The lull before the Storm

From the NAVAL, MILITARY AND AIR SITUATION for the week up to 12 noon April 4th, 1940 as reported to the War Cabinet:

NAVAL SITUATION. General Review.
THERE has been a complete lull in German submarine activity. Enemy aircraft attacks on warships and merchant vessels have somewhat increased in intensity, though not in effectiveness.

Home Waters.

2. The main units of the Home Fleet have been at Scapa Flow during the past week and no major movements have taken place. French submarines are now working with our patrols in the North Sea.

Protection of Seaborne Trade.

10. A. total of 1,028 ships, of which 45 were Allied and 305 Neutral, were convoyed during the week, only one of which (a neutral) was sunk. Included in this total was a convoy of 61 ships from Halifax under Rear-Admiral E. 0. Cochrane as Commodore. This is the largest convoy that has reached the United Kingdom, and its total tonnage was nearly 400,000 tons.

Fifty-one destroyers (including three French), twenty-one escort vessels, six cruisers, five armed merchant cruisers, two battleships and one submarine were employed on escort duty.

Imports in convoy were above the average and included nearly 300,000 tons of oil; 140,000 tons of minerals and ores, over 180,000 tons of cereals and nearly 140,000 tons of other food-stuffs.

Since the outbreak of war 15,751 ships have been convoyed, of which 778 were Allied and 2,446 Neutral. Twenty-nine ships have been lost in convoy or one in 543; for Neutral vessels—one in 815.


24. During the past week there has been an increase in patrol activity. Several French posts have been unsuccessfully attacked, and in many cases the French captured prisoners. A novel feature has been the machine-gunning by low-flying German aircraft of French troops. This occurred on two occasions, one in forward positions and one on a road some miles behind the front. The greater part of the 44th Division has now arrived in France; and the British Expeditionary Force has taken over a further sector of the front.

AIR SITUATION. Royal Air Force Operations. Bomber Command. Offensive Operations and Reconnaissances.

31. It is now learned that the aircraft which was reported last week to have been shot down by Dutch fighters on the 28th trespassed on Dutch territory through a navigational error and was driven down without offering resistance.

One of the crew was killed and the other four have been interned.

In spite of generally unfavourable weather conditions, daylight reconnaissances in force over the Heligoland Bight have been regularly maintained by Blenheim aircraft, in search of enemy warships. Fifteen aircraft were employed each day from the 29th to 31st March, nine on the 1st April and two each on the 3rd and 4th April. No definite hits are claimed but enemy vessels were seen and bombed on several occasions. Four bombs were aimed at one of a pair of patrol vessels which openedfire at our aircraft on the 30th March and four at one of a flotilla of four similar vessels on the 1st April. No opposition was encountered on any of these occasions, except from the anti-aircraft fire on the ships, and only one enemy fighter was seen; one of our aircraft failed to return

32. An effective reconnaissance was made in cloudy weather on the 28th March when photographs were taken, of the River Elbe and the naval base at Cuxhaven. A cruiser of the “Hipper class,” two destroyers, twenty four minesweepers and patrol vessels of various types, and various merchant vessels and small naval units have been identified from the photographs. Three enemy fighters were seen and evaded.


In fact the RAF reconnaissance had revealed the German invasion fleet for Denmark and Norway. However, this was the first time the port had been properly photographed and it was not possible to compare this activity with the normal number of ships to be seen in harbour. The importance of routine reconnaissance surveillance so that changes in military dispositions could be discerned over time was soon realised.