Sunday, April 9, 2017

April 4, 1941: Rommel Takes Benghazi

Friday 4 April 1941

4 April 1941 Supermarine Spitfires
"A formation of Supermarine Spitfire Mark IIAs of No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron dip their wings as they pass the saluting base during a visit by Władysław Raczkiewicz, the President of Poland, to RAF Northolt, 4 April 1941." © IWM (CH 2442).
Italian/Greek Campaign: On 4 April 1941, Adolf Hitler issues Fuhrer Directive No. 27, which is not given a formal title, only a day after No. 26. Unlike the elaborate planning being undertaken for Operation Barbarossa, Operation Marita is being improvised at the last minute.

While a shot has yet to be fired, the Directive opens with the sentence, "The Yugoslav forces are in process of disintegration." The Directive enumerates the following "aims" for each country:
  1. The aim of the operation is to destroy the remaining Yugoslav forces and to clean up and occupy the country. 
  2. As soon as adequate forces have been concentrated in the area of the Florina and the Salonika Basin, the decisive attack against the Anglo-Greek forces in northern Greece will be launched. The object of this operation will be, by a quick breakthrough in the direction of Larissa, to encircle and annihilate the enemy forces there, and to prevent the establishment of a new defensive front.
The ultimate goal in Greece is "occupying the rest of the Greek mainland including the Peloponnese." The operation is considered so easy that Hitler even includes how many occupation forces will be left after the entire country is occupied.

Convoy ASF 23 (three supply ships) departs from Piraeus bound for Alexandria with a lavish escort that outnumbers the ships being protected.

East African Campaign: Lieutenant General Alan Cunningham's forces approach Addis Ababa after an advance averaging 35 miles a day over a thousand miles. The Italians hurriedly evacuate the city. The British take 50,000 prisoners around the city at a cost of only 135 men killed. Taking the capital gives British control over 360,000 square miles of jungle and mountains. Italian commander the Duke of Aosta withdraws with his remaining forces. Aosta's forces are suffering from malaria and other maladies, and he himself has tuberculosis.

The game is almost up at Massawa. The Indian 5th Infantry Division arrives at the outskirts of the city to see the Italians and Germans in the harbor furiously at work scuttling their ships. Among those that sink there:
Italian torpedo boat Acerbi
  • 8045-ton tanker Crefeld
  • 7487-ton tanker Frauenfels (salvaged as Empire Niger)
  • 5155-ton freighter Gera (salvaged as Empire Indus)
  • 7566-ton freighter Lichtenfels (salvaged as Empire Nile)
  • 7885-ton freighter Oliva
  • 3564-ton freighter Adua
  • 5400-ton freighter Brenta
  • 5943-ton freighter Arabia
  • 5148-ton freighter Romolo Gessi
  • 4880-ton freighter Impero
  • 5430-ton freighter Vesuvio (salvaged)
  • 5006-ton freighter XXIII Marzo
4 April 1941 War Illustrated
The War Illustrated, No. 83, 4 April 1941.
European Air Operations: The Luftwaffe returns to Bristol and Avonmouth during the night with 83 planes from KG 77, KG 27, KG 54 and KGr 806, led by pathfinders from KG 26 and KGr 100. There are ten Heinkel He 111s equipped with X-Verfahren radio direction finders and a Y-Verfahren-equipped Heinkel from III,/KG 26 which crashes near Hewish, Somerset. The attack lasts from 21:00 to 01:30. The Germans attack Falmouth and sink Free French sloops Suippe and Conquerant.

The British try a new tactic to disrupt the Luftwaffe attacks. The civil defense authorities use Haslar Smoke Generators at Newcastle to obscure the city. This is the beginning of a ten-day period in which Newcastle and nearby towns are protected by this method. The Luftwaffe does not attack the towns while they are obscured by smoke, but there is no indication that they intended to do so in the first place.

RAF Bomber Command sends 54 bombers to attack Brest (see below). Luftwaffe night fighter pilot Lt. Hans Hahn downs two Hampden bombers for his fifth and sixth victories, making him an ace.

Visiting Australian Prime Minister Menzie visits Dublin and notes, "In Dublin life goes on and there is no blackout - it seems queer!"

Battle of the Atlantic: The RAF knows that German heavy cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau are in drydock in Brest, so it sends a second mission (the first was on 30-31 March) against the two ships. While there are no direct hits, a 500 lb (227 kg) armor-piercing bomb just misses Gneisenau. The local authorities decide that the ships are too vulnerable in the dry dock and decide to move them out into the harbor for safety.

The "Action of 4 April 1941" takes place. German raider Thor is on its way back to Germany when it comes across Royal Navy armed merchant cruiser HMS Voltaire, a converted passenger liner. As the two ships approach head-on, Captain Otto Kähler of the Thor orders his men to open fire. The first salvo destroys Voltaire's generator and radio room, meaning the ship is unable to radio its position. Only two of Voltaire's six six-inch guns are able to return fire, and they manage only one hit that destroys its radio aerial. Thor has trouble with its guns, which overheat and force it to cease firing, but at that moment the Voltaire raises the white flag. Thor stands off and rescues Voltaire's crew, taking off 196 of 296 men. After this incident, Thor continues heading north. This is the second armed merchant cruiser that Thor has beaten, the other being HMS Carnarvon Castle on 5 December (which made it to Montevideo).

The attacks on Convoy SC-26 in the mid-Atlantic continue today, as more fully described in the entry for the 3rd:
  • 2467-ton Norwegian freighter Helle (sunk by U-98, all survive)
  • 5122-ton British freighter Welcombe (sunk by U-98, 20 perish)
  • 5414-ton British freighter Harbledown (sunk by U-94, 16 perish)
  • 8132-ton British tanker Conus (sunk by U-97, all perish)
  • 5351-ton British freighter Athenic (part of Convoy SC-26, but traveling independently by choice; torpedoed and damaged, sinks on the 5th).
U-124 (Kptlt. Georg-Whilhelm Schulz), operating far to the south, also gets a victory north of the Cape Verde Islands. It sinks 6507-ton British tanker Marlene. There are 13 deaths.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 4815-ton British freighter Salvus off Cromer. There are four deaths.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sink 164-ton British trawler Whitby a few miles from Blackwater Light Vessel off the east coast of Wexford.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 6914-ton British tanker Cape Verde in the middle of St. George's Channel off Wexford. Cape Verde makes it to port.

The first steps of Operation Principal take place. This is a projected attack on French battleship Dunkerque. The force is led by battlecruiser HMS Renown and aircraft carriers Ark Royal and Furious. This operation is based on spy information that the French ship is about to leave port.

German 8820 ton Dithmarschen-class fleet-replenishment tanker ("trosschiff," combining the roles fulfilled by tanker, a repair ship, ammunition ship, and dry cargo ship) Ermland completes its long journey from Japan, arriving at Bordeaux.

Royal Navy minesweeper HMS Cromer (J 128, Lt. Commander Arthur E. Coles) is commissioned.

4 April 1941 Afrika Korps Libya
General Rommel's troops advancing in Libya, Spring 1941 (Eric Borchert, Federal Archive).
Battle of the Mediterranean: Afrika Korp's reconnaissance observes the last British (Australian 20th Infantry Brigade) retreating east from Benghazi, with the main force retreating east from Barce. The British are at Msus by 11:00. The Germans surmise that the British will hold Mechili for flank protection of Tobruk. Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel's headquarters radios Lt. Colonel Graf Schwerin of the 3rd Recon Battalion to:
push to the coast and carry out Operation Tmimi... prevent move of English to the east. Push forward to Tobruk with forward detachment.
Rommel also orders the Italian Ariete Division to take Mechili. Schwerin's unit takes the abandoned Benghazi without any issues by about midday. Rommel drives to Benghazi and tells Schwerin to join the attack on Mechili as soon as the Italian Brescia Division arrives to garrison Benghazi. The Germans duly head east to the Green Mountain, but run into a British minefield protected by artillery and tanks. The Germans lose several tanks and abandon the pursuit for the moment. However, the Luftwaffe is active and destroys a British column of 21 trucks, splashing 1600 tons of gasoline onto the desert.

The fast and unexpected pace of the offensive also is causing the Germans logistical problems. In addition, the Germans follow numerous British vehicle tracks into the desert which only cause their vehicles to bog down in the sand. In addition, sand often drifts across the roads during times of heavy winds, completely obscuring them and causing German vehicles to drive off of them and get bogged down. The 5th Light Division requests that all further supplies be sent only by 4-wheel-drive trucks.

The Regia Aeronautica attacks shipping off Corfu and sinks Greek torpedo boat Prousa and 932 ton Greek freighter Sussanna.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Rorqual makes port in Malta after a minelaying operation west of Sicily.

An incident takes place in Malta that shows the mixed feelings on the island about the war. Some conscripts from the local population are refusing service because they claim that their enlistment notices are out of date and thus unenforceable. Governor Dobbie requests instructions from Whitehall on how to proceed.

Battle of the Pacific: British mooring vessel HMS Buffalo hits a mine and sinks off Singapore. There are 32 killed. The only ones laying mines in the area are the British themselves.

4 April 1941 Salvus freighter
British freighter Salvus during its trials in 1928; sunk 4 April 1941 by the Luftwaffe in the English Channel.
Anglo/US Relations: Prime Minister Winston Churchill sends President Roosevelt a telegram giving an update on the Battle of the Atlantic. He notes that, because the Royal Navy has been able to "strengthen our escorts" - presumably as a result of the destroyers-for-bases agreement of September 1940 - the U-boats "have now moved further west." He requests "ten cutters" for operations out of Iceland because "our losses are increasingly serious."

Separately, President Roosevelt agrees to Churchill's request that British warships can be repaired in US shipyards. He goes further and orders that Royal Navy warships on combat missions can be refueled there, too. Naturally, the same courtesies are not extended to German warships.

US/Bulgarian Relations: The Roosevelt Administration orders that all Bulgarian assets in the United States be frozen.

US/Italian Relations: Due to a report that Italian Admiral Alberto Lais, the Naval Attache to the Italian Embassy, has been tied to "the commission by certain persons of acts in violation of the laws of the United States," President Roosevelt demands Admiral Lais' withdrawal. These "acts" were the orders to sabotage Italian ships interned in US waters (and since seized by the US government).

German/Japanese Relations: Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka wrangles a meeting with Adolf Hitler and German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop. Hitler obviously places great priority on Germany's relationship with Japan to schedule the meeting at this time, with preparations for Operation Marita revving into high gear. Germany would "strike without delay" if a Japanese attack on British Asian possessions should cause the United States to declare war on Japan. Note that Hitler continues the Ribbentrop line of urging an attack on Great Britain, but not on the United States.

Matsuoka, for his part, asks that Germany provide Japan, via the Technical Military Commission of the Tripartite Pact, with submarine blueprints and cutting edge U-boat technology. This, Matsuoka says, would be necessary for an attack on Singapore, which is music to Hitler's ears. In addition, Matsuoka adds that Japan would be at war with the United States at some point and that the Japanese intent to attack Singapore should be kept quiet and not mentioned in cables to Tokyo lest it leak out to the Allies, suggesting that the Japanese are beginning to worry that at least some of their communications are being intercepted. Ambassador Oshima is to serve as the conduit of the technical information.

4 April 1941 Naoki Hoshino
Naoki Hoshino.
Japanese Government: Chief Cabinet Secretary Naoki Hoshino, chief of the "Project Department" inside the Finance Ministry, is elevated to the House of Peers. He is replaced by Lieutenant General Teiichi Suzuki, who is named President of the Planning Board and Minister without Portfolio. This is a subtle preparation for war; while it appears that Hoshino is being promoted, in fact, he is being removed at the behest of the military. Hoshino has been warning that, while there is sufficient oil in Japanese storage tanks to tide the military over until the Netherlands East Indies can be seized, that will only be the case if those stocks are carefully managed. Imperial Headquarters now wants someone it trusts - one might say "controls" - in charge of those stocks. Essentially, the Japanese economy now is going on a war footing.

Yugoslavian Government: Deputy Prime Minister Vladko Maček, leader of the Croatian Peasant Party, had been in Zagreb on 27 March. At that time, he had counseled Prince Paul to fight to retain his regency. However, under the new Simović government, his fate had been unclear. Today, Maček decides to accept Simović's request that he continue on as Deputy Prime Minister and arrives in Belgrade. He requires, among other things, that the new government respects the Cvetković–Maček Agreement and affirm the Tripartite Agreement. This all apparently is satisfactory to Simović.

Separately, exiled Croatian politician and Ustaše leader Ante Pavelić, broadcasting from Florence, Italy, uses his Radio Velebit program to call for an uprising against the Yugoslavian government by the pro-German Croatian people.

4 April 1941 University of Chicago
Frank Etherton, a member of the Blackfriars at the University of Chicago, puts on a show as Frankie Etherton in "Typical Miss Campus 1941," April 1941 (University of Chicago Archival Photographic Files).
US Military: The US Navy orders many units transferred from the Pacific to the Atlantic Fleets. These include:
  • Battleship USS Idaho
  • Battleship USS Mississippi
  • Battleship USS New Mexico
  • The aircraft carrier USS Yorktown
  • Light cruiser USS Philadelphia
  • Light cruiser USS Brooklyn
  • Light cruiser USS Savannah
  • Light cruiser USS Nashville
  • Nine destroyers of the 8th and 9th Destroyer Squadrons.
Departing Pearl Harbor within the next 60 days for their new ports in the Atlantic will be the Idaho, Yorktown, Mississippi, New Mexico, Brooklyn, Nashville, Philadelphia, and Savannah, among others.

General George S. Patton, Jr. takes command of the 2nd Armored Division with the temporary rank of Major General.

Swedish Military: Commander-in-chief General Olof Thörnell issues a memorandum recommending participation in a war against the Soviet Union in order, among other reasons, to aid sister nation Finland. This is an interesting position to take, seeing as how Sweden did not help Finland during the Winter War despite repeated pleas from the Finnish government. The real reason is buried in the text, "so that the land war can be held at a distance from our borders."

Canadian Government: Order in Council PC 2385, The Merchant Seamen Order, provides that authorities may detain unruly sailors from all ships in Canadian ports of any nationality.

German Homefront: Ohm Krüger (English: Uncle Krüger) opens. It stars Emil Jannings, winner of the first Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 1929. Ohm Krüger is a biographical treatment of Paul Krüger, President of the Transvaal Free State during the time of the Boer War. As with other wartime films out of Germany, it is full of anti-British themes and pro-German undercurrents. So, Queen Victoria is portrayed as a lush, while Krüger bears obvious character similarities to how the Ministry of Propaganda would like the German public to think of Adolf Hitler. The British as greedy, obsessed with gold, while the Boers are hardworking peasants who only want to work the land. A major theme is how horrible the British concentration camps were. Gisela Uhlen co-stars as Petra Krüger, the strong Aryan wife, and Ferdinand Marian plays Cecil Rhodes. The film concludes with the Boers losing, of course, but also a "hopeful" (and certainly wishful) statement from the Krüger character about how someday things will be set right:
We were just a small and weak folk. Big and powerful folks will stand up against the British tyranny. They will beat England to the ground. God will be with them. Then the way is free for a better world. 

4 April 1941 Sydney Australia film premiere
A parade marking the opening of MGM film "The Power and the Glory" (aka "The Invaders," its re-release title) at the Mayfair Theatre in Sydney, Australia. It features a young Peter Finch, who is lightly injured during a parachute scene at RAAF Camden. Female lead Katrina Roselle, in fact, was an Austrian immigrant who moved to Hollywood after the film's production. The film is financed in large part by the New South Wales government. British freighter Turakina seen in the film becomes a victim of German raider Orion not long after filming, in August 1940, in the first gun battle ever fought in the Tasman Sea. There were 35 deaths.
Australian Homefront: "The Power and the Glory" opens today at the Mayfair Theater. It is an Australian film, written and directed by Noel Monkman, about a Czech scientist who escapes from Occupied Europe to live in Australia. The scientist, Professor Marnelle, has developed a deadly nerve gas that must not be allowed to fall into German hands. Katrin Rosselle, the female lead, is an Austrian who emigrates to the United States around this time. The 9700-ton freighter Turakina seen in the film was sunk for real in August 1940 by a German raider.

British Homefront: The government imposes "double summertime," meaning that the clock moves forward two hours from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) beginning on the first Saturday in May and ending on the second Saturday in August. Otherwise, the time is advanced one hour.

American Homefront: There is a major America's First Committee meeting at the Manhattan Center. The featured speakers are Colonel Charles Lindbergh, author Kathleen Norris, and isolationist Massachusetts Senator David Walsh. Walsh supported James Farley for President in 1940 and runs the key Naval Affairs Committee. The affair is extremely well attended.

As will become a matter of some controversy in the future, it is alleged by some that Walsh at around this time is patronizing a "house of degradation" (male prostitution) in Brooklyn during this time. This "house" in question also is patronized by three foreign agents. However, these charges are never proven and Walsh may, in fact, have nothing to do with it. It is true, though, that many fear Walsh's political views and are looking for any dirt they can find to smear and discredit him. The "homosexual" label is considered extremely toxic during this time and is a favorite weapon used to destroy political careers (as we will see with Sumner Welles). The charges are usually composed of extremely flimsy evidence. They are worth mentioning, however, to illustrate the polarized political climate developing in the United States, of which these America's First rallies are both a beneficiary and a cause.

4 April 1941 Camp Roosevelt
Students learn how to bandage patients at Camp Roosevelt, Ocala, Florida, 4 April 1941 (Charles Foster, Florida Memory).
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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