Monday, August 30, 2010

Day 366 August 31, 1940

Battle of Britain Day 53. By heroic effort overnight, Biggin Hill is made operational. From 11 AM to 7 PM, Luftwaffe makes concentrated attacks on RAF airfields, repeating yesterday’s exercise of flying large formations up the Thames Estuary which then split up to target multiple airfields. Radar stations on the South coast are also hit. Yesterday’s hero Tom Gleave of 253 Squadron is shot down but survives with terrible burns. RAF loses 41 fighters & 9 pilots. RAF still has 613 Spitfires and Hurricanes but pilots are exhausted and many airfields are out of action or badly damaged, combining to limit severely operational effectiveness. Germans lose 56 fighters, 29 bombers. Their pilots too are disillusioned & exhausted. Overnight, Liverpool is heavily bombed for the fourth night and other cities in the Midlands are also targeted.

5 British destroyers leave England to lay mines off Texel Island on the Dutch coast. They are suddenly ordered to intercept German ships but blunder into a new German minefield. HMS Express hits a mine and is badly damaged (56 killed). HMS Esk goes to assist, hits a mine and sinks immediately (135 killed, 25 crew swim ashore and are taken prisoner). HMS Ivanhoe also goes to assist, hits a mine and is badly damaged (8 killed, 3 wounded, 23 taken prisoner). Ivanhoe will be scuttled the following day by HMS Kelvin. After this, most minelaying off the Dutch and German coast will be carried out by RAF aircraft.

Despite the threat of invasion by Germany, Free French troops under General De Gaulle and 8,000 British troops leave England escorted by British cruisers HMS Devonshire and Fiji plus 5 destroyers, for forward base in Freetown in Sierra Leone. They will be joined by more British warships including aircraft carriers from Gibraltar. Their final destination is the port of Dakar in French West Africa which is under Vichy French control. De Gaulle intends to land his Free French troops unopposed (but supported in force, if necessary, by British sea, air and land forces) to secure the colony for the Free French. Britain wants to prevent Germany basing U-boats there to threaten trade routes around the Cape of Good Hope. They also have an eye on ultramodern French battleship Richelieu which, although damaged by British attacks on July 7 and 8, could be repaired and brought into the Royal Navy.

100 miles North of Ireland, U-boats torpedo 3 ships from convoy OB-205. At midnight, Dutch passenger steamer Volendam (carrying 273 crew and 606 passengers, including many British children being evacuated to Canada) is hit by 2 torpedoes from U-60. She does not sink and everyone escapes to safety in the lifeboats, except 1 crewman who falls overboard. Volendam will be repaired, although an unexploded torpedo is found onboard, and returned to service as a troopship in July 1941. At 2.06 AM, U-59 sinks British SS Bibury (all 38 crew and 1 gunner killed). At 6.15 AM, U-38 sinks British SS Har Zion (33 lives lost). 1 survivor, Seaman Osman Adem, is picked up the next day by Polish destroyer ORP Blyskawica.

At 4 PM, U-46 sinks Belgian passenger steamer Ville de Hasselt 100 miles Northwest of Ireland. All 53 crew abandon ship in 4 lifeboats and are picked up by trawlers on 2 September.

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