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21 May 1941
  • At a meeting of the Central Committee War Section in Moscow, Russia, the intelligence reports, provided by Communist sympathisers in Germany, that an attack on the Soviet Union was imminent was greeted with much apprehension. Stalin however still refused to accept the intelligence, believing that the reports must be either deliberate provocation of misinformation by the British to get the Soviet Union involved in the war. When General Proskurov, the head of Soviet Intelligence, argued personally with Stalin, he was duly arrested and shot. ww2dbase [Operation Barbarossa | AC]
  • In the early hours of the day, 3 British cruisers and 4 destroyers intercepted and sank 11 small Axis vessels, killing 297 Germans. In the morning, 650 men of the German 5. Gebirsgäger Division landed on Crete, Greece in time to support the paratroopers already in position against a British counter attack at Maleme airfield. Many of the transport aircraft that delivered the troops would be damaged or destroyed on the airfield before they could take off. New Zealand General Freyberg held back his reserves despite German presence at Maleme, believing that the main German invasion was still to come at the beaches. At the nearby island of Milos, 19 fishing boats and 2 small passenger ships disembarked 2,331 German infantry. Out at sea, German aircraft damaged HMS Dido, HMS Orion, and HMS Ajax while Italian bombers sank HMS Juno (128 killed, 97 survived). ww2dbase [Balkans Campaign | TH]
  • The Women's Land Army in the United Kingdom was declared to have over 11,000 members. ww2dbase [TH]
  • A Vichy French military court sentenced 56 enlisted soldiers who sided with de Gaulle to death or hard labor, in absentia. ww2dbase [TH]
  • Vichy France government confiscated all property owned by Free French troops. ww2dbase [TH]
  • German submarine U-69 sank unarmed American freighter Robin Moor by torpedo and gunfire 800 miles off the coast of British West Africa at 0525 hours; Robin Moor was the first American merchantman to be sunk by a German submarine in WW2. All 46 aboard survived. US President Roosevelt protested the sinking and unsuccessfully demanded compensation from Germany. At midnight at the very end of the day, U-69 struck again, sinking British ship Tewkesbury; all 42 aboard survived. ww2dbase [CPC]
  • The German fleet containing Prinz Eugen was spotted by a British Coastal Command Spitfire aircraft at 1315 hours in the Korsfjord. It departed Korsfjord at 2000 hours. ww2dbase [Prinz Eugen | CPC]
  • German battleship Bismarck and cruiser Prinz Eugen stopped in Grimstadfjord, Norway to refuel Prinz Eugen. At 1315 hours, RAF Flying Officer Michael Suckling, flying a Spitfire fighter, spotted the warships. British Home Fleet commander Admiral John Tovey dispatched all available warships to prevent the Germans from breaking out to the North Atlantic. The German ships completed refueling at 1900 hours and began moving westwards. After dark, British bombers attacked the empty Grimstadfjord. ww2dbase [Battle of Denmark Strait | CPC]
  • German submarine U-93 sank Dutch tanker Elusa off Greenland; 5 were killed, 49 survived. ww2dbase [CPC]
  • German submarine U-98 sank British ship Marconi; 22 were killed, 56 survived and rescued by US Coast Guard patrol boat General Greene. ww2dbase [CPC]
  • 8 I-15 fighters of the Chinese 29th Squadron intercepted 27 Japanese G3M bombers over Lanzhou, Gansu, China, shooting down one and damaging another. ww2dbase [Bombing of Shanghai, Chongqing, and other Cities | CPC]
  • Nordmark completed supported cruiser Admiral Scheer. ww2dbase [Nordmark | Admiral Scheer | CPC]
  • Seven I-15III fighters of 21st Pursuit Squadron of Chinese 4th Pursuit Group intercepted 27 unescorted G3M bombers of Japanese Mihoro Kokutai (based in Tainan, Taiwan) over Lanzhou, Gansu Province, China; one G3M bomber was shot down and another returned with damage (70 bullet holes were found). ww2dbase [Lanzhou, Gansu | CPC]
  • Kaga was made the flagship of Carrier Division 1 of the Japanese Navy First Air Fleet at Sasebo, Japan. ww2dbase [Kaga | Sasebo, Nagasaki | CPC]
Mediterranean Sea
  • 48 Hurricane fighters flew off from carriers HMS Ark Royal and HMS Furious to reinforce Malta; all fighters arrived safely. The carriers were part of British Force H, which also included battlecruiser HMS Renown, cruiser HMS Sheffield, and six destroyers. The Italian submarines Corallo and Diaspro, stationed at the point where the British force launched the aircraft, did not approach nor engage. ww2dbase [Malta Campaign | Renown | Ark Royal | Furious | Corallo | Diaspro | CPC]
  • The British Coastal Command dispatched from RAF Wick two Spitfire aircraft on a photo-reconnaissance mission over the Norwegian fjords. One of the aircraft was piloted by Flying Officer Michael Suckling. Suckling flew high, banking every few minutes or so to catch a glimpse of the various fjords scattered along the coast. Suddenly, he caught sight of a group of ships below him and dived down to take a closer look. He identified one of them as a cruiser, surrounded by destroyers and an oil tanker. Turning on his cameras, he made a pass across the fjord before heading for Bergen to check out the harbour there. As he turned for home he spotted another group of ships below him. Turning on his camera again he photographed what he thought were two cruisers before resuming his homeward course. When his photographs were finally examined by photo-interpreter David Linton it was realized that Suckling had, in fact, found the Bismarck and a hipper-class heavy cruiser at 1315 hours in the Grimstadtfjord a little south of Bergen. The German ships would depart the fjord at 2000 hours. ww2dbase [Bismarck | Grimstadfjord, Hordaland | CPC, AC]
Photo(s) dated 21 May 1941
Bismarck in Norway, seen from Prinz Eugen, 21 May 1941Bismarck near Bergen, Norway, 21 May 1941, photo 1 of 2German paratroopers in Crete, Greece, late May 1941Bismarck near Bergen, Norway, 21 May 1941, photo 2 of 2

21 May 1941 Interactive Map

Timeline Section Founder: Thomas Houlihan
Contributors: Alan Chanter, C. Peter Chen, Thomas Houlihan, Hugh Martyr, David Stubblebine
Special Thanks: Rory Curtis

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"I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil."

General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944

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