Thursday, September 8, 2016

September 10, 1940: Hitler Postpones Sealion

Tuesday 10 September 1940

10 September 1940 London Blitz
The remains of a double-decker city bus in the City of London. September 10, 1940.
Overview: There is no question that Germany has the initiative on 10 September 1940. It has a free hand with Great Britain - Germany can attack it directly, or it can attack the Empire indirectly through its overseas possessions and military infrastructure. Since Italy now is taking on the latter task with its developing attack on Egypt from Libya, that presumably frees the Wehrmacht to make a maximum effort against England directly and finish it off once and for all.

However, the German high command is full of hopes and dreams, scattered objectives that have no coherent relationship to one another. Their own estimation of German power is sky-high - though only for land-based forces - and this leads to a situation akin to a child with too many toys with which to play. The plethora of choices induce a numbing effect which prevents success with any of the choices.

Recent successes in the field justify German confidence to a point: Germany has spent 20 years trying to defeat France, and now it is done. The army (Heer) always has been the heart of German military strength. However, Germany has gone from a standing start to its current military posture in just seven years due to the extreme restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles (and really less time than that, since Hitler only gradually ramped up his military effort over the several years after he took power in 1933). Thus, Germany is powerful, but its power is only relative to the countries it has defeated, which all to one extent or another have been easy prey due to the surprise of the German onslaught. There are other world powers remaining that far, far outclass Germany in military potential. In sports terms, the Wehrmacht has a strong starting team composed of recent acquisitions, but its bench is not deep. This fact, however, eludes the German elite, blinded by quick, cheap successes with its elite units.

The British also have wild-card advantages that will take time to play out, but eventually can trump any effort by Germany. For starters, the Americans are fast becoming de facto if not de jure allies. The United States military potential dwarfs anything that Germany ever can achieve. The Germans do not recognize any time pressure aside from the seasons, but time is their greatest enemy: the more threatening their posture toward US ally Great Britain, the sooner actual US intervention which would make a German victory over England impossible.

If Germany is to defeat Great Britain, it must do so quickly, taking advantage of the lingering effects of the surprise factor that led to its victories to date. In other words, it must attack before the US and Great Britain work through their diplomatic issues to pose a united - and unbeatable - front. Another factor in the balance is Vichy France, which is quite unstable in its political alliance with Germany and could at any time cause huge distractions for the Wehrmacht. A third factor is Italy, which is led by a regime whose rhetoric is not matched by military ability. Internal problems there also would greatly decrease Axis pressure on Great Britain's enormously important positions in the Mediterranean. The German position is powerful, but it is in large part built on an eroding edifice, not an expanding one as the German hierarchy sees it.

Thus, since it is still at war with powerful Great War enemy Great Britain, having it on the ropes should lead German leadership to the logical conclusion that the Wehrmacht's first priority is to finish the English off before taking on any new exertions, and do it now. That unquestionably should be the top military priority. An objective analysis suggests that this is achievable as of 10 September 1940 given proper focus and effort: Germany can defeat Great Britain, although it may take horrendous losses. However, from this point forward, there is a huge difference between an objectively wise military strategy and what Germany actually does.

10 September 1940 London Blitz Churchill
Winston Churchill inspecting bomb crater in London, 10 September 1940 (Bridgeman Art Library).
German Military: Adolf Hitler previously has set 10 September 1940 as his date for deciding whether or not to approve Operation Sealion, the invasion of England. Now that the day has arrived, he postpones his decision until the 14th. Since Hitler has promised his service chiefs 10 days from his approval to the actual invasion date, that moves the earliest possible start date for Operation Sealion from 20 September to 24 September, with actual landings on the 25th.

Hitler's main requirement for approving Operation Sealion is that air superiority is achieved over England. The Luftwaffe came extremely close to achieving that by 6 September. However, the decision taken in early September to switch attacks from RAF infrastructure to major population centers, implemented as of 7 September, has degraded the Luftwaffe's burgeoning air superiority. By now, the Luftwaffe has had enough time to complete its mission against Great Britain according to the original timetable, but the RAF remains intact. The seasons are about to change, requiring a quick final decision on Operation Sealion.

Meanwhile, the Wehrmacht is busy increasing the number of panzer divisions. Hitler, obsessed with the Soviet Union, orders a doubling of the ten existing panzer divisions before the invasion of the USSR. The Wehrmacht does this in different ways: usually by taking units from existing divisions and building around them; and sometimes by converting infantry divisions into panzer divisions. For instance, around this time the 15th Panzer Regiment is taken from the 5th Panzer Division and forms the core of the new 11th Panzer Division, based in Poland; and the 2nd Infantry Division is reorganized completely and becomes the 12th Panzer Division, based at Stettin.

This process radically changes the Panzerwaffe. Whereas panzer divisions previously have had one tank regiment, one separate tank battalion, and one or two infantry regiments, the new structure of the typical panzer division (there are variations) is changed so that each now has one tank regiment and two motorized regiments. These changes are not all bad: in some ways, they make the panzer divisions more mobile and efficient. However, they show that the Wehrmacht is preparing, not for an invasion of England - there are plenty of panzers to cover that already - but for events in the East.

Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering appears at times to be the only member of the High Command actually interested in defeating Great Britain. Admiral Raeder, stating the obvious, writes that "There is no sign of the defeat of the enemy's Air Force over southern England or the Channel areas." Of course, Raeder has no faith in the Kriegsmarine's ability to support an invasion and would be happy to blame Goering's Luftwaffe for cancellation of Operation Sealion rather than attempt an invasion and have his entire fleet sunk out from under him.

Goering continues fine-tuning Luftwaffe operations on an almost daily basis. Today, he authorizes Pirateneinsatze, or Pirate Attacks, which involve solo or small-scale attacks by specially trained bomber crews in iffy weather conditions against British aircraft factories. Elite formations Epr.Gr 210 and ZG 26 are assigned this task and placed under the control of Sperrle at Luftflotte 3. However, Goering's ruinous (for the German side) attacks on London continue.

10 September 1940 London Blitz Churchill
Winston Churchill inspecting bomb damage in Battersea, South London, 10 September 1940.
British Military: Faced with scores of ships lying half-sunk at London ports, the Admiralty bans all ocean-going vessels from London ports for the remainder of the year.

Italian Military: The Italian Commando Supremo begins transferring the Greek Expeditionary Corps (40,310 men, with 7728 horses, 701 vehicles, and 33,535 tons of material) from Brindisi to Albania. This is in preparation for an upcoming invasion of Greece, which Mussolini is keeping secret not only from the Allies but from his military partner Hitler.

Battle of Britain: It is around this time that Fleet Street newspaper writers - who came up with the term "Blitzkrieg" - shorten it to "Blitz" to describe the bombing campaign against London.

The day is rainy and overcast over much of northwestern Europe. It gives the RAF another day to recover, and the Luftwaffe only makes a few isolated penetrations during the day. Reconnaissance Dornier Do 215s operate sporadically, and there is an incident today where one fights with a Spitfire and both go down (the Spitfire to a forced landing).

After dark, the bombing raids resume. Aside from London, where 150 bombers drop bombs, the attacks focus on the western half of Great Britain, from Liverpool south to Wales and over to Bristol. Within London, the bombers damage the docks, the City of London (East Maternity Hospital burns), and Brentwood (hit by 1000 incendiaries), among other areas. Despite the rain, huge fires break out across the city.

10 September 1940 London Blitz hospital
Nurses salvage equipment from their hospital, September 1940.
A delayed-action bomb explodes in the northwest wing of Buckingham Palace, seriously damaging it. King George reveals later that his view at the time is that this is of tremendous benefit to the war effort because it shows shared sacrifice between the uppermost and lowest classes of society.

The Corpo Aereo Italiano (CAI), the Italian contribution to the Battle of Britain, forms in Belgium under the command of Generale sa (Air Marshal) Rino Corso-Fougier. The force includes both bombers and fighters, along with a large transport force of a dozen Caproni 133Ts, one Savoia-Marchetti S.75, and nine Ca164s. In all, the Italians have 200 aircraft ready to enter combat. The planes are largely obsolete and are limited to daylight operations due to limited crew training. The Luftwaffe establishes close liaison with the CAI, but it operates independently. The entire force is under the command of 1a Squadra Aerea di Milano.

It is fair to say that many recognize from the start that the Italian equipment is not up to the standards of the Channel Front, and the Luftwaffe really doesn't need the help. The planes would do much more good in the Mediterranean, particularly supporting Italian operations in North Africa. However, Mussolini wants to appear as an equal partner to Germany so that Italy will get a larger share of the (inevitable) war spoils.

10 September 1940 London Blitz map
The Manchester Guardian, 10 September 1940.
European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command raids Berlin again. Hits are made on the Reichstag (still gutted and unusable since the 1933 fire which burnt it out) and Potsdamer Railway Station. Bomber Command makes other raids on barge concentrations all along the Channel coast, from France to Holland, against the German coastal guns at Cap Gris Nez, Brussels, rail installations in Duisberg, and north German ports Bremen and Wilhelmshaven. The major Luftwaffe field at Eindhoven receives a visit from Blenheims which destroys 8 Heinkel He 111s and damages three more.

Battle of the Atlantic: The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks the 4332-ton Norwegian freighter Eli about 12 miles (22km) off the Skerryvore Lighthouse in western Scotland. There are 28 survivors and 2 crew perish.

British submarine HMS Sturgeon spots U-43 (Kptlt. Wilhelm Ambrosius) transiting from its port in Bergen, Norway and fires torpedoes at it, but misses. British submarines have taken to lying in wait outside the harbor, knowing that U-boats transit the area on their way to and from their stations in the Atlantic.

German battleship Bismarck gets more target practice, firing off half a dozen 3.7cm anti-aircraft shells without hitting anything.

In the Channel, three British destroyers (HMS Malcolm, Wild Swan, and Veteran) depart Harwich for a patrol off Ostend, where there are reports of an enemy convoy. It is a fairly typical offensive sweep, and if the reports are true, there could be some action during the night.

A major British troop convoy, AP 3, departs from Liverpool. It consists of 8 transport ships (converted liners) carrying 6050 troops to the Middle East, along with two freighters. There is a large escort consisting of half a dozen destroyers. The first stop is Freetown. This is the last part of Operation Apology, reinforcement of the Middle East/Asian Command.

Convoy MT 165 departs from Methil, Convoy FS 277 departs from the Tyne, Convoy OB 211 departs from Liverpool, Convoys SC 4 and SHX 72 depart from Sydney, Canada, Convoy BN 5 departs from Bombay.

U-105 (Kapitänleutnant Georg Schewe) is commissioned.

10 September 1940 London Blitz Churchill
A plucky lady survives a bombing attack, little the worse for wear. London, September 1940.
Battle of the Indian Ocean: German raider Atlantis, operating over 1000 miles east of Madagascar, has picked up nearby signals from 5800-ton British metals freighter Benarty. The Benarty has been relaying the distress call made by the tanker Athelking, sunk by the Atlantis on the 9th. The Atlantis sends off its Arado 196 seaplane, which finds the Benarty and bombs and strafes it. The Atlantis then approaches the Benarty, disables it with its 5.9inch guns, and takes the 49-man crew prisoner. While searching the Benarty, the Germans find information that allows them to break the new British Merchant Navy code. The Germans then sink the Benarty with explosives.

Battle of the Mediterranean: The Italian 10th Army continues assembling and slowly slogging toward the Egyptian frontier, which it has not yet reached (accounts vary on when it actually crosses the frontier, and it really doesn't matter in the endless deserts anyway). The main striking force, the Maletti Group composed of the Italian armor, has great difficulty with the desert conditions, suffering numerous equipment breakdowns and getting lost in the desert. The Italian armor retreats, and the British sow mines in their path and do whatever else they can to harass them.

The Regia Aeronautica attacks Matruh and Khartoum, while the RAF attacks the Italian bases and harbors in eastern Libya where the Italian invasion force is massing. The RAF also attacks Massawa, Asmara, and Dessie.

The Vichy French flotilla which left Toulon on 9 September continues its journey to Dakar, which requires passage through the Straits of Gibraltar. The French finally inform the British Naval Attaché in Madrid that the ships are going to pass by Gibraltar, but still the British do nothing. During the night, the flotilla approaches Gibraltar, but the British do not know where they are yet. The presence of the three Vichy French cruisers in the Atlantic is not actually prohibited by any previous communications between London and Vichy - the two countries are not officially at war, and England previously has said that the French could keep their warships in the Caribbean since that would keep them out of the hands of the Germans - but it would seriously complicate the upcoming British Operation Menace if they head south to Dakar.

At Malta, a French crew takes General de Gaulle's representative Commandant Robert back to Tunisia. The day's poor weather extends all the way south to the Mediterranean, so the airmen barely make it back (and cause an air raid alert when they do). Otherwise, the foul weather prevents any attacks.

10 September 1940 London Blitz Buckingham Palace
Damage to royal property, 10 September 1940.
Battle of the Pacific: Having completed an epic transit across the north of Russia with the help of Soviet icebreakers, German raider Komet is operational in the Pacific.

Spy Stuff: Danish citizen Wulf Schmidt parachutes into Oxon, England as a spy for the Abwehr. He is known to the Germans as Agent Leonhard. The German spy who had parachuted in a few days previously and been caught, Gösta Caroli, turned him in, and Schmidt is captured immediately. Schmidt quickly agrees to become a double agent (known to the British as Agent Tate) for MI5 under Operation Double Cross.

German/Hungarian Relations: Hitler meets with the Hungarian ambassador.

US Military: The cruiser USS Wichita departs Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for its last stop on its "Show the Flag" mission to Latin America.

The Greenslade Board, reviewing the new British bases in the Atlantic, makes port at Norfolk.

China: The Chinese Communists, operating independently of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist regime, launches its "Hundred Regiments Offensive." This is a guerilla operation against infrastructure in Japanese-occupied Hebei and Shansi provinces.

10 September 1940 London Blitz Buckingham Palace
The King and Queen pose in front of damage to Buckingham Palace, 10 September 1940.
September 1940

September 1, 1940: RAF's Horrible Weekend
September 2, 1940: German Troopship Sunk
September 3, 1940: Destroyers for Bases
September 4, 1940: Enter Antonescu
September 5, 1940: Stukas Over Malta
September 6, 1940: The Luftwaffe Peaks
September 7, 1940: The Blitz Begins
September 8, 1940: Codeword Cromwell
September 9, 1940: Italians Attack Egypt
September 10, 1940: Hitler Postpones Sealion
September 11, 1940: British Confusion at Gibraltar
September 12, 1940: Warsaw Ghetto Approved
September 13, 1940: Zeros Attack!
September 14, 1940: The Draft Is Back
September 15, 1940: Battle of Britain Day
September 16, 1940: italians Take Sidi Barrani
September 17, 1940: Sealion Kaputt
September 18, 1940: City of Benares Incident
September 19, 1940: Disperse the Barges
September 20, 1940: A Wolfpack Gathers
September 21, 1940: Wolfpack Strikes Convoy HX-72
September 22, 1940: Vietnam War Begins
September 23, 1940: Operation Menace Begins
September 24, 1940: Dakar Fights Back
September 25, 1940: Filton Raid
September 26, 1940: Axis Time
September 27, 1940: Graveney Marsh Battle
September 28, 1940: Radio Belgique Begins
September 29, 1940: Brocklesby Collision
September 30, 1940: Operation Lena


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