U-33 sunk, The Finns resist even stronger attacks

A Finnish soldier on the Mannerheim Line defences

From the Naval Military and Air situation up to 12 noon on 15 February 1940, as reported to the War Cabinet:

Naval Situation

General review

The principal event of the week at sea has been the safe arrival of the first echelons of the Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force at Suez on 12th February.

H.M.S. Exeter, which was severely damaged in the Battle of the River Plate, has arrived in the United Kingdom. H.M.S. Achilles is returning to Auckland to refit.

There has been an increase of U-Boat activity, but air attacks on shipping have been less intense.


Home Waters

2. The Home Fleet has been at sea covering the Norwegian Convoys and the Northern Patrol.

3. German air attacks on East Coast shipping between Scarborough and Kinnaird Head were carried out on the 9th February. Damage to merchant ships was negligible, one fishing trawler only being lost. Four minesweeping trawlers, were attacked off Aberdeen. …

H.M. Destroyer Griffin was also attacked with machine guns and sustained two casualties.

On 10th February an attack by aircraft was carried out on a trawler, Theresa Boyle, which was sunk 115 miles north-east of Aberdeen.

4. The German S. S. Anhalt (5900 tonnes) sent out distress signals on the evening of 12 February off Hantsholm (N.W. point of Denmark) after being in collision. Three British submarines were ordered to take up special positions to try and intercept German naval units which might have proceeded to her assistance. Nothing, however was sighted.

5. During the week under review H.M.S. Glasgow relieved H.M.S. Southampton on the Norwegian Coast patrol for the purpose of intercepting two German merchant ships believed to be taking ammunition to Mermansk. One German trawler, the Herrlichkeit (268 tons) was captured by the Glasgow.

Anti-Submarine Operations

9. During the week under review there have been 14 attacks on submarines — twelve by surface craft and two by aircraft. Of the former, one by H.M.S. Gleaner on U.33 in the approaches to the Clyde was definitely successful — three officers and 16 ratings being taken prisoner, and 22 bodies recovered. …

Military Situation
Western Front

17. Apart from the usual patrolling and artillery activity, no operations have occurred during the week and the review.

Air Situation
Royal Air Force Operations

Bomber Command

27. The unfavourable weather conditions which brought operations almost to a standstill last week have continued, many aerodromes have been unserviceable and operations generally restricted.

Fighter Command

30. 449 patrols, involving 1168 aircraft, were dispatched during the week. Most of these patrols were in connection with the protection of shipping.

Coastal Command

32. 153 patrols and searches were flown during the week, and 51 convoys were provided with air escort.

Methods adopted by the enemy in attacks on shipping

42. Reconnaissance or “Fuhlungshalter” aircraft search the allotted area for suitable targets. [When they find ships they transmit guidance to the bomber force.]

The bombers usually attack in pairs, approaching individually from astern and diving to 800 feet before releasing their bombs in level flight. If the first aircraft is unsuccessful, the second carries out similar tactics, and in cases where no anti-aircraft fire is experienced the ship is finally attacked by machine guns (firing armour piercing bullets) from off heights of 100 feet or less. It appears that weather conditions are chosen when visibility is sufficiently good for attack but bad enough to make interception by our fighters are unlikely.


The Russo-Finnish Hostilities

44. The Russian offensive on the Karelian Isthmus has continued throughout the week with increased vigour. The greatest pressure has been in the Summa sector, where four divisions and 250 tanks are said to have been used in one attack; attacks in considerable force have also been made in the centre and in the east of the Isthmus. The latest reports put the total Russian strength on the Isthmus front at fourteen infantry divisions, with over hundred medium and heavy batteries and a very large number of tanks.

It is very difficult to estimate what progress the Russians have made, as reports are vague and conflicting. A report, dated 10th February, stated that the Russians had penetrated the Mannerheim Line at several points to a depth of 2 km, and it seems almost certain that they have made some further progress. The Mannerheim defences have, however, a depth of about 18 km in the more important sectors, and it is unlikely that the extent of the Russian advance is in itself of great importance. The most dangerous factors from the Finnish point of view are the exhaustion of their troops and the heavy expenditure of their limited stocks of ammunition. These difficulties are causing the Finnish General Staff grave anxiety. …

45. All reports agree that the morale of the Finnish nation is remarkably high, and that they are prepared for any sacrifices to obtain a just peace. The civil population is becoming inured to air raids and pays little attention to them. Dislocation of transport and loss of time in the factories are much less serious than might be expected. Transport runs mainly at night, and except for passenger trains, is not very seriously delayed. Factories work by day and night; there is an efficient warning system which prevents all unnecessary loss of time. The morale of the troops remains excellent, though in some sectors they are very tired.

See CAB 66/5/36

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