Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 572 March 25, 1941

Battle of Keren, Eritrea. At 3 AM, British and Indian troops advance along the road through the Dongolaas Gorge, under cover of an artillery barrage on Italian positions in the heights above. By 5.30, they capture 2 small hills (the “Railway Bumps”) overlooking the roadblock, taking 500 Italian prisoners. They achieve complete surprise and work starts at 6.30 on clearing the road which is not guarded by the Italians.

In Vienna, Austria, Yugoslavian Prime Minister Dragiša Cvetković signs the Tripartite Pact. Hitler has convinced Prince Paul of Yugoslavia with secret protocols that permit Germany use of Yugoslav railways to bring up troops for the attack on Greece while allowing Yugoslavia to remain neutral in the conflict. The decision is deeply unpopular in Yugoslavia and 4 government Ministers have already resigned during the negotiations. There are demonstrations in Belgrade on the news.

750 miles West of Freetown, Sierra Leone, German armed merchant cruiser Thor sinks British liner Britannia. 203 crew and 281 passengers (mostly RAF and Royal Navy personnel) take to the lifeboats. Thor rescues 1 man but departs after radio transmissions from an approaching British warship (which never arrives). 255 die of exposure, dehydration and shark attacks but 195 are rescued by Spanish freighters SS Bachi & SS Cabo De Hornos and British SS Raranga. 1 lifeboat floats 1,500 miles in 23 days to Sao Luis, Brazil (only 33 alive of the 82 aboard). Thor also sinks Swedish MV Trolleholm, carrying coal from Newcastle, England, to Egypt (all 31 crew taken prisoner).

Mid-Atlantic, halfway between Sierra Leone and Brazil, German armed merchant cruiser Kormoran stops empty Canadian tanker Canadolite with shellfire. Canadolite is sent with a prize crew to Brest, France.

Italian destroyers Crispi and Sella leave the Aegean island of Leros, each carrying three 2-ton motor assault boats loaded with 300kg explosives. At 11.30 PM, the destroyers release the motor boats 10 miles off Suda Bay, Crete.

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