The troopship HMS Birkenhead was en route to Cape Town when it hit an uncharted rock during the night, about 3 miles off the South African shore, near Danger Point. The ship is believed to have had 638 passengers and crew aboard including 476 soldiers from a number of different regiments of the British Army, on their way to reinforce the garrison in the Cape Colony, but also 7 women and 13 children. The rock tore open the hull, and about 100 soldiers asleep below were drowned drowned immediately. Everyone else mustered on deck, where it was clear the ship was sinking quickly. Only three lifeboats could be used; all the women and children were placed in these, with a few crew to man them. The senior army officer aboard, Lieutenant Colonel Seton of the 74th Foot, drew the soldiers up on parade on the deck, and emphasised the need for absolute discipline if the lifeboats were not to be swamped. Some cavalry horses aboard were freed and driven into the sea in the hope that they might be able to swim themselves ashore. The soldiers stood firm, even as a mast crashed down around them and the ship split in two. She sank in less than 25 minutes. Only 193 people survived the ordeal - although the weather was excellent, sharks claimed many of the men in the water, as well as most of the horses. The tradition of "Women and children first" is popularly ascribed to have its roots in this incident.
The Kano-Sokoto expedition was mounted to extend British rule thoughout the northern territories of Nigeria, and in particular to suppress the slave trade. On 26 February, a small party of 45 locally recruited soldiers from the Northern Nigerian Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Wright, were attacked by no less than 3,000 tribesmen, including 1,000 cavalry. For two hours, the soldiers beat back repeated attacks, until eventually the tribesmen started to withdraw in good order. Lieutenant Wright then led his men forward in a charge, and succeeded in turning the withdrawal into a rout. He was awarded the Victoria Cross.
During the continuing efforts of the Franco-British naval force at the Dardanelles to destroy the Turkish coastal defences, a small party of seamen was landed under the command of Lieutenant Commander Robinson, to demolish a battery at Kum Kale. They were met with heavy fire, and Robinson feared that the men's white uniforms made them too easy a target. He therefore ordered them to remain under cover, and went forward alone. Despite the enemy fire, he succeeded in reaching a gun whose crew had fled, and laid a demolition charge. That gun destroyed, he returned to his men, collected a further supply of explosives, and returned alone to destroy a second position. He subsequently played a leading role in four operations to clear minefields in the straits, and was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Although the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen had succeeded in escaping from Brest to Germany in the Channel Dash, they remained priority targets. Gneisenau was spotted by reconnaissance aircraft in drydock in Kiel, undergoing repairs to the damage inflicted by a mine during the dash. 49 Bomber Command Wellington, Hampden and Halifax aircraft attacked, and a direct hit was scored on the battlecruiser, in the bows, killing 116 crew and causing such severe damage that she never returned to service. Three bombers failed to return.
THE HOCHWALD, efective dates for battle honour begin (to 4 Mar 45)
VC won by Sgt Aubrey Cosens, The Queens Own Rifles of Canada, Mooshof, Germany (posthumous)
Ottawa Ontario - Ottawa starts program to raise Francophone numbers in the Canadian Armed Forces to at least 28%.
» Download the iPhone/iPad Military History app! «