Friday, March 28, 2014

This Day in WWII History: Mar 28, 1941: Cunningham leads fateful British strike at Italians

On this day, Andrew Browne Cunningham, Admiral of the British Fleet, commands the British Royal Navy's destruction of three major Italian cruisers and two destroyers in the Battle of Cape Matapan in the Mediterranean. The destruction, following on the attack on the Italian Fleet at Taranto by the British in November 1940, effectively put an end to any threat the Italian navy posed to the British.


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Admiral Cunningham was one of Britain's most distinguished naval officers, having served as Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's naval deputy. As Commander in Chief Mediterranean, he had a clear-cut goal: to disable the Italian navy. When the war began, Britain's ships were generally older than Italy's. By the fall of 1940, with the surrender of the French to the Germans the previous June, Britain was alone and shaky in the Mediterranean.

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Admiral Cunningham knew he had to confront the Italian navy soon and considered an offensive while the Italian Fleet was still in harbor the most prudent strategy. On November 11, 1940, the British aircraft carrier Illustrious was 170 miles southeast of the Italian navy port at Taranto in southern Italy. Twenty-one Swordfish aircraft took off from the Illustrious and launched a raid against the Italian Fleet. The Italians lost three battleships, sending a shockwave through the Italian navy.

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The next major engagement between the Royal and Italian fleets was at Cape Matapan, off Greece's southern tip. On March 25, 1941, British air reconnaissance picked up increased Italian naval activity off Greece and Crete, and further intelligence confirmed an Italian plan to attack a British convoy in the area. Two days later, Admiral Cunningham put his battle fleet to sea to meet up with Vice-Admiral Pridham-Wippell's cruiser force. The element of surprise was crucial, given that the Italian fleet was larger, faster, better armed, and more modern.

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The Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto spotted Pridham-Wippell's cruisers and opened fire. The Italians missed and the Brits got away; the RAF followed up with an air attack, but this time it was the Vittorio Veneto that got away. But, on March 28, the British battleship Warspite proved a better shot, firing five 15-inch shells at the Italian cruiser Fiume, crippling it. Another Italian cruiser, the Zara, was hit broadside by the Brits' Valiant and Barham and suffered a similar fate. The Pola was also struck by an 18-inch torpedo; it caught fire and lay dead in the water. Once the crew was taken off, torpedoes sank it. On top of these crushing losses, two escorting destroyers, the Alfieri and the Carducci, were also sunk by the Royal Navy.
In total, the Italians lost 2,303 men from the five ships. The long-term effect on the Italian navy was to effectively render it impotent.

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Footnote: Exactly one year later, on March 28, 1942, a British sub near Antipaxo sunk the Italian ocean liner Galilea, which was being used to transport troops from North Africa back to Italy. The loss of the liner entailed the loss of 768 Italian soldiers and crewmen.



Taken from: [28.03.2014]

Thursday, March 27, 2014

This Day in WWII History: Mar 27, 1945: Germans launch last of their V-2s

On this day, in a last-ditch effort to deploy their remaining V-2 missiles against the Allies, the Germans launch their long-range rockets from their only remaining launch site, in the Netherlands. Almost 200 civilians in England and Belgium were added to the V-2 casualty toll.

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German scientists had been working on the development of a long-range missile since the 1930s. In October 3, 1942, victory was achieved with the successful trial launch of the V-2, a 12-ton rocket capable of carrying a one-ton warhead. The missile, fired from Peenemunde, an island off Germany's Baltic coast, traveled 118 miles in that first test.

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The brainchild of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, the V-2 was unique in several ways. First, it was virtually impossible to intercept. Upon launching, the missile rises six miles vertically; it then proceeds on an arced course, cutting off its own fuel according to the range desired.

The missile then tips over and falls on its target at a speed of almost 4,000 mph. It hits with such force that the missile burrows itself into the ground several feet before exploding. The V-2 had the potential of flying a distance of 200 miles, and the launch pads were portable, making them impossible to detect before firing.,V2-terror-d/1944-11-27-Teniers-Plaats-Keyserlei-V2-aufschlagpunkt.jpg

The first launches as part of an offensive occurred on September 6, 1944, when two missiles were fired at Paris. On September 8, two more were fired at England, which would be followed by over 1,100 more during the next six months. On March 27, 1945, taking advantage of their one remaining V-2 launch site, near The Hague, the Germans fired their V-2s for the last time. At 7 a.m., London awoke to a blast-one of the bombs had landed on a block of flats at Valance Road, killing 134 people. Twenty-seven Belgian civilians were killed in Antwerp when another of the rockets landed there. And that afternoon, one more V-2 landed in Kent, England, causing the very last British civilian casualty of the war.

By the end of the war, more than 2,700 Brits had died because of the rocket attacks, as well as another 4,483 deaths in Belgium. After the war, both the United States and the Soviet Union captured samples of the rockets for reproduction. Having proved so extraordinarily deadly during the war, the V-2 became the precursor of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) of the postwar era.


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photo from a V-2

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Taken from: [27.03.2014]

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

This Day in WWII History: Mar 26, 1941: Naval warfare gets new weapon

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On this day, Italy attacks the British fleet at Suda Bay, Crete, using detachable warheads to sink a British cruiser. This was the first time manned torpedoes had been employed in naval warfare, adding a new weapon to the world's navies' arsenals.

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The manned torpedo, also known as the "Chariot," was unique. Primarily used to attack enemy ships still in harbor, the Chariots needed "pilots" to "drive" them to their targets. Sitting astride the torpedo on a vehicle that would transport them both, the pilot would guide the missile as close to the target as possible, then ride the vehicle back, usually to a submarine. The Chariot was an enormous advantage; before its development, the closest weapon to the Chariot was the Japanese Kaiten--a human torpedo, or suicide bomb, which had obvious drawbacks.


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The first successful use of the Chariot was by the Italian navy, although they referred to their version as Maiali, or "Pigs." On March 26, six Italian motorboats, commanded by Italian naval commander Lt. Luigi Faggioni, entered Suda Bay in Crete and planted their Maiali along a British convoy in harbor there. The cruiser York was so severely damaged by the blast that it had to be beached.

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The manned torpedo proved to be the most effective weapon in the Italian naval arsenal, used successfully against the British again in December 1941 at Alexandria, Egypt. Italian torpedoes sank the British battleships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant, as well as one tanker. They were also used against merchant ships at Gibraltar and elsewhere.

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The British avenged themselves against the Italians, though, by sinking the new Italian cruiser Ulpio Traiano in the port of Palermo, Sicily, in early January 1943. An 8,500-ton ocean liner was also damaged in the same attack.

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After the Italian surrender, Britain, and later Germany, continued to use the manned torpedo. In fact, Germany succeeded in sinking two British minesweepers off Normandy Beach in July 1944, using their Neger torpedoes.


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Taken from: [26.03.2014]