF No. 41 Squadron shoots down a Junkers Ju 88 which lands at Wilton Moor, Eston, Yorkshire during the afternoon. All three Luftwaffe crew perish.

30 March 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com USS Gar USS Grampus
USS Gar, USS Grampus in the background, 30 March 1941. Photo courtesy of The US Navy Submarine Force Museum.

Battle of the Atlantic: U-69 (Kptlt. Jost Metzler), on its second patrol out of Lorient, is southwest of Iceland when it spots and sinks 3759 ton British freighter Coultarn. There are three deaths.

U-124 (Kptlt. Georg-Wilhelm Schulz), on her fourth patrol and in the vicinity of the Cape Verde Islands, torpedoes and sinks 3767 ton British freighter/passenger ship Umona. There are 100 deaths, including 15 passengers. The Umona was carrying, among other things, jam, maize and similar goods that are in short supply in England.

British 210 ton trawler Nisus disappears near the Faroe Islands. There are many British minefields in the area, and it is a favored hunting ground for the Luftwaffe.

Dutch coaster Celebes disappears during a trip from Liverpool to Falmouth.

Royal Navy anti-aircraft ship Alynbank is back in action after repairs to its collision damage of 23 December 1940.

Convoy OB 304 departs Liverpool, Convoy SC 27 departs from Halifax.

30 March 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com USS Gar USS Grampus
USS Gar, with USS Grampus in the background, 30 March 1941. Photo courtesy of The US Navy Submarine Force Museum.

Battle of the Mediterranean: General Rommel is ready to get moving. Since he does not have orders from OKH to attack, he gives his directives verbally. He tells 5th Light Division to attack Mersa Brega in the morning. The 5th Light has had patrols out and reports that it captured an armored car. The British 2nd Armoured Division defends Mersa Brega. Rommel is encouraged by recent skirmishes, including the capture of El Agheila, and also wants to advance to the Jebel Achdar (Green Mountain) south of Benghazi because it is a rare source of potable water in the desert.

The RAF raids Tripoli in the early morning hours, causing only slight damage. The Luftwaffe also is in action, claiming to have destroyed an armored car, self-propelled gun and tanker.

The damaged freighter Ruhr, carrying men and vehicles for the Afrika Corps, is towed back to Sicily. Troop casualties on it are reportedly 30 men. The rest of the ships of 15th Naval Transport Squadron accompanying it are in Tripoli at 09:00.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Rorqual (Lt. Commander Dewhurst) torpedoes and sinks 3645 ton German freighter Laura Corrado about 40 miles (70 km) north of Trapani, Sicily.

The Vichy French send a convoy of six freighters, escorted by destroyer Simoun, from Casablanca back into the Mediterranean. This, of course, requires passage through the Straits of Gibraltar. The Royal Navy has had conflicting views on how to handle such transits in the past, leading to at least one court-martial. This time, the Royal Navy sends out a large force led by light cruiser HMS Sheffield to intercept the French. This is Operation Ration by Force H.

The French ships pass under the guns of their forces at Nemours, and the British are unable to intercept the convoy when the French open fire. On their way back, the Royal Navy ships are attacked by French aircraft. Sheffield is damaged by a near miss and destroyer HMS Forester is hit and requires four weeks of repairs.

Italian submarine Dagabur attacks cruiser HMS Bonaventure escorting Convoy GA-8 south of Crete, but misses.

The victorious Royal Navy fleet, led by battleships HMS Barham, Valiant and Warship and aircraft carrier Formidable, arrives back at Alexandria around sunset.

At Malta, the Luftwaffe sends four Junkers Ju 88 bombers which bomb Ta Qali airfield. One Hurricane on the ground is slightly damaged, but overall it is an unsuccessful mission. Neither side loses any planes.

30 March 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Camp Hulen Texas
Camp Hulen, Palacios, Texas. View of the 300,000 elevated water tank. 30 March 1941 at 14:00. Camp Hulen is named after Major General John A. Hulen, who suggested the spot in the 1920s due to the availability of water.

US/Anglo Relations: In keeping with the expressed desires of English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the US Navy seizes 63 ships (26 Italian, 35 Danish and 2 German) interned in US ports. Over 900 Axis sailors (850 Italian, 63 German) are taken into custody. Some of the ships carry valuable cargo. A final decision has yet to be made whether to use them in North Atlantic convoy runs to Great Britain. The decision to seize the ships is a consequence of the recent ABC-1 Conference between US and British military leaders in Washington, D.C.

As part of Operation Fish, heavy cruiser USS Vincennes (CA-44) departs Simonstown (Cape Town) carrying gold bullion being used by Great Britain to pay for war supplies. Its destination is New York.

Visiting Australian Prime Minister Menzies note that Churchill, elated by recent victories, has been communicating with President Roosevelt. Menzies, never one to mince words in his private diary, writes:
Great news of naval victory in Mediterranean at which Winston sends off cables to Roosevelt.... What a genius the man has. He has maintained by cable and letter the most easy and informal correspondence with Roosevelt; always treating him as a friend and ally, and also U.S.A - 'Don't you think we could do so and so.' Result, F.D.R. has passed into the position of an ally without perhaps realising how some of the steps have come about.
While this entry is highly flattering of Churchill, it is not so high-minded about President Roosevelt.

Spy Stuff: Churchill learns through "sources" that the Wehrmacht has redirected three panzer divisions from Romania, thence to Southern Poland, and then further south. There, they will participate in the invasion of Yugoslavia. This crystallizes the belief in Churchill's mind that a German invasion of the Soviet Union is next on Hitler's list - after he takes care of Greece and Yugoslavia. The source of Churchill's knowledge is poor practices by a German Lorenz cipher machine operator, who sends the same 4000-character message twice.


30 March 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com USS Barnett
USS Barnett (AP-11) McCawley-class attack transport off the Norfolk Navy Yard on 30 March 1941 (Photo No. 19-N-23945, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command).

German Military: Adolf Hitler holds a private meeting in the Cabinet Room of the Chancellery in Berlin with about 250 top leaders of the Wehrmacht, including Colonel General Franz Halder, Field Marshal von Bock and General Hermann Hoth, all of whom take fairly thorough notes or immediately write down their recollections. It is a fairly remarkable meeting, with issues discussed that will dramatically influence the Operation Barbarossa campaign.

Hitler directs that Army Group Center's mission was to head due east to the Dneiper River, and only then head north. Moscow, he casually mentions, is "absolutely irrelevant." This directly contradicts a very strong body of opinion among the men to whom he is speaking. They feel that Moscow is of the utmost importance as the entrance of the land bridge to Asia and the center of Soviet life (including the focus of the entire railway and road system). Nobody challenges Hitler on this strategy, but some in the room will make their own contrary views known eventually - and act on those views.

Hitler does not think the campaign will be much trouble. He thinks it will all be over by fall, declaring:
We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.
Moving from the specific to the general, Hitler remarks on the ultimate objective of the campaign. It is not just the conquest of the Soviet Union, but the "eradication" of Communism itself "for all time." To do this, he authorizes "liquidation of the Bolshevik commissars and the Communist intelligentsia." As recorded by Halder, Hitler says:
The war against Russia cannot be considered in a knightly fashion; the struggle is one of ideological and racial differences and will have to be conducted with unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness.... The commissars are the bearers of ideologies directly opposed to National Socialism. Therefore the commissars will be liquidated. German soldiers guilty of breaking international law... will be excused.
John Keegan, The Second World War (Hutchinson, 1989), page 186. The liquidations would be carried out by SS Einsatzgruppen following behind the fighting troops.

After being translated into an official OKW order, this directive becomes known as the "Commissar Order." As Hitler indicates himself (according to the notes), it is illegal under the terms of the Geneva Convention of 1929. Some will argue the Convention does not apply to the Soviet Union because the USSR never ratified the Convention (though the previous Russian government had). Article 82 of the Geneva Convention, however, states:
In case, in time of war, one of the belligerents is not a party to the Convention, its provisions shall nevertheless remain in force as between the belligerents who are parties thereto.
Thus, even if the USSR was not a party to the Geneva Convention, Germany, as a signatory at least arguably was bound to follow it (though, again, some will argue that it need be followed only in cases where both opposing governments, and not just one, have ratified it). The Geneva Convention, of course, forbids exterminating entire classes of captives. The OKW will begin working up drafts of this order quickly.

Luftwaffe jet prototype Heinkel He-280 makes its maiden flight under its own power under the command of test pilot Fritz Schäfer. It features tricycle landing gear and a compressed-air ejection seat. The Luftwaffe has expressed little interest in the plane, preferring to focus on other designs, so Ernst Heinkel has been continuing with the plane's development on his own initiative. The main holdup is the engine, the HeS 8, which has been behind schedule. On the bright side, the engines burn inexpensive kerosene. The Luftwaffe, specifically RLM development chief Ernst Udet, remains uninterested.

30 March 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Heinkel He 280 jet fighter
The Heinkel He 280.

US Military: Eight B-18 Bolo bombers of the USAAC 73rd Bombardment Squadron arrive at Elmendorf Field, Anchorage, Alaska. This is part of a slow but steady buildup of a US military presence in Alaska (not yet a US State); they are the first bombers to be based in Alaska.

First flight of the Vultee A-31 Vengeance prototype V-72 dive bomber. It takes place at Vultee's factory at Downey, California. The British Purchasing Commission, in need of a dive bomber, already has placed orders for 300 of them. The plane is well behind schedule, as delivers originally were scheduled to begin in October 1940.

Yugoslavia: With Belgrade in an uproar after the recent bloodless coup, Italian and German nationals have left.

Future History: Graeme Charles Edge is born today in Rochester, Staffordshire, England. He becomes a founding member of rock group Moody Blues alongside Denny Laine, Clint Warwick, Mike Pinder, and Ray Thomas. As of this writing, Edge  is the only remaining original member of The Moody Blues still performing in the band.

30 March 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Heinkel He 280 jet fighter
The Heinkel He-280.

2017

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