Monday, February 19, 2018

May 28, 1941: Crete Lost


Wednesday 28 May 1941

9th Cavalry 28  May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The 9th Cavalry passes in review at its new home at Camp Funston, Ft. Riley, Kansas, 28 May 1941.

Anglo/Iraq War: Things begin heating up in Syria on 28 May 1941, which is on the list of British targets because it is considered the gateway to the ongoing battle in Iraq. The RAF raids Aleppo, a key transit hub for Axis support of operations in Iraq. During this raid, a RAF Blenheim reconnaissance is shot down by Vichy French pilot Lt. Vuillemin of 7 Squadron, 1st Fighter Group (GCI/7) in a Morane 406. This is the first aerial victory of a Vichy French pilot over the RAF.

The Vichy French also send 28 new Dewoitine D.520s of the 6th Squadron, 3rd Fighter Group (GCIII/6) from Algeria via Athens, which arrive today at Rayak (two planes failing to make it).

The British continue their concentric attack on Baghdad. The main thrusts are from the south (Indian troops from Basra) and west (Habforce advancing from Fallujah). Today, the 20th Indian Brigade captures Ur after a march of 110 miles.

In Baghdad, rioting and looking take hold as the British approach. Dr. Fritz Grobba, head of the German diplomatic mission, cables Berlin with the warning that the British are approaching with "one hundred tanks." While this is a vast exaggeration, it conveys the key message that the city is about to fall. The Luftwaffe mission, Special Force Junck (Sonderkommando Junck) led by Luftwaffe Oberst Werner Junck, has only two Heinkel He 111s left and only four bombs for them. A force of eleven Italian Fiat CR-42 fighters has arrived but is having little effect.

London Blitz damage 28  May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A London housewife gets her washing up to dry, Monday, May 28, 1941 in London. (AP Photo).

European Air Operations: RAF Fighter Command conducts an anti-shipping sweep off the French coast. RAF Bomber Command sends 14 planes to attack Kiel. This is one of countless RAF raids throughout the war that targets German battleship Tirpitz. The planes make no hits.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill instructs General Ismay to begin setting up "Air Squadrons and also at least a Brigade Group" composed of Yugoslav expatriates. A similar agreement is reached with Norwegian refugees.

Churchill also sends a telegram to William Averell Harriman ("My dear Harriman"), one of President Franklin's "special envoys," thanking him for a recent note promising delivery of six Douglas DC-2 transports and fourteen Lockheed transports.

London Blitz damage 28  May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A censored war photo taken by a press agency photographer on 28 May 1941. © IWM (HU 131478).

Battle of the Atlantic: U-107 (Kptlt. Günther Hessler) continues its lengthy second patrol off of Freetown, Sierra Leone. AT 14:52, it torpedoes and sinks 3748 ton Greek freighter Papalemos. The Papalemos is an independent, and the hit on the stern in the port side destroys the superstructure and a lifeboat. Captain Hessler has his men accelerate the sinking with some target practice with the anti-aircraft gun, then sails over to the two lifeboats. In a rare act of kindness, he gives the survivors some food, cigarettes and other provisions after asking them a few questions.

HMS Edinburgh intercepts German blockade runner Lech about 400 nautical miles (740 km) north of the Azores, at the Bay of Biscay. The Lech's crew scuttles it. Some sources place this as happening on 22 May.

The Luftwaffe is active over the Atlantic searching for Royal Navy ships returning from the interception battleship Bismarck. Many of the Royal Navy ships are low on fuel and travelling slowly and without zig-zagging or other precautions. The German planes attack Canadian destroyer HMCS St Clair (formerly USS Williams (DD-108)) and HMS Mashona about 100 miles west of Galway Bay, Ireland. The handful of German planes (Junkers Ju 88 aircraft of I Staffeln, Kampfgeschwader 77) sink the Mashona, and the St Clair picks up the survivors.

German flakship (vorpostenboot) V 1610 "Innsbruck" sinks today of uncertain causes, probably RAF bombing.

British freighter City of Rangoon spots and rescues three survivors of Greek freighter Marionga, sunk by U-103 on 24 May, off Freetown. The U-boats have sunk so many ships in the area recently that there are lifeboats and rafts in many places.

Convoy OB 327 departs from Liverpool

Royal Navy destroyer HMS Lightning is commissioned, and destroyer Panther, corvette Cowslip, and minesweeping trawler Professor are launched.

Canadian minesweepers HMCS Kelowna launched at Prince Rupert and Guysborough laid down at North Vancouver.

Polish destroyer ORP Krakowiak (formerly HMS Silverton) is commissioned (Tadeusz Gorazdowski).

Free French corvette Roselys (formerly HMS Sundew) is launched.

U-579 and U-580 are launched, U-183 is laid down.

British 6-inch howitzers 28  May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"6-inch howitzers towed by AEC Matador artillery tractors of 79th (The Scottish Horse) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, pass over a bridge near Huntly in Banffshire, 28 May 1941." (Lockeyear W T (Lt), War Office official photographer, Imperial War Museum).

Battle of the Mediterranean: With the British decision to evacuate Crete having been made at the highest levels on the 27th, Commonwealth troops fight rearguard actions as they head south for pickup at Sfakia (Sphakia, south of Canea/Chandia) and other points. Two companies of the Māori Battalion under Captain Rangi Royal in the New Zealand 5th Brigade make a temporary stand at Stylos, beating up the 1st Battalion of the 141st Gebirgsjäger (Mountain) Regiment and 85th Gebirgsjäger Regiment in order to allow the main force to gain ground. Sgt Alfred Clive Hulme (1911-82) of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force wins the Victoria Cross for actions here and elsewhere on Crete throughout the past week. Many other anonymous soldiers also fight valiantly.

However, not all of the Commonwealth troops get away clean. The 800 men of Layforce (so named for commander Colonel Robert Laycock), which landed at Suda Bay on the 26th and 27th, are caught there along with some other units (20th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery). At the end of the day, Laycock's men stage a night retreat to Beritiana, but it is too late - most are killed or captured. In all, only 179 of the 800 Commandos of Layforce make it to Egypt. Laycock himself, along with brigade major Evelyn Waugh (the famous author), escape in one of the unit's three tanks.

The Luftwaffe is active over the ports and airfields on the north coast such as Heraklion, Suda and Rethymno which the Germans need to bring in more reinforcements. This gives the retreating British time to get to the southern embarkation points - but they have to hurry. The German planes sink 667 ton Greek freighter Georgos at Heraklion (Candia) Harbour and 298 ton Greek freighter Aghia Kyriaki at Cape Kephola.

Fallschirmjager Crete 28  May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Fallschirmjager heading back to Major Edgar Stentzler’s temporary field headquarters, near Platanius, Kreta, 28 May 1941 (Federal Archive Bild 1011-166-0508-15).

The Italian relief convoy which set out on afternoon of 27 May from Rhodes arrives at Sitia at 17:20. They are surprised to encounter no Royal Navy ships at all, which they don't realize are all to the south of the island supporting the evacuation. The Italians bring 13 L3/35 tanks and 3000 men of the 50th Infantry Division. This is the first Axis armor on Crete. The Italians ignore the retreating British and hook up with the German troops at Ierapetra.

The Royal Navy sends Force B, led by light cruisers Ajax, Dido and Orion, from Alexandria from Alexandria to take men off from Heraklion. They arrive at 23:30 and evacuates 3486 men from Heraklion after dodging Luftwaffe bombs, with Ajax hit and forced to return to base. On the way home, the Luftwaffe bombs and sinks destroyer Hereward, with 71 men killed or missing and 85 taken prisoner.

Royal Navy Force C heads for Sfakia. Consisting of destroyers Kandahar, Kelvin, Napier and Nizam, it takes off 608 men without loss.

Arizona Daily Star 28  May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
President Roosevelt's declaration of a National Emergency during a radio broadcast takes precedence over the sinking of German battleship Bismarck in the Arizona Daily Star, 28 May 1941.

Evacuations from Sfakia generally wait for the 29th. There are 32,000 Commonwealth troops on Crete, which is a manageable number to evacuate, but they are spread out throughout the island and some either can't make it to the south coast or have to fight their way through to get there. Men try to get off every which way they can - motor launch HMML 1030 (Lt W. M. O. Cooksey RNVR)  sinks while trying to escape from Suda Bay.

Greek civilians participate in the attacks on the advancing Wehrmacht. There are snipers, groups of civilians actively participating in the defense of key points, and supply services given to the defending Commonwealth troops. The defense is fiercest around Heraklion. The Germans view such civilian participation as illegal and treacherous, beginning a cycle of hatred between the local inhabitants and the occupying forces.

While the disastrous situation on Crete is being wound up, the British turn to other sectors. Winston Churchill sends Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell with "observations" about the Middle East which Wavell is much more able to judge himself. Churchill opines that "Everything must now be centred upon destroying the German forces in the Western Desert" considering that "you and Freyberg pronounced situation [on Crete] hopeless." He urges Wavell to fight until he has "beaten the life out of General Rommel's army." He hopes that in this way "the loss of Crete will be more than repaired."

Woman reading Iowa 28  May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Woman reading to children outside, The University of Iowa, May 28, 1941 by The University of Iowa Libraries, via Flickr (photo by Kent, Frederick W. (Frederick Wallace), 1894-1984).

As usual, Churchill cannot resist some covert digs at Wavell. He notes that "We were all very much puzzled" at some of Wavell's appointments of commanders. It is akin to a baseball team owner questioning a manager's lineup. Churchill notes that, while one such appointment to command troops in the western desert, Noel Beresford-Peirse, "is a good Divisional Commander, it is difficult to believe that he can compare with Wilson [sent to Palestine] in military stature, reputation or experience." One can only imagine Wavell's reaction to such second-guessing from afar.

Wavell indeed is planning his next operation on the Libyan frontier. He signals London that this operation, codename "Battleaxe," will include all available armored strength. This includes the "Tiger cub" brought in by the Tiger convoy of which Winston Churchill is so fond. The 7th Armoured Division will lead the advance. Wavell includes in his message some criticism of British armour - he considers the army's armoured cars too lightly armoured and inadequate to provide protection against either Luftwaffe strafing or Wehrmacht armoured cars.

The RAF attacks Italian shipping off Tripoli, damaging Italian freighters Sebastiano Venier and Marco Foscarini. The master of the Foscarini beaches it near Tripoli.

On Malta, soldiers begin wearing summer dress. The government decides to clamp down on a long-standing issue of soldiers selling their uniform equipment such as boots and shirts to civilians by stamping clothing with the soldiers' serial numbers.


Haile Selassie speech 28  May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Original capture on back of photograph: “The motley tribal army listens to Haile Selassie message after the defeat of 30,000 Italians.” 28 May 1941.

Anglo/US Relations: Hamilton Fish, a New York congressman who chairs the naval affairs committee (and who is not a favorite of President Roosevelt), reviews some data about US cooperation with the British. He reveals that the Royal Navy has filed 132 requests with the US government for permission to have damaged warships repaired at US naval yards. This, of course, violates the rules of war for neutrals, but the US is a neutral in name only at this point.

Today, light cruiser HMS Liverpool adds to the list of Royal Navy ships repaired in the US as it departs from Manila bound for repairs in San Francisco due to damage sustained in October 1940.

South Africa: Prime Minister Jan Smuts officially vests as the first South African Field Marshal in the British Army.

Maximilian Kolbe 28  May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Maximilian Kolbe.

Holocaust: Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar, future saint of the Catholic church, arrives at the German Auschwitz camp from Warsaw.

British Homefront: Minister of Food Lord Woolton introduces egg, fish and  milk rationing. He also announces that successful prosecutions under Food Control Orders now totaled 17,319, a sign that the black market is thriving.

American Homefront: Animation workers vote to go on strike at the Walt Disney studios after Walt Disney fires Union leader Art Babbitt. They are members of the AFL Screen Cartoonists Guild.

Great Walt Disney Cartoonists Strike 28  May 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Original caption: "Bringing mention of 'Mickey Mouse' and 'Pluto' into the picket line, members of the A.F. of L. Screen Cartoonists Build are shown picketing the Walt Disney studios today after a strike call. Some of the placards they carry show pictures of Disney characters and such slogans as 'Are We Mice or Men?'" This incident is known as The Great Walt Disney Cartoonists Strike of 1941. The photo is dated 28 May 1941, though many accounts state the strike officially begins on 29 May.

May 1941

May 1, 1941: British Hold Tobruk
May 2, 1941: Anglo-Iraq War
May 3, 1941: Liverpool Hammered
May 4, 1941: Hitler Victory Speech
May 5, 1941: Patriots Day
May 6, 1941: Stalin In Command
May 7, 1941: May Blitz
May 8, 1941: Pinguin Sunk
May 9, 1941: U-110 Captured
May 10, 1941: Hess Flies Into History
May 11, 1941: The Hess Peace Plan
May 12, 1941: Tiger Arrives Safely
May 13, 1941: Keitel's Illegal Order
May 14, 1941: Holocaust in Paris
May 15, 1941: Operation Brevity
May 16, 1941: Blitz Ends
May 17, 1941: Habbaniya Relieved
May 18, 1941: Croatia Partitioned
May 19, 1941: Bismarck at Sea
May 20, 1941: Invasion of Crete
May 21, 1941: Robin Moore Sinking
May 22, 1941: Royal Navy Destruction Off Crete
May 23, 1941: Crete Must Be Won
May 24, 1941: Bismarck Sinks Hood
May 25, 1941: Lütjens' Brilliant Maneuver
May 26, 1941: Bismarck Stopped
May 27, 1941: Bismarck Sunk
May 28, 1941: Crete Lost
May 29, 1941: Royal Navy Mauled Off Crete
May 30, 1941: Sorge Warns, Stalin Ignores
May 31, 1941: British Take Baghdad

2018

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