Tuesday, January 23, 2018

May 9, 1941: U-110 Captured


Friday 9 May 1941

Nottingham 9 May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Damage at Friar Lane, Nottingham, picture taken 9 May 1941.

Anglo/Iraq War: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on 9 May 1941 sends a telegram to Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell which states:
Our information is that Rashid Ali and his partisans [actually Iraqi government military forces] are in desperate straits. However this may be, you are to fight hard against them... [Y]ou should exploit situation to the utmost, not hesitating to try to break into Baghdad even with quite small forces and running the same kind of risks as the Germans are accustomed to run and profit by.
Churchill adds that "There can be no question of negotiation with Rashid Ali" unless he surrenders unconditionally. Furthermore, Wavell is to aid Free French General Catroux in an invasion of Syria "In face of your evident feeling of lack of resources" - a typical Churchillian dig at what he personally judges to be Wavell's lack of fighting spirit.

At Fort Rutbah, the RAF bombs the fort and loses a plane to small-arms fire. The Iraqi government sends a convoy of 40 trucks armed with machine guns to reinforce the small garrison. The British of the Arab Legion who are an advance party of Habforce continue to wait for reinforcements from the main column before attacking and withdraw to a more defensible position.

A jihad has been proclaimed by the Grand Mufti.

Ju-52 9 May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A Junkers Ju-52 transport being used for training exercises in preparation for Operation Mercury, the airborne assault on Crete, 9 May 1941.

European Air Operations: The two sides engage in a war of communiques today. Berlin Radio announces successful raids on Derby and Nottingham, where they targeted the critical Rolls-Royce aircraft engine plant. The British Air Ministry engages in a little humor when it responds that, during last night's raids, two cows and a few chickens had been killed in the East Midlands. What the RAF actually is saying in surprisingly candid fashion (if you know what actually happened) is that many Luftwaffe bombers missed their target cities due to successful deception measures. The Germans aren't told about that little secret, however, and no doubt take it as a little innocent bravado.

London is the main target during the night when about 500 Luftwaffe bombers attack. There are subsidiary attacks at RAF airfields including RAF Waddington, where a direct hit on an air raid shelter kills ten people, including seven women.

Liverpool, Hull, and many other cities in the industrial north are devastated by the recent Luftwaffe raids. In Hull alone, there are an estimated 1000 dead and 40,000 homeless out of a population of 330,000. The Germans have been extremely effective at targeting the docks in its target cities recently, but the British are stepping up their jamming attempts of the crude German navigational system based on radio waves. That jamming already is having some effect, as evidenced by the "cows and chickens" remark.

Attacks continue at Hull, but few planes hit anything of importance. The Luftwaffe focuses on the port and damages 64 ton sailing barge Whitaker's No. 17, 5117 ton British freighter Dan Y Bryn, and 3067 ton British freighter Castilian. There are two deaths on the Castilian.

During the day, RAF Bomber Command attacks coastal targets. It then sends 146 bombers against Mannheim and Ludwigshafen during the night.

East African Campaign: The perimeter at Amba Alagi remains quiet as the British forces await reinforcements which are only a day away. The East African 22nd Infantry Brigade moves to the southwest around Laka Shala in Galla-Sidamo.

Winston Churchill sends Abyssinian Emperor Haile Selassie and congratulates him on being "the first [monarch deposed by the fascists] to return in triumph."

U-110 HMS Bulldog 9 May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
HMS Bulldog alongside U-110, 9 May 1941.

Battle of the Atlantic: Events of 9 May 1941 are little remembered by the public after the fact, but they are of far-reaching consequence. They are so important that this almost could be considered a case of losing a battle, but thereby winning a war.

The British recently captured German weather ship Munchen near Iceland, securing prized Kriegsmarine naval codes, and today they pull off an even greater intelligence coup. U-100 (Kptlt. Fritz-Julius Lemp), one of the top U-boat commanders (he sank the Athenia on 3 September 1939), is operating off of Cape Farewell, Greenland and shadowing Convoy OB-318 as part of Wolf Pack West. Lemp attacks the convoy, and all goes well at first as he sinks to ships:

  • 4976 ton British freighter Esmond (all survive)
  • 2609 ton British freighter Bengore Head (40 survivors, one dead).

However, the convoy escorts (HMS Bulldog, Broadway and Aubretia) force the U-boat to the surface with depth charges. Lemp and his crew abandon ship (15 dead, 32 survivors) a little too quickly, and U-110 fails to sink. Lemp himself perishes during the incident under very murky and controversial circumstances.

Noticing the U-boat failing to sink, a boarding party from the Bulldog, led by 20-year-old Sub-Lt. David Balme, quickly rows over to the U-boat despite the ever-present fear that scuttling charges could go off at any moment. The Royal Navy sailors grab the extremely valuable Enigma coding machine along with its code books, rotor settings and charts.

After everything of value has been removed from the U-boat (including the submarine's chronometer), the British sink it (during a storm, so perhaps not intentionally) to maintain the secret of its capture. It is an astonishingly lucky find for the British Ultra operation at Bletchley Park, who have been in need of the equipment and information. Of immediate benefit, the documents aboard enable the British to break the German Reservehandverfahren code, a reserve German hand cipher. The capture also becomes is a key step on the road to British scientist Alan Turing's first computer, Colossus. The capture of U-110 is so significant that it later is given the code name Operation Primrose. Winston Churchill will not even tell President Roosevelt about it until January 1942.

Fritz-Julius Lemp U-110 9 May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Fritz-Julius Lemp, Captain of U-110, KIA 9 May 1941.

U-103 (KptLt.Viktor Schütze), on its fourth patrol out of Lorient and operating off of West Africa, torpedoes and sinks 7120 ton British freighter City of Winchester. There are 91 survivors and six deaths.

U-201 (Kptlt. Adalbert Schnee), on its first patrol out of Kiel, also attacks convoy OB-318 as part of Wolf Pack West a couple of hours after the capture of U-110. Schnee hits two ships:

  • 5969 ton Empire Cloud (badly damaged)
  • 5802 ton Gregalia (sunk)

While the Empire Cloud is disabled and considered unsafe, so the crew abandons ship. However, a tug is called from Greenock, which manages to tow it back to port, where it is repaired and returned to service. There are no casualties on either ship.

Italian submarine Enrico Tazzoli torpedoes and sinks 8817 ton Norwegian tanker Alfred Olsen several hundred miles off Freetown. Everyone survives.

Off Freetown, Royal Navy Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Cilicia captures 4564 ton Vichy French transport SS Criton. The Criton is carrying shells for the French base at Dakar. The British send the ship to Freetown, with a skeleton party of armed guards supervising the Vichy French crew.

U-107 (KrvKpt. Günter Hessler), on its second patrol and operating off of Freetown, Sierra Leone, is in the midst of a wildly successful patrol during which it sinks or damages a phenomenal 14 ships during more than two months at sea. To stay at sea that long, U-boats need regular supply from "Milch" ships. Today, U-107 is supplied with food and 14 torpedoes when it hooks up with the Egerland, which is disguised as an American freighter.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 3010 ton Royal Navy mine destruction ship HMS Queenworth in Outer Dowsing Channel. Everybody survives.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 97 ton British trawler Tankerton Towers off St Govan's Light Vessel in the mouth of Bristol Channel. All eight aboard survive.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 1737 ton British freighter Ostrevent near Helwick Light Vessel in the Humber.

The Luftwaffe damages mine destruction ship HMS Corfield with near misses in the Humber.

The Luftwaffe damages 4950 ton British freighter Fishpool at Barrow.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages British tankers San Roberto (5890 tons) and British Statesmen (6991 tons) just over twenty miles northeast of Spurn Point, East Riding of Yorkshire. The tankers are towed to Immingham.

Spanish fishing trawler Luis Puebla hits a mine and sinks in the Bay of Biscay north of Gijón, Asturias. There are three survivors and nine deaths.

US aircraft carrier USS Ranger and heavy cruiser Vincennes, with a destroyer escort, conduct a neutrality patrol in the Atlantic.

Another Italian submarine that has escaped from Eritrea, the Ferraris, arrives at Bordeaux after a long journey.

Convoy SC 31 departs from Halifax, bound for Liverpool.

Royal Navy destroyer HMS Brocklesby, minesweeper Polruan (Lt. Commander John S. Landers), and Anti-Submarine Warfare trawler Tarantella (Lt. Robert A. Balfour) are commissioned.

Canadian minesweeper HMCS Ungava and corvette Matapedia (Lt. Ronald J. Herman) are commissioned.

HMS Nigella 9 May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
HMS Nigella, which picked up 45 survivors from Empire Cloud northeast of Cape Farewell. The Empire Cloud had been torpedoed by U-201.

Battle of the Mediterranean:  The first four ships related to Operation Tiger (MW 7A and 7B out of Alexandria) reach Malta. They carry 30,000 tons of supplies. In addition, two tankers and a destroyer loaded with supplies, HMS Breconshire, also arrive. This is the largest convoy to arrive at Malta during the war and is aided by very cloudy weather. The main force of Operation Tiger coming from Gibraltar is still at sea.

One ship, however, fails to make it. British 9200 ton freighter Empire Song hits a mine during the night which sets off its ammunition cargo, causing it to explode. The Empire Song and its 57 tanks, 10 aircraft and several trucks quickly sink. There are 18 deaths and 130 survivors.

In addition, freighter New Zealand Star hits a mine, but manages to make it to Malta.

At Tobruk, General Rommel's men intercept a British wireless communication that leads them to suspect that a major British offensive may be in the offing. Rommel orders defenses along the perimeter of Tobruk strengthened and orders Kampfgruppe von Herff to initiate offensive patrols.

The Royal Navy's nightly shuttle to Tobruk continues as Australian destroyer HMAS Vendetta evacuates wounded and takes them to Alexandria.

At Malta, Governor Dobbie draws up a plan to replace soldiers with female auxiliaries. The jobs will include service as cooks, dining hall waitresses, messengers and similar functions. Among other things, this involves an increase in pay for the women (subject to Whitehall approval).

Convoy AS 30 departs from Suda Bay, Crete under heavy escort, bound for Alexandria.

U-124 Enigma Machine Ultra 9 May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
An Enigma machine (lower left) aboard U-124 in March, 1941 (Dietrich, Federal Archives).

Spy Stuff: Bulgarian agents confirm other warnings, such as the one on 6 May from Richard Sorge in Tokyo, that the Germans are planning an attack on the Soviet Union.

Anglo/Free French Relations: There is a muddle within the British hierarchy about how to deal with Vichy Syria, which is in the formative stages of being used to transfer German planes and troops to Iraq. The British have been allowing the Vichy government in Syria wide latitude and even been paying some Vichy sailors interned at Alexandria. This passive attitude has extended to permitting regular passages of French transport SS Providence between Marseille and Beirut - even as other Vichy ships have been captured on the high seas. In effect, the British Middle East Command has been conducting its own independent foreign relations with the Vichy forces in Syria even though there is a growing sense that the French will soon be allowing the Germans transit rights to Iraq.

First, Major-General Edward Spears, who is on the staff of Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell, is a fervent Francophile and has been acting as a liaison to General De Gaulle, cables De Gaulle in Brazzaville that there is no need for him to visit Cairo to plan an attack on Syria. "There would in fact be some disadvantage to your doing so," he writes, which presumably means that De Gaulle's presence would antagonize the Vichy authorities in Syria.

However, in the evening Winston Churchill himself cables De Gaulle. Among other things, Churchill casually mentions that De Gaulle should go to Cairo. Surprised, De Gaulle quickly replies (in English, which is very rare for him) "I shall go to Cairo soon." The entire incident is very revealing of the general confusion that infests relations between Great Britain and France during this period. Another outcome of this incident is that relations between Spears and De Gaulle deteriorate, to Spears' personal regret.


Ju-52 9 May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Junkers Ju-52 transports standing in wait for Operation Mercury, the airborne assault on Crete, 9 May 1941.

Australian/US Relations: Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies is in Washington, D.C. In the morning, he meets with Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Menzies notes that:
I gather that the whole Cabinet would come into the war tomorrow if Roosevelt would say the word. But he hangs back, preferring an "incident" (e.g., as a result of the Atlantic patrol) to a formal declaration.
Menzies notes that Dean Atcheson is "friendly but confused. Famous Harry Hopkins a great disappointment - a sort of gangling yokel."

Soviet/Yugoslav Relations: The Soviet Union withdraws diplomatic recognition of the Yugoslav government-in-exile. Led by King Peter, the exiles have been camping out in Jerusalem under British protection, along with remaining remnants of the Yugoslav Army, Navy and Air Force that managed to leave the country. Some army elements do remain in Yugoslavia, and they are in the process of regrouping as partisans and forming the primarily Serbian "Yugoslav Army of the Fatherland" (Jugoslovenska vojska u otadžbini, or JVUO, or Četniks) under Royalist General Draža Mihailović. However, communist partisans in the region also are stirring, and the Soviets may prefer to back them. The official reason for withdrawing recognition is that the German government now controls the country.

Soviet/Belgian Relations: The Soviets also withdraw recognition of the exiled government of Belgium.

Soviet Norwegian Relations: The Soviets also withdraw recognition of the Norwegian government.

Fort Rutbah 9 May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Fort Rutbah, Iraq, 9 May 1941. This photograph was taken from a RAF Blenheim bomber that attacked the fortress.

Japanese/Vichy French Relations: The inconclusive border wall between Thailand and French forces in Indochina comes to an official end with the signing of a peace treaty in Tokyo. Thailand basically gets all the territory that it sought in the war. The Japanese, who have been serving as an "honest broker" in the affair (but actually strongly favor the Thais), guarantee the new borders. The Vichy French in Indochina are isolated and have been largely powerless to influence the one-sided negotiations.

British Military: The Air Ministry announces the existence of "a large number of paratroops who have completed their training and are ready for action."

Philippines: Now that his staff has arrived on USAT Washington, Brigadier General Clagett, the newly arrived commander of the Philippines Department Air Corps, sets about organizing his command. Ernest Hemingway, on his way back to the States from his six-week stay in Asia, is in Manila and parties with the enlisted men, at least one of whom he knows personally through a mutual female acquaintance. Hemingway, who claims never to have gotten anywhere near the war, makes eerily insightful comments about the situation in China. These include views that the Nationalists and Communists soon will be fighting each other in addition to the Japanese, and that Japan might well be at war with the United States soon.

City of Winchester 9 May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
City of Winchester (Master William Samuel Coughlan), sunk on 9 May 1941 by U-103 (Victor Schutze) while transiting from London to Capetown. The City of Winchester carried 6500 tons of general cargo and was sunk off Freetown about 400 miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands. The 91 survivors included the master, and they were rescued by Norwegian freighter Herma and taken to Takoradi.

Serbia: At Sanski Most, the Germans kill 27 Serb civilians as reprials for the recent uprising. The troops force townspeople to hang the bodies in the town square for two days. This incident leads to bitter hatred between the Serbs and the Ustaše, who start contemplating how to wipe out (ethnically cleanse) the population of the entire region. A reign of terror against the Serbian locals commences. There remain many rebels in the nearby hills who will lay low until July.

China: At the Battle of South Shanxi, the Japanese North China Front Army continues to attack the 9th Army of the Chinese 1st War Area at Fengmenkou and Lungwanwo. The Japanese also capture Wangyuan and attack Tungfeng. In addition, the Japanese Imperial Air Force raids the Nationalist capital of Chungking.

American Homefront: Singer Billie Holiday records "God Bless the Child" at the Okey Records studio on Seventh Avenue in New York City. It is the first recording of the jazz song written by Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr. "God Bless the Child" will not be released until 1942. The song will become one of Holiday's signature songs and a major event in her eventual autobiography "Lady Sings the Blues."

Future History: Operation Primrose, the capture of U-110, will become the starting point for the screenplay of "U-571" (2000).

A memorial to the Sanski Most Revolt will be set up at Šušnjar in 1971, and designated a national monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2003.

Sanski Most Revolt memorial 9 May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Monument to the Sanski Most uprising of May 1941. The monument was constructed in 1970 and designed by Sarajevo architect Petar Krstić. The monument is controversial because tiles bearing the names of muslim victims of the revolt have been removed.



2018

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