Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 566 March 19, 1941

Rommel meets with Hitler, Generalfeldmarschall Brauchitsch and Chief of Staff General Halder. Rommel is told to expect no reinforcements in Libya until the 15th Panzer Division arrives in May but to go ahead with reconnaissance in force and to take Benghazi if possible.

Germany needs access through Yugoslavia for the planned invasion of Greece (Bulgaria has too few roads and railways while Albania is thronged with beaten Italians and can be supplied only by sea). Prince Paul of Yugoslavia (an anglophile, educated in England and married to a Greek princess) has resisted German pressure. Hitler now gives him an ultimatum - join the Tripartite pact in 5 days - and an empty promise not to move troops through Yugoslavia.

At 00.30 AM 350 miles West of Nouakchott, Mauritania, U-105 sinks Dutch SS Mandalika (previously German SS Nordmark seized by the Dutch on 10 May 1940 at Batavia, Indonesia) in convoy SL-68. 3 crew are killed and 62 survivors picked up by British corvette HMS Marguerite. Another vessel is lost from the convoy when British steamer Clan MacNab collides with Norwegian tanker Strix and sinks.

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau end their raiding cruise in the Atlantic and start the return voyage to Brest, France. They plan to approach Brest overnight & arrive at dawn on March 22, as German intelligence does not know the disposition of Royal Navy ships in the area. However, the British are equally unsure about the location of the German battlecruisers.

Overnight, 370 German bombers attack London in the heaviest raid this year, killing 750 civilians. Several freighters and auxiliary anti-aircraft ship Helvellyn are sunk or damaged in London docks.

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