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david leigh-smith
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On This Day...February 16th

February 16, 2019 · in Photo Collections · · 13 · 2.6K

B-17E ‘BOOMERANG ‘ from 92nd Bomb Group at Bovingdon, England. The Boomerang was shot down by Luftwaffe fighters after a raid bombing U-Boat pens in St-Nazaire harbour in France. 16th February, 1943. Her 11-man crew’s fates are detailed below.

The ‘Altmark Incident’.

The ‘Altmark Incident’ was a naval event of World War II between British destroyers and the German tanker Altmark, which happened on 16–17th February 1940. In neutral Norwegian waters, the Altmark held 300 allied prisoners whose ships were sunk by the battleship Graf Spee in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. Local Norwegian torpedo boat picketed the fjord in defence of the country’s (at the time) neutrality, causing something of a stand off.

Following orders (see below) the British Navy cornered the tanker and destroyer HMS Cossack attacked the German ship and in the last Royal Navy instance of ship to ship boarding in WW2, freed all prisoners in true pirate style. The leader of the boarding party, Lieutenant Bradwell Turner, in anticipation of Cossack going alongside Altmark, leapt across the gap between the two ships, a feat which after the event became quite famous. Petty Officer Atkins in following his leader was not so adept with his leap, finishing up falling short, and hanging by his arms until Turner hoisted him on board.

A hawser was secured between the two ships, and the rest of the boarding party stormed on board the German ship, killing eight German seamen with firearms and wounding ten others, five of them seriously. One British and. one Norwegian sailor were seriously wounded in the action. Germany claimed that the attack was “a grave violation of international law and of Norwegian neutrality”.

The direct order from Admiralty was worded thus...

“Unless Norwegian torpedo-boat undertakes to convoy Altmark to Bergen with a joint Anglo-Norwegian guard on board, and a joint escort, you should board Altmark, liberate the prisoners, and take possession of the ship pending further instructions. If Norwegian torpedo-boat interferes, you should warn her to stand off. If she fires upon you, you should not reply unless attack is serious, in which case you should defend yourself, using no more force than is necessary, and ceasing fire when she desists. Suggest to Norwegian destroyer that honour is served by submitting to superior force."

I love that last sentence. Talk about ‘gunboat diplomacy’...

(HMS Cossack returns from Norway to Leith, Scotland)

US Navy fighter pilots aboard carrier Enterprise during the raid on Truk Atoll in the Caroline Islands, 16 Feb 1944

The Japanese Imperial Empire as it stood at its peak on February 16th, 1942.

(please see Tom Cleaver’s note in comments, below)

Imperial Japanese Navy subchaser CH-39 being bombed by a B-25 'Mitchell' (500th Bombardment Squadron, 345th Bombardment Group), at New Hannover Island, Papua New Guinea, February 16th, 1944. The bomb that sank the vessel is clearly seen mid-air.

‘Model 123’ prototype aircraft in flight, February 16th, 1932; this design eventually produced the Martin B-10 bombers.

USS Lexington (CV-2) off Lahaina, Maui, 16 Feb 1932. The two Lexington-class ships were originally designed as battle cruisers, but in 1922 they were reclassified as aircraft carriers after the recent aircraft innovations. As an example of how porwrful her powerplant was, in the winter of 1929-1930, a power shortage materialized in Tacoma, Washington. Lexington was called in to provide electric power to the city for THIRTY days.

USS Hoe (SS-258) underway off the east coast of the United States, 16th February, 1943

A group of Beaufighter Mk X aircraft of No. 404 Squadron RCAF in flight near Dallachy (see previous OTD, 9th Feb) in Scotland, 16th February, 1945

Great shot of OS2U ‘Kingfisher’ aircraft being recovered by battleship USS Texas, off Iwo Jima, on 16th February 1945.

Reader reactions:
8  Awesome

13 responses

  1. David,

    Seems you like to raise the bar and you have out done yourself with some interesting photos and history lessons. The "Altmark Incident" with photo's and the B-25 dropping a bomb on a Japanese sub chaser CH-39 are out standing. I consider myself a student of life and when everyday your learning something new it adds to the quality of life and better understanding of it.

  2. Thanks for those kind words, Stephen, they are deeply appreciated. I completely agree with the learning observation, too. Hope you are having a relaxing weekend.

  3. Great photos, David. I hadn't heard of the Altmark Incident. Ya learn something new every day!

  4. Look forward to these everyday. Thanks again David

  5. I agree with these guys David. I'm always learning something new here. The Altmark Incident and the beach massacre were new to me. Thanks again for taking the time to remind and educate us. Greatly appreciated.

  6. "after some hand-to-hand fighting with bayonets – overwhelmed the ship's crew and went down to the hold.[6]:227–239 One of the released prisoners stated that the first they knew of the operation was when they heard the shout "any Englishmen here?" from the boarding party. When the prisoners shouted back "yes! We are all British!", the response was "well, the navy's here!" which brought cheers."

    I had to follow up on the "Altmark Incident" but, reading this makes a person proud that some people have a moral compass...given the current times. How we can learn from history and common sense...

  7. Having just completed "I Will Run Wild," a history of the first six months of the Pacific War, the high point of the Japanese Empire was NOT on February 16, 1942. On that date, the Japanese had yet to conquer the Netherlands East Indies (March 5), or to land on New Guinea (March 6), or to conquer the Philippines (April 18), or to move into the Solomons (May 5). If you want a "high tide" date of the Japanese Empire, it would more appropriately be August 7, 1942, the day the Marines landed on Guadalcanal and began the rollback.

  8. This is another excellent posting David. Thanks for taking the time to share these stories with us. It seems that on each one of your postings, I learn at least one thing or two new... and it's greatly appreciated.

    I realize that you could be spending time doing something else other than writing something that is providing entertainment for us.

    Thank you !

    • Hi Louis. As I’ve said, mostly this series is written in potentially ‘dead space’ - commuting, and the like. It keeps me out of trouble and exercises the great matter.

      I sincerely appreciate your words, means a lot to me.

  9. Beaufighters and Kingfishers to close it out...yow...

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