SECOND WORLD WAR June 1941

SECOND WORLD WAR June 1941

(Britain)

In an effort to reduce the production and consumption of civilian clothes, the Board of Trade’s President Oliver Lyttleton announced on the 1st June 1941 that rationing was to be introduced. This rationing safeguarded the raw materials and released workers and factory space for war production. Around a quarter of the British population was entitled to wear some sort of uniform as part of the armed forces, therefore raw materials and labour was mostly directed to military uses for the fabrics involved. The “Make Do and Mend” campaign was encouraged to make existing supplies of civilian clothes last longer.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the vice chairman of the Council of People’s Commissioner for the Soviet Union Vyacheslav Molotov gave radio speeches to their respective countries announcing the German invasion of the Soviet Union on the 22nd June 1941. Both leaders agreed they would venture into a joint effort to fight Nazism. (See Germany-Operation Barbarossa)         

During the Battle of the Atlantic the British cargo ship Brockley Hill was torpedoed and sank off Greenland by German U-boat U-651 on the 24th June 1941. U-651 was on her first patrol and commanded by Kapitänleuntant Peter Lohmeyer, when she attacked Convoy HX133. Brockley Hill’s master James Howard and the remaining 41 members of the crew were picked up by merchant ship Sauger. U-651 went on to sink SS Grayburn on the 29th June 1941 but was sunk on the same day by the convoy escort. U-651‘s career was a short one as she was on her one and only patrol. Her crew were rescued by the Royal Navy and then interrogated by the Admiralty.      

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(Germany)

Aged 82 years Kaiser Wilhelm II died of pulmonary embolism at Doorn in the Netherlands on the 4th June 1941. Wilhelm was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia who abdicated on the 9th November 1918 just prior to Germany’s defeat in the Great War. Following the abdication he and his family fled into exile in the Netherlands. He was buried in a mausoleum in the grounds of Huis Doorn. A few hundred people attended his funeral.        

German and Italian assets were frozen in the United States of America in response to the worsening events in Europe.  American President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the freezing of the assets of the Axis powers on the 14th June 1941. With relations deteriorating further between the Axis powers and America, on the 16th June 1941 Roosevelt ordered the withdrawal of German and Italian consular staffs from the USA by the 10th July 1941.

Operation Barbarossa was the code name for the German invasion of the Soviet Union which was launched on the 22nd June 1941. German dictator Adolf Hitler had diverted his armed forces away from Britain in an effort to wipe out the communist regime of the Soviet Union. Although not having achieved air supremacy over Britain and having abandoned a subsequent invasion, Hitler thought Britain was unlikely to recover from the military set-backs she had suffered. He also thought Britain would seek an armistice and then enter into an alliance with Germany against the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was totally unprepared for the furious attack launched over a 2,900 km (1,800 miles) front, despite having been warned by Churchill six weeks previously. Churchill had received intelligence reports from the Balkans regarding the German invasion but the Kremlin responded by stating that Britain was spreading ugly rumours against the Germans. Germany entered a Non-aggression Pact with the Soviet Union in August 1939 which for Hitler, was a devise to buy time to defeat the Western democracies before turning east. Hitler was at the pinnacle of his power and was ready to take on the Soviet Union. He did so in the knowledge that with exception of Britain, most of continental Europe was under German occupation or neutral. With a rapid advance of the German troops they had captured Baltic cities of Kaunas and Vilnius on the 24th June 1941. German forces occupied Dubno and Lutsk in the south and Baranovichi in the north of the Eastern Front on the 25th June 1941. By the 28th June 1941 the Germans had massively encircled Soviet Red Army near Minsk and Bialystok. 0peration Silver Fox was launched on the 29th June 1941 by Finnish and German forces combined against the Soviet Union. The attack was designed to cut off and capture the key Port of Murmansk and the attack was launched from Finnish and Norwegian territory. Operation Silver Fox ended in November 1941. (See the Eastern Front)

On the 23rd June 1941 Hitler arrived for the first time at the Wolf’s Lair which was his Eastern Front military headquarters. The top secret high security site was located in the Masaurian woods east of the Prussian town of Rustenburg.

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(Mediterranean Campaign and the Desert War)

During the Siege of Malta on the 1st June 1941 Air Vice Marshall Forster Maynard was replaced by Air Commodore Hugh Lloyd as Malta’s Air Officer Commanding. After an inspection tour of the island Lloyd realised he had fewer than sixty aircraft in which to defend the island. However, it was his intention to take on the German Luftwaffe. By cannibalising slightly damaged aircraft and sifting through wrecks he was able to obtain spares to keep the remaining aircraft serviceable. When the Luftwaffe departed for the Eastern Front after Germany had undertaken Operation Barbarossa the Italian Regia Aeronautica was left to continue the air campaign against Malta. By mid-June 1941 supplies were beginning to reach Malta and Royal Air Force (RAF) British Hurricane fighter aircraft were arriving in readiness to defend the island.

Vichy France controlled Syria and Lebanon was invaded by the Allies on the 8th June 1941. The invasion was aimed at preventing Nazi Germany from using the Vichy French controlled Syria and Lebanon for attacks on Egypt. Included in the Allied attack was an Israeli soldier Moshe Dayan who was attached to the Australian-led reconnaissance task force. On the 7th June 1941, the night before the invasion, Dayan’s unit crossed the border and secured two bridges over the Litani River. As they had not been relieved, as expected on the 8th June 1941, they assaulted a Vichy police station and captured it. Whilst defending his position a sniper’s bullet struck the binoculars he was using and metal/glass fragments were forced into his left eye. Dayan lost the eye and so badly damaged was the eye socket area that it was not possible for a glass eye to be fitted. He was compelled to wear a black eye patch permanently.  Australian troops advancing from British held Palestine entered the Lebanese town of Merdjayoun on the 11th June 1941. The Australians opposed by badly equipped defenders were soon in control of the town. The majority of the Australians on the 13th June 1941were diverted north to attack Jezzine in Lebanon in order to advance to Beirut. A small garrison of Australians were left to hold Merdjayoun. Following a strong Vichy French counter-attack the garrison was forced to withdraw on the 15th June 1941. With the aid of re-enforcements sent as a relief column Allied troops successfully defended the pass back to Palestine and recaptured Merdjayoun on the 24th June 1941.        

During the North African Campaign the British Army launched Operation Battle-Axe on the 15th June 1941 in an effort to relieve the Siege of Tobruk. The intention was to clear the eastern Cyrenaica of German and Italian troops who were fighting a defensive campaign for the first time in the war. On the first day, the 15th June 1941 the British lost over half their tanks.  The only success was achieved on the second day when they repulsed a big German counter-attack. On the third day the British were forced to withdraw to prevent being encircled by the German. Winston Churchill had expected a complete success and was displeased that Operation Battle-Axe had failed with the loss of most of the tanks sent to support it. On the 22nd June 1941 Churchill replaced General Sir Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief, Middle East with General Claude Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief, India. Wavell and Auchinleck were ordered to exchange duties.     

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(The Eastern Front)        

In Finland on the 9th June 1941 negotiations brought Germany and Finland together in readiness for possible attack on Soviet Union. Following Operation Barbarossa Finland declared war, on the b 25th June 1941, against the Soviet Union. On the 29th June 1941 German and Finnish troops launched an attack against the Soviet Union across the barren northern terrain known as Operation Silver Fox. (See Germany)                                                     

In the Baltic the Soviet Union began the first mass deportation of the Lithuanian people which was conducted on the 13th June 1941. The NKVD and NKGB Russian troops based in Lithuania escorted approximately 20,000 deportees on trains to Siberia. These deportees were Lithuanian families who were selected as being Anti-Soviet families. On the 14th June 1941 similar deportations began with Estonian and Latvian being transferred to Siberia. During Operation Barbarossa, German officially occupied Lithuania from the Soviet Union on the 27th June 1941 after the Soviet forces had retreated. During the retreat the Soviets massacred between 1,000 and 1,500 mostly ethnic Lithuanian Jews on the 25th June 1941.       

In Hungary on the 26th June 1941 the city of Kassa was bombed by an unidentified aircraft. The true identity of the attacking aircraft has never been established but there are two possible explanations. The first was that the Soviet aircraft attacked the city by mistake when they were targeting a German radio station in the Slovakian city of Preslov, thirty kilometres north of Kassa. The second was that Germany feigned the bombing to provoke Hungary into attacking the Soviet Union. This attack on Kassa was the pretext for Hungary and Czechoslovakia to declare war on the Soviet Union on the 27th June 1941.       

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(Other Theatres and Areas)

In America, the Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African-American military pilots who were formed on the 2nd June 1941 into the 99th Fighter Squadron. This unit consisted of four hundred and twenty nine enlisted men and forty seven officers. Their programme involved primary training at Morton Field then conversion training at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. The War Department had set up a system to accept those African-American applicants with flight experience or higher education. This ruling ensured the most intelligent applicants were eligible to join.

The United States Army Air Force (USAAF) was the aerial warfare service component of the United States Army during the Second World War. The USAAF was created on the 20th June 1941 under the command of General Henry H. Arnold, to amalgamate both the Air Corps and GHQ Air Force. The Air Corps had been the statutory military branch since 1926. GHQ Air Force had developed into an independent force similar to Britain’s Royal Air Force in 1935. However, while Britain and Germany had separate air forces independent of their army or navy, during the Second World War the American Air Force remained a part of the army.

American President Franklin D. Roosevelt became very wary of the increasing aggression of Germany toward the Soviet Union. He made some diplomatic moves to improve U.S./Soviet Union relationships. These relations were soured between the two countries over the Soviet Unions’ aggressive annexing of nearby countries and the changing borders. On the 24th June 1941, in a press conference speech, Roosevelt opposed Congress regarding the Lend-Lease bill which would give aid to the Allies but would exclude the Soviet Union.       

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In Ethiopia the British had forced an Italian surrender in May 1941. The Duke of Aosta who was the Italian Viceroy of Ethiopia continued the fight at Assab, the last Italian harbour on the Red Sea. On the 10th/11th June 1941 a surprise landing at Assab by the 3/15th Punjab Regiment secured the pier unopposed. Two Italian Generals were taken prisoner after the Punjabis had landed. The Civil Governor was taken to HMS Dido where he surrendered Assab to the Rear Admiral R.H.C. Halifax who was the Senior Officer Red Sea Force. The Punjabis took five hundred and forty seven prisoners along with the two Generals and thirty five Germans.       

Spain under Fransisco Franco during the Second World War was officially a neutral country. In recognition of the assistance of Germany and Italy during the Spanish Civil War Franco wrote to Hitler on the 19th June 1941 offering to join the war on the Axis side. Franco’s offer was for volunteers to fight on the Eastern Front but not on the Western Front, thereby maintaining neutral status with the Allies. On the 26th June 1941 Hitler approved of Spanish volunteers and the Blue Division was quickly raised, then sent to Germany for training before serving at the Siege of Leningrad which began in September1941.

The SS Mareeba was an Australian freighter sailing in the Bay of Bombay carrying 5,000 tons of sugar from Batavia to Colombia on the 26th June 1941. Mareeba was attacked by the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran and received nine shots to her hull. Several shots hit her engine-room and Mareeba slowly began to sink. A team of German boarding party placed demolition charges to sink her quickly. Mareeba’s forty eight man crew were taken prisoner and taken on board Kormoran who sped away to avoid retaliation for the sinking.

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