SECOND WORLD WAR December 1940
Throughout the month beginning the 1st December 1940 bombing raids were exchanged between Britain and Germany. First Germany bombed Britain then Britain retaliated by bombing Germany. These raids were a continuation of the raids on the Midlands and the North West of England during November 1940.
On the night of the 4th December 1940 around sixty German bombers attacked Birmingham in which the Wilton tram depot was damaged in the raid. On the night of the 11th December 1940 the largest raid lasting thirteen hours was launched against the city involving 278 bombers. Apart from explosives, 2,500 incendiaries were dropped causing widespread fires in both the residential and industrial areas. Two hundred and sixty people were killed and another two hundred and forty three were seriously injured.
Simultaneously, the German city of Düsseldorf and the Italian city of Turin were bombed by the RAF on the 5th December 1940.
On the 16th December 1940 the first RAF night raid on Mannheim was launched in revenge for the German attack on Coventry. One hundred and eight tons of high explosives and over 13,000 incendiary bombs were dropped on the industrial centre of the city. Countless fires were started and were fairly widespread but casualties were low with only 34 people killed.
The heaviest raids on Manchester by the German Luftwaffe occurred on the 22nd /23rd and the 23rd /24th December 1940 killing an estimated six hundred and eighty four people and injuring a further two thousand. On the 22nd/23rd December 1940 two hundred and seventy two tons of high explosives were dropped followed by two hundred and seventy two tons the following night. Manchester Cathedral, the Royal Exchange and the Free Trade Hall were among the large buildings damaged.
London sustained another large German air raid on the 29th/30th December1940 when the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral was attacked. Almost every building in the area had been burned down with the Cathedral surviving in a wasteland of destruction. To protect the Cathedral Prime Minister Winston Churchill had urged the special group of firemen to ensure its survival. Twenty nine incendiary bombs fell on and around the Cathedral. One burned through the lead dome but the bomb fell outward from the roof onto the stone gallery below and was quickly extinguished. The photograph, taken by the Daily Mail’s photographer Herbert Mason, and called “St. Paul’s Survives” shows the Cathedral surrounded by thick black smoke. This iconic photograph became the symbol of London’s stand against the enemy. The survival of St. Paul’s came at a cost when more than one hundred and sixty people died in that night’s raid including sixteen firemen with five hundred more being injured.
Operation Compass was the first large scale Allied military operation of the Western Desert Campaign and was fought between 6th and 9th December 1940. The Italian 10th Army had advanced into Egypt in September 1940 and set up a defensive position at Sidi Barrani 95 km (59 miles) from the Egyptian/Libya border. The British Western Desert Force advanced from their defensive position in Mersa Matruh with approximately 36,000 men against 150,000 men stronghold of the Italian 10th Army. The British swiftly defeated the Italians and pursued the remnants of the army to El Agheila. For the loss of 1,900 British men killed or wounded they took over 138,000 Italian prisoners, hundreds of tanks and more than 1000 guns and aircraft on the 12th December 1940. By the 16th December 1940, the British were in command at Sollum and had taken Fort Capuzza in Libya.
On the 18th December 1940 German Dictator Adolf Hitler issued a directive to begin preparing for Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Germany was already committed to the invasion and was ready for any re-action the Soviet Union may undertake. Hitler did not want the Soviet Union participating in the Tripartite Pact, although they had been invited to join on the 18th November 1940, as Germany had their own plans for the division of Europe.
Between the 1st and 8th December 1940, in the Greco-Italian War, the Greek Army continued to push the Italians further back into Albania. The Greeks captured the Albanian cities of Pogradoc, Sarande and Gjirokasser. The war continued to go badly for Italy and by the 28th December 1940 the Greeks occupied roughly 25% of Albania. On the same day Italy requested military assistance from Germany against Greece.
On the 1st December 1940 the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Joseph P. Kennedy, was asked by President Roosevelt to resign after he gave a newspaper interview expressing his view that “Democracy is finished in England”.
On the 8th December 1940 following Hitler’s meeting with Spanish Dictator Francisco Franco, Spain ruled out the countries’ entry into the war. As a consequence Hitler was forced to cancel the proposed attack on Gibraltar. Franco had considered joining the war and invading Gibraltar but he knew his armed forces would not be able to defend Spanish Morocco and the Canary Islands from a British attack.