Saturday, May 14, 2011

Day 623 May 15, 1941

Operation Brevity. The key to holding the border between Libya & Egypt is Halfaya Pass, where the coastal road cuts up the steep escarpment onto the desert plateau, which is currently held by Italian & German troops under German Colonel Maximillian von Herff. At 6 AM, British Brigadier William Gott leads 3 battalions in armoured cars plus 24 infantry tanks & 29 cruiser tanks along the coast and across the desert, covered by RAF Hurricane fighters. Despite skirmishes with German tanks, British capture Halfaya Pass and Fort Capuzzo by noon (taking 347 prisoners, mainly Italian). Rommel sends a Panzer battalion plus anti-tank guns from Tobruk, allowing von Herff to counterattack and recapture Fort Capuzzo by 2.45 PM (taking British 70 prisoners). Fort Capuzzo has now changed hands 7 times since June 1940.

Ethiopia. Ethiopian guerrilla forces, South African troops advancing from the South and Indian troops crossing from Gumsa Hill to the East meet at the top of Triangle, a hill adjacent to the Italian stronghold at Amba Alagi. Allied shelling of the Italian fortifications damages a store of oil which leaks into the only source of drinking water.

Iraq. An Iraqi Bristol Blenheim bombs and strafes Kingcol, British column advancing from Rutbah to Habbaniya (no damage or casualties). British Fairey Swordfish, from aircraft carrier HMS Hermes in the Indian Ocean, bomb the Al Qushla (Ottoman Barracks) in the Iraqi city of Samawah. 1 Swordfish is shot down but Lieutenant James Dundas (Fleet Air Arm air-sea rescue) wins the DSC for rescuing the crew. RAF bombers raid Vichy French airfields at Palmyra and Damascus, Syria, to prevent transshipment of German planes to Iraq.

At 8.29 PM 400 miles off Sierra Leone, U-105 sinks British SS Benvenue (2 killed; 48 crew, 1 gunner and 6 army personnel picked up by British liner Empire Trader). 430 miles West of Brest, France, U-43 shells and sinks French 3 mast sailboat Notre Dame du Ch√Ętelet which is believed to be reporting the position of U-boats (28 dead, 10 survivors abandon ship in 2 lifeboats). German bombers sink Greek destroyer Leon in Salamis Navy Yard at Suda Bay, Crete.

At midnight, British cruisers HMS Gloucester & Fiji land 2nd Battalion Leicester Regiment at Heraklion, Crete, from Alexandria, Egypt.

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