Monday, January 31, 2011

Day 520 February 1, 1941

East Africa. 4th Indian Division captures Agordat, Eritrea. 5th Indian Division crosses the border from Sudan into Northern Ethiopia & occupies Metemma. 2nd Lieutenant Premindra Singh Bhagat of the Royal Bombay Sappers & Miners wins the first Victoria Cross for the British Indian Army in WWII for a "...continuous feat of sheer cold courage" clearing 15 minefields & 55 miles of roads in 48 hours.

At 10.15 PM 200 miles South of Iceland, U-48 sinks Greek SS Nicolas Angelos with a torpedo and the deck gun (all hands lost). The crew abandons ship in the lifeboat but they were never found.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day 519 January 31, 1941

Sahara Desert, Southeastern Libya. Free French forces have advanced from Chad to attack the Italian garrison at Kufra in the Sahara Desert. British Long Range Desert Group (attached to Free French) sends “T patrol” (30 men in 11 trucks) forward to reconnoiter but they are spotted by Italian aircraft at Bishara, 80 miles Southwest of Kufra. T patrol hides in a small wadi at Gebel Sherif where they are ambushed by Italian “Saharan company” motorized infantry (3 trucks destroyed, 1 man killed, 3 taken prisoner, 4 walk back across the desert).

Eritrea, East Africa. 4th Indian Division flanks Agordat, held by 4 Italian infantry brigades & 2 companies of tanks. Some defenders try to retreat under cover of darkness but 1,000 are taken prisoner and 43 field guns captured.

In the Adriatic Sea off Fiume, Croatia, Italian torpedo boat Francesco Stocco breaks in 2 after hitting a mine laid 3 days ago by British submarine HMS Rorqual. The 2 halves remain afloat and are salvaged.

After dark, 350 miles Southwest of Ireland, Italian submarine Dandolo sinks British tanker Pizarro with torpedoes (23 crew killed, 6 rescued).

Overnight, in the Indian Ocean, German armed merchant cruiser Atlantis stops British SS Speybank (carrying manganese, monazite, ilesite, carpets, tea and shellac from Cochin, India, to New York) with shellfire. Undamaged, SS Speybank is taken as a prize ship and sailed to Bordeaux, France, where she will be converted into an auxiliary minelayer and renamed Schiff 53/Doggerbank.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Day 518 January 30, 1941

Operation Compass. Australian 6th Division enters the town of Derna unopposed.

At 3.10 AM, U-94 concludes the attack on convoy SC-19 sinking British SS Rushpool (all 40 crew picked up by destroyer HMS Antelope). 6 ships (total of 33,723 tons) have been sunk in less than 24 hours.

30 miles North of Zavia, Libya, British submarine HMS Upholder unsuccessfully attacks Italian steamers Motia & Delfin and is counter-attacked by convoy escort torpedo boat Aldebaran.

Day 517 January 29, 1941

Operation Compass. Derna, Libya. There is heavy fighting along Wadi Derna as elements of British 7th Armoured Division (brought North from Mechili) outflank Italian artillery overlooking the town. Italian commander at Derna General "Electric Whiskers" Bergonzoli, who recently escaped on foot from Bardia, withdraws his troops and artillery overnight.

Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas, who declined British offers of assistance, dies of throat cancer. His replacement Alexandros Koryzis will quickly accept British help against Italy.

200 miles Northwest of Ireland, U-93 U-94 U-101and U-106 attack convoy SC-19 from Nova Scotia to Britain. Between 3.48 and 4.05 AM, U-93 sinks British SS King Robert, British tanker W.B. Walker and Greek SS Aikaterini (which tries to ram U-93). At 6.29 AM, U-94 sinks British SS West Wales. At 7.15 AM, U-106 sinks Egyptian SS Sesostris. Destroyers HMS Anthony & HMS Antelope and antisubmarine trawler HMS Lady Madeleine rescue most of the crewmen. U-101 is chased off with gunfire and 3 depth charges from the destroyers.

600 miles West of Freetown, Sierra Leone, German armed merchant cruiser Kormoran sinks British SS Afric Star carrying 5,790 tons of meat from Argentina to Britain (72 crew and 3 passengers taken prisoner, including 2 sunbathing British women) and liner Eurylochus carrying 16 crated British bombers without engines from Liverpool to Takoradi, to be flown to Egypt (11 crew killed, 43 taken prisoner, 28 survivors picked up by next day Spanish SS Monte Teide).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Day 516 January 28, 1941

At 6.49 AM, British cruiser HMS Naiad (part of Admiral Tovey’s task force searching for Scharnhorst and Gneisenau) spots the German warships in the Iceland-Faroes passage, heading for the Atlantic. Under strict orders not to engage superior British forces, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau turn around to go North of Iceland through the Denmark Strait.

Operation Compass. Italian artillery on top of Wadi Derna keep Australian 6th Division pinned down outside the coastal town of Derna, 100 miles Northwest of Tobruk.

250 miles West of Ireland, Italian submarine Luigi Torelli sinks British SS Urla (all 42 crew rescued). In the same area, British corvette HMS Bluebell and destroyer HMS Westcott collide (HMS Bluebell under repair at Liverpool until March 4).

Off Cape Bon, Tunisia, British submarine HMS Upholder damages German steamer Duisberg, which is towed into Tripoli and repaired. Italian torpedo boat Orione, carrying survivors from steamer Ingo, stands by.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 515 January 27, 1941

Operation Compass. The harbour at Tobruk, Libya, is cleared of wrecks and opened to British ships. The first vessels in are troopship Ulster Prince (which takes Italian POWs back to Alexandria, Egypt) and supply ships Cingalese Prince, Rosaura and Chakla which unload men and supplies in a severe sandstorm. Tobruk will become an important supply point for the continued Allied advance across Libya. 100 miles Northwest along the coast from Tobruk, Australian 6th Division takes Fort Rudero overlooking the small town of Derna (capturing 290 Italian prisoners and 5 field guns). However, they meet stiff resistance from Italian troops and artillery dug in the far side of Wadi Derna (a steep ravine, a mile wide and 700 feet deep).

100 miles North of Tripoli, Libya, Fairey Swordfish of Fleet Air Arm 830 Squadron from Malta sink German steamer Ingo (crew rescued by Italian torpedo boat Orione).

Minesweeping trawler HMT Darogah sinks on a mine in the Thames Estuary.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day 514 January 26, 1941

Operation Compass. 80 miles West of Tobruk, Italians troops and tanks pull out of Mechili, evading British 4th Armored Brigade (7th Armored Division) which has engaged them since January 24. With Italians in full flight West along the coastal road pursued by the advancing Australians, the failure at Mechili convinces British General O’Connor that a more decisive flanking move is required. O’Connor will order 7th Armored Division commander General O'Moore Creagh “you are going to cut the coast road South of Benghazi, and you are going now!”

200 miles West of Ireland, British corvette HMS Arabis is escorting British SS Lurigethan which is burning after being bombed 3 days ago. U-105 misses HMS Arabis with 2 torpedoes. At 2.12 AM, U-105 sinks SS Lurigethan instead (15 crew and 1 gunner killed, HMS Arabis picks up 35 crew).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Day 513 January 25, 1941

General Alan Cunningham launches the Southern front in Italian East Africa. He sends Nigerian, Ghanaian, East African and South African troops of 11th African Division (commanded by British General Harry Edward de Robillard Wetherall) and 12th African Division (commanded by British General Reade Godwin-Austen) into Italian Somaliland from British-held Kenya. They meet little resistance from Italian forces who have withdrawn 100 miles behind the Juba River.

Following damage in a Stuka attack on January 10 and initial repairs at Malta, British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious arrives for further repairs at Alexandria, Egypt. This is beyond the range of German X. Fliegerkorps bombers operating from Sicily.

At 11.20 PM, British Admiral Sir John Tovey departs Scapa Flow to intercept German pocket battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in the Iceland-Faroes passage. His flotilla comprises battleships HMS Nelson, Repulse & Rodney, cruisers HMS Arethusa, Galatea, Aurora, Mauritius, Naiad, Phoebe, Edinburgh & Birmingham plus destroyers HMS Bedouin, Matabele, Tartar, Punjabi, Escapade, Echo, Electra, Beagle, Brilliant, Keppel & Piorun.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Day 512 January 24, 1941

Operation Compass. 80 miles West of Tobruk, British tanks attack an Italian fort at Mechili in the Libyan desert. However, the British expect a speedy capitulation and are surprised by vigorous defense by Italian tanks of the Babini Armor Group. Losses are about equal on both sides and the British withdraw.

In the Indian Ocean 300 miles East of the Seychelles, a Heinkel He114 seaplane from German armed merchant cruiser Atlantis bombs and strafes British SS Mandasor (carrying 2,000 tons of pig iron & 1,800 tons of tea from Calcutta, India). As Mandasor steams away radioing for help, Atlantis stops her with shellfire (6 crew killed). Atlantis’ launch rescues 82 survivors, driving off circling sharks with machinegun fire, and then sends Mandasor to the bottom with scuttling charges. The He114 seaplane capsizes in choppy water and has to be sunk, robbing Atlantis of spotting capabilities. 4 Allied cruisers search the area without success.

New British Ambassador to USA Lord Halifax, previously British Foreign Secretary, arrives in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, aboard battleship HMS King George V.

At 9.48 PM 200 miles West of Ireland, U-123 sinks Norwegian steamer Vespasian with 1 torpedo (all 18 hands lost).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day 511 January 23, 1941

British SS Lurigethan is bombed and set on fire by a German Fw200 aircraft 200 miles West of Ireland (15 crew and 1 gunner killed, 35 crew rescued by corvette HMS Arabis). Lurigethan will be sunk by U-105 on January 26.

British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, damaged by Stukas on January 10, is repaired enough to sail with much of her heavy equipment removed. She leaves Malta for Alexandria, Egypt, escorted by destroyers HMS Jervis, Juno, Janus and Greyhound.

German pocket battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau are spotted in the Great Belt (between mainland Denmark and the island of Zealand) by a British agent who alerts the Admiralty in London.

Operation Compass. British minesweeping trawlers HMT Arthur Cavanagh and HMT Milford Countess begin clearing sunken Italian ships from the harbour at Tobruk.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Day 510 January 22, 1941

Operation Compass. Italian resistance at Tobruk collapses. At 4.15 AM, cruiser San Giorgio (used as a floating battery in the harbour) is scuttled. General Vincenzo della Mura surrenders Italian 61 Infantry Division “Sirte” in the morning, precipitating a widespread capitulation. Allied troops capture the remaining gun posts with sporadic resistance. Monitor HMS Terror and gunboats Gnat and Ladybird continue shelling. Italian liner Liguria is sunk by British bombing. Australian infantry drive into the town unopposed and take the surrender of Tobruk from Admiral Massimilian Vietina. Australian losses are 49 dead, 306 wounded. In all, 25,000 Italian prisoners are captured along with 236 field guns and medium guns, 23 medium tanks and 200 other vehicles. Tobruk’s sheltered harbour is intact as are wells and pumps to produce 40,000 gallons of fresh (if brackish) water per day.

Eritrea, East Africa. 4th Indian Division attacks Italian position at Keru, which were flanked yesterday by 5th Indian Division. The Italians at Keru, who were expected to hold out for several weeks, surrender (General Fongoli, his staff, 1200 men and several field guns are captured).

Minesweeping trawler HMT Luda Lady sinks on a mine in the Humber (no casualties).

Operation Berlin. German pocket battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sail from Kiel in a second attempt to break out into the Atlantic for convoy raiding operations.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day 509 January 21, 1941

Operation Compass. Assault on Tobruk, Libya, opens at 5.40 AM with an artillery barrage. Australian 6th Division sappers blast through the perimeter wire with Bangalore torpedoes and fill in antitank ditches, allowing 18 Matilda tanks and some captured Italian M11 and M13 medium tanks to move through. As at Bardia, Allied infantry and tanks pick off Italian machinegun posts, artillery batteries and dug-in tanks from within the defensive perimeter. They reach within 2 miles of the town of Tobruk and shell Italian cruiser San Giorgio from cliffs overlooking the harbour. 3 squadrons of RAF Blenheims bomb the defenses continually. 8000 Italians are captured including the commander at Tobruk, General Petassi Manella, who refuses to surrender the garrison. Overnight, Italian bombers attack but only succeed in hitting a POW compound and killing 50-300 Italian prisoners.

Italian East Africa. 5th Indian Infantry Division, under British General Lewis Heath, advances 50 miles into Italian Eritrea from Kassala on the border with Sudan and captures the town of Aicota unopposed. General Heath sends part of 10th Indian Infantry Brigade, including 2nd battalion Highland Light Infantry, North to get behind well dug in Italian position at Keru.

Rescue tug HMS Englishman is sunk by German bombing 50 miles off the coast of County Donegal, Northwest Ireland (all 18 hands lost).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day 508 January 20, 1941

At 00.42 AM 200 miles Southeast of Iceland, U-94 torpedoes British steamer Florian, which sinks in 42 seconds (all 41 hands lost). West of Ireland, Italian submarine Luigi fires a spread of 3 torpedoes at a group of 3 Allied destroyers but none hit. Italian submarine Marcello, returning to base at Bordeaux for repairs, sinks Belgian SS Portugal with the deck gun.

Kriegsmarine orders the construction of 75 new U-boats.

1000 miles off the coast of Angola, German cruiser Admiral Scheer sinks British steamer Stanpark and captures Dutch steamer Barneveld (sunk the following day). Among the prisoners taken from the 2 vessels are 3 Royal Navy officers on their way to take up appointments on warships the Mediterranean.

Minesweeping trawler HMT Relonzo sinks on a mine off Liverpool (19 killed).

Overnight, Italian positions at Tobruk, Libya, are bombarded from the air by RAF Wellington and Blenheim bombers and from the sea by monitor HMS Terror and gunboats HMS Gnat & Ladybird (escorted by Australian destroyers HMAS Stuart, Vampire & Voyager). Australian infantry and British tanks & artillery move into position to start the land attack on the Italian defenses.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day 507 January 19, 1941

British Commander-in-Chief Middle East General Wavell opens a 3-pronged offensive to drive the Italians from East Africa. 4th Indian Infantry Division (fresh from the success of Operation Compass in Egypt) and 5th Indian Infantry Division capture the railway junction at Kassala, Sudan, on the border with Italian Eritrea. Led by British General William Platt, they plan to advance South from Sudan, through Eritrea into Ethiopia. In addition, General Cunningham will swing Northeast from Kenya, through Italian Somaliland into Ethiopia. A planned amphibious assault will retake British Somaliland and all 3 forces aim to converge on the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Emperor Haile Selassie crosses the border from Sudan, returning to Ethiopia whence he fled in May 1936 during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.

At 8 AM, British transport ships Clan Cumming, Clan MacDonald & Empire Song leave Pireaus, Greece, for Alexandria, Egypt, escorted by anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Calcutta and destroyers HMS Greyhound, Defender & Janus. At 11.53 AM 25 miles South of Pireaus, Italian submarine Neghelli damages Clan Cumming with a torpedo. HMS Greyhound sinks Neghelli with depth charges (all 46 hands killed). HMS Janus escorts Clan Cumming back to Pireaus.

Luftwaffe Stukas dive bomb Valletta Harbour, Malta. British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious and destroyers HMS Imperial and HMS Decoy are damaged by near misses (no serious damage is done). A Fairey Fulmar from HMS Illustrious shoots down a Stuka and is then itself shot down (pilot and navigator are both rescued).

Hitler meets Mussolini at the Berghof, to offer German help to Italian efforts in North Africa (which is accepted) and in Albania (which Mussolini rejects). Hitler says that he will attack Greece if a British presence there threatens the oil refining at Ploieşti, Romania.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Day 506 January 18, 1941

1000 miles off the coast of Angola, German cruiser Admiral Scheer captures Norwegian tanker Sandefjord (carrying 11,000 tons of crude oil) which is taken as prize. Sandefjord is sent to occupied France, arriving on February 27 and renamed Monsun under the German flag.

700 miles West of the Canary Islands, German armed merchant cruiser Kormoran sinks British tanker British Union (10 killed, 28 crew and a pet monkey rescued from 2 lifeboats and taken prisoner, 7 crew in another lifeboat rescued next day by British auxiliary cruiser HMS Arawa).

Destroyer HMS Castleton is damaged by German bombing while under repair at Portsmouth (repairs finally completed February 22).

Luftwaffe Stukas again bomb Malta, destroying 6 RAF aircraft and damaging many more at the Luqa and Hal Far airfields.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day 505 January 17, 1941

At 7.45 AM, 200 miles West of Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, U-96 attacks British liner SS Almeda Star with 4 torpedoes and the deck gun. 4 lifeboats are launched but 7 destroyers search the area and find no survivors. 137 crew, 29 gunners and 194 passengers are lost including 142 Fleet Air Arm personnel going to RNAS station at Piarco Airfield, Trinidad.

In the same area, Italian submarine Marcello approaches a convoy but is attacked by an escort destroyer with 5 depth charges (damaging the forward trim tank and causing Marcello to abort the mission and return to base) and U-106 sinks British MV Zealandic with 3 torpedoes (65 crew, 2 gunners and 6 passengers abandon ship in 3 lifeboats but are never found).

British corvette HMS Rhododendron is damaged on a mine in Liverpool Harbour (under repair for 3 months at Liverpool).

Luftwaffe Stukas bomb Malta again.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Day 504 January 16, 1941

80 Luftwaffe Stuka dive-bombers attack Valletta Harbour, Malta, trying to finish off British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious which was badly damaged by Stukas while escorting the Excess convoy on January 10. HMS Illustrious, destroyer HMS Decoy (on the day when repairs from bomb damage in November 1940 are completed) and Australian cruiser HMAS Perth are hit or damaged by splinters from near misses, but none sink. British steamer Essex is also damaged. 10 Stukas are shot down.

British minesweeping trawler HMT Desiree hits a mine and sinks in the Thames estuary.

At 6.16 AM 150 miles Northwest of Ireland, U-96 sinks British troopship SS Oropesa with 3 torpedoes (99 crew, 1 gunner and 6 passengers killed). 109 crew, 1 gunner and 33 passengers in 5 lifeboats are picked up by destroyer HMS Westcott and tugs HMS Superman and HMS Tenacity and landed at Liverpool. Another lifeboat is launched but never found. Italian submarine Luigi Torelli continues the attack on a small convoy West of Ireland, sinking Greek SS Nicolas Filinis (3 crew killed, 26 rescued).

Friday, January 14, 2011

Day 503 January 15, 1941

Minelaying cruiser HMS Adventure is damaged on a mine for the second time, in Liverpool Bay en route from Milford Haven, Wales. She is towed into Liverpool (under repair until May when she is further damaged in an air raid,finally returning to service on June 27).

350 miles West of Ireland, Italian submarine Luigi Torelli attacks a small convoy of 6-7 merchant ships, sinking Norwegian SS Brask (12 crew killed, 20 rescued) and Greek SS Nemea (17 crew killed, 14 rescued).

Overnight, 76 RAF bombers raid the naval base at Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Wellington bombers of No. 57 Squadron attack Emden, Germany.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Day 502 January 14, 1941

British Commander-in-Chief Middle East General Wavell meets Greek Dictator Metaxas and CIC General Papagos in Athens to discuss military aid to Greece. Papagos asks for 9 divisions and air support. Wavell offers only 2 or 3 divisions. The Greeks refuse, not wanting a British presence that will prompt a German invasion but be too small to help stop it. Wavell, Churchill and British War Cabinet are relieved to have fulfilled the obligation to assist Greece while still maintaining forces in Libya.

In the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, German armed merchant cruiser Pinguin captures almost an entire Norwegian whaling fleet (whale oil tanker Solglimt, factory ships Ole Wegger & Pelagos and 11 of their attendant whalers). 20,000 tons of whale oil (worth 4 million US dollars) and 10,000 tons of fuel oil are captured without a shot and with no casualties. 3 whalers escape and warn another factory ship, Thorshammer, which departs with its flotilla of whalers.

100 miles West of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Italian submarine Cappellini loses 3 men in a 2 hour gun duel with British auxiliary cruiser Eumaeus carrying troops to Egypt around the Cape. Eumaeus finally sinks (12 crew and 15 naval ratings lost). A Supermarine Walrus from seaplane carrier HMS Albatross responds to distress calls from Eumaeus, dropping life rafts to the survivors and bombing Cappellini (which is badly damaged, requiring 3 days of repairs in the Canary Islands and a return to base at Bordeaux).

Day 501 January 13, 1941

Overnight, Luftwaffe aircraft drop 106 high explosive bombs on Plymouth damaging Sherwell Congregational Church in Tavistock Road, City Hospital at Freedom Fields, gas works at Coxside and Corporation electricity works at Prince Rock (26 civilians killed, 117 wounded). Electricity will be restored next day but Plymouth is without gas for 3 weeks. Patrol Officer George Wright and Leading Fireman Cyril Lidstone of Auxiliary Fire Service win George Medals for putting out a fire on an oil tank that would otherwise have exploded.

RAF bombs the U-boat base at Lorient during the night.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day 500 January 12, 1941

Operation Compass. As the Italian defenses at Tobruk are the same as Bardia, Australian 6th Division plans to use the same tactics to pierce the wire and anti-tank ditches at a weak point and peel back the lines of gun pits from the inside. However, they have to wait while British 7th Armoured Division repairs as many Matilda tanks as possible and for fuel and ammunition to be brought up. Matildas are moved forward on heavy artillery tractors to preserve their tracks and engines. HMS Protector lays anti-torpedo nets at Bardia and departs for Alexandria with 1058 Italian POWs.

British aircraft based on Malta attack the airbase at Catania, Sicily, to prevent German and Italian bombers from attacking British shipping in the Mediterranean and the island of Malta. They are trying to protect damaged British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious which limped into Valletta, Malta, for repairs due to Stuka attack.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Day 499 January 11, 1941

At 3.22 PM, 35 Ju87 dive bombers led by Oberst Werner Ennecerus attack British cruisers HMS Gloucester & Southampton 120 miles East of Sicily. HMS Gloucester is hit by a 500kg bomb which goes through 5 decks and out through the hull without exploding (9 killed, 13 wounded). HMS Southampton is hit by two 500kg bombs (98 killed) which start fires, knocking out the controls to flood the magazines and threatening a devastating explosion. 727 crew abandon ship at 7 PM and are rescued by HMS Gloucester and destroyer HMS Diamond. HMS Southampton is finally sunk at 8 PM by a torpedo from cruiser HMS Orion. The Excess convoy reaches Malta and Alexandria safely but carrier HMS Illustrious is badly damaged and 1 cruiser and 1 destroyer have been destroyed. Lack of air cover means the Mediterranean is no longer controlled by Royal Navy (or the Italian Navy) but by the Luftwaffe.

Albania. Italian 7th Infantry Lupi di Toscana ("Wolves of Tuscany") Division and the remnants of 3rd Alpine Julia Division launch a counterattack on Klisura Pass, captured yesterday by the Greeks. They are beaten back with heavy casualties including a battalion of Lupi di Toscana which is encircled.

Hitler issues Führer Directive 22 sending German troops to Libya and Albania, to prevent Italian collapse and frustrate British ambitions in those regions. Along with operational orders from Chief of Staff Wilhelm Keitel on January 13, this creates the Deutsches Afrikakorps.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Day 498 January 10, 1941

Albania. Greek infantry captures the Klisura Pass after 4 days of fighting, led by the 5th Division just arrived from Crete. The presence here of Cretan 5th Division will cause controversy in a few months when Allied troops fail to protect Crete.

Italian torpedo boats Vega and Circe attack Excess convoy at dawn in the Strait of Sicily but Vega is sunk by shellfire from cruiser HMS Bonaventure and a torpedo from destroyer HMS Hereward. At 8.15 AM, the convoy meets Admiral Cunningham's Mediterranean Fleet (battleships HMS Warspite and HMS Valiant, aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious and 7 destroyers) from Alexandria but destroyer HMS Gallant hits a mine and will be towed to Malta (58 killed, 25 wounded). At 12.35 PM, German Ju87 Stuka dive bombers from X Fliegerkorps (which has just arrived on Sicily) attack HMS Illustrious, hitting her with 6 bombs. Most do not penetrate the thick deck armour but 2 bombs go down an aircraft elevator shaft, turning the hangar deck into an inferno of burning aviation fuel and destroying the steering gear (124 killed). Only the armoured flight deck saves Illustrious from total destruction and she struggles into Malta escorted by destroyers HMS Hasty and Jaguar.

Overnight, 300 Luftwaffe bombers attack Portsmouth, England, with high explosive and incendiary bombs (171 civilians killed, 430 injured). Incendiary bombs land in the roof of the Guildhall which burns green as the copper cupola melts. Guildhall is gutted and will not reopen until 1959.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Day 497 January 9, 1941

Operation Compass. Australian 6th Division and British 7th Armoured Division complete the encirclement of Tobruk, Libya. 25,000 Italian troops are now trapped.

Transfer of the Excess convoy from Force H (Gibraltar) to the Mediterranean Fleet (Alexandria, Egypt). Cruisers HMS Gloucester & Southampton and destroyer HMS Janus from Alexandria (via Malta) meet the convoy off Cape Bon, Tunisia. As usual for convoys in this area, they are attacked inaccurately by Italian SM79 bombers. Most of Force H (battlecruiser HMS Renown, battleship HMS Malaya, aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, cruiser HMS Sheffield and 7 destroyers) reverses course at nightfall and returns to Gibraltar but cruiser HMS Bonaventure and destroyers HMS Hereward, Jaguar, Hasty & Hero continue on with the convoy.

British submarine HMS Pandora sinks Italian SS Palma and SS Valdivagna off Cape Carbonara, Sardinia. Submarine HMS Parthian sinks Italian SS Carlo Martinolich off Calabria, Southern Italy.

Italian destroyers Ascari, Carabiniere, Folgore and Fulmine shell Greek positions on the Albanian coast at Porto Palmermo.

At 6.14 PM 300 miles South of Iceland, U-105 sinks British SS Bassano carrying 5000 tons of iron and steel and 600 tons of grain from USA to Britain (1 killed; 49 crew, 2 gunners and 5 passengers picked up by destroyer HMS Wild Swan and armed merchant cruiser Esperance Bay).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Day 496 January 8, 1941

British Wellington bombers from Malta attack Italian battleships Guilio Cesare and Vittorio Veneto moored in Naples harbour. Guilio Cesare is badly damaged by 3 near misses but Vittorio Veneto is hit without serious damage. Both ships will be moved to La Spezia and repaired, out of the range of the Malta bombers.

Operation Compass. Australian 6th Division begins reconnaissance patrols around Tobruk. Overnight, a patrol reaches the Italian defensive perimeter. As at Bardia, Italian defenses consist of an antitank ditch and barbed wire fences in front of 2 concentric lines of open concrete gun pits (posts).

British cruisers HMS Gloucester and HMS Southampton arrive at Malta to disembark 510 Army & RAF personnel, escorted by destroyers HMS Ilex and Janus. HMS Gloucester, Southampton and Ilex continue West towards Gibraltar to meet the Excess convoy.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Day 495 January 7, 1941

Operation Compass. Australian 6th Division and British 7th Armoured Division nearly surround Tobruk. They occupy Acroma, overlooking the coastal road 10 miles West of Tobruk. British submarine HMS Rover attacks an Italian convoy off the coast of Libya, 25 miles West of Tobruk. Italian torpedo boats Clio and Castore counterattack, damaging HMS Rover (repairs take 13 days at Malta).

Admiral Somerville’s Force H (battlecruiser HMS Renown, battleship HMS Malaya, aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, cruiser HMS Sheffield and 7 destroyers) leaves Gibraltar to cover the Excess convoy which left Gibraltar yesterday. Meanwhile, Admiral Cunningham’s Mediterranean Fleet (battleships HMS Warspite and HMS Valiant, aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious and 7 destroyers) departs Alexandria, Egypt, to meet the Excess convoy.

German torpedo boats Kondor and Wolf lay a minefield off Dover but Wolf sinks in a British minefield North of Dunkirk on the way home.

200 miles South of Iceland, Italian submarine Giacomo Nani attacks convoy HX.99 without success. British corvette HMS Anemone and French corvette La Malouine counterattack, sinking Nani (all 58 crew rescued and taken prisoner).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Day 494 January 6, 1941

Albania. Overnight, Greek destroyers shell the Albanian port of Vlorë. 20 miles South, Italian destroyers Alfieri, Carducci, Fulmine and Gioberti plus torpedo boats Partenope, Pallade, Romeda and Altair shell Greek positions on the Albanian coast at Porto Palmermo. The Greek offensive against Italian positions in the mountains of Albania reaches the strategically important Klisura Pass on the river Vjosë, which will allow Greek forces in the center of the front to link up with troops on the coast. They meet stiff Italian resistance, including the new Fiat-Ansaldo M13/40 tanks which are devastated by Greek artillery.

Operation Compass. British 4th Armoured Division advances 50 miles from Bardia to take Belhamed to the East of Tobruk and the airfield at El Adem (8 miles South of Tobruk) unopposed. They also probe another 10 miles further to Acroma, West of Tobruk.

At 11.37 AM, U-124 sinks British SS Empire Thunder 200 miles Northwest of Outer Hebrides, Scotland (9 killed, 30 crew picked up by British armed boarding vessel HMS Kingston Onyx). British destroyers HMS Mashona and Sikh collide in the naval base at Scapa Flow, Scotland.

Convoy Excess (British steamers Essex, Clan Cumming, Clan Macdonald & Empire Song) leaves Gibraltar bound for Malta and Greece, escorted by anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Bonaventure (carrying 400 troops) and destroyers HMS Hereward, Jaguar, Hasty & Hero. British cruisers HMS Gloucester & Southampton, escorted by destroyers HMS Ilex & Janus, depart Alexandria, Egypt, at 1.15 PM to carry 510 Army & RAF personnel to Malta and to meet Excess convoy.

German raider Kormoran stops Greek steamer Antonis in the Atlantic, 200 miles Northwest of Cape Verde Islands. Antonis is scuttled when 4,800 tons of British coal is found on board. All 29 crew and 7 sheep are taken on board Kormoran. The sheep are cooked and the crew taken prisoner.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Day 493 January 5, 1941

Operation Compass. Italian garrison at Bardia surrenders. Having split the fortress in half yesterday, Australian 6th Division moves North and South with the 6 remaining Matilda tanks to capture the last Italian gun ‘posts’. In all, Italians casualties are 1,000 killed, 3,000 wounded, 36,000 taken prisoner and only 2000 escape to Tobruk on foot or in boats. Allies capture 26 coastal artillery pieces, 7 medium guns, 216 field guns, 26 anti-aircraft guns, 41 cannone da 65/17 infantry guns, 146 antitank guns, 12 medium tanks, 115 L3 tankettes and 708 trucks plus wells and pumps to produce 400 tons fresh water per day and enough fuel for 4 weeks pumping. Australian losses are 130 dead, 326 wounded. British mines sink Italian coastal steamer Vulcano off Tobruk.

At 10.45 AM 100 miles Northeast of the Cape Verde Islands, Italian submarine Cappellini opens fire on British steamer Shakespeare from 3 km with both 100 mm deck guns. Shakespeare returns fire hitting Cappellini‘s aft gun and killing gunner Sergeant Ferruccio Azzolin. Cappellini finally sinks Shakespeare (18 crew and 2 gunners killed) and rescues 22 survivors clinging to wreckage, taking them to Sal Island, Cape Verde. Cappellini‘s captain Salvatore Todaro will be honoured for his chivalry in March 2006, by the naming of an Italian U212-class submarine after him.

Sloop HMS Lowestoft, arriving with convoy FS.378, is damaged on a mine in the Thames Estuary (under repair at Chatham until October 3).

Monday, January 3, 2011

Day 492 January 4, 1941

Operation Compass. Battle of Bardia Day 2. Amid heavy fighting all day in the Italian defensive perimeter posts to the North and South, a mixed force of Allied infantry plus Bren gun carriers and a few tanks pushes forward the final mile to the town of Bardia at 4 PM. Reaching the sea, they split the Italian defenses in two and resistance begins to collapse. 8 Australian infantry take 500 prisoners. A single company of Aussies captures 2,000 Italians from rearguard units, including 60 officers. A squadron of Bren gun carriers takes 3000 POWs, while 1 Bren gun carrier attacks an artillery battery from the rear and 1,000 surrender. The number of POWs exceeds 10,000. Italian commander at Bardia, General Bergonzoli and his staff escape towards Tobruk on foot. British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden quips "Never has so much been surrendered by so many, to so few."

Off Cape Bon, Tunisia, British torpedo bombers unsuccessfully attack Italian supply convoy returning from Tripoli (freighters Ezilda Croce and Pallade, escorted by torpedo boat Pegaso).

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Day 491 January 3, 1941

Operation Compass. Assault on Bardia, Libya, begins at 5.30 AM with an artillery barrage. At 6 AM, Australian 6th Division infantry attacks from the West, blasting through the perimeter wire with Bangalore torpedoes and filling in antitank ditches. At 6.50 AM, 23 Matilda tanks of British 7th Royal Tank Regiment sweep in, North and South, helping the infantry flank a succession of Italian ‘posts’ (open concrete machinegun and antitank gun pits). Allies drive a wedge 2 miles deep & 7 miles wide into the Italian defenses, taking 8,000 Italian prisoners. From 8.10 to 8.55 AM, battleships HMS Warspite, Valiant & Barham and escort destroyers fire 244 15-inch, 270 6-inch and 240 4.5-inch shells at the ‘posts’, spotted by aircraft from HMS Illustrious. Monitor HMS Terror and gunboats HMS Ladybird & Aphis continue the bombardment, collapsing a cliff with emplaced Italian artillery. Picking off the ‘posts’ continues all night with heavy fighting. MAP

RAF bombs Bremen and the Kiel Canal, Germany, scoring a direct hit on the Kiel Canal Bridge which collapses on Finnish steamer Yrsa.

Overnight, Luftwaffe bombs Bristol for 12 hours, targeting the docks and railway station (149 civilians killed, 351 injured), destroying a granary on Princes Wharf containing 8,000 tons of grain. A 4,000 lb bomb which fails to explode is nicknamed ‘Satan’ by the people of Bristol and will be displayed in the victory parade in London in 1945.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Day 490 January 2, 1941

Operation Compass. British air, land and sea forces prepare for the assault on Bardia. Overnight (Jan 1-2), artillery moves into position in a depression 450 m from the Western edge of the Italian defenses. During the day, monitor HMS Terror and gunboats HMS Ladybird & HMS Aphis, screened by destroyer HMS Dainty and HMAS Voyager, bombard Bardia. The flotilla is unsuccessfully attacked by Italian aircraft. Overnight (Jan 2-3), RAF Wellingtons of 70 Squadron and Bristol Bombays of 216 Squadron bomb Italian positions as the Australian 6th Division moves forward to their starting points.

At 10.07 PM 250 miles West of Port-Étienne, Mauritania (part of French West Africa), U-65 sinks British SS Nalgora carrying equipment to General Wavell’s Middle East Command. 102 crew and 3 passengers take to the lifeboats. 19 crew in 1 lifeboat make land on Cape Verde Islands. 86 survivors are picked up by British freighters Nolisement and Umgeni after 8 days adrift. This completes a successful patrol for U-65, sinking 8 ships (47,800 tons) in 49 days off the coast of West Africa and becoming the first U-boat to cross the Equator.

300 miles Northwest of Ireland, U-38 is depth charged by a convoy escort. U-38 is slightly damaged but able to continue with the patrol.