SECOND WORLD WAR May 1941

SECOND WORLD WAR May 1941

(The Blitz)                                               

 Liverpool was subjected to seven nights of bombing that devastated the city. The peak of the bombing was from the 1st to 7th May 1941 involving six hundred and eighty one Luftwaffe bombers who dropped 2,135 high explosive bombs and 119 other explosive devices such as incendiary bombs. Of the one hundred and forty four cargo berths in the docks, sixty nine were put out of action inflicting 2,895 casualties. Liverpool Cathedral was damaged and over 6,500 homes completely demolished and a further 190,000 damaged leaving many thousands of people homeless. After the 7th May 1941 the Luftwaffe air assault diminished as Germany turned their attention toward attacking the Soviet Union. Liverpool was the most heavily area of the country with the exception of London and the final raid was conducted on the 10th January 1942.            

Belfast was attacked by the Luftwaffe on four separate evenings April and May 1941. The third raid during the Belfast Blitz in Northern Ireland took place overnight of the 4th/5th May 1941 where incendiary bombs predominated. The total casualty raid was 150 people killed with many more injured. The 4th and last raid on Belfast took place overnight of the 5th/6th May 1941. Over the four separate raids 1,300 homes were demolished, 5,000 badly damaged and 50,000 slightly damaged or required “first aid repairs”.

Nottingham was attacked on the 7th/8th May 1941 by Luftwaffe bombers. The Germans had developed a radio navigation system designed for night bombing pf Britain known as the “X-Gerät Beams”, but the British had found a counter-measure to divert the attack away from the main target. The beam had been set to cover the Rolls-Royce Plant at Derby but the Luftwaffe followed the beam to Nottingham. Over one hundred bombers took part in the raid and many bombs fell on open farmland. Two churches and one hotel were destroyed and a further five buildings were damaged. 253 people were killed and 294 injured during the raid. The period when the X-Gerät radio beams aimed at Britain endedwhen the Germans moved their forces to the east in preparation for the invasion of theSoviet Union.     

On the 10th/11th May 1941 the House of Commons was damaged on the last large raid on London. Other targets were Hull, Liverpool, and Belfast and shipbuilding area of the River Clyde. Germany shifted its focus toward the Soviet Union and the East bringing to an end “The Blitz” on Britain.   

Across Britain, by the end of the Blitz, over 40,000 civilians had been killed, 46,000 seriously injured and over one million homes had been damaged or damaged. The Luftwaffe had lost 2,400 aircraft without achieving any of its objective during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz combined,

Finally at the end of the Blitz British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, after visiting Liverpool and the surrounding areas in May 1941 said, “I see the damage done by the enemy attacks, but I also see the spirit of an unconquered people”. To sum it all up we can use the words of Mrs. Dorothy Laycock, a child of the Liverpool Blitz, “They tried to wipe us off the face of the earth. They nearly did but they didn’t quite, did they?”

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(The Mediterranean Campaign and the Desert War)

The Anglo- Iraqi War began on the 2nd May 1941. The pro-Nazi and nationalist party, who were seeking independence from Britain, had overthrown the pro-British regime in April 1941. This change of government led to a British invasion of Iraq. Substantial Iraqi ground forces were deployed to the plateau overlooking RAF Habbaniya where airstrikes were launched at the RAF station. On the 6th May 1941 Iraqi troops withdrew from RAF Habbaniya after taking heavy casualties and were overwhelmed by British air supremacy. The five day siege had been lifted by the Royal Air Force’s own resources. Berlin instructed the Luftwaffe to send a small force of aircraft to Iraq on the 6th May 1941 and the bulk of the aircraft arrived in Mosul, north of Baghdad on the 13th May 1941 in order to support the Iraqi government. On the 17th May 1941 the British Royal Air Force attacked the Iraqis in Fallujah which was secured on the 21st May 1941. The Iraqi counter-attack was defeated on the 23rd May 1941. British forces began to advance toward Baghdad on the 27th May 1941. With no serviceable aircraft available as the British advanced on Baghdad the German military mission fled Iraq on the 29th May 1941. On the 30th May 1941, with the British on the outskirts of Baghdad, the Iraqi government fled from Iraq. On 31st May 1941 the Mayor of Baghdad surrendered and an armistice signed ending the Anglo-Iraqi War.

The Battle of Crete began on the 20th May 1941 when German paratroopers staged an airborne invasion on the island. This was the first occasion when paratroopers were used en masse as an invasion force. Alongside Cretian civilians were Greek and British defenders who inflicted heavy casualties on the German paratroopers. On the 21st May 1941, through a combination of communication failures, Allied tactical hesitation and German offensive, Maleme Airfield sited in Western Crete fell. This enabled the Germans to land reinforcements and the Allies withdrew to the southern coast of the island. The British destroyer HMS Juno was bombed and sunk by Italian aircraft southeast of Crete on the 21st May 1941. Two British cruisers HMS Fiji, HMS Gloucester and destroyer HMS Greyhound was bombed and sunk by the Luftwaffe around Crete on the 22nd May 1941. The Luftwaffe had further success with bombing and sinking of British destroyers HMS Kashmir and HMS Kelly off Crete on the 23rd May 1941. The German advance on the island was temporarily halted when the Australian and New Zealand defenders carried out a bayonet charge causing heavy German casualties which forced the Germans briefly to withdraw on the 27th May 1941. On the same day Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief Middle East, sent a message to Winston Churchill explaining Crete could no longer be defended and troops must be withdrawn. The Chiefs of Staff agreed and ordered the evacuation. From the 28th May 1941 to the 1st June 1941 over 18,000 British troops were evacuated to Egypt leaving 12,000 British and Dominion troops and thousands of Greeks on the island when the Germans controlled Crete from the 1st June 1941.

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(Britain)                                               

During the Battle of the Atlantic a total of sixty three ships were sunk (351,294 tons) with a further three ships damaged (23,992 tons). These ships were lost to German U-boats during the course of May 1941. German submarine U-110 was a member of the Atlantic wolf pack attacking Allied shipping. On the 8th May 1941 U-110 had successfully sunk two Allied ships but the convey escort destroyer HMS Broadway proceeded to drop depth charges. U-110 was forced to surface and abandon ship. Before the German crew could scuttle U-110 a boarding party from HMS Bulldog entered the ship and discovered her code books and “Enigma” machine. U-110 was taken in tow back to Britain but sank en route to Scapa Flow. The documents captured from U-110 helped Bletchley Park code breakers solve a German cypher code which turned out to be one of the biggest secrets of the war. HMS Hood was patrolling the Bay of Biscay to stop German ships attempting a breakout from Brest when she was ordered to the Norwegian Sea. The Admiralty had received a false report that the German battleship Bismarck had sailed from Germany and Hood was dispatched to Scapa Flow on the 6th May 1941. When Bismarck sailed for the Atlantic on the 19th May 1941 she was joined by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and escorted by three destroyers. The Admiralty ordered Hood and battleship HMS Prince of Wales to pursue the German ships before they could break out into the Atlantic and attack Allied shipping. In the early hours of the 24th May 1941 Hood engaged Prinz Eugen. Bismarck and Prinz Eugen opened fire on Hood which was struck by several German shells which exploded internally causing her to sink within three minutes. Of the 1,418 members of the Hood’s crew only three survived. Prince of Wales received damage from German hits and coupled with mechanical problems she was forced to disengage. However, she managed to hit Bismarck three times who had to head for safety in occupied France where she could be repaired. Bismarck was spotted by the Royal Navy and sunk on the 27th May 1941. Prinz Eugen had sustained damage but managed to reach occupied France and receive repairs.

Several German cities were attacked on the 12th May 1941 by the Royal Air Force (RAF) to counter some of the German Luftwaffe raids on Britain. These raids happened despite the radio speech made by Hermann Göring in 1940, “If as much as a single enemy aircraft flies over German soil my name is Meier”. Göring was the Reich Marshall of the Greater German Reich, Germany’s highest rank, and was referring to the Jewish problem. This speech would come back to haunt him when Bomber Command began large scale operations against German targets in 1942.

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(Germany)

On the 10th May 1941 Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess flew a Messerschmitt Bf 110 to Scotland on a solo peace mission, parachuting into Eaglesham near his objective of Dungavel House after running out of fuel. His self-styled mission was an attempt to negotiate a peace between Britain and Germany. His proposals were for Germany to have a free hand in Europe and Germany respecting the integrity of the British Empire. The British government rejected his proposals and treated him as a prisoner of war for the remainder on the Second World War. Hess had a reputation of total loyalty to future dictator Adolf Hitler who made him deputy party leader in 1933. He was declared second to Hermann Göring in line of succession in 1939. As Hitler became preoccupied by military and foreign policy Hess’s power waned and was further undermined by Martin Bormann and other top Nazi leaders. In an effort to restore his influence Hess flew to Scotland. After the war Hess was tried as a war criminal at the Nuremburg Trials. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment at Spandau Prison in Berlin. From 1966 he remained the only inmate until his death in 1987.

On the16th May 1941, in the Western Desert Campaign, German Commander Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps troops successfully defeated British troops at Halfaya Pass which is located on the Egyptian/Libyan border. The British had previously attacked through Halfaya Pass and pushed eastwards towards Libya when a German counter/attack forced the British back to Halfaya Pass. The British Scots and Coldstream Guards garrisoned and secured their positions and took control of the Halfaya Pass allowing the remaining British Army to retire back to Egypt. After a period of stalemate the German determined attack on the 26TH/ 27TH May 1941 forced the British to abandon the pass.

SS Robin Moor an American merchantman was sunk by German submarine U-69 off Sierra Leone on the 21st May 1941. She sailed from New York to Mozambique via South Africa carrying a commercial cargo without convoy protection, because at the time America was a neutral country. She sailed under the American flag in an area considered to be relatively safe from U-boats. Robin Moor was stopped by U-69 whose captain had decided to sink her and the nine officers, twenty nine crewmen and eight passengers were allowed to board her four lifeboats. U-69 torpedoed Robin Moor which then sank. The captain of U-69 radioed the lifeboats position and on the 8th June 1941 one lifeboat containing Robin Moor’s captain and ten others were rescued.  The other three lifeboats were presumed lost as they were never found. The sinking of a neutral nation’s ship caused a political incident in the United States and U-69’s captain justified his actions by saying the ship has been sunk as she was carrying supplies to German’s enemy.

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(Other Theatres)

In Ethiopia Emperor Haile Selassie entered Addis Ababa, his capital in triumph on the 5th May 1941. In 1936 Italy had invaded Ethiopia and the Emperor fled the country and lived in exile in the British city of Bath. Italy conquered Ethiopia in 1937. She declared war against the United Kingdom and France in June 1940. From Ethiopia, Italy invaded British Somaliland in August 1940 but the British launched a counter-invasion and the Italians were to go on the defensive in January 1941. The Italian North African War was effectively over by the 6th April 1941 when the Italian flag was replaced by the Union flag over the Viceroy’s residence. A break-away Italian army led by the Duke of Aosta, Viceroy of Ethiopia continued the fight. He was also the Commander-in-Chief of the Italian army and fierce fighting by the Italians slowed the British counter-invasion. The Italians were besieged by the British and Commonwealth troops and despite fierce Italian resistance, with the lack of water and supplies running low they were forced to surrender at Amba Alagi on the 15th May 1941. After the proclamation of surrender had been read the Italian army marched away, a British General took the salute and the Allied troops presented arms as accorded by the honours of war. The officers were allowed to keep their firearms whilst being transferred for internment as prisoners-of-war.           

At the instigation of the Japanese, a peace agreement was signed between Thailand and France in Tokyo on the 9th May 1941 officially ending the Franco-Thai War. Some areas of French Indochina had been fought over between Thailand and Vichy France during the Franco-Thai War of 1940 to 1941. Following the Japanese invasion of French Indochina in September 1940 the French were forced to allow Japan to set up military bases enabling Japanese access to Allied Burma. The peace agreement stated that France would relinquish their hold on the disputed border territories with Thailand.

The “Strike of the 100,000” began on 10th May 1941 in German-occupied Belgium and was led by Julien Lahaut, head of the Belgian Communist Party. The demand of a wage increase was the object of the strike and also a means of passive resistance to the German occupation. Originating in the Cockeril steel works in Eastern Belgium, the news soon spread through the Province of Liége, the industrial Province of Hainaut in the west and the neighbouring areas of Flanders. The national press of the Belgian Resistance gave widespread coverage and the Germans agreed to an 8% increase in wages in order to end the disruption. The strike lasted eight days and ended on the 18th May 1941.

In America, on the15th May 1941 the first Civilian Public Service (C.P.S.) camp opened for conscientious objectors. The C.P.S. provided conscientious objectors an alternative to military service and the camps encouraged them to perform work of national importance. Nearly 12,000 draftees unwilling to do any form of military service, were sent to 152 C.P.S. camps from 1941 to the disbanding of the C.P.S. in 1947. However, one conscientious objector who did serve his country, wore the uniform and saluted the flag was Desmond T. Doss who enlisted to become a combat medic. As a conscientious objector he refused to bear arms in combat but instead became a medic with the 77th Infantry Brigade. For his exceptional valour in rescuing and treating his fellow troops in the Pacific Campaign he was awarded two Bronze Star Medals and the Medal of Honour.          

Dublin, the capital of neutral Southern Ireland was attacked by the Luftwaffe on the 31st May 1941. The attack occurred in the early morning when four bombs fell in the North Strand area of the city. A total of twenty-eight people were killed, ninety civilians were injured and approximately three hundred houses were damaged or destroyed leaving four hundred people homeless. The renamed Connolly Station located in the North Strand Road was the most likely target as streams of refugees were arriving from Belfast following the Luftwaffe raids on that city. It has been suggested the raid by the Luftwaffe was a warning to Southern Ireland to keep out of the war but the suggestion appears never to have been proven.           

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