Friday, April 1, 2011

Day 581 April 3, 1941

Libya. Churchill’s suggests that General O’Connor, who masterminded the successful Allied advance in January, is offered command in Libya. O’Connor refuses but nonetheless returns from convalescing in Cairo to advise General Neame. Rommel divides his force, sending 5th Light Division across the desert South of the Green Mountain while a mixed German/Italian unit heads along the coast road to Benghazi. Rommel flies around the battlefield in his Fieseler Storch light aircraft, giving orders and solving problems. When 5th Light Division tanks run low on petrol, he risks halting them for 24 hours and sends back trucks to bring more fuel. British withdraw, following Neame’s orders, but the retreat is disoriented and confused in the open desert. A supply dump at Msus with large quantities of much-needed fuel is blown up on the erroneous rumour of approaching German tanks. This will badly hamper the mobility of British armour in the coming days.

In the Red Sea, 5 Italian destroyers head North from Massawa, Eritrea, to attack British facilities at Port Sudan, Sudan. Destroyer Battisti breaks down en route and is scuttled by the remaining 4 warships, which are spotted by British reconnaissance aircraft. Swordfish bombers from carrier HMS Eagle immediately attack, sinking destroyers Daniele Manin and Nazario Sauro. Pantera and Tigre cross the Red Sea and are scuttled near the Arabian coast.

150 miles south of Iceland, U-76 sinks Finnish SS Daphne carrying coal from Wales to Norway (all 2 hands lost). 100 miles Southwest of St Nazaire, France, British submarine HMS Tigris sinks German tanker Thorn.

Operation Winch. 12 Hurricane fighters (brought from Britain aboard aircraft carrier HMS Argus) and 3 Skua dive bombers fly 400 miles to Malta from carrier HMS Ark Royal (escorted by cruiser HMS Renown and HMS Sheffield plus 5 destroyers).

17 miles West of Crete, German bombers sink British munitions ship MV Northern Prince (entire crew is rescued), depriving Allied troops in Greece of vital ammunition.

Overnight, RAF again unsuccessfully bombs German cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau at Brest, France. Due to the raids, German naval staff and officers from Scharnhorst and Gneisenau have been moved to the Continental Hotel but many are killed during dinner when bombs strike the hotel. Luftwaffe bombs Bristol.

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