World War II Day by Day: February 1941

The Allies continued fighting in North Africa, where they now faced General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps, and the war in the Balkans intensified with Germany conquering Yugoslavia and Greece. In the Mediterranean and Atlantic, the Allies fought a bitter campaign to defend their vital sea-lanes. The Axis powers’ declarations of war on the Soviet Union and the United States proved a critical turning point. Germany undertook a bitter campaign on the Eastern Front, while Japan had to safeguard its conquests in the Pacific. The Axis powers had to face the might of the Soviet Union and the United States.

1 February

Politics, United States

Major organizational changes to the US Navy lead to it being divided into three fleets: Atlantic, Asiatic, and Pacific. Admiral Ernest King is to lead the new Atlantic Fleet, and US naval forces will be strengthened in this vital war theater.

Sea War, Atlantic

The German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, operating from Brest in France, embarks on a series of highly-destructive raids on Atlantic convoys that last until April.

3 February–22 March

Sea War, Atlantic

The German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau embark on commerce-destroying raids in the Atlantic. They succeed in dispersing numerous convoys and sink 22 ships before returning to the safety of French waters on March 22.

5-7 February

Africa, Libya

Italian troops in action near Benghazi during the major British ofensive into Cyrenaica, Libya
Italian troops in action near Benghazi during the major British ofensive into Cyrenaica, Libya

The Italians fail in their final attempt to escape encirclement at Beda Fomm, south of Benghazi, and surrender to the British 7th Armored Division. Meanwhile, the Australian 6th Division, advancing along the coastal roads, forces troops in Benghazi to surrender on the 7th. This ends a two-month campaign in which the British have inflicted a complete defeat on a stronger enemy by executing a carefully-planned offensive using highly-trained troops backed by air and naval support.

14 February

Politics, Bulgaria

Bulgaria grants Germany access to its border with Greece. This move enables Germany to increase its power in the Balkans and provides a route for forces earmarked to invade Greece.

Politics, Soviet Union

General Georgi Zhukov is appointed chief of the General Staff and deputy commissar for defense. He has previously commanded the Red Army forces fighting against the Japanese in Mongolia in the summer of 1939.

Africa, Libya

In response to Adolf Hitler’s offer to send an armored division to ensure that the Italians will not withdraw in Libya, the first detachments of General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps disembark at Tripoli.

19-23 February

Politics, Allies

A meeting of political and military leaders in Cairo, Egypt, decides to deploy forces to Greece. The Greek and British authorities subsequently agree to send 100,000 British troops to bolster the country’s defenses.

25 February

Africa, Italian Somaliland

British-led East and West African troops advance into Mogadishu, the capital. The defeated Italians begin evacuating the colony.