Saturday, December 24, 2016

December 24, 1940: Hitler at Abbeville

Tuesday 24 December 1940

24 December 1940 Matilda Tank Western Desert
"A Matilda tank supporting Indian troops, 24 December 1940." © IWM (E 3870E).
Italian/Greek Campaign: The Greeks continue struggling through the winding valleys and mountain passages of central Albania on 24 December 1940. The Greek III Corps is about 12 miles east of Berat, while Greek II Corps is motionless near Kelcyre. Greek I Corps is still on the move, reaching Tepelena. Italian defense is stiffening as reinforcements flow across the Adriatic and the lines of communication to supply ports shorten. The Greeks, meanwhile, now are facing some of the problems faced by the Italians when they began their offensive in October, such as lengthy supply lines over goat tracks and through mountain defiles.
Berlin July 1945 3.1
Berlin July 1945 3.1

Benito Mussolini is thoroughly disgusted by the failures of his troops. He pens a letter to Italian military commander Ugo Cavallero, complaining that the fall of Himara a couple of days ago was due to high Greek morale.

European Air Operations: While absolutely unofficial and unrecorded, today begins a virtual two-day cessation of hostilities between the RAF and Luftwaffe on the Channel front. It is reminiscent of the "Christmas Truce" of World War I, but not nearly as well-known and without any joint parties being held. Everyone just needs a break after a very hard year. Both sides' pilots are fierce competitors, but they also respect valor on both sides regardless of what insignia is on the outside of an aircraft.

There are no night bombing operations, though the Luftwaffe engages in some strafing runs against trains during the day and drop a few random bombs.

Oberfähnrich Hans Joachim Marseille joins 3,/JG 27 at Döberitz. Marseille has 8 kills and is renowned for his ability in the German press. However... Marseille also is widely known within the Luftwaffe as a prima donna who does not follow orders, abandons his wingmen (who then get shot down), and freelances in order to get more victories. He also is a "British ace," having lost more of his own mounts than just about any other Experte.

Group Captain John Alexander Kent is awarded the Virtuti Militaire (Polish VC) for his services with 303 (Polish) Squadron. He already has won the DFC. Kent joined the 303 on 2 August 1940 and, in one notorious engagement, faced 40 Bf 109s alone and shot down two of them, damaging a third, while escaping alive. Kent is known as a strict disciplinarian, a "born leader" according to his DFC citation.

24 December 1940 Polish pilots John Kent RAF No. 303 Squadron
John Kent with some Polish pilots of RAF No. 303 Squadron in August 1940. The 303 was known as the best of the best during the Battle of Britain. Left to right: P/O M. Feric, Fl/Lt J.A.Kent, F/O B. Grzeszczak, P/O J. E. L Zumbach, P/O W. Lokuciewski, F/O Z. K. Hennerberg, P/O J. K. M. Daszewski, and Sgt E. Szaposznikow. 
Battle of the Atlantic: Battlecruiser HMS Hood leads a force to patrol from Scapa Flow to patrol in the Iceland/Faroes "gap" in search of the German raiders known to be in the Atlantic, but which have yet to be located. It is fashionable for later historians to denigrate the Hood's strength, but the Admiralty for all intents and purposes views the Hood as equivalent to a battleship and disposes of it as such - as in this incident.

German cruiser Admiral Hipper, at loose in the Atlantic and the object of all this British attention, spots Convoy WS 7 about 700 miles west of Cape Finisterre, Spain late in the day. The WS ("Winston Special") convoys are particularly attractive targets, as they transport British troops to the Middle East to support General Wavell's forces there. In fact, this convoy has 40,000 British soldiers and 150,000 tons of supplies on board, a staggering haul if they could be eliminated. That said, the WS convoys also are extremely well guarded, and this convoy has not one, but two aircraft carriers (HMS Argus and Furious), three cruisers and four corvettes as escorts - extremely lavish support even for later in the war. Admiral Hipper skipper Admiral Wilhelm Meisel, blissfully unaware of all this firepower barely over the horizon, readies the crew for an attack on the 19 freighters for Christmas morning.

Shipping at Oban in Scotland has become a prime Luftwaffe target, and the Admiralty responds by sending anti-aircraft cruisers HMS Phoebe and Aurora there.

U-65 (K.Kapt. Hans-Gerrit von Stockhausen), operating farther south than any other Kriegsmarine U-boat, spots a straggler from Convoy SLS-60 off Freetown. Stockhausen puts two torpedoes into 5872-ton tanker British Premier at 16:41, sinking it about 370 km southwest of Freetown. There are 32 deaths and 13 survivors. The survivors, adrift in lifeboats in the middle of the South Atlantic, have a hell of a time. Nine wait until 3 January 1941 to be found by HMS Hawkins, which is bad enough. However, four others are not found and rescued by HMS Faulknor for 41 days, on 3 February 1941. How they survived at all without food and water for so long is a tale of epic survival skills.

Auxiliary minesweeper HMS Mercury hits a mine south of Ireland. The Mercury is taken in tow but eventually sinks.

British 98 ton drifter Lord Howard is involved in a collision at Dover and sinks.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 5221-ton British freighter Peterton in the North Sea.

Convoy OB 264 departs from Liverpool, Convoy FN 367 departs from Southend, Convoy FS 369 departs from Methil, Convoy SLS 60 departs from Freetown.

U-178 laid down.

24 December 1940 Merry Christmas sign Italian SM 79 Albania
An Italian stands in front of a Savoia Marchetti S.79 of the 46th Stormo Bombardamento Terrestre, Scutari, Albania, 24 December 1940. (Victor Sierra).
Battle of the Mediterranean: General Wavell telegrams the General Staff in London and tells them that he is not ready to attack Bardia yet. The Italians are resisting, Sollum is not proving to be a particularly helpful port due to Italian bombing, and supplies are difficult to get to the advanced troops in the Western Desert. Wavell even complains about the weather, which is quite cold for the desert.

The Italian defense in Libya is firming, as in Greece. However, the Italian forces in Libya make no attempt to relieve the besieged garrisons in Bardia and Tobruk despite fairly obvious indications that the British troops in Libya are over-extended.

Greek submarine Papanicolis, operating in the Adriatic, torpedoes and sinks 3952-ton Italian troopship Firenze off Sazan Island (Saseno, Qendër Vlorë, Vlorë County in Albania). There are 800 Italian troops on board, but, somewhat miraculously, only 63 perish in the sinking.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Regent attacks an Italian freighter off Libya but misses.

Lieutenant William Marsden Eastman and Captain Robert Llewellyn Jephson-Jones of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps receive the George Cross. Based on Malta, they disarmed 275 bombs without any training before the Royal Engineers arrived and were able to take over this hazardous work.

No Midnight Mass in Malta due to the continuing curfew.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: German raider Komet makes a stop at Rabaul in order to lay mines. However, they need to use their ship's boat to lay the mines and the engine malfunctions. Unable to seed the mines, Captain Kurt Weyher then decides to sail back to Nauru and finally destroy the phosphate-loading terminal there.

24 December 1940 shrapnel
"Shrapnel from the bombing of Trafford on 23-24 December 1940." © IWM (EPH 3387).
Peace Talks/Propaganda: Mahatma Gandhi (apparently) writes his second letter to Adolf Hitler (dated 24 December). Addressing Hitler as "Dear Friend," Gandhi (supposedly) pleads with Hitler:
in the name of humanity to stop the war. You will lose nothing by referring all the matters of dispute between you and Great Britain to an international tribunal of your joint choice. If you attain success in the war, it will not prove that you were in the right. It will only prove that your power of destruction was greater. Whereas an award by an impartial tribunal will show as far as it is humanly possible which party was in the right.
This letter is somewhat longer than Gandhi's previous (supposed) letter (sent just before the war in August 1939). This letter goes into reasons why Hitler should stop the war, including that "some other power will certainly improve upon your method and beat you with your own weapon...."

As with the first letter, British authorities seize this letter in transit, so Hitler never sees either one (and this is one of the reasons we know Gandhi wrote and sent them at all). And that raises a certain suspicion...

There is a big "however" to all this. There are some who claim that this letter (and the more famous August 1939 letter) is a British forgery. Gandhi is not known to have been a particularly prolific letter-writer, with most of "his" letters actually written by others. In addition, Gandhi is known to have written his letters by hand, whereas the letters produced by the British always are neatly typed without errors and signed by Gandhi in a manner whose authenticity some doubt. The gist of this letter would, indeed, have been of propaganda value to the British at the time. It also would have given British Intelligence delicious fun to turn the tables on their principal Indian antagonist and use him for their own propaganda purposes (and in the process smear Gandhi by association with the "Dear Friend" salutation). It also seems odd that Gandhi would have written the letter in (absolutely perfect) English, which was not native to either sender or recipient.

On balance, both letters appear to be forgeries - but draw your own conclusions, because many historians take them at face value. This probably is an example of "Black Ops" or "Black Propaganda," something at which MI5 excels throughout the conflict. However, there is no proof of that - perhaps because it is done so well. As an aside, many papers from the war remain under a 100-year exclusion and not everything is known about all of the types of covert activities that went on.

US Military: The 2nd Marine Brigade (Colonel Henry L. Larsen) is activated at Camp Elliott, California. The US 1st Marine Aircraft Wing completes its move to the West Coast.

The US Navy sends 80 men and 2000 tons of equipment from Honolulu to Wake Island aboard the USS William Ward. They are to begin construction of a Naval Air Station there.

24 December 1940 Adolf Galland Abbeville
Adolf Galland, on steps, waiting for Adolf Hitler at Château de Bonnance in Abbeville. Behind Galland on the platform are, left to right: Hauptmann Gerhard Schöpfel (Kommandeur III.Gruppe/JG 26 "Schlageter"), Hauptmann Walter Adolph (Kommandeur II.Gruppe/JG 26 "Schlageter"), and Hauptmann Rolf Pingel (Kommandeur I.Gruppe/JG 26 "Schlageter").
German Government: Having spent the night on his train parked in a tunnel north of Boulogne - which was bombed during the night - Adolf Hitler resumes his tour of coastal fortifications in France. He proceeds to Desvres, where Hitler visits the squadron Von Lützow (encamped somewhere outside of town). At 12:30 hours Hitler joined the Christmas lunchtime activities there, then proceeds to Saint-Etienne-au-Mont and the castle Point-de-Briques. Afterward, around dinnertime, he travels to Abbeville and visits JG 26, led by Adolf Galland, the leading scorer in the entire Luftwaffe. JG 26 is known as the "Abbeville Kids" and is based there for much of the war.

Arriving at 16:05 and staying just short of an hour, Hitler gives a brief address in which he states that the U-boats and lack of interference by the Soviets will make ultimate victory certain. Needless to say, this visit is a tremendous honor and privilege for the Schlageter Squadron, considered the elite Luftwaffe fighter formation on the critical Channel front (though of course some other squadrons also have their partisans). Hitler's visit to this Geschwader instead of others speaks volumes.

After giving his speech, Hitler proceeds from Abbeville to Laboissière. He spends another night in his train, parked in a tunnel outside of town.

24 December 1940 Adolf Galland Adolf Hitler JG 26
Adolf Galland seated next to another Adolf, 24 December 1940. Facing the camera, from left to right (starting from the leftmost red arrow): Oberleutnant Gustav Sprick (Staffelkapitän 8./JG 26); Hauptmann Walter Adolph (Kommandeur II.Gruppe /JG 26 "Schlageter"); Hauptmann Rolf Pingel (Kommandeur I.Gruppe/JG 26 "Schlageter"); Führer Adolf Hitler, Adolf Galland, Oberstleutnant (Kommodore JG 26); and Gerhard Hauptmann Schöpfel (Kommandeur III.Gruppe/JG 26 "Schlageter"). Hitler remained loyal to Galland right to the end despite attempts to liquidate him by others in the German hierarchy (Pinterest).
India: During the night, the British stage an "imitation German air raid." In a suburb of Calcutta, a plane bearing Luftwaffe insignia (but apparently an RAF plane) bombs a small village, starting fires. The local Air Raid Precaution (ARP) organization extinguishes the fires quickly and rescues people from the bombed homes. Overall, the "test" or "simulation" is reckoned a success. It is an odd, real-life live-fire exercise that must result in some casualties, but there is no record of any. This bizarre incident is recounted in a publication, Amrita Bazar Patrika, of today's date.

Canada: Colonel J. Saul of the Canadian Defence Ministry announces that a full Canadian Corps will be formed in Great Britain.

Bulgaria: The Anti-Jewish Law for the Protection of the Nation is approved by the government, to take effect on 23 January 1941. Among other measures, the law:
  • Forces Jews to change their names;
  • Restricts where Jews may live;
  • Confiscates Jewish property;
  • Excludes Jewish workers from public jobs;
  • Excludes Jews from certain trades;
  • Establishes quotas for Jews in universities.
The law goes well beyond those specific provisions, though. It also levies a one-time tax of 20% of Jewish net worth - not income - and also prohibits secret organizations of any kind, particularly Freemasonry. That said - and of course, it all is very bad - the law does not provide for the deportation of Jews to German extermination camps such as Auschwitz. Well, at least not all Jews, but the law does provide for the deportation of Jews from recently acquired territories which formerly were parts of Greece and Yugoslavia. The law takes its lead from the German Nuremberg Laws and obviously is passed due to German influence and pressure. The last thing the Bulgarians want is to be left to face the Soviet Union alone.

German Homefront: A special Christmas ration is distributed, 26 bonus ounces of rice and vegetables and about 20 ounces of sugar, jam, and coffee. There is an active black market for meat, which the government knows is widely available - but expensive - so these extra allowances provide all the makings of a typical pre-war Christmas day.

British Homefront: Seen in downtown London in a shop window:
"Christmas is 1,940 years old, and Hitler is only fifty-one. They can't spoil our Christmas."
24 December 1940 National Christmas Tree
The lighting of the National Christmas Tree, Washington DC, December 24, 1940. (US National Archives). This ceremony began in 1923 and gradually expanded through the years. This tree begins a tradition of transplanting a tree from elsewhere and replanting it in the original location in January. This 34-foot (10 m) high red cedar has over 700 hand-colored lights, 700 ornaments, and six blue-green mercury-vapor lights. It came from along the Mount Vernon Memorial Parkway. 
American Homefront: New Hampshire experiences a classic aftershock earthquake after the one that hit on 20 December. This one is slightly more powerful, registering 5.6 on the moment magnitude scale as opposed to 5.3 for the first one. The quake is centered in central New Hampshire, just north of the lakes. There are additional aftershocks in the following months, but this is the one that causes the most damage throughout the New England region. That said, casualties and serious damage are almost nonexistent.

Future History: Janet Carol Thiese is born in Chicago, Illinois. Taking the stage name Janet Carroll, she becomes an accomplished classical singer with a 3 1/2 octave vocal range. Carroll begins acting professionally in the late 1960s in local theater productions, then moves to Los Angeles and begins getting film roles. Her most recognizable role is as the Tom Cruise character's mother in the 1983 "Risky Business" ("Don't break mother's egg!"). Another well-remembered turn is as Al Bundy's boss Gary in "Married with Children." Janet Carroll passes away from brain cancer in 2012.

24 December 1940 King Queen London shelter
King and Queen visit Home Sweet Underground Shelter, 24/25 December 1940.

December 1940

December 1, 1940: Wiking Division Forms
December 2, 1940: Convoy HX 90 Destruction
December 3, 1940: Greeks Advancing
December 4, 1940: Italian Command Shakeup
December 5, 1940: Thor Strikes Hard
December 6, 1940: Hitler's Cousin Gassed
December 7, 1940: Storms At Sea
December 8, 1940: Freighter Idarwald Seized
December 9, 1940: Operation Compass Begins
December 10, 1940: Operation Attila Planned
December 11, 1940: Rhein Wrecked
December 12, 1940: Operation Fritz
December 13, 1940: Operation Marita Planned
December 14, 1940: Plutonium Discovered
December 15, 1940: Napoleon II Returns
December 16, 1940: Operation Abigail Rachel
December 17, 1940: Garden Hoses and War
December 18, 1940: Barbarossa Directive
December 19, 1940: Risto Ryti Takes Over
December 20, 1940: Liverpool Blitz, Captain America
December 21, 1940: Moral Aggression
December 22, 1940: Manchester Blitz
December 23, 1940: Hitler at Cap Gris Nez
December 24, 1940: Hitler at Abbeville
December 25, 1940: Hipper's Great Escape
December 26, 1940: Scheer's Happy Rendezvous
December 27, 1940: Komet Shells Nauru
December 28, 1940: Sorge Spills
December 29, 1940: Arsenal of Democracy
December 30, 1940: London Devastated
December 31 1940: Roosevelt's Decent Proposal


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