Wednesday, February 8, 2017

February 7, 1941: Fox Killed in the Open

Friday 7 February 1941

7 February 1941 HMS Vanity
The crew of HMS Vanity on 7 February 1941. They are posed to celebrate shooting down a Dornier twin-engined bomber at sea. Commander HJ Buchanan, DSO, RAN stands to the right. © IWM (A 2921). HMS Vanity is featured in other British military photos as well, for some reason, it gets a lot of attention.
Italian/Greek Campaign: The entire front is fairly stable as of 7 February 1941. The fierce winter weather prevents major engagements. The status quo favors the Italians, who are hanging on to their position in Albania by their fingertips. The Italians are planning another counterattack after the massive advances by the Greeks in the Trebeshina area, but it will take some time to prepare. This area is the key to the entire Albanian campaign, as it lies along the valley which leads to the vital Italian port of Valona (Vlorë). Most activity at this point consists of artillery exchanges and RAF attacks.

Already, the Italians have frustrated the most ambitious Greek plans, as they wished to capture Valona and wind up the Italian position in Albania by mid-February. The timing is important because Greek (and British) intelligence suggests that the Germans may be ready to invade Greece through Bulgaria as early as 15 February. This is not the case, but the Greeks don't know this.

East African Campaign: The British attack on Keren continues. The tactical problem is to take the Dongolaas Gorge which serves as a sort of portal to the town itself. Surrounded by mountains controlled by the Italians, the gorge is a tough nut - but the British are confident that the Italians will fold quickly as they have everywhere else.

The day begins with the 3/14th Punjab Regiment advancing to take Brig's Peak, the middle of three peaks (left to right) that overlook the gorge. However, the Italians send the 65th Infantry Division "Granatieri di Savoia" (Granatieri di Savoia) in a counterattack. The Italians have the advantage of supporting fire from other peaks nearby, and the Indian troops must move supplies and reinforcements over the exposed ground. The Indian troops are pried off Brig's Peak and sent back to their starting point, Cameron Ridge. This now is a more secure position because of the addition of the 1st (Wellesley's)/6th Rajputana Rifles there. However, Cameron Ridge itself is exposed to downward fire from several nearby peaks and it is not an easy thing to stay there.

On the other (right) side of the Dongolaas Gorge, the British also attack. Late in the day, the 4th (Outram's)/6th Rajputana Rifles advance through Happy Valley (Scescilembi Valley) on the far right and take Acqua Col. Tactically, this is an attempt to outflank an Italian strongpoint at Dologorodoc Fort. The Acqua Col also is a key position because it serves as a link between two summits, Mount Selele and Mount Falestoh. The Indian troops retain control of the Acqua Col as the day ends, but the Italians are in a strong position to counterattack there, too, raining fire down on the Indian troops.

In Abyssinia, the British continue advancing along the Gondar Road. In British Somaliland, the British advance as well.

7 February 1941 JG 26 Joachim Muencheberg
Oblt. Baron Hubertus von Holtey, right, commanding officer of the Ergänzungsgruppe of JG 26, with Oblt. Joachim Müncheberg at Cognac, France in February 1941. Müncheberg, commander of 7./JG 26, will soon be taking his men to Sicily to bolster Fliegerkorps X.
European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe makes a few scattered raids along the northeast coast of Scotland and East Anglia, but generally is quiet. The RAF attacks a few Channel ports (27 bombers against Dunkirk, 37 against Boulogne).

Battle of the Atlantic: German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau continue heading south from the vicinity of Greenland toward the shipping lanes. The British have no idea where they are and apparently think they are further east. However, while vulnerable, the Allied convoys nearby have beefed-up escorts which could give the German ships a nasty surprise. In any event, some kind of action is imminent.

The Royal Navy moves its command headquarters for the Western Approaches from Plymouth, on the south coast, to Derby House in Liverpool in the north. This conforms with the fact that more convoys since the fall of France are coming through the Northwest Approaches rather than the Southwest Approaches, which are closer to the U-boat bases in France. Having the headquarter near the port of arrival simply makes sense.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks British 575-ton freighter Bay Fisher a few miles northeast of Bell Rock, Angus, Scotland. There are 8 deaths.

British 513-ton freighter Scottish Cooperation hits a mine and is damaged a couple of miles off Workington Pier in the Solway Firth off Workington, Cumberland. The crew manages to beach the ship. After temporary repairs, it makes it back to Workington.

Armed merchant cruiser (AMC) HMS Letitia grounds on Litchfield Shoal near Halifax due to the fierce winter winds. The AMC will require repairs in the US that will last until the end of the year.

German raider Kormoran, with captured vessel Duquesa and operating off the Cape Verde Islands, begins a three-day rendezvous with supply ship Nordmark. This is a somewhat unusual meeting, as Nordmark is the recipient of supplies as much as the giver of the same. The Kormoran, fresh from Germany, has brought U-boat spare parts that are needed at the U-boat base in Lorient. In addition, the Kormoran transfers 170 of the 174 prisoners it has taken so far (four Chinese prisoners remain on board as laundrymen). The British crew from the British Union leave their pet monkey behind in gratitude for honorable treatment during their captivity. Among other random items, a piano from Duquesa is transferred to the Kormoran. It is all a very comfortable meeting during the happy times for German operations in the Atlantic.

U-564 and U-652 are launched.

Soviet submarine K-55 is launched.

7 February 1941 General Bergonzoli Electric Whiskers
General Bergonzoli. His nickname was "Barba elettrica," which roughly translates as the electric beard or electric whiskers or shocking whiskers.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The situation is fluid, but running against the Italians as the day begins. Shortly before dawn, the British 7th Support Group attacks the north end of the Italian convoys heading south from Benghazi on the Via Balbia. At the same time, the 2nd RTR moves south along the western side of the road while the 1st RTR moves east. The stage is set for compressions and destruction of the Italian forces unless they can break out quickly.

The Italians do try to break out. Supported by artillery, the Italian medium tanks overrun British positions of the blocking Combe Force, taking out numerous antitank guns. However, the following Italian infantry is more vulnerable, and the British rain fire on them to force them undercover. The Italian M13 medium tanks make it through the British positions, sweeping across the British officer's mess and the like. However, the British armor arrives, stopping the Italians at El Magrun, about 24 km (15 miles) south of Ghemines. Italian 10th Army is stopped, surrounded, and the surrenders begin at 11:00.

In all, the Italians lose 25,000 men taken prisoner, 93 guns, 107 tanks either captured intact or destroyed, and all of the senior Italian command staff (Lieutenant-General Annibale “Electric Whiskers” Bergonzoli of the XX Motorised corps and General Valentino Babini of the Italian Special Armoured Brigade (Brigata Corazzato Speciale) are captured, while 10th Army Commander General Giuseppe Tellera is killed in his M13 tank.

This concludes the battle of Beda Fomm and the utter destruction of the Italian 10th Army. Almost as an afterthought, the Australian 6th Infantry Division takes evacuated Benghazi. General O'Connor of XIII Corps immediately sends the 11th Hussars further to the west to take out isolated Italian garrisons at Agedabia and El Agheila. However, O'Connor does not have the authorization to proceed to Tripoli, so he can only send out patrols along the 40 or 50 miles down the coast road to Sirte.

O'Connor dispatches Middle East commander Archibald Wavell's former Brigade Major (now a brigadier serving as Wavell's personal liaison officer to XIII Corps) back to Cairo to get that permission. However, it is a long, difficult 570-mile trip by road (for some reason no planes are available) and an answer may take as long as a week. To announce the victory at Benghazi, O'Connor sends the famous signal:
Fox killed in the open.
It is another epic catastrophe for Italian arms, thought the Italians have at least tried to fight with some skill in this engagement for the first time during Operation Compass. Italian commander in North Africa Marshal Rodolfo Graziani submits his resignation, though whether or not this is strictly his idea is open to debate. It puts more pressure on Germany's Operation Sunflower, the insertion of German troops into Libya to backstop the remaining Italian garrison, which now is under the command of General Erwin Rommel, with Wehrmacht troops due on North African soil within a fortnight.

Meanwhile, Admiral Somerville continues steaming toward Genoa from Gibraltar as part of Operation Grog (formerly Result). The aim is to bombard Italian shore targets. He tries to arrange for RAF support from Malta as he passes Sardinia, but no planes are available.

On Malta, a mysterious force of eight Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bombers lands with 38 paratroopers. They are to participate in "Operation Colossus," which nobody on the island knows about.

US/Dutch Relations: Admiral Hart is negotiating with the Dutch authorities in the East Indies regarding future military cooperation. The Dutch have strong naval forces in the Pacific and would be extremely useful in the event of hostilities. The British also have naval forces at Singapore and Hong Kong, though at the moment they are fairly light. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Stark orders Hart to insist on overall US command of any joint Allied fleet in the region. The Dutch, however, feel they are best suited to command operations.

German/Vichy France Relations: Admiral Darlan has been negotiating with the Germans to take over as head of the Vichy Government (under the overlordship of Marshal Petain, who everybody understands is more a figurehead than a real leader). German Ambassador Otto Abetz indicates today that Darlan would be acceptable as a French leader, but Germany does not want to dispose of former leader Pierre Laval just yet. Laval, meanwhile, remains a powerful force in French government circles but technically a private citizen.

British Military: The Ministry of Aircraft Production is extremely enthusiastic about the Bristol Beaufighter and has set up "shadow factories" to produce it in addition to the Bristol facilities at Filton (which have been a favorite Luftwaffe target). These shadow facilities include production lines operated by the Fairey Aviation Company. Today, the first Beaufighter IF fighter (T4623)  made by Fairey makes its maiden flight at Stockport, Greater Manchester.

7 February 1941 Hawaii Army maneuvers
Army maneuvers in Hawaii in 1941 before the Pearl Harbor attack.
US Military: The US Naval Academy in Annapolis graduates the class of 1941 today rather than later in the spring due to the growing crisis.

General of the Army George C. Marshall sends a letter to Lt. General Walter C. Short, the new commander of the US Army's Hawaiian Department (he replaces General Herron today). The letter states "the fullest protection for the Fleet is the rather than a major consideration." He continues:
My impression of the Hawaiian problem has been that if no serious harm is done us during the first six hours of known hostilities, thereafter the existing defenses would discourage an enemy against the hazard of an attack. The risk of sabotage and the risk involved in a surprise raid by Air and by submarine constitute the real perils of the situation. Frankly, I do not see any landing threat in the Hawaiian Islands so long as we have air superiority.
This is a very prescient letter.

Secretary of the Navy Henry L. Stimson also forwards a copy of a 24 January 1941 letter from Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox to him to General Short. That letter also warns against the likelihood of hostilities beginning at Pearl Harbor. Stimson instructs both Short and Admiral Kimmel, CINCPAC, to secure the islands against surprise attacks and cooperate with each other and with local authorities.

In fact, (later investigations conclude that) neither Kimmel nor Short lift a finger to cooperate with each other or anyone else in any meaningful way to secure the islands against air attack. This will all become of intense scrutiny after the events of 7 December 1941. Short, for his part, later feels that he acted appropriately despite these clear warnings and instructions from his superiors because he did not receive effective warnings of Japanese attacks and throughout his tenure had insufficient resources to secure the islands anyway.

This is an endless topic, but might as well point out here that the US Senate eventually exonerated both Kimmel and Short by a 52-47 vote on 25 May 1999, stating that they had performed their duties "competently and professionally." Both men, of course, were long deceased by that point, and there seems to have been some lingering suspicions behind the vote that the real blame for Pearl Harbor lay not in Hawaii, but in Washington, D.C.

British Government: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill has his staff arrange a stunt for the media. During dinner, he places a call to a random passenger on a train, which is recorded for broadcast. It is all carefully choreographed - the passenger is chosen and briefed at the prior station - but the stunt shows the deep interest that the government has in public relations. This also ties in with certain governmental reforms to be announced on the 8th, as in, "Oh, you see a problem? Well, I'll take of it tomorrow!" This kind of stunt may seem rather obvious now, but it was somewhat novel at the time.

7 February 1941 Robert Menzies Admiral Andrew Cunningham HMS Warspite
While at Alexandria, Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies visits units of the Mediterranean Fleet. He is photographed here with Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. I don't have a firm date on this photo, but since he visited with Cunningham for lunch today on HMS Warspite, it likely is 7 February 1941. The other man in the photo is unidentified but, judging from the gold braid, quite highly placed indeed. Perhaps the captain of HMS Barham, but that is a wild guess.
Australian Government: Prime Minister Robert Menzies continues his epic journey from Melbourne to London. Today he flies to Alexandria and makes note of the dusty conditions - which are causing the RAF and armored forces all sorts of problems. Menzies meets Admiral Cunningham, who he describes as "the No. 1 personality I have so far encountered on this journey." After this, he flies down to Cairo for another dinner with General Wavell. Menzies has mixed feelings about Wavell, noting that "with his left eye closed and his almost unbreakable silence he is an almost sinister figure." Churchill most likely would concur. It is a good night for dinner, though, as they can celebrate the fall of Benghazi to Australian troops. Very good timing.

Indochina: While the Thai/Vichy French border war is over thanks to the Armistice signed aboard a Japanese warship on 31 January, there is still the matter of the actual terms of that peace. The Japanese again act as moderators, as the two sides begin to hammer out an agreement in Tokyo that both can live with. Everybody seems to understand that the Japanese are the real power in the region, the British, Dutch and Americans have no say whatsoever.

China: The savage Battle of Southern Henan reaches its climax. The Chinese 5th War Area take Sinyang and points further north. This is a key point on the Wuhan-Peking railway line and puts the Japanese garrison at Wuhan in peril. The Japanese army, meanwhile, moves from Tangho to Tungpo.

American Homefront: Fleischer Studios, for Paramount Studios, releases Popeye the Sailor in "Quiet! Pleeze," animated by Willard Bowsky and Lod Rossner with a story by Milford Davis.

Terrytoon Studios releases "Mississippi Swing," in which African Americans have some fun while picking cotton. Yes, while picking cotton. Caution, the cartoon is not by any stretch of the imagination political correct in the 21st century. This is part of unchangeable history and included here as such for educational purposes only.

February 1941

February 1, 1941: US Military Reorganization
February 2, 1941: Wehrmacht Supermen
February 3, 1941: World Will Hold Its Breath
February 4, 1941: USO Forms
February 5, 1941: Hitler Thanks Irish Woman
February 6, 1941: Operation Sunflower
February 7, 1941: Fox Killed in the Open
February 8, 1941: Lend Lease Passes House
February 9, 1941: Give Us The Tools
February 10, 1941: Operation Colossus
February 11, 1941: Afrika Korps
February 12, 1941: Rommel in Africa
February 13, 1941: Operation Composition
February 14, 1941: Nomura in Washington
February 15, 1941: Churchill's Warning
February 16, 1941: Operation Adolphus
February 17, 1941: Invade Ireland?
February 18, 1941: Panzerwaffe Upgrade
February 19, 1941: Three Nights Blitz
February 20, 1941: Prien's Farewell
February 21, 1941: Swansea Blitz Ends
February 22, 1941: Amsterdam Pogrom
February 23, 1941: OB-288 Convoy Destruction
February 24, 1941: Okuda Spies
February 25, 1941: Mogadishu Taken
February 26, 1941: OB-290 Convoy Destruction
February 27, 1941: Operation Abstention
February 28, 1941: Ariets Warns Stalin


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