Hut Twenty Five - 1941

Hut 25 – 1941

The New Roman Empire

In the first few months of the war, the Allies had ruled supreme in the Mediterranean. Oil supplies passed undisturbed through the Suez canal from the Middle East and British communications with India remained secure. Then, on 10th June 1940, Italy entered the war.

The Balkan Campaign

The conflict in the Balkans arose when both sides were fighting elsewhere: the Axis powers in Russia and the Allies in the Desert Campaign. As early as April 1939, France and Britain had guaranteed help for Greece and Romania if they were attacked. They feared that if they fell to the Axis powers, the rest of the Balkan states would follow.

Yugoslavia

Mussolini’s invasion of Greece in October 1940, posed an immediate threat to Yugoslavia, not only because of its proximity to Greece, but also because of Thessaloniki. Yugoslavs had benefited from special access to the port of Thessaloniki for twenty years. Now these rights seemed threatened.

The Invasion of Crete

Crete, the largest island in the Aegean Sea occupied a central strategic position in the eastern Mediterranean. Suda Bay, one of its three harbours on the north coast, (the others being Retimo and Heraklion) was the largest harbour in the Mediterranean. It was also an obvious base for naval operations.

The Desert Campaign

Whilst the war spread to the Balkan states and Crete, the campaign in North Africa continued unabated. The Italians, humiliated by O’Connor and his ‘Desert Rats’, had to be rescued by the German Army. Then on 12th February, the great tactician Lieutenant-General Erwin Rommel arrived in Tripoli with the first units of the Afrika Korps. The war in the desert now took on a new dimension.

North Africa – The Desert War

Between the end of February 1941, and Montgomery’s victory at El Alamein in November 1942, the British enjoyed precious little success in the Desert War. With the exception of Crusader in late 1941, operations failed and commanders came and went with regularity, but advantages were gained.

The Sinking of the Bismarck

At 2am on 19th May 1941, in pitch darkness, the huge form of a German battleship was launched from the port of Gotenhafen in occupied Poland. The battleship was the most powerful ever built; even in the black of the night, its heavy 13-inch armour and silhouetted guns suggested a vessel of remarkable force. At 8.47am on 27th May the battleship ‘Rodney’ opened up her 16 inch guns; ‘King George V’ followed and soon the ‘Bismarck’ was deluged with fire. For another hour the British pounded the wounded giant until all her upper works were a shambles and dead and wounded lay everywhere; among them Lutjens and Lindemann.

Barbarossa – The Invasion of Russia

The genesis of Operation Barbarossa – code named after the twelfth century German emperor Frederick Barbarossa – can be traced back to the battlefields of the Western Front in 1917-18, when the young infantryman, Adolf Hitler conceived a pathological hatred for Bolshevism.

The Rise of Japan

The victory over Russia in 1905, made Japan the first Asian country in modern times to defeat a great European power in war. Once a semi-feudal state ruled by Shoguns (military leaders) and the warrior Samurai caste, it was by 1905, an industrialised nation with a cabinet government and multi-party politics. By the late 1930s, Japan was looking for further expansion to meet its needs for raw materials. The Philippines, Malaya, Indochina and the East Indies were all possible sources but they were under the control of America, Britain, France and the Netherlands. If Japan could overrun these colonies it would become self sufficient.

Pearl Harbour

At 7.56am, the Japanese formations broke up to attack their designated targets. The American aircraft, lined up wingtip to wingtip were sitting ducks for Lieutenant Fuchida’s airmen. Flying in from the east and west in four groups, they snarled low over the naval base before lining up on their targets. Twenty-four aircraft attacked Battleship Row while another fifteen attacked the cruisers and auxiliaries to the west of Ford Island. Unimpeded by anti-aircraft fire, most of the Kates made perfect runs, launching their torpedoes from around 70ft and 100 knots at their helpless targets.

America Enters the War

By mid-summer, the U.S. was convoying merchant vessels as far as Iceland and when in October the ‘Reuben James’, an escort destroyer, was torpedoed and sunk, the U.S. Navy was permitted to declare ‘war’ on the U-boats attacking American-escorted convoys. Two months later on 7th December 1941, Japan attacked the American fleet in Pearl Harbor. The following day, Congress declared war on Japan. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, and she was caught up in what had seemed in 1939 to be an unpleasant piece of European politics.