Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 180 February 27, 1940

A bleak day for Finland. Red Army continues its general offensive towards Viipuri with the intention of crushing the withering Finnish resistance in a pincer movement including an assault across frozen Viipuri bay to encircle the city. At 7 PM, commander of the Finnish Army of the Isthmus, Lieutenant-General Erik Heinrichs orders withdrawal from defensive positions in the V-line. An orderly retreat towards Viipuri begins.

Finnish government begs for assistance from its Scandinavian allies, but Norway and Sweden reaffirm their neutrality in fear of Soviet reprisals.

300 Finnish children are evacuated to Stockholm, Sweden.

Day 179 February 26, 1940

Finland. Red Army renews its offensive towards Viipuri. Finnish 23rd Division counterattacks with 8 Vickers Mark E light tanks (Battle of Honkaniemi, the only Finnish tank attack). They destroy 3 Soviet tanks but all 8 Finnish tanks break down or are destroyed and the Finns withdraw.

Newly-constructed British liner Queen Elizabeth leaves Clydeside on the Spring tide. Due to her weight, today is one of only two tides this year high enough to float her from dock. Churchill worries that Germany will attempt to sink her. He establishes an elaborate ruse to convince German spies that she is going to Southampton for final fitting. Instead she will head across the Atlantic to New York, where she will remain for 8 months before going to Singapore for refitting as a troopship. During the course of the war she will sail 500,000 miles and carry more than 750,000 troops from Australia and America to various theatres.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day 178 February 25, 1940

At 7.55 AM, British submarine HMS Narwhal (escorting convoy HN-14 from Bergen, Norway to Methil, Scotland) sights U-63 on the surface, which then dives to avoid attack. Destroyers HMS Escapade, Escort, Inglefield & Imogen hunt U-63 for 2 hours, eventually forcing U-63 to the surface with depth charges at 9.50. U-63 is scuttled 100 miles East of Wick, Scotland (1 life lost). 24 survivors are picked up by HMS Inglefield & Imogen and landed at Leith, Scotland on Feb 27. The crew members are taken prisoner and survive the war as POWs.

No. 110 Army Co-operation (Auxiliary) Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, which departed Halifax, Nova Scotia on 15 February, arrives in Britain.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 177 February 24, 1940

Copenhagen. Norwegian, Danish and Swedish foreign ministers reassert their neutrality. They make a joint declaration not to assist Finland and refuse to allow foreign troops access through their territory. However, British envoy to Finland Sir George Gordon Vereker indicates 20-22,000 Allied soldiers will leave for Finland on March 15, provided the Finns make a formal request by March 5.

At 9 PM, U-63 sinks Swedish MV Santos 70 miles East of the Orkneys (31 lives lost including 6 survivors from SS Liana, rescued by Santos on 16 Feb). Next day, 12 survivors including 2 from Liana will be taken to the Scottish mainland by destroyer HMS Gallant.

First flight of Hawker Typhoon prototype, P5212, by Hawker's test pilot Philip Lucas.

Day 176 February 23, 1940

Soviets fear the imminent arrival of foreign aid or troops in Finland. They scale back the Summa offensive towards Viipuri and offer peace terms to Finland. USSR demands the entire Karelian Isthmus (including Viipuri, Finland’s second largest city) and the areas surrounding Lake Ladoga, as well as the islands in the Gulf of Finland and a 30-year lease on the Hanko Peninsula (at the mouth of the Gulf of Finland); they will evacuate Petsamo region in the North of Finland in return. The Soviet offer will expire on march 1.

Increasing the pressure on the Finns, Sweden announces it will not intervene in the conflict or even allow Allied troops to pass through Swedish territory. Strangely, this does not lead to a change in Allied planning to support Finland by just that route.

U-53 is sunk by depth charges from British destroyer HMS Gurkha in the North Sea, 25 miles South of the Faroe Islands (all 42 hands lost).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day 175 February 22, 1940

The Gulf of Finland is frozen solid. Soviet 43rd Division attacks with trucks and tanks across the ice and captures Lasisaari and Koivisto islands. Finns spike the guns of the coastal battery on Koivisto before withdrawing across Viipuri Bay.

Operation Wikinger. Without informing the Luftwaffe, 6 German destroyers sortie into the North Sea through a narrow lane between minefields, to disrupt scouting of German warships by British fishing boats. In the moonlight, Heinkel 111s from 4/KG26 mistake the destroyers for Allied ships and bomb the rear of the convoy. At 7.45 PM, destroyer Z1 Leberecht Maas is hit by two bombs and sinks (282 lives lost, 60 survivors). Destroyer Z3 Max Schultz takes evasive action, hits a mine and sinks with her crew of 308.

U-50 sinks British tanker SS British Endeavour 125 miles west of Vigo, Spain (5 lives lost). 32 crew members are picked up by British steamer SS Bodnant and landed on the Portuguese island of Maderia.

Day 174 February 21, 1940

Hitler gives command of the invasion of Norway, now named Operation Weserübung, to Generalleutnant von Falkenhorst & demands a plan by 5 PM. Demonstrating the speed and flexibility of the German military, von Falkenhorst buys a Baedeker tourist guide to Norway. Working from maps in the book, he has draft operational plans ready for Hitler’s approval at 5.

At 3 AM, U-50 sinks Dutch SS Tara (carrying grain to Rotterdam) with 3 torpedoes 50 miles southwest of Cape Finisterre, Spain. The entire crew takes to the lifeboats. They either land on the Spanish coast or are picked up by Spanish trawler Milin.

At 6.09 PM, British steamer SS Loch Maddy is hit by U-57 and abandoned 25 miles southeast of Wick, Scotland (4 lives lost). She will be sunk by U-23 on 22 Feb. 35 survivors are picked up by destroyer HMS Diana and landed at Scapa Flow.

Finland. Finnish V-line on the Karelian Isthmus continues to crumble. Soviet forces penetrate towards Viipuri.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day 173 February 20, 1940

War comes to the waters of the Americas. 75 miles southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia, U-96 sinks British MV Empire Seal at midnight (carrying steel from USA to Belfast, 1 dead, 56 survivors picked up by the British CAM ship Empire Flame and landed at Halifax) and neutral American MV Lake Osweya at 04.53 (en route to Iceland, all 39 lives lost). In the Caribbean, U-129 sinks Norwegian SS Nordvangen at 4 AM 25 miles east of Trinidad (all 24 dead) & U-156 hits American SS Delplata with 3 torpedoes at 11.31 AM 60 miles west of Martinique. All 53 crew abandon ship and are picked up the next day by USS Lapwing, which scuttles Delpata with gunfire after finding her unsalvageable.

U-54 goes missing in North Sea (all 41 hands lost), probably lost to mine barrages laid by the British destroyers HMS Ivanhoe and HMS Intrepid in early Jan 1940.

Finland, Soviets tanks dragging troops on armoured sleds penetrate the Finnish V-line as far as 1 km in places.

Day 172 February 19, 1940

Kapitänleutnant Otto Kretschmer’s rampage in U-23 continues, after sinking HMS Daring yesterday. At 4.05 AM, British steamer SS Tiberton, carrying iron ore from Norway, is hit with 1 torpedo east of the Orkney Islands, Scotland. She sinks in 30 seconds with all 33 crew.

Finland. In a repeat of the battles of late Dec 1939, a Soviet division attacks across the ice of frozen Lake Suvanto (in the Taipale sector, near Lake Lagoda on the Eastern end of the Karelian Isthmus). Again, Finnish defenders punish the Soviets with concentrated artillery fire, leaving 700-1,000 dead on the ice.

Alarmed by the Altmark incident on Feb 16, Hitler increases the pace of planning for the invasion of Norway and Denmark.

Day 171 February 18, 1940

On Hitler’s orders, General Halder reluctantly incorporates Von Manstein’s thrust through the Ardennes Forest into his plans to invade France. Von Manstein, Hitler and even Halder will ultimately take credit for the move.

Finland. Finns destroy the 'regimental motti' north of Lake Ladoga & capture 32 field guns, 30 antitank guns, 1 mortar, 20 tanks, 15 machineguns, 25 trucks & 32 field kitchens. Soviets losses; 1,000 dead, 250 taken prisoner. 166 Finnish troops die in the battle. On the Karelian Isthmus, Soviet tanks break the V-line in two places.

Despite being at war only with France, Britain & the Commonwealth, German U-boats sink 6 merchant vessels from France, Spain, Greece, Panama, Holland & Norway (coal, grain and general cargo, 21,000 tons, 40 lives lost). In addition, U-23 sinks British destroyer HMS Daring with two torpedoes, escorting convoy HN-12 40 miles east of the Orkney Islands, Scotland (156 lives lost, 4-15 survivors reported).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Day 170 February 17, 1940

Hitler learns of the Manstein plan. Protocol dictates that new corps commanders dine with the Führer. Hitler's aide-de-camp Colonel Schmundt arranges for Hitler to hear Von Manstein’s proposal. Hitler, searching for an alternative to Halder’s lame thrust into Belgium, is impressed and notes similarities with his own ideas.

Finland. The Finns are no match for Soviet tanks in the open snow and fall back to the V-line. The Soviet attack again grinds to a halt on prepared defensive positions.

Battle of the Atlantic. At 2 AM, U-10 sinks Norwegian SS Kvernaas off the Dutch coast. All 20 crew abandon ship in two lifeboats and are picked up by Dutch SS Oranjepolder.

At 4 PM, U-37 sinks British SS Pyrrhus 75 miles west of La Coruña, Spain (8 lives lost). 77 survivors are picked up by British merchants Uskside & Sinnington Court and landed at Gibraltar.

At 8.36 PM, U-48 sinks Finnish SS Wilja south of Bishop Rock. All 27 crew are picked up by Dutch steamer Maasdam and taken to Havanna, Cuba.

Day 169 February 16, 1940

A Lockheed Hudson of No.233 Squadron locates Graf Spee’s support ship the Altmark (suspected of carrying prisoners captured by Graf Spee) in Josing Fjord, Norway. Captain Vian commanding destroyer HNS Cossack intercepts Altmark, which is escorted by Norwegian torpedoboats. Nonetheless, Churchill personally orders Vian to stop Altmark and board her to free the prisoners. 4 German sailors are killed and 5 wounded as 299 prisoners are released. Hitler is convinced the Allied will not respect Norwegian neutrality to send aid to Finland, despite Norway’s repeated protests, and steps up his plans for a Scandinavian invasion.

Finland. Following Mannerheim’s order yesterday to abandon the main defensive line, Finnish troops receive the order to withdraw to intermediate V-line positions at 3.45 PM. Near village of Kuhmo, Finnish 9th division wipes out the remnants of Soviet “Dolin” ski brigade capturing numerous automatic weapons. Of 1,800 Soviets that skied into Finland, there are only 70 survivors.

U-14 sinks 4 neutral ships carrying coal from Britain to Denmark and Sweden.

Around midnight, Danish SS Rhone is hit first (9 dead) then Danish SS Sleipner (13 dead), which stops to help. Sleipner launches her lifeboats with 30 survivors picking up 11 more from Rhone. After 9-12 hours afloat, all 41 survivors are rescued by Swedish trawler Standard and British destroyer HMS Kipling.

At 9.25 PM, U-14 sinks two Swedish coal ships. SS Osmed sinks after being hit with 1 torpedo 20 miles north of Kinnaird Head, (13 dead). 7 survivors were picked up by the British trawler Loch Hope. 10 minutes later, SS Liana is also sunk with 1 torpedo (10 lives lost). 2 survivors are also picked up trawler Loch Hope. 8 others are rescued by Swedish steamer SS Santos. It is a brief reprise for these Jonahs, as Santos will be sunk on 24 February with the loss of six men from SS Liana.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Day 168 February 15, 1940

Generalmajor Rommel takes command of 7th Panzer Division. After providing Hitler's personal protection in Poland, Rommel sought a divisional command. After rejecting a specialized mountain division (Rommel’s forte in WWI), he lobbies hard for a Panzer division. With Hitler's tacit support he is given 7th Panzer.

Finland: Finnish Commander-in-Chief decides to abandon his Mannerheim Line. At 8 PM, he orders II Army Corps to withdraw to intermediate defensive positions (the “V-line”) on the Isthmus.

North of Lake Ladoga, Finns destroy the motti around Lavajärvi village taking 2 tanks, 5 field guns, 2 antitank guns, 8 trucks, 3 machineguns, 4 field kitchens, numerous rifles and ammunition. Finnish 9th division surrounds Soviets “Dolin” ski brigade (Colonel Dolin is already dead; his brigade is reduced to 800 men).

Neutral shipping suffers the German blockade of Britain. 4 steam merchant (carrying ore, oil cake, oil and fruit) are sunk for a total of 16,600 tons.

At 02.07, U-50 sinks Danish SS Maryland, carrying oil cake, west of Scotland (all 34 hands lost).

At 05.45, U-37 sinks Danish SS Aase carrying Spanish fruit to Bristol (15 lives lost). 1 survivor is picked up by HMS Verity on 17 Feb.

At 08.37, U-26 sinks Norwegian SS Steinstad 75 miles west of Aran Island, Ireland (13 dead). A lifeboat with 11 survivors makes landfall at Arranmore Island on 20 Feb.

At 14.00, U-48 sinks Dutch tanker MV Den Haag (11800 tons of oil) 150 miles west of Ouessant (26 dead). The U-boat had spotted the tanker about five hours earlier, but waited to evade a flying boat. 13 survivors in one lifeboat are picked up by British MV Glenorchy.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Day 167 February 14, 1940

Finland. Finnish troops start pulling out of the Lähde sector of the Mannerheim line, withdrawing to rearguard positions and leaving a gap in the Line 2-3 km wide and 6 km deep. Kirvesmäki stronghold on the Taipale River changes hands for the fourth time in 3 days. Soviets attack with artillery, aircraft and tanks; they retake the Kirvesmäki stronghold. Finns are out of reserves and cannot mount a counterattack.

Graf Spee’s supply ship Altmark, after waiting in the South Atlantic for several weeks, reaches Norwegian territorial waters off Trondheim. Altmark's Captain Heinrich Dau intends to remain in Norwegian neutral waters and avoid attack by the British.

Battle of the Atlantic. German U-boats exact a heavy toll on merchant ships carrying food and fuel in British waters, sinking 4 steam merchant for a total of 29,000 tons.

1.35 AM, U-57 hits British tanker SS Gretafield (13000 tons of fuel oil) with 1 torpedo (10 dead) 20 miles east of Wick, Scotland. Gretafield drifts ashore burning. 31 survivors are picked up by armed trawlers HMS Peggy Nutten & Strathalladale.

5 AM, U-53 sinks Danish SS Martin Goldschmidt west of Ireland (15 dead, 5 survivors picked up by Norwegian SS Berto).

8 AM, U-26 sinks British steamer Langleeford (6800 tons of wheat) 70 miles northwest of Fastnet, Ireland (4 lives lost). The Germans question the survivors, give them food & dressings and set them on course to Ireland. 30 survivors make landfall at Ross, Co. Clare.

5 PM, U-48 sinks British merchant SS Sultan Star (9000 tons of food) 200 miles west of Land’s End (1 dead). Destroyers HMS Whitshed, Vesper and Acasta drop 22 depth charges but U-48 escapes undamaged. 72 survivors in lifeboats and picked up by HMS Whitshed and landed at Plymouth the next day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day 166 February 13, 1940

Battle of the Atlantic. At 2 AM, U-50 fires several torpedoes at Norwegian tanker Albert L. Ellsworth (all miss) then departs. The crew panic and abandon ship in lifeboats and rafts. However, 2 survivors from MV Snestad (rescued Feb 11 by Albert L. Ellsworth) drown in the scramble. 42 men reboard Ellsworth at dawn and continue on to Bergen. U-25 missed Norwegian SS Chastine Mærsk with the last 2 torpedoes overnight but, at dawn, sinks her with the deck gun in the North Sea. All 30 crew are rescued by Norwegian SS Hilda.
U-53 sinks Swedish SS Norna west of Ireland (18 lives lost).

Karelian Isthmus. Finns try to retake the lost main defensive line in the Lähde sector but are pushed back by Soviet tanks. Instead, Red Army enlarges its breakthrough but still does not mount a decisive thrust. Finnish troops retake the Kirvesmäki stronghold on the River Taipale, overrun by Soviet troops yesterday.

In Sweden, Finnish Foreign Minister Tanner asks Swedish Government to send troops to Finland. The Swedes declines, being too concerned with Allied plans to ‘aid Finland’ via the Swedish iron ore fields and likely German intervention to prevent this.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Day 165 February 12, 1940

Finland. 5 AM, Soviet tanks drag explosive-laden sleds up to the Million Fort which is destroyed, killing everyone inside. The Mannerheim Line is truly breached but Soviet 7th Army does not pour through. Soviets capture the Kirvesmäki stronghold in Taipale and resist Finnish attempts to retake it. This is the beginning of the end for the Finns.

U-33 & Kapitänleutnant von Dresky’s inglorious war ends. At 2.50 AM, Royal Navy minesweeper HMS Gleaner locates U-33 laying mines in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland, and drops depth charges. U-33 is badly damaged and forced to the surface at 5.22 AM and then sinks rapidly (25 lives lost, including von Dresky). Despite orders to remove the rotors from the secret Enigma code machine and throw them into the sea, one man among the 17 survivors has 3 rotors in his pockets. These are sent to Alan Turing’s naval cryptanalysis section of Government Code and Cypher School (2 of the rotors are only used by the Kriegsmarine).

Battle of the Atlantic. U-53 sinks Swedish SS Dalarö west of Scotland (captain lost, 29 survivors picked up by Belgian trawler Jan de Waele). U-26 sinks Norwegian Nidarholm west of Ireland (all 25 crew picked up 10 hours later by the Norwegian SS Berto).

British also enforce their blockade of Germany. Royal Navy destroyer HMS Hasty intercepts and captures German blockade runner SS, 300 miles west of Porto, Portugal. Morea is en route from Vigo, Spain to Germany, cargo unknown. 12 miles off Cabo Frio, Brazil, aircraft from British cruiser HMS Dorsetshire spot German freighter SS Wakama. HMS Dorsetshire stops Wakama but her crew set her on fire, so that Wakama will not fall into British hands, and take to the lifeboats. 46 survivors are picked up by HMS Dorsetshire.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Day 164 February 11, 1940

With the Mannerheim Line weakening, Timoshenko opens his main attack. 9.30 – noon massive artillery barrage (heard 100 miles away), then 120,000 Soviet troops attack into the 12 mile Summa gap. 123rd division penetrates the Lähde sector and 245th Rifle Regiment under Colonel Rosly takes Fort Poppius at 1.30 PM by parking armored cars in front of the machinegun ports. Finns try to plug the gap but are cut down by Soviet tanks. Strangely, Soviets do not send in reinforcements to exploit this gap. Fighting goes on around Million Fort all night.

North Sea. U-53 sinks Norwegian MV Snestad with 2 torpedoes (all 36 crew rescued by Norwegian tanker Albert L. Ellsworth) and damages British tanker MV Imperial Transport (2 lives lost). U-9 sinks Estonian SS Linda (1 dead). U-50 sinks Swedish SS Orania 65 miles (14 lives lost). 10 survivors are rescued the next day by HMS Faulknor.

U-37 sinks British trawler Togimo off Milford Haven with the deck gun (1 dead).

Day 163 February 10, 1940

Finland. A crack opens in the Mannerheim Line. Red Army attacks again across the Karelian Isthmus from Summa to Taipale. The Mannerheim Line holds in most places but the Soviets wade across the Munasuo swamp and through several rows of barbed wire to achieve a breakthrough in the swampy but poorly fortified Merkki sector.

Two wooden British ships HMS Salve and HMS Servitor successfully sweep for magnetic mines on the sea bed, dragging a long charged electrical cable which detonates the mines in their wake.

From 5-7 PM, U-48 stops, inspects and then sinks Dutch steamer Burgerdijk (carrying grain from USA to Rotterdam) 40 miles from Land’s End, England. The crew and passengers abandon ship in lifeboats and are picked up 12 hours later by Dutch steamer Edam and taken to England.

At 9 PM, U-37 sinks Nowegian steamer Silja (carrying salt from Gibraltar to Bergen) with 1 torpedo southwest of Ireland (all 16 lives lost).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Day 162 February 9, 1940

Finland. Mannerheim Line starts to crack in the Summa sector. Soviet troops take a bunker near the village of Karhula, north of Marjapellonmäki (Hill 38). Finns are unable to retake the position despite bringing up reserves. North of Lake Ladoga, Finnish troops surround Soviet JR 203 creating the 'regimental motti'.

German destroyers Z3, Z4 and Z16 lay 110 mines in The Shipwash, a busy sea lane in the North Sea east of Harwich, England. Mines laid near Liverpool by U-30 on Jan 6 claim another victim. British steamer SS Chagres (1500 tons Cameroonian bananas) sinks 10 miles from her destination (2 lives lost). 62 crew members are taken to Liverpool by anti-submarine trawler HMS Loch Montreith.

Germany. OKH Chief of Staff Halder tires of von Manstein’s criticism of Case Yellow, his invasion plan for France, Belgium and Holland. Halder promotes Manstein to command an army corps garrisoning Poland, well away from planning forthcoming campaigns.

Day 161 February 8, 1940

Finland. To spur diplomatic moves towards peace, USSR asks Finland to choose an island in the Gulf of Finland to give up as a Soviet military base. To press home their case for a settlement, Soviets continue their daily shelling and aerial bombing of Mannerheim Line fortifications and launch attacks around Summa with tanks pulling armored sleds. The sleds contain explosives to be dragged up to the Finnish concrete bunkers and detonated.
In addition, at 10.15 AM, two Soviet divisions shell the Kirvesmäki Cape and attack across the River Taipale which has been quiet for a week. They take two Finnish strongholds at Terenttilä at the extreme East end of the Mannerheim Line where the River Taipale empties into Lake Ladoga (Finnish casualties 219 men, with 32 killed).

There is no relief for the Soviet divisions abandoned North of Lake Ladoga by Timoshenko’s plan. Finnish 9th division annihilates 1500 Soviet soldiers in mottis from 54th division around Kuhmo.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Day 160 February 7, 1940

With alarming lack of security, British and French newspapers publish Allied Supreme War Council’s decision to send aid to Finland. Naturally, this raises Finnish expectations of reinforcement, alarms Norway and Sweden (both reaffirm their neutrality) and further alerts Germany to threats to vital Swedish iron ore supplies. However, popular support for action to save Finland grows in Britain and especially France.

Finland. Red Army attacks the Summa gap for the 7th consecutive day. The daily artillery bombardment and tank/infantry attacks, followed by Finnish counterattacks, weakens the Mannerheim Line fortifications, exhausts the defenders and sucks in the Finnish reserves.

At 6 AM, Belfast-Liverpool ferry MV Munster (carrying general cargo, 45 crew, 190 passengers) hits a mine (laid Jan 6 by U-30) and sinks a few miles from Liverpool. Everyone on board is taken to Liverpool by British steamer SS Ringwall.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Day 159 February 6, 1940

Finland. Soviet shelling of the Mannerheim Line fortifications continues on the Karelian Isthmus, but probing infantry and tank attacks are restricted to Summa village and Marjapellonmäki in the nearby Karhula sector (Hill 38). Further North, above Lake Ladoga, Finnish 9th division completes the encirclement Soviet 54th division and start cutting it into mottis.

Estonian steamer Anu hits a mine and sinks 30 miles East of its destination of Dundee, Scotland (en route from Gothenburg via Aberdeen). The captain, his wife and four crew drown and the cook later dies of burns. This minefield in the mouth of River Tay was laid on Dec 12 1939 by U-13 and also caused damage to British steamer SS City of Marseilles on Jan 6 1940 (1 life lost).

In Britain, the iconic "Careless Talk Costs Lives" slogan debuts, designed to prevent war gossip.

Day 158 February 5, 1940

U-41 damages Dutch tanker Ceronia (3.30 AM, no casualties) and sinks British SS Beaverburn 150 miles south of Ireland (1.10 PM, 1 killed, 76 crew rescued by British tanker Narragansett and landed at Falmouth). However, U-41 is sunk with depth charges by HMS Antelope (all 49 hands lost). Antelope's Captain, Lt. Cdr. White wins the DSO for the first U-boat sinking by a lone destroyer.

Allied Supreme War Council meets in Paris. France enthusiastic agrees to send British troops to Finland via landings at Narvik, seizing Swedish iron ore mines and the port of Luleå en route, despite the declared neutrality of Norway and Sweden! However, the operation is assigned only 2 British divisions, which only exist on paper and will have to be diverted from BEF in France. British Chief of Staff General Sir Edmund Ironside notes in his diary “everyone purring with pleasure”, unaware of detailed German plans to invade Norway with much larger forces.

BEF’s Chief of Staff General Henry Pownall is furious, recording in his diary “For five months we have been struggling to make fit for action in the Spring a force that was dangerously under-equipped and untrained. There were signs that we were getting some reasonable way to our goal. If this business [the invasion of Norway] goes through, we shall be cut by 30%. Of all the harebrained projects I have heard of, this is the most foolish.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Day 157 February 4, 1940

Finland. Consistent with Timoshenko’s small unit tactics, Soviet artillery, aircraft and tanks bombard Finnish positions in the Summa gap but Red infantry only advance on Summa village. Above Lake Lagoda, Colonel Dolin’s Siberian ski battalion arrives near the village of Kuhmo and counterattacks Finnish 9th division. After a week of pressure, Finnish IV Corps completes the destruction of West Lemetti motti, capturing 4 field guns, 2 antitank guns, 1 mortar, 32 tanks, 6 machineguns, 120 rifles and 26 trucks. Orders for the attack are notable for the first official use of the term “motti”.

At 4.17 AM, U-37 torpedoes Norwegian steamer SS Hop 100 miles South of the Shetland Islands (all 17 hands lost). About the same time 100 further miles South in the mouth of Moray Firth, HMS Sphinx finally sinks in heavy seas after being damaged by bombs on Feb 3.

At 9.25 PM, U-37 sinks British steamer SS Leo Dawson 15 miles east of Bressay, Shetlands, after missing with the first torpedo (all 35 hands lost).

Day 156 February 3, 1940

British minesweepers HMS Sphinx, Speedwell and Skipjack, sweeping the mouth of Moray Firth, are attacked by German bombers. About 9.30 AM, a bomb destroys the aft deck of HMS Sphinx, killing many below decks as well as the Captain on the bridge. Sphinx is crippled but not taking water, so the crew remains on board as she is taken in tow by HMS Speedwell. However, Sphinx capsizes and sinks in very heavy seas 19 hours later. Frigate HMS Boreas, summoned along with other Royal Navy vessels to provide assistance, rescues crewmembers from the foundering ship and from the sea but a total 54 lives are lost.

At 9.36 AM, U-58 spends 13 hours and 3 torpedoes chasing and sinking tiny Estonian vessel SS Reet in the North Sea halfway between Stavanger, Norway & Aberdeen, Scotland (18 lives lost).

At 2.32 PM, U-25 torpedoes and sinks British steamer SS Armanistan 100 mile West of Lisbon, Portugal. The entire crew is rescued by Spanish vessel SS Monte Abril and landed on the Spanish island of Tenerife off the West coast of Africa.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Day 155 February 2, 1940

U-59 sinks British steamers SS Creofield (6.24 AM, all 9 lives lost) and SS Portelet (8.40 PM, 2 lives lost) with 1 torpedo each, 20 miles East of Lowestoft, Suffolk, England. 9 survivors from Portelet are picked up by the Finnish steamer SS Oscar Midling and landed 100 miles North at Immingham, England.

Finland. Soviet shelling, aerial bombing and small unit combined infantry/armour attacks continue on the Karelian Isthmus, designed to wear down the Finnish defenders rather than penetrate the fortified defensive line. Further North, above Lake Lagoda, Finnish 9th division continues to surround Soviet 54th division near Kuhmo. In a rare example of reinforcing the trapped Red Army units, Siberian ski battalion under Colonel Vyatsheslav Dmitrievitsh Dolin is sent in to help 54th division.