What was happening overseas in May 1941?

MAY 1941 - Goolwa goes to war again 1939-1945

This month the war in Europe and the Middle East is seeing a rising and falling tides of fortune for combatants on both sides as the war rages on. In the air over Britain the Luftwaffe carries out heavy bombing of London where the Houses of Parliament received some damage, and to Liverpool and Belfast in Northern Ireland. British aircraft are ranging over Europe, bombing several German cities of Berlin, Hamburg and Emden.

      In a surprising turn of events, a member of the top Nazi echelon of Hitler’s cohorts, Deputy Fuhrer Rudolph Hess, has been captured in Scotland after flying himself from Germany and bailing out at the end of his flight.  At this stage he claims that it was his own personal wish to take on this mission to seek a way to find peace between Germany and Britain. It is believed that he left Germany without notice of his fellow Nazis. Hess was a competent pilot who commandeered a German aircraft and somehow was able to evade challenge in his night flight over the length of Britain.

     The heavy German bombing continues over several cities in the United Kingdom during the month, losing many aircraft and crews to anti-aircraft fire from the ground while the superbly organised, though weary RAF, began to ram home to Hitler that Britain was too hard a nut to crack.   

     On the high seas, the Royal Navy has its massive fleet on station around the globe.  In the Mediterranean and the north Atlantic its main operations are operating under total war conditions. Critical moves during this month occurred in the North Sea when the German cruiser Bismarck made a break for the open ocean.  In a confrontation with the British battleship HMS Hood and after a sharp exchange of fire, shells of the Bismarck found their mark in the opposing ship’s magazines causing the Hood to blow up and sink.

     The victory of the pride of the German Kriegsmarine was short-lived however as a result of torpedo carrying aircraft from the carrier HMS Ark Royal locating the enemy ship and inflicting such damage that left the Bismarck with no rudder control. Quickly, elements of the British fleet on station were sent to the scene to engage the fatally damaged ship, resulting in the sinking of the pride of the German navy.  With the surface fleet of the Kriegsmarine being no longer a threat, and with Germany’s only other capital ship Tirpitz mothballed; Admiral Doenitz is to continue the war at sea with an expanding underwater fleet of U-boats.

     On land at Tobruk, Libya, the conflict has become a stand-off between the German and Italian attacking forces commanded by General Rommel, and defenders made up of Australian, British and Indian units commanded by Lieutenant-General Morshead in defence. The stand-off has caused the German forces advance to grind to a halt.  Despite flies, sandstorms and dive bombing making it difficult to live and fight in the trenches and fox holes around the Tobruk perimeter, Rommel’s attempts to take the port have been turned back. At this point Rommel places Tobruk under a state of siege to be maintained by five divisions of Italian troops. Although under siege it could not be completely closed, as the port of Tobruk remains inside the perimeter and the sea, allowing warships to bring in supplies and to evacuate the wounded despite being constant air attack.

     In the last days of April many of the defence outposts on the western flank of the city fell to enemy forces and they began an advance toward the city until they were halted by the minefields and lost their momentum.  In this battle, the Australian 2nd Battalion of the 24th Brigade had half its strength lost during the conflict through casualties and being taken prisoner. The 18thBrigade may be sent to Crete to prevent German invasion of the Island at the fall of Greece.

     However, on May 3, the Australian 18th Brigade which had been held in reserve and containing the 2/10th Battalion in which the Goolwa men are serving, launched a counterattack against the Italian and German units but to no real advantage and suffering heavy casualties. Next day, May 4th, after days of throwing successive waves of Italian and German troops against the Australian defences, Rommel changed strategy by calling off the offensive due to lack of progress.

     The five divisions of experienced Italian troops that have been placed in siege positions facing Australian defences continue to carry out probing attacks on the 2/10th AIF lines.  Pte Dave Evans has become one of the Goolwa diggers to be wounded in one of these actions. As the battles has raged constantly throughout May it has become the time of the heaviest fighting, and during this month the locals were in the thickest of these battles. When the 18th Brigade in conjunction with the 26th Brigade led a counterattack to close off a breach in the line, Pte Sid Amey (shown above) was to receive the most serious wounds.

     During one of the heavy artillery barrages targeted at their advance, an incoming round exploded near their position, wounding several of the defenders and resulting in Sid becoming one of the major casualties. His left leg was blown off below the knee and the right leg was badly fractured. One of the other South Australians seeing that Sid was in danger of bleeding to death, took a risky 200- yard dash to find a motor utility to get him to an aid post. He returned with the vehicle and loading Sid and another wounded digger, made a perilous dash through the continuing barrage of shells, to get the men to a medical aid post. Despite initial fears that the surgeons held initially for Sid’s badly fractured right leg needing to be amputated, they were able to save the limb and prepare him for evacuation.

     During this month in Goolwa two more local men joined the armed services.  Stan (S.V.) Bertram, who had come from Broken Hill to work in the district has enlisted in the AIF through the local recruiting office on May 5th.  Doug (D.M.) Armfield hung up his boat building tools on the 15th, to also join the AIF.