Wednesday, May 17, 2017

April 25, 1941: Operation Demon

Friday 25 April 1941

25 April 1941 Panzer III Greece
"German Panzer III tanks advance along a railway line in pursuit of retreating British troops in Greece between 25 and 30 April 1941." © IWM (HU 39517).

Operation Marita: Today, 25 April 1941, is Anzac Day, and it marks another failed expedition in the Mediterranean. Allied troops ride south through Athens, having covered 100 miles in 12 hours.

The British evacuation from mainland Greece, Operation Demon, switches into high gear today. Transports from several Greek ports take thousands of British and Commonwealth soldiers to Crete and Egypt. Some 10,200 troops depart through the ports of Nafplio and Megara.

Troopships Thurland Castle and Pennland (once White Star Liner Pittsburgh) depart from Megara, escorted by anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Coventry and several destroyers. The 16,322-ton Red Star Liner Pennland is attacked by the Luftwaffe and badly damaged near San Giorgio Island. There are four deaths, while roughly 350 men are taken off by escorting destroyer Griffin. The Griffin then scuttles Pennland. Thurland Castle also is damaged. Australian destroyers HMAS Waterhen and Vendetta also take off troops. The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks Royal Navy troopship Pittsburgh in the Gulf of Athens, while troopship Ulster Prince sinks in the Aegean.

The Luftwaffe remains active above Greek waters:
Greek yacht Thraki sunk off Myli
Greek freighter Thraki sunk at Porto Heli
1722-ton Greek freighter Sofia sunk off Megara
128-ton Greek coaster Anna Maria sunk off Vostizza
602-ton Greek freighter Marios sunk off Aigio
1570-ton Greek freighter George A. Dracoulis sunk off Chalkis
982-ton Greek freighter Thraki sunk off Port Kheli
Greek Navy torpedo boat Kyzikos sunk off Salamis
1171-ton Greek freighter Dimitrios Nomikos sunk off Karystos, Euboea (later raised by the Germans and repaired)
The German 6th Mountain Division (Generalmajor Ferdinand Schörner) and elements of the 5th Panzer Division advance through the pass at Thermopylae, the defending Australian and New Zealand rearguard troops having withdrawn to Thebes.

25 April 1941 Germans Thermopylae
German troops in Thermopylae Pass, 25 April 1941.
Far to the west, the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH, still of brigade-size) races southward toward the Gulf of Patras. The battle in the west has become a race to the ports of the Peloponnesos which the British are using for Operation Demon (also ports in east Attica). The LSSAH moves along the western foothills of the Pindus Mountains, moving from Arta to Missolonghi. British Commonwealth troops are on the way to the Peloponnesos as well. The Germans drop Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) to seize bridges over the Corinth Canal so that the following Wehrmacht ground troops can use them to continue their pursuit, but British artillery destroys the bridge. This places additional pressure on the LSSAH advance toward Patras.

The RAF has been in retreat for the past week, and today it leaves the mainland entirely. Air Commodore John D'Albiac establishes new headquarters on Crete at Heraklion. King George II of Greece also establishes new headquarters on Crete along with the rest of his government.

The Germans know that the Allies are retreating to Crete. General Kurt Student, commander (and founder) of the Fallschirmjäger, previously has suggested an airborne operation to take Crete, which, with the addition of the Operation Demon evacuees is becoming heavily fortified. Today, Adolf Hitler issues Fuhrer Directive No. 28, "Operation Mercury," which authorizes an invasion of Crete. The operation "will employ for the purpose, primarily, the airborne forces and the air forces stationed in the Mediterranean area," and is to occupy Crete "As a base for air warfare against Great Britain in the Eastern Mediterranean." Hitler cautions that "transport movements must not entail any delay in the mounting of 'Undertaking Barbarossa,'" seemingly directly addressing historians who will conclude that Operation Marita fatally delayed the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Iraq War: The Germans are bemused by the situation in Iraq.  The Germans and Italy agree to provide financial assistance to Iraq's pro-Axis Rashid Ali government but have no other way of assisting them. The Iraqis have assembled troops around the British enclaves such as Habbaniyah airfield and the port of Basra, but show no signs of attacking. The British have occupied Mosul airfield and taken up defensive positions there.

25 April 1941 RAF Grangemouth Hurricanes
"Aircraft of Fighter Command displayed at Grangemouth, Stirlingshire, during a visit by Scottish newspaper correspondents. In the foreground is a Hawker Hurricane Mark I of No. 315 Polish Fighter Squadron RAF based at Speke, Liverpool; in the background a Bristol Blenheim Mark IF of No. 23 Squadron RAF based at Ford, Sussex, while, overhead, three Supermarine Spitfires, flown by the flying instructors of No. 58 Operational Training Unit based at Grangemouth, prepare to give a flying demonstration." 25 April 1941. © IWM (H 9179).
European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command raids coastal targets during the day with 27 aircraft, and Kiel after dark with 69 bombers. The Luftwaffe raids Sunderland with 57 bombers.

Visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies - who plans on returning to Australia in about a week - visits air raid shelters at King's Cross and Old Street. He writes in his diary:
Indescribably pathetic. Malodorous, or rather stuffy. Bunks of wire arranged in tiers of 2 or 3 along the platforms and in the recesses. Canteen arranged. Little children staggering in beneath bundles of bed-clothes. Old women & men, going down to their nightly burial, for this happens every night, and not just when the alert blows. These people are "deep shelter conscious." They are drab, dreary, and look infinitely sad - standing in the queues for their places, for which they have tickets. Squatting on the metal treads of narrow stairs, there to hunch up asleep all night. Stretched out in a bunk, with electric trains swishing and roaring past every few minutes.
Battle of the Atlantic: Hitler has instructed Konteradmiral Karl Dönitz to avoid all provocations with the US Navy. Doenitz duly communicates this to his subordinates today.

U-103 (Kptlt. Viktor Schütze), on its 4th patrol off the coast of West Africa, torpedoes and sinks 2267 ton Norwegian freighter Polyana about 47 miles (76 km) southwest of the Cape Verde Islands. The ship, which had been part of Convoy OG-58 but was detached, sinks within a minute and there are no survivors of the international crew (19 Norwegians, 2 British, one Danish, one Tunisian, one Spanish, one Maltese). Captain Schütze missed with his first torpedo just before midnight on the 24th but the second does hit the freighter at 00:38 on the 25th.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 10,022-ton Norwegian tanker Polarsol about 180 miles off Myrdals Jokull Light, Iceland. The tanker makes it to Kames Bay in tow.

Royal Navy boarding vessel HMS Maron captures a French fishing boat, Joseph Elise, off Casablanca. The British put on board 15 sailors to take the ship to Gibraltar with the original French crew.

U-553 (Korvette Kpt. Karl Thurmann) has engine trouble and returns to base.

The Royal Navy learns that Spanish liner Marques De Commillas is traveling from New York to Spain carrying the Italian Naval Attache to Washington. The Admiralty sends light cruiser HMS Diomede from Bermuda to intercept it.

Convoy HX 123 departs from Halifax, bound for Liverpool.

Royal Navy submarine HMS P-3111 is laid down.

U-413 is laid down.

25 April 1941 John Magee RCAF
"This photo of American airmen, all in the rank of leading aircraftman, was taken at RCAF Uplands, near Ottawa, on April 25, 1941. From left to right: J.G. Magee of Washington, D.C.; A.C. Young of Cleveland, Ohio; C.F. Gallicher of Tulsa, Oklahoma; C.G. Johnston of Chicago, Illinois; A.B. Cleaveland of Springfield, Illinois; and O.N. Leatherman of Lima, Ohio. PHOTO: DND Archives, PL-2753." Source: Royal Canadian Air Force. John Magee is the author of the famous poem, "High Flight," which has become the Air Force's official poem. It begins, "Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth."
Battle of the Mediterranean: The Germans need some breathing room around Tobruk, and the British are determined not to let them have it. The Allies launch attacks all along the Tobruk perimeter that are repulsed, including one in the south at 03:00, a tank sortie at 12:30, an attack against the Italian Brescia Division at 15:15, and another attack in the south at 22:30. British artillery is proving to be quite effective, directed at times by an artillery spotter Lysander plane and outranges some of the Italian artillery.

The Luftwaffe attacks British armor south of Capuzzo, destroying some armored cars. At noon, Gruppe Herff attacks southeast of Capuzzo to try to give the southern German forces more of a cushion between the two Allied lines. The Germans make some progress through Halfaya Pass to Buq Buq at the cost of 7 dead and 10 wounded. British Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell later claims that he allows his forces to withdraw in hopes of inducing the Afrika Korps to become over-extended.

The RAF bombs Derna airfield and town. The last two remaining Hurricanes operating out of Tobruk fly out to Alexandria, where there are only 13 Hurricane fighters. The only RAF plane remaining in Tobruk is a Lysander for artillery spotting.

Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel has been intending to launch a push all along the Tobruk perimeter. However, the "bad experience of the last days" with Italian troops (some recently have surrendered) forces the Germans to focus their attacks using the 5th Light Division and the 15th Panzer Division. The Luftwaffe Fliegerkorps X in Naples is ordered by Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering's headquarters to use air transport to bring 15th Panzer units from Naples to Derna.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Usk disappears on or about this date in the Mediterranean.

Royal Navy submarine HMS Upholder torpedoes and badly damages 5428 ton German/Italian troopship Antoniette Lauro just off Kerkenah, Tunisia. The captain manages to beach the ship in Kerkenah Bay.

The Royal Navy, pursuant to Operations Salient and Dunlop, puts to sea Force H from Gibraltar. Aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal carries aircraft to fly off to Malta.

A convoy departs from Naples bound for Tripoli carrying elements of the 8th Panzerregiment in five ships. The convoy has a heavy Italian escort.

The Luftwaffe builds a new runway at Comiso, Sicily.

25 April 1941 LA Times headline
US Secretary of State Cordell Hull emphasizes the need for US protection of war convoys, 25 April 1941 LA Times.
Battle of the Indian Ocean: German raider Pinguin scores another success, shelling and sinking 6828-ton British freighter Empire of Light north of the Seychelle Islands. The Germans take 70 prisoners.

Japanese destroyer Tanikaze is commissioned.

Spy Stuff: The British codebreakers at Bletchley Park in Operation Ultra learn about the German plans for Operation Hercules, the airborne assault on Crete from Luftwaffe transmissions. Of the three German services, the Luftwaffe is the newest and has the worst security in its radio transmissions. Throughout the war, Luftwaffe intercepts are a major source of British intelligence information, and that includes switching around evacuation beaches in Greece.

US/Greek Relations: Greek resistance has collapsed too quickly for the United States to send any aid, but today President Roosevelt issues a statement saying that the US still intends to send some. The situation in the Balkans has changed extremely rapidly, and it is difficult to keep track of the course of events.

Anglo/US Relations: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sends President Roosevelt a telegram expressing appreciation for the extended Neutrality Patrols ordered in "Navy Western Hemisphere Defence Plan No. 2." He informs the President of the routes of British convoys currently at sea. He also says that he is "not at all discontented with Libya" because Tobruk "is exercising its powerful attractive influence."

25 April 1941 Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey
A performance attended by 5000 people by Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus for patients of Bellevue Hospital, New York City, 25 April 1941 (AP via Yorkvilleonthenet).
German/Finnish Relations: The Germans inform General Heinrichs of the Finnish high command about Operation Barbarossa.

Australian Military: The Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) is established.

German Government: Hitler telephones Foreign Minister Ribbentrop and has him come to his command train Amerika near Graz, Austria. Ribbentrop later recalls:
He said that all the military Intelligence reaching him confirmed that the Soviet Union was preparing in a big way along the entire front from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  He was not willing to be taken by surprise once he had recognized a danger.  Moscow’s pact with the Serbian putschist government was a downright provocation to Germany and a clear departure from the German-Russian treaty of friendship.  In this conversation I recommended that he listen first to our ambassador [to Moscow], Count [Werner von der] Schulenburg.... I wanted to try a diplomatic settlement with Moscow first.  But Hitler refused any such attempt and forbade me to discuss the matter with anybody;  no amount of diplomacy could change the Russian attitude, as he now recognized it, but it might cheat him of the important tactical element of surprise when he attacked.  He requested me to put on a show of complete support for his view, and explained that one day the West would understand why he had rejected the Soviet demands and attacked the East.
Hitler also talks to one of his aides, Colonel Walter Scherff, asking him, "What can you, a war historian, tell me about preventative wars?" Scherff recalls later that he tells Hitler:
Only somebody with the deepest sense of responsibility can take such a decision, and then only after looking at it from every possible angle.  Because he will be risking immense dangers in starting such a war.
Scherff recalls that Hitler states:
Britain will just have to climb down, once we have defeated her last ally on the continent.  If she does not, we shall destroy her, with all the means that we shall have when all Europe as far as the Urals is at our feet.
These sentiments echo those expressed by Hungarian leader Admiral Horthy during his visit on the 24th - that defeating the Soviet Union is the way to defeat Great Britain and end the war in the West.

25 April 1941 Winston Churchill Liverpool
Winston Churchill addressing merchant ship crews in Liverpool, 25 April 1941.
British Government: Churchill visits Liverpool to see bomb damage.

US Government: Reports have been received that the German press has been supportive of Charles Lindbergh's recent America First speech in New York City. President Roosevelt, a firm interventionist, gives an interview about the current domestic controversy over aiding the British in the war against Germany:
There are people in this country ... [who] say out of one side of the mouth, 'No, I don't like it, I don't like dictatorship,' and then out of the other side of the mouth, 'Well, it's going to beat democracy, it's going to defeat democracy, therefore I might just as well accept it.' Now, I don't call that good Americanism ... Well, Vallandigham, as you know, was an appeaser. He wanted to make peace from 1863 on because the North 'couldn't win.' Once upon a time there was a place called Valley Forge and there were an awful lot of appeasers that pleaded with Washington to quit, because he 'couldn't win.' Just because he 'couldn't win.' See what Tom Paine said at that time in favor of Washington keeping on fighting!
The President appears to be comparing supporters of the America First Committee with the Copperheads who opposed the US Civil War. It is a thinly veiled attack on Charles Lindbergh, the leading voice of the America First Committee. Lindbergh reads this and decides to resign his commission in the US Army Air Corps Reserve.

Cambodia: The new king of Cambodia is Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

Spain: There are reports of 2500 German troops prowling the streets of Madrid posing as tourists. This has been a precursor to some German invasions.

Tahiti: The government of Tahiti allies itself with the Free French.

German Homefront: The German government has been critical of alcohol abuse, so German brewers consider making "light beer." The government also is critical of tobacco use, not for health reasons, but for its effect on morale and discipline.

Future History: Bertrand Tavernier is born in Lyon, France. He goes on to become a renowned filmmaker, actor, and director. He will win a BAFTA award in 1990 for "Life and Nothing But." He remains active in the film industry, releasing the documentary "Voyage à travers le cinéma français" in 2016.

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


Monday, May 15, 2017

April 24, 1941: Battle of Thermopylae

Thursday 24 April 1941

24 April 1941 Wehrmacht Zagreb
Wehrmacht Troops enter Zagreb, 24 April 1941 (original caption "Zagreb - Arrival of the Germans - 04/24").
Operation Marita: The Battle of Thermopylae takes place on 24 April 1941 after some initial skirmishes. The Allied ANZAC Corps holds the pass with rearguards, but the orders already have been issued for the complete evacuation of all Operation Lustre forces. General Blamey, the Australian general in charge of the Commonwealth troops, flies to Alexandria.

The British maintain a blocking detachment on the road from Larissa to Athens at the pass composed of the 4th New Zealand Brigade. The 6th New Zealand Brigade holds the east portion of the pass line and the 19th Australian Brigade holds the western sector. The German 6th Mountain Division (Generalmajor Ferdinand Schörner) attacks at 11:30 and attempts to break through the defensive line. The 5th Panzer Division also sends a battlegroup into the pass. New Zealand and Australian troops repulse these attacks, the Wehrmacht losing about 12-15 panzers. After the dark, the ANZAC troops withdraw from the pass toward Thebes, having delayed the panzers for over 24 vital hours.

There are no Greek troops involved in the Battle of Thermopylae despite the fact that the nation of Greece officially has not surrendered, only the army group in the north. This becomes a controversial issue in Greece which echoes down through the years.

Operation Demon, the evacuation of British and Commonwealth troops from mainland Greece, begins. Many ships depart from Suda Bay, Crete bound for ports on mainland Greece. On the first day, about 5200 men, mostly from the 5th New Zealand Brigade, are evacuated from Porto Rafti in East Attica, and another 8000 from Nauplia on the Peloponnese. Other ports being used for evacuations include Megara and Rafina.

The Germans continue pressing against the British line anchored at Thermopylae, but they also are making an end-around run toward the Gulf of Patras. The Greek Army was supposed to protect this sector, but it in effect no longer exists, having surrendered on the 23rd. The 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler ("LSSAH," still of brigade-size) is racing to the southwest from Ioannina, with its ultimate objective seizing ports on the Peloponnesus which the British need for their evacuation.

The Germans also are using the port of Salonika (Thessaloniki) to occupy the islands in the Aegean. These include Samothrace, Lemnos (occupied today by elements of the 164th Division) and Thasos. The Greek garrison on Lemnos puts up a brief fight, then surrenders.

Somewhat belatedly, Bulgaria, under Tsar Boris III, declares war on Yugoslavia and Greece. The Bulgarian Army is in the process of occupying Western Thrace, and much of Macedonia.

At the War Cabinet meeting held in London, visiting Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies "said that he was uneasy as to whether our forces in Greece... would be given sufficient protection from the air." Prime Minister Winston Churchill decides to send a telegram to Middle East Air Marshal Longmore, ordering him "to spare all the aircraft he could for Greece during the immediately critical days." Menzies himself notes darkly in his diary that "I am afraid of a disaster... Better Dunkirk than Poland or Czechoslovakia." He also wonders how anyone could have thought that the Greek expedition had "military merits," something he always argued against.

24 April 1941 Lublin ghetto
The Lublin ghetto, sealed off today.
The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 2269-ton British freighter Cavallo at Nauplia. There is nobody on board, and the ship sinks on the 25th.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 370-ton Royal Navy armed yacht Calanthe at Milos. There are five deaths.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 2083-ton Greek freighter Popi S. at Milos.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 932-ton Greek freighter Pylaros at Galaxeidion.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 379-ton Greek coaster Speitsai off Psathopyrgos, Gulf of Corinth.

The Luftwaffe bombs and badly damages 4810-ton Greek freighter Point Judith off Kythnos Island. Everyone survives, and the ship officially sinks on the 26th.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks Greek torpedo boat Pergamos at Salamis.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 2295-ton Hellas at Piraeus. This is a tragic event, as at the time the Hellas is boarding 500 British civilians and 400 wounded Allied soldiers. The Hellas catches fire and rolls over, claiming the lives of up to 500 people.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 1968-ton Greek freighter Kehrea in the Bay of Frangolimano.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 5528-ton Greek freighter Kyriaki at Suda Bay.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 238-ton Greek coaster Manna at Aedipsos.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 634-ton Greek freighter Petros at Porto Heli. The Germans later salvage it for scrap.

Greek Navy torpedo boat Aigli is scuttled in Saronis Bay.

Greek Navy torpedo boat Alkyoni is scuttled in Vouliagmeni Bay.

Greek Navy torpedo boat Arethousa is scuttled off Varkizy.

Greek Navy contraband chaser A-4 is lost on this date from unknown causes.

The Luftwaffe bombs and badly damages British submarine HMS York, which is alongside beached heavy cruiser York to supply power to its antiaircraft guns. The skipper quickly beaches the submarine, then is towed to Alexandria. Repairs at Bombay take well into 1942.

British troopship Ulster Prince, part of Operation Demon, runs aground at Nauplia. This leads to her eventual destruction because beached ships become tempting targets for the Luftwaffe.

Yugoslav submarine Nebojsca arrives in Suda Bay after escaping from the Germans. It is never put into service.

Convoys AG 14 (six troopships) and AG 15 (six troopships) depart from Alexandria bound for Suda Bay.

24 April 1941 Lisbon barge
Barge "Foz do Douro" moored to the quay of Alcântara dock, Lisbon, 24 April 1941 (unknown author). Lisbon is completely untouched by the ravages of war but is a hotbed of agents from both sides and people fleeing continental Europe.
European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command attacks Kiel with 69 bombers and Le Havre with a dozen bombers. Scattered attacks are made on various coastal targets in Rhubarb missions.

The Luftwaffe sends scattered raiders over the Channel after dark.

Dutch Prince Bernhard becomes an RAF pilot.

East African Campaign: The Indian 29th Infantry Brigade moves toward the Italian redoubt at Amba Alagi.

Battle of the Atlantic: President Roosevelt extends Neutrality Patrols to 26W longitude (the vicinity of Iceland) and as far south as Rio de Janeiro and orders the US Navy to report any movement of German ships west of Iceland. US Rear Admiral Robert Ghormley, President Roosevelt's Special Naval Observer in England, meets with Churchill to discuss joint operations in the Atlantic. Among the topics is the possibility of German bases on the island groups in the Atlantic, including the Canary and Cape Verde Islands. US Navy ships simply transport their sightings in the clear, and the signals invariably are picked up by Royal Navy listeners who can vector in British ships or aircraft.

US Task Force 3 (Rear Admiral Jones H. Ingram), led by light cruisers USS Cincinnati, Memphis, Milwaukee Omaha, departs from Newport, Rhode Island bound for the Caribbean and the Cape Verde Islands.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 5507-ton British freighter Dolius southwest of Montrose. It manages to make port in Leith.

German raider Thor makes port in Cherbourg. It is en route to Hamburg.

Convoy HG 60 departs from Gibraltar bound for Liverpool,

Royal Navy corvette HMS Polyanthus (K 47, Lt. Arthur Hague) is commissioned and submarine Sirdar is laid down.

U-127 and U-567 are commissioned, U-207 and U-504 are launched.

24 April 1941 Australian troops Tobruk
The 2/48th Australian Battalion near Tobruk, 24 April 1941.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Both sides launch attacks on the Tobruk perimeter without major results, but there are some ominous omens for the Axis. The Germans mount a series of coordinated assaults on the Tobruk perimeter, but the daily D.A.K. staff report notes that "Italian troops cannot be relied upon." This is a brewing problem for the Germans, and one of Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel's major tasks is figuring out a way to get effective use out of the Italians. In their defense, the Italians are taking heavy casualties and holding large portions of the perimeter, but they do show an inclination to surrender.

A secret cablegram dated 24 April 1941 reports:
there are about 145,000 prisoners in the Middle East excluding Abyssinia and Eritrea and figures (are) still growing. ((National Archives of Australia NAA: A 433, 1945/2/6098, 1941-1943) ).
While this sounds like a positive, taking care of the vast hordes of Italian prisoners is becoming a major issue for the Allies. Many of these prisoners will wind up in Australia, causing a strain on transport and that country's resources.

At Ras el Medauuar, an Italian battalion attacks at 07:00 and manages to make its way in the perimeter wire, but after a hail of artillery fire, it surrenders. A British report notes sardonically that white flags "appeared to have become standard battle equipment of the Italian infantry at Tobruk." The British take 107 mainly Italian POWs, with the Italians losing about 40 dead. The German 15th Panzer Division then makes an attack in the same area around midday that is supported by about 18 Junkers Ju 87 Stukas, but this also is beaten off. In repelling the Axis attacks, the Australian defenders follow their typical pattern and allow the panzers to approach closely to their positions, then open fire as if in an ambush and send the attackers packing.

The British Army launches its own attack in the Gazala area which is quickly broken off but causes genuine alarm. The Royal Navy assists by bombarding the Capuzzo/Bardia area during the night, with the RAF joining in. The British obviously are building up large tank forces near Bardia and Sollum, with the German high command realizing that loss of those areas "would lead... also to the abandonment of the fight for Tobruk."

The German summary notes that the battle is developing into a "crisis-like situation" that requires "immediate reinforcement" - which the OKH (Army High Command in Berlin) notes is "currently not possible." The Tobruk battle is developing into a classic stalemate.

Churchill sends a telegram in which he continues his veiled attacks on Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell. After making some elementary tactical suggestions - using smoke screens in Tobruk Harbor to protect shipping - he turns to his usual theme of Wavell providing insufficient information about the situation. "We still await news" of recent battles in Libya, he writes, noting "Evidently there was a severe defeat." He continues:
Surely the reports of the survivors should have made it possible to give us a coherent story of this key action. I cannot help you if you do not tell me.... While I recognize the difficulties of giving information of the fighting in Greece set out in your telegram, I cannot feel that the explanation is complete.
He demands that General Henry Maitland Wilson, the commander in Greece, send a "short report" every night setting forth the positions of the troops. Of course, the troops are heading for embarkation ships now and won't be on mainland Greece much longer.

Italian torpedo boat Simone Schiaffino hits a mine and sinks off Cape Bon.

The Luftwaffe continues its heavy raids on Malta. About 30 planes spend an hour over the dockyard area and the airfields at Luqa and Hal Far. Valetta is hammered, and four auxiliary antiaircraft gunners of the 4th Battalion perish when a bomb hits their position. St. Frederic Street takes the most damage, but everyone in the shelters survives after temporarily being trapped under the rubble.

Operation Dunlop, a supply effort to Malta, begins when Force H departs from Gibraltar. HMS Ark Royal carries 22 Hurricane fighters for delivery to Malta. There also is a supply component from Alexandria, led by three battleships escorting fast transport Breconshire. Convoy ME 7 departs from Malta bound for Alexandria.

Battle of the Pacific: American, British, Dutch and Australian representatives continue to meet in Singapore to discuss a joint military strategy in the Pacific.

War Crimes: The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 2068 ton Greek hospital ship Andros off Loutraki, Gulf of Corinth. This is another in a series of Luftwaffe attacks on hospital ships operating off the Greek mainland.

24 April 1941 Short Sunderland
Short Sunderland Mk I, N9023, KG-G of RAF No. 204 Squadron, which hit a hill while returning to base at Skerjafjörður (near Reykjavik), Iceland on 24 April 1941. Of 13 crew, at least one perishes. Searching the Atlantic for U-boats was hazardous work. The issue of Allied aerial patrols is a major topic in transatlantic communications and decisions today. 
Anglo/US Relations: Churchill sends a telegram to President Roosevelt summarizing the war situation. He notes that the U-boats have moved further west, from 22 degrees West to about 30 degrees West, and they seem to be heading even further west. He asks for US aerial reconnaissance in this area. He also asks for a US Navy carrier to conduct aerial patrols in the vicinity of the Cape Verde Island, which Churchill characterizes as "Another area in which we are having considerable trouble." Churchill also says that, should Spain declare war, the Royal Navy immediately will occupy the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands, but requests that US Navy ships conduct a "friendly cruise in the region" in order to scare off any German raiders.

Roosevelt is in agreement with Churchill's requests. US Navy Secretary Frank Knox issues a statement:
We can no longer occupy the immoral and craven position of asking others to make all the sacrifices for this victory which we recognize as so essential to us.
That, however, is US doctrine at the moment, amplified by Lend Lease. He will divert the ships of Task Force 3, which sails today from Newport, Rhode Island bound for the Caribbean, to the Cape Verde Island group.

24 April 1941 Red Cross receipt
Receipt for an American Red Cross package, signed by a POW at Stalag VIII-A in Germany, dated 24 April 1941. Many of these will be issued in the coming years.
German/Soviet Relations: The German Naval Attaché in Moscow reports to Berlin that the British know about the plans for Operation Barbarossa. The only thing they don't know is the exact date of the invasion - which is not surprising since the Germans have not yet set a date. Hitler, meanwhile, still has not made his "final, final" decision to mount Operation Barbarossa, but his meeting today with Admiral Horthy goes a long way in that direction.

German/Hungarian Relations: Admiral Horthy, Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary, lunches with Adolf Hitler at the Fuehrer's command train Amerika near Graz, Austria. This is their first meeting since 1938 when Horthy in effect agreed to participate in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Horthy, as he has in previous correspondence, warns against attempting to invade Great Britain, but enthusiastically argues that by seizing "Russia's inexhaustible riches," Germany can "hold out forever." Walther Hewel writes in his diary that Horthy "talked and talked" during the luncheon, which is unusual because Hitler usually launches into extended monologues with other leaders.

This meeting seems to clarify Hitler's own mind about invading the Soviet Union, or at least allay any of his underlying concerns about Germany's ability to prevail. After today, Operation Barbarossa becomes much more likely to happen. It may be that Hitler' feels that Hungarian military might would seal the deal, but Horthy's influence may be much more subtle: Hitler always has a great deal of respect for foreign leaders of stature and their assessments.

The Admiral tries to work a deal in which Hungary is granted large territorial concessions at Romanian expense - the whole of Transylvania - in exchange for its participation in upcoming Operation Barbarossa (which Horthy fervently advocates). Hitler knows that Hungarian / Romanian relations are a potentially explosive issue, refuses to commit to Hungary taking the whole of Transylvania at Romania's expense. Horthy takes this in stride. As a result of the meeting, Hitler and Horthy maintain their collaborative relationship, with Hungary benefiting directly from Hitler's conquests while trying to keep its own hands as clean as possible. The issue of Hungarian military participation in the Soviet Union remains up in the air, but relations between the two leaders remain excellent.

24 April 1941 Judy Garland
Judy Garland on 24 April 1941. This was a publicity shot to promote Judy's film "Life Begins for Andy Hardy" and "Babes on Broadway" (both of which, coincidentally, co-star Mickey Rooney) (MGM, Eric Carpenter). 
German/Croatian Relations: German Colonel Lahousen of the Abwehr (German military intelligence) meets with Croatian War Minister General Kvaternik. Kvaternik expresses open hatred for the Italians, reflecting a general sentiment within Croatia, but agrees to Italian annexation of the Dalmatian coastal area. Already, reports are surfacing of insensitive Italian actions in the region.

British Military: Churchill decides to hold regular meetings to discuss issues of the Army's tank and anti-tank weaponry. He characterizes these meetings as a "tank parliament." Among the topics covered will be the organization of Armoured Divisions.

US Military: The Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant in Detroit, Michigan delivers its first M3 medium tank to the US Army. The M3 has a 75mm main gun in a sponson mount, not an optimal arrangement because American manufacturers are not at this time capable of creating turrets large enough to handle the gun. The Germans at this time are up-gunning their Panzer IIIs and IVs to handle similar guns at Hitler's personal insistence but in normal turrets. The M3 continues the American pattern of tall and roomy tanks which the crews like - until they have to go into battle in such an exposed target. It is fair to argue that the M3 already is outclassed by tanks in Europe, but this is a controversial topic and, on the other hand, American engineering is very solid and the tanks reliable. Many of these M3s will be sent to Great Britain with different turrets and be called Grants, serving capably in the major battles in North Africa.

British Government: Late in the day, Churchill sets out on a tour of Liverpool and Manchester.

Sweden: Poet/novelist Karin Maria Boye, age 40, passes away in an apparent suicide on or about this date. She chooses a spot next to a boulder on a hill with a view near Alingsås, near Bolltorpsvägen. The boulder is made into a memorial dedicated to her.

24 April 1941 King Sisowath Monivong Cambodia
HM Sisowath Monivong (27 December 1875 to 24 April 1941) leaving the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia: King Sisowath Monivong (27 December 1875 to 24 April 1941) of Cambodia passes away.

Holocaust: The Germans seal off the Lublin ghetto. There are 30,000 people inside, all prohibited from leaving without special work passes.

An accountant in Warsaw, Chaim Hasenfus, recalls in his diary walking innocently along Walicowa Street in the Warsaw Ghetto today when a German soldier hits him on the head with a rubber nightstick and orders him and several other Jews to load gravel on a truck. The diary entries stop soon after this and his fate is unknown.

American Homefront: Columbia Pictures releases "Penny Serenade." Produced and directed by George Stevens and starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, "Penny Serenade" is another in a series of 1941 Hollywood films exploring issues within marriages - a theme which seems to reflect the troubled international situation and the divisions that it is causing within the United States. The film begins with Dunne's character stating that her marriage is over, and the remainder of the film addresses how that issue resolves. Cary Grant is nominated for an Academy Award, but Gary Cooper wins it for "Sergeant York." The film strikes a chord, and radio dramatizations are produced throughout the war, with a television adaptation broadcast in January 1955.

There is another major air defense drill in New York City. Air defense officials maintain a plotting board in Manhattan that directs interceptors based at Mitchell Field, Long Island.

Painter George de Forest Brush passes away.

Future History: John Christopher Williams is born in Melbourne, Australia. He is taught guitar by his English father, then studies with Andrés Segovia in Siena, Italy in the early 1950s. John Williams goes on to become a renowned classical guitar player, and as of this writing remains active.

Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke is born in New York City. He goes on to become the only person to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for two different regions of the world: Asia from 1977 to 1981 and Europe from 1994 to 1996. Holbrooke last served as the United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan during 2009-2010. Richard Holbrooke passed away on 13 December 2010.

24 April 1941 Rapp-Coudert Committee
Pictured on 24 April 1941 are nine of the 11 City College of New York teachers suspended by the Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate the Educational System of the State of New York aka the "Rapp-Coudert Committee." This committee aims to stem the influence of communist influences in New York schools. The suspension of these teachers has led to student protests (Daily Worker via CUNY.EDU).

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


Friday, May 12, 2017

April 23, 1941: CAM Ships

Wednesday 23 April 1941

23 April 1941 Greek battleship Kilkis
Greek battleship Kilkis, sunk by the Luftwaffe on 23 April 1941.
Operation Marita: With Adolf Hitler having placated Benito Mussolini by agreeing to modifications of various Greek surrender terms, Germany, Italy and Greece sign documents by which the Greek Epirus Army surrenders. The ceremony takes place at 14:45 on 23 April 1941 at Salonika (Thessaloniki), and Hitler wants the news announced then - but Mussolini has his Rome news service broadcast the news at 10:00:
The enemy armies of Epirus and Macedonia have laid down their arms.  The surrender was tendered by a Greek military delegation yesterday at 9:04 P.M. to the commander of the Italian Eleventh Army on the Epirus front.  The details of the surrender will now be worked out in complete agreement with our German allies.
Among other things, Hitler agrees to grant Italy dominion over the new "Independent State of Croatia" despite vociferous opposition from the locals there. However, Hitler retains German control over Serbia, and Foreign Minister Ribbentrop appoints Luftwaffe General Helmut Forster as the new military governor there.

Greek General Papagos, who now has virtually no troops left under his command, resigns.

The Germans have concentrated forces in the vicinity of Ioannina, placed there to prevent any escape by the Greek Epirus Army. With that no longer an issue, the Wehrmacht troops (led by the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, currently of brigade strength) head toward the Ionian coast. Their plan is to block any British evacuation attempts from the Peloponnese, with landings near Corinth by fallschirmjäger (paratroopers). The Bulgarian 2nd Army moves into Thrace.

The British are gearing up for Operation Demon, the evacuation of British troops from the Greek mainland. Some A-lighters arrive off the coast, and the Luftwaffe promptly bombs and damages lighter A.1 off the coast at Megara, causing the crew to scuttle it. Another lighter, A-6, is damaged off Raphtis.

The Luftwaffe continues its depredations against merchant shipping in Greek waters. It sinks the following Greek ships:
  • 4665-ton Santa Clara Valley (British), in Nauplia Bay, 7 dead
  • 722-ton Assimi at Krioneri
  • 372-ton Elvira at Chalkis
  • 2398-ton Katerina at Methana
  • 1461-ton Kerkyra off Salamis
  • 223-ton Kyma in Patras Harbor
  • 1839-ton Macedonia north of Patras (some sources place this on the 22nd)
  • 625-ton Nicolaos Nomicos north of Patras (later refloated and scrapped by the Germans)
  • 4108-ton Nicolaou Georgios at Nauplia
  • 385-ton Stathis at Megara
  • 231-ton Hydra at Megara
  • 273-ton Athina S. at Psathopirgos (later raised)
  • 1028-ton Kriti at Antirion (later raised by the Italians) 
Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 87 Stukas also bomb and sink two obsolete Greek battleships, Kilkis and Lemnos, at Salamis Naval Base. The Kilkis and Lemnos are both Mississippi-class dreadnoughts originally built for the US Navy in 1904-08 that are being used as barracks ships. The Greeks begin scuttling their warships, starting with torpedo boat Doris at Porto Rafti.

The RAF is taking a beating in Greece. A Luftwaffe attack on Argos destroys numerous Hurricane fighters on the ground (some sources say up to 13 planes).

Departing King George II, now in Crete, orders that his wine cellar be opened and the bottles given to Allied soldiers. Each enlisted man will receive one bottle, and each officer two.

23 April 1941 Des Moines Register
The Luftwaffe attacks in Greek waters are echoing across the Atlantic.
Iraq War: Tensions remain high. Iraqi leader Rashid Ali again asks Germany to send aid, which can only come by air. However, there are immense logistical problems that must be overcome before the Luftwaffe can even attempt a mission to Iraq, not least of which is that the British control the major airfields.

European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command sends 37 aircraft to attack coastal targets in France and points north during the day. It also raids the port of Brest during the night with 67 planes and sends 14 planes on minelaying operations.

The Luftwaffe continues the "Plymouth Blitz." Tonight, it sends 109 bombers to continue their attacks on the heart of the city.

Luftwaffe ace Hermann-Friedrich Joppien of JG 51, who recently scored his 40th victory against the RAF (and was mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht), becomes the 11th officer or soldier of the Wehrmacht honored with the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). He travels to Adolf Hitler's command train Amerika in Austria to receive the medal at the hand of the Fuehrer.

23 April 1941 Greek battleships Kilkis Lemnos
This photo was taken from a Luftwaffe plane of the attack on Greek battleship Lemnos (with splash) and Kilkis (at the pier in the middle of photo).
Battle of the Atlantic: The War Cabinet, Battle of the Atlantic Committee reviews the Royal Navy's progress in fitting out merchant ships with catapult aircraft. These ships are known at first as Fighter Catapult Ships (FCS), and later as Catapult Aircraft Merchant Ships (CAM ships). They typically launch a converted Hawker Hurricane (Sea Hurricane) from a catapult at the bow. The Admiralty finds that one such ship will be completed by the end of the month, with another 8 during May, 11 in June and 6 in July. The first 10 such ships will be assigned to continuous patrolling within the "danger area" to the west of the British Isles.

23 April 1941 CAM ship
A CAM ship at Algiers, 1942-43. It carries a Hawker Sea Hurricane Mark I, W9182. The Sea Hurricanes were one-use-only planes, as they did not have pontoons and had to be ditched at sea after a sortie (Wikimedia Commons).
German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen is passing through the Fehmarn Belt en route to Kiel when it detonates a magnetic mine dropped by the RAF. This causes damage to the stern of the ship, including the fuel tank, fire control equipment, and propeller shaft couplings. Prinze Eugen is scheduled for a sortie into the Atlantic with battleship Bismarck, but this incident forces a delay in that operation while repairs to the cruiser are completed. The repairs will take until 11 May 1941.

German raider Thor arrives back at Hamburg, Germany after its 322-day raiding mission. During that mission, Thor sank 11 merchant ships and a British armed merchant cruiser. It also confounded the Royal Navy and kept it searching fruitlessly throughout the South Atlantic without success.

The Kriegsmarine overseas supply network remains intact. Today, German tanker Nordmark supplies Italian submarine Perla, which has been making an arduous journey from Eritrea to France. The Perla is not built for such lengthy cruises, and its sailors have been suffering from lack of supplies for some time.

Convoy OB 314 departs from Liverpool.

23 April 1941 Greek battleship Kilkis
Luftwaffe bombs exploding around Greek battleship Kilkis on 23 April 1941.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Following urgings by Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell appoints Australian General Thomas Blamey the Deputy Commander-in-chief, Middle East.

The war in the air over Tobruk is intense, and the Luftwaffe gradually is achieving complete air superiority. Today, German pilots shoot down a Blenheim bomber that is attacking Gazala airfield. The Luftwaffe attacks Tobruk twice, losing two fighters. The RAF force there is not being reinforced, and each loss causes a permanent diminution in its capabilities over the port. RAF losses today are unclear, with different sources placing them at somewhere between 1-7 planes.

Hans-Joachim Marseille scores his 8th kill, a British Hurricane II fighter, over Tobruk. Later in the day, his plane is disabled and he makes a forced landing in German-held territory.

The British 11 Hussars mount a tank raid against German transport in the Fort Capuzzo region. While not resulting in much, the raid reinforces jitters at the Afrika Korps headquarters regarding British attempts to relieve the Australians trapped in Tobruk. The Italian Brescia Division arrives in the operational zone around Tobruk to reinforce the besiegers.

At the OKH headquarters at Zossen, worries about the course of operations in Libya are mounting. Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel has shown a propensity to "dash about" contrary to any orders, and now is requesting additional troops and air cover. OKH Chief-of-Staff General Franz Halder decides to send one of his staff officers, General Friedrich Paulus, to Libya to "correct matters which had got out of hand." General von Manstein turns down the assignment, calling Rommel a "lunatic" and noting that Paulus has a personal friendship with Rommel. Paulus later recalls that he is offered command of the Afrika Korps at this time, but he turns it down because, as his wife counsels, it would be impossible for a general to earn a reputation in North Africa. Instead, he prefers to wait for a command in Operation Barbarossa.

The Luftwaffe also is in action off the Tripoli coast. It bombs corvette HMS Gloxinia, causing some damage from near misses.

Royal Navy destroyers HMS Jaguar, Janus, Jervis, and Juno have been on patrol off the Libyan coast since the 21st. Today, they chance upon 3311-ton Italian armed merchant cruiser Egeo about 150 km off Tripoli and sink it. Fortunately for the Axis, the Egeo is not carrying any troops or freight. The British destroyers fail to notice a large Axis convoy nearby bringing troops to the Afrika Korps, which passes by safely.

At Malta, the Luftwaffe raids continue. The RAF loses a Hurricane during a dogfight off Dellmara, with the pilot making a safe landing in the ocean. A rescue launch is not sent out immediately due to continued enemy air action, and by the time it reaches the vicinity, it cannot find Canadian Flying Officer Henri F Auger, who disappears.

Italian warships lay minefields off Cape Bon, Tunisia. British convoys between Gibraltar and Alexandria have to pass by this promontory.

23 April 1941 Greek surrender Salonika
The "official" Greek surrender on 23 April 1941 in Salonika. Generals Tsolakaglou, Jodl and Ferrero sign for their respective government. 
War Crimes: The Luftwaffe attacks on hospital ships in the Aegean continue. Today, the Germans bomb and sink 875-ton Greek hospital ship Policos at Methana.

Spy Stuff: The "Lucy" spy ring centered in Prague sends Soviet leader Joseph Stalin more warnings about an imminent German attack. As with all the other previous warnings, Stalin discounts this as British propaganda.

Greek/Bulgarian Relations: The Greeks break diplomatic relations with Bulgaria due to the Bulgarian troop movement into Macedonia.

German/Bulgarian Relations: Germany agrees to transfer captured French tanks to the Bulgarian army.

British Military: In a memo to Secretary of State for War David Margeson, Prime Minister Winston Churchill notes that there are "persistent rumors" that the German panzers are being upgraded:
[T]he Germans are constructing tanks with very thick armour - figures of 4"-6" are mentioned. Such armour would be impervious to any existing anti-tank gun or indeed any mobile gun; the tracks and other vulnerable parts are very small targets.
Churchill suggests using plastic explosives against such tanks. In fact, the Germans are not at this time building such tanks, though they are upgrading the main guns on their existing Panzer IIIs and IVs.

British Government: Princess Elizabeth - future Queen Elizabeth II - thanks Churchill "for the lovely roses you sent me on my birthday." If there is one thing that Churchill knows how to do better than anyone else, it is to schmooze with the royals.

Australian Government: Prime Minister Robert Menzies, still visiting in London, notes in his diary that he makes a broadcast today to Australia to "stop the rot." There is a loud minority in Australia who are dissatisfied with Australian involvement in the war, or at least with the state of the country's readiness for the conflict.

23 April 1941 Fiesta San Antonio
At the Fiesta San Antonio, the Magnolia Petroleum Company float features girls seated around the company’s Pegasus logo. April 23, 1941. (San Antonio Light Photograph Collection, MS 359: L-2738-P).
US Government: Senator Harry Truman takes his Committee investigating fraud and waste in military procurement to Camp Meade, Maryland. He derides the Army's "fantastically poor judgment" in selecting this particular site for a military base and also assails inefficient procurement practices such as leasing vehicles instead of purchasing them.

Holocaust: At Auschwitz, the Germans decide to punish the inmates for an escape attempt. They select 10 prisoners to starve to death in retaliation.

American Homefront: Charles Lindbergh gives an America First speech in New York City before 30,000 attendees. It is the first such rally in New York, which is the heart of President Roosevelt's political base. He argues that "War is not inevitable for this country" but notes that "it is now obvious that England is losing the war." Because of that, he warns that the British:
have one last desperate plan remaining. They hope that they may be able to persuade us to send another American Expeditionary Force to Europe and to share with England militarily as well as financially the fiasco of this war.
As with all of Lindbergh's speeches, this one receives a great deal of publicity and stirs debate throughout the country. The Gallup organization releases a poll today which gives survey results to the following question:
If it appears certain that Britain will be defeated unless we use part of our navy to protect ships going to Britain, would you favor or oppose such convoys?
The results show that 71% approve, 21% are opposed and 8 have no opinion. However, other recent surveys have shown similar majorities as opposed to direct US military involvement.

23 April 1941 City College NYC student protest
Students protest at City College and Hunter College (right) on 23 April 1941. They are protesting the suspension of faculty members who support the Peace Assembly Committee, a sister organization to the America First Committee (Published in the Daily Worker via City College).

April 1941

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


Thursday, May 11, 2017

April 22, 1941: Pancevo Massacre

Tuesday 22 April 1941

22 April 1941 Pancevo Massacre
German executions in Pancevo, Serbia. These are usually identified as killings of civilians. There also is an argument that these are partisans. 22 April 1941 (Photographer: Gerhard Gronefeld).
Operation Marita: The Greek government, including King George, departs from Greece on 22 April 1941 aboard Greek destroyer Vasilissa Olga, bound for Suda Bay. The Germans begin absorbing their conquests in the Balkans by creating the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia.

The Italians remain violently upset that they have been excluded from the surrender of Greek forces in Albania. In fact, they open an offensive on the Epirus front, where the Greeks fight back and, following the established pattern, give little ground and inflict heavy casualties on the Italian attackers.

Hitler - conflicted between his roles of military warlord and statesman - tries to placate Mussolini. He has his military headquarters (OKW) rush a draft of the surrender terms to Rome to "keep Italy in the loop." Mussolini, however, loudly proclaims that Italy could have defeated Greece by itself and demands to be included in the setting of any surrender terms. After looking over the OKW agreement, he objects to provisions allowing Greek officers to keep their sidearms because they have humiliated the Italian troops. The Germans - meaning Hitler - reject Mussolini's quibbles on that one score, but basically give him everything else that he wants. This includes handing over the entire Yugoslav and Greek navies to Italy (which admittedly are not that large).

22 April 1941 Pancevo Massacre
Victims of the Pancevo Massacre being marched to their executions.
A surrender conference begins late in the day at Salonika (Thessaloniki). The Germans agree to an Italian demand that Axis troops stage a ceremonial entry into Athens with German and Italian troops marching side-by-side. The Italians - meaning Mussolini - also demand that the Greeks offer to surrender to them on the Epirus front before they will sign any surrender documents. The Germans are uncertain how to respond to this - Hitler briefly considers letting the Italians fight on - but the Greeks agree to surrender to Mussolini's generals as well as the German ones.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sends a message to Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell telling him, regarding the evacuation from Greece:
In the execution of this policy you will no doubt not worry about vehicles or stores, but get the men away. We can re-arm them later.
The main problem for the Allied troops in Greece is that their left flank was supposed to be defended by Greek troops, but the Greek Army for all intents and purposes has been prevented from doing that. The campaign is turning into a race for the ports that the British can use to evacuate their troops, with the Germans hurrying toward the Gulf of Patras in order to cross over to the Peloponnese and shut off escape routes there.

The New Zealand 4th Infantry Brigade begins the withdrawals from the Thermopylae Line. The British 1st Armoured Brigade also heads south towards Athens. The RAF withdraws its last fighters from Athens to a base at Argos further south.

22 April 1941 Pancevo Massacre
Another view of the Pancevo Massacre of 21-22 April 1941.
The Luftwaffe engages in major raids throughout the Aegean against Allied shipping and sinks numerous ships throughout the region, almost all Greek ships. With the Wehrmacht grinding forward on the mainland, the Luftwaffe aims to cut off the British escape route to Crete and Alexandria.

The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks:
  • Greek destroyer Hydra off the island of Lagousa in the Saronic Gulf (42 deaths, including Commander Th. Pezopoulos)
  • 968-ton Greek freighter Athinai in Itea Harbor
  • 223-ton Greek freighter Avlis in Raphina
  • 4514-ton British freighter Aghios Markos off Salamis Island
  • 1361-ton Greek freighter Frinton at Megal Lefko
  • Greek torpedo boat Thyella in Vouliagmeni Bay
  • Greek torpedo boat Kios in the Gulf of Athens
  • 637-ton Greek freighter Ioannis Nomicos off Rhion, Gulf of Corinth
  • 2171-ton Greek freighter Pancration off Milos
  • 657-ton Greek tanker Thedol 2 off Antikyra, Gulf of Corinth
  • 1511-ton Greek freighter Thraki off Sombraina, Gulf of Corinth
  • 1566-ton Greek freighter Thassos off Megara
  • 985-ton Greek freighter Messarya Nomikou at Nafpactos (later raised by the Germans)
  • 315-ton Greek freighter Sifnos at Suda Bay (later raised by the Germans) 
  • British yacht Sea Serpent off Syros
There also are several ships damaged.

22 April 1941 Luftwaffe attack
Greek freighter "Macedonia" being bombed and sunk by Junkers Ju 87 dive bombers at Spilia Phocidos (George Karelas, via ww2wrecks).
The Luftwaffe bombs and damages two Royal Navy ships, cruiser HMS York and net layer Protector, at Suda Bay. The two ships are hit while attending to beached heavy cruiser York (being used for antiaircraft defense). A lighter (A.16) is lost as a result of this bombing.

The Luftwaffe bombs and near-misses 1054-ton Greek tanker Theodora off Antikyra, Gulf of Corinth. There are twelve deaths. The Theodora is moored next to tanker Thedol 2 and catches fire from the burning Thedol 2, causing the Theodora to sink also.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages Greek destroyer Leon in Suda Bay, Crete.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 2747-ton Greek freighter Teti in the Gulf of Corinth. The master beaches it to prevent sinking.

Yugoslavian torpedo boats Kajmakcalan and Durmitor make it to Suda Bay.

Yugoslavian 4294-ton freighter Serafin Topic is interned at Oran, Algeria for use by the Italians.

The Italians seize 5387-ton Yugoslavian freighter Tomislav in Shanghai. The Italians rename it Venezia Giulia for their own use.

Convoy AG 13 departs from Alexandria bound for Suda Bay. This is the genesis of Operation Demon, the evacuation of British forces from Greece, though that operation technically does not begin for another couple of days. The ships of Convoy AG 13 will take off some of the British troops on the mainland.

Convoy ANF 29 departs from Alexandria bound for Suda Bay.

22 April 1941 Pancevo Massacre
Another view of the executions on 22 April 1941 in Pancevo, Serbia. This is a still from a color film taken by Gottfried Kessel of the Gross Deutschland Regiment's film squad.
Iraq War: Tensions are simmering in Iraq. The British hold several bases, including the port of Basra and the airfield at Habbaniyah, while the pro-Axis government of Rashid Ali controls the rest of the country. The Iraqis surround the British base at Habbaniyah. They also cut some oil pipelines. As yet, despite demands from both sides to the other to abandon their positions, there has been no fighting.

European Air Operations: The Plymouth Blitz continues with another classic Luftwaffe all-night raid. This continues the devastation of the center of town. A direct hit on a communal air-raid shelter at Portland Square kills 72 people inside. The raid damages three Royal Navy ships in drydock at the Devonport facility:
  • cruiser Kent
  • destroyer Lewes
  • destroyer Leeds
KG 55, which carries out the raid, loses two bombers.

Churchill sends Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal a memorandum noting that the US will soon "bombard" (not perhaps the aptest word choice) the RAF with a "very great mass of aircraft." He suggests that Portal "start another 10 Squadrons and cut into this surplus of Spitfires and Hurricanes." As he concedes in the memo, however, the real bottleneck for the RAF's expansion is not planes - it is a lack of pilots.

During the day, RAF Bomber Command sends 14 planes on coastal sweeps off southern Norway. After dark, RAF Bomber Command raids Brest with 26 aircraft.

East African Campaign: The 1st South African Brigade troops in Abyssinia Take Camboicia Pass. They make 1200 Italian troops (mainly natives) as prisoners. This is a major step on the road to Dessie, one of the main Italian strongholds in the country.

22 April 1941 Pancevo Massacre
Victims of the Pancevo Massacre, 22 April 1941.
Battle of the Atlantic: The Luftwaffe bombs and sinks 364-ton salvage ship Miss Elaine at Plymouth. Miss Elaine is later raised and repaired.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 5225-ton British freighter Antonio off Tyne. The ship makes it to Shields in tow.

The Luftwaffe bombs and damages 391-ton British freighter Croham at Peterhead.

British 87-ton steam barge Coronation of Leeds hits a mine and sinks off Thames Haven. All three men on board perish. Part of the barge is later salvaged.

German 551-ton freighter Obra hits a mine and sinks off Greifswald.

Convoy OB 313 departs from Liverpool.

Royal Navy anti-submarine warfare trawler HMS Tango (T 146, Lt. John Hunter) is commissioned.

Australian minesweeper HMAS Geelong is launched.

U-611 is laid down.

US destroyer USS Wilkes (DD 441, Lt. Commander John D. Kelsey) is commissioned.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Churchill sends a message to Middle East Commander General Archibald Wavell in which he confirms that the Royal Navy will deliver "307 of our best tanks through the Mediterranean... around May 10." This is Operation Tiger. Churchill notes that "99 are cruisers Mark IV and Mark VI... and 180 I tanks." He asks for a "plan for bringing these vehicles into action at the very earliest moment" and adds, hopefully:
If this consignment gets through the hazards of the passage, which, of course, cannot be guaranteed, the boot will be on the other leg and no German should remain in Cyrenaica by the end of the month of June.
Of course, the Germans continue to reinforce their troops in Libya, too, with elements of several units of Infantry Regiment 19 arriving. An arms race is developing in North Africa with a very uncertain outcome.

Churchill also memos CIGS Sir John Dill, stating that it is the War Office's estimation that the British/Australian Tobruk defenders "are four or five times as strong as the besiegers," adding somewhat characteristically that "some of them are Italians." The War Office estimates that there are 4500 Axis troops besieging Tobruk.

Visiting Australian Prime Minister Menzies notes in his diary that "Bombardment of Tripoli not, I think, a great success, but some damage done."

Skirmishing continues on the Tobruk perimeter, with the Allied troops focusing on the Italian troops. At dawn, the British send armored vehicles against the 5th Light Division. Australian soldiers of the 2/48th Battalion, including three tanks and 25-pounder artillery, mount a raid southwest of Ras el Medauar. The Fabris detachment holding a hillock there loses 370 men as prisoners and 2-4 guns. A company of the 2/23rd Battalion advance toward Derna and takes about 100 prisoners of the Italian 27th Infantry Division "Brescia." The German war units note, "The Italians are surrendering."

The Luftwaffe bombards Tobruk with about 30 Junkers Ju 87 Stukas.

Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel (who is awarded the Gold Medal of Military Valor in Silver today) drives to Acroma to assess the situation. He orders the Italian Trento Division to take over for the mauled Fabris detachment. The report notes (apparently based on Rommel's inspection) that the Italian troops simply abandoned their guns and other equipment "undamaged" when surrendering and did not even take out their breechblocks. It is standard procedure in all armies to disable artillery when abandoning it to take out the breechblocks.

Rommel continues to assemble his forces for a massive set-piece battle to take Tobruk. The 15th Panzer Division continues to assemble in Tripoli, and the Allied attempts to break out of Tobruk give him a sense of urgency to move his troops across Libya for that purpose.

Australian Private Ron Daniels, the gunner on a Bren-gun carrier, continues firing after his commander, Sergeant Len Batty, is wounded during one of the morning skirmishes. Daniels himself also is wounded and receives the Military Medal for his heroism.

Around 20:30, the Luftwaffe sends a very large air raid after dark on Valletta, the surrounding area, and RAF airfields. The attack destroys 40 homes and kills about six people. The attack is very professional, with pathfinders dropping flares on a moonless night. The Luftwaffe escapes without loss.

22 April 1941 Pancevo Massacre
Victims of the Pancevo Massacre, 22 April 1941.
War of the Pacific: The ABD Conference continues in Singapore to develop a coordinated plan in case of Japanese attacks. Participating are military officials from Great Britain, the Netherlands (who control powerful naval forces in the Dutch East Indies) and the United States. The British are nonplussed by the low-level participants that the United States has sent.

War Crimes: The Luftwaffe (Junkers Ju 87 Stukas) bombs and holes British hospital ship Vita off Tobruk. The ship sinks after destroyer HMAS Waterhen takes off 486 people (including 6 nurses).

The Luftwaffe also bombs and sinks 1134 ton Greek hospital ship Sokratis off Antikyra, Gulf of Corinth.

What happened at Pancevo, Serbia today is extremely murky and controversial. A few facts seem ascertainable:
  • 18 people were shot, apparently at the Orthodox Cemetery
  • 18 people were hanged, allegedly by ethnic German civilians
Why exactly half were hung and the others shot is unclear.

The names of those hung: Milanović Milan, Milivojevic Milutin, Cadik Jacob, Koceš Franja, Caran Milorad, Azick Pera, Mirđić George, Žestić Vladimir, Maxine Jovan, Topolovački Alexander, Skovran Mirko Ristic, Ljubomir Jeftic Milenko, Adamović Jovan Stojkov Dusan, Radak Kosta, Cosic Taja, Šiškulović Darinka (all from Pancevo, except for Milivojevic, who was from Omoljica near Pancevo).

The names of those shot: Humanović Tihomir, Grobanović Ivan, Tešanović Gojko, Pantelić Sava, Hadžić Dušan, Grujuć Đura, Haker Šandor, Markov Toma, Perić Steva, Crni Đura, Novak Marijan, Milenković Dragutin, Nedić Pera, Dimković Tihomir, Atanacković Draga, Atanacković Radivoj, Avramov Vasa, Pinter Stevan (All from Pancevo).

Beyond that, historians disagree. The incident was meticulously documented by filmmaker Gottfried Kessel of the Grossdeutschland Division and photographer Gerhard Gronefeld.

Some claim that it was pure butchery by the Germans.

Others claim that the Germans executed armed partisans after a lawful (if extremely brief) trial presided over by an SS man, SS-Sturmbannführer Rudolf Hoffmann of the SS Das Reich Division. Allegedly, the partisans had been firing on the Wehrmacht soldiers and were executed according to the norms of international law.

Drawing any firm conclusions as to guilt or legality is impossible. Going beyond these sketchy facts is dangerous and involves assumptions. The only firm conclusion is that the incident happened, and about 36 people died by hanging or firing squad.

There are streets named after two of the people killed, Vladimir Žestić and Jovan Maksin. Otherwise, the massacre has received little notice, then or now. A perfunctory German investigation after the war by state attorneys in Munich and Darmstadt allegedly was closed without any charges being brought. Beyond that, everything is speculation or disputed evidence. But... something bad happened in Pancevo.

German/Soviet Relations: The Soviets lodge a diplomatic protest with Germany over German overflights of Soviet territory. They complain that there have been 80 such incidents during the period 27 March 1941 - 18 April 1941. Among the proofs offered are a downed Luftwaffe reconnaissance plane complete with maps of the Soviet Union and rolls of exposed film.

US Military: Congress raises the authorized enlisted strength of the US Navy and Marine Corps. The Navy is allocated 232,000 men, with the Marine Corps strength set at 1/5 of the Navy's complement.

22 April 1941 Greek destroyer Hydra
Greek destroyer Hydra, sunk today by the Luftwaffe.
German Military: Admiral Erich Raeder meets with Adolf Hitler to discuss provocative US Navy conduct.

Australian Government: In his diary entry for 22 April 1941, Australian PM Menzies refers cryptically to "malcontents" back home in Australia. Churchill calls Menzies and remonstrates with him about negative press commentary about the war situation emanating from Australia. Some politicians there in Menzies' own party are upset that he is spending so much time in Britain.

Japanese Government: Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka returns to Tokyo, completing his productive journey to Europe. He states:
We should not confuse deliberation with procrastination just as the Tripartite Pact does not affect the relations of the Three Powers vis the Soviets so that the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact and the declaration do not affect in the least the Tripartite Pact which remains the immutable basis of our foreign policy.
China: The Japanese occupy Fuzhou, Fujian Province, directly across from Taiwan and south of Shanghai.

American Homefront: Thomas H. Beck, Chairman of the Board of Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, submits to President Roosevelt a proposal for the organization of a private air force. Beck's submission advocates a course of pre-flight instruction for men interested in the air force. This is a key step in the formation of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), which is designed to be an Auxiliary of the US Army Air Corps.

22 April 1941 Vichy French Workers Committee for Immediate Relief
The Vichy “Workers’ Committee for Immediate Relief” (Comité ouvrier de secours immédiat) confiscates Jewish property. Paris, 22 April 1941.

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