Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 629 May 21, 1941

Crete. At 3 PM, General Student sends in 2 more companies of paratroops who are slaughtered as they land among New Zealand Maori troops. Student then ignores German doctrine not to reinforce failure & sends 40 Ju52 transports to land 650 5th Mountain Division troops on Maleme airfield giving them control of the landing strip. Many of the Junkers are destroyed before they can take off. General Freyberg still holds back his reserves, expecting amphibious landings. The only seaborne activity is a flotilla of 19 fishing boats and 2 small steamers which set out from the island of Milos carrying 2331 German troops and supplies (no tanks). At midnight, 3 Royal Navy cruisers and 4 destroyers intercept sinking 11 small vessels (297 Germans killed, Italian torpedo boat Lira rescues survivors). Italian torpedo boat Lupo attacks the British warships with torpedoes and her 4-inch guns allowing the other boats to scatter (Lupo is hit by 18 6-inch shells but survives).

During the day, Luftwaffe attacks British warships sweeping the coast of Crete. Cruisers HMS Dido, Orion & Ajax and 4 destroyers suffer minor damage in 4 hours of bombing off Canae, where the invasion fleet is expected. 45 miles Southeast of Crete, destroyer HMS Juno is hit by 3 bombs from 5 Italian Cant Z.1007 bombers and sinks in 3 minutes (128 killed, 97 survivors picked up by destroyer HMS Nubian).

Operation Rheinübung. German battleship Bismarck and cruiser Prinz Eugen stop in Grimstadfjord, Norway, to refuel the cruiser. At 1.15 PM, RAF Flying Officer Michael Suckling spots the warships while doing reconnaissance in a Spitfire over Bergen (only 5 miles away). British Admiral Sir John ‘Jack’ Tovey, commander of the British Home Fleet, sends out all available warships (including battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Hood) to patrol the Denmark Strait and the Iceland-Faroes gap. At 7 PM, the German ships head out into the North Sea and overnight RAF bombers attack the empty fjord.

At 5.25 AM 850 miles West of Freetown, Sierra Leone, U-69 sinks neutral American SS Robin Moor (first American merchant ship sunk by a U-boat). All 38 crew and 8 passengers (including 3 women and a child) abandon ship in 4 lifeboats. 35 survivors in 3 lifeboats are picked up on June 2 by a British merchant and landed at Capetown, South Africa. The final boat with 11 survivors is picked up on June 8 by Brazilian SS Ozório after floating 900 miles. US President Roosevelt protests the sinking and demands compensation from Germany but to no avail. At midnight, U-69 sinks British SS Tewkesbury (all 42 hands escape in lifeboats). In the North Atlantic off Greenland, U-93 sinks Dutch tanker Elusa (5 killed, 49 rescued by a British destroyer) and U-98 sinks British SS Marconi (22 dead, 56 picked up by US Coast Guard patrol boat General Greene).

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