Warsaw still stands against the Germans, but barely. Their 140,000 defenders are running short of everything from bullets to bread. Wild rumors spread around the city, some that the Soviets have intervened, on the Polish side. Some people claim a great Soviet army, headed by a Polish general, is headed for Warsaw’s rescue. Others claim to have seen Russian planes, painted with the hammer-and-sickle, fighting German aircraft over Warsaw. The sad truth is that Soviet aircraft then as later bear Red stars, not hammer-and-sickles on their wings, and the Soviet intervention is against Poland, not for it.
But the Germans have had quite enough of Warsaw’s defiance, and that morning, the German 8th Army hits the capital in a massive attack, storming the defenses with the usual determination and force.
That evening, Polish General Julius Rommel, defending Warsaw for the second time in his military career (he held it against the Russians in 1920), faces the grim arithmetic and grimmer horror of the situation and asks for a truce. The Germans refuse. They will only accept complete surrender. The battle rages on.
German scientists meet in Berlin in a secret session to discuss how to harness energy from nuclear fission. A “uranium burner” will have to be made, using considerable amounts of “heavy water,” which will have to be distilled at great expense. Excited at the prospect of a weapon of decisive power, the German War Office agrees to sponsor the necessary and complex experiments, with whatever funding is needed.
Hitler has yet another chat with that indefatigable Swede, Birger Dahlerus, saying that the British have always interpreted his restraint and patience with weakness, but that they should not let themselves be deceived. He will wage war in the West in a way to stun the British. He demands a “free hand in regard to Poland,” but will guarantee the “status quo in the rest of Europe.” Dahlerus sets off for England once more.
German reconnaissance planes are hard at work in the North Sea, when they spot four battleships, a carrier, and the usual covey of escorts. The No. 1 Squadron of KG 26, the “Lion Geschwader,” sends in nine He 111s, followed by four Ju 88s of the “Eagle” Geschwader, to attack the British – 13 bombers against the Home Fleet.
The British are at sea with most of what they’ve got to rescue the submarine Spearfish, damaged in the Skagerrak and unable to dive. The British are also hoping they can lure the German Navy out for a rematch of Jutland, with better results. The battleships Nelson, Rodney, Hood, and Renown, surround the Ark Royal, which is also covered by her Skua fighters.
In mid-morning, the British fighters spot a Dornier 18 flying boat, and Lt. McEwan of Squadron 803 swoops after it in Skua L2873. His gunner, Petty Officer Brian Seymour, fills the Dornier full of lead and the Do 18 flops into the water. There the German crew cut their engines and climb into their rubber dinghy, to be picked up by an escorting destroyer.
It is the first enemy aircraft of the war to be shot down by British forces.
But the fact that a Dornier recce bird has turned up means the Luftwaffe will be back in force. Soon enough, Able-Seaman Nippy Parham, a steamroller driver in civilian life, points out to a range officer on Ark Royal, “Look, sir, a Jerry.”
“That’s a Hudson,” says the officer.
“What with bloody great kisses on!”
Someone yells, “It’s a Heinkel,” and the whole force opens up with AA guns. The Luftwaffe bombers roar in with Teutonic determination, and a Ju 88, flown by Lance Corporal Carl “Beaver” Francke, one drops a 500-kg bomb in the general direction of Ark Royal. Francke owes his nickname to his well-kept beard.
A British officer on the carrier says, “Looks like my Austin Seven.” As the bomb comes closer, he says, “More like a London bus.” Ark Royal turns sharply to starboard and the bomb hits the water, sending a cascade of spray over the forward end of the carrier’s flight deck, also sending a plate of baked beans leaping from the wardroom table and into Lt. McEwan’s lap. Sailors are bounced around the carrier, the ship rolling and shuddering from the force of the bomb’s concussion.
Up above, Francke and his bomber crew try to figure out if their bombs have struck home. It’s difficult to tell. But Sgt. Bewermeyer yells, “Water fountain hard beside the ship!” Francke glances downward and sees the waterspout, and a flash. Is it a hit or a heavy flak gun? He can’t tell. He guns the engines to get away from the British.
Everywhere in the task force, guns go off in all directions. Admiral Sir James Tovey, commanding the force, signals, “For goodness sake, pull yourselves together!”
Bombs rain down on the British, and one narrowly misses Hood. The shock of the bomb peels paint off the battle-cruiser’s side and reveals the red lead underneath.
Meanwhile, Francke radios his news to Germany, saying, “Dive-attack with two SC 500 bombs on aircraft carrier; first a near miss by ship’s side, second a possible hit on bows. Effect not observed.” When Francke lands at his base in Westerland, everyone thinks he’s hit and sunk Ark Royal. Everyone, that is, except the boss, Col. Siburg. He asks Francke, point-blank, “Did you actually see her sink?”
“No, colonel,” Francke says.
“In that case, my dear fellow, you didn’t hit her either,” Siburg says, grinning. A former naval officer, Siburg knows that a flash or smoke from a surface target is no proof of a hit by one’s own guns. But Berlin wants a report on the sinking of Ark Royal. Why hasn’t the report been sent?
Because nothing about such a sinking is known here, is the answer. Berlin is unhappy. More reconnaissance planes are sortied to find the Ark Royal. They find the British task force – but no aircraft carrier. The reconnaissance planes are told to look for oil patches. That the German find.
The thin evidence is enough for Goering, Milch, Udet, and their flunkies. German radio propaganda claims to have sunk the Ark Royal with a single bomb, and damaged a battleship for good measure. The British do not deny the claim, but Winston Churchill says the British are winning the U-Boat war.
Back at Westerland, Lance-Corporal Francke, a peacetime certified engineer, is an unhappy and unlikely war hero. Goering promotes Francke all the way to lieutenant, and decorates him with the Iron Cross, First and Second Class. Francke babbles to his CO, “There’s not a word of truth in it. For God’s sake help get me out of this mess.” It’s too late. Goebbels’ propaganda machine works into overdrive, and Francke is the hero of the hour.
The Volkischer Beobachter, Goering’s newspaper, runs a headline, “Heart of Our Attack – The Aircraft Carrier,” with an artist’s impression of Ark Royal shattered and writing amid mountains of flame. In the bottom right-hand corner a battleship is shown enduring the same fate. Lurid pictures of “the end of the Ark Royal” are carried in the Reich’s magazines, and the wretched Francke is forced to sign his name to a thousand fictitious accounts of that afternoon in the North Sea. The Germans even put out a children’s book: “How I Sank the Ark Royal,” with pictures.
Francke endures a tough war as a result of his “heroics.” The officers’ mess receives him with derision and makes his life a misery. He tells an American journalist that he is thinking of committing suicide. The American suggests that a quick way of doing this would be to make the truth available to the world’s free press. But Francke instead lives with his secret and attack of conscience, only to be killed later on the Eastern Front.
The French dissolve their Communist Party and intern its leaders. Those not interned re-name the Communist Party and go on opposing the war.
General Von Fritsch is buried amid rain and cold in Berlin. Hitler doesn’t show up for the funeral.
American reporter Bill Shirer notes that the German newspapers are starting to list death notices for soldiers killed in Poland. Half of them omit the “Died for the Fuehrer” expression, retaining only the “Died for the Fatherland.” Shirer notes, “It is one of the few ways of showing your feelings about Hitler.”
The German press begins a new line, that with Poland defeated, why do Britain and France want to fight now? There is nothing to fight about. Germany wants nothing in the West.
Late in the day, Americans from the Warsaw embassy staff arrive in Berlin and treat the American press corps to accounts of their survival in the bomb-blasted Polish capital. “They told a terrible tale of the bombardment of the city and the slaughter of the civilian population,” Shirer writes. “Some of them seemed still shell-shocked.”
The Germans also impose new restrictions on clothing. Anew suit must be made of a piece of cloth exactly 3.1 meters by 144 centimeters (3.3 by 1.5 yards). Shoes can no longer get half-soled. No more leather. Shirer writes, “A decree says you can have only one piece of shaving soap or one tube of shaving cream during the next four months. I shall start a beard.”
Back in Poland, where fighting is winding down, German military commanders near the German-Soviet demarcation line order Jews to leave their villages ad cross over to the other side of the San River. Thousands of Jews are uprooted, robbed, and locked out of their apartments, while hundreds are killed in the process.
In Italy, Ciano notes that Ribbentrop is en route to Moscow to sign an alliance between the Nazis and the Communists. “As usual we are told nothing,” Ciano writes. “The alliance between Moscow and Berlin is a monstrous union against the letter and spirit of our pact. It is anti-Rome as well as anti-Catholic. It is a return to barbarism, which it is our historic function to resist with every weapon and by every means. But will it be possible for us to do so? Or has not the outcome already been tragically decided?”
Maj. Gen. Bernard Montgomery addresses all brigade and battalion commanders of his 3rd Infantry Division, laying down his views on offensive and defensive policies, and mobile warfare. The division has used 100,000 rounds of rifle ammunition to ensure that every reservist in the division has had an opportunity to fire his weapon. Now he wants to be sure every man has thrown at least three grenades before the division goes to France.