May 16th, 1941
UNITED KINGDOM: Mr Percy Barnard Weller (d. 1979), a worker in an explosives plant, rescued a man from a blazing building after a blast. Unfortunately the man died. (Edward Medal)
Corvettes HMS Lavender and Jasmine commissioned.
Frigate HMS Exe laid down. (Dave Shirlaw)
GERMANY: U-385, U-386 laid down. (Dave Shirlaw)
LIBYA: The British withdraw from gains achieved yesterday near Halfaya Pass on the border of Egypt and Cyrenaica.
Rommel is ordered to attack Sollum and leave Tobruk to the Italian army.
ETHIOPIA: Amba Alagi: The Italian army is seeking terms of surrender. The Duke of Aosta and his 18,000 troops had made a last stand here in the arid mountains of Tigre. The defences seemed unscaleable, but the morale of the Italians weakened. The Eritrean levies deserted them when they learnt of Britain’s promise to give self-determination to Eritrea.
With over-stretched defences, and believing that the main attack would come through the Falaga Pass in the east, the Italian western defences crumbled when attacked by Indian and British troops.
TURKEY: Iraqi-Soviet exchange of notes at Ankara establishing diplomatic relations.
IRAQ: Baghdad: Iraqi Headquarters announced:
No change on the western front. on the southern front, three British aircraft released several bombs over an Iraqi city. The ground defenses succeeded in shooting down one Wellington bomber. The Iraqi air force undertook reconnaissance flights over enemy bases and all aircraft returned undamaged. Our aircraft overflew the area around Ar Rutbah and successfully bombed enemy armoured vehicles. British aircraft attacked our military barracks but no major damage was done. One enemy aircraft was probably shot down. Our troops in the desert fought throughout the day and are continuing to keep the situation under control.
3 German He-111s of the special Junck unit, bombed the British at Habbaniya. Then the aircraft of the British Fleet Air Arm raided the Iraqi airfield at Mosul and destroyed one He 111 bomber and 2 Me 110 destroyers of the Junck force.
Corvette HMCS Shawinigan launched Lauzon, Province of Quebec.
Corvette HMCS Levis commissioned. (Dave Shirlaw)
ICELAND: Iceland severs personal union with Denmark.
ATLANTIC OCEAN: At 0548, the unescorted Rodney Star was hit in the stern by one of two torpedoes from U-105 about 420 miles WSW of Freetown. The ship was hit in the bow and amidships by two coup de grâce at 0620 and 0746, but remained afloat. The U-boat surfaced and fired 91 high explosive rounds and 22 incendiary rounds from the deck gun into the waterline. During this action, the deck gun on U-105 exploded, wounding six crewmembers. Shortly before the ship sank by the stern in 05°08N/19°15W at 0930, a shell exploded in the barrel which was tore apart and wounded six men of the gun crew. The survivors were picked up after six days by HMS Boreas and Batna and landed at Takoradi on 23 May. (Dave Shirlaw)
Day 624 May 16, 1941
Operation Brevity. Colonel von Herff wants to withdraw, believing the British force to be bigger than it really is. Rommel suspects the Allied attack is a major breakout from Egypt to relieve the besieged forces at Tobruk and orders von Herff to counterattack. In the face of German reinforcements, Brigadier Gott withdraws British tanks and infantry from the desert around Sollum and Fort Capuzzo, Libya, to consolidate a hold on Halfaya Pass.
Amba Alagi, Ethiopia. At 7.30 AM, with the drinking water of the Italian fortifications contaminated, Duke of Aosta sends an envoy, Colonel Tramontano, to request fresh water. When the British refuse, Tramontano asks for a ceasefire until 7 PM to allow a senior officer, General Volpini, to negotiate terms for surrender. However, Volpini is killed en route by Ethiopian guerrillas who have begun terrorizing the Italian troops. British extend the ceasefire until noon tomorrow.
Luftwaffe bombs British anti-aircraft emplacements and RAF airfields on Crete, to weaken British air defenses in preparation for the invasion (2 Hurricanes of 33 Squadron at Maleme are shot down). Suda Bay is also bombed, sinking several freighters and causing further damage to crippled British cruiser HMS York. Destroyer HMS Encounter in drydock at Malta is hit again by German bombers.
Iraq. 3 Heinkel He111 bombers attack RAF Habbaniyah (1 British Gloster Gladiator shot down, 1 Heinkel is damaged and ditches in the desert). Kingcol is attacked for the second day by Luftwaffe aircraft, causing some casualties but no damage.
Between 5.48 and 9.30 AM 400 miles off Sierra Leone, U-105 sinks British SS Rodney Star with 4 torpedoes and shellfire (all 83 hands escape in lifeboats, picked up 6 days later by destroyer HMS Boreas and SS Batna). A shell explodes in the barrel of U-105s deck gun wounding 6 of the gun crew.
10 miles off Aberdeen, Scotland, German bombers sink British troopship SS Archangel carrying troops back from the Orkneys (40 crew and 12 troops killed, 35 crew and 400 troops rescued by destroyer HMS Blankney).
Overnight, RAF bombs Bramsfeld in the industrial Ruhr Valley, Germany, hitting the Atlantik rubber works.