May 1941

May

24

1941

HMS Hood sunk

The 'Mighty Hood' was the pride of the Royal Navy

As the AA shells continued to rocket around, Captain Kerr ordered the four-inch gun crews to take shelter and the fire and damage control parties to keep away from the area until all the ready-use ammunition had been expended. But the bursting projectiles were making a charnel-house of positions above the upper deck. The screams of the maimed kept up a strident chorus through the voice-pipes and from the flag deck.

May

23

1941

Mountbatten’s HMS Kelly sunk

After their losses in Greece the RAF were unable to maintain a presence on Crete. The Germans had total air superiority and inflicted much damage on the Royal Navy.

As we entered Canea Bay a large caique was sighted loaded with German troops steering towards Crete. Both ships opened fire and sank her very quickly, the wretched Germans jumping into the water in full marching order. In any other circumstances we would have stopped to pick them up, but even at 30 knots it was doubtful if I could get into position to carry out the bombardment in time, so I had to push on.

May

22

1941

Charles Upham wins his first V.C.

A German aerial view of the airfield at Maleme, Crete littered with the wrecks of Ju-52 troop carrying planes.

He was then sent to bring in a company which had become isolated. With a Corporal he went through enemy territory over 600 yards, killing two Germans on the way, found the company, and brought it back to the Battalion’s new position. But for this action it would have been completely cut off.

May

21

1941

The hunt for the Bismarck is on

The confirmation that Bismarck was trying to break out into the open seas. Taken by Flying Officer Michael Suckling from No.1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit in a unarmed, high altitude, long range Spitfire

It was a secret radio message from B-Dienst headquarters in German, according to which early that morning a British radio transmission had instructed the Royal Air Force to be on the lookout for two German battleships and three destroyers that been reported proceeding on a northerly course.

May

20

1941

Parachute assault on Crete

The airborne invasion of Crete started very badly for the Germans with very heavy casualties amongst the parachute troops and attempting to land by transport plane.

Shortly afterwards a fighter arrived and started to roar up and down the main street of Galatos firing bursts at anything it could see. This struck me as a bit unusual so I hurriedly finished shaving and looked with some caution out of my first-floor window. Other fighters were swooping over the Canea road and there was a great deal of noise from aeroplane engines.

May

19

1941

Sergeant Leakey wins the Victoria Cross

The Duke of Aosta, in command of Italian troops in Ethiopia, requested an 'honourable surrender' for his 19,000 men. South African troops presented arms as they marched into captivity.

With complete disregard for his own safety, and in the face of withering machine gun and rifle fire from the enemy’s ground troops, and from more tanks in front, Sergeant Leakey leaped on top of the tank which was coming in from behind our position and wrenched open the turret. With his revolver he shot the Commander of this tank and the crew with the exception of the “driver whom he forced to drive in to cover. Having failed to get the cannon of this tank to fire he dismounted, calling out ” I’ll get them on foot,” and charged across ground which was being swept by machine gun and shell fire from the other enemy tanks which were advancing and causing casualties to our infantry.

May

18

1941

Petty Officer Sephton wins the Victoria Cross

The Anti-Aircraft guns on a Royal Navy warship

Sephton reported to the Control Officer that he had been hit but could carry on. He continued to carry out his duties admirably, although obviously in great pain. Sephton knew that owing to the cramped space in the director and the difficulty of access he could not be relieved until the end of the action. His heroism in carrying on under these conditions set a magnificent example to A.B. Fisher who was also able to carry on, thus maintaining the efficiency of the director.

May

17

1941

Low level air attack in Iraq

Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs of No. 14 Squadron RAF in flight over desert, possibly in Iraq where the Squadron was based from August to October 1941. The nearest aircraft is Z5860, which was shot down during a raid on an enemy vehicle convoy on the Derna-Bardia road on 14 December 1941, all its crew being killed.

In any case, a really low cross-country flight is a wonderful experience. It is the only time one can get the feeling of an aeroplane’s terrific speed. The ground streaks past under the wings unbelievably fast. Different coloured patches of sand flow by; it’s like running your hand across a patchwork quilt. You lift your machine gently upwards to clear hummocks, and then ease her down again the other side to stay low, low, low. As one approaches the target, the adrenalin starts to pump, giving a tingling sensation between the shoulder-blades, and maybe some sweat trickles down.

May

16

1941

U.S. Navy attacks U-Boat

The USS Arizona - the watch officer on board U-109 believed he had seen the distinctive masts of a US battleship of the same class. The USS Arizona was based in the Pacific at this time.

The Captain yelled down for even more revolutions and the diesels began to hammer furiously, plunging the bows deeply into each wave; then the alarm bells rang and the watch came tumbling down to land in a heap on the control room grating. Fischer slammed the tower hatch lid shut as the submarine went down at a steep angle. Through the loudspeakers the calm voice of the boatswain, Maureschat, ordered the bow caps closed and stated the trim depth as 180 feet.

May

15

1941

Relief of Tobruk attempted

German Mk III panzer in the desert, May 1941.

The operations in the Tobruk area took the form of an advance by our fighting patrols and tanks in the Medawar salient, the western extremity of the defensive perimeter, a position which was recently occupied by the enemy. The enemy counter-attacked vigorously during the following night and recovered some of the ground which he had lost, but by the 16th of May our position in the salient had been consolidated with an average gain of about 600 yards.