Thursday, April 7, 2011

Day 586 April 8, 1941

Libya. German 5th Light Division prepares to attack the fort at Mechili. British, Australian and Indian troops realize that reinforcements are not coming and attempt to break out at dawn. A sandstorm confuses the fighting, allowing 300 Allied troops to get away to Tobruk but 2000 are captured including British 2nd Armoured Division commander General Gambier-Parry. Rommel appropriates Gambier-Parry’s plastic goggles and two Dorchester armoured cars (renamed Max and Moritz after characters in a children’s story). Thus is born the image of Rommel in his command vehicle with goggles on his peaked cap. British CIC Middle East General Wavell orders that Tobruk must be held at all costs; Rommel cannot go much further without a port to resupply his armoured columns but if Tobruk falls he can advance all the way to Cairo, Egypt (so weak are the British defenses). The job of holding Tobruk falls to the 9th Australian Division.

Balkans. Germans advance in Southern Yugoslavia towards and into Greece. 2nd Panzer Division traverses a small mountain range and crosses the Greek border at the Dojran Lake. 73rd Infantry Division moves into the Monastir Valley and captures the town of Prilep, on the rail line to Salonika, ready to swarm down the wide, flat valley to the Greek border. Meanwhile, German 6th Mountain Division breaks through Metaxas Line at a point considered impassable by the Greeks, by crossing a 7,000 ft mountain range.

Eritrea. Aided by a drawing of the Massawa defenses discovered in the Italian War Office at Asmara, British & Indian & Free French troops capture hill forts surrounding Massawa. Colonel Ralph Monclar of the French Foreign Legion rushes ahead and captures the Italian admiralty building. British General Heath arrives and accepts the formal the surrender of 10,000 Italian naval personnel and colonial troops from Italian Admiral Bonetti. Ammunition and supply dumps have been destroyed. Italian minelayer Ostia is sunk by RAF while Italian destroyer escort Orsini, 5 torpedo motor boats and 7 freighters are scuttled. The harbour is an unusable mess of partially sunk ships plus dumped cargo, tanks and other vehicles.

200 miles South of the Azores, U-107 sinks British SS Eskdene at 7.42 AM with 2 torpedoes and 104 rounds from the deck gun (all 39 crew are picked up by British SS Penhale and taken to Pernambuco, Brazil) and British SS Helena Margareta at 7.40 PM (27 crew lost, 7 crew members and 2 gunners picked up on April 14 by fleet oiler Cairndale and landed at Gibraltar). Further South, 150 miles off Freetown, Sierra Leone, U-124 sinks British SS Tweed at 12.25 PM (3 crew lost, 22 survivors in 2 lifeboats make land at Conakry, French Guinea).

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