Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 579 April 1, 1941

Eritrea. Advancing British tanks are met by 2 police officers from Asmara, declaring the Eritrean capital an open town. At 10 AM, 5th Indian Division enters the town and takes 5,000 Italian POWs plus 1,500,000 shells and 3,000,000 small arms rounds. Armoured cars under Colonel Bernard Fletcher ("Flitforce") are dispatched along the Via Imperiale towards Adigrat to cut off Italian retreat South into neighbouring Ethiopia. German merchant ships continue leaving Massawa before the British arrive. In the Red Sea, destroyer HMS Kandahar intercepts German steamer Bertram Rickmers which is scuttled by the crew, while SS Lichtenfels returns to Massawa to avoid capture.

8 German merchant ships are scuttled by their crews in various South American ports, to avoid being impounded by American and Canadian authorities. This follows the ABC Staff Agreement and seizure of Axis ships in US ports.

Rommel holds 5th Light Division at Mersa Brega. British commander in Libya General Philip Neame (holder of both an Olympic Gold Medal and Victoria Cross) orders British forces to make a fighting retreat to Agedabia, if attacked. They will then split to cover the coastal road to Benghazi and routes through the desert South of the Green Mountain. Neither part will be strong enough to resist the German attack but they are not sufficiently mobile to provide mutual support.

German bombers sink British tanker San Conrado and Norwegian tanker Hidlefjord (all 29 hands lost) 45 miles West of Milford Haven, Wales. 3 other tankers are damaged in the raid.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 578 March 31, 1941

Libya, North Africa. At 7.45 AM, Rommel's 5th Light Division attacks British 2nd Armoured Division at Mersa Brega, closely supported by Luftwaffe dive bombers. They are held by British anti-tank guns throughout the day. At 5.30 PM, German tanks and infantry advance through sand dunes by the seashore and enter Mersa Brega at 7 PM, but British tanks do not counterattack in the fading light. Under orders not to become heavily engaged with German tanks, the British withdraw 30 miles Northeast toward Agedabia overnight. British lose 60 men killed plus 8 armoured carriers and 1 anti-aircraft gun destroyed.

Eritrea, East Africa. British and Indian troops overcome Italian resistance on the road from Keren to Asmara (560 Italians taken prisoner). 5th Indian Infantry attack Italian defensive positions in a narrow valley at Adi Tekelezan, the last settlement before the Eritrean capital Asmara.

At 2.44 AM 125 miles South of Crete, Italian submarine Ambra sinks cruiser HMS Bonaventure escorting convoy GA8 from Greece to Alexandria, Egypt (138 killed, 310 survivors rescued by destroyers HMS Hereward and HMS Stuart). At 10.33 AM 300 miles East of the tip of Greenland, U-46 sinks Swedish tanker MV Castor carrying oil from USA to Sweden (all 15 crew lost). 28 miles Northwest of Messina, Sicily, British submarine HMS Rorqual torpedoes and sinks Italian submarine Pier Capponi (all 49 hands lost).

In the Red Sea, Italian destroyers Leone, Pantera and Tigre head North from Massawa, Eritrea, to attack British facilities at Port Sudan, Sudan. Leone founders on rocks off Massawa and is sunk by Pantera and Tigre, which then return to Massawa.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 577 March 30, 1941

At 7.34 AM 300 miles Southwest of Iceland, U-69 sinks British SS Coultarn (3 killed, 35 crew and 4 gunners picked up by British armed merchant cruiser HMS California).

33 miles Northwest of Trapani, Sicily, British submarine HMS Rorqual sinks Italian tanker Laura Corrado with torpedoes and the deck gun.

Libya. British 2nd Armoured Division is reinforcing defenses on the narrow coastal defile at Mersa Brega. In order to prevent the Allied defenses becoming impregnable and to secure a source of fresh water running off the Green Mountain (Jebel Achdar), Rommel orders 5th Light Division commander General Johannes Streich to capture Mersa Brega.

A US/British Military Staff Conference in Washington D.C. (from January 29 to March 27) agrees on military coordination in the event of US entry into the war (ABC Staff Agreement). Accordingly, US takes possession of German, Italian, and Danish ships in American ports.

At 8.27 PM, Italian submarine Dagabur unsuccessfully attacks British cruiser HMS Bonaventure (escorting convoy GA-8) midway between Crete and Egypt.

At 11 PM 90 miles Southwest of Freetown, Sierra Leone, U-124 sinks British SS Umona (82 crew, 7 gunners and 13 passengers lost). 3 survivors are picked up on April 7 by destroyer HMS Foxhound and 2 more on April 12 by British freighter SS Lorca (all landed at Freetown).

Overnight, 100 RAF bombers drop 500 lb armour-piercing bombs on German cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau at Brest, France. The ships, which were spotted by a Spitfire on March 28, escape unharmed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 576 March 29, 1941

Battle of Cape Matapan. British destroyers HMS Jervis & Nubian sink wrecked Italian cruiser Pola with torpedoes at 4 AM (after taking off the crew & removing several Breda anti-aircraft machine guns). Fearing Luftwaffe air strikes, Allied ships depart at daybreak after picking up 905 survivors (16 Stukas attack later, unsuccessfully). Royal Navy signals the location of the survivors still in the water allowing Italian hospital ship Gradisca to rescue 160 more.

Libya. After 3 days of sandstorms which have immobilized both sides, Rommel moves more tanks up to El Agheila while Luftwaffe bombs Allied positions (destroying a train carrying vital petroleum for the British armour). German and British armoured cars tangle in the desert between El Agheila and Mersa Brega.

Operation Canvas. Nigerian brigade withdraws, allowing 1st South African Brigade to lead the 11th African Division charge into Ethiopia. Italians retreating from Harar to Diredawa have demolished bridges and blown away whole sections of the mountainside where the road runs 2,000 feet down a cliff. South Africans overcome these obstacles in 2 days and capture Diredawa, 33 miles North of Harar. Diredawa lies on the railway to Addis Ababa (opening the way to the capital) and has an airfield to bring in supplies.

120 miles South of Iceland, U-48 sinks 3 freighters in convoy HX-115 between 6.19 and 8.06 AM. Most crew members are picked up by corvette HMS Dianella. At 5.50 PM 300 miles Southwest of Iceland, U-46 sinks Swedish SS Liguria (19 killed, 10 survivors).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Day 575 March 28, 1941

Battle of Cape Matapan 150 miles West of Crete. At 6.35 AM, Italian Ro43 seaplane spots Allied cruisers HMS Ajax, Gloucester, Orion & HMAS Perth. Italian cruisers Trieste, Trento & Bolzano close in and open fire at 8.12 AM from 22km without success, then battleship Veneto joins in at 10.55 from 23km (shell splinters cause slight damage to all 4 Allied cruisers). Torpedo bombers from HMS Formidable attack Veneto at noon and again at 3.09 PM, hitting a propeller & causing flooding which stops her for 90 minutes (1 Albacore is shot down, all 3 crew killed). Admiral Cunningham immediately orders Mediterranean fleet to close on the damaged Italian battleship. Torpedo bombers from HMS Formidable and from Crete (815 Squadron) attack at 7.36 PM, crippling Italian cruiser Pola. Cruisers Zara and Fiume remain to help Pola while Vittorio Veneto and the other ships run for cover at Taranto. After dark, battleships HMS Barham, Valiant & Warspite close to 3.5km unnoticed by the Italian ships (which have no radar). They open fire at 11.30 PM, sinking 2 Italian cruisers Fiume & Zara and 2 destroyers Alfieri & Carducci while destroyer Oriani escapes with heavy damage (2,303 Italian sailors killed).

Eritrea, East Africa. Indian Pattern Carriers and armoured cars of Indian 4th & 5th Divisions pursue Italians East from Keren (2000 Italian stragglers taken prisoner). Italians mount a fighting retreat where the road towards the capital Asmara twists for several miles along the side of a valley, sloping steeply away into a gorge. They will hold the British and Indian advance with rocks blasted from the hillsides and hidden artillery, using guns withdrawn from Keren.

Italian torpedo boat Chinotto sinks in minefield off Palermo, Sicily, laid by British submarine HMS Rorqual on March 25. British submarine HMS Utmost torpedoes German steamers Heraklea (sinks) and Ruhr (damaged) off the coast of Tunisia.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 574 March 27, 1941

Battle of Keren, Eritrea. At 4.30 AM, tanks and infantry push through the Dongolaas Gorge along the newly repaired road and capture the heights beyond, which dominate the Gorge and the town of Keren. 3,000 Italian troops in the hills around the Gorge gradually surrender. Keren is taken without a fight at 10 AM and Italian troops are pursued as they retreat towards the capital Asmara. Allied casualties are 536 killed & 3,229 wounded, while Italy loses 6,500 killed, missing & wounded.

As the Italian Fleet is known to be at sea from Ultra intercepts, Admiral Cunningham’s Mediterranean fleet (battleships HMS Warspite, Barham & Valiant, aircraft carrier HMS Formidable & 9 destroyers) leaves Alexandria, Egypt. In addition, 4 cruisers & 4 destroyers leave Piraeus, Greece. A Sunderland flying boat is sent out ‘spotting’ as a pretext. The Italian warships are located at noon without the promised Luftwaffe air cover.

Coup d’etat in Yugoslavia. Crowds in Belgrade spit at the German Ambassador. Inspired by anti-Nazi sentiments and vague British promises of military help, Air Force General Dušan Simović seizes power (deposing Prime Minister Dragiša Cvetković on his return from Vienna). Regent of Yugoslavia, Prince Paul is replaced with 17 year-old heir to the throne King Peter II (he and new Prime Minister Simović intend to renounce the Tripartite Pact). On hearing the news, Hitler orders Yugoslavia to be invaded along with Greece, diverting 29 divisions and 2000 aircraft to the Balkans from the planned invasion of USSR (Operation Barbarosa).

At 1.50 PM 400 miles Southwest of Iceland, U-98 sinks British SS Koranton (all 34 hands lost). In the same area, Oberleutnant zur See Helmut Pöttgen falls overboard from U-46 and is lost.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 573 March 26, 1941

At 4.46 AM, 6 Italian motor assault boats (Motoscafo da Turismo Modificato or MTM) enter Suda Bay, Crete. The pilots line up selected targets and jump off. 2 MTMs hit British cruiser HMS York causing flooding (2 killed) and she is beached to prevent capsizing. Norwegian tanker Pericles is sunk. All 6 MTM pilots survive and are captured.

Following faulty reports indicating damage to 2 British battleships by German Heinkel He111 torpedo bombers, Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto, 5 cruisers and 10 destroyers leave Naples, Taranto and Brindisi to patrol the sea between Egypt and Greece. Germany urges the Italian Navy to attack British convoys to Greece and promises Luftwaffe air cover.

Anti-Nazi demonstrations continue in Yugoslavia.

North Africa. British CIC Middle East, General Wavell, believes German forces are not prepared for a major attack and will wait at El Agheila. Churchill appreciates the danger better and cables Wavell “We are naturally concerned at rapid German advance to El Agheila. It is their habit to push on wherever they are not resisted. I presume you are only waiting for the tortoise to stick his head out far enough before chopping it off”. Wavell, however, has no intention of counterattacking.

Battle of Keren, Eritrea. Italian defenders in the hills above the Dongolaas Gorge (distracted by ground assaults and RAF air strikes) are unaware of the road repairs by Allied sappers and miners. By midday, after only 30 hours, 100 yards of craters & large boulders have been repaired and the road through the Gorge is open. Overnight, Italians realize their position has been turned and start withdrawing artillery and troops to Keren.

Operation Canvas. Italian retreat in Ethiopia continues following defeats in the mountain passes. Nigerian Brigade occupies the town of Harar, 20 miles from Babile, without a fight. Indian troops from Berbera, British Somaliland, advance another 100 miles and link up with General Cunningham's forces at Jijiga, Ethiopia, greatly easing supply problems for the push to the capital Addis Ababa.

Canadian armed yacht HMCS Otter catches fire and sinks off Halifax, Nova Scotia (19 dead).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 572 March 25, 1941

Battle of Keren, Eritrea. At 3 AM, British and Indian troops advance along the road through the Dongolaas Gorge, under cover of an artillery barrage on Italian positions in the heights above. By 5.30, they capture 2 small hills (the “Railway Bumps”) overlooking the roadblock, taking 500 Italian prisoners. They achieve complete surprise and work starts at 6.30 on clearing the road which is not guarded by the Italians.

In Vienna, Austria, Yugoslavian Prime Minister Dragiša Cvetković signs the Tripartite Pact. Hitler has convinced Prince Paul of Yugoslavia with secret protocols that permit Germany use of Yugoslav railways to bring up troops for the attack on Greece while allowing Yugoslavia to remain neutral in the conflict. The decision is deeply unpopular in Yugoslavia and 4 government Ministers have already resigned during the negotiations. There are demonstrations in Belgrade on the news.

750 miles West of Freetown, Sierra Leone, German armed merchant cruiser Thor sinks British liner Britannia. 203 crew and 281 passengers (mostly RAF and Royal Navy personnel) take to the lifeboats. Thor rescues 1 man but departs after radio transmissions from an approaching British warship (which never arrives). 255 die of exposure, dehydration and shark attacks but 195 are rescued by Spanish freighters SS Bachi & SS Cabo De Hornos and British SS Raranga. 1 lifeboat floats 1,500 miles in 23 days to Sao Luis, Brazil (only 33 alive of the 82 aboard). Thor also sinks Swedish MV Trolleholm, carrying coal from Newcastle, England, to Egypt (all 31 crew taken prisoner).

Mid-Atlantic, halfway between Sierra Leone and Brazil, German armed merchant cruiser Kormoran stops empty Canadian tanker Canadolite with shellfire. Canadolite is sent with a prize crew to Brest, France.

Italian destroyers Crispi and Sella leave the Aegean island of Leros, each carrying three 2-ton motor assault boats loaded with 300kg explosives. At 11.30 PM, the destroyers release the motor boats 10 miles off Suda Bay, Crete.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 571 March 24, 1941

Libya, North Africa. At 6 AM, German 5th Light Division attacks Allied position at El Agheila. Immediately, Australian anti-tank gunners destroy a German armoured car but the British armour (Bren gun carriers and captured Italian M13 medium tanks) is no match for the Panzers. Rommel uses dummy tanks mounted on Volkswagen chassis, obscured by dust raised by the Panzers, to deceive the defenders about the size of his force. Under orders to retreat if attacked, 2nd Armoured Division falls back 30 miles to Marsa Brega. Additional German losses are only 2 tanks damaged by mines.

German and Italian ships continue leaving Massawa, Eritrea, due to British advances in East Africa. British sloop HMS Shoreham intercepts German SS Oder (scuttled by crew). Italian freighter SS India cannot escape the Red Sea due to Royal Navy patrols and puts into port at Assab, Eritrea, which is still in Italian hands.

750 miles West of Land’s End, England, U-97 sinks Norwegian SS Hørda at 4.43 PM (all 30 hands lost) and Italian submarine Veniero sinks British SS Agnete Maersk (all hands lost). Further South, U-106 sinks British SS Eastlea 40 miles East of Boa Vista, Cape Verde Islands (all 37 hands lost).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day 570 March 23, 1941

East Africa. British consolidate their hold on Berbera, Somaliland, landing South African 2nd Division by sea from Mombassa, Kenya. In Ethiopia, Nigerian Brigade of the 11th African Division advances another 36 miles along the road towards the capital Addis Ababa. They are held by Italian prepared defenses at Babile Pass where the road cuts through a steep defile in a line of hills. However, South African troops move through the hills and get behind the Italian positions, forcing a withdrawal.

At 4.27 AM 200 miles Southwest of Iceland, U-110 hits Norwegian SS Siremalm with a dud torpedo and misses with 2 more torpedoes. U-110 tries shelling but the water plug is not removed from the 105mm deck gun, which explodes wounding 3 men and causing U-110 to dive suddenly. SS Siremalm escapes. In the same area, U-551 is sunk 5 days into its first voyage by depth charges from British anti-submarine trawler HMT Visenda (all 45 hands lost). At 11.26 PM 600 miles West of Land’s End, England, U-97 sinks British tanker Chama (all 59 hands lost).

Greek submarine Triton attacks an Italian convoy 20 miles East of Brindisi, Italy, damaging steamer Carnia (towed to Brindisi and sinks).

North Africa. Rommel flies back to Libya. 5th Light Division has 135 tanks at Sirte, enough petrol to advance 400 miles and good air support from the Luftwaffe. Rommel orders an attack on the forward Allied position at El Agheila, the narrowest point on the coast between the sea and very large salt lakes. Despite the strategic importance of this position to the Allies, it is lightly held by the untested British 2nd Armoured Division (replacing the experienced 4th Armoured Division which has been sent to Greece) who are under orders to fall back if attacked and fight a delaying action if attacked.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day 569 March 22, 1941

At 3 AM, German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau are met by destroyers from Brest and arrive safely in port at 7 AM. They have covered 17,800 miles in 60 days, sinking or capturing 22 merchant vessels (total 113,690 tons). Royal Navy sends destroyers HMS Kelly, Kipling, Kashmir and Jackal to intercept but it is too late.

Battle of Keren, Eritrea. British and Indian troops continue to hold Fort Dologorodoc despite fierce Italian counterattacks and shelling from across the Dongolaas Gorge. British make plans to remove Italians from positions overlooking the roadblock to allow sappers and miners to reopen the road.

Mid-Atlantic, halfway between Sierra Leone and Brazil, German armed merchant cruiser Kormoran stops empty British tanker Agnita with shellfire. After the crew abandons ship and is taken prisoner, Kormoran requires demolition charges plus 9 105mm shells and finally a torpedo to sink the empty ship.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Day 568 March 21, 1941

At 0.46 AM 500 miles west of Cap Blanc, French West Africa, U-105 resumes her attack on convoy SL-68 sinking British steamers Clan Ogilvy (61 killed, 24 survivors) and Benwyvis (34 killed, 21 survivors including 1 man rescued after 28 days in an open boat). At 10 PM, U-105 returns to SL-68 and sinks British SS Jhelum (8 killed, 49 survivors who float 650 miles Southeast and land in Senegal are taken prisoner by Vichy French). In 5 days, U-105 and U-106 have sunk 7 freighters and damaged 1 freighter & battleship HMS Malaya. Convoy SL-68 continues on unmolested.

Convoy AS.21 from Piraeus, Greece, to Alexandria, Egypt, is bombed by Luftwaffe 60 miles South of Crete. Greek steamer Embiricos Nicolaos is sunk (2 killed). Norwegian tanker Solheim is damaged by near misses and abandoned (1 man lost). Greek destroyer takes survivors from both ships back to Piraeus.

At noon, Nigerian Brigade of the 11th African Division attacks prepared Italian defenses at the Marda Pass, 8 miles West of Jijiga, Eastern Ethiopia, on the road to the capital Addis Ababa. They are held all day by fire from dug-in Italian machineguns and artillery, but the Italians abandoned this strong defensive position and withdraw overnight.

In preparation for the German invasion of USSR, Alfred Rosenberg is appointed head of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories.

Germans bomb shipping near Plymouth (sinking British minesweeping trawler HMT Asama), Bristol (sinking steamer Millisle, 10 killed) and Swansea (sinking steamer London II, 4 killed).

At 7 PM, German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau are met by torpedo boats Iltis and Jaguar, providing anti-submarine escort on the final leg of the voyage to Brest, France.

Overnight, Luftwaffe bombers rain incendiary canisters on Plymouth which torch residential and shopping areas.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 567 March 20, 1941

Indian troops advance 100 miles from Berbera to Hargeisa, British Somaliland. British and Dominions troops, under Generals Cunningham and Platt, are now in position to attack the heart of Italian East Africa, Ethiopia.

550 miles West of Nouakchott, Mauritania, U-106 takes over the attack on convoy SL-68. At 11.23 PM, U-106 torpedoes Dutch SS Meerkerk and British battleship HMS Malaya (no casualties). SS Meerkerk is slightly damaged and returns to Freetown under her own steam. HMS Malaya is listing badly due to flooding and sails to Port of Spain, Trinidad, escorted by corvette HMS Crocus (then to New York, USA, for repairs lasting 4 months).

Tankers Bianca and San Casimiro (captured 5 days ago by German battlecruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst) are spotted by British aircraft from carrier HMS Ark Royal and approached by battleship HMS Renown. German prize crews scuttle the tankers but 46 British prisoners are rescued and the German sailors are taken prisoner.

Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel receives Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross from Adolf Hitler.

German bombing sinks British tugs HMS Sir Bevois (9 killed) and Elan plus steamer Mari II at Plymouth. British trawler Bianca is destroyed in the Irish Sea when she snags a German aerial torpedo or bomb in her nets (5 killed).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 566 March 19, 1941

Rommel meets with Hitler, Generalfeldmarschall Brauchitsch and Chief of Staff General Halder. Rommel is told to expect no reinforcements in Libya until the 15th Panzer Division arrives in May but to go ahead with reconnaissance in force and to take Benghazi if possible.

Germany needs access through Yugoslavia for the planned invasion of Greece (Bulgaria has too few roads and railways while Albania is thronged with beaten Italians and can be supplied only by sea). Prince Paul of Yugoslavia (an anglophile, educated in England and married to a Greek princess) has resisted German pressure. Hitler now gives him an ultimatum - join the Tripartite pact in 5 days - and an empty promise not to move troops through Yugoslavia.

At 00.30 AM 350 miles West of Nouakchott, Mauritania, U-105 sinks Dutch SS Mandalika (previously German SS Nordmark seized by the Dutch on 10 May 1940 at Batavia, Indonesia) in convoy SL-68. 3 crew are killed and 62 survivors picked up by British corvette HMS Marguerite. Another vessel is lost from the convoy when British steamer Clan MacNab collides with Norwegian tanker Strix and sinks.

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau end their raiding cruise in the Atlantic and start the return voyage to Brest, France. They plan to approach Brest overnight & arrive at dawn on March 22, as German intelligence does not know the disposition of Royal Navy ships in the area. However, the British are equally unsure about the location of the German battlecruisers.

Overnight, 370 German bombers attack London in the heaviest raid this year, killing 750 civilians. Several freighters and auxiliary anti-aircraft ship Helvellyn are sunk or damaged in London docks.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 565 March 18, 1941

At 4 AM, U-105 attacks convoy SL-68 West of Senegal. British SS Medjerda, laden with 6450 tons of iron ore, is hit with 1 torpedo and sinks in 30 seconds (all 52 crew and 2 gunners lost).

Battle of Keren, Eritrea. British and Indian troops hold onto Fort Dologorodoc in the face of Italian counterattacks and shelling from across the Dongolaas Gorge. The road through the Gorge is blocked by rocks blasted from the hillsides. Indian sappers and miners determine that they can reopen the road in 48 hours, if the Italian shelling and machinegun fire is suppressed.

Libya. Rommel flies back to Germany to confer with Hitler. British armed boarding vessel Rosaura sinks on a mine off Tobruk, carrying Italian POWs back to Alexandria (14 crew, 5 guards and 59 POWs lost). Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers from Fleet Air Arm 830 Naval Air Squadron, Malta, bomb the harbour at Tripoli (1 Swordfish shot down, 2 aircrew taken prisoner).

British bombers return to the Albanian port of Vlorë and sink Italian torpedo boat Aldebaran.

In mid-Atlantic 1050 miles Southwest of Cape Verde Islands, German armed merchant cruiser Kormoran and U-124 finally find calm waters to transfer 7 torpedoes to U-124.

German 1st S-boat Flotilla (6 Motor Torpedo Boats) raids shipping on the East coast of England, sinking French steamer Daphne II off the Humber Estuary.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 564 March 17, 1941

Overnight 250 miles Southeast of Iceland, U-99 & U-100 attack convoy HX-112. U-99 sinks 2 freighters & 3 tankers and damages another tanker but then withdraws, out of torpedoes. At 3.18 AM, U-100 is depth charged by destroyers HMS Walker & HMS Vanoc and then rammed and sunk by HMS Vanoc (38 dead including U-boat ace Kapitänleutnant Joachim Schepke). At 3.43 AM, HMS Walker drops 6 depth charges on U-99 which surfaces and the crew abandons ship (3 dead). 6 crewmen from U-100 and 40 from U-99, including Korvettenkapitän Otto Kretschmer (WWII’s top U-boat ace), are rescued by HMS Walker & HMS Vanoc and go into captivity.

In mid-Atlantic 1150 miles Southwest of Cape Verde Islands, German armed merchant cruiser Kormoran and U-124 meet cruiser Admiral Scheer. U-124 sends replacement quartz for the radar to Admiral Scheer but again the sea is too rough to transfer torpedoes from Kormoran to U-124.

Operation Canvas. 11th African Division captures Jijiga, Eastern Ethiopia, unopposed. They have covered 500 miles in 15 days from Mogadishu, Italian Somaliland, mainly along the Italian-built "Imperial Road".

U-106 has stalked convoy SL-68 for 2 days. At 9.07 PM 250 miles West of Dakar, Senegal, U-106 sinks British SS Andalusian (40 crew and 2 gunners reach Boa Vista, Cape Verde) and Dutch SS Tapanoeli (all 75 crew survive). U-106 & U-105 will prey on this convoy for the next 4 days.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Day 563 March 16, 1941

East Africa.
Battle of Keren, Eritrea. Overnight, 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment creep up the steep mountainside to attack the concrete trenches of Fort Dologorodoc. Unaware, Italian troops sally forth from the Fort at 4 AM to counterattack 5th Mahratta Light Infantry holding the foothills. West Yorkshires capture Fort Dologorodoc in hand-to-hand combat at 6.30 AM (taking 400 Italians prisoners).
Operation Appearance; reconquest of British Somaliland. 2 Indian battalions cross the Red Sea from Aden in 2 troop transports (escorted by British cruisers HMS Glasgow & Caledon, destroyers HMS Kandahar & Kingston) and land at Berbera. The Italian garrison is only 60 strong and riddled with malaria; they line up on the beach to surrender without a fight. 200 Allied POWs are released. The port at Berbera will be used to supply the advance of General Cunningham’s African troops into Ethiopia.

Between 4.28 AM and 3.50 PM 950 miles East of Nova Scotia, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sink another 10 unescorted freighters (most crewmen rescued). Danish MV Chilean Reefer bravely fires her tiny deck gun at Gneisenau, which destroys Chilean Reefer with 73 11-inch shells (9 crew killed, 3 taken prisoner). British battleship HMS Rodney responds to distress signals from Chilean Reefer but cannot get close enough to fire her guns before the faster cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst race away. HMS Rodney picks up a lifeboat with survivors from Chilean Reefer.

Albania. Italians have not broken the Greek defenses in the Trebeshinë heights, although they have made some local gains. Primavera Offensive is called off after 8 days with 12,000 Italians killed and wounded.

85 miles West of Ireland, German bombers sink British anti-submarine trawler HMT Lady Lilian and damage HMT Angle.

50 miles east of Malta, British submarine HMS Parthian damages Italian steamer Giovanni Boccaccio.

At 4.36 PM 220 miles off the coast of Gambia, West Africa, U-106 sinks Dutch MV Almkerk (carrying 7087 tons of wheat from Australia). All 66 crew abandon ship in 2 lifeboats (1 picked up by the British steamer Martand on March 18). 1 lifeboat lands in Vichy French Guinea but is allowed to proceed to Sierra Leone, arriving at Freetown on March 30.

Overnight, 162 Luftwaffe bombers attack Bristol targeting the docks at Avonmouth and the city center (257 civilians killed, 391 injured).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Day 562 March 15, 1941

950 miles East of Nova Scotia, German battlecruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst encounter an unescorted convoy of empty merchant ships returning to USA, sinking 3 tankers (6 crew and 1 gunner killed, most rescued). Gneisenau also captures 3 tankers which will sail with prize crews for France (only Norwegian tanker Polykarb will reach Bordeaux).

Battle of Keren, Eritrea. Since February, Italian defenses in the Dongolaas Gorge have been reinforced to 25,000 troops. 4th and 5th Indian Divisions (13,000 men) resume the attack at 7 AM, taking hilltops either side of the Gorge during heavy fighting all day and night. Ground changing hands several times and there are heavy casualties on both sides. Italians still hold the dominating position in Fort Dologordoc.

In mid-Atlantic 650 miles Southwest of Cape Verde Islands, German armed merchant cruiser Kormoran meets U-124 to resupply her with provisions and 7 torpedoes. The sea is too rough so they head South looking for calmer waters.

South of Iceland, U-110 spots convoy HX-112 (41 merchant ships, escorted by 5 destroyers and 2 corvettes) and summons U-37, U-74, U-99 & U-100. Overnight, U-110 torpedoes British tanker Erodona, setting her cargo of fuel oils from Aruba on fire (32 crew and 4 gunners lost). Convoy escorts drop 24 depth charges and chase off U-110, which is not damaged. MV Erodona’s burnt out hulk will be towed to Iceland and repaired (returning to service in February 1944).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day 561 March 14, 1941

Albania. Greeks have repelled Italian combined armour and infantry attacks for 6 days. Chief of the Italian Supreme Command, General Ugo Cavallero, advises Mussolini to halt the Primavera Offensive. 5 Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers of RAF 815 Squadron flying from Paramythia, Greece, attack the Albanian port of Vlorë sink Italian hospital ship Po and steamer Santa Maria. 1 Swordfish is shot down (3 aircrew picked up by Italian MAS boat and taken POW).

250 miles South of Iceland, Italian submarine Emo sinks British SS Western Chief (22 crew lost).

Overnight, 203 Luftwaffe bombers return to Glasgow and Clydebank, Scotland, guided by fires from yesterday’s raid. They bomb shipyards and the Rolls Royce aircraft engine factory.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day 560 March 13, 1941

Libya. Rommel moves his headquarter to Sirte, to launch offensive operations to recapture Eastern Libya and attack into Egypt using the 5th Light Division which is now at full strength after receiving 150 tanks just arrived from Italy. He orders the capture of the unoccupied oasis at Marada, 75 miles South of Allied forward positions at El Agheila, to secure his Southern flank from any possible Allied counterattack through the desert.

400 miles North of The Azores, British sloop HMS Scarborough intercepts Norwegian whalers Star XIX and Star XXIV (captured by German raider Pinguin on January 15). German prize crews are rescued by HMS Scarborough after scuttling both whalers.

Overnight, 236 Luftwaffe bombers attack Glasgow, Scotland, targeting munitions factories and docks on the River Clyde (3 steamers are sunk and destroyers HMS Goathland and HMS Haldon, under construction, are damaged). In addition, Luftwaffe bombs Liverpool again hitting an air raid shelter on Adlington Street (65 civilians killed).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Day 559 March 12, 1941

At 6.05 PM 300 miles South of Iceland, U-37 sinks tiny Icelandic trawler Pétursey with the deck gun and anti-aircraft gun. All 10 crew abandon ship in a lifeboat but they are never seen again.

Overnight, Luftwaffe aircraft bomb Liverpool and Merseyside docks, sinking 8 merchant ships and a floating crane. The town of Wallasey, in the Wirral on the other side of the River Mersey, is badly hit with 174 people killed. A baby girl will be rescued unhurt from the rubble in Wallesey on March 16, after almost 4 days (both her parents have been killed). Raids tonight and the following night kill 500 civilians in Liverpool area and another 500 are wounded.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Day 558 March 11, 1941

At 8 AM, U-74 shells Icelandic trawler Frodi with the deck gun 192 miles Southeast of Iceland. Frodi is badly damaged (5 killed) but reaches the island of Vestmannaeyjar next day.

At 3.46 PM 200 miles West of Senegal, U-106 sinks British MV Memnon (3 crew and 2 RAF personnel killed). 69 survivors in lifeboats meet varied fates. 4 are taken prisoner by German battlecruiser Gneisenau. 43 land at Bathurst, Sierra Leone, on March 24. 22 make land in Senegal on March 21, are imprisoned by Vichy French but then put back in their lifeboat and sent to Sierra Leone.

President Roosevelt signs Lend-Lease Bill into law allowing Britain (and other countries) to get weapons and munitions from America on credit instead of paying in gold under "cash and carry", as required by the Neutrality Acts. This is just in time, as Britain is beginning to run out of gold.

Rommel’s armour arrives in Libya. 5th Light Division’s Panzer Regiment completes unloading from freighters at Tripoli, parades through the town (they go around several times to create the illusion of greater strength) and then heads East to Sirte.

Overnight, 135 Luftwaffe aircraft drop 122 tons high explosive bombs and 830 incendiary canisters on Birmingham in the English Midlands. 6 Handley Page Halifax bombers of 35 Squadron raid Le Havre, France, from RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire (operational debut of the Halifax).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 557 March 10, 1941

At midnight 460 miles Southeast of Iceland, U-552 sinks Icelandic trawler Reykjaborg with the deck gun and anti-aircraft gun (12 killed). 3 survivors escape on a raft (1 dies, 2 picked up by British corvette HMS Pimpernel on March 14).

British submarine HMS H.28 is damaged in a collision with a freighter in the Irish Sea (under repair at Belfast until April 14).

Operation Canvas. General Platt's Nigerian Brigade has advance 450 miles North from Mogadishu, Italian Somaliland, into Ethiopia. They meet Italian resistance at Degehabur, on the road 100 miles South of Jijiga. Known as the "Hindenburg Wall", these old trenches and gun pits were built by the Ethiopians in 1936 against the Italian invasion during the 2nd Italo-Abyssinian War.

Continuing the attack on Italian convoy from Palermo, British submarine HMS Unique sinks SS Fenicia 100 miles Northwest of Tripoli, Libya.

Overnight, Luftwaffe bombs town of Portsmouth and Royal Navy docks, damaging destroyers HMS Sherwood, HMS Witherington (under repair at Portsmouth for 5 months) & HMS Tynedale (repaired in 9 days), training ship HMS Marshal Soult (ex-monitor with 15-inch guns removed) and 4 minesweeping trawlers. Minesweeping trawler HMT Revello is sunk (1 killed, Revello will be raised, repaired and recommissioned). 10 shore-based Naval personnel are also killed.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Day 556 March 9, 1941

Overnight, Germans bombing of London damages Buckingham Palace and destroys the underground nightclub Café De Paris, where a bomb comes down a ventilation shaft and explodes on the dance floor (80 people killed including performer Ken 'Snakehips' Johnston who is decapitated onstage). An hour later the club would have been packed with much higher casualties.

Mussolini is desperate for success in the Albanian mountains before the impending German invasion of Greece, after stalemate during the Winter months. He is in the Albanian capital Tiranë, having announced on the radio that he will personally command a “Primavera Offensive”. Following artillery and aerial bombardment, 11 infantry divisions plus 131st “Centauro” armoured Division attack through the Trebeshinë heights between the River Osum and River Vjosë. Pre-warned by the propaganda, well dug in Greek defenders repel the attack. This will continue for a week.

British submarines HMS Unique, Upholder, Upright and Utmost locate an Italian convoy from Palermo, Sicily, to Tripoli (freighters Fenicia and Capo Vita escorted by torpedo boat Papa and armed merchant cruiser Deffenu). HMS Utmost makes an unsuccessful attack on AMC Deffenu but sinks SS Capo in the Gulf of Hammanet, 35 miles off the coast of Tunisia.

The Suez Canal is clear of mines and British aircraft carrier HMS Formidable sails through from the Red Sea escorted by anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Carlisle and sloop HMS Grimsby.

250 miles North of Cape Verde Islands, German cruiser Scharnhorst sinks Greek SS Marathon (carrying coal to Alexandria around the Cape of Good Hope), taking the entire crew prisoner.

British minesweeping trawler HMT Gulfoss hits a mine and sinks in the English Channel 3 miles South of Dungeness, Kent (10 killed).

Monday, March 7, 2011

Day 555 March 8, 1941

At 1.19 AM 150 miles South of Iceland, German submarine UA sinks British SS Dunaff Head in convoy OB-293 (5 killed, 34 crew and 4 gunners picked up by destroyer HMS Verity). UA is counterattacked and badly damaged by depth charges from destroyer HMS Wolverine.

A German wolf-pack (U-105, U-106 & U-124) now patrols the coast of West Africa. Reports from cruisers Scharnhorst & Gneisenau guide U-124 & U-105 to British convoy SL-67 but they do not locate the escorting battleship HMS Malaya. At 3.41 AM, U-105 sinks SS Harmodius but is then depth charged by convoy escorts. Between 5.47 and 6.08 AM, U-124 sinks 4 more British steamers and is then driven off. 62 merchant seamen are killed but destroyers HMS Faulknor and HMS Forester rescue over 300 survivors.

As Allied troops sail North from Egypt to Greece, the first tanks for Rommel’s Afrika Korps head South from Italy to Libya. 5th Light Division’s Panzer Regiment departs Naples in freighters Alicante, Arcturus, Wachtfels and Rialto bound for Tripoli, arriving safely on March 10 escorted by Italian destroyers Fulmine, Baleno and Turbine. Remarkably, these parallel convoys of troops and equipment are mostly unmolested by the British and Italian submarines patrolling the Western Mediterranean.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Day 554 March 7, 1941

2 German submarines are lost when U-47 U-70 U-90 & UA attack convoy OB-293, 320 miles Northwest of Scotland. They sink British SS Terje Viken (largest whaling factory ship in the world, 4th largest merchant ship sunk in WWII) & British tanker MV Athelbeach (and damage 2 other merchant ships). U-47 is lost by unknown causes (all 48 hands lost). U-70 is rammed by Dutch tanker Mijdrecht (after torpedoing her). 4 hours of depth charging by British corvettes HMS Camellia and HMS Arbutus forces U-70 to the surface and the crew abandons ship (20 killed, 25 picked up and taken prisoner). 200 miles further West, U-37 sinks Greek steamer Mentor. In the same area, British submarine HMS Porpoise unsuccessfully attacks a German submarine.

German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau find a convoy of 12 freighters 550 miles Northwest of Dakar, Senegal, but it is escorted by British battleship HMS Malaya. Under orders not to engage British capital ships, they do not attack the convoy but instead report its position to German submarines in the area.

British motor torpedo boat MTB.28 is destroyed by fire at Portsmouth.

Overnight, 5 British steamers are sunk (52 merchant seamen and 4 gunners killed) in attacks on convoys FN.426 and FS.429 by 12 German motor torpedo boats off East Anglia, England. Another steamer, SS Dotterel, is damaged and runs aground (8 killed, patrol sloop HMS Sheldrake takes off 19 survivors but 1 officer and 2 ratings from Sheldrake are lost in the process).

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Day 553 March 6, 1941

Operation Lustre. British cruisers HMS York, HMS Bonaventure and HMS Gloucester leave Alexandria, Egypt, carrying troops to Piraeus, Greece (arriving March 7). Separately, freighters Clan Macauley and Cingalese leave Alexandria carrying tanks and equipment, escorted by destroyers HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk and HMS Wryneck Prince (arriving Piraeus March 8). This pattern of troops on fast warships and freight carried by escorted steamers will be repeated every 3 days. Italian submarines Ondina, Beilul, Galatea, Malachite, Smeraldo, Nereide, Ascianghi, Ambra, Dagabur and Onice will patrol the convoy routes around Crete with little success against the convoys.

At 7.15 AM in Kaso Strait, East of Crete, Italian submarine Anfitrite approaches a convoy of emtpy freighters returning to Alexandria. Anfitrite is brought to the surface by depth charges from British destroyer HMS Greyhound, shelled by destroyers HMS Greyhound and HMS Havoc and then scuttled (39 crew taken prisoner). Convoy is then unsuccesfully attacked by Italian bombers.

British minesweeping trawler HMT Keryado hits a mine and sinks in the English Channel (9 killed but the Captain survives).

Day 552 March 5, 1941

The British government breaks off diplomatic relations with Bulgaria in response to their alliance with Germany.

Reichsmarschall Göring meets with Romanian dictator General Antonescu in Vienna, demanding Romanian participation in the upcoming German invasion of USSR.

20 miles East of Catania, Sicily, British submarine HMS Triumph sinks Italian steamers Marzamemi and Colombo Lo Faro.

Swedish MV Murjek is sailing from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to Gothenburg, Sweden, with lights on and transmitting radio messages identifying herself. At 5.25 AM, 200 miles South of Iceland, U-95 sinks the friendly, neutral merchant vessel with 5 torpedoes (all 31 hands lost).

Day 551 March 4, 1941

As German troops move into Bulgaria, Yugoslavia becomes the key to the invasion of Greece. Hitler meets Prince Paul of Yugoslavia at Berchtesgaden to pressure him into joining the Tripartite Pact, offering the Greek Agean port of Salonika in return. Britain also seeks Yugoslavian assurances denying Germany access to Greece. Prince Paul must decide soon.

Transport of Allied troops and equipment from North Africa begins (Operation Lustre). 4 freighters depart Alexandria and Port Said, Egypt, escorted by destroyers HMS Hereward and HMS Stuart.

British General Wilson arrives in Athens to take command of Allied ground forces. He discovers confusion over the planned defense against German attack. Greek troops still hold the Metaxas line facing Bulgaria instead of withdrawing to the Aliakmon Line (as had been agreed, or so the British thought).

In Albania, Italian warships shell Greek coastal positions in preparation for a renewed Italian ground offensive.

Operation Claymore. At dawn, landing ships HMS Queen Emma and HMS Princess Beatrix land 500 British Commandos at 4 ports in the Lofoten Islands, Norway (escorted by destroyers HMS Somali, Bedouin, Tartar, Eskimo and Legion). They destroy fish oil factories and 3600 tons of fish oil (Germany extracts glycerine from fish oil, a vital ingredient in high explosives). 9 merchant ships are blown up by the Commandos or sunk by shellfire from the destroyers. Enigma cypher machine rotor wheels and code books are captured from German armed trawler Krebs, allowing cryoptographers at Bletchley Park to read the German naval codes (Krebs is then sunk). At 1 PM, the landing ships leave with all the Commandos, 228 German POWs and 314 Norwegian volunteers.

In the Indian Ocean South of the Seychelles, a Walrus seaplane from Australian cruiser HMAS Canberra spots German steamer Coburg and captured Norwegian tanker Ketty Brøvig (supply ships for German armed merchant cruisers). HMAS Canberra tries to intercept, but Coburg and Ketty Brøvig are scuttled to avoid capture.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day 550 March 3, 1941

Rommel moves German 5th Light Division along the Libyan coast road from Sirte to hold a narrow pass 17 miles West of the Allied forward positions at El Agheila. This will block any Allied advances towards Tripoli and serve as a base for offensive operations. Germans also construct defenses in the desert to prevent the Allies from bypassing this position.

Italian aircraft bomb Larissa in central Greece (devastated 2 days ago by 6.3 magnitude earthquake) but 5 Cant bombers are shot down over Corfu by RAF Hurricane fighters.

German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau arrive off the West coast of Africa near the Cape Verde Islands, threatening convoy routes to Britain.

440 miles West of Ireland, Bootsmannsmaat (Petty Officer) Artur Mei falls overboard from U-97 and is lost.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day 549 March 2, 1941

U-552 U-95 and U-147 attack convoy HX-109, 170 miles Northwest of Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Around midnight, U-552 sinks tanker SS Cadillac carrying 17,000 tons of aviation spirit from Aruba (37 killed, 4 crew and 1 passenger picked up by destroyer HMS Malcolm) and U-95 sinks SS Pacific carrying 9000 tons of steel and scrap metal from USA (34 crew lost, 1 survivor picked up by Icelandic trawler Dora). At 10.12 PM, U-147 sinks Norwegian SS Augvald (29 crew killed, Able seaman Rasmus Kolstø survives 11 days on a raft and is rescued by corvette HMS Pimpernel).

The day after Bulgaria joins the Tripartite Pact, German 12th Army crosses the River Danube from Romania into Bulgaria, moving troops forward to attack Greece.

Operation Canvas; Italian Somaliland/Ethiopia, East Africa. 11th African Division sets out from Mogadishu, Italian Somaliland, resupplied by Royal Navy and using fuel left behind by the Italians. They head 500 miles North for Jijiga, Eastern Ethiopia, to pursue retreating Italian forces. Allied efforts on the ground are aided by RAF aircraft flying across the Red Sea from Aden, which attack Italian airfields in Somaliland, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

At the Kufra oasis, Southeastern Libya, Free French Major Philippe Leclerc makes an oath (serment de Koufra), pledging not to lay down his weapons until the French flag flies over the cathedral at Strasbourg.