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Eighty years ago the days of easy German victories in the western desert and the eastern front come to an end

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  t The battleship HMS Barham was torpedoed by U-331 near Alexandria. She keeled over  and her magazines exploded; more than two-thirds of her complement were lost. The images were captured in hideous clarity by a British Pathe film crew aboard her sister HMS Valiant . The loss severely depleted the Royal Navy in the Eastern Mediterranean and it was concealed from the public in the hope that that the Axis might not fully realise this. Next-of-kin were only notified some weeks afterwards and were instructed not to mention the loss outside the family. The spiritualist medium, Helen Duncan, later claimed to be in touch with dead sailors from Barham in a seance which led to her being the last person convicted (and imprisoned) under the Witchcraft Act of 1735. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem had found his way to Germany via Italy after fleeing successively Palestine, Iraq and Iran. He was received by Hitler and their conversation touched on the establishment of a homeland for Jews in Palesti

Eighty years ago Churchill is given cause to regret having given a job to an unsuitable hero and the musical chairs of command in the western desert enters another round

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  Operation Crusader, the British attack in the western desert  was unsettled by a deep thrust into the British rear by Rommel. The Eighth Army commander Alan Cunningham over-estimated the threat and sought to call off his offensive. General Auchinleck, in command of the theatre, disagreed and sacked Cunningham, replacing him with his own chief of staff, Neil Ritchie, who had longer experience of the fluid conditions of desert warfare although relatively junior.  The Germans made one of their rare direct interventions in the personnel of the Vichy regime when it lobbied for the dismissal of General Maxime Weygand, who was in charge  of the colonies in North Africa. He had collaborated with the Germans but had opposed the "Paris Protocols" under which they were to be given bases in the French colonies. He and Vichy's prime minister Admiral Darlan detested each other. Weygand was duly sacked. Admiral-of-the-Fleet Sir Roger Keyes, who had been sacked as chief of combined ope

Eighty years ago Britain struggles to keep an even keel whilst strategic over-reach begins to bite for the Germans

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  U-81 torpedoed the HMS Ark Royal and sent her to the bottom almost within sight of Gibraltar. She had had a short but distinguished career, covering the Malta convoys and, most famously, launching the Swordfish aircraft which crippled the Bismarck . Only one of her crew was lost but the Royal Navy could ill-afford to lose another aircrfat carrier. Her loss left only four large fleet carriers in service including Illustrious , only just repaired after pounding at Malta, which was little enough for Britain's needs in the West, but a catastrophe with war looming in the East. The recently created British Eighth Army under Alan Cunningham launched Operation Crusader designed to lift the siege of Tobruk which had been surrounded by Axis forces since the summer. The British had a small advantage in numbers but their training and tactics were behind those of the Germans and good Italian formations like the Ariete Division. Cunningham had only recently arrived in the theatre and was unde

Eighty years ago Malta proves its worth as an offensive base and the British pay Rommel the compliment of a commando raid intended to eliminate him

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    President Roosevelt won Congress approval for two major changes to the Neutrality Act; one largely symbolic; the other of practical importance. US merchant ships would now be able to carry defensive armament and to enter recognised combat zones. The majorities in favour were, though, slim. The 50 to 37 vote in the Senate was the narrowest on any foreign policy issue and the 212 to 194 margin in the House was uncomfortably small. More Democrats opposed the measure in the House than had over Lease-Lend. By some reckoning the combination of the President's rhetoric depicting the US as under threat and the attacks on US Navy vessels in the Atlantic - in practice the result of Roosevelt's forward policy - served to harden isolationist opposition. The administration did not rush to implement a new policy. The Soviet liner Armenia was sunk by German bombers as she attempted to evacuate civilians and wounded soldiers from the now-besieged Sevastopol, the last stronghold in the Cri

Eighty years ago Lindbergh's call for the US to stay out of Europe's war is undercut by the German navy and Detroit isolationists

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    Colonel Lindbergh spoke at a huge America First rally in Madison Square Gardens to call for the US to abstain from involvement in the European war. His speech was practically a direct attack on the President. He called for "integrity" in national leadership and claimed that the US was being taken towards war by "dictatorship and subterfuge." Without specifically blaming Jews, his comment "there is no danger to this nation from without...our only danger lies from within" left little doubt that his views were unchanged from his infamous speech at Des Moines two months before. Lindbergh gave a further clue to his sympathies with a Nazi salute that belied his claim not to support the Hitler regime. It was also noticeable that the audience included many overt Nazi supporters. The day afterwards the German navy did its bit to undermine Lindbergh's call. A U boat sank the USN destroyer Reuben James in the Atlantic as it was dropping depth charges in dfenc