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Sunday, July 9, 2017

April 28, 1941: Hitler Firm about Barbarossa

Monday 28 April 1941

28 April 1941 Short Sunderland Flying Boats
Short Sunderland flying boats in Kalamata Harbor to evacuate British troops in Operation Demon, Kalamata, Greece, April 28, 1941.

Operation Marita: Having pocketed Athens without a fight, on 28 April 1941 the Wehrmacht continues to occupy the remaining portions of mainland Greece after collapsing British opposition. The 5th Panzer Division continues its drive across the Peloponnese, pursuing Allied troops that are evacuating as quickly as they can in Operation Demon.

Today, three Royal Navy ships - sloop HMAS Auckland, HMS Hyacinth and HMS Salvia, take off 750 RAF personnel from Kithera, while another force of ships takes off 4320 men of the New Zealand 6th Infantry Brigade from Monemvasia. An attempt to pick up troops from Kalamata runs into trouble when the port is found to be in German hands, but four destroyers do manage to take aboard 450 Yugoslavians.

The Commonwealth troops literally are fighting for their lives on the docks as the Germans bear down on them. Sergeant Jack Hinton of New Zealand 2nd Division leads a small force to retake the dock at Kalamata. For this, Hinton, shot and taken prisoner, will win the Victoria Cross.

Wasting no time, the Germans appoint Günther Altenburg as the Reich Plenipotentiary for Greece.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill telephones Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell from Chequers. He warns of an imminent "heavy airborne attack by German troops and bombers" against Crete. He notes that such an attack "ought to be a fine opportunity for killing the parachute troops." The War Cabinet minutes state that Churchill "felt no regret over the decision to send troops to Greece."

The Greek government convenes at Canea, Crete. Prime Minister of Greece Emmanouil Tsouderos requests reinforcements of the island from the British, who already have sent many troops to the island and are sending the troops evacuated from the mainland there.

The Luftwaffe continues its attacks on Greek shipping, sinking the following ships:
  • Torpedo boat Kyzikos at Salamis
  •  462 ton freighter Aikaterini at Spetsopoulou
  • 797 ton freighter Eleni Canavarioti in the Aegean
  • Greek trawler Aixos at Syros.
The Luftwaffe also bombs Royal Navy Landing Craft, Tank HMS LCT-5 off Monemvasia. The crew manages to beach the ship, where it is abandoned.

The Luftwaffe shoots down a Seagull amphibian plane flying off of HMAS Perth near Anti Kyrethia, Greece. The crew survives by swimming to an island and eventually is picked up by HMS Havock.

At Suda Bay, the Royal Navy ceases attempts to repair heavy cruiser HMS York. The York had been severely damaged by the Luftwaffe in March 1941. This leads to the complete loss of the York.

Italian forces begin occupying the Ionian and Aegean Islands. Troops land at Corfu.

28 April 1941 map Meditteranean
A map on the front page of The Michigan Daily showing the geographical possibilities in the Mediterranean following the German conquest of Greece. As the caption points out, the next Hitler conquest is likely to be Crete.

European Air Operations: The British begin their "Channel Stop" campaign. This is an effort to interdict enemy shipping in the English Channel and deprive its use to the Wehrmacht. The Germans have flak ships along the French Channel coast to protect their shipping, so this requires a battle. Today, RAF No. 101 Squadron sends Blenheims against trawlers near Calais, losing a plane to the vicious flak.

RAF Bomber Command, No. 7 Squadron, attacks Emden, Germany during the day and Brest, France after dark. Fighter Command conducts a Roadstead Operation and Rhubarb Operation over France.

The Luftwaffe raids Plymouth with 124 planes and sinks Royal Navy depot ship HMS Moncousu.

Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies visits with Air Marshal Lord Trenchard, a hero of World War I. Trenchard, Menzies writes in his diary, is "Against bombing in France, because the bombs that miss kill Frenchmen, whereas the ones that miss in Germany kill Germans."

Iraq War: The Royal Navy dispatches aircraft carrier HMS Hermes and light cruiser Enterprise to the Persian Gulf to cover upcoming British landings at Basra. Convoy BP 1 is at sea carrying troops to land there to reinforce British positions in Iraq.

East African Campaign: Free French troops move into pro-Vichy French Somaliland.

28 April 1941 Time Magazine Sir Percy Noble
Time Magazine, 28 April 1941, showing Sir Percy Noble, Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches, based in Liverpool (Cover Credit: ERNEST HAMLIN BAKER).

Battle of the Atlantic: A major battle develops around Convoy HX 121 on the North Atlantic convoy route. Called in by U-123 (Kptlt. Karl-Heinz Moehle), which spots the convoy, U-65 (Kptlt. Joachim Hoppe), U-95 (Kptlt. Gerd Schreiber), U-96 (Kptlt. Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock) and U-552 (K.Kapt. Erich Topp) participate in these attacks.

U-552 starts things off at 04:15 when it torpedoes 8190 ton British tanker Capulet. The tanker is abandoned and eventually sunk by Royal Navy gunfire. There are 9 deaths on the tanker.

A few hours later, at 07:25, U-96 attacks Convoy HX 121 at 19:25 by firing three torpedoes, hitting and sinking three ships:
  • 8516 ton British motor tanker Oilfield (47 dead, 8 survivors)
  • 9892 Norwegian tanker Caledonia (12 dead, 25 survivors)
  • 8897 ton British freighter Port Hardy (one dead).
U-96 is damaged during the aftermath to the attack but resumes its patrol. U-65, however, is sunk by Royal Navy destroyer HMS Douglas in a depth charge attack, and all 50 men on board perish.

The Luftwaffe damages 2157 ton British freighter Marie Dawn off Sheringham Buoy and 2824 ton British freighter Empire Strait off Great Yarmouth.

Royal Navy transport/trawler HMT Johanna Caroline hits a mine in the Bristol Channel off Milford Haven and sinks with all hands.

Royal Navy submarine HMS H.31 collides with destroyer Venomous at Londonderry. Both ships require repairs.

Convoy OB 316 departs from Liverpool.

Royal Navy destroyer HMS Calpe, mooring vessel Moorfire, boom defense vessel Baronia and submarine P-36 are launched.

Canadian corvette HMCS Port Arthur is laid down in Port Arthur, Ontario.

US aircraft carrier USS Essex is laid down.

28 April 1941 Todd-Bath shipbuilding yard
Construction site of the Todd-Bath yard in South Portland where many Liberty ships would be built, 28 April 1941.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Following the devastating outcome of the battle on the Greek mainland, the British are feeling very insecure about their position in Egypt. Prime Minister Winston Churchill asks to see all "plans which had been prepared in certain eventualities for the evacuation of Egypt."

Major-General Friedrich Paulus a Deputy Chief of the General Staff, remains in Tripoli reviewing Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps operations. Italian General Gariboldi, Rommel's nominal superior in the chain of command, arrives in Tripoli to join the deliberations. Paulus has halted Rommel's planned attack on Tripoli scheduled for the 30th for the time being.

On the ground, both sides conduct patrol activity which the D.A.K. War Diary remarks is "lively." At dawn, the Luftwaffe attacks on Tobruk continue, with the Junkers Ju 87 Stukas concentrating on anti-aircraft defenses and fighters conducting strafing missions. Gruppe Herff continues to edge forward southeast of Sollum, with the British forces having retreated on the coastal plain.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks Royal Navy lighter A-15 while on a rescue mission to help another ship, sinking Greek contraband chaser A-3, at Monemvasia. All aboard perish.

The Luftwaffe mounts a large raid on Malta. The German bombs hit destroyer HMS Encounter in drydock, damaging it, along with anti-submarine trawler Coral and minesweeping drifter Trusty Star. The bombs sink minesweeper HMS Fermoy.

The Royal Navy tries a new tactic to supply Malta. Instead of sending convoys, it despatches unescorted freighters which seek safety from stealth rather than defensive escorts. Freighter Parracombe carries 21 cased Hurricane fighters to the island along with other supplies. The Parracombe flies a Spanish flag first, then the French flag. This is Operation Temple. Another convoy, MD 3, departs from Malta to Gibraltar.

Force H returns to Gibraltar after successful Operation Dunlop, a mission to deliver RAF Hurricanes to Malta.

Obfw. Joachim Marseille shoots down a RAF Blenheim bomber near Tobruk for his 8th victory overall and 2nd in North Africa.

28 April 1941 Allouez Express
In this picture from the 28 April 1941 issue of Life Magazine, steamship Cadiliac is caught in the ice while attempting to pass the Mather. THis is the "Allouez Express," ships transiting the ice-choked Lake Superior.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: German raider Pinguin sinks 7266 ton British transport Clan Buchanan in the Arabian Sea east of Sri Lanka. The Pinguin takes on board the entire crew of the Clan Buchanan. Radio signals from the Clan Buchanan alert nearby Royal Navy forces, which set out in search of the raider.

Spy Stuff: Concluding what is widely viewed (at least in hindsight) as a fact-finding mission for the US military, Ernest Hemingway departs from China. His wife, Martha Gellhorn, continues on to Burma.

War Crimes: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sends a memo to Chief of Staff General Ismay in which he notes that "I see a statement that the Italians shot all the Free French prisoners they took at Tobruk." Churchill writes "you should consider the following proposal":
Hand over 1,000 Italian officers to the Free French in Central Africa as working capital, and announce that for every Free Frenchman shot by the Italians, two (or three (?)) Italian officers would be executed. The question is whether an announcement of this kind might not be advantageous.... On the whole, I think we should give the Italians to de Gaulle and let him say what he likes about it. This is a matter upon which I have reached no final conclusion.
Italians shooting war prisoners out of hand is a war crime (if true); the British turning over Italian prisoners to be shot by the Free French would be a similar war crime (if it were to happen). Churchill does note that the prime consideration weighing against this plan is the fact that "the Huns have 50,000 of our men in their hands" against whom reprisals could be taken.

28 April 1941 Blenheim bomber wreckage
Remains of a Blenheim bomber (Mk IV F) of RAF No. 203 Squadron shot down near Crete by friendly fire on 28 April 1941. The plane went down less than 2 km off the coast near Rethymno, Crete. The crew survived ( 

Anglo/US Relations: In a rare communication with his ambassador to the United States, Lord Halifax, Prime Minister Churchill orders that Halifax and his staff "not discourage the President from posing his questions direct to me." Churchill is eager to cultivate his "personal relations" with Roosevelt, which he notes are "of importance."

In line with an overall British strategy to de-emphasize the Pacific Theater, British Rear Admiral Victor H. Danckwerts respond to a request for advice from Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, the U.S. Navy’s Director of the War Plans Division. Turner had asked whether it would be efficient to transfer US Navy ships from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Danckwerts responds that "the consequential reduction in the strength of the United States Pacific Fleet would not unduly encourage Japan."

German Military: The army high command (OKH) issues a directive that regular army units are to provide assistance to special Schutzstaffel SS units during Operation Barbarossa. The army is to provide logistical support such as food and ammunition to SS units, which are subject to army orders but have unique missions for which they must operate independently. Just how far this cooperation extends remains a subject of debate, as German army veterans often minimize the extent of regular army participation in some of the Einsatzgruppen (special task forces) activities that involve crimes against humanity. The Waffen (fighting) SS units technically are subject to regular operational orders, but this relationship deteriorates with time and they tend to operate either completely independently or subject to their own whims (for instance, SS units tend to attack when they are good and ready, not at the time ordered). This murky relationship between the SS and the regular army chain of command remains a source of tension throughout World War II.

US Military: Admiral Hart in the Philippines establishes Task Force 5 (TF 5). This task force has responsibility for the Singapore area.

Charles Sweeney, the future pilot of the crew that drops the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, joins the US Army Air Corps.

Australian Military: The Royal Australian Navy employs a dozen Women's Emergency Signalling Corps women as telegraphists at Harman wireless station in Canberra. This apparently is the first employment of women in the Australian Navy.

German Government: Having spent the duration of Operation Marita in Austria "overseeing" operations from his command train "Amerika" (something that was completely unnecessary but part of his image building), Adolf Hitler returns to Berlin in triumph. Hitler meets with his ambassador to the Soviet Union, Count Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg, at 17:15. Count Schulenburg - with Foreign Minister Ribbentrop's approval - submits a memorandum arguing against Operation Barbarossa. Schulenburg later recalls that Hitler was upset that Russia had supported the anti-German "putsch" in Yugoslavia and had begun mobilizing its army. Hitler brushes aside Schulenburg's observation that Stalin is desperate to avoid war and eager to supply grain and other raw materials to Germany; Hitler abruptly ends the interview after half an hour to have tea.

Among other things, this incident with Count Schulenburg illustrates that many of Hitler's top lieutenants, including Ribbentrop and Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, are opposed to Operation Barbarossa. As happens repeatedly throughout the Hitler regime, top figures in the Reich use surrogates to express their own views that are contrary to Hitler's. These surrogates tend to be intimidated by Hitler to one extent or another and press their case weakly.

28 April 1941 Newsweek
Newsweek, 28 April 1941, cover showing an invasion patrol on Dover Cliffs.

British Government: In a War Cabinet Directive, Prime Minister Churchill forecasts that "Japan is unlikely to enter the war unless the Germans make a successful invasion of Great Britain." Accordingly, he directs (through the War Cabinet) that "There is no need at the present time to make any further disposition for the defence of Malaya and Singapore."

In a memo to General Ismay, Churchill writes that it "seems probably" that the next German moves will be:
  1. to attack Crete
  2. to attack Malta
  3. to advance through Spain toward Morocco to take Gibraltar.
He asks for plans to counter this expected German thrust toward Morocco.

Menzies, in his diary, questions Churchill's accuracy regarding Commonwealth casualties in Greece and observes that "W. [Churchill] is a great man, but he is more addicted to wishful thinking every day." He openly disputes Churchill in the War Cabinet, arguing that information being supplied to Australia and the United States is bad "propaganda." As usual, though, Menzies receives little support from Churchill's appointees.

Norwegian Homefront: The German authorities conduct a massive book-burning as part of a crackdown on "degenerate" literature.

28 April 1941 Ann-Margret
Ann-Margret, born on 28 April 1941.

American Homefront: Charles Lindbergh, associated in the public mind as much for his America First speeches as for his famous aerial exploits, resigns his commission as a Colonel in the US Army Air Corps Reserve. Among others, President Roosevelt has questioned Lindbergh's loyalties given his strident efforts to keep the United States out of the European war, particularly a well-publicized speech that Lindbergh gave on 23 April 1941. In his resignation letter to President Roosevelt, Lindbergh takes exception to these "implications." Lindbergh still retains a vast reservoir of positive sentiment in the public, however, as many people, including some highly placed politicians, agree with Lindbergh that the United States should avoid ongoing conflicts.

During the evening, Lindbergh gives a speech at an America First rally in Chicago. The crowd boos mentions of Winston Churchill and cheers Lindbergh when he recites facts about England's "devastated cities."

Resolving a long-standing mineworkers strike, the White House announces that the Southern Coal Operators Wage Conference, a consortium of mine owners, "accept [the Roosevelt Administration's] proposal without equivocation." Roosevelt had proposed on 21 April that the mines be reopened pending continued negotiations over wages. This effectively ends the strike, though negotiations at some mines continue.

The United States Supreme Court issues two significant rulings today:
  • In a suit brought by the only African American in Congress, Representative Arthur W. Mitchell (D-Ill.), the court rules that minorities must be furnished comparable accommodations to those of whites for interstate travel. Mitchell brought the suit after he was forced from a Pullman coach to a "Jim Crow" day coach while travelling in Arkansas in 1937;
  • The Court upholds the Wagner Act, which prohibits anti-union discrimination in the hiring and firing of workers.
A Gallup poll is released that reinforces Lindbergh's isolationist position. The question is, "If you were asked to vote today on the question of the United States entering the war against Germany and Italy, how would you vote — to go into the war, or to stay out of the war?" The response of 81% of respondents is to stay out, with only a slight 7% decrease from a similar question asked in January. However, as always, the public is split on the issue. Another question posed is, "If it appeared certain that there was no other way to defeat Germany and Italy except for the United States to go to war against them, would you be in favor of the United States going to war?" The answer to this is 68% favoring entering the conflict and 24% saying no, with 8% having no opinion. To some extent, these polls reflect the embryonic state of the polling industry as much as public opinion, with the questions asked to some extent influencing the responses.

Future History: Ann-Margret Olsson is born in Valsjöbyn, Jämtland County, Sweden. She moves with her mother to the United States in November 1946, where they live just outside Chicago. During high school, Olsson joins a group known as the "Suttletones." She begins performing at Chicago nightclubs, and she eventually makes her way to Las Vegas and then Los Angeles. Back in Las Vegas, she drops her last name from her act and becomes known as Ann-Margret. George Burns discovers her, and by the early 1960s Ann-Margret is recording albums. She appears on television programs such as The Jack Benny Program in 1961, and all this leads to a successful screen test at 20th Century Fox, where she lands a standard seven-year contract. This begins a hugely successful film career with roles in such films as "Pocketful of Miracles," "State Fair," and "Bye Bye Birdie." A long association with Elvis Presley began during this time. Ann-Margret continues to act occasionally, and on 29 August 2010 won an Emmy for an appearance on "SVU."

28 April 1941 Representative Arthur Mitchell
Congressman Arthur Mitchell (D-Illinois), who won a case in the US Supreme Court on 28 April 1941 which held that African Americans are entitled to equal accommodations on interstate railroad trains.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

April 27, 1941: Athens Falls

Sunday 27 April 1941

27 April 1941 German Acropolis flag-raising
Germans raise the Swastika flag over the Acropolis, 27 April 1941 (Federal Archives).

Operation Marita: In an event of worldwide importance, on 27 April 1941 the Wehrmacht enters and occupies Athens at 09:25. German soldiers immediately climb up to the Acropolis beside ordinary tourists and raise the Swastika flag. The Wehrmacht troops, fueled by vast supplies of oil and related valuable items captured in the capital, continue south, pursuing the retreating Commonwealth troops.

Operation Demon, the British evacuation from mainland Greece, continues. The British take off 4200 troops from Raphina and Raphtis. There is some unhappiness among the Greek troops awaiting evacuation in the Peloponnese, as the British take off their own troops and leave the Greek Cretan 5th Division behind.

The 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler ("LSSAH," still of brigade size) completes its crossing of the Gulf of Patras to take the key port of Patras at 17:30. However, it is an empty victory because the British forces have chosen to evacuate from other ports such as Nafplio. In addition, Wehrmacht troops advancing through Athens already have advanced into the Peloponnese and relieved the Fallschirmjäger (German paratroopers) of Operation Hannibal that were holding the Gulf of Corinth. While the rapid LSSAH advance south from Ioannina across the Gulf of Patras was an outstanding technical achievement, in a military sense it becomes essentially superfluous. However, it greatly enhances the reputation of the formation, and plans are made to expand it to division size.

27 April 1941 German Acropolis bombers
An undated photo of Luftwaffe bombers over Athens.

While the British troops largely escape the Wehrmacht ground forces, they are not quite so lucky with the Luftwaffe. Nine Junkers Ju 87 Stukas of Sturzkampfgeschwader 77 attack a troop convoy fleeing from Nafplio in the Peloponnese. They bomb and sink Dutch troop ship Slamat, which is part of a convoy carrying 3,000  British, Australian and New Zealand troops (the Slamat only has a portion of them). Two Royal Navy destroyers, HMS Diamond and Wryneck, pick up as many survivors as they can, but as they head to Suda Bay, Crete, the Luftwaffe Stukas sink them, too. A total of roughly 1,000 British troops perish, with only 8 troop and 11 crew survivors from the Slamat, 20 from the Diamond, and 27 from the Wryneck.

The German 5th Panzer Division advances rapidly south through Athens and down to the Corinth Canal. It throws across a temporary bridge on or about this date and heads south toward the fleeing British.

The Luftwaffe continues its depredations against Greek shipping in the Aegean, sinking:
  • 441 ton freighter Evanghelos Georgiou off Kithera
  • 1350 ton freighter Astir at Kapsalion
  • 333 ton freighter Tassos at Hermione (Ermioni)
  • 441 ton freighter Fragiscos in the Greek Archipelago
  • 1759 ton freighter Hollandia at Hermione
The Luftwaffe damages other Greek ships, including 2113 ton freighter Danapris at Piraeus, which the Germans later repair.

27 April 1941 German Acropolis flag-raising

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe raids Portsmouth with 38 bombers.

East African Campaign: Local Abyssinian forces loyal to Emperor Haile Selassie capture Socota from the Italians.

Iraq War: Diplomatic efforts continue to defuse the tensions in Iraq, where the Rashid Ali government refuses to allow additional British troops into the country. The British ambassador informs Ali's government that additional troops are at sea and bound to arrive at Basra any day. Within Iraq, the British troops are secure, but unable to travel by land between their bases. However, their airlift capability is unimpeded, so the British airlift elements of the British 1st Battalion of King's Own Royal Regiment from RAF Shaibah to RAF Habbaniya, where Iraqi troops have assembled.

27 April 1941 German Acropolis flag-raising

Battle of the Atlantic: U-552 (K.Kapt. Erich Topp), on its second war patrol, torpedoes and sinks two ships south of Iceland:
  • 227 ton British trawler Commander Horton
  • 10,160 ton British ship HMS Beacon Grange (two perish)
U-147 (Oblt.z.S. Eberhard Wetjen) torpedoes and sinks independent 1334 ton Norwegian freighter Rimfakse about 240 km northwest of Scotland. There are eight survivors and eight deaths.

U-110 (Kptlt. Fritz-Julius Lemp) torpedoes and sinks 2564 ton British freighter Henri Mory about 610 km northwest of Blasket Islands, Ireland. There are four survivors and 28 perish.

The Luftwaffe sinks 5355 ton Royal Navy auxiliary fighter catapult ship (CAM ship) near Coquet Island. There are about 50 deaths, including the skipper, Commander D.M.B. Baker.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 943 ton British freighter Celte west of the Faroe Islands. Everyone survives.

Royal Navy sloop HMS Rosemary collides with 754 British freighter Carrickmacross at Milford Haven. Is under repair at the port until 6 June.

Norwegian freighter Rimac collides with Royal Navy transport HMT Lord Plender off Great Yarmouth. The Rimac sinks, and five of its crew perish while 14 survive. There also are three deaths on the Lord Plender, which rescues the Rimac's survivors.

The shifting Admiralty position on Vichy ships changes again. After ocean boarding vessel HMS Maron intercepts five French freighters escorted by a patrol boat between the Canary Islands and Africa, the Sea Lords direct that the ships be released and allowed to proceed to Dakar.

Convoy OB 315 departs from Liverpool, Convoy SL 73 departs from Freetown.

Royal Navy destroyer HMS Farndale (Commander Stephen H. Carlill, L 70) is commissioned.

Canadian Royal Navy corvette HMCS Rimouski is commissioned.

27 April 1941 German Acropolis panzers
Panzers in Athens.

Battle of the Mediterranean: In Operation Dunlop, Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal sends off 24 Hawker Hurricanes to reinforce the RAF presence on Malta; 23 reach the island.

Despite recent military successes in North Africa, the German high command has become increasingly leery of Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel's conduct of operations there. Among the concerns is Rommel's decision to stage a major offensive before receiving all of the troops en route to Tripoli - the fact that the offensive was wildly successfully does not enter into this assessment. Rommel repeatedly disregards orders sent by both the OKH and his Italian military superiors - the Germans cannot know this now, but that is one of the keys to Rommel's successes, since the British are reading German communications and acting accordingly. Thus, when the OKH orders something and then Rommel does something else, the British are caught flat-footed.

To assuage their concerns, the OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres, army high command) sends staff officer Friedrich Paulus, a Deputy Chief of the General Staff, to Tripoli to investigate the situation. Paulus later recalls that he was offered command of the Afrika Korps in place of Rommel, but turned it down. However, Paulus does assume control of operations during his tenure in the theater and cancels a planned offensive against Tobruk pending his later approval.

In the field, the Germans consolidate their recent gains in the south. Gruppe Herff sets up outposts at Sidi Suleiman, about ten miles east of the British lines. Some of its units are sent north through Sollum in preparation for a renewed attack on Tobruk - which depends upon General Paulus' approval.

The Luftwaffe attacks Australian artillery positions in Tobruk in preparation for the planned assault. The Luftwaffe employs level bombers to attract anti-aircraft fire while Junkers Ju 87 Stukas focus on anti-aircraft guns. The attack is successful, with four guns destroyed and 8 killed at a cost of one bomber. The Australian defenders set up dummy gun emplacements and move the artillery.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Usk (Lt. G.P. Darling) hits a mine and sinks near Cape Bon, Tunisia. All 32 on board perish.

Italian freighter SNA7/2679 hits a mine and sinks off Cape Bon, Tunisia. There also is a theory that HMS Usk, believed lost on this date, sank SNA7/2679 before itself sinking, but this is unconfirmed.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 8672 ton Dutch transport Costa Rica north of Crete. The Costa Rica is part of Convoy GA 14, and everybody aboard is rescued.

Convoy GA 14 departs from Suda Bay, Crete to free up space for the transports soon to arrive from the Greek mainland.

27 April 1941 Heinrich Himmler Mauthausen
Heinrich Himmler inspects Mauthausen concentration camp, 27 April 1941. These appear to be the infamous steps which inmates climb with heavy rocks until all perish.

American/Dutch/British/Australian Relations: A military meeting (the "ABDA" conference) in Singapore between the (future) allies ends with an agreement on combined operations in the event of Japanese aggression. The United States, which sent only junior officers led by Captain William R. Purnell to the meeting, takes the plan lightly, with the US War and Navy Departments rejecting the plan. The British, Dutch and Australians, who already are at war with Germany but not yet Japan, take the plan extremely seriously.

German Government: After a brief stop in Maribor/Marburg and a return trip to Graz on the 26th, Adolf Hitler embarks on his command train "Amerika" for the trip back to Berlin.

27 April 1941 Corinth British surrenders
Captured Allied troops turn in their weapons in Corinth. 

British Government: Winston Churchill addresses the nation on the BBC. He has a somber tone, as Churchill knows that Greece is lost and the British have lost their last foothold on the European mainland. He crows about the inability of the Germans to invade Great Britain, noting that
with every week that passes we grow stronger on the sea, in the air and in the number, quality, training and equipment of the great armies that now guard our island.
Of Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell, he notes that "we cheered in good days and will back through the bad." He then turns to the Axis leaders and Italian leader Mussolini a "whipped jackal" and Hitler "that bad man" prone to "raving outbursts." He essentially places all of England's hopes on America, concluding with a Arthur Hugh Clough poem that has the last line, "But westward, look, the land is bright."

Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies meets with US Ambassador to Great Britain John Gilbert Winant. Menzies writes in his diary that Winant agrees with him that, in terms of the news media, "most stuff going to USA is of German origin." The AP, for instance, continues to obtain photographs from Germany through its Lisbon contacts. Menzies jots down that "news to America badly handled." Churchill muttered darkly during his BBC broadcast about supposed tensions between Australia and England due to German propaganda, and if Menzies' private thoughts are any indication, such tensions do indeed exist.

Holocaust: Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler inspects Mauthausen concentration camp. Mauthausen is a Category III camp and perhaps the most brutal in the entire system.

The Croatian Ustashi militia kills an unknown number of civilians in the Serbian town of Gudovac. There is no love lost between the Croats and the Serbs, with the Croats firmly in the German camp while the Serbs back Great Britain.

27 April 1941 Heinrich Himmler Mauthausen
Heinrich Himmler inspects Mauthausen concentration camp, 27 April 1941. Note the inmate standing at attention, ignored by Himmler.


April 26, 1941: Operation Hannibal

Saturday 26 April 1941

26 April 1941 Hitler Maribor Borrmann
Hitler in Maribor, 26 April 1941. With him are Martin Bormann and Otto Dietrich (Federal Archive).

Operation Marita: By 26 April 1941, the British are racing for the Greek ports to effect a complete evacuation from the Greek mainland, while the Germans are racing just as fast to stop them. It is another "Dunkirk" situation, and this time the Germans don't want to fail to trap their prey. The British stage a minor delaying operation at Thebes during the day as they fall back on Athens. The Germans press on toward Athens during the night.

German paratroopers (Fallschirmjäger) stage Operation Hannibal (there were other operations of the same name). This is a brilliant military operation, but like many other such efforts during World War II, it achieves less in military terms than its brilliant execution might imply.

26 April 1941 Corinth Canal
The view of the Corinth bridge taken by a Fallschirmjager on the approach to the drop zone, 07:00 on 26 April 1941.

Colonel Sturm leads 52 parachute engineers (Fallschirmpioniere) under Leutnant Häffner in a daring drop in the region of the Corinth Canal on the Peloponnesos. The canal provides a handy place to stop the British retreat toward Patras and other ports on the Peloponnesos, and also a good place to stockpile fuel for the advancing panzers. Supported by the 1st and 2nd Battalions of Fallschirmjager Regiment 2 (FJR 2) under respectively Hauptmann Kroh and Hauptmann Pietzonka, the Fallschirmpioniere embark on 25 April in Plovdiv on 270 Junkers Ju 52s and in gliders. They stop to refuel in Larissa, and in at 05:00 on the 26th they take off for the mission. They drop at 07:00.

They seize the bridge over the Corinth Canal. The British, almost certainly informed of Operation Hannibal by Ultra intercepts, have artillery positioned and registered. The British manage an extremely lucky shot when a shell hits demolition charges that the Germans already have removed from the bridge and placed in a pile - but not actually taken off the bridge yet (a huge "rookie" error). The bridge, already in German hands, collapses into the Corinth Canal, preventing the Germans from bringing panzers across (once they arrive via Athens) until it can be replaced (which is not accomplished until the 28th). The fuel for the panzers, being brought to the Corinth Canal by a tanker, has to be re-routed to Piraeus and laboriously transferred into barrels which can be brought into the Peloponnesos. One British unit, the 4th New Zealand Brigade, is cut off east of the bridge, but it heads to Port Raphti on the Greek east coast for evacuation. The Germans only lose eight engineers in the operation, but the results barely even warrant that.

26 April 1941 Corinth Canal
Fallschirmjäger on the bridge of Corinth, 26 April 1941. Everyone in this picture, including the photographer, perished moments after this shot from British artillery that destroyed the bridge - the camera with exposed but undamaged film was found in the wreckage ("Time-Life Conquest of the Balkans").

The 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler ("LSSAH," still at brigade size at this time) has been at the forefront of the German advance into Greece (Operation Marita), and today it embellishes its reputation as the most aggressive formation in the Wehrmacht. The LSSAH, racing down the west coast of the Greek mainland along the Pindus mountains from Ioannina, reaches the Gulf of Patras. At this point, all that stands between the German troops and cutting off the bulk of the retreating British/Imperial troops is the Gulf, as the key port of Patras lies just to the south.

General Sepp Dietrich orders the LSSAH to cross the gulf by any means necessary, so the LSSAH commandeers every fishing trawler and coaster that it can find and so that it can gains a foothold on the Peloponnesos in conjunction with paratrooper landings at Corinth. This process begins today and continues into the 27th. While this is a fantastic technical accomplishment that enhances the reputation of the "Blitzkrieg," the crossing achieves less than might appear because the LSSAH (and paratroopers) cannot bring panzers, artillery and other heavy equipment with them. The British, meanwhile, are not dependent upon Patras and the other ports of the Peloponnesos, and are evacuating many troops from the east coast of the mainland and points south. Wehrmacht troops advancing south through Athens, in fact, are only a day or two away from the LSSAH foothold.

Other German troops on the mainland reach Missolonghi. During the night, the British continue Operation Demon, the evacuation of mainland Greece. The British stage a furious evacuation from Athens beaches and take off the 16th and 17th Brigades from Kalamata and the 1st Armored Brigade - minus its vehicles. In all, the British take off over 20,000 men during the night:

  • 4300 men were evacuated from Nauplia
  • 8300 men were evacuated from Raphtis and Raphina
  • 8650 men were evacuated from Kalamata.

As part of Operation Demon, Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender evacuates the crown jewels of Yugoslavia from Athens.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 4917 ton British freighter Scottish Prince north of Crete. The freighter makes it to Alexandria under escort.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks Greek torpedo boat Kydonia at Morea.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 1712 ton Greek freighter Maiotis in the Aegean. It is later raised by the Italians and taken to Trieste.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 6303 ton Greek freighter Maria Stathatou at Mylos.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 960 ton Greek freighter Zakynthos off Monemvasia.

26 April 1941 Corinth Canal
Explosion of the bridge over the Corinth Canal, 26 April 1941.

European Air Operations: During the day, RAF Bomber Command attacks German shipping near Schiemonikoog and Vlieland with 25 aircraft. RAF Fighter Command stages a sweep over Boulogne. During the night, RAF Bomber Command sends 50 aircraft against Hamburg.

The Luftwaffe (KG 55) attacks Bristol and Liverpool (92 aircraft).

Luftwafffe pilot Wolfgang Falck, Kommodore of Nachtjagdgeschwader 1, attends a briefing in Hamburg (ironically bombed during the night). He learns about new airborne radar systems being developed, including the Morgenstern, Flensburg, and SN-2 (Lichtenstein) systems. The Nachtjagdfliegerdienst coincidentally scores its 100th night victory.

26 April 1941 Corinth Canal
Another view of the explosion of the Corinth Bridge.

East African Campaign: The South African 1st Brigade takes Dessie in Abyssinia, East Africa. The South Africans bag 4,000 Italians who spend the rest of the war as POWs. Dessie, 130 miles south of Amba Alagi, is a key blocking position for the Italian holdouts in the mountains. The Indian 29th Infantry Brigade, meanwhile, reaches Amba Alagi today from the north.

Battle of the Atlantic: The US Neutrality Patrol now extends to the latitude line near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This frees up British escorts, who have had to move further and further west as U-boats and Kriegsmarine surface raiders extend their operations in that direction. US Navy aircraft carrier USS Wasp embarks from Hampton Roads along with support ships on a neutrality patrol in the Atlantic, the first time the US uses a carrier on Neutrality Patrol.

U-110 (Kptlt. Fritz-Julius Lemp) torpedoes and sinks 2564 ton British freighter Henri Mory in the Atlantic northwest of Achill Head, Ireland. There are 28 deaths and four survivors.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 4648 ton British freighter Mountpark in the Northwest Approaches. There are six deaths.

Finnish 1172 ton freighter Lapponia hits a mine off Aalborg and sinks. It is later raised and repaired.

British 2217 ton collier Murdoch hits a sunken wreck and takes on water. It continues on, but eventually sinks in the North Sea off Great Yarmouth at North Scroby Sand. The ship remains a navigation hazard throughout the war, remaining partially above water.

Convoy WS (Winston Special) 8A departs the Clyde. This includes several ships that will be included in the Tiger convoy past Gibraltar into the Mediterranean. The ships intended for Operation Tiger are:

  • Clan Chattan
  • Clan Campbell
  • Clan Lamont
  • Empire Song
  • New Zealand Star.

Altogether, the ships carry 292 tanks for General Archibald Wavell's Middle East Command.

Convoy OG-60 departs from Liverpool.

Canadian corvettes HMCS Nanaimo (K-101, H. C. C. Daubney) and Rimouski (K-121, Lt. John W. Bonner) are commissioned.

Royal Navy sloop HMS Erne (U-03, Lt. Commander Henry M. Darell-Brown) is commissioned.

U-432 (Kptlt. Heinz-Otto Schultze) and U-81 (Oberleutnant zur See Friedrich Guggenberger) are commissioned.

26 April 1941 Corinth Canal
Wreckage of the Corinth Bridge in the Corinth Canal. This blocked the canal, which the Germans needed, but they cleared it within days.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel retains a shaky grasp on Tobruk, where the Australians continue to hold out in large numbers. Rommel attempts to solidify his control over the vital port by sending three motorised columns of German and Italian troops from Group Herff from south of Sollum through Halfaya Pass on the border with Egypt. The Axis troops cross the border into Egypt after the British withdraw during the night, but don't advance much further at this time. Holding the pass enables Rommel to focus more on tightening his grip on Tobruk.

At Tobruk itself, the Australians stand firm, repelling German and Italian assaults and taking numerous prisoners. The Australians make some moves to widen their perimeter with tank and infantry advances, but the German artillery and panzers stop them cold. The German defense is aided by a sandstorm which "blew all day."

Prime Minister Winston Churchill sends a sharp cable to Commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet Admiral Andrew Cunningham. Churchill remarks to Cunningham that "you do not appreciate" British grand strategy in the Mediterranean (which is an odd thing to say to the man most responsible for implementing that strategy). Churchill further states that some of Cunningham's previous comments about strategy are "really not justified." There is a lecturing, churlish tone throughout the message which perhaps reflects the great difficulty the British forces in Greece are facing - an operation that was virtually solely Churchill's responsibility and which he ordered for political reasons against almost unanimous opposition in the military.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Upholder torpedoes and sinks German freighter Arta, which had been badly damaged in a destroyer action on the 16th and grounded on Kerkennah Bank off the coast of Tunisia.

Royal Navy gunboat HMS Ladybird bombards Gazala Airfield during the night, while gunboat HMS Aphis bombards the Italians in Halfaya Pass.

26 April 1941 Corinth Canal Wilhelm Fulda
On the right is glider pilot Wilhelm Fulda. He was awarded the Ritterkreuz for his bravery at Corinth.

Soviet Military: Soviet Chief of Staff General Georgy Zhukov orders a stealth mobilization of the Red Army to counter reports of German troop movements to the frontier area.

US Military: General Douglas MacArthur, from his command post in the Philippines, issues a plan for the seizure of New Britain, New Guinea, and New Ireland upon the outbreak of war. The objective would be to envelop the military base of Rabaul, currently in Australian hands but assumed to be in Japanese possession shortly after the outbreak of war. It is a far-sighted plan, but it requires the cooperation of the US Army and Navy - something that can be problematic at times.

German Government: Adolf Hitler has been camped in his command train "Amerika" in Austria throughout Operation Marita. Today, he takes his train from the little station of M–nichkirchen (near Graz) into Yugoslavia. He disembarks and proceeds by motorcar to Maribor (now renamed Marburg). After a rapturous reception there (this is a pro-German province), Hitler gets back on his train and heads back to Graz for another happy welcome. Among other things, Hitler visits with his old history teacher, Professor Leopold Poetsch, who Hitler claims in "Mein Kampf" inspired his love of history.

26 April 1941 Corinth Canal
Landing zones for Operation Hannibal. The operation went off without a hitch, with only one tiny flaw - the destruction of the bridge.

British Government: Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies lunches with former British Prime Minister Lloyd George at the latter's farm at Churt, Surrey. They agree that the government has numerous command deficiencies, such as that Churchill is "acting as the master strategis, with qualification" and that CIGS General John Dill is "timid as a hare." Basically, they take a dim view of Churchill and his appointments and policies.

One must observe that Menzies blows hot and cold on Churchill, and seems to blow the coldest when furthest away from him. About Hitler, however, Lloyd George is very complimentary, and (according to Menzies' diary) believes that "the Germans in their hearts like us much more than the French ever did." Naturally, this is the sort of attitude at this time that only an elder statesman could get away with, regardless of any merit it may hold.

Dutch Homeland: Potato rationing is instituted. Food supplies in The Netherlands will be stretched throughout the war - this is only the beginning.

26 April 1941 Corinth Canal
Luftwaffe view of the Corinth Canal.