Categorized | Features, Historical

This Week in WWII, 75 Years Ago

By Phil Kohn. Dedicated to the memory of his father, GM3 Walter Kohn, U.S. Navy Armed Guard, USNR, and all men and women who have answered the country’s call in time of need. Phil can be contacted at ww2remembered@yahoo.com.

In Greece on April 25, 1941, there is little fighting as the Germans advance and the Allies retreat. In Berlin, Adolf Hitler issues “Directive 28” that orders the airborne invasion of Crete. In Washington, President Roosevelt in one of his regular press conferences criticizes Charles Lindbergh for his prominence in the America First movement, seeming to compare him to the Copperheads (Northern anti-war Democrats) of the Civil War.

On April 26 in Greece, the main German advance is halted by the Allied rearguard at Thebes. The rearguard pulls back during the night. The Germans move to interfere with the Allied evacuation to Crete — a paratroop force is dropped into Corinth to take and hold a vital bridge over a canal that would allow the main German force to advance at speed. The Allies, however, blow the bridge up before the German paratroopers can take it over. In Ethiopia, the 1st South African Division captures Dessie, taking 8,000 Italian prisoners.

Lt. Gen. Friedrich Paulus.  By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B24575 / Mittelstaedt, Heinz /wikimedia.org

Lt. Gen. Friedrich Paulus. By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B24575 / Mittelstaedt, Heinz /wikimedia.org

German troops enter Athens on April 27. Later in the day, an Allied transport evacuating troops to Crete is bombed and sunk off Nauplia, Greece. Two destroyers coming to rescue survivors are also attacked and sunk, with heavy loss of life. In North Africa, the deputy chief of the German general staff, Lt. Gen. Friedrich Paulus, arrives on an inspection visit. His orders are to try to bring Rommel under control and to try to sort out what seems in Berlin to be a confused situation (Rommel has been disregarding most orders from headquarters). Paulus immediately halts Rommel’s preparations for additional attacks on Tobruk. Off Malta, the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal sends a flight of 23 Hurricane fighters to the island. A small convoy also arrives at Malta, bringing supplies from Gibraltar and some reinforcements for the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria, Egypt.

At Nauplia, Greece, on April 28, a burning merchant ship blocks access to a pier where an evacuation transport is waiting, forcing around 1,700 Allied defenders to be left behind. A German force suddenly bursts into another evacuation port, at Kalamata, but is eventually repulsed in frantic fighting by Allied troops trying to board transports. On this last day of the evacuation, about 5,000 troops are embarked for Crete. It has taken the Germans less than a month to overrun Yugoslavia and Greece. In the U.S., Charles Lindbergh — stung by President Roosevelt’s criticism of him — resigns his commission in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve.

Additional British reinforcements arrive at Basra, Iraq, on April 29. The Iraqi government decides it will actively oppose the British despite the absence of German assistance.

On April 30, Lt. Gen. Paulus allows Rommel to resume his offensive against Tobruk. The heaviest German attack yet goes forward after the city has been softened up by an artillery bombardment and attacks by Stuka dive bombers. A German salient is gained in the western sector of the Allied defensive line but a vigorous defense halts it there.

Rommel’s attack on Tobruk continues on May 1. The Germans attempt to widen and deepen the gap they have made in the city’s defensive line, but fierce fighting by Australian infantrymen largely rebuffs the attacks. Fighting breaks out in Iraq west of Baghdad, about 125 miles from the Transjordan border, as a British post at Rutba is attacked by Iraqi soldiers.

In the U.S., the first Defense Bonds and Defense Savings Stamps go on sale. Proceeds are to help fund the increased production of military materiel. General Mills introduces a new breakfast cereal: CheeriOats (later Cheerios). In New York City, Orson Welles’s film “Citizen Kane” premieres.

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