Saturday, May 07, 2011

6 May 1941 - a day at war

Reading World War II Day-By-Day, one of the things that I still find a bit staggering is the sheer scale of the conflict. Sure I know it's a World War, but its still a bit staggering.

To illustrate this, I have just taken 1 day, May 6, 1941, Day 614 since the war began. 

On Crete, the Allied commander, New Zealander General Freyberg, receives accurate intelligence (Ultra intercepts of poorly-coded Luftwaffe signals) on German plans for an airborne invasion of the island by 2 divisions on May 17. Freyberg does not believe a parachute attack is likely and continues to focus on the threat of amphibious landings with tanks.

After some delays, the German airborne invasion will begin on 20 May. Freyberg commands 14,000 British garrison troops plus 25,000 British and ANZACs evacuated from the Greek mainland and 9000 Greek troops. However, many are unarmed and most guns & vehicles have been abandoned on the mainland.

I covered the Cretan conflict in two of my Greek posts, Arrival in Iraklion and then An Australian dies in Crete.

That same day in Paris (May 6), senior German diplomat Otto Abetz and French Foreign Minister Admiral Darlan negotiate a preliminary agreement to send Vichy French war materiel in Syria to the Iraqis.  The Paris Protocols also allow Germany use of airbases in Syria to transport aircraft to Iraq. Luftwaffe Colonel Werner Junck is ordered to establish Fliegerführer Irak with 12 Messerschmitt Bf110 fighters and 12 Heinkel He111 bombers.

The Germans have in fact been a bit slow to get their act together.

In Iraq, Iraqi forces who were attacking RAF Habbaniya withdraw from the plateau overlooking the airfield having suffered 1000 casualties from RAF attacks.They are pursued by the King's Own Royal Regiment which routs the retreating Iraqi troops at the village of Sinn El Dhibban on the road back to Baghdad (433 Iraqis taken prisoner). British casualties are 7 killed and 14 wounded. The 21st Infantry Brigade, 10th Indian Infantry Division, disembarks at Basra to reinforce the British presence in Iraq.

As Nigel Davies pointed out in The deployment of Allied land forces in 1942, the potential German threat to Iraq in 1941 and 1942 required the continued deployment of Imperial and Commonwealth troops in a theatre away from immediate conflicts.

In Ethiopia, East Africa, troops of the 3/2nd Punjab battalion are recovering after their failed attempt the day before to attack the Italian stronghold at Amba Alagi. They attacked as dawn broke on May 5, but got held up in barbed wire and are pinned down by 12 Italian machineguns only 500 yards ahead (8 killed, 28 wounded). They wait all day under fire to retreat after dark.

Much of the fighting around Amba Alagi has been done by Indian troops. In addition to the 3/2nd Punjab battalion, fighting has involved the 5th Indian Division and 6/13th Frontier Force Rifles battalion. The 1st South African Brigade was also involved, moving towards Amba Alagi from the south.

That same day, 5 May, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie triumphantly returns to his capital Addis Ababa, 5 years to the day since fleeing the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.

Further north, the siege of Tobruk continues. Following the failure of German and Italian attack on Tobruk, General Paulus, representing the German High Command, had suggested to Rommel on 4 May that he abandon the attacks at Tobruk in favour of a passive siege to starve the defenders into submission. Rommel creates a ring of posts to limit Allied sorties outside the wire, while the Luftwaffe will try to prevent resupply of the Tobruk garrison by sea.

The next day, the besieged Allied garrison at Tobruk is resupplied by Navy warships for the first time when Australian destroyers HMAS Voyager & HMAS Waterhen complete the round trip from Alexandria to Tobruk overnight.

Elsewhere, the war at sea continues.

Off Sierra Leone, U-103 and U-105 sink 3 more British freighters (12 killed, 100 survivors). U-103 rights a swamped lifeboat to accommodate more survivors from one steamer. 500 miles West of Ireland, U-97 sinks British ocean boarding vessel HMS Camito and Italian tanker SS Sangro which she is escorting to Britain (28 killed, survivors picked up by corvette HMS Orchis). Off the coast of Italy, British submarines HMS Taku and HMS Truant sink Italian steamers Cagliari and Bengasi.

This brings on my count the number of ships sunk in seven days by submarines or bombing to 28 - 15 British, 8 Italian, 3 German and one each from Sweden and Norway.

You see what I mean by scale, recognising that war with Japan was still some months away.


Augustus Winston said...

Jim I know this is not really related to this but couldn't think of any other way to bring this to your attention.

With the death of Bin Laden being applauded by so may "world leaders" including our own Julia Gillard who said "I welcome the death of Bin Laden" I am wondering if she now supports the Death Penalty. Lets face it if Bin Laden was caught here he couldn't be extradited to the US because there would be a very real chance of his being executed.

So this begs the question does she now support the death penalty? If not then can we assume she is okay with someone else doing the dirty work.

And can she now pick and choose whose death she "welcomes". What about some of our own monsters. How many do they have to kill before its okay to welcome their death. We know that in this country multiple murderers are given a small gift and asked not to do it again. A "never to be released" order from a judge has no legal standing, politicians (with a few notable exceptions) are against the death penalty on any account, but here we have our own PM applauding the execution of a terrorist. So its ok as long as she doesnt get her hands dirty. Don't get me wrong I am not a Bin Laden supporter BUT it sickens me to see this obvious two faced double standard being applied.
Had she said "I'd have shot the bastard myself and lets look at own laws on this" then maybe she would have the right to publicly support this.
Finally its interesting to note that even though the "world is now a safer place" they (police govt etc) are not going to give up one inch of their anti-terrorists powers.

Augustus Winston

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning Augustus.

I find this a difficult one. That's one reason that I haven't written about it, the other being that really have nothing new to say.

As you might guess from my general views on certain issues, I am opposed to the death penalty. Indeed, at one point I was a pacifist opposed to any killing. I don't hold that view now, but it was deeply held at the time.

I agree with your point re the somewhat unholy glee displayed by Ms Gillard and others. This made me uncomfortable at many levels,including the apparent hypocrisy. To use an old fashioned word, it seemed unseemly.

I would have preferred to see Bin Laden brought to trial, but didn't weep tears of blood over his death for the same reasons I wouldn't have done over Hitler. While I think that the war on terror is a dreadful misnomer, to Bin Laden's mind he was waging war. Given this, he set himself up for a military response.

I suspect that I will have to write something on all this at some point just to clarify my own thinking.

Anonymous said...

Mr Abbott's doorstop:

A report of PM Gillard's comments:

- which also contains a brief reference to former PM Howard's comments, to whit:

"Former Prime Minister John Howard also said today’s news was “very welcome” and would deliver some justice to victims of terror around the world."

It would therefore seem likely that "this obvious two faced double standard" has remarkable bipartisan support - which makes it a four faced quadruple standard - i.e. business pretty much as per usual.

But as you say, unseemly.


Jim Belshaw said...

Again I grinned, KVD. Although is a four faced quadruple standard a repetition? My mind went slightly wild trying to visualise it!

Augustus Winston said...

Jim I have given this considerable thought - my view on four faced quadruple standards is that one cancels out the other thereby voiding the whole process. Think of it as two oppposing politicians standing back to back with diametrically opposing view points, would they in fact be agreeing with each other or just disagreeing behind each others backs?

Augustus Winston

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Winston

You have made a superb day even better with the clarity of your reasoning. My sincere thanks and best wishes.


Jim Belshaw said...

I agree with kvd, Augustus!