Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 579 April 1, 1941

Eritrea. Advancing British tanks are met by 2 police officers from Asmara, declaring the Eritrean capital an open town. At 10 AM, 5th Indian Division enters the town and takes 5,000 Italian POWs plus 1,500,000 shells and 3,000,000 small arms rounds. Armoured cars under Colonel Bernard Fletcher ("Flitforce") are dispatched along the Via Imperiale towards Adigrat to cut off Italian retreat South into neighbouring Ethiopia. German merchant ships continue leaving Massawa before the British arrive. In the Red Sea, destroyer HMS Kandahar intercepts German steamer Bertram Rickmers which is scuttled by the crew, while SS Lichtenfels returns to Massawa to avoid capture.

8 German merchant ships are scuttled by their crews in various South American ports, to avoid being impounded by American and Canadian authorities. This follows the ABC Staff Agreement and seizure of Axis ships in US ports.

Rommel holds 5th Light Division at Mersa Brega. British commander in Libya General Philip Neame (holder of both an Olympic Gold Medal and Victoria Cross) orders British forces to make a fighting retreat to Agedabia, if attacked. They will then split to cover the coastal road to Benghazi and routes through the desert South of the Green Mountain. Neither part will be strong enough to resist the German attack but they are not sufficiently mobile to provide mutual support.

German bombers sink British tanker San Conrado and Norwegian tanker Hidlefjord (all 29 hands lost) 45 miles West of Milford Haven, Wales. 3 other tankers are damaged in the raid.

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