Monday 21 April 1941
|"British Bren gun carriers on the road in Greece, 21 April 1941" © IWM (E 2524).|
Operation Marita: Following the suicide of Greek Prime Minister Alexandros Koryzis, a new government forms on 21 April 1941 under banker Emmanouil Tsouderos. Tsouderos has minimal qualifications as a political or military leader, having served as Minister of Transportation and Minister of Finance decades earlier and, since 1931, Governor of the Central Bank of Greece.
General Georgios Tsolakoglu, commander of the Greek Epirus Army, follows through in Larissa on his decision to sign the surrender documents to which he agreed on the 20th. He does this despite instructions from his government not to sign the document. The terms also cover the Western Macedonian Army. SS Obergruppenführer Josef “Sepp” Dietrich signs on behalf of the Wehrmacht/German government - he later recalls it as the highlight of his military career.
The issue of the Italian participation is a matter of controversy. Field Marshal Wilhelm List has ordered that Italian troops not be allowed south of the Albanian border so that that the Greeks cannot surrender to them there. The 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH, still only of brigade size) physically intervenes to stop Italian troops from pursuing the retreating/surrendering Greek troops. Italian leader Benito Mussolini is furious, feeling that the Greeks are snubbing the Italian army - which absolutely is Tsolakoglu's intention as well as that of the the Germans. Mussolini refuses to accept the surrender on behalf of Italy unless the Greeks sign a separate document with them. He tells his forces to continue fighting and has the Regia Aeronautica bomb Ioannina and Arta to illustrate his displeasure.
The Germans take Volos after the British evacuate their troops (but leave behind lots of supplies). They also reach Thermopylae and at 18:00 make their first attempt to cross through this critical chokepoint. The ANZAC defenders stop the attack despite Luftwaffe attacks from nearby airfields. For such an important spot, the defense is very spotty - the Australians rely on only 2 Australian 25-pounder field guns.
The British War Cabinet sees where things in Greece are heading and have had enough. After being told by the King of Greece that no Greek troops remain to protect the British left flank, they make the final decision to fully evacuate all troops from the mainland. In fact, Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell and local commander General Henry Maitland Wilson already have agreed at a morning meeting with the King of Greece that this is inevitable, and the War Cabinet simply acquiesces in a fait accompli. Evacuations are to commence within days from various ports in East Attica, and later from ports in the eastern Peloponnese. The New Zealand troops that have survived their delaying action further north head for coastal ports such as Koritza and Volos. The Wehrmacht is in hot pursuit, and nobody really knows where the enemy is - panzers could be around the next corner or over the next rise.
|HMS Breconshire entering Grand Harbor, Malta on 21 April 1941.|
The War Cabinet Minutes also touch lightly on another brewing problem. They note:
The Prime Minister commented on the fact that he had received no adequate situation reports from Greece reporting any of the heavy fighting of the last ten days.This is something that Prime Minister Churchill already has remonstrated with Wavell about in writing. While Wavell is a brilliant commander with outstanding tactical and strategic judgment, his one failing is that he has difficulties in his personal relationship with Churchill - who keeps him on only because of his obvious talent.
The Luftwaffe ramps up its sustained attack on Greek shipping. It bombs and sinks:
Reportedly, the Luftwaffe also bombs and sinks over 20 other smaller ships. The Luftwaffe continues to move forces into the general region, with KG 4 (Oberst Hans-Joachim Rath) taking up a new post at Zilistea, Romania.
South of Crete, the Luftwaffe bombs and damages 6098 ton British tanker British Lord. The tanker is part of Convoy AS 26. There is one death, and sloop HMNZS Auckland takes the ship in tow back to Alexandria. Greek destroyer Thyella also is bombed and sunk off Vouliagmeni.
Convoy AN 29 departs from Alexandria and Port Said, bound for Suda Bay, Crete with five freighters/transports.
|"A British Army 15-cwt truck in Greece, 21 April 1941." © IWM (E 2535).|
Iraq War: Very little is happening in Iraq, but tensions are extremely high. The government of Rashid Ali is assembling tanks, artillery and infantry on a plateau overlooking the British airbase at Habbaniya. However, they are making no attacks despite demanding that nobody enter or leave the base. Meanwhile, the British have consolidated control over the port of Basra, which is far to the south. A standoff appears to be developing, with the British fully capable of defending themselves against a hostile populace. The British also are preparing to send forces ("Habforce," short for Habbaniya Force) from the British Mandate of Palestine, but they are far away and have to cross a desert.
European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe targets Plymouth today in what is known as the start of the Plymouth Blitz. The 120 bombers focus on the center of town around the Guildhall, destroying the medieval heart of the city. Taken together with other raids, about 1000 people have or will have perished, with 18,000 houses destroyed and 30,000 inhabitants made homeless (many take refuge in barns and sheds in the surrounding countryside). The Germans, however, continue to fail to put the important port of Devonport out of operation, allowing the Royal Navy to continue its operations from there.
That is not to say that the Luftwaffe misses the port completely. Several ships are damaged during the raid. Royal Navy heavy cruiser HMS Kent, already under repair, is damaged further during the attack, as is destroyer Leeds (out until December 1941) and destroyer Lewes). British 688 ton freighter Maidstone is hit and it taken to Falmouth for repairs.
RAF Bomber Command continues to focus on Axis shipping in the North Sea. It loses two planes from RAF No. 21 Squadron of 2 Group. Luftwaffe ace Lt. Heinz Bär of 1./JG 51 gts his fifteenth victory during British attacks on coastal targets.
East African Campaign: Operations continue in Abyssinia. The Gold Coast 24th Infantry Brigade reaches Wadara in Galla-Sidamo, while the South African 1st Infantry Brigade continues attacking Italian General Frusci's forces near Cambolcia Pass on the road to Dessie.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-107 (K.Kapt. Günther Hessler), continuing its length second patrol, is operating about 550 miles north of the Cape Verde Islands when it spots 10305 ton British passenger ship Calchas. Hessler pumps two torpedoes into the ship at 14:20, sinking it. There are 24 deaths, including the master. The survivors take to three lifeboats and spend 10-14 days at sea: 33 head south and make it to Sal Maria Island, Cape Verde; another 23 make it to Boavista Island, Cape Verde; while a further 33 head east and make it to St. Louis, Senegal.
The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 6997 ton British tanker British Renown a few miles southeast of Dartmouth. the tanker makes it back to Dartmouth.
British 76 ton tug Regency is towing three or four barges off Ford's, Dagenham when it hits a mine. All of the ships sink and two men perish. The tug and a barge later are raised and repaired.
British 11 ton fishing boat Alpha hits a mine in Whittaker Channel, Essex, but makes it back to port. It likely is an acoustic mine that exploded some distance away, else it would have completely destroyed the vessel.
U-154 is launched, and U-612 is laid down.
US submarine USS Gudgeon is commissioned (SS 211, Lt. Commander Elton W. Grenfell), and submarine USS Albacore is laid down.
|Greek soldiers in retreat in Greece, April 1941 (Bauer, German Federal Archive: Bild 101I-163-0318-09).|
Battle of the Mediterranean: Prime Minister Winston Churchill orders the the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet to bombard the port of Tripoli (Operation MD2). This is partly to cover the arrival of a convoy at Alexandria. Thus, battleships HMS Barham, Valiant and Warspite join with 9 destroyers and cruiser Gloucester off the coast, putting themselves at great peril to Luftwaffe attack. This is done in conjunction with a RAF bombing attack, with the planes from HMS Formidable dropping flares to help with spotting. Admiral Cunningham protests, to no avail. The Germans claim that the destruction was minimal due to inaccuracy. As the ships make their way back to Alexandria, they also bombard Benghazi. The Luftwaffe mounts an attack and scores a near miss on destroyer HMS Greyhound which causes no appreciable damage. Churchill, in fact, wants to sinks battleship Barham in the entrance to Tripoli Harbor to block the Axis convoys, but is dissuaded. The bombardment damages Italian torpedo boat Partenope and 6 freighters).
Late in the day, the War Cabinet minutes not that Operation Tiger, "the plan to pass the convoy through the Mediterranean," has been approved by the First Sea Lord (Admiral Sir Dudley Pound). Churchill proposes to add 100 additional tanks to the convoy, which is part of WS (Winston Special) 7. After opposition from CIGS John Dill that the tanks are needed in England, that is cut to an additional 67 tanks.
In Libya, the RAF mounts a raid against the Afrika Korps troops before dawn, and "lively" (according to the German status report) air operations continue throughout the day, with both sides losing a fighter. The tensions of the combat are illustrated by a belief - put in the official German war summary for the day - that the RAF intentionally shot the Luftwaffe pilot in his parachute. It is impossible to confirm such incidents after the fact with any degree of certainty - but that is what the German high command believes happened. The RAF, incidentally, claims that downed four German planes.
The RAF bombs Derna airfield, destroying four Italian CR 42 fighters, and also kills several people at Gazala airfield.
The Luftwaffe raids Tobruk with 24 bombers and 21 fighters, damaging two ships:
The Italian Division Brescia captures 13 British stragglers from the 2nd Armoured Division. Lieutenant General Rommel tells his commanders to prepare for an attack on Tobruk on 1 May. Additional troops continue to flow into the Afrika Korps through Tripoli, some survivors of the destroyed Lampo convoy.
British submarine HMS Truant is patrolling off Tripoli when it spots 1080 ton Italian tanker Prometeo. The Truant launches two torpedoes, which miss. In evading them, the Prometeo runs aground. It later is refloated and repaired.
The Regia Aeronautica attacks Malta around midday with three SM-79 bombers escorted by half a dozen CR 42 fighters and two Bf 109s. They bomb Fort San Rocco, losing three CR 42s in the process. Another raid drops some bombs in the Grand Harbour area.
An Axis convoy with four transports departs from Naples bound for Tripoli. The British take note and prepare to send some destroyers from Malta to intercept it.
|Businesses on East 14th Street, 21 April 1941. All of this area up to the Con Ed power plant in the distance (still there) were cleared to make room for the Riis Houses apartment complex ( New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) photo collection at the La Guardia and Wagner Archives/CUNY).|
POWs: General Carton de Wiart is en route from Malta to Cairo when his plane crashes off Tobruk. The Italians capture him after he and the rest of the crew swim a mile to shore - another entry into the epic feats of General de Wiart.
War Crimes: The Luftwaffe scores another hit on an Allied hospital ship today. It bombs and damages 876 ton Greek hospital ship Ellenis off Patras. The ship makes it back to Patras, where it disembarks its patients. The Luftwaffe also bombs and sinks 1461 ton Greek passenger ship Esperos, which is being employed as a hospital ship, off Missolonghi, Greece.
German/Finnish Relations: The German Waffen SS begins recruiting in Helsinki.
Anglo/US/Dutch Relations: The American-Dutch-British (ADB) Conference convenes in Singapore under chair Air Chief Marshal Sir H. Robert Brooke-Popham. The conference is scheduled to last until 27 April. American preparation is haphazard and scanty, while the British are thoroughly prepared. This is a pattern that will continue for some time during the war. The conference is separated into two consecutive groups, with all three parties meeting first, then only the British and Dutch. The conference's purpose is to prepare an appreciation of the coalition's (eventual US military involvement is assumed) military capabilities, predict likely Japanese moves, and prepare a strategic concept of operations for the coming conflict. This will result in the "ADB Report."
There are 26 delegates in attendance. The US representatives are Navy Captain Purnell and Army Colonel A.C. McBride, respectively staff officers from Admiral Hart and Major General George Grunert in the Philippines. The British are nonplussed at the low-level American participants, but then, the US is not at war with anybody while the British and Dutch already are.
US/Canadian Relations: President Roosevelt returns to Washington from his upstate New York home at Hyde Park. There, he and Canadian leader Mackenzie King hammered out the Hyde Park Agreement, which provided for wartime economic cooperation between the two nations. The media reports that this is a "virtual merging of the economies of the United States and Canada." Canadian Munitions Minister Mr. Howe is very supportive of the agreement, and King tells the media that the agreement is:
a real answer to Hitler's birthday celebrations - an expressed determination by the two countries to use all their resources in the common cause. Briefly, what the arrangement proposes is the mobilization of the resources of this continent to assist Britain in the quickest possible and most efficient way.The real benefit of this agreement to Canada, he adds almost as an afterthought, is that the US will finance war construction from now on under Lend Lease, taking that burden off of Canada. King also says that President Roosevelt may visit Ottawa on 10-11 May.
British Military: General Bernard Law Montgomery takes command of XII Corps.
US Military: Theodore Roosevelt Jr. becomes commander of the 26th Infantry Regiment.
Battleship USS Arizona (BB 39) and destroyer USS Davis (DD 395) collide during fueling at sea without major consequences.
The US Marine Corps establishes the temporary command Marine Aircraft, South Pacific to administer its fighter wings in the theater.
Australian Government: Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies has been absent from Australia for months now, and it has been a time of heavy fighting by Australian troops. There is a vocal, if relatively small, pacifist sentiment brewing in Australia. Menzies had planned to begin returning home by now, but has postponed his return due to the tense war situation and the extremely supportive welcome he has found in London. Back in Australia, however, dissatisfaction with the heavy losses in Greece and North Africa is growing, and opposition to his continued leaderships concomitantly is growing. Menzies only retains office due to the support of two Independents, and some within his own U.A.P. party are plotting his ouster.
Menzies, meanwhile, continues to work for Australian interests in London. He notes in his diary that General Wavell now is prepared, due to Menzies' urging, to make Australian General Blamey Deputy Commander in Chief Middle East.
|Cutting down the largest tree in Battery Park, New York City, 21 April 1941.|
British Government: Menzies is a provocateur with keen judgment, and today he puts both traits to good use. At lunch with Churchill, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and Clement Attlee - all current or future prime ministers - he provokes Churchill with his long-held belief that Churchill needs contrary voices around him and not just "yes men." Churchill, of course, is miffed, but, according to Menzies, basically agrees. It is fair to say that Menzies is the only man in England who could say such things to Churchill and get away with it.
American Homefront: The country is at odds with the idea of joining the war or even supporting Great Britain. Author Rex Stout makes a speech in New York City in which he directly attacks isolationist Charles Lindbergh:
I wish I could look you in the eye, Colonel Lindbergh, when I tell you that you simply don't know what it's all about ... A desperate war is being fought, and the winners of the war will win the oceans. No matter what we do, we shall be either one of the winners, or one of the losers; no shivering neutral will get a bite of anything but crow when the shooting stops. It would therefore seem to be plain imbecility not to go in with Britain and win.Public opinion polls continue to show a great split within the public - while many want Great Britain to win and want to help it win, they also don't want any US soldiers in harm's way.