Trekking out of town to avoid Air Raids

The buses were full, men and women were walking with their baggage. Some were going to relations in outlying parts, some to shelters, preceded by their wives who had reserved them places, and some to sleep in the open. ‘Anything so as not to spend another night in there.’ Many were trying to hitch hike, calling out to every car that passed; very few stopped. This caused considerable annoyance, especially as many coaches completely empty went by.

The Women’s Voluntary Service was entirely voluntarily but featured heavily in the official response to the bombing. They distributed clothing and bedding to the homeless amongst many other functions, including feeding centres and co-ordinating information about missing people.

From mid November the Luftwaffe turned its attention to Britain’s major cities as well as London. None had been immune from bombing before but now there were large scale raids aimed at reducing whole cities to ruins, to ‘Coventrate’ them, as the Nazi propaganda boasted. Coventry gained attention as being the first but most major provincial cities suffered in the following months.

Now began the mass movement of people out of cities at night, with people seeking shelter anywhere, even sleeping in the open – ‘Anything so as not to spend another night in there’. Southampton had been the subject of devastating raids on the 23rd and again on the 30th November and 1st December. The phenomenon of ‘Trekking’, as it became known, did not feature in the weekly Home Security situation report to the War Cabinet, which merely commented with respect to ‘Morale’:

Illustrative of the general morale in cities suffering from intensive attack, on the morning after two nights’ raids at Southampton only one dock worker failed to turn up for duty.

TNA CAB/66/14/3

Independent observers recorded things differently:

Throughout Monday there was apparently a large unofficial evacuation. Two people spontaneously compared the lines of people leaving the town with bedding and prams full of goods to the pictures they had seen of refugees in Holland and Poland. Some official evacuation took place on the Monday, but at the Avenue Hall rest centre a group of fifty waited all the afternoon for a bus to take them out; the warning went when there were still no buses, and all of them went out to shelters without waiting any longer.

On Monday evening from about 4.30 onwards a stream of people were leaving the town for the night. When Mr. Andrews left the train at the docks, he was impressed by the seeming deadness of the town; there were no cars, and hardly any people except those that had left the train with him. But farther out people were moving. The buses were full, men and women were walking with their baggage. Some were going to relations in outlying parts, some to shelters, preceded by their wives who had reserved them places, and some to sleep in the open. ‘Anything so as not to spend another night in there.’ Many were trying to hitch hike, calling out to every car that passed; very few stopped. This caused considerable annoyance, especially as many coaches completely empty went by.

Trains leaving were full of women and children; many had little baggage, as if they were coming back next day. The next day many returned after the night, but more were intent on getting out. In some neighbourhoods whole streets had evacuated, most people leaving a note on their doors giving their new address; one such notice read ‘Home all day, away all night’.

Leonard England, Mass Observation report on an air-raid on Southampton, 4th December, 1940

RAF Fighter Command still active by day

The increased enemy activity by day has not resulted in any serious attacks, most of the aircraft employed having been fighters, or fighter-bombers, which confined their operations to sweeps at high altitudes over the south-eastern and southern counties; on three days a few isolated aircraft penetrated the London area. Towards the end of the week the weather became unsuitable for day operations and there was no activity except from reconnaissance aircraft.

Aerial view of german bomber attacked by Spitfire
The view from a Dornier Do.17 as it and accompanying aircraft are attacked by a Spitfire during a daylight raid, December 1940.

Although the Battle of Britain was later officially deemed to have concluded by this point Fighter Command were still very busy dealing with day time raiders over Britain, as can seen from the Air Situation for the week ending 5th December 1940:

Great Britain.

[During the week] Fighter Command flew 626 patrols, involving 2,543 sorties, by day, and 78 sorties by night. These figures show a slight reduction by day and a considerable one by night, weather conditions having been unsuitable for night interceptions on four of the nights during the period under review.

The increased enemy activity by day has not resulted in any serious attacks, most of the aircraft employed having been fighters, or fighter-bombers, which confined their operations to sweeps at high altitudes over the south-eastern and southern counties; on three days a few isolated aircraft penetrated the London area. Towards the end of the week the weather became unsuitable for day operations and there was no activity except from reconnaissance aircraft.

Our fighters had a successful day on the 29th November, when they shot down four bombers without loss; three of these were attacking the disabled destroyer H.M.S. Javelin off the Lizard, and the fourth was spotting for the long-range Channel guns. During the week twenty-five enemy aircraft were destroyed by our fighters in daylight operations, with the loss of eighteen aircraft and eight pilots.

See TNA CAB/66/14/3

Around Britain at War

WAR WEAPONS WEEK, PAISLEY : DECEMBER 1940 A view looking down on Barshaw Park hung with buntings. Crowds of civilians are gathered to look at a display of artillery, tanks and a captured German Messerschmitt 109 fighter aircraft. A War Artists Advisory Committee commission- Alexander Macpherson.
Cecil Beaton print of Women’s Royal Navy Service (Wrens) at work in a Royal Navy Fleet Mail office, London, December 1940.
General Sir John Dill, Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), inspecting parachute troops at the Central Landing Establishment at RAF Ringway near Manchester, December 1940.
Pilot Officer H M Stephen tries his hand with a rivet gun, watched by Flight Lieutenant J C Mungo-Park and workers at an aircraft factory, one of a series of morale-boosting visits by RAF pilots to Ministry of Aircraft Production facilities. Both pilots served with No. 74 Squadron RAF and were veterans of the Battle of Britain; Stephen having achieved 22 victories by the end of 1940, and Mungo-Park about 11. In April 1941, Mungo-Park assumed command of No. 74 Squadron but was killed in action over France on 27 June.
Admiral J C Tovey, CB, DSO, new C in C Home Fleet on the quarterdeck of HMS NELSON.

HMS Kelvin rescues escaped prisoners of war, ending five months of thrills and adventures. December 1940, on board HMS Kelvin. Eighteen men standing on the deck of a neutral cargo boat, cheered the Kelvin as it came to rescue them, and end five months of adventures for thirteen of the eighteen rescued men. The thirteen were members of the 51st Highland Division who were captured in June 1940 during the German advance on the Somme. One night headed by their Major, they escaped, eventually reaching Vichy where they somehow managed to obtain French military uniforms. From Vichy they made their way to the south of France, where they obtained uniforms of the Foreign Legion, together with forged papers, and got to Morocco where they were interned. They they escaped again, reaching Casablanca, where they slipped aboard the Portuguese cargo vessel. Once at sea they declared themselves to the skipper, the ship continued on its journey to Portugal despite this. Fifteen miles out HMS Kelvin arrived at the scene and decided to investigate the ship, and took the men off along with two Frenchmen on their way to join General de Gaulle’s Free French Army, Two British Airmen, and One Austrian refugee.

A view of the neutral Cargo ship as it awaits a boarding party from HMS Kelvin.
The whaler coming alongside the KELVIN.
Some of the escapists shaking hands with the gun crew of HMS KELVIN after arriving on board.

First attack by Long Range Desert Group

Trooper Willcox, who was pinned down by M.G. fire, distinguished himself by getting his Lewis gun into a position from which he killed the machine gunner and silenced the gun. The rest of the patrol were unable owing to the difficulties of the ground, to get near enough to engage the enemy. At 1700 hrs when it was beginning to get dark the patrol was withdrawn.

Long Range Desert Group
A LRDG patrol pictured in 1942 when they were using Chevrolet trucks.

The Long Range Desert Group were formed in the autumn of 1940, successors to the much smaller Long Range Patrol. They were intended as a covert reconnaissance unit operating deep into the desert to observe enemy movements, a role that they had considerable success with. They also undertook a number of offensive operations, commando type raids that took the enemy by surprise. This role was later largely taken over by the SAS but in 1940 the LRDG were pioneering this type of operation.

‘W’ Patrol of the LRDG had left their base in Cairo on 23rd November and made slow progress across the sand dunes of the desert. They had been spotted by Italian aircraft in the open desert and bombed for over an hour on the 29th. By dispersing and then driving at speed at right angles to the attacking aircraft they had avoided any casualties. By the night of the 30th they were in position outside a remote Italian landing strip at Ain Dua where they they lay up before attacking at dawn with the sun behind them:

There appeared at first to be no sign of life there; but when within 800 yards the patrol halted and fired one round from a Bofors gun. This aroused intermittent M.G. and rifle fire from behind walls and rocks. Major Mitford then attacked. ‘D’ Troop under Lieut. Sutherland was sent round the enemy’s left to make a flank attack on foot, while the rest of the patrol gave covering fire from the front. ‘D’ Troop’s attack was successful and the garrison, believed to consist of about 30 men with 3 M.G’s, abandoned their strong position and retired up the hill after losing three men, of whom one at least was killed.

As a reconnaissance aircraft was expected to make its appearance the action was broken off, and the patrol took cover in the rocks about a mile and a quarter east of Ain Dua. At 1015 hrs two S.79’s arrived and at 1045 a Ghibli aircraft. They disappeared in due course, but as it was not certain whether the patrol had been discovered or not, it lay up until 1500 hrs.

Major Mitford then decided to make a second attack in spite of the strength of the enemy’s position. He hoped to inflict further damage to men and material, and he also wished to show the enemy that one patrol could remain in their immediate vicinity without being spotted by aircraft. This might well create a feeling of uncertainty, and lead them to use up valuable petrol in increased and fruitless patrolling.

Long Range Desert Group truck
A Bofors anti tank gun mounted on a truck, as used by the LRDG in their first attack.

The second attack was made from both flanks. ‘D’ Troop with one Bofors gun attacked the enemy’s left over the ground that it knew. Covering fire was given by the H.Q. truck and one Bofors gun. The remainder of the patrol worked round the enemy’s right. Orders were issued that the risk of heavy losses must not be taken.

‘D’ Troop got close enough to inflict further casualties, and silenced two of the three machine guns, but the enemy defended himself stoutly, and the position could not be captured. Lieut. Sutherland and one man got close enough to cause damage with Mills grenades.

Trooper Willcox, who was pinned down by M.G. fire, distinguished himself by getting his Lewis gun into a position from which he killed the machine gunner and silenced the gun. The rest of the patrol were unable owing to the difficulties of the ground, to get near enough to engage the enemy. At 1700 hrs when it was beginning to get dark the patrol was withdrawn.

British Empire troops ready in the Desert

The British had reinforced their army in the desert. Churchill had made the decision to send a number of the of new Matilda tanks, taking a risk that they would not be needed for the threatened invasion at home. In late November most of the troops in the desert had participated in No.1 Training Exercise with the focus on overcoming Italian defensive minefields. All units were warned to be ready for No.2 Training Exercise in the second week of December.

The Rajput Rifles of the 4th Indian Division training at Mersa Matruh.

 

 

 

A ‘Tank Hunting Squad’ of the Rajput Rifles attacking an ambushed tank with Molotove cocktails during training.

 

Miners and Sappers working on an anti-tank obstacle; pneumatic drills are used.

The Italians had invaded western Egypt from Libya in September. They had established fortified camps some 60 miles inside the border and had settled down to consolidate their positions. They showed no signs of seeking to advance on the strategic British positions further east, the Royal Navy base at Alexandria and the Suez canal.

The British had reinforced their army in the desert. Churchill had made the decision to send a number of the of new Matilda tanks, taking a risk that they would not be needed for the threatened invasion at home. In late November most of the troops in the desert had participated in No.1 Training Exercise with the focus on overcoming Italian defensive minefields. All units were warned to be “ready for No.2 Training Exercise” in the second week of December.

An Indian rifleman with a SMLE (Short Magazine Lee-Enfield) Mk III in the prone firing position, Egypt, 16 May 1940.
An Indian rifleman with a SMLE (Short Magazine Lee-Enfield) Mk III in the prone firing position, Egypt, 16 May 1940.

 

An “officers’ mess” in the open in the desert, 4th Armoured Brigade 1st November 1940
A 4.5 inch Howitzer camouflaged in its emplacement at Palm Grove, Western Desert, 1 November 1940.
A 4.5 inch Howitzer camouflaged in its emplacement at Palm Grove, Western Desert, 1 November 1940.

Dealing with Incendiary bombs in Surrey

One fell in a garden four houses away. They are small magnesium and carbide bombs about 2 feet long and 2 or 3 inches wide. A small fin of alloy one end enables them to fall straight down when the basket containing them explodes in the air. There must be hundreds or even thousands of these small bombs alight around us tonight. The place was like fairyland. Luckily no material damage was done.

incendiary-bombs-poster

Incendiary bombs
Incendiary bombs that fell on a road in London. Most bombs just burst into flames but a small proportion had a delayed explosive charge which was designed to deter people from handling them.

In Britain the Blitz continued unabated. After Coventry the Luftwaffe began extending its campaign to other major cities around the country. Liverpool suffered its first major raid on the night 28/29th but this did not mean that everywhere else was quiet.

Bombing tactics called for a combination of ‘high explosive’ and ‘incendiary’ bombs. Both the Allies and the Axis forces would experiment with different combinations of the two types of bomb, looking to find the maximum destructive effect. The hoped for scenario was that, once the explosives had blasted buildings apart, fires would be started in the wreckage by the incendiary bombs.

Incendiary bombs that fell by themselves could be dealt with relatively easily, if they could be reached before they started a major fire. Because speed was of the essence in this situation the public were actively encouraged to watch out for the bombs and to deal with them directly themselves.

R.T.A. Northrop describes how hundreds of incendiary bombs fell near Epsom in Surrey:

29.11.40

Last night raiders went over London to Liverpool which was heavily bombed. The last day or two London has had a few daylight warnings each day. Tonight’s warning went about 6 p.m. and raiders came over in large numbers. About 9.30 p.m. I went along the Spinney to borrow a tin hat to wear on patrol (home guard) when 2 or more incendiaries fell.

These bombs consist of hundreds of small bombs which scatter over a large area. These scattered over the Downs up to Tattenham Corner Station including the fields adjoining the rear of our garden (Headley Drive area). One fell in a garden four houses away. They are small magnesium and carbide bombs about 2 feet long and 2 or 3 inches wide. A small fin of alloy one end enables them to fall straight down when the basket containing them explodes in the air. There must be hundreds or even thousands of these small bombs alight around us tonight. The place was like fairyland. Luckily no material damage was done.

At the time we could have read a newspaper so bright was everywhere and above the German plane was circling looking for a good place to drop his H.E. bombs. Luckily he realised that nothing was important here and flew away. Some of the small bombs exploded within 30 seconds or more of burning. The visible result from a distance was a shower of fireworks, but anyone trying to put out a bomb like this would get hurt. Later on I heard of a fellow with severe head injuries by one of these explosive fire bombs.

Shrapnel was falling everywhere and aeroplanes were passing over continuously. Saw many flares over direction of Epsom, Ewell, Sutton, Banstead and Croydon, most of which were shot down.

The following day he went out with his 5 year old son to collect the fins from burnt out bombs. His full account can be read at BBC Peoples War.

 

WRNS AT WORK. 1940, At a Fleet Air Arm Station, the Fire Fighting Squad. Using the stirrup pump on an incendiary bomb.
WRNS AT WORK. 1940, At a Fleet Air Arm Station, the Fire Fighting Squad. Using the stirrup pump on an incendiary bomb.

‘The Eternal Jew’ – Nazi propaganda film released

Although the violent, murderous anti-semitic attitude of the regime towards was readily evident in its actions in Poland, the process was less blatant in Germany and occupied western Europe. Here the Jews found their lives increasingly restricted by discriminatory measures but the full extent of the intended persecution was always kept obscure. The film marked yet another step along the way to the Holocaust.

The Eternal Jew
The Nazi anti semitic propaganda film ‘The Eternal Jew’ was released on November 28th 1940

The Nazi propaganda film “The Eternal Jew”, purporting to be a documentary, was given its public premiere on 28th November 1940. It was all part of the continuing process of desensitising the general population of Germany to the growing persecution of the Jews. Later the film would be distributed in the occupied countries. The message was presented very crudely, as can be imagined from the poster.

Notoriously “The Eternal Jew” juxtaposed footage of rats with scenes of Jewish life. This was just a graphic example of how the Nazis sought to portray the Jews as vermin or a type of infection. Having created this association it was a small step to make the suggestion that they needed to be eradicated or exterminated. They had created a problem that needed a ‘solution’.

“The Eternal Jew” – Goebbels introduction

The film was accompanied by a pamphlet written by Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. There was nothing subtle or sophisticated about the methods used to indoctrinate people, they were given the message and they were told what to think at the same time. As such this document usefully encapsulates the Nazi world view:

The film begins with an impressive expedition through the Jewish ghettoes in Poland. We are shown Jewish living quarters, which in our view cannot be called houses. In these dirty rooms lives and prays a race, which earns its living not by work but by haggling and swindling. From the little urchin to the old man, they stand in the streets, trading and bargaining.

Using trick photography, we are shown how the Jewish racial mixture in Asia Minor developed and flooded the entire world. We see a parallel to this in the itinerant routes of rats, which are the parasites and bacillus-carriers among animals, just as the Jews occupy the same position among mankind.

The Jew has always known how to assimilate his external appearance to that of his host. Contrasted are the same Jewish types, first the Eastern Jew with his kaftans’, beard, and sideburns, and then the clean-shaven, Western European Jew. This strikingly demonstrates how he has deceived the Aryan people. Under this mask he increased his influence more and more in Aryan nations and climbed to higher-ranking positions. But he could not change his inner being.

After the banishment of the Jews from Europe was lifted, following the age of Enlightenment, the Jew succeeded within the course of several decades in dominating the world economy, before the various host nations realized – and this despite the fact that they made up only 1 per cent of the world population. An excerpt from an American film about the Rothschild’s, made by Jews, reveals to us the cunning foundations of their banking empire.

Then we see how Jews, working for their international finance, drive the German people into the November Revolution. They then shed their anonymity and step out openly on to the stage of political and cultural life. Thus the men who were responsible for the disgraceful debasement of the German people are paraded before us. Incontestable examples are shown of how they robbed the country and the people of immense sums.

As well as gaining financial supremacy they were able to dominate cultural life. The repulsive pictures of so-called Jewish “art” reveal the complete decline of cultural life at that time. Using original sequences from contemporary films, the degrading and destructive tendency of Jewish power is exposed. For hundreds of years German artists have glorified figures from the Old Testament, knowing full well the real face of Jewry.

How the Jew actually looks like is shown in scenes shot by Jews themselves in a “culture film” of a Purim festival, which is still celebrated today to commemorate the slaughter of 75,000 anti-Semitic Persians, and the doctrine with which future Rabbis in Jewish schools are educated to be political pedagogues. We look into a Jewish ‘Talmud’ class and experience the oriental tone of the ceremony in a Jewish synagogue, where Jews conduct business deals among themselves during the holy services.

However, the cruel face of Judaism is most brutally displayed in the final scenes, in which original shots of a kosher butchering are revealed. These film documents of the inhuman slaughter of cattle and sheep without anesthesia provide conclusive evidence of a brutality which is simply inconceivable to all Aryan people. In shining contrast, the film closes with pictures of German people and German order which fill the viewer with a feeling of deep gratification for belonging to a race whose Führer is fundamentally solving the Jewish problem.

People were utterly destitute and dying on the streets of Warsaw.
People were utterly destitute and dying on the streets of Warsaw.

A central theme of the “The Eternal Jew” sought to portray the Jews in their ‘natural state’. The Nazis had forced the Jews of Poland into the confines of the overcrowded ghettos, where they were starved and destitute. Now the Nazis photographed and filmed them in order to illustrate their ‘subhuman’ characteristics – a prime example of the perverted thinking of the regime.

The “civilized” Jews that we know in Germany give us only an incomplete picture of their racial character. This film shows genuine shots of the Polish ghettos. It shows the Jews as they really are, before they conceal themselves behind the mask of the civilized European.

Conditions for those left on the streets of the Warsaw ghetto were very grim.
Conditions for those left on the streets of the Warsaw ghetto were very grim.

Although the violent, murderous anti-semitic attitude of the Nazi regime towards Jews was readily evident in its actions in Poland, the process was less blatant in Germany and occupied western Europe. Here the Jews found their lives increasingly restricted by discriminatory measures but the full extent of the intended persecution was always kept obscure. The film marked yet another step along the way to the Holocaust.

We are the initiators of the fight against world Jewry, which now directs its hate, its brutal greed and destructive will toward us. We must win this battle for ourselves, for Europe, for the world.

"If international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, the result will not be Bolshevization of the earth and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!" 6.10.39.
“If international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, the result will not be Bolshevization of the earth and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”
6th October 1939.

Battle of Cape Spartivento

Our forces engaged the enemy at extreme range, but were unable to overtake them. Fleet Air Arm aircraft from H.M.S. Ark Royal, however, succeeded in attacking with the following results : one torpedo hit on a battleship of the Littorio class; and one almost certain torpedo hit on an 8-inch cruiser. Another 8-inch cruiser was observed to be in difficulties, and a dive-bombing attack was made on three 6-inch cruisers, probably causing some damage by near misses.

Cape Spartivento
HMS RENOWN underway at speed in the Mediterranean, and firing a salvo from A and B turrets during the Battle of Cape Spartivento.
Cape Spartivento
Bombs falling astern of HMS ARK ROYAL during an attack by Italian aircraft during the Battle of Cape Spartivento (photograph taken from the cruiser HMS SHEFFIELD).

The dramatic attack by the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm at the Battle of Taranto had disabled significant parts of the Italian Navy. The effect was to make the Italians cautious about risking of their remaining capital ships, and particularly wary about engaging with Royal Navy aircraft.

The Royal Navy clashed with the Regia Marina again on the 27th November. The Italians were initially in a good position to attack a British convoy headed to Egypt, one of their main objectives.

But the Italian Force was under orders to attack only if assured of success – so when discovering that they facing a roughly equal sized force, it retired at speed, leading to an inconclusive engagement.

The Italian commander Admiral Campioni later gave a candid account of how his decision making was affected by the changing information he received about the forces opposing him:

The sighting report (at 1015) persuaded me to alter course to 135° in order to close the English forces, and if possible intercept them. This appeared possible at the time, also I had in mind that the English forces were inferior to the Italian. Furthermore the encounter would be brought about in waters closer to Sicily than Sardinia, that is in conditions favourable to us.

But whilst our forces were taking up station on the new course I received at 1155 a signal, originally made at 1110 by an aircraft from Armera, giving the position of the Renown’s group. This position was 20 miles nearer to the Vittorio Veneto than the one shown by the plot based on previous sighting reports, and was near enough to the other British forces to render their meeting very easy.

A state of affairs was thus created which on the best hypothesis was unfavourableto us numerically and qualitatively. Particularly important was the presence of an aircraft-carrier, which with well-directed action properly synchronized with action of their ships, that were certainly not inferior to ours, would have brought about a situation of the utmost gravity.

It was a situation not only at variance with the directive given to me by the Ministry of Marine, but with that imposed by military necessity.” [The Admiral then explains that in this latter term he was referring to the effect on the Italian navy of the F.A.A. attack on Taranto on 11th November, and the fact that the battleship Andrea Doria was not yet ready.]

Under these conditions, in conformity with the spirit and letter of the orders received and with what at that moment I deemed to be my duty I decided not to become involved in a battle. In theory I should have been able to take into calculation an effective intervention by our shore-based aircraft, but my previous experience discouraged me from putting too much faith on such intervention, having learnt from experience what to expect.

The British aircraft will damage our ships, the Italian aircraft will not damage theirs, the enemy are not inferior in numbers or quality to us, and at present we cannot afford any further reduction in capital ship strength.

From the subsequent British Naval Battle Summaries, available from the Royal Australian Navy.

Cape Spartivento
The Italian Battleship Vittorio Veneto firing a broadside at the Battle Of Cape Spartivento.
Battle of Cape Spartivento chart
Situation at 1315 from Renown’s Plot, during the Battle of Cape Spartivento

From the British Naval Situation Report for the week:

On the 27th November contact was made with Italian naval forces to the southward of Sardinia. The Italian force, which was sighted by aircraft in a position about 30 miles S.S.W. off Cape Spartivento, consisted of two battleships and a number of cruisers and destroyers.

The British force was in two parts : one, consisting of H.M. Ships Ramillies, Berwick, Coventry and Newcastle and some destroyers, was about 50 miles to the south of the Italian force; and the other, consisting of H.M. Ships Renown and Ark Royal with some cruisers and destroyers, was about 90 miles to the south-westward of the Italians when they were first sighted. Both our forces proceeded to make contact, and some three hours later the Renown sighted the Italian battleships at a range of 20 miles. The Italians retired at high speed towards Cagliari and a chase developed.

Planes leaving HMS ARK ROYAL to attack the enemy. As seen from KELVIN accompanying the ARK ROYAL.

Our forces engaged the enemy at extreme range, but were unable to overtake them. Fleet Air Arm aircraft from H.M.S. Ark Royal, however, succeeded in attacking with the following results : one torpedo hit on a battleship of the Littorio class; and one almost certain torpedo hit on an 8-inch cruiser. Another 8-inch cruiser was observed to be in difficulties, and a dive-bombing attack was made on three 6-inch cruisers, probably causing some damage by near misses. The Italians are also believed to have sustained the following casualties by gunfire : one 8-inch cruiser probably severely damaged, one destroyer severely damaged and another damaged.

On our side H.M.S. Berwick was twice hit by 8-inch shell, resulting in slight structural damage and ” Y ” turret being put out of action. Her casualties were one officer and six ratings killed, two ratings seriously wounded. and six slightly wounded. All our aircraft returned except one Fulmar, and another which crashed on landing and was lost overboard.

Bombs bursting round the aircraft carrier HMS ARK ROYAL during an enemy air attack.

After the action our forces were twice bombed by enemy aircraft without result. In the second attack the Ark Royal was missed by only ten yards by one bomb. Both attacks were intercepted by fighters and two enemy aircraft were shot down.

Only much later was it established that the Swordfish pilots were mistaken, none of their torpedoes had struck home.

Cape Spartivento
As seen from the Cruiser HMS SHEFFIELD during The Battle of Cape Spartivento an engagement off Sardinia. A distant view of the Italian Fleet.
Cape Spartivento
A Supermarine Walrus amphibian in flight. This aircraft was used for spotting at Spartivento.

 

On board HMS SHEFFIELD – removing empty cordite cases after the action.

German raiders off New Zealand

The armed merchantman Rangitane had delivered evacuee children to New Zealand and was returning with a valuable cargo to Britain when she was trapped between the Orion and the Komet. Refusing orders not to use her radio she was shelled and of her passengers and crew killed. The remainder were then taken on board the German ships and later most were deposited on the remote island of Narou.

The German raider ‘Komet’ had made passage to the Pacific along the north coast of Russia. The Germans had paid the Russians for the use of the ice breaker ‘Stalin’ to assist her passage. She then operated in the Pacific disguised as a neutral Japanese merchant.ship.

The Germans used a number of armed raiders disguised as merchantmen during the war. In terms of tonnage sunk they proved to be far more successful than German surface battleships. The first voyage of the Komet, which circumnavigated the globe, was exceptional. Operating in the Pacific since September, she paired up with another raider, the Orion, accompanied by a third unarmed German supply ship, the Kulmerland.

On the 27th November they intercepted the RMS Rangitane, a liner that regularly operated between New Zealand and Britain. The armed merchantman Rangitane had delivered evacuee children to New Zealand and was returning with a valuable cargo to Britain when she was trapped between the Orion and the Komet. Refusing orders not to use her radio she was shelled and 11 of her passengers and crew killed. The remainder were then taken on board the German ships and later most were deposited on the remote island of Narou. The Rangitane was relieved of the greater part of her cargo and sunk by torpedo.

Rangitane sunk on 27th November 1940
The New Zealand Shipping Company passenger liner Rangitane, was on her way from Auckland to Liverpool via the Panama Canal, with a crew of 192 and 111 passengers, thirty-six of whom were women, a cargo of 124,881 cases of butter, 33,255 cases of frozen pork and mutton, 23,646 cases of cheese, as well as equally large quantities of cocoa beans and other foodstuffs, she was also carrying forty-five bars of silver.

The complete story used to be available at http://www.btinternet.com/~thebells/rangitane/index.htm.

 

SS Patria sunk in Haifa Harbour

Jewish refugees were held in the port of Haifa on the SS Patria with the intention of making them proceed on to Mauritius. On the 25th November 1940 the SS Patria was bombed in attempt to prevent it leaving. Unfortunately the bomb was a great deal more powerful than needed to disable the old ship and she sank within 15 minutes. It was estimated that 267 people lost their lives, including 50 of the mainly British crew.

SS Patria
The SS Patria had over 1800 Jewish refugees on board when she was the victim of a Jewish bomb plot.
The SS Patria sinking in sight of land – 267 people died when the ship went down rapidly following the explosion.

The small minority of Jewish refugees who succeeded in escaping from Nazi occupied Europe had a hard time finding refuge. Many sought to make their way to Palestine, which at the time operated under a British Mandate. British policy was to strictly limit immigration into Palestine, not wanting to provoke Arab unrest.

Three ships carrying mainly Austrian, Polish and Czech Jewish refugees were permitted to leave by the Nazi regime. They were intercepted by the Royal Navy and held in the port of Haifa. Around 1800 refugees were transferred to the old French liner the SS Patria, with the intention of making the refugees proceed on to Mauritius.

On the 25th November 1940 a bomb was placed on the SS Patria in attempt to prevent it leaving. Unfortunately, when the bomb exploded, it proved to be a great deal more powerful than needed to simply disable the old ship – and she sank within 15 minutes. It was estimated that 267 people lost their lives, including 50 of the mainly British crew.

Munia Mandor who had planted the bomb on behalf of the Haganah, the Jewish resistance group, did not reveal his role until the 1950s when he claimed:

There was never any intent to cause the ship to sink. The British would have used this against the Jewish population and show it as an act of sabotage against the war effort.