Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 291 June 17, 1940

Rumors of surrender demoralize the French troops and embolden the Germans. Rommel (recuperating and re-equipping 7th Panzer since June 11) decides to gamble all and head for Cherbourg to prevent the Allied evacuation. His tanks and trucks laden with infantry travel 125 miles. In Eastern France, Guderian’s Panzers reach the Swiss border at Pontalier, encircling 17 French divisions manning the Maginot Line.

Operation Ariel continues evacuating Allied troops from Cherbourg, St Malo, Brest and St. Nazaire. British Cunard liner Lancastria embarks 4,000 to 9,000 British civilians, troops and RAF personnel in the Loire estuary. At 3:48 PM, she is hit by 3 bombs from Junkers Ju88s (1 bomb goes down her funnel and explodes in the engine room) and sinks in 20 minutes. There are 2,477 survivors (ASW trawler Cambridgeshire rescues 900). It is the worst tragedy in British maritime history and the single greatest loss of life for UK forces in any single engagement in WWII.

Soviet occupies Latvia and Lithuania, meeting little resistance. In Estonia, the government surrenders and agrees to Soviet occupation. Most of the Estonian army and the volunteer militia Estonian Defence League lay down their arms. The Single Signal Battalion will hold out in Tallinn until June 21.

Determined to continue fighting, General Charles de Gaulle and other senior French officers refuse to serve the new French government and leave for London with 100,000 francs in gold provided by the ex-PM Paul Reynaud.

U-46 sinks Greek steamer Elpis carrying wheat 250 miles West of Cape Finisterre, Spain. All 28 crew abandon ship.

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