Sunday, April 17, 2011

Day 596 April 18, 1941

Greece. At the Pinios Gorge, 6th Mountain Division crosses Mount Olympus to get behind the ANZAC defenders while 3rd Regiment 2nd Panzer Division fords the Pinios River on a pontoon bridge. Germans are converging from 3 directions on the strategically-important crossroads at the town of Larisa, through which all Allied troops are withdrawing towards Thermopylae. Luftwaffe bombs and strafes the 70 mile long column of trucks on the road South but most Allied troops get away safely from the danger of entrapment. As it becomes obvious that the Allies are abandoning Greece, Greek Prime Minister Alexandros Koryzis shoots himself in the evening.

Iraq. 20th Indian Infantry Brigade land at Basra unopposed. They have sailed from Karachi, India, in 8 transport ships escorted by aircraft carrier HMS Hermes, cruisers HMS Emerald & HMNZS Leander, 6 sloops and gunboat HMS Cockchafer.

It is a quiet day at Tobruk after the fury of the Easter weekend. Rommel awaits the arrival of 15th Panzer Division’s heavy armour. Australian General Leslie Morshead (known as Ming the Merciless for his scowl), commander of the Allied garrison, insists on a defense in depth. He reorganizes his forces, creating additional reserve brigades, and continues construction of a secondary defensive line, digging gun pits and laying minefields. German dive bombers sink empty British troopship HMS Fiona (54 killed) 50 miles Northwest of Sidi Barrani, Egypt.

At 6 AM 1400 miles West of South Africa, German armed merchant cruiser Atlantis shells Egyptian liner ZamZam without warning, believing her to be a British troopship. ZamZam is carrying a cargo of lubricating oil, tin plate, trucks, steel bars, radios and batteries from New York, USA, to Cape Town, South Africa. All 129 crew and 202 passengers (including 73 women and 35 children) are rescued from lifeboats, during which Life magazine‘s David Scherman captures a photograph of Atlantis. A boarding party raids the larder and bar before sinking ZamZam with scuttling charges.

En route to the Mediterranean, British submarine HMS Urge sinks Italian tanker Franco Martelli in the Bay of Biscay. British destroyers HMS Newark and HMS Volunteer collide just off Northern coast of Ireland. Both are seriously damaged and will be under repair at Belfast until August.

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