Saturday, April 22, 2017

April 15, 1941: Flying Tigers

Tuesday 15 April 1941

15 April 1941 Igor Sikorsky VS-300
Igor Sikorsky with the second configuration of the VS-300, just after setting the endurance record for US flights on 15 April 1941.
Operation Marita/Operation 25: The Allied situation in Greece is deteriorating rapidly on 15 April 1941, and Yugoslavian resistance basically is over. The Germans are mushrooming out in all directions from the penetration across the Greek border. The Germans are heading west toward the coast in order to bottle up the Greek Epirus Army that has been fighting the Italians since October; the Germans also are heading south toward Athens, and in addition, the Germans are heading east toward Larissa in order to cut off the retreating British on the Aliakmon Line. Essentially, it is a race to see who can get to the main roads in these areas first and secure them. If the Germans do, the large Allied forces to the north are trapped.

Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell meets with his deputies, and they resolve to begin evacuating from Greece rather than continue Operation Lustre - and there currently are ships loaded with troops and equipment still on their way to Greece. This is an indication of how quickly the situation has fallen apart. Wavell sends his man in Athens, General Henry Maitland Wilson, a message:
We must of course continue to fight in close cooperation with Greeks but from news here it looks as if early further withdrawal necessary.
Australian General Thomas Blamey, commander of the Australian and New Zealand troops in Greece (the ANZAC Corps), all along has assumed that he would have to evacuate his troops. He sets his units in motion to the south, preparing a series of rearguard positions to the Thermopylae/Corinth line. Blamey positions the 16th Australian Brigade at the Pinios Gorge in order to block a German breakout to Larissa - which, as a key crossroads near the east coast, would seal the fate of all Allied units to the north. The British already are putting men on transports at Volos (just south of Larissa) and other nearby ports.

The Wehrmacht has blasted south from western Yugoslavia and brushed aside Allied resistance in several key passes. The Greeks 12th and 20th Divisions are heading south over rough country, as the Germans now control the main roads. The Germans today attack Siatista Pass, and the Greek 12th Division is so worn down that it can only find 1000 men with which to defend itself.

The Italian 9th Army takes Koritsa (Korçë) from the retreating Greeks without a fight. The Axis forces now are sweeping up huge numbers of Greeks forced out of their secure positions in the mountains and attempting to walk south over the mountains.

15 April 1941 Sarajevo Gavrilo Princip memorial
Having taken Sarajevo, what do you suppose would be a good thing to do right away, with priority? Well, for the Germans, it is removing a plaque erected there in 1930 to commemorate the 28 June 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip. The plaque is sent to Hitler on his special train in Monichkirchen in time for his 52nd birthday (Serbianna).
The Germans (16th Motorized Division) heading south from Austria for a linkup with the Italians take Sarajevo from the Yugoslav 2nd Army. Many Yugoslavian army units are simply "going to ground" in the mountainous western part of the country.

The 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH, still brigade-size) attacks toward the Metsovon Pass at Grevena, which is on the main road to Ioannina. Already, the Germans have cut off any escape routes for the Greek forces in Albania, and each mile they advance tightens the noose. The Greek 13th and Cavalry Divisions there are encircled and surrender, opening the road west. Greek leader General Papagos frantically directs more troops in that direction to hold open his Western Macedonian Army's escape route.

15 April 1941 Battle of Platamon
Troops at the battle of Platamon, April 1941 (NZ Official History).
The Germans wish to get to Platamon on the east coast south of Thessaloniki. Doing this would cut off large Allied forces to the north, forcing them to fight their way out, evacuate from Thessaloniki, or surrender. The Germans try to gain control quickly of a ridge which dominates the mountain pass which leads to Platamon using motorcycle troops, but the New Zealand 21st Battalion (General Neil Macky) is in place and holds its ground. Later in the day, the Germans try again with a tank battalion, but the New Zealanders once again stand firm. The Germans accumulate forces for another attempt early on the 16th. There is a convenient railway tunnel that runs to the coast there which the New Zealanders desperately try to keep out of the German grasp.

Elements of the German 164th Infantry Division occupy the island of Thasos.

15 April 1941 RAF pilots Larissa Greece
RAF pilots of No. 33 Squadron at Larissa, Greece circa April 1941. Several of these pilots are KIA beginning today, 15 April 1941, and through and until 17 June 1941. Others become POWs in May on Crete. © IWM (ME(RAF) 1246).
The Regia Aeronautica attacks the RAF base at Paramythia, near the Greek/Albanian border, through which Yugoslavian King Peter II passed just yesterday. They destroy or damage 17 Yugoslavian aircraft, including many Dornier Do17 and Italian SM-79 bombers purchased from the Axis during the reign of former regent Prince Paul.

The Luftwaffe (the II Staffeln, Lehrgeschwader 1) bombs Eleusis Bay at Piraeus. The Germans hit 7765-ton British transport Quiloa and 5314-ton freighter Goalpara. Everyone survives, and the ships are beached.

The Luftwaffe also bombs the RAF airfield at Larissa. They destroy 10 Blenheim bombers on the ground. Another attack on Niamata also destroys some Blenheims.

The RAF attacks the Italian base at Valona (Vlorë), Albania. Fairey Swordfish of No. 815 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm torpedo and sink freighters Luciano and Stampalia. Some accounts place these sinkings on the 14th.

Today marks the final combat between Hellenic Royal Air Force aircraft and the Luftwaffe. Twelve Greek fighters (five Bloch MB 151s, five Gloster Gladiators and two PZL P24s) take off from Vassiliki to challenge Junkers Ju 87 Stukas heading for Trikala. The Bf 109Es escorting the Stukas shoot down five Greek planes, while the Greeks down a Stuka. Luftwaffe pilot Gustav Rödel claims three victories. After this, the Greek Air Force does not challenge the Luftwaffe again.

Bulgaria severs diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia and sends its 5th Army troops across the border to take chunks of Morava and Macedonia.

Adolf Hitler sends Croatian strongman (Poglavnik) Ante Pavelić a congratulatory telegram upon his assumption of power in a new independent state of Croatia. Rome and Bratislava also immediately recognize the new government.

15 April 1941 Haile Selassi Orde Wingate
"The Emperor of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia) [Haile Selassie] with Brigadier Daniel Arthur Sandford on his left and Colonel [Orde] Wingate on his right, in Dambacha Fort after it had been captured, 15 April 1941." © IWM (E 2462).
East African Campaign: The Italians remain holed up in western Abyssinia. Today, the Italian colonial forces at Gambela fight Belgian Congolese troops.

European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe, after a pause while it focused on the Balkans, resumes its attacks on Great Britain. Tonight's target is Belfast in Northern Ireland, as 180 bombers focus on the Harland & Wolff shipyards (destroying three ships nearing completion) and York Road railway station. This is known as part of the Belfast Blitz.

William Joyce (known as “Lord Haw-Haw”) had announced in recent radio broadcasts that there would be "Easter eggs for Belfast."

During the afternoon, spectators at a football match at Windsor Park notice a Luftwaffe reconnaissance plane flying over Belfast. It is unclear what this means until the air raid sirens go off at 22:45; the attacks begin around 23:00 and last for six hours. One issue is that the government has not provided nearly enough antiaircraft defenses for the city, with only 16 heavy guns to protect all of Belfast.

The Germans drop bombs on the docks and nearby terrace houses, a working-class district. It is estimated later that bombs destroyed half the houses in the city and left 100,000 people homeless. The Dublin Fire Brigade helps put out the fires, crossing the international boundary twice, but 500 people are killed and 400 badly injured (some estimates are much higher). This assistance by Eire, incidentally, is a violation of neutrality laws, but Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera orders all but one fire crew from Dublin and nearby towns (Dun Laoghaire, Drogheda, and Dundalk) be sent.

The Luftwaffe also attacks Liverpool with about 50 bombers and the Newcastle region with 38 bombers. An additional 11 bombers attack Hull, killing 55 and injuring 20. As occasionally happens, a bomb hits a shelter and kills everyone inside at Ellis Terrace, accounting for roughly half of the deaths.

During the day, RAF Bomber Command targets Borkum with Blenheims of No. 105 Squadron. Bomber Command targets Kiel once again tonight. There are 110 deaths. Another attack with 23 aircraft hits Boulogne, and there are assorted other, smaller attacks up and down the French/Belgian/Dutch coast.

The Admiralty takes over control of RAF Coastal Command. This is very similar to the Kriegsmarine recently arguing for - and getting - control over some Luftwaffe air units.

Charles de Gaulle notes that Frenchmen serving in the RAF are violating French law. He gives them until 25 April to apply to serve in the Free French Air Force. It is a curious requirement and perhaps reflects a bit of empire-building by de Gaulle, whose reputation and prestige have suffered lately due to the disaster at Dakar and some other incidents.

Operating in the Balkans, Luftwaffe ace Lt. Hans-Jacob Arnoldy of II./JG 77 is shot down by a Hurricane and succumbs to his injuries.

Adolf Galland of JG 26 scores his 60th victory. The incident is noteworthy because Galland (with wingman Lt. Westphal) is heading for a birthday party for Theo Osterkamp at Le Touquet but decides to take a detour on the way and fly over England. Galland shoots down a Spitfire, then scoots back to his destination and delivers the lobster and champagne he is carrying for the party.

Kommodore Major Mölders of JG 51 also downs a Hurricane over Boulogne in a brand new Bf 109F. This gives him 63 victories, the most in the world, and keeps him ahead a bit ahead of No. 2 Galland.

15 April 1941 Belfast Blitz
Damage in Belfast due to the 15 April 1941 Luftwaffe raid.
Battle of the Atlantic: Royal Navy destroyer HMS Bath collides with an unidentified ship during the night along the east coast of England and has to put into the Tyne for repairs. The repairs will last until 19 May. Navigating at night under blackout conditions, without running lights or radar, is extremely hazardous.

Italian submarine Enrico Tazzoli torpedoes and sinks 4733-ton British freighter Aurillac midway between the Azores and Portugal. There is one death among the crew (some accounts say there were no survivors).

The Luftwaffe attacks Hull and bombs and sinks 59-ton British tug Aquila.

A Vichy French flotilla of submarines (Acteon, Fresnel, and Henri Poincare) passes through the Straits of Gibraltar en route from Toulon/Oran to Casablanca.

Convoy OG 59 departs from Liverpool, Convoy HG 59 departs from Gibraltar bound for Liverpool.

Royal Navy minelayer HMS Abdiel (M 39, Captain Edward Pleydell-Bouverie) and Australian minesweeper HMAS Burnie (J 198, Lt. Commander Lt. George E. Gough) are commissioned.

15 April 1941 HMS Abdiel
HMS Abdiel.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies notes in his diary:
Tobruk is holding out and Sollum is recaptured pro tem, but the cutting of supplies to Tripoli is the only hope. The navy must take great risks to do this.
In fact, the British have not recaptured Sollum. This is an indication of how muddy the view of the battle in Libya has become even for people privy to reports directly from the front.

The British attack Forward Detachment Knabe, located near Sollum, at 05:30 with a company supported by artillery. The British climb over a rocky hill without the Germans noticing. The Germans hold their position. This is another probing attack, like the failed German assault on the 14th. In essence, the two sides are settling down already to an extended siege, the First Siege of Tobruk.

The Germans observe steady ship traffic in and out of Tobruk Harbor. Somewhat hopefully, they assume this means that the British are evacuating. In fact, it is simply a normal supply and Royal Navy ship movement.

RAF Hurricanes attack the airfield at Bardia and destroy four Junkers Ju 52 transport planes. The airfield is deemed too vulnerable to make a base for operations. The RAF is active in attacking the Afrika Korps units surrounding Tobruk.

Royal Navy gunboat Ladybird bombards Gazala.

At Malta, there is a large Luftwaffe raid that targets Luqa and Ta Qali airfields and numerous other spots. There are many "duds" among the bombs, which cause their own problems because each has to be disarmed with great skill and care. Separately, Governor Dobbie opens up the labor pool to those over 60 years of age and those under 21 years due to labor shortages.

Anglo/US Relations: President Roosevelt's special envoy to Great Britain, W. Averell Harriman, tells Winston Churchill that England is not acting to create enough support in the United States. This is a very sensitive topic for Churchill that he has pondered before and rejected, feeling that it would be seen as presumptuous. He politely asks Harriman what he thinks the British government should do differently.

US/Soviet Relations: US Ambassador Laurence Steinhardt warns Joseph Stalin that Germany is preparing to invade the USSR. Stalin does not place much credence in these types of warnings but is gradually firming up defenses in the western zone of the Soviet Union anyway. As the Stavka builds up forces in the west, however, they are placing them on the frontier and not further back in more defensible locations. The Soviet theory is that they will quickly counterpunch any German aggression and invade Poland.

Soviet Military: While known details are sketchy, apparently on or about this date a German transport (either a Junkers Ju 52 previously ordered by the Soviets or a civil DC-2) lands in Moscow without detection by the Soviet air defense system. This breeds suspicion within the Politburo that the Red Air Force is engaging in a conspiracy against the state. This incident and a high accident rate within the air force eventually lead to a purge of air force officers in May/June 1941.

US Military: While the Allies are far behind Germany in helicopter development, Igor Sikorsky is determined to catch up and take the lead. Flying his experimental Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 at his factory in Stratford, Connecticut, Sikorsky stays in the air for over an hour. Total flight time - much of it motionless - is 65 minutes and 14.5 seconds. While this is not yet an army project, the helicopter definitely is seen as having military applications once it is developed.

15 April 1941 Flatiron Building NYC
A view of the Flatiron Building from the Worth Monument, NYC, 15 April 1941. The view is largely unchanged today.
US Government: President Roosevelt signs an executive order which provides for servicemen to fight the Japanese in Asia without declaring war. This is approved by the Chinese government. They cannot do this in an official capacity; the workaround is that they will sign contracts with a "private" company, the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO). After fulfilling a one-year contract fighting for CAMCO in Asia (many actually are based in Burma), the soldiers can automatically return to their military careers. This is a key step toward the formation of Claire Chennault's American Volunteer Group (AVG), which is better known as the Flying Tigers.

The US Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, aka the Truman Committee, holds its first meeting. Harry S. Truman, a senator from Missouri, heads an effort to investigate solutions to problems with US war production. In practice, Truman will crackdown on war profiteering and waste in the procurement system. Personally driving his own Dodge car throughout the eastern half of the country, Truman will see first-hand how government contracts are enriching the few at the expense of the working people. He will work to open up the bidding process so that all regions of the country will benefit from military spending. Truman is not a Roosevelt backer and finds that many of Roosevelt's own programs are wasteful. While not a very sexy topic, procurement reform is vitally important to the development of the war effort and will propel Truman into the national consciousness.

Yugoslavian Government: The Yugoslavian government, headed by King Peter II, reunites in Athens after hurried flights from Belgrade. Peter is the acknowledged leader of the government in exile.

Mexican Homefront: The Colima earthquake hits the State of Michoacán. It is a roughly 7.7 earthquake that kills about 90 people and destroys the Colima cathedral and damages numerous other buildings in the city. Almost a quarter of all homes in the city collapse.

American Homefront: Miners from the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) attempt to post a picket line at Fork Ridge mine in Middlesboro, Tennessee. However, when 50 men try to cross the state line from Kentucky to set the lineup, 15-18 armed company guards open fire on them. There is one death of a union worker, and the miners - also armed - take cover and return fire. Over a thousand shots are fired during the day and more men go to the hospital.

It is opening day for baseball season, with a game between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals at Crosley Field.

15 April 1941 Middlesboro state line
The state line about five miles from Middlesboro, where a gunbattle between company men and union workers took place on 15 April 1941 (Appalachian History).

April 1941

April 1, 1941: Rommel Takes Brega
April 2, 1941:Rommel Takes Agedabia
April 3, 1941: Convoy SC-26 Destruction
April 4, 1941: Rommel Takes Benghazi
April 5, 1941: Rommel Rolling
April 6, 1941: Operation Marita
April 7, 1941: Rommel Takes Derna
April 8, 1941: Yugoslavia Crumbling
April 9, 1941: Thessaloniki Falls
April 10, 1941: USS Niblack Attacks
April 11, 1941: Good Friday Raid
April 12, 1941: Belgrade and Bardia Fall
April 13, 1941: Soviet-Japanese Pact
April 14, 1941: King Peter Leaves
April 15, 1941: Flying Tigers
April 16, 1941: Battle of Platamon
April 17, 1941: Yugoslavia Gone
April 18, 1941: Me 262 First Flight
April 19, 1941: London Smashed
April 20, 1941: Hitler's Best Birthday
April 21, 1941: Greek Army Surrenders
April 22, 1941: Pancevo Massacre
April 23, 1941: CAM Ships
April 24, 1941: Battle of Thermopylae
April 25, 1941: Operation Demon
April 26, 1941: Operation Hannibal
April 27, 1941: Athens Falls
April 28, 1941: Hitler Firm about Barbarossa
April 29, 1941: Mainland Greece Falls
April 30, 1941: Rommel Attacks


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