THE SECOND WORLD WAR August 1940

THE SECOND WORLD WAR August 1940

(Britain)

Carrier HMS Argus, loaded with a dozen Hawker Hurricane and two Blackburn  Skua fighters of 418 Flight RAF, was part of Operation Hurry heading for Malta on the 1st August 1940. Argus was escorted by HMS Arc Royal, three Battleships, two cruisers, and ten destroyers forming Force H. 0n route from Gibraltar they were attacked by two waves of Italian aircraft but the attacks were successfully repelled. Of the twelve Hurricanes which flew from Argus two crashed on landing and the remainder were used as defence against aerial attack during the Siege of Malta.

On the 14th August 1940 Sir Henry Tizard departed England for Washington in the USA. He travelled with Royal Air Force (RAF) Group Captain Pierce on the day following the Battle of Britain effectively began. Tizard was an English chemist, inventor who developed the classification of petrol octane rating. He was also the Rector of Imperial College London which was the centre for scientific research, and was also involved in the development of radar. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was finally convinced that Tizard should go to the U.S. to obtain the technical research on which the British radar system could be improved.

During the Battle of Britain, on the 13th August 1940 the Luftwaffe began to focus on bombing raids upon British airfields and radar stations. With the radar systems Britain possessed an effective air defence system and although the Luftwaffe air strikes did substantial damage to radar sites they were able to continue operating. The information received provided sufficient warning to enable British fighters to be in the air to attack the assaulting bombers and fighters. By the 15th August 1940 the Luftwaffe abandoned the air attacks on the radar stations and concentrated on RAF bases. On the 18th August 1940 due to heavy losses of German bombers, Luftwaffe fighters were ordered to protect the bombers. Both sides suffered heavy losses with the RAF losing 21% of their fighter pilots and the Luftwaffe losing 16% of their fighter pilots. To overcome British losses fighter construction was increased but it was more difficult to replace pilots.

In his speech to the House of Commons on the 20th August 1940 Churchill included his famous address about “The Few”, referring to the efforts of the RAF crews who were at that time fighting the Battle of Britain. On the 16th August 1940 Churchill visited the operations room in the Battle of Britain Bunker at RAF Uxbridge. He was so moved by what he saw that he composed the words “Never in the history of mankind has so much been owed by so many to so few”. In his speech he changed the phrasing of the wording in the section:- “The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to British airmen, who undaunted by odds, unweary in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few”. Officially the Battle of Britain ended on the 31st October 1940 as Germany’s attention was aimed at the large scale night time bomb attacks on London known as The Blitz.

On the 25th August 1940 Churchill ordered retaliation bombing of Berlin following the attack and destruction of St. Giles Cripplegate Church and surrounding area on the previous day. The church stands within the City of London at Moorgate which is well away from any strategic industrial sites. It was the first area in the city that was hit by a German bomber. Just after midnight on the 26th August 1940, for the first time, British bombers flew directly over Berlin and dropped bombs. Anti-aircraft fire and searchlights were ineffective because not one British aircraft was brought down and all air crews returned safely to their bases. The occupants of Berlin were stunned as they had been told enemy planes would not break through Berlin’s anti-aircraft defence system. Restoration of St. Giles began in 1965 and was incorporated in the modern Barbican Estate.

On the 31st August 1940 the British Destroyer Flotilla sailed from Immingham to the Dutch coast north-west of Texel to lay mines. The flotilla was joined by part of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla and while they were laying mines they were ordered to intercept a German naval force heading toward Britain. En-route to intercept the flotilla ran into a newly laid uncharted minefield. HMS Express was badly damaged causing many casualties after running into a mine where she lost most of bow. HMS Esk came to assist but also hit a mine and swiftly sank. The whole crew but one was lost. HMS Ivanhoe was badly damaged when hitting another mine whilst transferring the wounded from Express, causing more casualties. On the 1st September 1940 HMS Kelvin fired on Ivanhoe to scuttle her and the remainder of the flotilla returned to port including Express which was towed in. In all approximately 300 sailors were killed with another 100 being injured or taken prisoner of war when their rafts drifted onto the Dutch coast and were detained by the German authorities. The German invasion force the air reconnaissance had detected turned out to be a small mine laying unit transferring from Cuxhaven to Rotterdam.

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(France)

Following the surrender of France to Germany in June 1940, Brigadier General Charles de Gaulle departed to London rather than surrender. On the 2nd August 1940 the Vichy French government sentenced de Gaulle to death for treason against France because he had formed the Free French movement in London. He had called for the French people to resist the Germans in his radio broadcast on the BBC. He also claimed sovereignty over France by forming a second government-in-exile.

General Phillippe Le Clerc landed at Douala in French Cameroon on the 27th August 1940 where he rallied the Free French to capture the town. French Cameroon was overseen by the pro-Vichy governor Richard Brunot. He was forced to hand over the civil administration of the state to Le Clerc and the Free French who had moved into Yaounde following the landing.

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(Germany)

German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler gave the Luftwaffe’s commander-in-chief Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring a directive (Directive No. 17) to launch an assault against Britain on the 1st August 1940 with RAF Fighter Command being the prime target. Göring promised Hitler the assault would achieve the required result within days but certainly within weeks. The 5th August 1940 saw the first of a number of postponements owing to bad weather in the channel. The 13th August 1940 marked the start of the German’s Battle of Britain codenamed “Adlertag” (Eagle Day). Over a ten hour period waves of bombers were launched against British airfields in Essex, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. The intention was to test British capability to subdue widely separated attacks. They only achieved moderate success but it did demonstrate to British Fighter Command the difficulty in engaging German bombers in sufficient numbers to inflict significant losses. On the 24th August 1940 St. Giles Church Cripplegate and surrounding areas in Moorgate was attacked with considerable destruction imposed.  Hitler had given instructions that St. Paul’s Cathedral was not to be damaged and as St. Giles is only a short distance away it is possible the bombers were jettisoning their bombs or just experiencing navigational errors. Hitler was outraged when Britain retaliated with the first night time bombing mission on Berlin and ordered the bombing of London to be intensified. On the 31st August 1940 the Germans mounted their largest operation in which Fighter Command losses were the heaviest of the whole Battle of Britain. Thirty nine British aircraft were shot down and fourteen pilots killed. On the same day Göring believed the attacks on British Radar stations were ineffective and decided to abandon these attacks to concentrate on the bombing of British cities. This error of judgement gave Fighter Command the opportunity to have fighters in the air to intercept the oncoming bombers.

On the 17th August 1940 Hitler ordered a total blockade of Britain as a means to the weakening of the island prior to Operation Sea Lion. On the 22nd August 1940 German coastal long range artillery pieces, sited at the Pas-de-Calais in France, began to shell the Dover area aiming for both the town and any shipping located nearby. Over a thousand rounds were fired up to 1944 when the Allied invasion of Europe began. A major problem with the long range super-heavy guns was their barrels wore out relatively quickly therefore they could not fire very often as the barrels were difficult to make and expensive to replace.

Under the 1939 Molotov/Ribbentrop Pact Russia had territorial rights granted over part of Romania who therefore lost all the territory gained by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. At the outbreak of the Second World War Romania had adopted a policy of neutrality which was guaranteed by Britain and France. Following the fall of France and Britain being besieged by the Germans the Romanian government turned to Germany to obtain similar guarantees. On the 30th August 1940 Adolf Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini dictated to Romania they must hand over the Northern Transylvanian territory to Hungary. Romania agreed to the terms of the partition and the territory was handed over to Hungary.

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(Italy)

On the 1st August 1940 the Italian Royal Navy established a submarine base at Betasom near Bordeaux in France. Italy and Germany had signed the Pact of Steel in June 1939 and following Italy’s entry into the war the Germans allocated a sector of the Atlantic south of Lisbon in Portugal for them to patrol. Betasom was selected to be their base which was in the German occupation zone. Italy played their part in the Battle of the Atlantic from 1940 to 1943.

The Italian conquest of Brtish Somalia was part of the East Africa Campaign which began on the 4th August 1940. Italy with Eritrean and Somali forces of Fascist Italy confronted British Commonwealth and Somali irregular troops. Rainy weather and the British defence of the colony hampered any speed and mobility of the Italian expedition. The Italian forces headed for Tug Argan (tug is the local word for dry riverbed) with only the local police force conducting a delaying action while the British and Commonwealth troops retreated to Tug Argan. The Battle of Tug Argan was fought between the 11th -15th August 1940 when the Italians overran the colony and the British were ordered to evacuate the area and arrived at the port of Berbera on the 19th August 940 where the Royal Navy evacuated the British troops. Italy had won a decisive victory over the British.

The Greek cruiser Elli was at anchor off the island of Tinos on the 15th August 1940 when she was sunk by Italian submarine Delfino. Three torpedoes hit Elli and she caught fire and sank killing nine petty officers and sailors and wounding a further twenty four. However, the sinking of Elli took place in peacetime two months before the outbreak of the Greco-Italian war.  The Greek government, in the meantime, were aware of the perpetrator but did not want confrontation with Italy. They announced the nationality of the attacking submarine as being unknown.

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(USA)

U.S. Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy reported from London that a British surrender was inevitable unless Britain had military assistance from the United States. On 16th August 1940 British Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned President Franklin D. Roosevelt that if Britain was defeated her colonial islands nearest America could become a direct threat if they fell into German hands. Although not wanting to get involved in another European war Roosevelt proposed a “Destroyers for Bases Agreement” and on the 30th August 1940 he approved the deal. On the 3rd September 1940 destroyers, that were not vital to U.S. security, were transferred to the Royal Navy. In exchange for fifty destroyers Britain granted land, rent-free on 99-year leases, in nine various British colonies. These bases were available either for naval or air force facilities.

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(Russia)

The Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed a constitutional republic of the Soviet Union on the 2nd August 1940. The new republic consisted of the Romanian regions of Bessarabia and North Bukovina and was occupied by the Soviet Union military in June/July 1940. The Soviet Union occupied the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on the 3rd August 1940, where they were incorporated into the Soviet Union as constituent republics. Recognition of this incorporation was never accepted by most western powers. The military annexation of these states was part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939.

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