The War Illustrated No. 228, Vol. 9, March 15th 1946

j$W We Beat the German Bid to Block Suez A r the beginning o f May 1941 the situation in the Eastern Mediter­ranean was decidedly critical. Fight­ing hard until it reached the beachcs from which it was evacuated by the Navy, a British army o f 50,000 had been withdrawn from Greece and landed in Crete. This was not accomplished without losses. Lacking ade­quate air cover, the crowded transports and their escorts suffered severely from the attacks of the Luftwaffe, and a number of the British and Greek destroyers which had taken a prominent part in the evacuation o f troops were sunk. It was evident that an attack upon Crete would bethe next item in the enemy pro­ gramme. It was most likely to take the form o f a combined sea and airborne landing, which would be difficult to repel with the limited naval resources available, in the absence o f anything approaching a strong air defence. Reinforcements and munitions would have to travel by the long route around the Cape, up the East Coast o f Africa and through the SeaRed to Egypt. For their rapid transport to the scene o faction, free passage through the Suez' Canal was, obvi­ ous1 }',indispensable. pr‘ 'icsE facts were quite well known to the Germ ans, who were using their utmost exertions to mass troops and aircraft for the assault upon Crete. Though it was hoped to elfect a successful landing by sea, it was quite appreciated that this could not be guaranteed against naval opposition and in the event, seaborne invasion proved a cosily failure. (Sec story by Commander Anthony Kim mins in page 739, Vol. 4). Instead, the enemy had ultimately to fallback on the more expensive method of an airborne descent by specially trained troops. In these circumstanccs, anything which would interfere with the smooth transmission of men and materials through the Suez Canal would naturally be o f the greatest assistance to the Germans. It might also have the further advantage of reducing the concen­tration o f British naval force off Crete. To block the Canal would unquestionably sim­plify the problem o f conquering the island. To accomplish this purpose it was decided io make use o f afresh tvpc o f mine which B y FRANCIS E.M c RUM T R IE had recently been perfected and was being turned out in large numbers. More than two months before, reports had been received in this country o f anew design o f enemy mine of the magnetic type, which could not be swept by existing methods. As far as could be gathered from captured documents and other information reaching the Naval Intelligence Division, this mine would be dropped from aircraft without the usual parachute and would resemble a bom bin appearance. Further inquiries were prosecuted without delay, eliciting the fact that the weight of the new mine was 1,000 kilogram mes, or about a ton. Goering was so pleased with this new weapon that he had been heard to boast that it would soon finish off the Royal Navy. To the Investigation Section o f the Tor­pedoes and Mining Department at the Ad­miralty these reports conveyed a good deal. It was naturally assumed that any specimens o f the new mine that might happen to drop landon instead o fin the water would beset to explode on impact and that if any failed to do so, “booby traps "would have been provided in order to defeat attempts by our experts to render the mine harmless before dissecting it for investigation. QPECIM EN of the New Weapon Found k -'and With Great Caution Examined No specimen o f the mine had been defin­itely identified up to the end o f April 1941, when a series o f heavy a«r raids on the Clyde and Mersey districts began. Commander F. Ashe Lincoln. R.N.V (see.R. ilius. page 486), o f the Torpedoes and Mining Department, had been assigned the duty o f seeking for an intact mine, and proceeded with a group of specialist ofiiccrs to make a thorough search in both areas. On May 6 he was successful in discovering one in the hills overlooking D um barton. It was at first reported by the Army as an unexploded bomb, but closer examination pointed to its being actually one of the new mines. Another o f these missiles had exploded about a quarter of a mile away, and in the ••PAGE 7 1 O crater were found a number o f particles of explosive which had not detonated, together with some pieces o f the mechanism.' This explosive was one known as hexanite, which as a rule was never used by the Germans in bombs but only in mines this alone seemed to suggest that it must abe specimen o f the new weapon. One o f the dangerous features o f hexanite is that it is ticklish stuff to handle. Contact with the bare flesh almost invariably produces a form o f dermatitis. Unconsciously, Commander Lincoln exposed himself to this risk by picking up particles in his fingers to scrutinize them but fortunately prompt medical attention was at hand and saved him from serious consequences. 'T'og ether with one o f his assistants (now Lieutenant-Commander H.F. Wadsley, .,G.M D.S.C., R.N .V .R .,of H.M .S. Vernon), Commander Lincoln next morning proceeded to examine the unexploded mine. To begin with, a booby trap was looked for beneath the fuse, but when the latter had been ex­tracted there was nothing to be found under it. Not long previously a number of officers o f the Vernon had lost their lives through a device o f this kind behind the rear door of amine. Bearing this in mind, the investiga­tors took care that the rear door was cased open very gently until a finger could be inserted. Nothing at all suspicious being en­countered, a torch was shone into the interior, but still there appeared to be no sign of any booby trap. T UFTW AFFE Raid in Force Rendered Ineffective by Prompt Sweeping It was at this stage that the investigators were in the greatest danger. Quite unknown to anyone outside Germ any, the enemy had devised anew type o f booby trap which should have operated at this juncture. It took the form o f a photo-electric cell, so designed as to blowup the mine immediately either daylight oran artificial light was introduced into the interior. Providentially, it failed to work owing to a small length of wire, connecting the booby trap with the detonator, having been broken by the shock o f the fall. Thus the olives f two officers were saved, and the mine was by degrees rendered harmless. It w'as then dispatched by the quickest route to the Vernon torpedo school, to be dissccted by the scientists attached to the department o f the Superintendent o f Mine Design. Working all night, these experts were able to analyse the intricacies o f the mechanism and find out exactly how every­thing w’orked. After this it did not take many hours to arrange an effective method o f sweeping the new mine. As there was no means o f knowing where the mine would next be encountered, orin what numbers it might be found, this important informa­tion was at once disseminated in every area o f naval operations. T V or was it any too soon, for within twenty- A ^four hours the Luftwaffe made a raid in force on the area between Port Said and Suez, and dropped a large number o f the new mines into the Canal itself. Great destruction might well have been caused and, at the very least, traffic would have been upheld for an indefinite period but for the work that had been done by naval officers and scientists during the preceding few days. As it was, the whole o f the minefield was sw'ept up in the course o f the following day, though the Germans wr erc not to know it. Had it not been for this, it is improbable that Crete would have been able to holdout for so long as it did and British losses in its defence would doubtless have been heavier, to say nothing o f the all-precious element o f time, so vital in war. SENTINELS OF SUEZ arc the twin towers of the 1914-18 Anzac War memorial at Ismailia, Egypt, crccted to comm em orate the defencc of Suez by Empire troops in the First Great War. In the Second Great War the German plan to block the Canal by the use of mines dropped from the air is revealed in this page. Photo, Topical
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