Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Day 382 September 16, 1940

Battle of Britain Day 69. Rain and clouds hinder flying. Luftwaffe pilots are demoralized after yesterday’s mauling at the hands of RAF fighter pilots. They had been attacked by over 300 fighters, despite having been told RAF had only 50 remaining. Daytime bombing of London is abandoned, although Luftwaffe will resume attacking RAF facilities during the day and continue bombing London at night. At 7.30 AM, 100+ German fighters make a half-hearted raid on Kent to draw up British fighters, but RAF does not respond and the Bf109s turn back. 1 Ju88 is shot down by a Spitfire which then runs out of fuel and crashes in the North Sea (pilot Sgt T.C. Iveson bales out and is brought ashore by a Royal Navy motor torpedo boat). Overnight, RAF bombers hit invasion barges in Channel ports along the French, Belgian and Dutch coasts. Luftwaffe mounts intensive night bombing of London’s East End, Liverpool, Manchester, Coventry, Birmingham and Bristol.

North Africa. In Egypt, Italian troops of the 1st Blackshirt Division (23 Marzo) reach the village of Sidi Barrani about 60 miles from the Libyan border. Here they halt and dig in, 70 miles short of the main British defenses at Mersa Matruh. Marshal Graziani is unsure of the size of the British forces facing him, unconvinced about the quality of his own troops and worried about 150 mile supply line across the desert from Tobruk, Libya. Despite being urged onwards by Mussolini, Graziani feels he has met the strategic goal of the invasion (from Mussolini’s own orders “Once again I repeat that there are no territorial objectives. It is not a question of aiming for Alexandria nor even Sallum. I am only asking that you attack the British forces facing you.”)

At 2.41 AM, U-99 sinks Norwegian steamer Lotos (1500 tons of timber) off the North coast of Ireland. All 17 crew escape in 2 lifeboats, reaching Ireland or the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, in 3 to 5 days. In the Irish Sea between Ireland and Scotland, German bombers badly damage British troopship SS Aska, carrying 186 crew and 358 French troops from Bathurst, West Africa, to Liverpool (either to return to France or join the Free French forces in Britain). 11 crew and 19 troops are lost but the survivors are taken off by minesweeper HMS Jason.

Vichy French steamer Poitiers is en route to Dakar from Libreville, French Equatorial Africa (now Gabon), when she is intercepted by British cruiser HMS Cumberland which has been searching for the French cruisers now at Dakar. After scuttling SS Poitiers, the crew are rescued by HMS Cumberland which then sinks Poitiers by gunfire.

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