THE SECOND WORLD WAR October 1940
From the 2nd October 1940 night time bombing of London had taken over from day-light raids and continued throughout the month. During the course of the Blitz, many deep underground tube stations were designated as air raid shelters for civilian use. On the 14th October 1940, Balham underground station was hit by a 1400kg semi-armour piercing fragmentation bomb which fell on the road above. In the blackout a double decker bus crashed into the resulting crater, fortunately nobody on the bus was killed. The crater caused the northbound tunnel to collapse killing 65 people although over 400 managed to escape the disaster to safety.
Neville Chamberlain resigned from the House of Commons on the 9th October 1940. Following his resignation as Prime Minister in May 1940 in favour of Winston Churchill, he remained as the Leader of the Conservative Party. Churchill wished for Chamberlain to return to the Exchequer, he declined but accepted the post of Lord President of the Council with a seat in the five member War Cabinet. In September 1940 Chamberlain had offered his resignation to Churchill owing to ill health. Chamberlain’s surgeons discovered he had terminal cancer, although he was never told. At first Churchill was reluctant to accept the resignation but was forced to accept when it was obvious that Chamberlain would never work again. Chamberlain refused to accept the offered highest order of British chivalry, the Order of the Garter. Chamberlain resigned in October 1940 and died one month later, on the 9th November 1940 aged 71.
Southeast of Sicily the Royal Naval Mediterranean fleet was attacked by light vessels of the Italian Navy on the 9th October 1940. The British fleet had escorted a convoy to Malta and was returning to Alexandria when attacked. Cruiser HMS Ajax sank Italian ships ‘Airone’ and ‘Aerial’ and badly damaged destroyer ‘Artigliere’ which was finished off by cruiser HMS York. Aircraft from carriers HMS Illustrious and HMS Eagle launched air strikes against Leros Island in the Dodecanese. On the same return journey cruiser HMS Liverpool was badly damaged by a torpedo launched from Italian aircraft. However, in the Battle of the Atlantic during October 1940 the German U-boats were inflicting heavy convoy losses as they sank 39 allied vessels.
The city of Liverpool sustained the heaviest bombing outside of London. Liverpool and Birkenhead had the largest port and dock area on the west coast of England which was of significant importance to the British war effort therefore attracting Luftwaffe bombing raids. On the 21st October 1940 the city was raided for the 200th time since the beginning of the war.
On the nights of 20/21st October and 24/25th October 1940 British Wellington bombers attacked Hamburg which started 12 and 13 fires respectively with little loss of life. There were also air raids on Berlin during October 1940, all of which did little damage because British bombers were at their extreme range and navigational aids were not that reliable at the time.
The Battle of Britain officially ended on the 31st October 1940 when the Luftwaffe abandoned large scale daylight raids on London. The battle had begun in July 1940 when the Germans attacked coastal targets and British shipping in the English Channel in an effort to gain air superiority prior to an invasion of England. By mid-August 1940 the attacks moved inland, concentrating on RAF airfields and communication centres. On the 7th September 1940 the Luftwaffe shifted most of their attacks away from RAF targets and onto night-time assaults on London known as the Blitz. The Luftwaffe suffered unsustainable heavy losses on the 15th September 1940 when Fighter Command repelled another massive assault. At the end of the Battle of Britain the Luftwaffe was dealt an almost lethal blow which it never fully recovered when just 3,000 RAF pilots had broken the will of the Luftwaffe.
In German occupied Poland on the 3rd October 1940 all Jewish residents of Warsaw were directed to move into a designated ghetto in Warsaw. By the 31st October 1940 the ghetto had been sealed off from the rest of the city and the population was estimated to be over 400,000 Jewish people living in an average of 7.2 persons per room in an area of 1.3 square miles.
On the 4th October 1940 German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler and Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini met at the Brenner Pass, near the German-Italian border, to discuss the progress of the war. The main subject was the plans in the Mediterranean as the Germans had given up on Operation Sea Lion.
Germany deployed a military mission to Romania on the 7th October 1940 to provide training for the Romanian Army and the guarding of the Romanian oilfields. This mission was German’s response to Romanian’s request made on the 7th September 1940.
On the 12th October 1940 Hitler issued a directive releasing German invasion troops to other fronts. To keep political pressure on Britain the appearance of Operation Sea Lion had to be maintained. A fresh directive would be issued if it was decided that the invasion was to be reconsidered in the spring of 1941.
At Hendaye, near the Spanish-French border Hitler met with Spanish Dictator Francisco Franco on the 23rd October 1940. Hitler had hoped to convince Franco to enter the war on the Axis side but little was accomplished as Spain’s demands appeared extortionate to Hitler. However, a secret agreement was reached under which Franco committed Spain to enter the war at a date of Franco’s choosing.
After meeting with Franco, Hitler went to Montoire on the 24th October 1940. He met with Phillippe Pétain, signifying the start of organised Vichy French collaboration with the Nazi regime.
Following Italy’s entry into the war in June 1940, Mussolini decided to invade neutral Greece on the 15th October 1940 through the Italian held territory of Albania. He had long time ambitions to extend Italy’s empire to match the glory days of Antiquity. On the 28th October 1940 Mussolini issued an ultimatum to Greece demanding they give up Greek territory but the Greek government rejected the proposal. The Italian Army invaded Greece on the 28th October 1940 before the ultimatum had expired. The invasion was a disaster owing to the Italian Army encountering a horrendous mountainous terrain on the Albania-Greek border and met with tenacious resistance by the Greek Army. Mussolini had not been informed of German’s plans for the area and had acted on his own initiative but Hitler was angered at this initiative of his ally.
The Italian Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) attacked Bahrain on the 19th October 1940 but caused little damage. On the following day, the 20th October 1940, Cairo in Egypt was attacked as a diversion while four Italian SM82 bombers attacked and heavily damaged two American operated oil refineries in the British Protectorate of Bahrain. The only real success of the raids was it forced the British to divert resources to upgrade their defences in the Middle East.
On the night of the 24/25th October 1940, the Corpa Aereo Italiana (CAI) conducted its first raid on Britain when their aircraft attacked Harwich and Felixstowe. The CAI was an expeditionary force from the Italian Regia Aeronautica. At the insistence of Mussolini the Italian CAI would assist their German allies during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. Of the aircraft involved the Fiat CR42 biplane fighter was outclassed by the British Hurricane and Spitfire and the Fiat G50 monoplane fighters were restricted to 400 miles range. Eighteen Fiat BR20 bombers took part in the attack but one crashed on take-off. Not all the aircraft found their targets, however, ten crews reported they had successfully bombed their targets. Three of the aircraft were lost in accidents on the return journey. On the 29th October 1940 the next major operation of the CAI took place when fifteen BR20 bombers who were escorted with a strong fighter escort bombed Ramsgate. Five Italian aircraft suffered damage due to local anti-aircraft guns.
Following American President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of the “Selective Training and Service Act 1940”, he appointed Clarence A. Dykstra as Director of Selective Services on the15th October 1940. The act required that men between the ages of 21 and 35 register with local draft boards. The draft registration began on the 16th October 1940 and the Secretary of War Henry L. Stimpson began to draw numbers out of a glass bowl on the 29th October 1940 in the first peacetime conscription in the U.S. history. The numbers were handed to Roosevelt who read them aloud during a public announcement. However, on the 30th October 1940, whilst speaking in Boston during the campaign for election of his third term of Presidency, Roosevelt made a pledge to his audience. He stated, “But I shall say it again, and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign war”. A little over a year later the USA was at war with Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.
The P-51 Mustang was an American long range, single seat fighter-bomber which first flew on the 26th October 1940. The Mustang was designed by Northern American Aviation (NAA) in 1940 in response to the requirements of the British Purchasing Commission. NAA was approached by the Purchasing Commission to build Curtiss P-40 fighters under licence for the Royal Air Force (RAF). Rather than build an old design, NAA proposed the design and production of a modern fighter, and 102 days after the contract was signed the first prototype was ready on the 9th September 1940. The Mustang was designed to be powered by the Allison V-1710 engine, but it had limited high altitude performance. When the RAF took delivery and flew the Mustang they replaced the Allison with the Rolls Royce Merlin engine and the fighter’s performance was transformed at altitudes above 15,000 feet. By using the Merlin engine the Mustang had the height to compete with the Luftwaffe fighters without having to sacrifice the range before refuelling. The Mustang saw action in the European, Pacific, Mediterranean and Far Eastern theatres of the Second World War and also served in the Korean War.
In the Far East during October 1940, there were numerous clashes between Chinese Nationalists and Communists even though both sides continued the war against Japan. The two factions were fighting each other in North China for their own ultimate advantage. They were competing for control of enemy territory. The Chinese Civil War of 1927 had divided China into Nationalist and Communist factions. The Second Sino-Japanese War was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from 7th July 1937 with both the Nationalists and Communists fighting against Japan.