Sunday, February 12, 2012

Day 896 February 12, 1942

At 2 AM, German bombers sink British destroyer HMS Maori (at anchor in Malta’s Grand Harbour) with a bomb that explodes in the engine room (2 killed, 6 wounded but most crewmen are asleep ashore). Destroyer HMS Decoy moored nearby is damaged by the explosion (2 killed).

Channel Dash. At 10.42 AM in the English Channel off Dieppe, France, 2 RAF Spitfires on patrol spot German battleships Scharnhorst & Gneisenau and cruiser Prinz Eugen, escorted by 6 destroyers, 13 torpedo boats, 26 Schnellboot (motor torpedo boats) and heavily guarded by dozens of Luftwaffe fighters. British are taken completely by surprise (as they expect an overnight run through the Channel, under cover of darkness). Coastal 9-inch guns at South Foreland fire 33 rounds, scoring no hits as the German ships are too close to the French coast to spot the falling shells. Uncoordinated attacks by Fleet Air Arm Swordfish torpedo bombers, RAF medium bombers, Royal Navy motor torpedo boats and destroyers are all unsuccessful. 37 British aircraft are shot down (23 killed including FAA Lieutenant Commander Esmonde who wins the VC for leading the suicidal Swordfish attack). Destroyer HMS Worcester is pounded by Gneisenau’s 8-inch and 11-inch guns but does not sink (27 killed, 45 wounded, under repair until August). Scharnhorst hits 2 mines & Gneisenau hits 1 mine but the damage is repaired and all German ships reach their home ports safely.

In the Gulf of Taranto, British submarine HMS Una mistakenly sinks Italian tanker Lucania which had been given safe passage to refuel ships repatriating Italian civilians from Eritrea.

Singapore. Japanese are not prepared for a final offensive but probing attacks make some dents in the Allied line West of the city. General Percival takes the lull as an opportunity to give up more ground, abandoning the majority of the island to defend the city perimeter. He pulls back the rest of British 18th Division from the Northeast and brings in Malay and Singapore Volunteer forces from their pointless defense of the Southeast shore. Japanese concentrate bombing, strafing by fighters and long-range artillery (across the Johore Strait) on the city, flooding hospitals with civilians in addition to wounded soldiers from the perimeter. Cruiser HMS Durban, destroyers HMS Stronghold & HMS Jupiter and steamers Empire Star & Gorgon depart before daylight, carrying many Royal Navy personnel to Batavia (now Jakarta), Java. HMS Durban is attacked 17 times by Japanese bombers, losing her forward 6 inch gun (8 killed) and Empire Star is also hit by 3 bombs.

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