Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 630 May 22, 1941

Crete. At 3.30 AM, Australian and New Zealand troops launch a counterattack to retake Maleme, during which New Zealand Lieutenant Charles Upham wins his first VC. They reach the airfield but are repelled by German 5th Mountain Division. With control of Maleme airfield, General Student sends more Junkers Ju 52 transports bringing in 2 battalions of fresh troops. The airfield is still under Allied artillery fire and many Junkers are destroyed with considerable casualties but, during the day, Germans establish control on the West end of the island. Allied commanders, many miles from Maleme, are mistakenly under the delusion that Germans are using Ju 52 transport planes to withdraw from the island. They withdraw the ANZAC troops to prepare a counterattack to regain the airfield.

Royal Navy has a disastrous day off Crete. They know from Ultra intercepts that a flotilla of small vessels is carrying German troops and supplies from the island of Milos, but this is delayed by the late arrival of Italian escort (torpedo boat Sagittario). British warships search overnight but make the mistake of continuing after sunrise and come under heavy German air attack. At 10 AM, cruisers HMS Naiad (6 killed) & Calcutta (14 killed) and destroyer HMS Kingston (1 killed) are damaged by bombs. At noon, destroyer HMS Greyhound is sunk (76 killed) and battleship HMS Warspite is badly damaged (43 killed, 69 wounded, under repair in USA until December 18). Anti-aircraft cruisers HMS Gloucester (722 killed) and Fiji (257 killed) try to fend off the Stukas but they run out of ammunition and are sunk. Most survivors from Greyhound, Gloucester & Fiji are rescued by destroyers HMS Kingston & Kandahar.

Overnight, Iraqis with Italian light tanks counterattack British forces in Fallujah. There is fighting all day but the British hold the town with reinforcements from RAF Habbaniya (capturing 6 light tanks).

Operation Rheinübung. British aerial reconnaissance confirms that German battleship Bismarck and cruiser Prinz Eugen have left Grimstadfjord, Norway. Luftwaffe surveillance of Scapa Flow, Scotland, is not so accurate. They are fooled by dummy wood & canvas warships and report to Bismarck’s Admiral Lütjens that British Home Fleet is still at dock.

At 1.40 PM 400 miles Southwest of Iceland, U-111 sinks British SS Barnby (1 killed, 44 survivors taken to Iceland). At midnight 50 miles off Sierra Leone, U-103 sinks empty British tanker Grenadier (all 49 hands rescued by the Spanish tanker Jose Calvo Sotelo and Portuguese SS Ganda).

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