by Steven Rogers
Sealion fails pt 1: The Battle of Norway
In spring of 1940, the Allies embarked on what seemed a good idea at the time: Seizing Narvik in order to interrupt the shipment of Iron ore from Sweden to Germany. The Germans were afraid this might happen, and were, in fact preparing a pre-emptive strike against Norway just to prevent this from happening. This entailed scooping up Denmark on the run as a base of operations for activity in Scandinavia.
Moving with uncharacteristic speed, the Anglo-French expeditionary force got the drop on the Germans, for all the good it did them. Norwegian resistance to the ill equipped, poorly organized and badly led invasion force was ferocious. The fight for Narvik was still raging when the lead elements of a Heer Airlanding division joined the struggle. Faced with continuing resistance from the Norwegians, and rapidly growing German strength, the Anglo-French forces attempted to withdraw. Less than 25% of the ground troops committed escaped. Naval losses on both sides were significant: The RN lost one Carrier, one heavy cruiser, two light cruisers and 8 destroyers to German and Norwegian forces. The Norwegians lost the coast defense vessel Harald Harfage and assorted torpedo boats. The Germans lost the heavy cruiser Blucher, the CL Karlsruhe and three destroyers. The support of the Norwegian land batteries and Coast defense flotillas are considered by many to be the prime factor preserving the Kriegsmarine from a thorough thrashing at the hands of the Royal Navy.
This crucial support was discounted by the Kriegsmarine, however, and this hubris left said institution (and more importantly, Hitler) with an inflated opinion of its ability to deal with the Royal Navy on the open sea. And so, when Admiral Raeder approached Hitler on 21 May 1940 concerning further operations against England, Hitler agreed enthusiastically, and the seed for Germany's ultimate defeat was sown.
The entire operation was to be a gamble typical of Hitler: The Luftwaffe
would be withdrawn from operations against the reeling French army and
re-oriented for operations against England while the Panzer force would
continue to grind down the Dunkerque pocket. Hitler felt that the campaign
was basically over, and that the infantry could handle any mopping up that
needed to be done. This was true, up to a point. The French armies best
equipment and troops were effectively out of action, and what was left
had little hope of driving the invader from French soil. However, it was
still a potent force, and the respite from the Blitzkrieg granted by the
switch in strategic priorities on the part of the Germans was a priceless
gift which General Weygand and the French High Command gratefully accepted.
The Heer continued to gain ground in France in the absence of the Luftwaffe
and Panzer spearheads, but the going was slow and bitter. The remnants
of the French Air Force (still some 400 planes strong) avoided direct attacks
on the Germans, but carried out numerous reconnaissance missions, a useful
that would not distract the Luftwaffe from it's struggle in the north.
By the time the Germans launched their invasion of England in Mid-July
Weygand had, in fact, assembled a modest offensive punch of his own, centered
around the rebuilt 4th CR commanded by Charles DeGaulle and two motorized
Infantry divisions. And the French Air Force was rested and ready.
Sealion Fails, Pt 2: Realignment of Forces.
On advantage of the Luftwaffe’s change in priorities from France to Britain, was to catch the British flat-footed. Taking pressure off of the staggering French Army was one hell of a gamble, but initially it seemed to pay off.. The air battles that raged during June and early July took a dreadfull toll of the RAF, and the British Army was sadly lacking in heavy equipment and trained personnel after the destruction of the Dunkirk pocket – acomplished a considerable cost to Germany’s Panzer force.
However, there was one branch of the Allied armed forces that was only slightly dismayed by the shattering turn of events in France: Their navies. The RN was singularly unimpressed by the Kriegsmarine’s performance in the Norway battles, rightly blaming most of its’ losses on the ferocious resistance put up by the Norwegians . The French Navy was thirsting for a chance to come to grips with the foe overrunning its’ country. And as June turned into July, it became clear that the French would have their chance.
The change in strategic direction from France to Britain had mitigated France’s military position from starkly catastrophic to merely dire. More importantly, France’s leaders had been given a chance to catch their collective breath and assess the situation. It was clear to most that only a first-order miracle would save Metropolitan France. But it would take a miracle of the same order for the Germans to take the French Empire. Assuming, of course, that Britain held out. Accordingly, plans were implemented to evacuate as much combat power as possible to Corsica and North Africa. Most of the French Navy was redeployed to the Mediterranean to assist in the evacuation. Most.
A task force consisting of the battleships Paris and Coubert, the heavy cruiser Tourville, the light cruisers Jeanne D’ Arc and Marseillaise and twelve destroyers was ordered to provide the RN with all possible support and cooperation.
By mid-July, the Luftwaffe had forced the RAF to withdraw from southern England. The Kriegsmarine had scrapped together hundreds of barges and small craft to transport the invasion force. The Heers had trained (well, briefed, actually) the divisions selected for the invasion force.
And so, on 14 July 1940, Sealion set off for England.
Sealion Fails Pt 3: The Slaughter in the Straits
When the Germans launched their invasion on 14 July 1940, the Luftwaffe was faced with very little opposition during it's raids on Southern England in support of the invasion force. German pilots ranged at will, attacking everything they could find. There was a very good reason for this. RAF Fighter Command was fully committed to protecting the Royal Navy, which was even now swarming out of its bases and heading south at full speed. Much of the RN's travel time was made during the night, in order to severely reduce the effects of Luftwaffe attacks. A few U-boats got into position to intercept, but they were either stymied by defective torpedoes or were soon fleeing for their lives from RN destroyers.
The invasion force itself had staggered ashore around the port of Folkestone.. "Around", because those unfortunate souls who actually tried to land "in" Folkestone were slaughtered. Nevertheless, despite a grueling 18 hour trip by sea, and near-total confusion at the landing sites as barge crews who had never participated in an amphibious operation before attempted to carry out the largest invasion ever attempted, the Germans had managed to get elements of 4 divisions ashore. Mostly without tanks or artillery, but they were there. It was assumed the Luftwaffe would carry out the artillery mission, and until it was called away to other duties, it did this quite well.
As day dawned, the Luftwaffe struck at the RN, and found the "missing" RAF fighters. The initial airstrikes went in beyond ME-109 range. They were slaughtered. As the RN bore down on the Beachhead, which was still packed with barges coming in to offload troops, and other barges trying to leave, it began to occur to the Germans that they could either support the beachhead, or strike at the RN, but not both. As the RN entered ME109 range, another series of Luftwaffe strikes began. Most of these penetrated the RAF fighter screen, only to reveal a crippling flaw in the German Plans: The Luftwaffe did not have the proper ordnance for anti-shipping strikes. The best weapon for anti-shipping strikes was the torpedo, but there were less than 50 torpedo planes available. And most of those were lost in the first series of strikes. The other problem was armor-piercing bombs: The Luftwaffe didn't have many. The bombs it had were fine for soft ground targets, but quite unsuitable for sinking warships.
The Luftwaffe was scoring hits, but not as many on the RN's heavy units as anticipated due to pilot error. The Luftwaffe was not trained in anti-shipping strikes so target identification, particularly while dodging flak and RAF fighters was a major problem. Many strikes intended for battleships and cruisers went in against destroyers by mistake. And of the bombs that did hit large ships, relatively little damage was done. Superstructure was blown up, secondary turrets knocked out, and sailors were killed, but the battleships and heavy cruisers were not being stopped. When non-armor piercing bombs hit armor, either the fuses failed completely, or the bombs detonated on the face of the armor, sparing the targets the catastrophic effects of interior explosions.
And so, as the afternoon of 15 July 1940 wore on, the Kriegsmarine interposed itself between the invasion transports and the oncoming Allied Armada. The official name of the battle that followed was "The Battle of the North Sea", but to the RN sailors it was known as "The Slaughter in the Straits". Whatever the name, the events of the following 18 hours trimmed the Kriegsmarine's budget projections for FY 1941 Operations and Maintenance expenditures considerably.
The Germans were spread quite thin, and many RN destroyers and light cruisers simple stormed through the gaps in the Kriegsmarine's line, while other Allied ships engaged the Germans. Unfortunately for the Kriegsmarine, the Allied capital ships did not simply pass through. The Kriegsmarine was their target. To the RN's everlasting jealousy, the first German capital ship was bagged by the French. The BBs Paris and Courbet caught the hapless WW1 vintage Schleswig-Holstein and sent her to the bottom. However, there were other targets available. The CA Hipper, the WW1 Battleship Schlesien, and the BCs Gneisenau and Scharnhorst were all sunk by the RN. To add insult to German injury the Luftwaffe actually hit the Gneisenau with one bomb by mistake. Even with Luftwaffe support, the Kriegsmarine was fighting on the wrong side of 4:1 odds. Out of all the Kriegsmarine, only one light cruiser and three destroyers made it back to port, and their skippers considered themselves the most fortunate men on the ocean that day.
Even before the German warships were wiped out, however, the invasion transports began to die. The barges were defenseless, and the RN and French destroyer captains were attacked without mercy. Out of 800 barges, less than 400 made it back to mainland Europe.
The misery was not over for the Germans, however. When the Luftwaffe fighters were withdrawn from the Folkestone Beachhead to engage the RAF fighters protecting the RN, Bomber Command began attacking the beachhead in strength. And then the French Army weighed in.
When it became clear the Luftwaffe was fully engaged against the British, General Weygand ordered General Giraud to launch a long-planned limited counterattack to relieve the French troops surrounded at Vichy. The attack was spearheaded by General DeGaulle's 4th DCR and supported by Frances two remaining Motorized divisions. The French Armee d' la Air, roaming almost at will gave the Landsers a small taste of what the Poilus had endured over the proceeding two months. The French counterattack was limited and local, but resulted in abject panic at OKW. Hitler, terrified that Giraud's counterattack was merely the opening shot in a French counter-offensive, ordered the Luftwaffe to immediately resume operations against the French. The troops in England and the ships engaging the Allied navies would have to cope as best they could. By the end of July, the French were once more in retreat all along their lines, but by 20 July, the last German troops in England had surrendered.
Sealion Fails Pt 4: Politics and the Mediterranean Sea
The Germans could be beaten. The "Invincible" Wehrmacht could be stopped. The sense of futility, which had begun to engulf the French, was swept aside by the defeat of Operation Sealion. Metropolitan France was doomed, that was clear, but the resources of the French Empire were vast and untouched. Even now, recruiters were hard at work among the French colonial populations, both colonists and natives, laying the groundwork for a new army. Manpower was not the problem. Weapons were. Although the gold reserves had been evacuated from Paris, they would not last forever. The French Empires' natural resources could provide much needed cash flow, if buyers could be found. French diplomats and businessmen swarmed over Washington DC, making deals to procure the vast amounts of war materiel the French would need. Slowly at first, but with increasing momentum, the Juggernaut of America's war potential began slipping into the groove.
In the Meantime, Mussolini was beginning to suspect that his Declaration of War on the Allies after the fall of Paris might have been a tad premature. That it may, in fact, have been the terminal mistake of his career. True, the French were retreating from France, but it was an orderly retreat. A constant flow of merchantmen were pulling out troops, equipment, and machine tools and carrying them to Corsica and Algeria. The first of what would become a vast network of airfields and army camps was already being built on Corsica, and new factories were being planned for Algeria. The French garrison troops in Tunisia, sick with helpless fury while their homeland was overrun, were already carrying out raids against Libya's western border. And in Egypt, some maniac British general named O'Conner was doing the same thing. Italy's La Regia Marina was considerably stronger than the Kriegsmarine, but the near total annihilation of the Germans had put the fear of God (more precisely, his apparent agent: The Anglo-French battleships) into the hearts of Commando Supremo.
By the end of August, the last organized resistance in France had ended. But with the Armee d' la' Air operating out of Corsica, and the Italian Navy cowering in port, it was clear that not only would Corsica be held against all comers, but Italy's overseas empire was doomed.
The German disaster in the North Sea had an enormous impact in Scandinavia as well. Horrified by first the Soviet attack on Finland and then the Allied attack on Norway, Sweden and Denmark had begun moving closer to a formal alliance with the Third Reich out of self-preservation. Sealion's bloody death stopped this process cold. Instead, the Scandinavian countries announced the formation of the Scandinavian Defense League and informed the German troops in Norway "Thanks for your trouble, we can take it from here". The Norwegian reserves were long since mobilized, their tenacity had already been convincing demonstrated, and the troops and planes were badly needed elsewhere. Besides, the world had just been given a convincing demonstration of the difficulty of opposed amphibious operations. Given the strength of the new defensive alliance; some 40 divisions, 500 aircraft, swarms of coastal defense vessels; the Germans accepted the invitation to leave and announced to the world Germany's respect for it's northern neighbors. And strongly implied that the iron ore, ball bearings and other precision equipment had better keep coming. Or else.
In Germany, the Sealion disaster was a profound shock, both emotionally
and physically. Germany had suffered a major defeat; not even Goebbels
could disguise that. However, the effects were mitigated by the fall of
the last French positions in mainland France. It was worrying that the
French gave no indication that they thought the war was over, but they
were across the sea, so what could they do? The hundreds of barges lost
in the battle were already being missed, and the effects would multiply
with time. German war production plans, never very efficient to start with,
were coming unglued. And so, in October 1940, Adolph Hitler decided to
create an Armaments Minister with an unprecedented degree of power over
German industry. Fritz Todt, an experienced official of proven ability
got the job. Hitler also appointed his deputy and personal liaison. His
choice for the deputy's position was typically bizarre, his favorite architect
of all people. But the selection of Albert Speer for the deputy's post
may have been the best staffing decision in the entire human history of
Sealion Fails Pt 5: The War in the Desert
Between surrender of the last French units in Metropolitan France at the end of August 1940 and Mid-October 1940, there was a general lull in operations while both sides caught their breath and tried to think of what to do next. Tentative Luftwaffe strikes against Corsica by ME-110 escorted bombers were roughly handled by French fighters. There was increasing, and ominous, activity by the Allies on the eastern and western frontiers of Libya, and growing Allied strength at the Horn of Africa - inducing many sleepless nights on the part of the Italian Viceroy of Ethiopia- but those six weeks were generally quiet.
During this time, the French government in exile engaged in a bit of housecleaning. Prime Minister Petain secured his grip on the government and made abundantly clear to the Soviet Ambassador his displeasure with Stalin's congratulatory telegram to Hitler concerning the conquest of France. General Weygand's tragic death in an air accident resulted in Giraud's promotion to Chief of Staff. DeGaulle was assigned command of the Armored Forces and told to whip them into shape. Admiral Darlan was ordered to set aside his dislike of the British and send destroyers into the Atlantic to assist the RN's anti-submarine operations.
In Egypt, General O'Conner was the proud recipient of a steady stream of ground troops and air power. By mid-October, O'Conner and DeGaulle were ready to Do Something about the Italian presence in Libya. This consisted of simultaneous assaults by 8 British and Commonwealth divisions out of Egypt and 6 French divisions out of Tunisia, supported by 600 aircraft and more warships, from Battleships to Destroyers, than Italy had in her entire navy. The Italians under General Graziani never stood a chance. By the end of December, North Africa was firmly in the Allied grip. The Italians, for the most part, stayed in their fortified positions and were wiped out in detail. The only reason the campaign lasted for 10 weeks was the sheer size of the territory to be conquered. After the fall of Benghazi, Tripoli and Tobruk, the Italians pretty much had the starch taken out of them. Constant air and sea bombardment made sure they didn't move very far, or very fast.
In Ethiopia the Italian Viceroy was ordered to attack French and British Somalia to take the pressure off of the Libyan forces. His attack got off the ground too late to do Graziani any good and the recently reinforced allied contingents stopped him cold, then began rolling him back.. The conquest of Abyssinia took longer, but that was due to the size and undeveloped nature of Ethiopia, not the power of Italian resistance. By June of 1941, all organized Axis resistance in Africa had come to an end.
In Europe, the Germans were not idle. Hitler was bound and determined to invade the Soviet Union. However, the Sealion debacle had induced a sense of relative caution in his planning. German industry was suffering greatly from the lack of river transport caused by the barge losses, although the rationalization of German war production being carried out by Todt and Speer was beginning to offset this somewhat. Todt needed time, Speer backed him up, and told Hitler so. Hitler would have none of it. Barbarossa would start in May of 1941, and that was that, make it happen.
The plan as finalized in January of 1941 was far less grandiose than those previous. The still-disorganized state of the Reich's economy could not support such endeavors, and Speer so informed Hitler. Instead of an attack all along the frontier from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, the Rumanians, supported by a weakened Army Group South, would launch a holding attack intended solely to force the engagement of Red Army reserves. The main thrust would go north of the Pripyet Marshes. First Leningrad, then Moscow. This would probably not result in the total defeat of the Reds, but they could be finished off in 1942. And this time, there would be no distractions.
However, nobody consulted Mussolini. While the Wehrmacht moved into
its' jumping-off positions for Barbarossa in the spring of 1941, the Italians
built up their forces in Albania for a move against Greece. Barbarossa
began on 7 May 1941. The Greco-Italian campaign began three days later.
Sealion Fails Pt 6: U-boats and Geopolitics
Early in 1941 the Battle of the Atlantic began heating up fast. The Kriegsmarine had finally worked out the bugs in its' torpedoes, and the number of U-boats in service began to increase. Which was just as well for the Germans, because the combined Royal Navy and French Navy destroyer fleets were making life difficult for the Reich's intrepid sub skippers. The fact of the matter was, the Germans were behind the power curve and had to play catch-up. The deal between the US and The Allies which provided advance bases for America in exchange for 70 destroyers for the Allies(50 to the British, 20 to the French) made matters even worse. The massive economic dislocation caused by the Rhine Barge losses during Sealion meant that not all of the German war production plans could be met at once. Speer had to make hard choices, and given Hitler's frothing-at-the-mouth desire to come to grips with Stalin, U-boat production got the axe. Production would increase, but the projected 1941 build rates would not be reached until 1942, if then. Tanks, trucks, planes, artillery and ammo plus fuel for same, that was the priority for a war with Russia, and Albert Speer bloody well knew it.
And so, while shipping losses climbed sharply from January 1941 to June 1942, the outcome of the Battle of the Atlantic was never seriously in doubt. German U-boats were a savage nuisance, but never gravely threatened England's lifeline. Ultra intercepts of U-Boat communications and the Anglo-French destroyer fleets saw to that.
In Europe, international politics were confused, to say the least. The Scandinavian Defense league, comprised of Norway, Sweden Denmark and Finland was quite literally between Scylla and Charybdis. Russia had torn a vast chunk of territory of off Finland, and Finland wanted it back. Denmark wanted the German troops who had entered the country to provide logistical support for the German-Norwegian struggle against the Allied landing at Narvik out of the country. The Germans were disinclined to leave, but since they were present by the quasi-invitation of the Danish government (a lot of confusing things had happened very quickly in March of 1940) they were making a point of not interfering with Danish civil administration. Besides, the growing size and quality of the franticly arming SDL forces was a factor to be considered. The Allies were rather embarrassed by their Narvik fiasco and were broadly hinting that there were no hard feelings, eh, what?
But the main problem for the northern tier countries was the Soviet occupation of Finland's' Karelian peninsula, and what to do about it. As winter turned into spring, it was clear to anyone willing to face the facts that the Third Reich was about to attack the Soviet Union. The Finnish government wanted a piece of that action. Norway, itself the target of a recent land grab, supported the Finns quite strongly, as did Denmark. Sweden, however, was conflicted. Sweden had a long neutrality tradition and was justifiably proud of it. But the attacks on Norway and Finland had shown that nobody respected neutrality in this war, except the USA, and the Americans were far away. In addition, the Swedish diplomatic service was beginning to accumulate evidence of something terrible happening to the Jews, Gypsies and other minorities in the occupied territories. The Other SDL members reported that even if theses horrible rumors were true, that was all the more reason to get the Germans out of Denmark. And so, as the final German preparations for Barbarossa began, the SDL governments stuck a deal to regain Finnish territory and get the Germans out of Denmark: The SDL would join an attack on the Soviets. However, SDL forces would advance no further than Finland's1939 borders. And no, zero, no German forces would be permitted to operate from, or pass through SDL territory. The Germans agreed.
In the Mediterranean and Balkans, Mussolini was making the deals of his life.. Faced with the vaporization of Italy's holdings in Libya and the grinding constriction of the Italian garrison in Abyssinia, he needed a victory, any victory, anywhere. Increasingly, Greece looked like a good target. For one thing, it was a lot smaller than Italy. Second, all of Greece's neighbors had territorial claims against it. And best of all, the Allies were on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea.
Italy's increased attention to this area was a prime reason for the discovery by Italian Army Intelligence of a plan by Yugoslav Army officers to overthrow that country's pro-Axis Government. The Government of Yugoslavia owed Il Duce a favor and he collected, sweetening the deal by giving the Yugoslavs the Macedonian territories of Greece. The Bulgarians wanted Grecian Thrace (well, Turkish Thrace, too, but let's not go into that) giving it an outlet to the Mediterranean Sea. Mussolini's response was fine, great, anything, join the party. The Turks, however, were dubious. There were an awful lot of Allied troops on her southern and Eastern borders, plus the Soviets in the north. They would sit this one out, thanks anyway.
And so, as Germany's plans for war with Russia matured, so did Mussolini's. The disasters in Libya and Ethiopia had taught Commando Supremo the dangers of going off half-cocked. Therefore, the Albanian ports were strained to their limits by an influx of troops and supplies. By May of 1941, there were 25 Italian divisions present on the Albanian-Greek frontier. The Yugoslav army had assembled 15 divisions on its' border with Greece, and Bulgaria had scraped together 10 for the invasion. Greece had less than 30, with a long frontier to defend, especially since the Greeks could not be sure the Turks would, in fact, remain neutral. All this moving about did not go unnoticed, to be sure. The Greeks began mobilizing in February. A stabilizing domestic political scene gave the post-Metaxas government confidence enough to welcome officers cashiered for their pro-democracy leanings back into the military fold. Weapons flowed in to the country, a delivery of F4F Wildcat fighters from the USA being particularly welcome.
Hitler most emphatically did not want to give the Allies a foothold in Southern Europe and made this abundantly plain in a summit meeting with Mussolini.. Il Duce laughed heartily and lied through his teeth. It was all a bluff, he explained, with 50 divisions arrayed against them, the Greeks would doubtless make some slight border concessions, the Italian state Media outlets would play them up, and the Fascist political base in Italy would be secured. Hitler was satisfied with this, and went home reassured, instructing his Ambassador in Rome to keep an eye on the situation. The ambassador replied that all his contacts in the Italian Diplomatic service assured him there would be no war with Greece. Not that they were lying to the man, Mussolini was lying to them, too.
In this case, Ultra worked against the Allies. The Allied code breakers read these messages, and assured Churchill and Petain that there would be no war in the Balkans. Churchill was disappointed by this news, he had a passion for Balkan schemes, but the French were relieved. They were becoming increasingly concerned by Japanese moves in the Pacific theater. Reassured by the Ultra Intercepts, France and England began moving forces to the Pacific. The Australian and New Zealand units were returned home, for the time being, in order to form training cadres for more units for the eventual return to France. The French also began a buildup in French Indo-China. Between January and April of 1941 the garrison in that territory was increased by 4 infantry divisions, an artillery brigade, and an armored brigade. The French Air Force sent 200 aircraft, and the French Navy sent the battlecruisers Jean Bart and Richelieu, one light carrier and numerous cruisers and destroyers to keep an eye on the Japanese.
Stalin was not an idiot. He was, however, desperately afraid of the
German Army. There was no natural moat separating the USSR from the German
tanks, and there were no steel sharks to patrol it. STAVKA war games in
early 1941 had made it clear just how woefully unprepared for war the Red
Army was. The Soviet Union needed time, and if crawling on his belly before
the Fascists was what it took to gain that, well, so be it. It didn't work.
Sealion Fails Pt 7: Barbarossa
On May 7, 1941, the best army in the world attacked the biggest. Germany's continuing economic difficulties as a result of the river barge losses during the Sealion debacle meant that Army Group South was relegated to a holding attack, but north of the Pripyet Marshes, Army Groups North and Center exploded across the frontier in all of the Wehrmacht's customary fury. Stalin, his worst nightmare come true, was paralyzed for days by near-suicidal depression. When Molotov, his Foreign Minister, asked him for orders, he replied simply "All is lost". In the absence of direction from the top, the Red Army commanders carried out their pre-war doctrine: Attack! Those units on the frontier not destroyed in barracks, annihilated themselves in piecemeal, unsupported attacks on the advancing Germans. When Stalin finally roused himself from his torpor, the forces facing Army Groups North and Center were being destroyed faster than they could retreat. The armies facing the Rumanians and Army Group South seemed to be holding, or at least conducting an orderly fighting retreat, but STAVKA could not be sure that this relatively good situation would endure for long.
On the Finnish border, the Scandinavian defense league launched aggressive probes into Soviet territory, designed more to draw off troops from Leningrad than to actually gain ground. South of the Pripyet Marshes, the Rumanian Army ground forward slowly against a stubborn defense as Army Group South surged east, then south along the edge of the marshes. The Axis was gaining ground here, but Soviet resistance was stiffening quickly. Toward the end of June, in fact, the first organized Red Army counter-attacks of the war were being launched. The attacks were local, uncoordinated and uniformly ineffective, but they took place.
North of the Marshes, however, May and June brought unrelieved disaster to the Red Army. Large pockets were formed at Pskov, Minsk and Riga. Red Airforce planes were hacked out of the sky in vast numbers as the Luftwaffe scourged the defender's lines of communication, attacking anything that moved. In mid-July, another large body of Red Army troops was pocketed near Ostrov, and the SDL launched it's long anticipated offensive towards Leningrad, drawing off still more troops from the relentless advance of the Germans. And yet, as July gave way to August, the first cracks began to appear in the Wehrmacht's logistical support. The problem was the railroads. The problem posed by the fact that the Soviets used a wider gauge was obvious and simple to deal with, although time consuming. A more significant problem was the German locomotives used on the re-gauged tracks. Their fuel bunkers were too small. The larger Soviet locomotives had a longer range, and the refueling/maintenance depots were spaced accordingly. New stations had to be built, construction material had to be transported to the sites to create these stations, and every ton of lumber and concrete carried was a ton of food, fuel or ammunition that did not reach the armored spearheads that were already screaming for replenishment.
Something had to give, and that something was re-supply for Army Group South.. To STAVKA's vast surprise, Kiev held. In fact, the Germans were pushed back some 10 miles by an aggressive counter-attack. By the end of September, the line south of the Pripyet marshes had stabilized along a line running from Kiev to Uman to Odessa, and maybe, just maybe, the Germans could be held there.
But north of the Marshes, the situation was grave indeed. Despite Sweden's reservations, the Scandinavian Defense League operations plan was suffering from mission creep. SDL forces, primarily Finnish but also consisting of a Danish brigade, a Norwegian division and 4 Swedish divisions(one of them armored) had crossed the 1939 Russo-Finnish border. Advance reconnaissance patrols from the Swedish armored division had, in fact, made contact with advance German patrols from Panzergruppe 4 along the eastern shore of Lake Lagoda. Leningrad was isolated, massively fortified, heavily garrisoned and plentifully supplied, but isolated. Kalinin and Kaluga were in German hands and it was obvious that the next stage of the German plan would involve converging columns from those two bases of operation to encircle Moscow. The question was, what to do about it.
Stay with the soon-to-be-besieged city, or evacuate? That was the question facing Stalin and STAVKA. The reserves already at hand could hold the city for quite some time, and 25 divisions were en route from Siberia. Those would not be enough, however. More troops were needed. STAVKA looked south. The Front was stable and in any case, even if disaster occurred there was considerable strategic depth between Odessa and the Crimea. The troops of the Odessa and Kiev Military Districts had the highest morale of any troops available. Beating back the Axis from the gates of Kiev had boosted their confidence in themselves, their weapons, and their commanders. Zhukov urged a gamble: Pull 40 divisions out of the Ukraine and concentrate them at Voronezh. When the Germans encircled Moscow, those troops would attack towards Moscow by way of Tula, recapturing that city if it fell to the Germans. The Siberian divisions would assemble at Gorki and attack east. Potentially, half the Heer Panzer force could be cut off and annihilated.
Stalin made his decision. STAVKA would evacuate to Gorki, to coordinate
the counter attack. Stalin, however, would stay to face the October assault.
This was not a decision made out of blind stubbornness, but cold political
calculation. If Moscow fell, his own generals would probably shoot him,
no matter how the war eventually developed. But if the city held, and Stalin
survived the siege, the hearts of the Soviet people would be solidly in
his grip. He would stay.
Sealion Fails Pt 8: The Greco-Italian Campaign
By February 1941 it was clear that the Italians had started a major buildup of forces in Albania. The Albanian port facilities at Durazzo, Aulon and Agion Saranta were all undergoing expansion and what would eventually grow to a force of 25 divisions and 400 aircraft had begun to deploy along the Greco-Albanian frontier. The Greeks began mobilizing and sought aid from the Allies. Now that the threat to Britain had passed, the RAF promptly released 24 Spitfires ordered by the Greek Airforce before the war. As the French began re-equipping their own fighter squadrons with D-520s from the new factories in Algeria, MS-406s were released for possible use by the Greeks. In addition, over 100 Italian combat aircraft, captured on the ground in Libya, were repaired and sent over between March and June. It quickly became clear that the Greek Airforce would soon have far more planes than pilots, so Greek "volunteers" began training at the Armee d' la Air's new flight schools in Tunisia, and RAF facilities on the island of Cyprus.
The Bulgarians began mobilizing in March, and started demonstrating on their border with Greece in early April. Yugoslavia also began mobilizing in March, but simmering political unrest delayed a significant frontier buildup until April 25th.
After the Italian Surrender in Libya and Ethiopia, Italian military hardware had been left to bake in the sun, as the increasing flow of materiel from America began to flow into the French Army's supply dumps. Now, in the Spring of 1941, Allied quartermasters and mechanics swarmed over the piles of equipment, salvaging armored vehicles, artillery pieces, small arms, ammunition, anything the Greeks could possibly use.
ULTRA intercepts of communications between the Italian and German governments indicated quite plainly that the buildup on the Greek border was a bluff. Hitler absolutely did not want any distractions from the upcoming assault on the Soviet Union. The Greeks declined an offer by the Allies to send troops to their country, rightly suspecting that this would guarantee an attack by Germany. In the same vein, they were reluctant to accept too much overt aid. Thus the Greek "volunteers" training with French and British Empire aircrews. And so, most of the salvaged equipment was placed in warehouses in Tunis and Alexandria, awaiting shipment as required. But critical equipment was sent, especially anti-tank guns, which the Greek Army almost totally lacked. Every functioning anti-tank gun surrendered by the Italians in Libya and Ethiopia (less than 100) was crated up and sent to Greece with all the usable ammunition the Allied quartermasters could scrape together. The Allies placed great faith in ULTRA, and the Axis invasion of Greece on 10 May 1941 caught them quite by surprise. But the Greeks were as ready as they could be. With 4 divisions behind the Metaxas Line facing the Bulgarians, 6 covering the Axios river valley against Yugoslavia, 10 facing the Italians and 3 in reserve, The Greek Army awaited the onslaught. In addition, the political crisis following that death of Metaxas had subsided. In view of the looming threat, many democratic-sympathizing officers were welcomed back to the service.
The German attack on Russia and the Italian attack on Greece were as different as night and day. Where the Wehrmacht ran rampant across an unprepared and disorganized opponent defending, for the most part, terrain that could be well described as "tank country", the Italian offensive plowed head-on into alert troops entrenched on terrain that nearly defended itself. The Bulgarians launched one attack on the fortified positions they faced, recoiled in bloody ruin, and limited themselves to occasional probing attacks for the next two months. It was only on the Yugoslavian frontier that Greece faced immediate danger. The ground was relatively level here, the Yugoslav Army large and theoretically dangerous.
But the Yugoslavs had a problem. Serbia. The Serbs were not at all enthusiastic about this war. Attacks made by Serbian formations showed a distinct lack of spirit. The units drawn from other Yugoslav nationalities performed fairly well, but most of the army was Serbian. The Greeks were pushed back, but not nearly as quickly as the size of the Yugoslav force, some 15 divisions, would have indicated. The commitment of two precious divisions from the Greek reserves, and a redeployment of a significant portion of Greek airpower - including a newly arrived shipment of USA built Wildcat fighters - stabilized the line.
As May gave way to June, the Greeks had every reason to be confident. The Bulgarians had been repulsed with virtually no loss of ground. The Yugoslavians had advance roughly twenty miles down the Axios river valley, but were presently contained. On the Albanian frontier, it was the Caporetto battles of WWI all over again. Greek losses were high, higher than both other fronts combined. But the Italians were shedding a river of blood. Italian attacks were head on assaults against fortified positions, because there was no other choice. The Italians had two armored divisions in the offensive, but attack routes suitable for tanks were few, and covered by units equipped with captured Italian anti-tank guns. To make matters worse, by the third week in May, the first freighters containing equipment captured from the Italians in North Africa began arriving in Greek ports, pouring forth a torrent of supplies. And there were disturbing rumors in diplomatic circles that British advisors were training Greek troops in the use of 2 pounder anti-tank weapons. The French were definitely supporting the Greeks, from May 15 to May 29th, MS-406 fighters arrived at the rate of 10 a day, flying from Cyrenaica to Crete, then to the Greek mainland.
In Berlin, Adolph Hitler's reaction to the Italian Adventure was apocalyptic.. There were persistent rumors that he had to be physically restrained from attacking the Italian Ambassador. When Hitler reached Mussolini by phone, the handset nearly melted. Germany absolutely did not have any troops to spare for this, Hitler informed his junior partner. What the hell did he think he was doing, presenting the Allies with an engraved invitation to a foothold on mainland Europe? The new war was only 20 hours old at this point, and Mussolini breezily assured Hitler that there was no cause for concern. 50 Axis divisions would soon overwhelm 25 Greek divisions, and all would be well.
As June turned into July, it became apparent that all was not well. Captured Italian equipment was unloaded in Greece as fast as the ports could handle it and there was a strong implication that Allied weaponry was in the pipeline. The Greek railroad network was stretched to the limit, but new locomotives and rail cars from the Allies were on the way. Allied civil engineers and heavy equipment operators were assisting Greek construction crews to improve Greece's roads. Less than 100 Allied troops were present, mostly instructors, but the soldiers they trained were soon training others.
In August, the Greeks launched a counter-attack up the Axios river, spearheaded by Italian built tanks. Greek fighters swept the sky of Yugoslav airpower and Greek bombers harassed Yugoslav supply convoys. Half the territory lost in the initial enemy offensive was regained in one week.
The Serbs had had enough. Serbian units began puling back to Serbia. Serbian commanders relayed through unofficial channels that so long as no Greek troops entered Serbia, no Serbian units would attack Greece. The Greeks accepted the deal and the Yugoslav position in Greek territory collapsed. Divisions battered by the Yugoslavs were placed in reserve, and the fresh troops they replaced were sent to face the Italians.
In September, the Greek army launched an offensive along the coast of
the Ionian Sea. The Italian units, under strength, under supplied, and
weary were no match for the Greek reserves, led by Greece's newly blooded
armored division. The front was torn open, and the Greeks began rolling
it up from West to East. The Greek spearhead surged up the coast. A frantic
Mussolini ordered the full strength of La Regia Marina out to sea, to provide
fire support for the disintegrating Italian position. This was what the
Allied navies had been waiting for. The Battle of Corfu was about to begin.
Sealion Fails Pt 9: Germany Moves South
September began badly for Italy, and rapidly got worse. The Greek counteroffensive had torn open the Italian front line along the coast, and Greek troops were racing along the coastal road toward the Albanian ports, closely supported by the Greek Navy. The situation was intolerable, the Greek thrust had to be stopped, one way or another. If the Italian Army and Air Force were helpless, then it would be up to the Navy. La Regia Marina had six battleships available, and abundant numbers of cruisers and destroyers. It had stood by and watched while the Italian garrison in Libya was destroyed, but now the stakes were considerably higher. The Italian commanders in Albania had scraped together a force to block the Greek attack, but they needed help, and the Italian Navy sortied to give it. The Italian Admirals probably suspected they were steaming to their doom, but out to sea they went.
It was, in fact, a trap. The Greek breakthrough was deliberately made in range of Italian Battleship guns to draw the Italian battleships out where the Allies could smash them. The implicit cooperation between Greece and the Allies became a formal expansion of the Alliance once Italy committed her fleet..
Unlike the Slaughter in the Straits, the vicious night action that erupted when the two fleets made contact 40 miles northwest of Corfu deserved the term "battle". The Italians lost 4 battleships out of 6, the Allies lost 2 out of 9. The Italians lost nearly three-quarters of their lighter ships, the Allies lost about one quarter.
Four RN carriers were present, but their Air Groups did not penetrate the Italian fighter cover the afternoon before the night battle. In truth, they did not try very hard. Theirs was a different mission. Two nights after the battered remnant of La Regia Marina had made it back to the safety of Taranto harbor, all four carriers launched a combined strike. Most of the ships that survived the encounter with the Allied battleline were sunk, including the two battleships, and every other ship in the harbor was damaged.
The Italian Navy was smashed beyond any hope of recovery, and the Italian Army's line of communication by sea was cut. Over a third of Italy's Army was on the edge of annihilation. Swallowing his pride, Mussolini asked, almost begged, Hitler to help. Despite his near-limitless rage over the Italian blunder, even Hitler realized that the Balkan front had to be stabilized. Fortunately, there were troops available. 10 divisions had just been returned from Norway and Denmark. They were used to operating in cold, rugged, underdeveloped terrain. Joined with two newly formed panzer divisions and 400 aircraft, also reassigned from the north, they were just what the situation required. Now all that remained was the selection of a commander. Ideally, he had to be a man with experience in mountain warfare, a good grasp of modern Blitzkrieg techniques, and a demonstrated ability to work with Germany's allies. Such a man was available, and was already a favorite of Adolph Hitler. And so, Erwin Rommel, soon to be known around the world as "The Mountain Lion", was given command of the Balkan Intervention Army.
Yugoslav permission was required for the transit of the Wehrmacht to the front lines, and was considered a mere formality. As it turned out, it was anything but routine. Frustrated by Serbian intransigence, Germany asked Croatia and Slovenia to authorize passage of Rommel's force. Angered by Serbia's obstructionism and deeply worried by the military reversals in Greece, permission was granted.
And Yugoslavia blew apart. Serbia units rebelled, and placed themselves under the direct command of the Serbian government. Croatia and Slovenia were pro-Axis, but due to a distinct lack of Serbian enthusiasm for the present war, many Croatian and Slovenian units were engaged with the Greeks, and now in enemy territory. After the Battle of Corfu, all pretense that Greece was not, in fact, a member of the Allies was dropped, and Anglo-French troops were even now transiting the Mediterranean for Greek ports. RAF and Armee D' La Air squadrons were already preparing staging areas and bomber bases on Crete, well within range of the Ploesti oil fields.
Rommel did not wait for developments to sort themselves out in Serbia.
He imposed his own, smashing the Serbian forces threatening the total encirclement
of the Italians in Albania, and opening a corridor for the Italian's rescue.
Albania was lost, but Rommel fully intended to return. There was considerable
fighting in early to mid-October, but the front stabilized with the Axis
holding Montenegro, the northern half of Albania, and the northern third
of Serbia. He might have gone further, as Anglo-French ground forces had
not yet moved in any great strength to oppose him, but the German attack
on Moscow brought his flow of supplies to a trickle. Europe's eyes turned
north to the new cataclysm unfolding in Russia.
Sealion Fails Pt 10: Dilemmas and Decisions
To describe the Swedish Government as unhappy with the situation in which it found its' nation would be like describing the Himalayas as tall mountains. A rapidly growing faction in the Government viewed the decision to enter the war as a horrible mistake, and wanted out. The majority still believed that the combination of the Soviet attack on Finland and the Allied attack on Norway has left Sweden with little choice but to seek Germany as a protector, but they also wanted out of the war. Scandinavian Defense League officers serving as observers with Heer units in Russia were reporting horrifying massacres carried out by the Germans. Diplomats such as Raoul Wallenberg continued to amass evidence of truly unique horrors occurring in supposed work camps in German-occupied territory. In short, the feeling in Sweden, and to a lesser extent in Norway and Denmark, was that the SDL was on the wrong side. Finland had no doubts due to the suffering that nation had endured at the hands of the Reds, but Mannerheim was beginning to entertain doubts about Germany's ability to win the war. In October 1941, as the Wehrmacht began the grand assault on Moscow, the SDL governments held the Oslo Conference.
It was decided that an open break with Germany was far too dangerous at this time. Until the Battle of Moscow was decided, the SDL military would continue active support of the Wehrmacht. But, to hedge their bets, a back-channel negotiation process was opened with the French. When the Soviet emissary to the French Government had delivered Stalin's plea for help following the opening of Barbarossa, Petain's only response had been to hand the man a transcript of Stalin's telegram congratulating Hitler on the Fall of France. The SDL correctly suspected that the French would be the party most sympathetic to its' dilemma.
Mussolini also had a problem, although he had yet to realize the true magnitude. Italy had lost her empire, her navy and was in the process of losing her army in Yugoslavia. Rommel had stabilized the Axis position in Serbia and Albania for the time being, but the Moscow inferno was consuming an ever-growing toll of Wehrmacht resources. Gradually, carefully, a Peace Faction began to assemble in the Italian Government.
By comparison to the rest of the world, the United States of America had no problems at all. In fact, the American economy was beginning to hum along nicely due to the enormous quantity of goods demanded by the Allied war effort.. Unemployment shrank rapidly as factories boosted their work forces to meet burgeoning demand and the Armed Services expanded their ranks. The only problem Franklin Roosevelt truly faced was the China Lobby. Roosevelt flatly did not want war with Japan while Nazi Germany existed. But the China Lobby wanted Japan out of China, and the Lobby's influence could not be denied. And so, in September 1941, the USA announced an Oil Embargo against the Japanese Empire to pressure a withdrawal from Occupied China. In October the Dutch Government in Exile joined the embargo.
In the latter third of 1941, Imperial Japan reached the end of her rope. Japan needed oil. It had no significant petroleum production capacity, and the USA would no longer supply any. There was oil in the Netherlands East Indies, but the Dutch also refused to supply Japanese needs. It was quickly decided that the only acceptable course of action was to take the NEI and use the regions vast natural resources for Japan's needs. There were two obstacles to this course of action: French Indo-China and Singapore. In order to take the NEI, Singapore had to be taken to prevent the Royal Navy from interfering.. But in order to take Singapore, French Indo-China was needed as a springboard. Problem was, the French knew this too, and had already reinforced the pre-war garrison with four infantry divisions, an armored brigade and an artillery brigade. The Armee D' La Air had increased its' strength by 200 planes. The French Navy had deployed almost a third of it's strength, including a light carrier and two battleships at Cam Ranh Bay. The French Navy's Air Arm had deployed an additional 100 land-based aircraft to the region. Two French Merchantman had been converted to escort carriers and were even now en route to the Pacific. More were under construction.
British Empire strength was also growing in the area. New divisions were being raised in Australia and New Zealand. Ostensibly, these were for service in Europe, but who could tell? With the annihilation of the Italian Navy, the RN could deploy six carriers and ten battleships against Japan if it so chose.
And then there was the American presence in the Philippines. Leaving the US bases in the Philippines unmolested, poised to sever Japan's supply lines to forces engaged with the Allies at any time the US Government chose was suicidal folly, in the minds of the Japanese. The Philippines would have to be neutralized, which meant the US Pacific fleet had to be neutralized. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto proposed a risky attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese High Command was not at all keen on this venture, but Yamamoto's prestige, and his threat to resign if his plan was not followed carried the day. The recent British strike against Taranto would be the model. The Oil embargo ended the debate. Preparations for active hostilities with the Allies and the USA began. The countdown for war in the Pacific had begun.
Sealion Fails Pt 11: The Battle of Moscow
Early in October 1941, the Wehrmacht launched its' grand thrust for Moscow. Preliminary reconnaissance had revealed the imposing fortifications that had been erected in and around the city, so instead of direct assault, encirclement and siege were the plan. The north-to-south thrust was made from Kalinin, by Panzergruppen III and IV, supported by the 9th Army. The southern pincer was spearheaded by Panzergruppen I and II, supported by the 2nd Army. According to plan the two columns would converge at Kolomna, southeast of Moscow.
The three months that followed brought carnage such as the world had never before seen, not even during the bloodiest fighting in the trenches of WWI. Masses of poorly led, poorly trained - but increasingly well-equipped - Red Army Soldiers and Militiamen were fed into the meat grinder. Stalin was soon proven correct in one part of his decision to stay: The Soviet people took his example to heart and rallied around the regime as never before. And then General Mud weighed in. By late October the German offensive was wading in the stuff, off the roads, the terrain was nigh impassable, and on the roads, vehicles were seen to sink completely out of sight. All the rivers were in flood, which made it a difficult operation to repair the bridges destroyed by the Soviets in retreat.
The Red Army's soldiers suffered from the mud as well, but they were retreating towards their logistical base, and the railroads behind their lines were mostly intact. The Wehrmacht, on the other hand, moved further from its' supply depots each day. By the end of October, the advance spearheads were down to 25% of their reserve ammunition stocks. Despite frenzied effort at the German Motor Pools, the number of functioning vehicles was plummeting as well. And the weather was growing colder. This had the advantage of firming the ground, so the advance once again picked up speed, but caused a demand for warmer clothing by the troops. The clothing was, in fact, available. However, the overstressed supply network was unable to meet the demand for food, fuel and ammo so shipping winter clothing was out of the question.
Despite all of these hardships and obstacles, on November 21 1941, advance units from Panzergruppe III made contact with Panzergruppe I 18 miles north of Kolomna. Moscow was in the Wehrmacht's grasp. The question was, could the Germans maintain their grip on the city long enough to crush it?
The answer, which quickly became apparent was: Maybe not.
The lack of Soviet activity south of the Pripyet Marshes had been a nagging source of worry for the more perceptive German commanders ever since the Moscow offensive began. What were the Reds up to? Luftwaffe recon missions soon found out. At least 30 Red Army divisions and maybe more were headed north as fast as trains could carry them. Other Luftwaffe recon flights detected a buildup northeast of Moscow. Obviously, a counter-stroke was in the offing.
The matter was brought to Hitler's attention, who was sublimely unconcerned. "No Retreat" was his order. If the Reds dared to attack, they would be smashed. After two months of constricting pressure, the troops besieging Leningrad had actually entered that city's suburbs, and the end was near. If any problems developed, the troops subduing Leningrad would come to the rescue. Hitler quite ignored the point that those troops were weary to the bone after the prolonged siege, and would be in no condition to do anything other than collapse in exhaustion. The impending fall of Leningrad had already provided a badly needed morale boost for Germany. The Luftwaffe and artillery ravaged remnants of the Soviet Navy had sortied on a death ride straight into the embrace of the Kriegsmarine. The Kriegsmarine had taken heavy losses among the few vessels that had survived Operation Sea Lion, and the Bismarck herself had taken heavy damage, but the melee had left Germany the undisputed master of the Baltic Sea.
In early December the Red Army hit back. 30 divisions attacked due west towards Moscow, while 40 divisions attacked northwest towards that city. By mid-December it was clear to everyone but Hitler that the Moscow encirclement could not be held. The Red Army divisions were rested, well equipped, blooded troops carrying out an offensive that benefited from the hitherto unheard of luxury of proper staff planning. The Germans were weary, underfed and equipped with only a fraction of the heavy weapons they had started with in May. On 1 January 1942 the encirclement was broken between Moscow and Kolomna. Ten days later Tula fell to the Red Army, which stormed onwards towards Kaluga..
Stalin's gamble on the Zhukov-Timoshenko Plan had paid off, and true disaster stared the Germans in the face. Panzergruppe II and 2nd army were in grave danger of being pocketed at Kolomna. Almost panic-stricken, OKH begged Hitler for permission to withdraw the troops. Hitler's temper-tantrum at this request was legendary. No Retreat. By the middle of January the door was shut and over 250,000 German troops were trapped.
Sealion Fails Pt 12: Pearl Harbor
Early in the morning of January 11, 1942, the Japanese Empire committed suicide. The personnel of the Japanese military didn't see it that way of course, but since Japan's war strategy boiled down to "Attack a vastly superior power and hope for a miracle", it amounted to the same thing. The French had boosted their garrison in Indo-China considerably. The Australians and New Zealanders were raising new units. The British had reinforced Singapore with two divisions and 200 planes. And in the Philippines, American airpower had swollen to 500 aircraft. The Allies and the American forces in the far east were manageable perhaps, but only if the US Pacific Fleet was prevented from intervening. And so the attack went in.
Forty-five minutes after launch, halfway to the target, the first wave encountered a PBY Catalina on patrol. The PBY was quickly shot down but not before it transmitted a partial message. When received at Pearl Harbor, this transmission caused some disquiet, but no real sense of urgency existed. Nevertheless, the wheels for an alert began to slowly, haltingly, grind into motion. When a report was received from the new RADAR installation 15 minutes later, the PBY's dying message gained new urgency. More precious time was lost while higher commanders were informed, but thirty minutes before the first bombs fell, the Alert was sounded. The Aircraft Carrier Enterprise was in port, her air group parked on land. The battleships Nevada, California and Arizona were at sea, but Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, West Virginia Maryland, Utah and Tennessee were in port.
When the Japanese began to strike, all USN warships were at General Quarters, their anti-aircraft batteries manned and firing, all compartments sealed and watertight. On land, the Army batteries were ready as well, but were hampered by the fact that each battery had only a five minute supply of ammunition immediately available. More ammo soon reached them, but their effectiveness was severely reduced in the opening minutes of the attack. The fighters on Combat Air Patrol had concentrated to meet the strike, and were reinforced by some 50 fighters scrambled into the air by frantic ground crews, although many of the reinforcing fighters had not reached combat altitude when the engagement began.
Punching through fierce resistance, the IJN pilots sank the Enterprise and all of the battleships except the Pennsylvania, which was in dry dock. But of the 214 planes of the first wave, 40 did not return. When the 160 planes of the second wave attacked, the defenders were fully aroused. 60 fell to American fire. In view of these heavy Losses, no one faulted Admiral Nagumo for canceling the third strike. In any case, no one could deny that the Japanese had won a smashing victory.
Fortunately for the USN, the surviving battleships and the carrier Lexington failed to find the IJN task force as it returned to base. This task force did, however, annihilate the Japanese force attempting to capture Wake Island.. In the Philippines, Macarthur's 500 strong airforce was caught mostly on the ground, its' numbers cut in half without an effective blow being struck in return. By the end of January, the IJA was ashore, and driving towards Manila. In French Indo-China, the French were in retreat, not routed by any means, but definitely being forced back. The French Navy rashly committed the CVL Bearn and the battleship Coubert without adequate air cover and lost them both to land-based Japanese airstrikes. Well, the French thought the air cover was adequate, but the quality of the Japanese planes, and their crews, was vastly higher than expected. These losses shocked the Allies, and they delayed committing more ships until their airpower could be built up. After all, the failure of Sealion had proved that battleships were relatively safe from air attack, as long as friendly fighters were available.
The Netherlands East Indies had not yet come under direct attack but
were obviously the ultimate target of the entire offensive. Troops and
planes began to converge on the islands from the British Dominions. The
Japanese could probably begin operations against the NEI before either
the Philippines or French Indo-China were subdued, but Singapore itself
was not yet in any danger.. Singapore had just the month before received
a new commander, Bernard Montgomery. Montgomery may not have been the fastest
horse on the track, but he understood logistics. As long as the French
held out, Singapore could be held. As January drew to a close, he dispatched
two divisions and 150 planes to Cam Ranh Bay, while loudly and publicly
demanding reinforcements. Churchill sent them, but would they arrive in
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