Skip to comments.U.S. SEIZES 28 ITALIAN, 2 NAZI, 35 DANISH SHIPS; LONDON REPORTS 5 FASCIST WAR VESSELS SUNK (3/31/41)
Posted on 03/31/2011 5:54:49 AM PDT by Homer_J_Simpson
Gordon W. Prange, At Dawn We Slept
British defense stops Afrika Korps
Monday, March 31, 1941 www.onwar.com
In North Africa... Rommel’s forces attack the positions of infantry units from the British 2nd Armored Division at Mersa Brega. A fierce battle develops, in which the British come off worst but are able to halt the German advance for the moment. The few tanks with the 2nd Armored Division do not join the battle.
In the Mediterranean... The British cruiser Bonaventure is sunk by a torpedo-boat attack in the eastern Mediterranean.
March 31st, 1941
UNITED KINGDOM: RAF Fighter Command: For the month 43 German combat aircraft are shot down at night - 21 by radar guided anti-aircraft and 22 by night interceptor planes equipped with airborne radar.
RAF Bomber Command: 2 Group: Blenheims of 82 Squadron attack six ships off Le Havre, leaving two 3,000-ton tankers ablaze.
Eight aircraft of 21 Sqn. attack ships off the Dutch Frisians. One destroyer is damaged. They then attack troops, gun emplacements and guns along the Dutch coast. One aircraft is lost.
The new ‘King George V’ class battleship HMS Prince of Wales is completed.
Civilian casualties of the Blitz this month are 4,259 people killed (including 598 children) and 5,557 injured.
FRANCE: The RAF sent 109 bombers to attack the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in the port of Brest last night; no hits were scored.
BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC:
Losses: 63 ships of 365,000 tons.
5 German U-boats - including three of the U-boat arm’s most experienced Commanders.
Merchant Shipping War in Europe.
Motor gun-boats are entering servive to combat E-boat attacks on East Coast convoys. Improved MTBs are also being built to attack German coastal shipping. This marks the first step in the building up of Coastal Forces.
Losses: 73 ships of 153,000 tons.
MEDITERRANEAN SEA:Cruiser HMS Bonaventure with a Mediterranean Fleet cruiser force escorts a convoy from Greece to Egypt and is is torpedoed and sunk by Italian submarine Ambra 90 miles south of Crete at 33 20N 26 35E. There are 310 survivors. (Alex Gordon)(108)
Submarine HMS Rorqual, off northeast Sicily, torpedoes and sinks submarine ‘Capponi’.
MERCHANT SHIPPING WAR: Losses- 2 ships of 12,000 tons.
NORTH AFRICA:50 tanks of the Afrika Korps strike at the Mersa El Brega gap between the desert and the coast just east of El Agheila.
The forward positions of 13 Corps were occupied by scattered elements of the 2nd Armoured Division, which were soon passed through. The British seemed convinced that Rommel was attacking in overwhelming strength, although the Germans had concentrated all their tanks into one force, which consisted of the 5th Light, with the 5th Panzer Regiment, with Panzer IIIs and IVs as its strongest element, and two Italian divisions, the Ariete and the Brescia.
Wavell and Neame, informed by Ultra of the state of Rommel’s forces had assumed he would wait until all the Afrika Korps had arrived.
Tripoli, LIBYA: The German 15th Panzer Division lands.
GREECE: Athens: The British Air Force in Greece reported:
On Sunday British bombers made successful raids on Elbasan (Albania) and its environs. Enemy fighter planes tried to stop our aircraft, but gave up the battle after one enemy fighter was brought to crash. Our armed reconnaissance flights in the Tepeleni area of Albania also went off successfully. All British aircraft returned to base.
GERMANY: Daily Key note from the Reich Press Chief:
We must wait for reports of Italian losses in the sea battle in the Aegean Sea [before issuing news about it]. If further reports arrive concerning the British aircraft carrier that we crippled, we must not mention [in press reports] that the carrier in question was once again the ‘Ark Royal’
The final individual returns from the 1939 census are distributed to the local registration offices for cross checking against the Volkskartei. Much of the information is out of date.
SWITZERLAND: Private Coe of the British Army Dental Corps arrives on neutral soil. The first escapee from a German PoW camp.
GREENLAND: USCGC Cayuga (CGC-54), arrives at Godthaab with the U.S. South Greenland Survey Expedition, composed of State, Treasury, War, and Navy Department representatives. The expedition’s mission is to locate sites for airfields, seaplane bases, radio and meteorological stations and aids to navigation in Danish Greenland. (Jack McKillop)
Day 578 March 31, 1941
Libya, North Africa. At 7.45 AM, Rommel’s 5th Light Division attacks British 2nd Armoured Division at Mersa Brega, closely supported by Luftwaffe dive bombers. They are held by British anti-tank guns throughout the day. At 5.30 PM, German tanks and infantry advance through sand dunes by the seashore and enter Mersa Brega at 7 PM, but British tanks do not counterattack in the fading light. Under orders not to become heavily engaged with German tanks, the British withdraw 30 miles Northeast toward Agedabia overnight. British lose 60 men killed plus 8 armoured carriers and 1 anti-aircraft gun destroyed.
Eritrea, East Africa. British and Indian troops overcome Italian resistance on the road from Keren to Asmara (560 Italians taken prisoner). 5th Indian Infantry attack Italian defensive positions in a narrow valley at Adi Tekelezan, the last settlement before the Eritrean capital Asmara.
At 2.44 AM 125 miles South of Crete, Italian submarine Ambra sinks cruiser HMS Bonaventure escorting convoy GA8 from Greece to Alexandria, Egypt (138 killed, 310 survivors rescued by destroyers HMS Hereward and HMS Stuart). At 10.33 AM 300 miles East of the tip of Greenland, U-46 sinks Swedish tanker MV Castor carrying oil from USA to Sweden (all 15 crew lost). 28 miles Northwest of Messina, Sicily, British submarine HMS Rorqual torpedoes and sinks Italian submarine Pier Capponi (all 49 hands lost).
In the Red Sea, Italian destroyers Leone, Pantera and Tigre head North from Massawa, Eritrea, to attack British facilities at Port Sudan, Sudan. Leone founders on rocks off Massawa and is sunk by Pantera and Tigre, which then return to Massawa.
“Libya-no change in the situation” Bet that changes REAL soon.
Here’s a pattern we’ll see repeated throughout the desert war: British infantry fights it out with the DAK without armor support.
In Africa, at least the Brits tended to sub-divide every battle into two distinct parts: the infantry, with artillery support fights the Germans. British armor fights the Germans. The order of who engages the Germans may vary, but you almost never get British combined arms fighting the Germans.
Gordon Prange comes off as a real jerk with his perfect 20/20 hindsight.
Another Helldiver on the cover. LIFE seems to be pretty proud of this aircraft even though it won't go operational for another two years. I highly recommend the article on page 58. Some good perceptiveness along with excellent color pictures.
math is not my thing.
That’s a real good point. You really don’t hear a thing about CAS by the British even in the initial Italian engagements.
The difference is that one side had somebody running it who really knew what he was doing.
That’s not the worst of it. The Brits consistently spread their armor out all over creation. Their armored divisions are never concentrated, their brigades are seldom within supporting distance if each other. The brigade seems to be their basic maneuver unit. “Penny Packets”, they called them. You can see it on today’s map.
That allowed the Germans, for much of the next two years, to defeat numerically superior British tank forces by attacking them in detail. Or as someone who would probably have been just as home on a tank as he was on a horse, they “got there fust’est with the mostest”.
Would that be N.B. Forrest?
Indeed, the Wizard of the Saddle.
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