May 1940

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The following events occurred in May 1940:

May 1, 1940 (Wednesday)[edit]

May 2, 1940 (Thursday)[edit]

May 3, 1940 (Friday)[edit]

  • The Allied evacuation at Namsos was completed, but German aircraft located part of the evacuation fleet and sank the destroyers Afridi and Bison.[2]
  • Norwegian troops south of Trondheim surrendered to the Germans.[2]
  • German commerce raiders had their first success of the war when the auxiliary cruiser Atlantis sank the British freighter Scientist.[5]
  • Born: Conny Plank, record producer and musician, in Hütschenhausen, Germany (d. 1987)

May 4, 1940 (Saturday)[edit]

May 5, 1940 (Sunday)[edit]

May 6, 1940 (Monday)[edit]

May 7, 1940 (Tuesday)[edit]

  • Norway Debate: The British House of Commons began a contentious debate on the conduct of the war. Sir Roger Keyes dramatically appeared dressed in full military uniform with six rows of medals and described in detail the government's mishandling of the Norwegian campaign. Leo Amery stood and uttered the famous words, "Somehow or other we must get into the Government men who can match our enemies in fighting spirit, in daring, in resolution and in thirst for victory." After quoting Oliver Cromwell, he continued: "I will quote certain other words. I do it with great reluctance, because I am speaking of those who are old friends and associates of mine, but they are words which, I think, are applicable to the present situation. This is what Cromwell said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation: 'You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!'"[9][10]
  • Almost 5,000 Polish mountain troops arrived at Harstad.[5]
  • Semyon Timoshenko replaced Kliment Voroshilov as the Soviet Union's Minister of Defence.
  • Born: Angela Carter, novelist and journalist, in Eastbourne, England (d. 1992); Jim Connors, disc jockey, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island (d. 1987)
  • Died: George Lansbury, 81, British politician and social reformer

May 8, 1940 (Wednesday)[edit]

May 9, 1940 (Thursday)[edit]

May 10, 1940 (Friday)[edit]

May 11, 1940 (Saturday)[edit]

May 12, 1940 (Sunday)[edit]

May 13, 1940 (Monday)[edit]

May 14, 1940 (Tuesday)[edit]

May 15, 1940 (Wednesday)[edit]

May 16, 1940 (Thursday)[edit]

  • Following the Battle of Sedan, the XIX Panzer Corps of Heinz Guderian headed west instead of driving south or southwest as the French had expected. The Battle of France entered a new phase, the dash to the English Channel.[25] Guderian's forces reached Marle and Dercy, an advance of 40 miles in a single day.[26]
  • The German 6th Army broke through the Belgian K-W Line.[1]
  • President Roosevelt sent a message back to Churchill explaining that a loan of destroyers would require an act of Congress, but generally agreeing on the other matters.[24]
  • Roosevelt made a speech before Congress requesting an immediate appropriation of $896 million for national defense. "Surely, the developments of the past few weeks have made it clear to all of our citizens that the possibility of attack on vital American zones ought to make it essential that we have the physical, the ready ability to meet those attacks and to prevent them from reaching their objectives," the president explained.[27]

May 17, 1940 (Friday)[edit]

May 18, 1940 (Saturday)[edit]

May 19, 1940 (Sunday)[edit]

  • Maxime Weygand replaced Maurice Gamelin as Allied commander-in-chief.[7]
  • British Expeditionary Force Commander General Lord Gort ordered a withdrawal toward port cities including Dunkirk.[1]
  • Winston Churchill made his first broadcast to the British people as Prime Minister. Churchill acknowledged that the Germans were making swift progress and that it would be "foolish ... to disguise the gravity of the hour," but said that only a "very small part" of the French Army had yet been heavily engaged. Churchill explained that he had formed an "Administration of men and women of every Party and of almost every point of view. We have differed and quarreled in the past; but now one bond unites us all - to wage war until victory is won, and never to surrender ourselves to servitude and shame, whatever the cost and the agony may be." The speech was titled Be ye men of valour, after a quotation from 1 Maccabees in the Apocrypha.[35]
  • Charles Lindbergh made another nationwide radio address in favor of American isolationism. "We need not fear a foreign invasion unless American peoples bring it on through their own quarreling and meddling with affairs abroad," Lindbergh said. "If we desire peace, we need only stop asking for war. No one wishes to attack us, and no one is in a position to do so."[36][37]
  • Died: Diego Mazquiarán, 45, Spanish matador

May 20, 1940 (Monday)[edit]

May 21, 1940 (Tuesday)[edit]

  • The Battle of Arras was fought when Allied forces commanded by Major-General Harold Franklyn mounted a counterattack in northeast France. The Allies made initial gains but then withdrew to avoid being encircled.
  • Reynaud appeared before his parliament and blamed the military "disaster" on "incredible faults" in the French high command that he said would "be punished." Reynaud dramatically proclaimed, "France cannot die! If a miracle is needed to save France, I believe in miracles because I believe in France!"[38]
  • Born: Tony Sheridan, rock singer-songwriter and guitarist, in Norwich, Norfolk, England (d. 2013)

May 22, 1940 (Wednesday)[edit]

May 23, 1940 (Thursday)[edit]

May 24, 1940 (Friday)[edit]

May 25, 1940 (Saturday)[edit]

May 26, 1940 (Sunday)[edit]

  • The Battle of Dunkirk began.
  • Sir John Dill replaced Edmund Ironside as Chief of the General Staff.[45]
  • The British cruiser Curlew was sunk in Ofotfjord by a German air attack.
  • Benito Mussolini met with Army Chief of Staff Pietro Badoglio and Air Marshal Italo Balbo in Rome. Mussolini told them that Italy would have to enter the war soon if it wanted a place at the peace conference table when the spoils were divided up. Badoglio tactfully tried to explain that Italy was still unprepared for war, pointing out that there were not even enough shirts for all the soldiers. Mussolini snapped back, "History cannot be reckoned by the number of shirts." He set June 5 as the date for the Italian invasion of France.[23]
  • U.S. President Roosevelt gave a fireside chat titled "On National Defense". The president reviewed the grave international situation and then recited many facts and figures to show that America was much better prepared for war than it was at the time he took office in 1933, while assuring the American people that "There is nothing in our present emergency to justify a retreat from any of our social objectives."[46]
  • Died: Richard Porritt, 29, first British Member of Parliament to be killed in World War II (killed in action in Seclin); Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, 33, son of Wilhelm, German Crown Prince (died in a field hospital from wounds sustained in action in France)

May 27, 1940 (Monday)[edit]

  • The Dunkirk evacuation codenamed Operation Dynamo began. The first 7,669 British troops were evacuated.[1]
  • The Allies took Narvik.[47]
  • 14th Company of the SS Division Totenkopf carried out the Le Paradis massacre, leading captured British soldiers of the Royal Norfolk Regiment to a wall and machine-gunning them. 97 were killed but 2 survived and would give eyewitness testimony after the war that would lead to Hauptsturmführer Fritz Knoechlein being convicted and executed as a war criminal.
  • Former U.S. President Herbert Hoover made a radio speech titled "We Have No Good Reason to be Discouraged or Fearful," arguing in favor of a strong national defense program. "It can be argued that warmakers from overseas have no reason or intention to attack the Western Hemisphere," Hoover said. "Reasons can be advanced that this war cannot reach American shores. Whatever the outcome in Europe may be, or whatever the intentions of European warmakers may be, that is not the problem I wish to discuss. What America must have is such defenses that no European nation will even think about crossing this three thousand miles of ocean at all. We must make sure that no such dangerous thoughts will be generated in their minds. We want a sign of 'Keep Off the Grass' with a fierce dog plainly in sight."[48]
  • The U.S. Supreme Court decided United States v. American Trucking Associations.
  • Born: Zack Norman, actor, comedian, writer, producer and film financier, in Boston, Massachusetts

May 28, 1940 (Tuesday)[edit]

May 29, 1940 (Wednesday)[edit]

May 30, 1940 (Thursday)[edit]

  • In the wake of the previous day's losses, the British Admiralty ordered all modern destroyers to depart Dunkirk and leave 18 older destroyers to continue the evacuation. A total of 53,823 were evacuated on this day.[1]
  • The French destroyer Bourrasque was damaged by a mine off Nieuwpoort, Belgium and finished off by German artillery fire.
  • German submarines U-100 and U-123 were commissioned.
  • Died: Ronald Cartland, 33, second British Member of Parliament killed in World War II (killed during retreat to Dunkirk)

May 31, 1940 (Friday)[edit]

  • Poor weather over Dunkirk allowed the British to conduct the day's evacuations with reduced fear of German air attacks. This day was the high point of the evacuation, with a total of 68,014 rescued.[1]
  • French destroyer Siroco was sunk in the North Sea by German S-boats and aircraft.
  • The German submarine U-13 was depth charged and sunk in the North Sea.
  • The Anglo-French Supreme War Council had another meeting in Paris. Reynaud argued with Churchill over the disparity in numbers between the British and French troops being evacuated at Dunkirk.[50]
  • The Siege of Lille ended.
  • President Roosevelt sent a written message to Congress asking for an additional $1.3 billion to accelerate military production and training. He also requested that Congress pass a law before it adjourned granting the president authority to "call into active service such portion of the National Guard as may deemed necessary to maintain our position of neutrality and to safeguard the national defense, this to include authority to call into active service the necessary Reserve personnel."[14][51]
  • Died: Arnold Wilson, 55, third British MP killed in World War II (plane crash near Dunkirk)


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