Saturday, April 30, 2011

Day 609 May 1, 1941

Libya. Rommel’s attack at Tobruk peters out as early morning fog confuses both sides. At 7.15 AM, Panzers move forward but stumble into a newly-laid minefield where they are pinned down by 2-pounder anti-tank guns (12 tanks immobilised). British tanks and artillery are sent in to contain the breach (2 Matilda and 2 Cruiser tanks destroyed). In the evening, counterattack by Australian 2/48th Battalion is repelled with heavy casualties. Rommel had expected to take the town of Tobruk. Instead, he has a salient 2 km deep and 3 km wide, won at heavy cost (1240 casualties, only 35 out of 81 Panzers serviceable with 12 destroyed). RAF bombs Benghazi sinking an Italian freighter. British submarine HMS Upholder sinks freighters Arcturus and Leverkusen (in an empty Afrika Korps convoy returning from Tripoli) near the Tunisian island of Kerkenah.

Italian Duke of Aosta (Viceroy of Italian East Africa) and 7,000 troops are trapped at Amba Alagi, Ethiopia. 5th Indian Division has arrived from Eritrea in the North, while 1st South African Brigade is pushing up from Dessie in the South.

Iraqi force overlooking RAF Habbaniya increases to 9,000 troops with 50 artillery pieces, 12 British Crossley armoured cars and some Italian Fiat light tanks. Despite being on a ‘training exercise’, they demand that all flying from RAF Habbaniya cease immediately. RAF continues reconnaissance flights while Air Vice Marshall Harry Smart seeks advice from London. Unsurprisingly, Churchill’s response is to defend British interests vigourously ("If you have to strike, strike hard. Use all necessary force.").

At 00.27 AM 100 miles North of Ireland, U-552 sinks British liner Nerissa (83 crew & 124 passengers lost, 29 crew & 54 passengers picked up by destroyer HMS Veteran). At 6.34 PM 200 miles off Sierra Leone, U-103 sinks British SS Samsø. 400 miles North of the Azores, Italian tanker SS Sangro is captured by British ocean boarding vessel HMS Cavina and then escorted to Britain by another ocean boarding vessel HMS Camito.

Overnight, Luftwaffe begins a 7-day blitz on Liverpool. The first bomb falls on the Wirral at 10.15 PM.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Day 608 April 30, 1941

Iraq. Overnight, 6,000 Iraqi troops with 30 artillery pieces leave Baghdad on a ‘training exercise’. By dawn, they occupy a plateau overlooking RAF airbase at Habbaniya (45 miles West of Baghdad). Rashid Ali expects the arrival of German aircraft and airborne troops but he will be disappointed. RAF Habbaniya is reinforced with 300 men of 1st Battalion King's Own Royal Regiment flown from RAF Shaibah. British Ambassador, Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, warns British civilians to leave Baghdad (230 escorted by road to Habbaniya and then airlifted to Shaibah, 350 take refuge in the British Embassy and 150 in the American Legation).

Rommel gets Paulus’ permission to attack Tobruk. At 8 PM, German tanks break through the perimeter under cover of dark and an artillery barrage, Overnight, German infantry overrun several Australian gun posts but some hold out, preventing a complete collapse of the defenses. To their right, Italian Brescia Division fails to break in.

British gunboats HMS Aphis and HMS Ladybird bombard Afrika Korps at Gazala, Libya, and Sollum, Egypt.

During a German air raid at Malta, British cruiser HMS Gloucester is damaged by a bomb which passes through the ship without exploding (repaired in 1 day).

Greek island of Crete, with a major Royal Navy base at Suda Bay, is the obvious next stop for the German invasion. New Zealand General Bernard Freyberg VC is appointed commander of Allied forces on Crete (14,000 British garrison, plus 25,000 British and ANZACs evacuated from the mainland and 9000 Greek troops). Many are unarmed and most guns & vehicles have been abandoned on the mainland. Freyberg is briefed by General Wavell on German plans to attack with ‘airborne troops plus a possible sea attack' using intelligence from ‘most secret sources' (Ultra intercepts, but Freyberg is not told this).

At 10 PM 300 miles Southwest of Cape Verde Islands, U-107 sinks British MV Lassell (2 crew lost, 51 survivors in 2 lifeboats are picked up on May 9 and 10 by British SS Egba and SS Benvrackie).

4 ex-US Coast Guard Cutters are commissioned into Royal Navy at New York as convoy escort ships HMS Banff, Culver, Fishguard & Hartland with crews from battleship HMS Malaya (which is under repair in USA).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day 607 April 29, 1941

Allied resistance on mainland Greece effectively ends at 5.30 AM when 8000 British, ANZAC, Greek and Yugoslav troops surrender at Kalamata, Peloponnese peninsula. The evacuation is over, although men will be collected from various small Greek islands over the next few days. Germans take 6508 British, 2030 Australian, 1614 New Zealand prisoners, plus 3806 Cypriots and Palestinians. Allied support of the British government commitments to Greece (executed mainly by NZ and Australian troops) has cost 2250 killed and wounded and 14,000 taken prisoner (out of 58,000 sent to Greece). In addition, 104 tanks, 192 field guns, 164 anti-tank guns, 40 anti-aircraft guns, 1812 machine guns, 8000 trucks are lost plus 209 aircraft destroyed (72 lost during the combat phase, 55 bombed on the ground by Luftwaffe, 82 destroyed or abandoned during the evacuation). Germany has overrun Greece in 23 days with 1318 killed and 3360 wounded (plus 166 killed and 392 wounded in Yugoslavia). In contrast, the Greco-Italian war in Northern Greece and Southern Albania (which was ended by the German invasion) costs Greece and Italy each about 14000 killed with 60,000 wounded. Most British troopships crowding Suda Bay, Crete, are sent on to Alexandria, Egypt, avoid attack by Luftwaffe bombers which sink 2 Greek steamers.

Tobruk. Rommel is still prevented from launching an attack by General Paulus (OKH Deputy Chief of Staff). German bombers again attack the defensive perimeter, to cover the troop movements around the perimeter, and the harbour sinking HMS Chakla (previously an Indian passenger ship commissioned into the Royal Navy).

Iraq. More Indian troops (20th Infantry Brigade) arrive at Basra from Bombay, to reinforce British and colonial forces.

500 miles West of Ireland, U-75 sinks British liner City of Nagpur with 4 torpedoes from 2.30 - 6 AM (15 crew and 1 passenger killed; 171 crew, 8 gunners and 273 passengers picked up from lifeboats by destroyer HMS Hurricane). British steamer Ambrose Fleming is sunk by German motor torpedo boats in the North Sea 10 miles off the English coast (10 crew and 1 gunner lost).

Overnight, Luftwaffe bombs Plymouth, England, damaging cruiser HMS Trinidad (under construction) and sinking auxiliary patrol vessel Pessac.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Day 606 April 28, 1941

Greece. During the day, German bombing sinks Greek torpedo boat Kyzikos and 2 steamers. Overnight, 4170 Allied troops are evacuated from the Peloponnese peninsula. 2 German companies (5th Panzer Division) drive into the port of Kalamata and capture the quay as the evacuation begins. Royal Navy warships sail back to sea, having embarked only 322 men. Most Allied troops are too exhausted to resist but there are several independent small group actions. Sergeant Jack Hinton of 2nd New Zealand Division wins the Victoria Cross for leading an attack to retake the quay, clearing out 3 machine-gun nests and a mortar with grenades and capturing a 6 inch gun. He is shot in the stomach and taken prisoner (he will receive his medal from King George at Buckingham Palace on May 11 1945, after his release). Allied forces recapture the quay (41 Germans killed, 60 wounded, 100 taken prisoner) but it is too late, the warships are gone.

General Paulus (German Deputy Chief of Staff), who arrived yesterday, orders Rommel to delay his planned attack on Tobruk, reflecting concerns that Rommel is being too reckless. From 6 AM, Luftwaffe bombs Tobruk harbour and defensive positions, to cover the continued buildup of German and Italian troops and armour around the perimeter.

150 miles South of Iceland, U-123 sights convoy HX121 and calls in 5 other submarines. At 4.15 PM, U-552 sinks a tanker, then at 7.25 PM U-96 sinks 2 tankers and a freighter (most crewmen rescued by British rescue ship Zaafaran). U-552 and U-96 are both depth charged by the convoy escorts. U-65 is sunk by depth charges from the British destroyer HMS Douglas (all 50 hands lost).

In the Arabian Sea 1200 miles East of Mogadishu, Somaliland, German armed merchant cruiser Pinguin shells British SS Clan Buchanan (carrying military equipment from USA) from 5 km. Radio signals reporting the attack are sent before the crew of 110 are taken prisoner and is Clan Buchanan scuttled. Royal Navy ships respond to the signals and set out to hunt for Pinguin.

RAF Short Stirlings of No.7 Squadron bomb Emden in a daylight raid.

British minesweeping trawler HMT Caroline sinks on a mine off Milford Haven, Wales (the Dutch crew are all lost).

Overnight, Malta is heavily bombed. Destroyer HMS Encounter is badly damaged in drydock by a bomb penetrating her deck and minesweeper HMS Fermoy is destroyed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 605 April 27, 1941

Greece. Dutch liner SS Slamat leaves Nauplia harbour with 211 crew and 500 Allied troops at 4 AM, too late to escape an attack by 9 Stukas at 7 AM. British destroyers HMS Diamond and HMS Wryneck are sunk by more Stukas while rescuing survivors. Of 983 on board SS Slamat, HMS Diamond and HMS Wryneck, only 66 survive. 2nd Panzer Division motorcycle troops enter Athens and hoist the Nazi flag over the Acropolis. However, 4200 troops including British 1st Armoured Brigade are evacuated from beaches South of Athens. All day, 5th Panzer Division crosses the Corinth Canal and, at 5.30 PM, Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Regiment crosses onto the Peloponnese peninsula at Patras. Allied troops evacuate from the Peloponnese to Crete by boat but Greek Cretan 5th Division are left behind, trying to return home for the defense of their island. German bombing sinks 5 steamers.

At 1.30 AM 300 miles West of Ireland, U-110 sinks British SS Henri Mory (26 crew and 2 gunners lost, 3 crew picked up by HMS Hurricane, 1 man rescued after 8 days by British steamer Lycaon). At 2.42 AM 100 miles Southwest of the Faroe Islands, U-147 sinks Norwegian SS Rimfakse (11 crew lost, 8 survivors on a raft picked up by British SS Hengist). 80 miles South of Iceland, U-552 sinks British trawler Commander Horton at 2.10 AM (all 14 crew killed) and British MV Beacon Grange at 4.12 PM (2 killed, 74 crew and 8 gunners picked up by the Belgian trawler Edouvard Anseele).

At Tobruk, German high-level bombers draw the fire of British anti-aircraft guns guarding the harbour while 24 dive bombers attack the AA gun emplacements (4 guns are destroyed, 8 killed, 1 bomber shot down). To prevent this happening again, the AA guns are moved and concealed while dummy emplacements are constructed to confuse the bombers (during raids, explosives are set off to simulate firing of the dummy guns).

Monday, April 25, 2011

Day 604 April 26, 1941

Greece. With Germans advancing on Athens and Luftwaffe attacks on mainland evacuation beaches, most Allied troops have been sent across the Corinth Canal Bridge to evacuate from the safety of the Peloponnese peninsula. Just after dawn, German paratroops land on both sides of the bridge which is quickly blown up by Allied demolition charges (killing several German troops) but German engineers have a crossing operational by the end of the day. British 1st Armoured Brigade and New Zealand 4th Brigade are trapped on the mainland, turn around and march back to beaches South of Athens where 8300 are evacuated overnight. Another 12,950 men are evacuated from the Peloponnese peninsula. Destroyer HMS Defender evacuates the crown jewels of Yugoslavia. Luftwaffe relentlessly attacks the embarkation ports and ships at sea sinking Greek torpedo boat Kydonia and 3 steamers.

Libyan/Egyptian border. German troops attack British and Australian positions at Halfaya Pass. Allied troops hold the Pass all day but withdraw overnight to Buq Buq, Egypt. Possession of good defensive positions at Halfaya Pass allows Rommel to concentrate his forces for an attack on Tobruk.

Operation Tiger. British freighters Clan Chattan, Clan Campbell, Clan Lamont, Empire Song & New Zealand Star (carrying 295 tanks to General Wavell in Egypt) leave the Clyde escorted by battleship HMS Rodney, cruiser HMS Naiad and destroyers HMS Havelock, Hesperus & Harvester.

1st South African Brigade captures the town of Dessie, Ethiopia, 130 miles South of Amba Alagi, and takes 4000 Italian prisoners.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Day 603 April 25, 1941. ANZAC day

Greece. Allied rearguard forces from Thermopylae cover 100 miles in 12 hours and reach Athens at noon, met by cheering Greek crowds throwing flowers in gratitude for the Allied effort. However, British Legation and other foreign diplomats prepare to leave by burning confidential papers. Allied evacuation (Operation Demon) continues but only 5500 troops leave from beaches South of Athens after troopship Pennland is bombed and badly damaged (4 crew lost, 347 rescued by destroyer HMS Griffin). Luftwaffe reconnaissance identifies the evacuation beaches but British will change the embarkation points using Ultra intercepts. German bombers again focus on shipping routes, sinking 6 merchant ships and a yacht. 6 Greek destroyers and 5 submarines survive to fight another day, escaping to Alexandria, Egypt. Seeing that mainland Greece is being evacuated, Hitler orders the invasion of Crete (Operation Merkur, Führer Directive 28).

North Africa. Frustrated by the lack of progress at Tobruk, Rommel resumes the offensive along the Libyan/Egyptian border. German troops attack British patrols around Fort Capuzzo. British withdraw to prepared defenses where the desert plain drops towards the coast through Halfaya Pass. With only 13 RAF Hurricanes left to defend Egypt, the last 2 fighters are withdrawn from Tobruk leaving only Westland Lysanders to do artillery spotting. Luftwaffe will control the skies over Tobruk. British submarine HMS Upholder sinks Italian SS Antonietta Lauro off the Tunisian island of Kerkenah.

At 00.38 AM, 200 miles Southwest of Cape Verde islands off the West coast of Africa, U-103 sinks Norwegian SS Polyana (all 25 hands lost). Off the East coast of Africa, North of the Seychelles, German armed merchant cruiser Pinguin shells British SS Empire Light without warning. 70 crew are taken prisoner and Empire Light is scuttled.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Day 602 April 24, 1941

Luftwaffe again mauls shipping off the Greek coast, sinking hospital ship Andros and 11 freighters. Bombers further damage British cruiser HMS York at Suda Bay, Crete. Submarine HMS Rover, moored alongside to supply electrical power for York’s anti-aircraft guns, is also damaged & out of service until March 1942. Greek torpedo boats Aigli, Alkyoni and Arethousa are scuttled to prevent capture. At 7 PM, Greek luxury yacht Hellas is bombed at Piraeus while boarding 500 British civilians and 400 wounded Allied soldiers (500 die as Hellas catches fire and slowly rolls over). Allied rearguard at Thermopylae holds off German attacks all afternoon (destroying 15 tanks) and then withdraws at midnight. Evacuation of Allied troops begins (Operation Demon) and 13,500 troops are taken from Raphtis (South of Athens) and Nauplia (Peloponnese peninsula) overnight.

At 7 AM, Italian infantry attack the Tobruk defenses at 2 points after an artillery barrage at dawn. Advancing in suicidally close formation, they are broken up by Australian small arms fire from the forward gun pits and British artillery fire from the rear. The attacks are over within an hour (107 Italian POWs captured).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Day 601 April 23, 1941

Greece. From the town of Ioannina, German troops rush down the West (Ionian) coast towards Delphi and the Peloponnese peninsula, both of which flank Allied positions at Thermopylae and threaten the evacuation. Luftwaffe wreaks havoc as Allies retreat South. Bombers destroy 13 RAF Hurricanes on the ground at Argos, Peloponnese peninsula, and the remaining fighters are removed to Crete. Dive bombers continue pounding shipping, sinking Greek torpedo boat Kios, minelayer Nestos, hospital ship Policos and the hulks of decommissioned WWI battleships Kilkis & Limnos plus 12 freighters & 1 tanker. Greek torpedo boat Doris is scuttled to prevent capture. King George II of Greece, his brother Crown Prince Paul and Prime Minister Emmanuel Tsouderos leave Athens for Crete on a British Sunderland flying boat. The King instructs that his wine cellar should be distributed to the Allied troops (1 bottle for each soldier, 2 for officers).

Libya. Rommel visits Carrier Hill at Tobruk and finds the Italian Fabris Battalion missing (captured in the Australian raid yesterday). Worried by Allied patrolling at Tobruk and on the Egyptian frontier, Rommel requests more troops and air cover. Instead, he is sent General Paulus (Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief of the Operations Section at OKH) to look over his shoulder and remind him of the limitations on resources. Luftwaffe bombers attack Tobruk habour in waves, sinking more ships but anti-aircraft guns and RAF Hurricanes shoot down 6 German aircraft.

British air reconnaissance spots an Afrika Korps convoy from Naples to Tripoli, with Italian destroyer escort. British destroyers HMS Jervis, Jaguar, Janus & Juno attempt to intercept but they cannot find the convoy. Overnight, HMS Juno sinks empty Italian troopship Egeo sailing alone from Benghazi to Tripoli.

German armed merchant cruiser Thor returns to Hamburg, Germany, after covering 57,532 miles in 322 days at sea. Thor has sunk 11 merchant ships (83,300 tons) and beaten 3 British armed merchant cruisers, sinking one.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 600 April 22, 1941

Libya. At Tobruk, Australians conduct aggressive patrolling beyond the perimeter wire, remembering that control of no-mans land was essential to the capture of Bardia and Tobruk from the Italians. At dawn, General Morshead sends out 3 raids on Axis positions in front of the wire, including Carrier Hill (named after a wrecked carrier) which is sheltering Italian infantry and a field gun battery. 455 Italian prisoners are captured and artillery & anti-aircraft guns destroyed (27 Aussies killed, 28 wounded). German bombers again attack Tobruk, badly damaging British hospital ship Vita (437 patients, 6 doctors & 6 nurses taken off by Australian destroyer HMAS Waterhen). HMS Valiant detonates a mine and suffers slight damage, returning to Alexandria from shelling Tripoli.

Greece. Luftwaffe attacks RAF airstrips near Athens, so the remaining Hurricanes are withdrawn to Argos on the Peloponnese peninsula. Dive bombers pound shipping in the Saronic Gulf, sinking Greek minelayer Aliakmon, hospital ship Sokratis, 11 freighters and 1 tanker. At 6 PM, 35 Stukas dive bomb Greek destroyer Hydra at Piraeus, sinking her in 15 minutes (41 killed, 115 survivors reach the small nearby Island of Lagossa). British cruiser HMS York is damaged by near misses at Suda Bay, Crete. Yugoslav torpedo boats Kajmakcalan and Durmitor arrive at Suda Bay, having escaped from Yugoslavia.

In Ethiopia, 1st South African Brigade captures Camboicia Pass, South of Dessie on the road to Amba Alagi, taking 1200 Italian prisoners.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 599 April 21, 1941

Libya. Operation MD2. Before dawn, British battleships HMS Warspite, HMS Barham & HMS Valiant and cruiser HMS Gloucester, escorted by 9 destroyers, bombard Tripoli for 49 minutes guided by flares dropped by aircraft from carrier HMS Formidable (Italian torpedo boat Partenope and 6 freighters are damaged). At Tobruk, 24 German bombers escorted by 21 fighters sink 2 British steamers and damage 2 more ships and a quay. RAF Hurricanes (73 and 274 Squadrons) shoot down 4 Luftwaffe aircraft.

Greece. British and ANZAC troops have withdrawn past the fearsome cliffs at Thermopylae which are now held against German attack by a rearguard force. At 6 PM, the first German attempts to cross the valley are broken up by 2 Australian 25-pounder field guns. Luftwaffe aircraft, flying from hastily constructed airfields, attack the cliffs at Thermopylae and harass shipping off the coast. Dive bombers sink Greek torpedo boat Thyella, hospital ships Ellenis & Esperos and several freighters.

At 3 PM 300 miles North of the Cape Verde Islands, U-107 sinks British SS Calchas (24 killed). 89 survivors escape in lifeboats (56 reach Cape Verde Islands, 33 land at St. Louis, Senegal on May 7 after sailing 650 miles).

Overnight, Luftwaffe bombs Plymouth, England, damaging cruiser HMS Kent and destroyers HMS Lewes & HMS Leeds (HMS Leeds under repair until December).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 598 April 20, 1941

British CIC Middle East, General Wavell, is aware that Rommel’s Afrika Korps is receiving a full Panzer division to reinforce the under strength 5th Light Division. Worried about holding Tobruk and the Egyptian frontier due to the parlous state of his worn out armour, he appeals to London for more tanks particularly the fast but lightly armoured cruiser tanks. Churchill has always wanted to send tanks through the Mediterranean, so he redirects a convoy that is set to sail for Egypt via Cape of Good Hope, reducing the travel time from 50 days to 10 days (Operation Tiger). He adds an additional ship to carry 67 more cruiser tanks, realizing that “all may turn on a few hundred armoured vehicles” (total, 295 tanks).

In a speech, Irish Prime Minister Eamon De Valera protests German bombing of Belfast (in British Northern Ireland) saying “they are our people – we are one and the same people – and their sorrows in the present instance are also our sorrows”.

Greece. 100 Luftwaffe dive bombers attack Athens and Piraeus sinking Greek destroyer Psara (37 killed, 119 survivors) but they are engaged by 15 RAF Hurricanes (10 Hurricanes shot down, Germans lose 22 aircraft). Most Allied troops pass through Thermopylae, although the retreating column is still 10 miles long and under dive bomb attack. General Tsolakoglou takes unauthorized command of Greek Army of Epirus, which has been fighting the Italians in Albania, in order to surrender to the local German commander (Sepp Dietrich of Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Regiment). This will be blocked by Mussolini who insists, with Hitler’s agreement, that Italy must take the Greek surrender.

At 3.32 AM 400 miles West of Ireland, U-73 sinks British SS Empire Endurance (previously German ship SS Alster, captured during the invasion of Norway) carrying supplies and 2 anti-submarine motor launches to Alexandria, Egypt, via the Cape of Good Hope. 64 crew members and 1 passenger are lost. 20 crew and 4 passengers are picked up on April 21 by Canadian corvette HMCS Trillium. 5 crew are picked up after 20 days by British passenger ship Highland Brigade.

British anti-submarine trawler HMT Topaze is accidentally rammed by British battleship HMS Rodney and sinks in the Clyde Estuary, Scotland (18 crew lost).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 597 April 19, 1941

Greece. Germans capture Larisa, allowing them to move South along the Aegean (East) coast but their progress is hampered by demolition of the roads by the retreating Allies. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Regiment captures Ioannina 50 miles from the Ionian (West) coast, threatening the left flank of the new Allied line at Thermopylae. This also cuts off the retreat from Albania of Greek Army of Epirus, creating a gap in the center of Greece through which German armoured columns pour South. General Wavell flies to Athens for a meeting with King George II of Greece where it is decided the Allies will evacuate with the Greek’s blessing to avoid further destruction of their country.

East Africa. 5th Indian Division (moving South from Amara, Eritrea) and 1st South African brigade (moving North from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) converge on Italian stronghold at Amba Alagi, where Duke of Aosta (Viceroy of Italian East Africa) and his 7,000 troops reinforce the 3,700m mountain and lay in supplies for a siege. 1st South African Brigade are held at the city of Dessie, a regional Italian administrive center 130 miles South of Amba Alagi.

Libya. Rommel visits the frontier with Egypt and observes the weakness of the British defenses on the escarpment from Sollum Southeast to Sofafi. He decides to attack here while he waits for reinforcements to deal with Tobruk. Overnight, 450 British commandoes land at Bardia, Libya, from Landing Ship HMS Glengyle, escorted by cruiser HMS Coventry and 3 destroyers. Finding Bardia unoccupied by German or Italian troops, they destroy a supply dump and a coastal artillery battery. Most are successfully re-embarked but 1 man is killed by friendly fire and 67 are captured after getting lost and going to the wrong beach. The attack causes Rommel to divert troops from attack to supply line defense.

Overnight, London is heavily bombed by 712 German bombers (2300 civilians killed).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Day 596 April 18, 1941

Greece. At the Pinios Gorge, 6th Mountain Division crosses Mount Olympus to get behind the ANZAC defenders while 3rd Regiment 2nd Panzer Division fords the Pinios River on a pontoon bridge. Germans are converging from 3 directions on the strategically-important crossroads at the town of Larisa, through which all Allied troops are withdrawing towards Thermopylae. Luftwaffe bombs and strafes the 70 mile long column of trucks on the road South but most Allied troops get away safely from the danger of entrapment. As it becomes obvious that the Allies are abandoning Greece, Greek Prime Minister Alexandros Koryzis shoots himself in the evening.

Iraq. 20th Indian Infantry Brigade land at Basra unopposed. They have sailed from Karachi, India, in 8 transport ships escorted by aircraft carrier HMS Hermes, cruisers HMS Emerald & HMNZS Leander, 6 sloops and gunboat HMS Cockchafer.

It is a quiet day at Tobruk after the fury of the Easter weekend. Rommel awaits the arrival of 15th Panzer Division’s heavy armour. Australian General Leslie Morshead (known as Ming the Merciless for his scowl), commander of the Allied garrison, insists on a defense in depth. He reorganizes his forces, creating additional reserve brigades, and continues construction of a secondary defensive line, digging gun pits and laying minefields. German dive bombers sink empty British troopship HMS Fiona (54 killed) 50 miles Northwest of Sidi Barrani, Egypt.

At 6 AM 1400 miles West of South Africa, German armed merchant cruiser Atlantis shells Egyptian liner ZamZam without warning, believing her to be a British troopship. ZamZam is carrying a cargo of lubricating oil, tin plate, trucks, steel bars, radios and batteries from New York, USA, to Cape Town, South Africa. All 129 crew and 202 passengers (including 73 women and 35 children) are rescued from lifeboats, during which Life magazine‘s David Scherman captures a photograph of Atlantis. A boarding party raids the larder and bar before sinking ZamZam with scuttling charges.

En route to the Mediterranean, British submarine HMS Urge sinks Italian tanker Franco Martelli in the Bay of Biscay. British destroyers HMS Newark and HMS Volunteer collide just off Northern coast of Ireland. Both are seriously damaged and will be under repair at Belfast until August.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day 595 April 17, 1941

Yugoslavia officially surrenders after just 12 days. In Belgrade, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Cincar-Marcovic signs an armistice with Germany and Italy. The Hungarians, technically "not at war with Yugoslavia", do not sign the armistice. Germans capture 2 Yugoslav destroyers Beograd and Dubrovnik at the Adriatic port of Kotor, but destroyer Zagreb is scuttled by her crew (2 killed).

In Greece, New Zealand 21st battalion reinforced by Australian 2/2nd Battalion demolish the Pinios River railway bridge and hold the Tempe and Pinios Gorges, delaying the German advance down the Aegean coast. This allows Allied troops to withdraw to new defenses on the Thermopylae line.

Iraq’s new National Defense Government led by Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, which seized power in a coup d’etat on April 1, requests German military assistance to eject the British from Iraq. Rashid Ali has already sent an artillery force to surround the RAF airbase at Habbaniya. British garrison is reinforced with 1st Battalion King's Own Royal Regiment which is flown from Karachi, India, to another airbase RAF Shaibah near Basra.

Tobruk, Libya. Italian infantry and tanks attack in early afternoon. Again, the attack is broken up by British artillery fire but 6 tanks break through the wire, crossing an Allied minefield which fails to detonate. 7 British cruiser tanks engage the tanks while Australian troops again trap the following infantry in crossfire. Only 1 Italian tank escapes back through the wire. After dark, there is a running tank exchange across the perimeter wire (3 of 12 Axis tanks destroyed). Rommel, running low on ammunition and other supplies, decides to wait until 15th Panzer Division arrives in strength before making a concerted attack on Tobruk. Off Libyan coast, British submarine HMS Truant sinks Italian barque Vanna carrying ammunition and fuel to Derna.

At 5.30 PM 600 miles West of Ireland, U-123 sinks Swedish MV Venezuela (the crew of 49 abandon ship in lifeboats but are never found).

German motor torpedo boats S.41 S.42 S.43 S.55 and S.104 attack Convoy FS464 off Great Yarmouth, England, sinking 2 small freighters and damaging a large steamer. The German S-boats are engaged by British motor gun boats MGB.60, MGB.59, and MGB.64, without success.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 594 April 16, 1941

Ultra intercepts of German radio signals alert Royal Navy to a convoy of 4 German troopships & 1 Italian ammunition ship carrying 15th Panzer Division troops and light vehicles (but no tanks) from Naples to Tripoli. British destroyers HMS Jervis, Janus, Nubian & Mohawk lie in wait after dark, unnoticed by the escort of 3 Italian destroyers which have no radar, as the convoy moves slowly through shallow waters near the Kerkennah Islands (East coast of Tunisia). British destroyers close to within 1 mile and sink all 5 transports and the Italian destroyers Luca Tarigo, Baleno and Lampo (1800 German troops and Italian sailors killed, 1200 survivors rescued by Italian warships and hospital ships). As Italian destroyer Luca Tarigo sinks, she fires 2 torpedoes which cripple HMS Mohawk (43 killed). HMS Mohawk is scuttled by HMS Jervis but Italian divers recover secret Royal Navy documents including maps of the defenses at Alexandria.

Determined to crack the perimeter at Tobruk, Rommel observes in person as Italian Trento Division is sent forward in late afternoon. They are shelled as they assemble for the attack, which drives off their tanks, and the infantry are pinned down with machinegun fire. Australian Bren gun carriers are sent out and round up the entire 1st Battalion, 62nd Regiment (800 men including 25 officers). This is the second time in 2 days that Italian troops have dispersed when shelled and Rommel is losing faith in his ally.

In Greece, while Allied troops retire towards Thermopylae, the defensive line in the North begins to crumble. German tanks and infantry attack the narrow Platamon pass between Mount Olympus and the Aegean Sea, forcing New Zealand troops to withdraw across the river in the steep Tempe Gorge (using a flat-bottomed ferry pulled by hand along ropes). Realizing that German penetration along the coast will unhinge the Allied withdrawal, New Zealanders are ordered to sink the ferry and hold the Gorge “until 19th April even if it means extinction”. German 6th Mountain Division also attacks across Mount Olympus using goat paths but takes heavy casualties.

Yugoslavs try to sign an armistice but their emissary does not have sufficient authority to sign the surrender and is sent to back Belgrade with a draft agreement. In Zagreb, Croatian fascist leader Ante Pavelić assumes power in the Independent State of Croatia.

At the end of her cruise and heading for port at Bordeaux, France, German armed merchant cruiser Thor stops Swedish steamer Sir Ernest Cassell with 2 warning shots, takes her crew on board and sinks her with demolition charges (500 miles Southwest of the Azores).

Overnight, 681 Luftwaffe aircraft launch a massive bombing attack London.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 593 April 15, 1941

In Greece, Luftwaffe bombs RAF airstrip at Larisa at dawn, destroying 10 Blenheims on the ground. Luftwaffe has command of the air and RAF aircraft are withdrawn to Athens. Leibstandarte SS Regiment cuts the road to Greneva, blocking the retreat of the Greek Army of Epirus from Albania. This exposes the flank of the Allied line from Mount Olympus inland. At 10AM, British General Wilson orders a retreat 80 miles South to the Thermopylae line, yielding all of Northern Greece but protecting the capital Athens on the peninsula of Attica. ANZAC troops will hold the Mount Olympus line for a few days to cover the retreat of the mobile Allied forces but the Greek Army (which is still North of this line and moving on foot) will be abandoned. British Admiral Cunningham begins planning an evacuation from Greece.

Resistance in Yugoslavia is more or less over. Yugoslav 2nd Army, holding Sarajevo, capitulates as 2 Panzer Divisions enter the city simultaneously. Other Yugoslav units have withdrawn into mountainous areas in the West of the country. Croatian fascist leader Ante Pavelić returns to Zagreb to set up the Independent State of Croatia in collaboration with Nazi Germany.

Tobruk. Despite yesterday’s setbacks, Rommel presses his attack on the Allied defensive perimeter. At 5.30 PM, 1000 Italian infantry move forward, cut the wire and capture one of the machinegun posts. The usual combination of Australian small arms fire from neighbouring posts and British artillery fire wreaks havoc with the Italians who withdraw at 6.15 (leaving 250 dead and 113 POWs).

Italian submarine Tazzoli sinks British SS Aurillac 500 miles West of Lisbon, Portugal (1 killed).

From 11 PM to 5 AM, 200 Luftwaffe bombers drop 203 tons of high explosive bombs, 80 parachute mines and 800 incendiary canisters on Belfast, Northern Ireland. 900 civilians are killed, 1,500 injured and 56,000 homes (half of the houses in Belfast) are damaged leaving 100,000 homeless. Vounteer fire crews from Ireland cross the border to assist and stay 3 days.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 592 April 14, 1941 (Easter Monday)

At Tobruk, German infantry finally fill the anti-tank ditch & cut the wire at 2.30 AM but they are held by artillery & machinegun fire. Corporal John Edmondson (2/17th Battalion, Australian 9th Division) wins the Victoria Cross for a bayonet charge, despite being shot in the stomach and neck (he later dies of his wounds). At 5.20 AM, 38 tanks move through the gap. Australian troops are trained to let the tanks pass and trap the following infantry in crossfire. 2 miles ahead, German tanks are hit by a screen of British anti-tank guns and 25-pounder howitzers firing high explosive shells over open sights. In the air, British Hurricanes dogfight German and Italian fighters while 40 Stukas dive bomb the harbour. Germans withdraw in disarray at 7.30 AM (losing 17 tanks, 150 killed and 250 prisoners). General Streich will later be removed from command of 5th Light Division by Rommel for failing to secure and expand the penetration.

British gunboat HMS Aphis bombards Bardia, Libya. Gunboat HMS Gnat shells German troops at Sollum, Egypt, but is badly damaged by German bombers and steams back to Mersa Matruh (1 sailor killed).

As the Yugoslavian surrender is imminent, young King Peter flees the country and flies to Athens, Greece. In the evening, the Yugoslav Government asks General van Kleist (1st Panzer Group) for a ceasefire.

In Greece, there is heavy fighting when German 73rd Infantry Division blocks the Greek withdrawal from Albania at Kastoria Pass. Overnight, on the East coast of Greece, German troops are held by Allied positions at the narrow pass at Platamon between Mount Olympus and the Aegean Sea.

At 1.17 AM 400 miles Southwest of Iceland, U-52 sinks Belgian passenger ship Ville de Liège (40 killed, 10 crew members and 2 passengers survive).

Overnight, Swordfish torpedo bombers of 815 Squadron from Paramythia, Greece, sink Italian steamers Luciano and Stampalia at the port of Vlorë, Albania. 1 Swordfish is shot down (1 killed and 2 POWs).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 591 April 13, 1941 (Easter Sunday)

Libya. Rommel has finally received 2 maps of Tobruk’s defenses from his Italian allies (he keeps 1 map and gives the other to 5th Light Division commander General Streich). Rommel decides to concentrate his armour and plan an attack on Tobruk in force, using 5th Light plus Italian Ariete and Trento Divisions from the South at dusk. Allied defenders observe the preparations. After an artillery barrage at 5 PM, German infantry advancing at 5.30 are prevented from blowing the wire and filling anti-tank ditches by accurate British artillery fire. German tanks mill around overnight unable to find gaps to penetrate. Further East, Germans recapture Bardia (unopposed) and Fort Capuzzo, pushing the British out of Libya. Fort Capuzzo has now changed hands 4 times since June 1940.

Balkans. Leibstandarte SS Regiment cuts West through the Metsovon Pass to get behind the Greek Army of Epirus, holding the Albanian front. Too late, Greek Coomander-in-Chief General Papagos realizes the danger and orders a retreat (British General Wilson attributes this to a “fetishistic doctrine that not a yard of ground should be yielded to the Italians”). Italians pursue the withdrawal along the entire front, capturing the towns of Korçë, Permet and Porto Palermo on the Mediterranean coast. Further South, Germans bomb the Greek port of Piraeus sinking Greek destroyer Psara and badly damaging destroyer Vasilevs Georgios I.

In Moscow, Foreign Ministers Matsuoka (Japan) and Molotov (USSR) sign a 5 year Neutrality Agreement. With his Eastern border secure, Stalin transfers forces from Siberia to meet a suspected German attack.

U-108 has tracked British armed merchant cruiser HMS Rajputana for 2 days and missed her with the 5 torpedoes. At 7.43 AM 100 miles West of Iceland, U-108 sinks HMS Rajputana with the 6th torpedo (40 killed, 283 rescued by British destroyer HMS Legion and landed at Reykjavik). At 10.29 PM 75 miles West of Sierra Leone, U-124 sinks British SS Corinthic (2 killed, 37 crew and 2 gunners picked up by Dutch tanker Malvina and landed at Freetown).

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 590 April 12, 1941 (Easter Saturday)

Libya. Rommel underestimates the number of Allied troops at Tobruk (about 30,000) and their determination. German tanks & armoured cars again probe the perimeter in small groups but are repelled. Luftwaffe and artillery bombard Tobruk (3 Stukas shot down over the harbour). Believing the Allies ready to evacuate Tobruk, Rommel also sends columns further East to chase the British into Egypt (his stated goal is the Suez Canal). To prevent this, British prepare blocking positions at Halfaya Pass, near Sollum, Egypt. RAF bombs and strafes German columns moving around Tobruk and towards the frontier with Egypt. British submarine HMS Tetrarch sinks Italian tanker Persiano 55 miles Northeast of Tripoli, Libya.

Greece. Leibstandarte SS infantry overrun British and Australian troops South of Vevi. With the Aliakmon Line unhinged, Allied forces to the East pull back to a line inland from Mount Olympus to block both the valley from Vevi and the coastal route from Salonika. British anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Coventry, destroyers HMS Decoy & HMS Encounter and troopship Glenroy evacuate a battalion of troops, 1000 tons of stores and 40 vehicles from Greek island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea near Salonika.

Yugoslavia. Hungary joins the German/Italian invasion, to take a share of the spoils. In the evening, Serbian capital of Belgrade surrenders to German troops converging from 3 directions. German Ju87 Stukas dive-bomb 4 Yugoslav WWI-era river monitors on the River Danube (3 shot down by anti-aircraft guns on the monitors). Drava is destroyed by a bomb down the funnel (54 crew killed, 13 survivors) while Morava, Sava & Vardar are scuttled to avoid capture by the advancing Germans.

At 5.09 AM 100 miles Southwest of Freetown, Sierra Leone, U-124 sinks another steamer carrying grain from Argentina to Britain, British SS St. Helena (all 36 crew, 2 gunners and 3 passengers picked up by destroyer HMS Wishart and landed at Freetown). 920 miles Southwest of Freetown, German armed merchant cruiser Kormoran sinks Greek steamer SS Nicolaos D. L. carrying Oregon pine from Canada to Durban, South Africa (all 38 crew taken prisoner).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 589 April 11, 1941 (Good Friday)

Libya. Rommel’s forces arrive at Tobruk in greater strength and cut the coast road East to Bardia at 1 PM, isolating the Allied garrison. All day, German tanks & armoured cars probe the perimeter in several places hoping to exploit gaps but British & Australians have been strengthening the defenses since occupying the town in January. All the German thrust are repelled. British (1st Royal Tank Regiment) and German tanks exchange fire at long range. Luftwaffe bombs Tobruk harbour damaging British steamer Draco.

Balkans. German troops continue moving South from the Monastir Gap into Northern Greece, capturing the town of Vevi. In the evening, British and ANZAC forces have their first engagement with German troops in Greece, when a combined force of 2 Australian battalions and British 1st Armoured Brigade stops Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Regiment at Klidi Pass, just South of Vevi.

At 9 PM, U-124 sinks Greek SS Aegeon carrying 7151 tons of grain from Argentina to Britain (4 dead and 27 survivors) 200 miles Southwest of Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Overnight, ‘Good Friday Raid’ on Bristol. 153 German bombers drop high explosives and incendiary canisters, damaging the docks and causing large fires in the city centre and some suburbs. St Philip’s Bridge, carrying power for the tram network, is destroyed. Trams will never run in Bristol again.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Day 588 April 10, 1941

Overnight, RAF bombs Berlin destroying the Opera House (Deutsche Staatsoper built in 1743). It will be restored by 1943 and then bombed out again in February 1945.

At 3.45 AM, U-107 sinks British tanker Duffield carrying 11,700 tons of fuel oil to Gibraltar (25 crew lost, 28 survivors make land at Hierro Island, Canary Islands). At 7.55 PM 500 miles Southwest of Iceland, U-52 sinks Dutch SS Saleier carrying coals from Newcastle to Port Said, Egypt. All 63 crew abandon ship in 3 lifeboats and are picked up next day by American destroyer USS Niblack (which is en route to Reykjavik, Iceland, and not a convoy escort). USS Niblack makes a false sonar contact and drops 3 depth charges (first "shot fired in anger" against Germany).

Kriegsmarine orders the construction of 60 U-boats.

In Yugoslavia, German troops capture the Croatian capital of Zagreb. Further South, 9th Panzer Division and Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Regiment move through the Monastir gap and capture the town of Florina 8 miles across the Greek border.

East Africa. Although most of Italian Somaliland, Ethiopia and Eritrea is in British hands, pockets of Italian resistance still hold out (Assab in Eritrea; in Ethiopia, Amba Alagi in the North, Jimma in the South and Gondar in the West). In Ethiopia, Nigerian troops (11th African Division) moving Southwest down the road from Addis Ababa towards the Italian stronghold at Jimma reach the Omo River crossing at Abalti, to find the bridge blown and Italian troops dug in on the far side. In Eritrea, 5th Indian Division moves back from Massawa to Amara to pursue the Italians South to Amba Alagi in Ethiopia. Italians anticipate the arrival of British forces at Assab and seek to deny them use of the port facilities, scuttling 7 freighters in the harbour.

Rommel orders probing attacks on the defenses at Tobruk but they are turned back by Australian in fantry and British artillery. General von Prittwitz, commander of 15th Panzer Division (which will soon come from Italy to join the Afrika Korps), has been flown to Libya with an advanced party of 3500 troops as reinforcements. He is killed when his reconnaissance group of armoured cars is hit by anti-tank fire on the Tobruk perimeter.

Overnight, RAF again bombs German battlecruisers at dock in Brest, France. Gneisenau is badly damaged by 4 bombs and will be under repair at Brest until December. Luftwaffe bombs Birmingham, England, for a second night. 206 aircraft drop 246 tons high explosive bombs and 1,183 incendiary canisters.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Day 587 April 9, 1941

At 00.37 AM 400 miles Northeast of Canary Islands, U-107 sinks British SS Harparthian carrying RAF stores to Freetown, Sierra Leone (4 killed, 39 survivors make land at Hierro Island, Canary Islands). At 2.16 AM 200 miles Southeast of Iceland, U-98 sinks Dutch SS Prins Willem II (3 dead, 22 survivors in 2 lifeboats are picked up by Swedish steamer Klipparen and British MV Tuscan Star).

Greece. 2nd Panzer Division quickly moves South from Dojran Lake across the coastal plain to the major Greek port of Salonika on Agean Sea. In 4 days, they have outflanked Mataxas Line, isolating Greek forces in Macedonia and Thrace. In addition, German troops arrive at the Monastir Gap in Southern Yugoslavia ready to cross the unfortified border into Greece. This will allow them to cut off the main bulk of Greek Army facing the Italians in Albania and also to get behind the British & ANZAC forces in the Aliakmon Line defending against attack from Bulgaria.

Libya. Rommel orders Italian 27th "Brescia" Division and German 5th Light Division to surround Tobruk, realizing the urgency of attacking before the Allied defenses are organised. However, Australian 9th Division mans the outer defensive perimeter at Tobruk (originally created by the Italians) while a new inner defensive ring is built. Australian 7th Division is diverted from going to Greece, as planned; instead 18th Infantry Brigade is sent to assist at Tobruk while the remaining brigades are to defend Egypt.

In a sign of growing American involvement, the Danish colony of Greenland is made a US protectorate. Danish ambassador to the US, Henrik Kauffmann, signs the agreement on the anniversary of the German occupation of Denmark. Kauffmann will become known as "the King of Greenland".

Overnight, 237 Luftwaffe aircraft drop 285 tons high explosive bombs and 1,110 incendiary canisters on Birmingham in the English Midlands.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Day 586 April 8, 1941

Libya. German 5th Light Division prepares to attack the fort at Mechili. British, Australian and Indian troops realize that reinforcements are not coming and attempt to break out at dawn. A sandstorm confuses the fighting, allowing 300 Allied troops to get away to Tobruk but 2000 are captured including British 2nd Armoured Division commander General Gambier-Parry. Rommel appropriates Gambier-Parry’s plastic goggles and two Dorchester armoured cars (renamed Max and Moritz after characters in a children’s story). Thus is born the image of Rommel in his command vehicle with goggles on his peaked cap. British CIC Middle East General Wavell orders that Tobruk must be held at all costs; Rommel cannot go much further without a port to resupply his armoured columns but if Tobruk falls he can advance all the way to Cairo, Egypt (so weak are the British defenses). The job of holding Tobruk falls to the 9th Australian Division.

Balkans. Germans advance in Southern Yugoslavia towards and into Greece. 2nd Panzer Division traverses a small mountain range and crosses the Greek border at the Dojran Lake. 73rd Infantry Division moves into the Monastir Valley and captures the town of Prilep, on the rail line to Salonika, ready to swarm down the wide, flat valley to the Greek border. Meanwhile, German 6th Mountain Division breaks through Metaxas Line at a point considered impassable by the Greeks, by crossing a 7,000 ft mountain range.

Eritrea. Aided by a drawing of the Massawa defenses discovered in the Italian War Office at Asmara, British & Indian & Free French troops capture hill forts surrounding Massawa. Colonel Ralph Monclar of the French Foreign Legion rushes ahead and captures the Italian admiralty building. British General Heath arrives and accepts the formal the surrender of 10,000 Italian naval personnel and colonial troops from Italian Admiral Bonetti. Ammunition and supply dumps have been destroyed. Italian minelayer Ostia is sunk by RAF while Italian destroyer escort Orsini, 5 torpedo motor boats and 7 freighters are scuttled. The harbour is an unusable mess of partially sunk ships plus dumped cargo, tanks and other vehicles.

200 miles South of the Azores, U-107 sinks British SS Eskdene at 7.42 AM with 2 torpedoes and 104 rounds from the deck gun (all 39 crew are picked up by British SS Penhale and taken to Pernambuco, Brazil) and British SS Helena Margareta at 7.40 PM (27 crew lost, 7 crew members and 2 gunners picked up on April 14 by fleet oiler Cairndale and landed at Gibraltar). Further South, 150 miles off Freetown, Sierra Leone, U-124 sinks British SS Tweed at 12.25 PM (3 crew lost, 22 survivors in 2 lifeboats make land at Conakry, French Guinea).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Day 585 April 7, 1941

In the Balkans, Germans make good progress through Southern Yugoslavia towards the Greek border. 2nd Panzer Division reaches Strumica, Yugoslavia, and is now only 10 miles and a small mountain range from crossing into Greece and getting behind the Greek defenses in the Metaxas Line. Meanwhile, German troops from Bulgaria are held mounting a frontal assault on the Metaxas Line.

In Libya, Afrika Korps captures Derna on the coast road but most Allied troops have withdrawn overnight. 50 miles South, British, Australian and Indian troops dig in at Mechili (really more a series of trenches than a fort). Their defenses include 1 Cruiser tank, some armoured cars, 1 Bofors anti-aircraft gun, several “2 pounder” anti-tank guns and 1 “25 pounder” artillery piece. They expect reinforcements from British 2nd Armoured Division tanks but these have already withdrawn to the East. General Johannes Streich’s 5th Light Division has surrounded the fort but they do not attack due to sandstorms which jam the turrets on the 6 available Panzer tanks. Rommel is furious at Streich for the delay and orders an attack the following morning.

In the Caribbean, USA opens naval base on the British island of Bermuda (leased from Britain in exchange for US destroyers). This will be home to the Central Atlantic Neutrality Patrol which initially comprises aircraft carrier USS Ranger, cruisers USS Tuscaloosa and USS Wichita and 2 destroyers.

German bombers sink minesweeping trawler HMT Rochebonne off the Lizard, Cornwall, England (11 killed).

At 5.50 PM 240 miles West of Freetown, Sierra Leone, U-124 sinks Canadian SS Portadoc with a torpedo and 21 rounds from the deck gun. All 20 crew escape in 2 lifeboats and make land 6 days later at Benty, French Guinea, where they are interned by Vichy French.

British cruiser HMS Capetown bombards Massawa, Eritrea, but is badly damaged at 11.15 PM by a torpedo from Italian torpedo motor boat MAS.213 (4 killed). HMS Capetown will be towed to Bombay, India, for repairs until July 1942.

Overnight, 229 RAF bombers attack Kiel, Germany.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Day 584 April 6, 1941

Before dawn, Germany invades Yugoslavia from Austria, Romania & Bulgaria, while Italian troops cross the border from Albania and Italy. Yugoslavia will be crushed from all sides in a classic blitzkrieg. Luftwaffe destroys most Yugoslav aircraft on the ground and bombs the capital Belgrade from 7-8.30 AM, killing 4,000 civilians. German armoured columns from Bulgaria bypass antiquated Yugoslav mountain defenses and rush down the river valleys almost 100 miles towards Greece, reaching Skopje and Veles in Southern Yugoslavia. Simultaneously, German mountain troops invade Greece from Bulgaria but they are quickly held at the Metaxas Line. 2 forts in the Metaxas Line are destroyed by German bombing. Overnight, Luftwaffe bombs Greek port of Piraeus setting on fire British munitions ship SS Clan Fraser (cargo of TNT explodes destroying the harbour and sinking 11 other freighters).

Libya. British and Australians withdraw in panic from Barce and Derna towards Tobruk, as German advances through the desert South of Green Mountain threaten to cut off their retreat along the coast. By 5 PM, Germans surround British forces at the old desert fort at Mechili but British Brigadier Vaughn refuses German demands for surrender. British commanders, General Neame and General O’Connor, pick a bad day to visit the front. They get lost in the retreat and are captured overnight between Mechili and Derna.

11th African Division advances 120 miles in 2 days to reach the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, but find it unoccupied. The Italians have withdrawn North to mountain strongholds of Gondar and Amba Alagi. General Cunningham's African force has advanced 1,725 miles from Kenya in 72 days, capturing 22,000 Italian and colonial prisoners.

British armed merchant cruiser HMS Comorin carrying military personnel to Freetown, Sierra Leone, catches fire 450 miles West of Ireland (20 dead). Despite very heavy seas, 405 men are taken off by British SS Glenartney and destroyers HMS Broke & HMS Lincoln (which sinks the wreck next day by shellfire).

German battlecruiser Gneisenau, waiting to have an unexploded bomb removed before entering dry dock at Brest, France, is attacked by RAF bombers and badly damaged with a torpedo.

At 5 PM 100 miles Southwest of Iceland, U-94 sinks Norwegian tanker Lincoln Ellsworth with 2 torpedoes and 121 rounds from the deck gun. All 29 crew abandon ship in 2 lifeboats and are picked up after 2 days by armed merchant cruiser HMS Derbyshire and Icelandic fishing boats.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Day 583 April 5, 1941

Overnight, 350 miles South of Iceland, prolonged depth-charge attack by British destroyer HMS Wolverine, corvette HMS Arbutus and sloop HMS Scarborough forces U-76 to the surface. U-76 is scuttled crew by her crew to prevent capture by a British boarding party (1 dead, 42 survivors rescued by the British ships).

At 3.38 AM 800 miles Northwest of Natal, Brazil, U-105 sinks British SS Ena de Larrinaga carrying coal from Britain to Argentina (4 crew, 1 gunner killed). 38 survivors are rescued (1 lifeboat is found after drifting for 13 days) and taken to Brazil.

Afrika Korps races across the desert towards British position at Msus and Mechili, Libya.

The new Yugoslavian regime of Prime Minister Dušan Simović and young King Peter II agrees a Soviet-Yugoslav Nonaggression Pact in Moscow. Despite pressure from Britain to join the Allies, Simović has reaffirmed Yugoslavia’s commitment to the Tripartite Pact to avert the risk of German invasion, but it is too late to placate Hitler.

5th Indian Division reaches Massawa, Eritrea, on the Red Sea. At 1.30 PM, Italian Admiral Bonetti asks for surrender terms for his garrison of 10,000 (troops withdrawn from Keren, a naval battalion, coastal defense and customs). Bonetti seeks clearance from Rome before surrendering but he is ordered to defend the port to the last man, so hostilities resume at 1 AM next morning.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Day 582 April 4, 1941

Libya. Just before dawn, German and Italian troops moving along the coast road capture Benghazi unopposed. They push out East onto the Green Mountain but are held up all day by 3 companies from Australian 9th Division. German 5th Light Division remains stationary in the desert while fuel is brought forward. Unaware, British continue to fall back in disarray and begin to occupy the old Italian defenses in the desert at Mechili. Luftwaffe destroys a convoy of 21 trucks carrying 1,600 gallons of petrol, worsening the fuel shortage of the British armour.

Eritrea. After mopping up at Asmara, Indian 5th Division heads 50 miles East towards the Red Sea port of Massawa (while 4th Indian Division is sent back to bolster Allied defenses in Libya). Briggs Force approaches Massawa along the coast from the North, having advanced cross-country from Keren. 6 German and 7 Italian freighters are scuttled at Massawa, while RAF bombing sinks Italian torpedo boat Acerbi.

Ethiopa. 11th African Division marches on towards the capital Addis Ababa.

German raider Thor and British armed merchant cruiser Voltaire engage in a 55-minute gun duel 900 miles West of the Azores. Thor uses half her ammunition to sink Voltaire from 9 km (74 killed, 195 rescued from the burning Voltaire or picked up out of the water by Thor).

U-94 and U-98 resume the attack on convoy SC-26, 250 miles South of Iceland, sinking 3 steamers between midnight and 3.44 AM (36 crew killed, 70 survivors picked up by destroyers HMS Veteran and HMS Havelock). At 7.56 PM, U-76 sinks SS Athenic (all 40 hands rescued by corvette HMS Arbutus) but SC-26 convoy escorts destroyer HMS Wolverine and sloop HMS Scarborough locate U-76 and begin depth-charging.

At 8.06 PM 500 miles Southwest of Iceland, U-97 sinks British MV Conus (57 crew and 2 gunners lost). At midnight 75 miles West of Freetown, Sierra Leone, U-124 sinks British SS Marlene (13 crew lost, 47 crew make land at False Cape, Sierra Leone).

British Trinculo class mooring vessel HMS Buffalo sinks in a British minefield off Singapore (32 killed). Italian bombers sink Greek torpedo boat Proussa and SS Sussanna off Corfu. German bombers sink Free French sloops Suippe and Conquerant at Falmouth, England.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Day 581 April 3, 1941

Libya. Churchill’s suggests that General O’Connor, who masterminded the successful Allied advance in January, is offered command in Libya. O’Connor refuses but nonetheless returns from convalescing in Cairo to advise General Neame. Rommel divides his force, sending 5th Light Division across the desert South of the Green Mountain while a mixed German/Italian unit heads along the coast road to Benghazi. Rommel flies around the battlefield in his Fieseler Storch light aircraft, giving orders and solving problems. When 5th Light Division tanks run low on petrol, he risks halting them for 24 hours and sends back trucks to bring more fuel. British withdraw, following Neame’s orders, but the retreat is disoriented and confused in the open desert. A supply dump at Msus with large quantities of much-needed fuel is blown up on the erroneous rumour of approaching German tanks. This will badly hamper the mobility of British armour in the coming days.

In the Red Sea, 5 Italian destroyers head North from Massawa, Eritrea, to attack British facilities at Port Sudan, Sudan. Destroyer Battisti breaks down en route and is scuttled by the remaining 4 warships, which are spotted by British reconnaissance aircraft. Swordfish bombers from carrier HMS Eagle immediately attack, sinking destroyers Daniele Manin and Nazario Sauro. Pantera and Tigre cross the Red Sea and are scuttled near the Arabian coast.

150 miles south of Iceland, U-76 sinks Finnish SS Daphne carrying coal from Wales to Norway (all 2 hands lost). 100 miles Southwest of St Nazaire, France, British submarine HMS Tigris sinks German tanker Thorn.

Operation Winch. 12 Hurricane fighters (brought from Britain aboard aircraft carrier HMS Argus) and 3 Skua dive bombers fly 400 miles to Malta from carrier HMS Ark Royal (escorted by cruiser HMS Renown and HMS Sheffield plus 5 destroyers).

17 miles West of Crete, German bombers sink British munitions ship MV Northern Prince (entire crew is rescued), depriving Allied troops in Greece of vital ammunition.

Overnight, RAF again unsuccessfully bombs German cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau at Brest, France. Due to the raids, German naval staff and officers from Scharnhorst and Gneisenau have been moved to the Continental Hotel but many are killed during dinner when bombs strike the hotel. Luftwaffe bombs Bristol.

Day 580 April 2, 1941

Libya. At dawn, British troops encounter German tanks & infantry probing in front of Agedabia. British fall back as ordered. Encouraged by this immediate withdrawal plus Luftwaffe reports of British armour moving away, Rommel orders 5th Light Division to advance. British 2nd Armoured Division withdraws inland to Antelat, uncovering the road to Benghazi and allowing Germans to take Agedabia. In the first tank battle in the desert, 40 German and 14 British tanks tangle at dusk (Afrika Korps loses 3 tanks, British lose 5 with 1 damaged).

Eritrea. British offer surrender terms to Italian Admiral Mario Bonnetti, commander of Italian Red Sea Flotilla and the garrison at the Red Sea port of Massawa. Instead, he sends Italian destroyers Nazario Sauro, Daniele Manin, Battisti, Pantera and Tigre from Massawa on a suicide attack on British facilities at Port Sudan, Sudan.

Ethiopa. 11th African Division (now lead by 22nd East African Brigade) reaches the Awash River, 120 miles from Addis Ababa. Retreating Italians have blown bridges but they do not defend the river to prevent a crossing. British armoured cars under Colonel Bernard Fletcher ("Flitforce") reach Adigrat (just across the border from Eritrea), cutting off the Italian retreat from Eritrea and taking 3,500 prisoners.

At 1.50 AM 300 miles Southwest of Iceland, U-48 sinks British SS Beaverdale with 1 torpedo and the deck gun (20 crew and 1 gunner killed). 58 survivors escape in 2 lifeboats (1 reaches Iceland, the other picked up by the Icelandic trawler Gulltoppur).

2 German merchant ships are scuttled by their crews off Peru, to avoid being impounded by Canadian armed merchant cruiser Prince Henry.

German bombers sink 2 freighters and damage 2 more in convoy AS23, off Gavdo Island 25 miles South of Crete.

Convoy SC-26 runs into a patrol line of 8 U-boats, 460 miles Southwest of Iceland. Overnight, U-46, U-69, U-73 and U-74 sink 6 steamers and damage 1 more (110 killed, most crew rescued). The only escort, British armed merchant cruiser HMS Worcestershire, is stopped by U-74 with the last torpedo (HMS Worcestershire will be escorted back to Liverpool by destroyer HMS Hurricane).