Saturday 17 May 1941
Anglo/Iraq War: On 17 May 1941, recently arrived Special Force Junck (Sonderkommando Junck), under the command of Commander of Aviation Iraq (Fliegerführer Irak) Oberst Werner Junck, raids the advancing British relief column (Kingcol) with three Bf 110s. The RAF sends two recently arrived Hawker Hurricanes (flown in from Egypt) and six Bristol Blenheim bombers of No. 84 Squadron to attack Junck's own airfield at Mosul. While the RAF loses one precious Hurricane, the Luftwaffe loses two planes and has four more damaged. In a separate action, two RAF Gloster Gladiators from Habbaniya Airfield catch two Bf 110s taking off from Rashid Airfield at Baghdad and shoot them down. One of these Bf 110s crashlands and will be repaired and placed in RAF service. While Junck still has a sizeable and effective force, it is suffering rapid attrition, and Iraqi/Luftwaffe ground support services are virtually nonexistent.
On the ground, the scratch British garrison at Habbaniya Airfield continues its unexpectedly stout defense against the Iraqi military with great success. The British relief column, Kingcol, reaches Habbaniya late in the evening, but the Habbaniya garrison was in no need of rescue. The newly arrived British forces then continue their advance east to within ten miles of Fallujah on the road to Baghdad.
The Soviet TASS News Agency announces that the USSR and Rashid Ali government in Iraq have reached an agreement for diplomatic, trad and consular arrangements.
|Illustrated London News, 17 May 1941.|
European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe is moving the bulk of its aircraft from the western front to the East in preparation for Operation Barbarossa. Thus, the Blitz is over and the pace of operations along the Channel front slows markedly. The Luftwaffe mounts a small raid on Birmingham that hits Alum Rock Road (a continuation of High Street).
RAF Bomber Command completes its missions over Cologne and Bramsfeld begun on the 16th, and during the day sends 70 aircraft to attack Kiel. At Bramsfeld the Atlantik rubber plant is hit with two high explosive bombs and 44 incendiary bombs. After dark, Bomber Command sends 14 bombers against Rotterdam and 15 against Boulogne.
|Lieutenant Stanley Michel Kolendorski, KIA 17 May 1941.|
The first American, Pilot Officer Stanley Michel "Mike" Kolendorski, is killed in action while flying a Hawker Hurricane in service with the RAF. He is with RAF No. 71 (some sources say 121) "Eagle" Squadron. Kolendorski is of Polish heritage, was born in 1915 in Jersey City, New Jersey, and was living in California with his wife Charlotte May when he enlisted with the RAF in Canada. Kolendorski, shot down over Holland, is buried at Rockanje (Zeeweg) General Cemetery Rockanje, Westvoorne Municipality, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands, Memorial ID 18834392.
The British Ministry of Home Security announces that 6,065 people were killed and 6,926 injured during Luftwaffe attacks in April 1941. Among the dead, 2912 were men and 2418 were women, and 680 were children under the age of 16. An additional 61 people remain missing and are presumed dead. The figures are an increase from the 4259 killed and 5,557 injured in April 1941.
East African Campaign: The Sudan Defense Force, accompanied by Abyssinian guerilla forces, attack Italian positions at Chilga west of Gondar.
At Amba Alagi, surrender negotiations are concluded between the Duke of Aosta and the British (Indian and South African troops). An agreement for the Italians to surrender is reached at 17:30. It is to be a "surrender with honour," and the Italians will be permitted to march out with their rifles (to be surrendered later) but leave behind their other equipment and stores. The ceremony of surrender is to take place on 19 May. The Italians are forced to surrender due to lack of supplies, a situation exacerbated when a British artillery shell damaged the oil tank they were using to store their potable water.
|"Six Blenheim Mark IVFs of No. 254 Squadron RAF, flying in formation over Northern Ireland shortly after the unit's arrival at Aldergrove, County Antrim." May 1941. © IWM (CH 2992).|
Battle of the Atlantic: U-107 (Kptlt. Günther Hessler), on its lengthy second patrol, is operating off Freetown. The U-boat has been stalking independent 8029 ton Dutch tanker Marisa, which is full of oil, since mid-day on the 16th. At 00:36 on the 17th, Hessler finally gets into firing position and hits the Marisa with one torpedo. The explosion kills two or three men, but the rest of the crew takes to the lifeboats. Tankers being difficult to sink due to their compartmentalized structures, Hessler hits it with another torpedo in the stern at 01:15, then surfaces to use deck guns - both of which misfire. The survivors take to three lifeboats, two of which are picked up by Royal Navy destroyers (Columbine and Surprise), and the third of which makes landfall at French-Guinea on 23 May.
The Luftwaffe (Focke-Wulf Fw 200 aircraft of I Staffeln, Kampfgeschwader 40) bombs and sinks 7939 ton British freighter Statesman in the Northwest Approaches. There is one death.
The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 1091 ton British freighter Arthur Wright and 933 ton Norwegian freighter Ala five miles south of Shoreham. The Ala has to be beached near Shoreham, but later is refloated and repaired. There is one death on the Ala, the rest of the two crews survive.
Winston Churchill, in a memo to First Lord of the Admiralty A.V. Alexander and First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Dudley Pound, requests that ten of the Royal Navy's 40 large armed merchant cruisers (AMCs) be converted into troop transports.
Royal Navy ocean boarding vessel HMS Registan captures 488 ton Vichy French auxiliary schooner Izarra near Canada and sends it to St. John's, Newfoundland.
Four German freighters are reported to have left Chilean ports in an attempt to run the Royal Navy blockade of Europe.
Convoy OB 323 departs from Liverpool, Convoy SL 75 departs from Freetown bound for Liverpool.
Canadian corvette HMCS Dauphin (Lt. Commander Robert A. S. MacNeil) is commissioned and corvette Summerside is launched in Quebec City.
U-206 (Oberleutnant zur See Herbert Opitz) is commissioned, U-134 is launched, U-212, U-261 and U-465 are laid down.
|The four-engine Junkers G-38. The last one is destroyed 17 May 1941.|
Battle of the Mediterranean: The British attack on the Axis line centered on Halfaya Pass, launched on 15 May, lives up to its codename Operation Brevity by coming to an inglorious end. German Colonel Maximilian von Herff, in command of Group Herff, launches a counterattack in the area near Bir Wair and Musaid at 1600 hours. British Brigadier General William "Strafer" Gott withdraws his troops into the Halfaya Pass, Egypt, ending his offensive operation.
The only tangible benefit of the offensive is that the British remain in possession of strategically important Halfaya Pass. However, that that small gain has cost the British five tanks destroyed and 13 damaged in addition to 206 casualties. The Germans have suffered 295 casualties and Italians 395 (347 captured), along with losing three tanks lost and about the same number damaged.
At Tobruk, fresh Australian troops and their artillery pieces arrive during the night on destroyer HMAS Vampire. By first light, the troops and guns are used to attack the investing Axis troops, but they make no progress.
Winston Churchill cables Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell and begins with "Results of action [Operation Brevity] seem to us satisfactory." He notes that "News from Tobruk is also good." He makes an extremely rare direct reference to Ultra decrypts (which Wavell knows about) when he writes that "Enemy is anxious about Tobruk and reports with apparent satisfaction when it is quiet."
The RAF (Beaufighters of No. 252 Squadron based on Malta) raids Athens airfield and destroys the second - and last - Junkers G.38 (the "Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg") being operated by the Luftwaffe (after long service with Lufthansa) on the ground. The G.38 is an obsolete 1929 design, but has an advanced design which foreshadows the "Blended Wing Body" design that offers aerodynamic advantages and will experience a resurgence of popularity by Boeing and NASA in the 21st Century. It also is one of the few four-engine designs ever used by the Wehrmacht, and features unique seats in the wings for passengers with forward-facing windows.
The Luftwaffe continues its attack on British installations on Crete in preparation for Operation Mercury, the invasion of Crete. At Suda Bay, the German planes sink 10,694 ton British tanker Eleonora Maersk (20 killed, 7 later become POWs, 17 rescued) and 5719 ton Greek freighter Themoni. The Eleonora Maersk will stay sunk throughout the war, but will be raised and repaired thereafter.
The Luftwaffe drops mines in the Suez Canal.
Tanker Rondine, carrying 5000 tons of aviation fuel, arrives later than expected at Athens. Operation Mercury accordingly is postponed to 20 May, which now appears to be a firm invasion date.
Quiet day on Crete, with the Luftwaffe only performing minimal reconnaissance.
War Crimes: The Luftwaffe attacks 7938 ton hospital ship Aba about fifty miles south of Crete. Some Royal Navy ships of Force C come to the hospital ship's aid, and one, anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Coventry, is strafed by the Luftwaffe planes. Attacking hospital ships, which are plainly marked, is a war crime, but it is fair to say that both sides have been guilty (under some interpretations) of violations of such commonly accepted rules of war.
|Bomb damage in Birmingham, 17 May 1941 (Birmingham City Library).|
POWs: Rudolf Hess takes up temporary residence at the Tower of London, arriving there by train from Scotland. He is imprisoned near the White Tower and can idle his days away by watching guardsmen drill through his window. A "special place" is being prepared for him near London. Hess is treated well, but is not allowed visitors, not allowed to learn any war/political news and not told that his peace initiative is being treated as a joke. Army psychiatrists conclude that he is sane, but his disposition darkens as days go by without any meeting with Winston Churchill and no movement on his peace offer.
Applied Science: Vannevar Bush creates the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). Separately, Arthur Compton and the United States National Academy of Sciences publish a report about favorable prospects for the invention of an atomic bomb.
|Lieutenant General Herbert J. Brees (right) pins the third star on his successor in command of the Third Army, Walter Krueger (left), on 17 May 1941, in San Antonio, Texas (U.S. War Department (Archive of U.S. War Department)).|
US/Vichy French Relations: Four US Senators of President Roosevelt's Democratic Party publicly advocate seizing Vichy French possessions in the Western Hemisphere. These include but are not limited to Martinique and small islands off the Canadian coast. This would be done in collaboration with Latin American republics pursuant to the pact of Havana.
German Military: Adolf Hitler issues his Directive No. 29, which addresses "The aim of German operations in the southeast," i.e., the Balkans and Crete. The main points of the Directive are that the Italians will be primarily responsible for defending Greece, and how Crete will be garrisoned - its capture being assumed in upcoming Operation Mercury.
|A Curtiss-Wright Navy SNC-1 trainer airplane, 17 May 1941.|
US Government: The Department of Justice launches a crackdown on illegal aliens in the United States. It appears primarily directed at German and Italian nationals, particularly seamen whose ships recently were seized.
The Dies Committee investigating un-American activities announces that it will hold hearings next week regarding "the extent to which Communist and Communist sympathizers have been able to obtain employment in the federal government."
Italian Government: King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy is in Albania visiting Albanian Prime Minister Shefqet Vërlaci when both are shot at in their car. The culprit is 19-year old Albanian nationalist Vasil Laçi, who will be executed on 27 May.
Philippines: A load of 31 P-40B fighters arrives by ship and is transported to Nichols Field, the only paved airfield capable of handling fighters. The shipment does not include Prestone antifreeze which is necessary for their operation - so the planes are unusable until the coolant arrives. This will not be until early July, and training is critical because P-40s are considered tough to fly, especially by inexperienced pilots.
American Homefront: It is "Connie Mack Day" at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, PA.
|Connie Mack Day program at Shibe Park, Philadelphia, 17 May 1941. In 1953, Shibe Park will be renamed Connie Mack Stadium and demolished on 13 July 1976 after being replaced by Veterans Stadium.|