Monday, February 28, 2011

Day 548 March 1, 1941

Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler inspects the concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland (population 10,900). He orders it expanded to hold 30,000 prisoners and a new camp built 4 km away, at the village of Birkenau, for an expected 100,000 Soviet prisoners of war.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Bogdan Filov signs the Tripartite Pact allowing Germany to attack Greece through Bulgaria. In return, Hitler offers Bulgarian Tsar Boris III all the territory lost in WWI to Serbia and Greece.

US Navy forms Support Force, Atlantic Fleet, comprising destroyers and patrol plane squadrons to protect convoys on the American side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Italian garrison (29 Italian officers & NCOs, 273 Libyan soldiers) surrenders El Tag fort and Kufra oasis in Southeastern Libya to Free French troops. Italian casualties are 3 Libyan soldiers killed & 4 wounded, while French have 4 dead & 21 wounded.

Eritrea, East Africa. 2 battalions from 4th Indian Division and 2 Free French battalions (under British Brigadier Rawdon Briggs) reach Mescelit Pass 15 miles Northeast of Keren. “Briggs Force” lacks artillery for a major offensive but will distract the garrison at Keren and cause Italian reserves to remain at port of Massawa instead of reinforcing Keren. As German mining of the Suez Canal keeps British aircraft carrier HMS Formidable at anchor in Port Sudan, she launches 5 Fairey Albacore biplanes to bomb Massawa harbour, but they do little damage. Italian submarines Gauleo Ferraras, Perla and Archimede begin escaping from Massawa. They will go around the Cape of Good Hope, refuel from German vessels and arrive at Bordeaux, France, between May 7-20.

British minesweeping trawler HMT St. Donats sinks in a collision with escort destroyer HMS Cotswold 45 miles East of Grimsby, England.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Day 547 February 28, 1941

At 11.30 AM, British liner SS Anchises (damaged yesterday by a Fw200 from I./KG 40) is slowly sinking in 40 foot seas. The remaining 33 crew abandon ship in a lifeboat after corvette HMS Kingcup arrives to rescue them but the lifeboat is sucked under Kingcup’s bow (12 killed). In the afternoon, SS Anchises is sunk in another bombing attack.

Operation Abstention is abandoned. HMS Decoy and HMS Hereward land 200 more British troops on the island of Castelorizo but Italians have 2 torpedo boats (Lupo and Lince), 2 destroyers (Crispi and Sella) and 2 MAS torpedo motorboats in the area with more soldiers on board. British decide to evacuate the island but 40 Commandos are left behind and captured by Italians. The disastrous operation is described by Admiral Cunningham as "a rotten business and reflected little credit to everyone".

Kufra oasis, Sahara Desert, Southeastern Libya. After 10 days besieged by Free French forces, the Italian garrison at El Tag fort begins negotiating terms for surrender.

1 squadron of RAF Hurricanes and 1 squadron of RAF Gladiators shoot down 27 Italian aircraft over the Albanian mountains, in support of Greek troops on the ground.

At 11.32 PM 200 miles South of Iceland, U-108 sinks British SS Effna (all 33 hands lost).

Overnight, 23 RAF Hampden bombers from Waddington, England, unsuccessfully attack German battleship Tirpitz at dock in Wilhelmshaven, Germany. This is the 16th raid in 7 months but Tirpitz has suffered no serious damage.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Day 546 February 27, 1941

Operation Abstention. Overnight, Italian torpedo boats Lupo and Lince from Rhodes land 240 soldiers on the island of Castelorizo at daybreak and shell British positions with 4-inch guns (3 British commandos killed, 7 injured). British destroyers HMS Decoy and HMS Hereward fail to engage the torpedo boats and yield control of the area to the Italians (for which they are criticized in the after-action report). Instead, they return to Alexandria, Egypt, to embark more troops.

Indian Ocean, 200 miles West of the Maldives. New Zealand cruiser HMNZS Leander intercepts Italian armed merchant cruiser Ramb I which has just left Massawa, Eritrea. Ramb I sinks after a brief exchange of gunfire (113 survivors in lifeboats picked up by HMNZS Leander and taken to Addu Atoll, Maldives).

British minesweeping trawler HMT Remillo sinks on a mine in the Humber Estuary (17 killed).

Atlantic Ocean. West of Ireland, Italian submarine Bianchi sinks British SS Baltistan (51 killed, 18 survivors). Overnight, U-47 sinks British SS Holmelea in the same area (27 killed, 11 escape in a lifeboat and are rescued by Icelandic trawler Baldur on March 5). 1000 miles West of the Azores, German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau refuel from tankers Ermland & Friedrich Breme and transfer 180 prisoners from ships sunk on February 22.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Day 545 February 26, 1941

Operation Abstention. Before dawn, British destroyers HMS Decoy and HMS Hereward and gunboat HMS Ladybird land 200 commandos and 24 Royal Marines on the Italian-held Dodecanese island of Castelorizo, off the coast of Turkey. They rapidly capture the small Italian garrison but the defenders radio for help and Italian aircraft arrive quickly from Rhodes. HMS Ladybird is bombed, then re-embarks the 24 Royal Marines and leaves for Cyprus.

190 miles Northwest of Ireland, U-47 attacks convoy OB-290 sinking 3 merchant ships and damaging 1 more before dawn. U-47 is depth charged by convoy escorts. Signals from U-47 bring in Fw200 bombers (I. Gruppe KG 40 from Bordeaux, France) which attack at 9 AM and 6.45 PM from low level (100-200 feet) sinking 8 more ships. Elsewhere around the British coast, German bombers sink 4 merchant ships and German motor torpedo boat sinks 1 more. U-70 sinks Swedish SS Goteborg South of Iceland.

Allied Middle East command reorganises forces in North Africa, not expecting aggressive action from Italian and German forces in Tripoli. Battle-hardened Australian 6th Division, conquerors of Libya from Bardia to Benghazi, will be sent to Greece to face the expected German invasion. They will be replaced by newly-formed Australian 9th Division, scraped together from partially-equipped infantry brigades currently training in Palestine, leaving the defense of Eastern Libya to troops “selected by the test that they are the least trained or most recently enlisted”. As Benghazi cannot be used as a supply port due to Luftwaffe bombing, troops and supplies have to travel 400 miles by road from Tobruk.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Day 544 February 25, 1941

Overnight, the German-held port of Brest, France, is bombed by Avro Manchesters of RAF Bomber Command 207 Squadron from Waddington, Lincolnshire. This is the operational debut of the Manchester, the forerunner to the better-known Avro Lancaster.

At 3.43 AM, 45 miles off Sfax, Tunisia, British submarine HMS Upright locates an Italian convoy from Naples to Tripoli, Libya (4 troopships, 2 cruisers, 4 destroyers, 1 torpedo boat). HMS Upright sinks Italian cruiser Armando Diaz (464 killed, 147 rescued) and unsuccessfully attacks a destroyer.

Operation Canvas. Nigerian Brigade of the 11th African Division has advanced 220 miles along the coast road from Jilib in 2 days. They take Mogadishu, the capital of Italian Somaliland, unopposed and capture 400,000 gallons of fuel and other stores left behind by the fleeing Italians.

British destroyer HMS Exmoor (escorting convoy FN417 from the Thames estuary to Methil, Scotland) hits a mine or is torpedoed by German motor torpedo boat S-30. A fuel line ruptures, igniting HMS Exmoor which sinks 12 miles off Lowestoft on the East coast of England (105 killed, 32 survivors picked up by sloop HMS Shearwater and trawler Commander Evans).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day 543 February 24, 1941

At 7.58 AM 300 miles south of Iceland, U-107 finally sinks British ocean boarding vessel HMS Manistee (all 141 hands lost). U-95, U-96 and Italian submarine Bianchi attack convoy OB-288 (now dispersed & unescorted), sinking 7 merchant ships before dawn. Most crews drown, although all 41 men from SS Waynegate take to the lifeboats and are picked up by Free French destroyer Léopard. In the same area, U-97 sinks 3 British steamers in convoy OB-289 (most crews rescued by corvette HMS Petunia) and damages Norwegian tanker G.C. Brøvig, which loses its bow but is towed to Stornoway by HMS Petunia.

Rommel has deployed 3 Italian divisions and part of German 5th Light Division to Sirte on the Libyan coast, 150 West of the Allied defenses at El Agheila, to block any further Allied advances and conduct reconnaissance raids “to acquaint the British with the arrival of the German force”. A German patrol with tanks, armoured cars and motorcycles ambushes a British and Australian patrol, taking 3 prisoners, near El Agheila.

At 7 PM, 3 Heinkel He111 bombers attack British destroyers HMS Dainty and HMS Hasty in Tobruk harbor. HMS Dainty is hit by a 500kg bomb which explodes in the Captain's cabin detonating the magazine (16 killed). HMS Hasty comes alongside Dainty and takes off 140 survivors (including 18 wounded) before Dainty sinks.

British submarine HMS Regent sinks damaged Italian steamer Sabbia (torpedoed by HMS Ursula 3 days ago) off Tripoli.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day 542 February 23, 1941

Operation Canvas. General Cunningham splits his force in Italian Somaliland. He sends 12th African Division North up the Juba River towards the Ethiopian border while the motorized Nigerian Brigade of the 11th African Division races up the coast road towards Mogadishu.

A German Focke-Wulf Fw200 Kondor leads U-69, U-73, U-96, U-107, U-123 and Italian submarines Bianchi and Barbarigo to convoy OB-288, 300 miles South of Iceland. Just before midnight, U-69 sinks British SS Marslew (13 killed, 23 rescued) and U-96 sinks British SS Anglo-Peruvian (29 lost, 17 rescued). U-107 and Bianchi hit British ocean boarding vessel HMS Manistee which keeps moving, leading to an all night chase.

50 miles off Sfax, Tunisia, British submarine HMS Upright sinks Italian steamer Silvia Tripcovich.

In Athens, there is confusion among Greek and British commanders as to the best defense against a German invasion from Bulgaria. The Greeks insist on holding the fortified Metaxas Line along their Eastern border with Bulgaria, while the British propose a line further Southwest along the Vermion Mountains and the Haliacmon River. The meeting breaks up without agreement.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Day 541 February 22, 1941

300 miles Northwest of Ireland, U-48, U-69, U-73, U-96, U-107 and Italian submarines Bianchi, Marcello and Barbarigo attack convoy OB-287. Just after midnight, U-96 sinks British tanker MV Scottish Standard (which was bombed and damaged yesterday by German aircraft). U-96 is counterattacked and depth charged by escort destroyers. British destroyer HMS Montgomery (recently transferred from the US Navy in the ‘destroyers for bases’ deal) sinks Italian submarine Marcello.

Operation Canvas, Italian Somaliland, East Africa. 11th and 12th African Divisions attack Italian defenses at Jilib from Kismayu (South) and Afmadow (West). They defeat 30,000 Italian and colonial troops (many colonials down arms and disappear into the bush) to capture the road junction and open the way to Mogadishu.

Greek King George II and Commander-in-Chief General Papagos meet British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and General Wavell in Athens. Eden offers more troops than are in reality available. Confounding matters, they plan a defense against German invasion from Bulgaria that relies upon Yugoslav neutrality.

British monitor HMS Terror is spotted at midday by a German Ju-88. 5 Ju-88s take off from Sicily at 3.33 PM. At 6.30 PM 10 miles North of Derna, Libya, HMS Terror is holed by splinters from near misses. HMS Terror is abandoned at 10 PM and will sink at 4.20 AM next day after failed towing attempts by minesweeper HMS Fareham and corvette HMS Salvia.

Off the East coast of Africa, German cruiser Admiral Scheer sinks Dutch collier Rantau Pandjang. Distress signals are received by British cruiser HMS Glasgow which sends out an aircraft that spots Admiral Scheer. British warships will search the area fruitlessly until February 25 while Admiral Scheer slips away to the South around the Cape of Good Hope, reaching the South Atlantic on March 1.

500 miles East of Newfoundland, German pocket battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau attack an unescorted convoy of empty vessels returning to USA. They sink 3 British cargo ships and 2 tankers totaling 25,431 tons (10 merchant seamen killed, 180 taken prisoner).

Day 540 February 21, 1941

Luftwaffe bombs Swansea for 5 hours starting at 7.50 PM. In 3 nights, 70 German bombers have dropped 35,000 incendiary canisters and 800 high explosive bombs, destroying much of the city center and killing 230 (409 wounded). The docks are almost unscathed, despite being the main target.

575 miles West of the Seychelles, German heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer attacks British steamer Canadian Cruiser. Canadian Cruiser manages to radio distress signals (which are received by British cruiser HMS Glasgow) before she is sunk and the crew taken prisoner.

British antisubmarine trawler HMT Lincoln City shoots down a German bomber but is then bombed and sunk at Tórshavn, Faroe Islands (8 killed).

British aircraft carrier HMS Formidable is stuck in the Red Sea due to closure of the Suez Canal by German mines. She launches 7 Albacore aircraft to dive bomb the harbour at Massawa, Eritrea, but they do little damage.

16 miles North of Chebba, Tunisia, British submarine HMS Ursula attacks an Italian convoy from Trapani on the toe of Italy to Tripoli, Libya, damaging Italian steamer Sabbia. Italian torpedo boat Montanari counterattacks damaging HMS Ursula and then escorts steamer Sabbia to Tripoli, arriving February 24.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Day 539 February 20, 1941

Libya, North Africa. Africa Korps patrols make contact with British patrols for the first time in the desert, near Allied forward positions at El Agheila between Benghazi and Tripoli. British submarine HMS Regent attacks German ships Arta, Heraklea, Menes & Martiza carrying Afrika Korps troops from Naples to Tripoli escorted by Italian destroyers Freccia, Saetta & Turbine. Transport ship Menes is torpedoed but stays afloat and is towed into Tripoli. Italian destroyer Saetta counterattacks HMS Regent causing some damage (Regent returns to Malta on March 1). Minesweeping trawler HMT Ouse hits a mine and sinks off Tobruk, Lybia (12 killed with 9 survivors, all wounded).

Italian sloop Eritrea, Italian armed merchant cruisers Ramb I & Ramb II and German supply ship Coburg break out of Massawa, Eritrea, and sail into the Indian Ocean. Ramb I is sent to raid shipping off the Dutch East Indies while Ramb II will sail to Japan to raid in the Pacific.

West of the Seychelles, German heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer sinks Greek steamer Grigorios C II (27 crew taken prisoner) and captures British tanker British Advocate which is sent to France as a prize ship.

Luftwaffe bombs Swansea, Wales, for the second night.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Day 538 February 19, 1941

Docks at Swansea, Wales, are important for unloading food, fuel and raw materials coming into Britain and for coal exports. At 7.30 PM, Luftwaffe begins a unique raid for 3 consecutive days (known locally as the “3 Day Blitz”). While the city is bombed, mainly with incendiary canisters, the docks are almost unscathed and nearby oil refineries at Llandarcy are not targeted.

British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden & Chief of the General Staff (CIGS) Sir John Dill meet CIC Middle East General Wavell & Mediterranean Fleet commander Admiral Cunningham in Cairo to discuss sending aid to Greece. Under pressure from Eden, General Wavell agrees it can be done while maintaining efforts in Italian East Africa and holding gains made in Libya. Meanwhile, Rommel’s Africa Korps patrols are moving out of Tripoli looking for forward Allied positions in the desert.

German Motor Torpedo Boats S.28, S.101, S.102 raid the coast of Norfolk, England, sinking British SS Algarve off Sheringham (all hands lost). British submarine HMS Tigris sinks French steamers Jacobsen and Guilvinec 60 miles west of Bayonne, France.

At 8.18 AM West of Scotland, U-69 sinks British SS Empire Blanda (36 crew and 3 gunners lost). The U-boat is almost hit by falling debris. At 10.22 PM 360 miles Northwest of Ireland, U-103 torpedoes Norwegian MV Benjamin Franklin in the engine room. All 36 crew abandon ship (7 picked up 7 days later by corvette HMS Pimpernel, 28 picked up by Egyptian steamer Memphis but die when she sinks in bad weather 100 miles from the British coast on February 28, 1 picked up by another ship which is then torpedoed). A second torpedo detonates 1700 barrels of acetone, disintegrating the ship.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Day 537 February 18, 1941

Since mid-January, South African 1st Division has advanced into Southern Ethiopia from Kenya, as a diversion from General Cunningham’s main attack into Italian Somaliland. After a 3 day battle, they capture the Italian fort of Mega 70 miles inside Ethiopia protecting the main road to the capital Addis Ababa (taking 1000 Italian prisoners).

Free French besiege El Tag fort at Kufra oasis in the Sahara Desert, Libya. They fire 20 shells per day from a 75mm field gun at 3 km, out of range of the defenses, as well as lobbing in 81 mm mortar rounds from 1.5 km. This will wear down the Italian defenders over the next few days.

German aircraft drop mines in the Suez Canal, which is temporarily closed to shipping. This delays the arrival of British aircraft carrier HMS Formidable in the Mediterranean.

At 2.27 AM 140 miles South of Iceland, U-96 sinks British SS Black Osprey carrying 4500 tons of steel and trucks from USA to Britain (25 killed, 11 survivors picked up by Norwegian steamer Mosdale). At 9.33 PM 330 miles South of Iceland, U-103 sinks British MV Seaforth carrying produce from West Africa to Britain (47 crew, 2 gunners and 10 passengers abandon ship in lifeboats but are never found).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Day 536 February 17, 1941

Just after midnight, U-101 sinks British SS Gairsoppa (carrying pig iron, tea, silver ingots and general cargo) 370 miles West of Cornwall, England. 82 crew and 2 gunners are killed (1 survivor makes landfall near The Lizard, Cornwall, on March 1). British tanker MV Edwy R. Brown (carrying fuel from Aruba) is left burning and sinking 100 miles South of Iceland after U-103 hits her with 5 torpedoes between 6.33 and 8.33 AM. 48 crew and 2 gunners abandon ship in 2 lifeboats but they are never found. At 10.12 PM, U-69 sinks British MV Siamese Prince, 200 miles northwest of Outer Hebrides, Scotland. She is 1 day from reaching Liverpool, sailing from New York, USA, via Nassau, Bahamas. A notable passenger is Roy Widdicombe, who has been recuperating in Nassau from 70 days in an open boat after the sinking of SS Anglo Saxon on August 21, 1940. The 48 crew, 1 gunner and 8 passengers take to the lifeboats but all are lost in rough seas.

Free French led by Philippe Leclerc advance on the Italian base at Kufra oasis in the Sahara Desert, Southeastern Libya (consisting of the Buma airfield, a radio station, and the El Tag fort). Italians send out 70 men and 10 AS37 armoured personnel carriers, “Saharan company” motorized infantry, to intercept but Leclerc’s forces brush them aside and lay siege to El Tag fort.

Turkey and Bulgaria sign a friendship agreement in Sofia, Bulgaria. Under pressure from Hitler, Turkey accepts that the movement of German troops through Bulgaria is not an act of war, allowing Germany to prepare for an invasion of Greece. This also blocks any potential British-Turkish alliance, on which Churchill has been relying to control the Balkans.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Day 535 February 16, 1941

British cruiser HMS Neptune is damaged again by German bombing at Chatham (in dock to repair bomb damage sustained at Plymouth on February 9). The scheduled refit and the repairs will be completed on May 1.

British minesweeping trawler HMT Ormonde is bombed and sunk by German aircraft 25 miles East of Aberdeen, Scotland (19 killed).

5 miles off Chebba, Tunisia, a Fairey Swordfish from 830 Squadron, Malta, sinks Italian steamer Juventus.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Day 534 February 15, 1941

At 0.38 AM 600 miles West of Ireland, U-123 sinks British SS Alnmoor (all 55 hands lost).

German cruiser Admiral Hipper returns to Brest, France, after a short but successful cruise (8 ships sunk, 34,000 tons), despite efforts to intercept her by British destroyers HMS Kelly, Kipling, Kashmir and Jackal.

Battle of Keren, Eritrea, East Africa. General Platt suspends the piecemeal attacks on the Dongolaas Gorge, the gateway to Keren, to regroup and reinforce his troops and prepare for a set piece battle.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Day 533 February 14, 1941

Operation Canvas, Italian Somaliland, East Africa. General Cunningham’s African forces attack the port of Kismayu where the Juba River flows into the Indian Ocean, supported by shelling from British cruisers HMS Shropshire, Hawkins, Ceres and Capetown. They capture Kismayu, opening the way to the main Italian position at Jilib and the road to Mogadishu.

At midday in the Indian Ocean, German armed merchant cruiser Atlantis, prize ships Ketty Brøvig & Speybank and supply ship Tannenfels (sent from Italian Somaliland) rendezvous with cruiser Admiral Scheer (the largest group of German ships outside European waters during WWII). Despite stormy seas, the ships resupply each other and tanker Ketty Brøvig refuels Admiral Scheer.

400 miles West of Ireland, U-101 sinks British steamer Holystone at 10.57 PM (36 crew, 2 gunners and 2 passengers lost) and Italian submarine Bianchi sinks British SS Belcrest.

British motor torpedo boat MTB.41 sinks on a mine in the North Sea (8 killed).

Day 532 February 13, 1941

U-96 and U-103 attack convoy HX-106 225 miles South of Iceland, sinking 2 British tankers carrying fuel from Aruba. U-96 sinks MV Clea at 3.08 PM (all 59 hands lost). At 4.25 PM, MV Arthur F. Corwin is stopped and set on fire by 2 torpedoes from U-103 and then finished off by U-96 at 7.50 PM (all 44 crew and 2 gunners lost).

Eritrea, East Africa. Fighting continues in the mountains near Keren while Royal Navy attacks the Red Sea port of Massawa (Operation Composition). British aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (on the way to the Mediterranean to replace HMS Illustrious) launches 14 Fairey Albacore biplanes to bomb Massawa harbour, sinking Italian steamer Moncalieri and causing minor damage to Italian warships. 2 Albacore are shot down and the 6 aircrew taken prisoner (only until April, when Massawa is captured by Allied forces).

British antisubmarine trawler HMT Rubens is bombed and sunk by a German FW200 aircraft 275 miles Southwest of Ireland (all 21 hands lost).

At Plymouth, England, anti-submarine trawler Notre Dame De France collides with British destroyers HMS Ripley and HMS Burwell during their seatrials after refitting (both are ex-US Navy, transferred under the destroyers for bases agreement). HMS Ripley is damaged requiring repairs at Devonport, Plymouth, until March 3.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Day 531 February 12, 1941

The balance of power changes in North Africa. Operation Compass is stopped. Following the previous pattern, General O'Connor sends Colonel Dorman-Smith to Cairo to get British Commander-in-Chief Middle East General Wavell’s permission for the next advance. Wavell is under instructions from Churchill to divert troops from Libya to Greece and when Dorman-Smith arrives, he finds maps of the Balkans replacing maps of North Africa on the wall at Wavell’s HQ. British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden and CIGS Sir John Dill leave London for Cairo to coordinate military assistance to Greece. Operation Sonnenblume begins. Rommel arrives in Tripoli. Another convoy of Afrika Korps troops leaves Naples aboard steamers Adana, Aegina, Kybfels & Ruhr, escorted by Italian destroyer Camicia Nera and torpedo boat Procione, and will reach Tripoli on February 14.

At 6.18 AM 800 miles West of Gibraltar, German cruiser Admiral Hipper attacks convoy SLS64, sinking 7 steamers (British Warlaby, Westbury, Oswestry Grange, Shrewsbury, Derrynane plus Norwegian Borgestad and Greek Perseus, 116 crew killed). At 7.40 AM, Hipper breaks off, almost out of 203mm shells, as rain and fog hide the scattering ships.

Battle of Keren, Eritrea, East Africa. There is fighting again around Cameron Ridge on the North side of Dongolaas Gorge and in Happy Valley on the South side (Subadar Richhpal Ram of the 6th Rajputana Rifles wins the Victoria Cross posthumously for leading assaults on Acqua Col at the end of the valley on February 7 and 12).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Day 530 February 11, 1941

Operation Colossus. At 0.30 AM, British paratroops of X Troop blow up the Tragino aqueduct, Southern Italy. They head West towards the coast to meet submarine HMS Triumph, but they are soon captured (remaining POWs until 1943, except Lieutenant Deane–Drummond who escapes, returns to England in 1942 and joins 1st Airborne Division). Although water supplies are temporarily interrupted, the aqueduct is quickly repaired and no harm is done to the Italian war effort or morale.

At 1 AM, British monitor HMS Erebus bombards Ostend, Belgium, for 40 minutes escorted by destroyers HMS Quorn and HMS Eglinton.

Convoy carrying the first German troops arrives at Tripoli, despite an unsuccessful attack by British submarine HMS Unique.

Another submarine HMS Snapper disappears en route from the Clyde to the Bay of Biscay (all 41 hands lost), either lost on a German minefield or depthcharged 70 miles Southwest of Brest, France, by German minesweepers M-2, M-13 and M-25.

East Africa. In the Dongolaas Gorge near Keren, Eritrea, Indian 3rd Batt/1st Punjab Regiment advances and takes the next peak, Sanchil. Italians respond with shell and mortar fire all day and a counterattack by Savoia Grenadiers. Indian troops are forced off both Sanchil and Brig's Peak, retreating back to Cameron Ridge. Further South in Italian Somaliland, Cunningham’s forces from Kenya take the road junction at Afmadow, at the North end of the Juba River.

800 miles West of Gibraltar, German cruiser Admiral Hipper (which left Brest, France, on February 1) sinks British SS Iceland carrying 962 tons of oranges from Seville, Spain, to Britain. Hipper picks up all 23 crew who are taken prisoner. SS Iceland is a straggler from convoy HX53. Just before midnight, Hipper locates the convoy on radar at 15km and shadows it all night.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Day 529 February 10, 1941

600 miles West of Gibraltar, U-37 attacks convoy HG-53 again at 6.33 AM sinking British SS Brandenburg (all 23 hands lost plus 26 of the 27 survivors rescued from SS Courland yesterday, 1 survivor picked up by destroyer HMS Velox and landed at Gibraltar). At 2.35 PM 200 miles West of Ireland, U-52 sinks British SS Canford Chine (all 35 hands killed).

Churchill orders General Wavell to prioritise helping Greece over continued operations in North Africa. In addition to honouring British commitments to Greece, Churchill hopes to sway American opinion and establish a Balkan coalition against Hitler.

German convoy carrying troops to Libya (steamers Ankara, Arcturus & Alicante, escorted by Italian destroyer Turbine and 3 torpedo boats) leaves Palermo, Sicily, on the final leg to Tripoli.

East Africa. Battle resumes in the Dongolaas Gorge near Keren, Eritrea. Indian 3rd Battalion, 1st Punjab Regiment retakes Brig's Peak. Further South, British General Cunningham launches Operation Canvas against Italian positions on the Juba River in Italian Somaliland.

Overnight, RAF Short Stirlings of No.7 Squadron bomb oil storage tanks at Rotterdam, Holland, and another 222 aircraft bomb Hannover, Germany.

Operation Colossus. 38 paratroops of No. 11 Special Air Service Battalion, known as X Troop, fly from Malta in 6 RAF Whitley bombers of No. 91 Squadron. At 10 PM, they parachute near the Tragino aqueduct, Southern Italy (which supplies fresh water to many Italian civilians and military facilities) and plant explosives on one of the columns.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Day 528 February 9, 1941

At 8.15 AM, British Force H from Gibraltar (battleships HMS Malaya & HMS Renown and cruiser HMS Sheffield, escorted by aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal & 10 destroyers) bombards Genoa, Italy, with 273 15-inch, 782 6-inch and 400 4.5-inch shells. Only 4 merchant ships and a training vessel are sunk and 18 ships damaged of 55 ships in Genoa harbour. Docks and industrial areas are also damaged and the cathedral is hit with a 15-inch shell that does not explode (144 Italians killed, mainly civilians). 1 Swordfish from Ark Royal is shot down. Italian fleet (battleships Vittorio Veneto, Cesare & Doria, cruisers Trento, Trieste & Bolzano and 10 destroyers) attempts to intercept the British warships returning to Gibraltar but fails due to lack of air reconnaissance, poor visibility and confusion over a French merchant convoy of 6 ships heading to Corsica.

Operation Compass. British and Australian troops reach El Agheila, 100 miles along the coast from Beda Fomm but this is as far as they will advance. While General Wavell is supportive of O’Connor’s plans to move on Tripoli, Churchill has already decided to send troops to Greece from North Africa.

At 8.30 AM off Newfoundland, German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau spot Allied convoy HX-106. Under orders not to engage British capital ships, they withdraw at 10 AM on discovering British battleship HMS Ramilies in the convoy escort.

At 4.30 AM 435 miles West of Gibraltar, U-37 attacks convoy HG-53 sinking British steamers SS Estrellano (5 killed, 20 crew and 1 gunner picked up by sloop HMS Deptford although cabin boy John McIntyre dies the next day) and SS Courland (3 killed, 27 survivors picked up by British SS Brandenburg). U-37 calls in an air strike. 5 Focke Wulf 200 bombers from Bordeaux sink British SS Jura, SS Dagmar I, SS Brittanic & Norwegian SS Tejo (and damage British SS Varna which sinks on February 15).

Cruiser HMS Neptune is damaged by German bombing at Plymouth, after arriving yesterday for a refit following duty in the South Atlantic.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Day 527 February 8, 1941

General O’Connor has plans for Operation Compass to push onwards to Tripoli, Libya, and drive Italian forces from North Africa. However, Hitler has already decided to provide assistance to his ally Mussolini. The first Afrikakorps troops sail for Tripoli from Naples, Italy, aboard German steamers Ankara, Arcturus & Alicante (escorted by Italian destroyer Turbine and 3 torpedo boats). They dock at Palermo, Sicily, for 2 days to avoid British Force H from Gibraltar which is at sea in the central Mediterranean (bound for Genoa).

Stalemate continues between Greeks and Italians in the deep mid-Winter of the mountains in Southern Albania.

Battle of Keren, Eritrea, East Africa. There is a lull in the fighting between Allied and Italian troops.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Day 526 February 7, 1941

Battle of Beda Fomm, Libya, North Africa. At dawn, 20 Italian medium tanks break the British cordon but are stopped by artillery fire. Out of tanks and options, the Italians surrender. British take 25,000 Italian POWs, including the elusive General “Electric Whiskers” Bergonzoli, plus 200 guns and 120 tanks. Since the start of the ‘5 day raid’ two months ago, Operation Compass has destroyed 10 Italian divisions, 400 tanks and 1290 artillery pieces with a mixed force of British, Indian and Australian troops never more than 2 divisions strong. Allied losses for the whole campaign are 555 dead and missing, plus 1,373 wounded, while taking 130,000 POWs (including 22 Italian Generals). General O’Connor signals his victory to British Commander-in-Chief Middle East General Wavell in Cairo using a hunting metaphor (both are fox hunters) “Fox killed in the open”.

Battle of Keren, Eritrea, East Africa. British and Indian troops continue to hold Cameron Ridge. On the other side of the Gorge, 4th Indian Division tries to flank the Italian stronghold at Dologorodoc Fort, by moving through the Scescilembi Valley (known as “Happy Valley” by the Indian troops).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Day 525 February 6, 1941

Operation Compass. Libya. A column of Italian 20,000 troops, 160 tanks and 200 field guns is strung out along 7 miles of the coast road. They are contained by Combe Force’s roadblock at Sidi Saleh and 4th Armoured Brigade at Beda Fomm, despite a series of uncoordinated attacks all day. Australian 6th Division captures Benghazi while 7th Support Group (another part of 7th Armoured Division) captures Sceleidima inland; both groups now close the trap on the Italians from the North.

Battle of Keren, Eritrea, East Africa. 2nd Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders hold Cameron Ridge and are reinforced by Indian 6th Rajputana Rifles. Indian 3rd Battalion, 14th Punjab Regiment advances past them and onto Brig's Peak but they are pushed back by Italian 65th Infantry Division "Savoia Grenadiers" (Granatieri di Savoia).

German Motor Torpedo Boats S.30, S.54, S.58, S.59 raid the East coast of England, sinking British SS Angularity (2 crew killed, 1 taken prisoner by S.30).

At 5.52 PM 250 miles Northwest of Ireland, U-107 sinks Canadian SS Maplecourt carrying 3604 tons cargo including 1540 tons of steel from USA to Britain (all 37 hands lost).

Friday, February 4, 2011

Day 524 February 5, 1941

Operation Compass. At noon, after crossing 150 miles of desert in 30 hours, Combe Force’s armoured cars cut the coast road at the hamlet of Sidi Saleh. 30 minutes later, retreating Italians begin arriving from Benghazi but they cannot break through the British roadblock. By evening, 4th Armoured Brigade reaches the road 10 miles North at Beda Fomm and attacks the Italian column with tanks.

Battle of Keren, Eritrea, East Africa. British and Indian troops launch an attack through the hills on the left side of Dongolaas Gorge on the approach to Keren. 2nd Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders fight to the top of 1616 meter high ridge, which will become known as Cameron Ridge. Although fighting in the Gorge will swing back and forth for almost 2 months, Allied forces will not relinquish Cameron Ridge.

British anti-submarine trawler HMT Tourmaline is bombed and sunk by German aircraft off North Foreland, Kent.

British submarine HMS Sealion sinks Norwegian SS Ryfylke 2 miles off the Norwegian coast near Stadlandet.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Day 523 February 4, 1941

Operation Compass. Italians begin evacuating Benghazi, Libya. At dawn, 7th Armoured Division leaves Mechili to cross 150 miles of desert South of the lush, hilly Jebel El Akhdar (“Green Mountains”) and cut off the Italian retreat. The tanks make slow progress so General Creagh sends ahead a mobile group of infantry in armoured cars towing artillery under Colonel John Combe (Combe Force).

At 4.40 AM, U-93 finishes off British SS Dione II with the deck gun and antiaircraft gun (27 crew and 1 gunner killed, 5 crew rescued by British steamer Flowergate). At 8.38 AM 500 miles West of Ireland, U-52 sinks Norwegian SS Ringhorn carrying 1300 tons of coal from Britain to USA (14 crew die but corvette HMS Camellia picks up 5 survivors on rafts after 6 hours in heavy seas). At 4.44 PM, U-123 sinks British SS Empire Engineer carrying 7047 tons of steel from USA to Britain, in the middle of the Atlantic 1000 miles West of Ireland (all 39 hands lost, although the crew is seen to abandon ship on rafts).

RAF bombs Düsseldorf.

German pocket battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau break out undetected into the Atlantic Ocean via the Denmark Strait.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day 522 February 3, 1941

Eritrea, East Africa. Italians withdraw into the mountains that run down the middle of Eritrea, where they will make their stand at the town of Keren. The road and railway, leading to the capital city Asmara and the Red Sea ports, pass through the narrow and heavily-defended Dongolaas Gorge.

Hitler appoints Erwin Rommel to command the newly-created Deutsches Afrikakorps which will soon be sent to Libya. Hitler considers Erich von Manstein before deciding on Rommel to replace Hans von Funck who is already in Libya making preparations but lacks attacking spirit.

300 miles South of Iceland, U-107 sinks British SS Empire Citizen at 2.23 AM (64 crew, 1 gunner and 12 passengers lost, 4 crew and 1 gunner picked up by corvette HMS Clarkia) and British ocean boarding vessel HMS Crispin at 11.33 PM (20 crew lost, 8 survivors picked up by rescue ship Copeland and 113 rescued by destroyer HMS Harvester).

At 2.10 PM 50 miles off the Northwest coast of Ireland, U-93 fires a torpedo that misses British SS Dione II, carrying 2650 tons of iron ore from USA to Britain. Later, Dione II is bombed and damaged by a German Fw200. At 11 PM, U-93 and Dione II engage in a brief gun duel in very rough seas.

British minesweeping trawler HMT Arctic Trapper is sunk by German bombing off Ramsgate (17 killed, 3 wounded survivors).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Day 521 February 2, 1941

East Africa. 5th Indian Division captures Italian fortifications defended by 8,000 troops and 32 field guns at Barentu, Eritrea. Indian troops have advanced over 100 miles from Sudan since January 19, capturing 6,000 Italian POWs, 80 field guns, 26 tanks and 400 trucks.

In the Indian Ocean, British aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (escorted by cruiser HMS Hawkins to the Suez Canal, to replace HMS Illustrious in the Mediterranean) launches aircraft to drop mines in the harbour and attack shore installations at Mogadishu, Italian Somaliland (Operation Breach).

Operation Compass. Australian troops advance on the coast road West of Derna, Libya, and find Italians forces have withdrawn. General O'Connor receives permission from General Wavell in Cairo to send elements of 7th Armored Division across the desert to cut off the Italian retreat.

British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (escorted by battleships HMS Renown & HMS Malaya and cruiser HMS Sheffield) launches 8 torpedo bombers which unsuccessfully attack the hydroelectric Santa Chiara Dam on Tirso River, Sardinia. 1 Swordfish of 810 Squadron is shot down and all 3 crew are taken prisoner.

Naval trawler HMT Almond hits a mine and sinks off Falmouth (19 killed).

Overnight, in the Indian Ocean, German armed merchant cruiser Atlantis stops Norwegian tanker Ketty Brøvig (carrying 6370 tons of fuel oil and 4125 tons of diesel oil from Bahrain) with shellfire. Ketty Brøvig is taken as a prize ship (all 52 crew taken prisoner) and will refuel cruiser Admiral Scheer and several other raiders.