HMS Hermione (74)
Light cruiser of the Dido class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||A. Stephen & Sons Ltd. (Glasgow, Scotland)|
|Ordered||20 Mar 1937|
|Laid down||6 Oct 1937|
|Launched||18 May 1939|
|Commissioned||25 Mar 1941|
|Lost||16 Jun 1942|
|Loss position||33° 20'N, 26° 00'E|
|History||HMS Hermione (Capt. Geoffrey Nigel Oliver, DSO, RN) was torpedoed by the German submarine U-205, North of Sollum and sank in position 33°20'N, 26°00'E. 88 crewmembers went down with the ship.
Hit by U-boat
|U-boat Attack||See our U-boat attack entry for the HMS Hermione|
Commands listed for HMS Hermione (74)
Please note that we're still working on this section.
|1||Capt. Geoffrey Nigel Oliver, RN||30 Oct 1940||16 Jun 1942|
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Notable events involving Hermione include:
The page for this light cruiser was last updated in August 2021.
8 Mar 1941
Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) was commissioned for trials at Govan. She was still under control of her builders. (1)
16 Mar 1941
Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) ran trials near Greenock. (1)
22 Mar 1941
Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) ran trials in the Clyde area. (1)
23 Mar 1941
Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) ran trials in the Clyde area. (1)
25 Mar 1941
Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) ran trials in the Clyde area. (1)
26 Mar 1941
Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) was accepted for service and placed into full commission. (1)
31 Mar 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) conducted exercises in the Clyde area. (1)
2 Apr 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) is docked at Govan for post trials repairs. (2)
9 Apr 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) is undocked at Govan. She then immediately shifted to Greenock. (2)
10 Apr 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) conducted exercises in the Clyde area. (2)
11 Apr 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) conducted exercises in the Clyde area. (2)
12 Apr 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) departed the Clyde for Scapa Flow. (2)
13 Apr 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) arrived at Scapa Flow to commence a work-up period. (2)
15 Apr 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) conducted exercises at Scapa Flow. (2)
18 Apr 1941
HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) conducted gunnery exercises and RD/F trials to the west of Scapa Flow together with HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN), HMS Arrow (Cdr. R.E. Hyde-Smith, RN) and HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN). When HMS Hermione left at 1102 hours, HMS Achates took over the duty as 'target ship'. (3)
22 Apr 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) conducted exercises at Scapa Flow. (2)
23 Apr 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) conducted exercises at Scapa Flow. (2)
25 Apr 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) conducted exercises at Scapa Flow. (2)
29 Apr 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) conducted exercises at Scapa Flow. (2)
30 Apr 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) conducted exercises at Scapa Flow. (2)
1 May 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) conducted exercises at Scapa Flow. (4)
5 May 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) conducted exercises at Scapa Flow. (4)
7 May 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) conducted exercises at Scapa Flow. (4)
8 May 1941
HrMs O 14 (Lt.Cdr. G. Quint, RNN(R)) conducted A/S exercises at / off Scapa Flow with HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) and HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, RN). (5)
9 May 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) conducted exercises at Scapa Flow. (4)
14 May 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) departed Scapa Flow around 2345/13 to provide cover for the auxiliary minelayers HMS Agamemnon (Capt. (Retd. ) F. Ratsey, RN), HMS Menestheus (Capt. J.S. Crawford, DSO, RN) and HMS Port Quebec (Capt. (Retd.) E.C. Watson, RN) that were to lay minefield SN 9B. They departed Port ZA around 1035/14 escorted by the destroyers HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN) and HMS St. Marys (Lt. K.H.J.L. Phibbs, RN).
HMS Antelope, HMS Anthony and HMS Electra had arrived at Port ZA around 0600/14.
HMS Hermione returned to Scapa Flow around 2000/17. The destroyers (minus HMS St. Marys) arrived at Scapa Flow around 0730/18 after having escorted the auxiliary minelayers back to Port ZA where they arrived around 2345/17. (6)
18 May 1941
Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941.
Departure of the Bismarck from the Baltic.
At 2130B/18 the German battleship Bismarck and the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen departed Gotenhafen for an anti-shipping raid in the North Atlantic. The following morning they were joined off Cape Arkona by the German destroyers Z 16 / Friedrich Eckhold and Z 23. They then proceeded through the Great Belt. The four ships were joined by a third destroyer, Z 10 / Hans Lody shortly before midnight on 19 May.
First reports of Bismarck and British dispositions 20-21 May 1941.
On 20 May 1941 two large warships with a strong escort were seen at 1500 hours northward out of the Kattegat. This information originated from the Swedish cruiser Gotland which had passed the Germans off the Swedish coast in the morning. The Naval Attaché at Stockholm received the news at 2100/20 and forwarded it to the Admiralty. At 0900/21 the Bismarck and her consorts entered Kors Fjord, near Bergen, Norway and anchored in nearby fiords. A reconnaissance aircraft flying over Bergen at 1330/21 reported having seen two Hipper class heavy cruisers there. One of these ships was later identified on a photograph as being the Bismarck. This intelligence went out at once to the Home Fleet.
The ships of the Home Fleet were at this time widely dispersed on convoy duties, patrols, etc. Some of the units were ranging as far as Gibraltar and Freetown. The Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir John Tovey, was at Scapa Flow in his flagship, HMS King George V (Capt. W.R. Patterson, CVO, RN). With him were her newly commissioned sister ship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN), the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, with Vice-Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN, onboard), the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN), the light cruisers HMS Galatea (Capt. E.W.B. Sim, RN), HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN) and the destroyers HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN) and HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN). HMS Victorious was under orders to escort troop convoy WS 8B from the Clyde to the Middle East.
Rear-Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker (commanding the first Cruiser Squadron), with the heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN) (flag) and HMS Suffolk (Capt. R.M. Ellis, RN) was on patrol in the Denmark Straight. The light cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN) and HMS Birmingham (Capt. A.C.G. Madden, RN) were patrolling between Iceland and the Faeroes. The battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) was at the Clyde to escort troop convoy WS 8B.
Action taken by the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet
Admiral Tovey took the following action when he received the news the Bismarck had been spotted at Bergen. Vice-Admiral Holland with the Hood, Prince of Wales, Achates, Antelope, Anthony, Echo, Electra and Icarus was ordered to cover Rear Admiral Wake-Walker's cruisers in the Denmark Straight. His force departed Scapa Flow around 0100/22.
HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), which was taking the Vice-Admiral, Orkneys and Shetlands, to Reykjavik on a visit of inspection, was ordered to remain at Hvalfiord and placed at Rear-Admiral Wake-Walkers disposal. HMS Manchester and HMS Birmingham were ordered to top off with fuel at Skaalefiord and them to resume their patrol. The other ships that remained at Scapa Flow were brought to short notice for steam.
The Free French submarine FFS Minerve (Lt. P.M. Sonneville), which was on patrol off south-west Norway was ordered to proceed to position 61°53'N, 03°15'E and HMS P 31 (Lt. J.B.de B. Kershaw, RN) was ordered to proceed to position 62°08'N, 05°08'E which is to the west of Stadtlandet.
The sailing of HMS Repulse and HMS Victorious with troop convoy WS 8B was cancelled and the ships were placed at the disposal of Admiral Tovey.
A reconnaissance aircraft flying over Bergen reported that the German ships were gone. This information reached Admiral Tovey at 2000/22. HMS Suffolk which had been fuelling at Hvalfiord was ordered to rejoin HMS Norfolk in the Denmark Strait. HMS Arethusa was ordered to join HMS Manchester and HMS Birmingham to form a patrol line between Iceland and the Faeroes. Vice-Admiral Holland, on his way to Iceland was told to cover the patrols in Denmark Strait north of 62°N. Admiral Tovey would cover the patrols south of 62°N.
Commander-in-Chief leaves Scapa Flow on 22 May 1941
The King George V, with Admiral Tovey on board, departed Scapa Flow at 2245/22. With the King George V sailed, HMS Victorious, HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Windsor (Lt.Cdr. J.M.G. Waldegrave, DSC, RN), HMS Active, HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Intrepid (Cdr. R.C. Gordon, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi, HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMAS Nestor. HMS Lance however had to return to Scapa Flow due to defects.
At A.M. 23 May they were joined off the Butt of Lewis by HMS Repulse escorted by HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMCS Assiniboine (A/Lt.Cdr. J.H. Stubbs, RCN) and HMCS Saguenay (Lt. P.E. Haddon, RCN) coming from the Clyde area which they departed on 22 May.
The Commander-in-Chief was 230 miles north-west of the Butt of Lewis in approximate position 60°20'N, 12°30'W when at 2032/23 a signal came in from HMS Norfolk that she had sighted the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait.
HMS Suffolk and HMS Norfolk made contact with the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait on 23 May 1941.
At 1922/23 HMS Suffolk sighted the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen in position 67°06'N, 24°50'W. They were proceeding to the south-west skirting the edge of the ice in Denmark Strait. HMS Suffolk immediately sent out an enemy report and made for the mist to the south-east. HMS Norfolk then commenced closing and sighted the enemy at 2030 hours. They were only some six nautical miles off and the Bismarck opened fire. HMS Norfolk immediately turned away, was not hit and also sent out an enemy report.
Although HMS Suffolk had sighted the enemy first and also sent the first contact report this was not received by the Commander-in-Chief. The enemy was 600 miles away to the north-westward.
Vice-Admiral Holland had picked up the signal from the Suffolk. He was at that moment about 300 nautical miles away. Course was changed to intercept and speed was increased by his force to 27 knots.
Dispositions, 23 May 1941.
At the Admiralty, when the Norfolk's signal came in, one of the first considerations was to safeguard the convoys at sea. At this time there were eleven crossing the North-Atlantic, six homeward and five outward bound. The most important convoy was troop convoy WS 8B of five ships which had left the Clyde the previous day for the Middle East. She was at this moment escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. O.L. Gordon, MVO, RN), light cruiser (AA cruiser) HMS Cairo (A/Capt. I.R.H. Black, RN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Lt.Cdr. H.N. Lay, RCN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN). HMS Repulse was also intended to have sailed with this convoy but she had joined the Commander-in-Chief instead.
Force H was sailed around 0200/24 from Gibraltar to protect this important convoy on the passage southwards. Force H was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt Sir R.R. McGrigor, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN).
HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk shadowing Bismarck 23 / 24 May 1941.
During the night of 23 / 24 May 1941 HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk hung on to the enemy, The Norfolk on their port quarter, Suffolk on their starboard quarter. All through the night they sent signals with updates on the position, course and speed of the enemy. At 0516 hours HMS Norfolk sighted smoke on her port bow and soon HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales came in sight.
HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales 23 / 24 May 1941.
At 2054/23 the four remaining escorting destroyers were ordered to follow at best speed in the heavy seas if they were unable to keep up with the capital ships which were proceeding at 27 knots. Two destroyers, HMS Antelope and HMS Anthony had been ordered to proceed to Iceland to refuel at 1400/23. The destroyers all managed to keep up for now and at 2318 hours they were ordered to form a screen ahead of both capital ships. At 0008/24 speed was reduced to 25 knots and course was altered to due north at 0017 hours. It was expected that contact with the enemy would be made at any time after 0140/24. It was just now that the cruisers lost contact with the enemy in a snowstorm and for some time no reports were coming in. At 0031 hours the Vice-Admiral signalled to the Prince of Wales that if the enemy was not in sight by 0210 hours he would probably alter course to 180° until the cruisers regained touch. He also signalled that he intended to engage the Bismarck with both capital ships and leave the Prinz Eugen to Norfolk and Suffolk.
The Prince of Wales' Walrus aircraft was ready for catapulting and it was intended to fly it off, but visibility deteriorated and in the end it was defuelled and stowed away at 0140 hours. A signal was then passed to the destroyers that when the capital ships would turn to the south they were to continue northwards searching for the enemy. Course was altered to 200° at 0203/24. As there was now little chance of engaging the enemy before daylight the crews were allowed to rest.
At 0247/24 HMS Suffolk regained touch with the enemy and by 0300 hours reports were coming in again. At 0353 hours HMS Hood increased speed to 28 knots and at 0400/24 the enemy was estimated to be 20 nautical miles to the north-west. By 0430 hours visibility had increased to 12 nautical miles. At 0440 hours orders were given to refuel the Walrus of HMS Prince of Wales but due to delays due to water in the fuel it was not ready when the action began and it was damaged by splinters and eventuelly jettisoned into the sea.
At 0535/24 hours a vessel was seen looming on the horizon to the north-west, it was the Bismarck. She was some 17 nautical miles away bearing 330°. Prinz Eugen was ahead of her but this was not immediately realised and as the silhoutte of the German ships was almost similar the leading ship was most likely thought to be the Bismarck on board HMS Hood.
Battle of the Denmark Strait, action with the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen. Loss of HMS Hood.
At 0537/24 HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales were turned together 40° to starboard towards the enemy. At 0549 hours course was altered to 300° and the left hand ship was designated as the target. This was a mistake as this was the Prinz Eugen and not the Bismarck. This was changed to the Bismarck just before fire was opened at 0552 hours. At 0554 hours the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen also opened fire. In the meantime Prince of Wales had also opened fire at 0053 hours. Her first salvo was over. The sixth salvo was a straddle. The Norfolk and Suffolk were too far astern of the enemy to take part in the action.
At 0555 hours Hood and Prince of Wales turned two points to port. This opened up Prince of Wales' A arcs as her ninth salvo was fired.
Shortly before 0605 hours Hood signalled that another turn of two points to port had to be executed. Bismarck had just fired her fifth salvo when the Hood was rent in two by a huge explosion rising apparently between the after funnel and the mainmast. The fore part began to sink seperately, bows up, whilst the after part remained shrouded in a pall of smoke. Three or four minutes later, the Hood had vanished between the waves leaving a vast cloud of smoke drifting away to the leeward. She sank in position 63°20'N, 31°50'W (the wreck was found in 2001 in approximate position 63°22'N, 32°17'W, the exact position has not been released to the public.)
The Prince of Wales altered course to starboard to avoid the wreckage of the Hood. The Bismarck now shifted fire from her main and secondary armament to her. Range was now 18000 yards. Within a very short time she was hit by four 15" and three 6" shells. At 0602 hours a large projectile wrecked the bridge, killing or wounding most of the personnel and about the same time the ship was holed underwater aft. It was decided temporarily to discontinue the action and at 0613 hours HMS Prince of Wales turned away behind a smoke screen. The after turret continued to fire but it soon malfunctioned and was out of action until 0825 hours. When the Prince of Wales ceased firing the range was 14500 yards. She had fired 18 salvos from the main armament and five from the secondary. The Bismarck made no attempt to follow or continue the action. She had also not escaped unscatched and had sustained two severe hits.
Such was the end of the brief engagement. The loss by an unlucky hit of HMS Hood with Vice-Admiral Holland, Captain Kerr and almost her entire ships company was a grievous blow, but a great concentration of forces was gathering behind the Commander-in-Chief, and Admiral Somerville with Force H was speeding towards him from the south.
When the Hood blew up, HMS Norfolk was 15 nautical miles to the northward coming up at 28 knots. By 0630/24 she was approaching HMS Prince of Wales and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker, signalling his intention to keep in touch, told her to follow at best speed. The destroyers that had been with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales were still to the northward. They were ordered to search for survivors but only HMS Electra found three. The Prince of Wales reported that she could do 27 knots and she was told to open out to 10 nautical miles on a bearing of 110° so that HMS Norfolk could fall back on her if she was attacked. Far off the Prinz Eugen could be seen working out to starboard of the Bismarck while the chase continued to the southward.
At 0757 hours, HMS Suffolk reported that the Bismarck had reduced speed and that she appeared to be damaged. Shortly afterwards a Sunderland that had taken off from Iceland reported that the Bismarck was leaving behind a broad track of oil. The Commander-in-Chief with HMS King George V was still a long way off, about 360 nautical miles to the eastward, and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker on the bridge of HMS Norfolk had to make an important decision, was he to renew the action with the help of the Prince of Wales or was he to make it his business to ensure that the enemy could be intercepted and brought to action by the Commander-in-Chief. A dominant consideration in the matter was the state of the Prince of Wales. Her bridge had been wrecked, she had 400 tons of water in her stern compartments and two of her guns were unserverable and she could go no more then 27 knots. She had only been commissioned recently and barely a week had passed since Captain Leach had reported her ready for service. Her turrets were of a new and an untried model, liable for 'teething' problems and evidently suffering from them, for at the end of the morning her salvoes were falling short and wide. It was doubted if she was a match for the Bismarck in her current state and it was on these grounds that Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker decided that he would confine himself to shadowing and that he would not attempt to force on an action. Soon after 1100/24 visibility decreased and the Bismarck was lost out of sight in mist and rain.
Measures taken by the Admiralty, 24 May 1941.
After the loss of HMS Hood the following measures were taken by the Admiralty. To watch for an attempt by the enemy to return to Germany, HMS Manchester, HMS Birmingham and HMS Arethusa had been ordered at 0120/24 to patrol off the north-east point of Iceland. They were told to proceed to this location with all despatch.
HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN), which with four destroyers was escorting the troopship Britannic (26943 GRT, built 1930) westward, was ordered at 1022/24 to steer west on a closing course and if the Britannic could not keep up she was to leave her with one of the destroyers. Rodney was about 550 nautical miles south-east of the Bismarck. At 1200/24 she left the Britannic in position 55°15'N, 22°25'W and left HMS Eskimo (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN) with her. Rodney then proceeded with HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN) and HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN) westwards on a closing course.
Two other capital ships were in the Atlantic; HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN) and HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN). The Ramillies was escorting convoy HX 127 from Halifax and was some 900 nautical miles south of the Bismarck. She was ordered at 1144/24 to place herself to the westward of the enemy and leaving her convoy at 1212/24 in position 46°25'N, 35°24'W, she set course to the north. HMS Revenge was ordered to leave Halifax and close the enemy.
Light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. C.M. Blackman, DSO, RN) was patrolling in the Atlantic between 44°N and 46°N for German merchant shipping and was ordered at 1250/24 to close the enemy and take on relief shadower. At 1430/24 she reported her position as 44°17'N, 23°56'W and she was proceeding on course 320° at 25 knots.
Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker was ordered to continue shadowing even if he ran short of fuel so to bring the Commander-in-Chief into action.
The Bismack turns due south at 1320 hours on 24 May 1941.
In the low state of visibility, HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk had to be constantly on the alert against the enemy falling back and attacking them. At 1320/24 the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen altered course to the south and reduced speed. HMS Norfolk sighted them through the rain at a range of only 8 nautical miles. Norfolk had to quickly turn away under the cover of a smoke screen.
It was at 1530/24 when HMS Norfolk received a signal made by the Commander-in-Chief at 0800/24 from which it was estimated that the Commander-in-Chief would be near the enemy at 0100/25. This was later changed to 0900/25.
At 1545/24, Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker was asked by the Admiralty to answer four questions; 1) State the remaining percentage of the Bismarck's fighting efficiency. 2) What amout of ammunition had the Bismarck expended. 3) What are the reasons for the frequent alterations of course by the Bismarck. 4) What are your intentions as regards to the Prince of Wales' re-engaging the Bismarck.
The answers by Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker were as follows. 1) Uncertain but high. 2) About 100 rounds. 3) Unaccountable except as an effort to shake off HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk. 4) Consider it wisely for HMS Prince of Wales to not re-engage the Bismarck until other capital ships are in contact, unless interception failed. Doubtful if she has the speed to force an action.
The afternoon drew on towards evening. Still the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen held on to the south while the Norfolk, Suffolk and Prince of Wales were still keeping her in sight.
At 1711/24 in order to delay the enemy if possible, by attacking him from astern, the Prince of Wales was stationed ahead of the Norfolk. The enemy was not in sight from the Norfolk at that time, but the Suffolk was still in contact.
At 1841/24 the Bismarck opened fire on the Suffolk. Her salvoes fell short, but one or two shorts came near enough to cause some minor damage to her hull plating aft. HMS Suffolk replied with nine broadsides before turning away behind a smoke screen.
On seeing the Suffolk being attacked, HMS Norfolk turned towards and she and HMS Prince of Wales opened fire, the latter firing 12 salvoes. By 1856 hours the action was over. Two of the guns on the Prince of Wales malfuntioned again. After the action the cruisers started to zig-zag due to fear for German submarines.
British dispositions at 1800 hours on 24 May 1941.
From the Admiralty at 2025/24, there went out a signal summarising the situation at 1800/24. The position, course and speed of the Bismarck was given as 59°10'N, 36°00'W, 180°, 24 knots with HMS Norfolk, HMS Suffolk and HMS Prince of Wales still in touch. The Commander-in-Chiefs estimated position at 1800/24 was 58°N, 30°W, with HMS King George V and HMS Repulse. HMS Victorious was with the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Neptune). They had parted company with the Commander-in-Chief at 1509/24. Heavy cruiser HMS London (Capt. R.M. Servaes, CBE, RN) was in position 42°45'N, 20°10'W and had been ordered to leave her convoy and close the enemy. HMS Ramillies was in estimated position 45°45'N, 35°40'W. She had been ordered to place herself to the west of the enemy. HMS Manchester, HMS Birmingham and HMS Arethusa were returning from their position off the north-east of Iceland to refuel. HMS Revenge had left Halifax and was closing convoy HX 128. HMS Edinburgh was in approximate position 45°15'N, 25°10'W. She had been ordered to close and take over stand by shadower.
Evening of 24 May 1941.
At 2031/24 HMS Norfolk received a signal sent by the Commander-in-Chief at 1455/24 stating that aircraft from HMS Victorious might make an attack at 2200/24 and Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker now waited for an air attack which he expected at 2300 hours. By that time Bismarck had been lost from sight but at 2330/24 HMS Norfolk briefly sighted her at a distance of 13 nautical miles. At 2343/24 aircraft from HMS Victorious were seen approaching. They circled round HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Norfolk and the latter was able to direct them to the enemy. At 0009/25 heavy anti-aircraft gunfire was seen and the Bismarck was just visible as the aircraft attacked.
HMS Victorious and the 2nd Cruiser Squadron detached by the Commander-in-Chief.
At 1440/24 the Commander-in-Chief ordered the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora, HMS Kenya, HMS Hermione) and HMS Victorious to a position within 100 nautical miles from Bismarck and to launch a torpedo bombing attack and maintain contact as long as possible. The object of the torpedo bombing attack was to slow the enemy down. On board the Victorious were only 12 Swordfish torpedo bombers and 6 Fulmar fighters. Victorious was only recently commissioned and her crew was still rather green. She had on board a large consignment of crated Hurricane fighters for Malta which were to be delivered to Gibraltar.
At 2208/24 HMS Victorious commenced launching 9 Swordfish in position 58°58'N, 33°17'E. Two minutes later al were on their way to find the Bismarck. The Squadron was led by Lt.Cdr.(A) E. Esmonde, RN.
HMS Victorious aircraft attack the Bismarck.
When the Swordfish took off from HMS Victorious the Bismarck was estimated to be in position 57°09'N, 36°44'W and was steering 180°, speed 24 knots. At 2330/24 they sighted the Bismarck but contact was lost in the bad weater. Shortly afterwards the Swordfish sighted HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk. HMS Norfolk guided them to the enemy which was 14 nautical miles on her starboard bow. At 2350 hours a vessel was detected ahead and the squadron broke cloud to deliver an attack. To their surprise they found themselves over a United States Coastguard cutter. The Bismarck was 6 nautical miles to the southward and on sighting the aircraft opened up a heavy barrage fire. Lt.Cdr. Esmonde pressed home his attack, 8 of the Swordfish were able to attack, the other had lost contact in the clouds.
The 8 planes attacked with 18" torpedoes, fitted with Duplex pistols set for 31 feet. At midnight three Swordfish attacked simultaneously on the port beam. Three others made a longer approach low down attacking on the port bow a minute later. One took a longer course, attacking on the port quarter. One went round and attacked on the starboard bow a couple of minutes after midnight. At least one hit was claimed on the starboard side abreast the bridge. The Germans however state that no hit was scored but that the violent maneuvering of the ship to avoid the attack, together with the heavy firing by the Bismarck caused the leak in no.2 boiler room to open up. No.2 boiler room was already partially flooded and now had to be abandoned.
All Swordfish from the striking had returned to HMS Victorious by 0201/25. Two Fulmars launched at 2300/24 for shadowing failed to find their ship in the darkness due to the failure of Victorious' homing beacon. Their crews were in the end picked up from the chilly water.
HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk loose contact at 0306/25.
While the aircraft from HMS Victorious were making their attack, HMS Norfolk sighted a ship to the south-west and gave the order to open fire. HMS Prince of Wales was able to identify it in time as an American coast guard cutter, but in the movements prepartory to opening fire HMS Norfolk lost touch with the enemy for a time and it was not until 0116/25 that she suddenly sighted the Bismarck only 8 nautical miles away. There followed a brief exchange of fire. HMS Norfolk and HMS Prince of Wales turned to port to bring their guns to bear and the latter was ordered to engage. It was then 0130/25. The Prince of Wales fired two salvoes at 20000 yards by radar. The Bismarck answered with two salvoes which fell a long way short. The light was failing and the enemy was again lost to sight. HMS Suffolk, which had to most reliable RDF set was told to act independently so as to keep in touch.
Around 0306/25 the Suffolk lost touch with the Bismarck. At 0552/25 Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker asked if HMS Victorious could launch aircraft for a search at dawn.
Search measures, 25 May 1941.
With the disappearance of the Bismarck at 0306/25 the first phase of the pursuit ended. The Commander-in-Chief, in HMS King George V with HMS Repulse in company was then about 115 nautical miles to the south-east. At 0616/25, Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker signalled that it was most probable that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen made a 90° turn to the west or turned back and 'cut away' to the eastward astern of the cruisers. Suffolk was already searching to the south-west and Norfolk was waiting for daylight to do the same. Prince of Wales was ordered to join the King George V and Repulse.
Force H was still on a course to intercept the Bismarck while steaming on at 24 knots. The Rear-Admiral commanding the 2nd Cruiser Squadron in HMS Galatea had altered course at 0558/25 to 180° for the position where the enemy was last seen and the Victorious was getting 8 aircraft ready to fly off at 0730/25 for a search to the eastward. This plan however was altered on orders being recieved from the Commander-in-Chief to take the cruisers and Victorious and carry out a search to the north-west of the Bismarck's last reported position. Five Fulmars had already been up during the night, two of them had not returned to the ship. The search therefore had to be undertaken by Swordfish, the only aircraft available. At 0810/25, seven Swordfish were flown off from position 56°18'N, 36°28'W to search between 280° and 040° up to 100 nautical miles. The search was supplemented by Victorious herself as well as the cruisers from the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (Galatea, Aurora, Kenya and Hermione) which were spread some miles apart.
DF position of the Bismarck of 0852/25.
HMS King George V was still proceeding to the south-west when at 1030/25 the Commander-in-Chief recieved a signal from the Admiralty that the Bismarck's position had been obtained by DF (direction finding) and that it indicated that the Bismarck was on a course for the North Sea by the Faeroes-Iceland passage. To counter this move by the enemy the Commander-in-Chief turned round at 1047/25 and made for the Faeroes-Iceland passage at 27 knots. HMS Repulse was no longer in company with HMS King George V, she had been detached at 0906/25 for Newfoundland to refuel. Suffolk also turned to the eastward to search, her search to the south-west had been fruitless. The search by HMS Victorious, her aircraft and the 2nd Cruiser Squadron to the north-west also had no result. Six Swordfish were landed on by 1107/25, one failed to return. HMS Galatea, HMS Aurora and HMS Kenya now turned towards the DF position of the Bismarck to search in that direction. HMS Hermione had to be detached to Hvalfiord, Iceland to refuel as she was by now down to 40%. The other cruisers slowed down to 20 knots to economise their remaining fuel supply wich was also getting low. At this moment HMS King George V had about 60% remaining.
Events during 25 May 1941.
At 1100/25, HMS King George V, HMS Suffolk and HMS Prince of Wales were proceeding to the north-east in the direction of the enemy's DF signal. HMS Rodney was in position 52°34'N, 29°23'W some 280 nautical miles to the south-eastward on the route towards the Bay of Biscay. On receiving the Commander-in-Chiefs signal of 1047/25 she too proceeded to the north-east.
Meanwhile to Admiralty had come to the conclusion that the Bismarck most likely was making for Brest, France. This was signalled to the Commander-in-Chief at 1023/25 to proceed together with Force H and the 1st Cruiser Squadron on that assumption.
In the absence however of definite reports it was difficult to be certain of the position of the enemy. The DF bearings in the morning had not been very definite. At 1100/25, HMS Renown (Force H), was in position 41°30'N, 17°10'W was ordered to act on the assumption the enemy was making for Brest, France. She shaped course accordingly and prepared a comprehensive sheme of air search. At 1108/25, HMS Rodney, was told to act on the assumption that the enemy was making for the Bay of Biscay. At 1244/25 the Flag Officer Submarines ordered six submarines to take up intercepting positions about 120 nautical miles west of Brest. The submarines involved were HMS Sealion (Cdr. B. Bryant, DSC, RN), HMS Seawolf (Lt. P.L. Field, RN), HMS Sturgeon (Lt.Cdr. D. St. Clair-Ford, RN) from the 5th Submarine Flottilla at Portsmouth, HMS Pandora (Lt.Cdr. J.W. Linton, DSC, RN), which was on passage to the U.K. from the Mediterranean to refit, HMS Tigris (Lt.Cdr. H.F. Bone, DSO, DSC, RN), from the 3rd Submarine Flottilla at Holy Loch and HMS H 44 (Lt. W.N.R. Knox, DSC, RN), a training boat from the 7th Submarine Flotilla at Rothesay which happened to be at Holyhead. Seawolf, Sturgeon and Tigris were already on patrol in the Bay of Biscay, Sealion departed Portsmouth on the 25th as did H 44 but she sailed from Holyhead. Pandora was on passage to the U.K. to refit and was diverted.
At 1320/25 a good DF fix located an enemy unit within a 50 mile radius from position 55°15'N, 32°00'W. This was sent by the Admiralty to the Commander-in-Chief at 1419/25 and it was received at 1530/25. It was only in the evening that it was finally clear to all involved that Bismarck was indeed making for a French port. Air searches had failed to find her during the day. (7)
18 May 1941
Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941.
26 May 1941.
By now the question of fuel was becoming acute. For four days ships had been steaming at high speeds and the Commander-in-Chief was faced with the reality of fuel limits. HMS Repulse had already left for Newfoundland, HMS Prince of Wales had by now been sent to Iceland to refuel. HMS Victorious and HMS Suffolk had been forced to reduce speed to economise their fuel.
Coastal Command started air searches along the route towards the Bay of Biscay by long range Catalina flying boats. Lack of fuel was effecting the destroyer screens of the capital ships. There was no screen available for HMS Victorious. The 4th Destroyer Flotilla, escorting troop convoy WS 8B, was ordered at 0159/26 to join the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V and HMS Rodney as was HMS Jupiter (Lt.Cdr. N.V.J.P. Thew, RN) which sailed from Londonderry. Leaving the convoy the 4th D.F. proceeded to the north-east. Force H in the meantime was also approaching the immediate area of operations. These forces were to play an important part in the final stages of the chase of the Bismarck.
Force H, 26 May 1941.
HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Sheffield were having a rough passage north in heavy seas, high wind, rain and mist. Their escorting destroyers had already turned back towards Gibraltar at 0900/25. At dawn on the 26th there was half a gale blowing from the north-west. At 0716/26 HMS Ark Royal launched a security patrol in position 48°26'N, 19°13'W to search to the north and to the west just in case the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had departed Brest to come to the aid of the Bismarck. At 0835/26 there followed an A/S patrol of ten Swordfish. All planes had returned by 0930. None had seen anything.
Bismarck sighted at 1030/26.
It was at 1030/26 that one of the long range Catalina's of the Coastal Command sighted the Bismarck in position 49°30'N, 21°55'W. It was received in HMS King George V at 1043 hours and in HMS Renown in 1038 hours. It placed the enemy well to the westward of the Renown. It was confirmed within the hour when two Swordfish from the Ark Royal which reported the Bismarck in position 49°19'N, 20°52'W some 25 miles east of the position given by the Catalina. The Commander-in-Chief was at that moment about 130 miles to the north of the Bismarck but it was soon clear that the Bismarck had too great a lead to permit her being overtaken unless her speed could be reduced. Nor was the question one merely of distance and speed. The Bismarck was approaching a friendly coast and could run her fuel tanks nearly dry and was sure of air protection, while the British ships would have a long journey back to base in the face of air and submarine attack. HMS Renown was ahead of the Bismarck but it was important that she did not engage the Bismarck unless the latter was already heavily engaged by the better armoured HMS King George V and HMS Rodney.
When the Catalina found the Bismarck at 1030 hours, the 4th Destroyer Flotilla was steering east to join the Commander-in-Chief. They seem to have crossed astern of the enemy's track about 0800/26. The Catalina's report reached Capt. Vian in HMS Cossack at 1054/26 and 'knowing that the Commander-in-Chief would order him to intercept the enemy' Capt. Vian altered course to the south-east.
First attack by aircraft from the Ark Royal.
At 1315/26 HMS Sheffield was detached to the southward with orders to close and shadow the enemy, who was estimated to be 40 nautical miles south-west of the Renown. The visual signal ordering this movement was not repeated to HMS Ark Royal, an omission which had serious consequenses for the aircraft that were to take off did not know that HMS Sheffield had parted company.
At 1450/26 HMS Ark Royal launched a striking force of 14 Swordfish aircraft with the orders to proceed to the south and attack the Bismarck with torpedoes. Weather and cloud conditions were bad and a radar contact was obtained on a ship some 20 nautical miles from the estimated position of the enemy that had been given to the leader shortly before takeoff. At 1550 hours they broke through the clouds and fired 11 torpedoes. Unfortunately the supposed enemy was HMS Sheffield which managed to avoid all torpedoes. The Bismarck at that time was some 15 nautical miles to the southward. The striking force then returned an all aircraft had landed on by 1720/26.
At 1740/26, HMS Sheffield, sighted the Bismarck in position 48°30'N, 17°20'W and took station about 10 nautical miles astern and commenced shadowing the enemy.
Ark Royal's second attack, 2047/26.
The first striking force on its way back sighted the 4th Destroyer Flotilla 20 nautical miles west of Force H. As soon as the aircraft from the first strike had landed they were refuelled and rearmed as fast as possible. Take off started at 1910/26, a total of 15 Swordfish were launched. Reports coming in from HMS Sheffield placed the Bismarck at 167°, 38 nautical miles from the Ark Royal. The striking force was ordered to contact HMS Sheffield who was told to use DF to guide them in.
At 1955/26 HMS Sheffield was sighted but soon lost in the bad weather conditions. She was found again at 2035 hours, she guided the Swordfish in and directed them by visual signal on the enemy bearing 110°, 12 nautical miles. The force took departure for the target in subflights in line astern at 2040/26.
At 2047/26 no.1 subflight of three Swordfish dived through the clouds and sighted the Bismarck 4 nautical miles off to the south-east. One Swordfish of no.3 subflight was with them. Approaching again just inside the cloud they made their final dive at 2053/26 on the port beam under a very intense and accurate fire from the enemy. They dropped four torpedoes of which one was seen to hit. No.2 subflight, made up of two Swordfish, lost touch with no.1 subflight in the clouds, climed to 9000 feet, then dived on a bearing obtained by radar and then attacked from the starboard beam, again under heavy and intense fire. They dropped two torpedoes for one possible hit. The third plane of this subflight had lost touch with the other two and had returned to HMS Sheffield to obtained another range and bearing to the enemy. It then flew ahead of the enemy and carried out a determined attack from his port bow under heavy fire and obtained a torpedo hit on the port side amidships.
Subflight no.4 followed subflight no.3 into the clouds but got iced up at 6600 feet. It then dived through the clouds and was joined by no.2 aircraft from subflight no.3. The Bismarck was then sighted engaging subflight no.2 to starboard. The four aircraft then went into the clouds and cicled the German battleships stern and then dived out of the clouds again and attack simultaneously from the port side firing four torpedoes. All however missed the Bismarck. They came under a very heavy and fierce fire from the enemy and one of the aircraft was heavily damaged, the pilot and air gunner being wounded.
The two aircraft of subflight no.5 lost contact with the other subflights and then with each other in the cloud. They climbed to 7000 feet where ice began to form. When coming out of the cloud at 1000 feet aircraft 4K sighted the Bismarck down wind, she then went back into the cloud under fire from the enemy. She saw a torpedo hit on the enemy's starboard side, reached a position on the starboard bow, withdrew to 5 miles, then came in just above the sea and just outside 1000 yards fired a torpedo which did not hit. The second plane of this flight lost his leader diving through the cloud, found himself on the starboard quarter and after two attempts to attack under heavy fire was forced to jettison his torpedo.
Of the two Swordfish of subflight no.6 one attacked the Bismarck on the starboard beam and dropped his torpedo at 2000 yards without success. The second plane lost the enemy, returned to the Sheffield for a new range and bearing and after searching at sea level attacked on the starboard beam but was driven off by intense fire. The attack was over by 2125/26. Thirteen torpedoes had been fired and it was thought two hits and one probable hit had been obtained. Two torpedoes were jettisoned. The severe nature and full effect of the damage done was at first not fully realised. Actually the Bismarck had received a deadly blow. The last of the shadowing aircraft to return had seen her make two complete circles. One torpedo had struck her on the port side amidships doing little damage but th other torpedo that hit was on the starboard quarter damaging her propellors, wrecking her steering gear and jambing her rudders, it was this torpedo hit that sealed her fate.
HMS Sheffield was still shadowing astern when at 2140/26 the Bismarck turned to port and fired six accurate salvoes of 15". None actually hit Sheffield but a near miss killed three men and seriously injured two. HMS Sheffield turned away and while doing so she sighted HMS Cossack and the other destroyers from the 4th DF approaching from the westward. She then gave them the approximate position of the Bismarck. At 2155/26, HMS Sheffield lost touch with the Bismarck. The destroyers continued to shadow and eventually attack. Meanwhile HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal shaped course for the southward to keep the road clear for the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V and for HMS Rodney. Also in the Ark Royal aircraft were being got ready for an attack on the Bismarck at dawn.
Bismarck, 26 May 1941.
The Bismarck could no longer steer after the torpedo hit aft. The steering motor room was flooded up to the main deck and the rudders were jambed. Divers went down to the steering room and managed to centre one rudder but the other remained immovable. She was by this time urgently in need of fuel. It was hoped by the Germans that while she was nearing the French coast strong forces of aircraft and submarines would come to her assistance.
At 2242/26, Bismarck sighted the British destroyers. A heavy fire was opened on them. Their appearence greatly complicated the situation. Before their arrival however, Admiral Lütjens seems to have made up his mind as one hour earlier he had signalled to Berlin 'ship out of control. We shall fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer.'
The fourth Destroyer Flotilla makes contact, 26 May 1941.
Just as the sun was setting, Captain Vian (D.4) in HMS Cossack with HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun arrived on the scene.
Shortly after 1900/26 HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal were sighted to the northward. Ark Royal was just about to fly off the second striking force. The destroyers continued on the the south-east. At 2152/26 HMS Sheffield was sighted and from her Captain Vian obtained the approximate position of the enemy.
The destroyers were spread 2.5 nautical miles apart on a line bearing 250° - 070° in the order from north-east to south-west, Piorun, Maori, Cossack, Sikh, Zulu. During the latter stages of the approach speed was reduced and the flotilla manoeuvred so as to avoid making a high speed end-on contact.
At 2238/26, ORP Piorun on the port wing reported the Bismarck 9 nautical miles distant, bearing 145° and steering to the south-eastward.
Destroyers shadowing, late on 26 May 1941.
At the time the Piorun reported being in contact with the Bismarck the destroyers were steering 120°. All were at once ordered to take up shadowing positions. Four minutes later the Bismarck opened a heavy fire with her main and secondary armaments on the Piorun and Maori. Two attempts were made by these ships to work round to the northward of the enemy but they were silhouetted against the north-western horizon making them easy to spot. The Bismarck's fire was unpleasantly accurate, through neither destroyer was actually hit. The Commanding Officer of the Maori then decided to work round to the southward and altered course accordingly.
The Piorun closed the range and herself opened fire from 13500 yards but after firing three salvoes, she was straddled by a salvo which fell about 20 yards from the ships side. She then ceased fire and turned away to port while making smoke. During this engagement she lost touch with the other destroyers and later also with the Bismarck. She remained under fire for about one hour but was not hit. She worked round to the north-east of the Bismarck but eventually lost touch with her prey at 2355/26.
The other destroyers, meanwhile, had been working round to the southward of the enemy to take up shadowing positions to the eastward of him. Soon after the initial contact it was evident the the Bismarck's speed had been so seriously reduced that interception by the battlefleet was certain, provided that contact could be held. In these circumstances Captain Vian defined his object at firstly, to deliver the enemy to the Commander-in-Chief at the time he desired, and secondly, to sink or immoblise her with torpedoes during the night but not with to great a risk for the destroyers. Accordingly at 2248/26 as signal was made to all ordering them to shadow and this operation was carried out through the night, though torpedo attacks were carried out later under the cover of darkness.
As darkness came on, the weather deteriorated and heavy rain squalls became frequent. Visibility varied between 2.5 nautical miles and half a mile but the Bismarck, presumably using radar, frequently opened up accurate fire outside these ranges.
About half an hour after sunset, the destroyers were ordered at 2324/26 to take up stations prepartory to carrying out a synchronised torpedo attack. This was subsequently cancelled on account of the adverse weather conditions and they were ordered to attack independently as opportunity offered. At about 2300 hours the Bismarck altered course to the north-westward.
At this time HMS Zulu was in touch with her and kept her under observation from the southward. At 2342 hours the Bismarck opened fire on HMS Cossack, then about 4 miles to the south-south-west and shot away her aerials. The Cossack turned away under the cover of smoke, shortly afterwards resuming her course to the eastward.
A few minutes later, at 2350 hours, HMS Zulu came under heavy fire from the Bismarck's 15" guns. The first three salvoes straddled wounding an officer and two ratings. Drastic avoiding action was taken as a result of which Zulu lost touch. HMS Sikh, however, who had lost sight of the enemy half an hour previously, had observed her firing at HMS Cossack and now succeeded in shadowing from astern until 0020/27 when the enemy made a large alteration to port and commenced firing at her. HMS Sikh altered course to port, intending to fire torpedoes, but the view of the Torpedo Control Officer was obscured by shell splashes and Sikh then withdrew to the southward.
Destroyer night torpedo attacks, 26/27 May 1941.
HMS Zulu, after her escape at 2345/26, had steered to the northward and at 0030/27 fell in with HMS Cossack. Shortly afterwards she sighted ORP Piorun. On receipt of a signal from Captain Vian, timed 0040/27, to take any opporunity to fire torpedoes, HMS Zulu altered course to the westward,and at 0100/27 sighted the Bismarck steering 340°.
Positions of the destroyers was now as follows; to the north-eastward of the enemy, HMS Cossack was working round to the north and west. HMS Maori, since losing touch, had been making to the westward. She was now to the south-west of the Bismarck. HMS Sikh was some distance to the southward, not having received any information regarding the position of the Bismarck since 0025/27. HMS Zulu was astern of the enemy and in contact. Range was only 5000 yards. Bismarck finally spotted Zulu and at once opened fire with her main and secondary armament and straddled Zulu. She fired four torpedoes at 0121/27 but no hits were observed and they are believed to have missed ahead. Zulu then ran out to the northward in order to be clear of the other destroyers. Shortly afterwards they widnessed a successful attack by HMS Maori.
HMS Maori had seen the Bismarck opening fire on the Zulu at 0107/27. Maori then closed to 4000 yards on Bismarck's port quarter apparently undetected. When abeam of the enemy, who then appeared to be altering course to starboard Maori fired a star shell to see what he was about. Two minutes later, at 0137/27, two torpedoes were fired and course was altered towards the Bismarck with the intention of attacking again from her starboard bow once the enemy had steadied on her new course. Whilst Maori was turning a torpedo hit was observed on the enemy. A bright glow illuminated the waterline of the enemy battleship from stem to stern. Shortly afterwards there appeared between the bridge and the stem a glare that might have been a second hit. The enemy immediately opened up a very heavy fire with both main and secondairy armaments and quick firing guns. As the Maori was being straddled, she turned away, and increased to full speed. Shots continued to fall on both sides of the ship until the range had been opened up to 10000 yards. Maori was not actually hit. Meanwhile HMS Cossack had been creeping up from the north-eastward and at 0140/27, only three minutes after Maori had fired two torpedoes, Cossack launched three torpedoes from 6000 yards. Bismarck stood out plainly, silhoutted by the broadsides she was firing at the Maori. One torpedo was seen to hit. Flames blazed on the forecastle of the Bismarck after this hit but they were quickly extinguished. Probably as a consequence of the torpedo hits the Bismarck stopped dead in the water, this was reported by HMS Zulu at 0148/27. After about one hour the Bismarck got underway again. On receipt of this report, HMS Sikh, who was closing the scene of the action from the southward, made an attack. Four torpedoes were fired at 0218/27 at the stopped battleship. It is believed that one hit was obtained. After this attack Sikh remained in radar contact with the enemy until 0359/27 when contact was lost.
Around 0240/27 the Bismarck was underway again, proceeding very slowly to the north-westward. At 0335/27, HMS Cossack made another attack firing her last remaining torpedo from a range of 4000 yards. It missed. HMS Cossack then came under a heavy fire. She withdrew to the northward under the cover of smoke, altering to a westerly course shortly afterwards.
At 0400/27 all destroyers had lost touch with the enemy. HMS Cossack was then to the north-west and HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and HMS Maori were between the south-west and south-east of the Bismarck. All destroyers now endeavoured to regain contact.
Touch with the enemy was not regained until shortly before 0600 hours. By that time ORP Piorun, which was running short of fuel, had been ordered to proceed to Plymouth.
Destroyers shadowing, morning twilight, 27 May 1941, final attack.
Touch was regained by HMS Maori at 0550/27 when she sighted the Bismarck zigzagging slowly on a base course of 340° at about 7 knots. Maori commenced shadowing until daylight. At 0625 hours, HMS Sikh was also in contact when the Bismarck emerged from a rain squal 7000 yards on her starboard bow. By then it was nearly full daylight but to the surprise of the crew of the Sikh she got away with it without being fired at.
Shortly before sunrise a final torpedo attack was carried out by HMS Maori, which fired two torpedoes at 0656/27 from 9000 yards. Both missed. The Bismarck opened fire and straddled Maori which escaped at 28 knots.
At daylight the destroyers were stationed in four sectors from which they were able to keep the enemy under continuous observation until the arrival of the Battle Fleet at 0845 hours.
Force H, 26/27 May 1941.
While the destroyers were shadowing the Bismarck, the pursuing forces were drawing steadily closer. To the north was the Commander-in-Chief with the King George V and the Rodney with the Norfolk closing on them. In the south HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) was coming up, while Force H was waiting for the dawn. When Captain Vian's destroyers got in touch at 2251/26 the Renown and Ark Royal were north-west of the enemy. It was not possible to attack with aircraft during the night but all preparations were made to attack at dawn with 12 Swordfish. Course was shaped to the northward and then to the west for a time and at 0115/27 Force H turned south. Shortly afterwards instructions were received from the Commander-in-Chief to keep not less then 20 miles to the southward of the Bismarck so as to leave a clear approach for the Battle Fleet. Force H accordingly continued to the southward during the night. Bursts of starshell and gunfire could be seen during the night while the destroyers attacked. At 0509/27 an aircraft was flown off from HMS Ark Royal to act as a spotter for HMS King George V but it failed to find the Bismarck in the bad weather. The striking of force of 12 Swordfish was ready but due to the bad weather to strike was cancelled.
At 0810/27, HMS Maori was sighted. She reported the Bismarck 11 miles to the north of her. The made the enemy 17 miles to the north of HMS Renown so course was shaped to the south-west. At 0915/27 heavy gunfire could be heard and the striking force was flown off. They found the Bismarck at 1016/27. By then the battle was almost over, her guns were silenced and she was on fire. They saw her sink. At 1115/27 they had all landed back on HMS Ark Royal. A German Heinkel aircraft dropped a couple of bombs near HMS Ark Royal when they were landing on.
HMS Norfolk, 26/27 May 1941.
When the Catalina report (1030/26) came in, HMS Norfolk altered course to the south-west and increased speed to 27 knots. At 2130/26 the Bismarck was still some 160 nautical miles to the southward and speed was increased to 30 knots. At 2228/26 the report on the torpedo hit by the aircraft from Ark Royal came in and the Norfolk turned to the southward, continuing to close the enemy. At 0753/27 Norfolk sighted the Bismarck. She did not open fire and was lost to sight after ten minutes. At 0821/27, HMS King George V, was sighted to the westward, 12 nautical miles away. The position of the enemy was passed to the Commander-in-Chief. The action opened at 0847/27 at which time HMS Norfolk was then some 10 nautical miles from the Commander-in-Chief and due north of the Bismarck. HMS Norfolk had seen the beginning and was now to see the end.
HMS Dorsetshire, 26/27 May 1941.
On 26 May 1941, HMS Dorsetshire, was with convoy SL 74 proceeding from Freetown to the U.K. When she received the sighting report from the Catalina at 1056/26 she was some 360 nautical miles to the south of the Bismarck. She then left the protection of the convoy to the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Bulolo (Capt.(Retd.) R.L. Hamer, RN) and set course for the northward to take up the possible task of shadowing. By 2343/26 it became clear from reports that the Bismarck was making no ground to the eastward and that at 0230/27 she appeared to be laying stopped. Due to the heavy seas HMS Dorsetshire was forced to reduce speed to 25 knots and later even to 20 knots. At 0833/27 a destroyer was sighted ahead at a range of 8 nautical miles, it was HMS Cossack which reported the enemy at a range of 6 nautical miles. At 0850/27 the flashes of the Bismarck's guns could be seen to the westward. HMS Dorsetshire arrived at the scene of the action in the nick of time.
HMS King George V and HMS Rodney, 26/27 May 1941.
During 26 May 1941 the Commander-in-Chief in HMS King George V had been making hard to the south-east at 25 knots. He had been joined by HMS Rodney at 1806/26. They were then some 90 nautical miles north of the Bismarck. Fuel was a matter of grave anxiety. At noon on the 26th, HMS King George V, had only 32% remaining and HMS Rodney reported that she had to return at 0800/27. Speed had to be reduced on this account to 22 knots at 1705/26. In these circumstances it was no longer possible to hope to intercept the enemy, and the Commander-in-Chief decided that unless the enemy's speed had been reduced by 2400/26, he must turn at that hour. The only hope lay in the Bismarck being slowed up by the Swordfish attacking from HMS Ark Royal. A report came in that the striking force had left. Then at 2132/26, HMS Sheffield, reported that the enemy was steering 340° followed by 000° four minutes later. These reports indicated that the Bismarck was not able to hold her course and that her steering gear must have been damaged. It might still be possible to intercept her.
The Commander-in-Chief turned to the south at once hoping to make contact from the eastward in the failing light. Due to the bad weather conditions and visibility the Commander-in-Chief decided to haul off the the eastward and northward and then work round to engage from the westward at dawn. He turned eastward at 2306/26. During the night reports from Captain Vian's destroyers came in confirming the northerly course of the Bismarck. At 0236/27 the Commander-in-Chief ordered Captain Vian that the destroyers were to fire star-shell every half hour, but frequent rain squalls prevented these from being seen and they tended to attrack the enemy's fire. The Bismarck was still a formidable opponent for at 0353/27 Captain Vian reported that during the last hour she had done 8 nautical miles and that she was still capable of heavy and accurate fire. The Commander-in-Chief decided not to make a dawn approach but to wait until daylight while approaching from the west taking advantage of wind, sea and light. At 0529/27 HMS Rodney reported sighting HMS Norfolk to the eastward by DF. It was light at 0600 hours. At 0820 hours HMS Norfolk was sighted on the port bow of HMS King George V. She signalled 'enemy 130°, 16 nautical miles'. At 0843/27 looming on the starboard bow there emerges out of a rain squall the dark grey blot of a large ship. 'Enemy in sight'.
Bismarck 26/27 May 1941.
The Bismarck after altering course to the north-west had been labouring along with a jambed rudder, steering an erratic course at 8 knots. During the night the attacking destroyers were met with heavy and accurate salvoes. Sixteen torpedoes were fired at her. Early in the morning a glare of star-shell burst over her, lighting her up. Three torpedoes followed from a destroyer on the port bow (HMS Maori) of which one hit on the port side amidships. Three minutes later three more came from the starboard side (these were fired by HMS Cossack) of which one hit on the starboard bow. The damage that was sustained from these torpedo hits is not known. The Bismarck lay stopped for over one hour. At 0140/27 a message was received that a large number of Junkers bombers were coming to her aid as were U-boats but the Bismarck was beyond their help besides that the aircraft did not find her. One U-boat (U-556, which was out of torpedoes) on its way back from the Atlantic joined her and was within sight during the night. Another (U-74) arrived at 0600/27 but had been damaged in a depth charge attack and could do nothing as well. In the Bismarck the crew was exhausted and men were falling asleep at their posts. It was under these conditions that at 0840/27 two British battleships were seen to approach from the westward.
Situation before the action, 27 May 1941.
A north-westerly gale was blowing when dawn broke with a good light and clear horizon to the north-eastward. Reports received during the night indicated that, despite reduced speed and damaged rudders, Bismarck's armament was functioning effectively. Given the weather conditions the Commander-in-Chief decided to approach on a west-north-westerly bearing and, if the enemy continued his northerly course, to deploy to the southward on opposite course at a range of about 15000 yards. Further action was to be dictated by events.
Between 0600 and 0700 hours a series of enemy reports from HMS Maori which was herself located by DF bearings. This enabled HMS King George V to plot her position relatively to the Bismarck which had apparently settled down on a course of 330° at 10 knots. At 0708/27, HMS Rodney, was ordered to keep station 010° from the flagship. HMS Norfolk came in sight to the eastward at 0820/27 and provided a visual link between the Commander-in-Chief and the enemy. After the line of approach had been adjusted by two alterations of course, the Bismarck was sighted at 0843/27 bearing 118°, range about 25000 yards. Both British battleships was then steering 110° almost directly towards the enemy in line abreast formation, 8 cables apart.
Commencement of action 0847/27.
HMS Rodney opened fire at 0847/27, her first salvo sending a column of water 150 feet into the air. HMS King George V opened fire one minute later. Bismarck opened fire at 0850 hours after turning to open up A arcs. The first German salvo was short. The third and fourth salvoes straddled and nearly hit, but the Rodney manoeuvered succesfully to avoid them and the nearest fell 20 yards short. At 0854/27, HMS Norfolk joined in, but the target was not clearly visible and she opened fire without obtaining a range.
Observers state that the German gunnery was accurate at first, but commenced to deteriorate after 8 to 10 salvoes. The first hit on the Bismarck was believed to be scored by the Rodney at 0854 hours with her third salvo. Both British battleships made small alterations of course away from the enemy shortly after opening fire, the King George V to increase her distance from the Rodney and the latter to open her A arcs. From then onwards they manoeuvered independently although HMS Rodney conformed to the Flagship's general movements. The Bismarck's secondary armament came into action during this phase. HMS Rodney opened fire with her secondary armament at 0858 hours.
Run to the southward.
HMS King George V deployed to the southward at 0859/27 when the Bismarck was 16000 yards distant. HMS Rodney, 2.5 nautical miles to the northward, followed suit a minute or two later. Cordite smoke was hanging badly with the following wind and spotting was most difficult. Considerable smoke interference was therefore experienced on the southerly course which was partly overcome by radar. The Bismarck had transferred her fire to the King George V shortly after the turn but except for an occasional splash the latter hardly knew that she was under fire. At 0902/27, HMS Rodney saw a 16” shell hit the Bismarck on the upper deck forward, apparently putting the forward turrets out of action. At 0904 hours, HMS Dorsetshire joined in the firing from the eastwards from a range of 20000 yards but observation of the target was difficult and she had to check fire from 0913 to 0920 hours. Between 0910 and 0915 hours the range in King George V was more or less steady at 12000 yards.
The fate of the Bismarck was decided during this phase of the action although she did not sink until later. Around 0912 hours, the Bismarck was hit on her forward control position. During the run to the south HMS Rodney fired six torpedoes from 11000 yards and HMS Norfolk four from 16000 yards. No hits were obtained. The King George V’s secondary battery came into action at 0905 hours but this increased the smoke interference and was accordingly ordered to cease fire after two or three minutes.
Run to the northward.
At 0916/27 the Bismarck’s bearing was drawing rapidly aft and HMS Rodney turned 16 points to close and head her off. The King George V followed a minute or so later and both ships re-opened fire at ranges from 8600 and 12000 yards respectively. The Bismarck shifted her target to the Rodney about this time. A near miss damaged the sluice of her starboard torpedo tube. Most of the enemy’s guns had however been silenced at this time. Only one turret from her main armament was firing at this time as was part of her secondary armament. A fire was blazing amidships and she had a heavy list to port. During the run to the north HMS Rodney obtained a very favourable position on the Bismarck’s bow from which she poured in a heavy fire from close range. She also fired two torpedoes from 7500 yards but no hits were obtained.
HMS King George V’s position, further to leeward, was less favourable. Her view was obscured by smoke and splashes surrounding the target and her radar had temporarily broken down. Mechanical failures in the 14” turrets constituted, however, a more serious handicap at this stage. ‘A’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’ turrets were out of action for 30, 7 and a unspecified short period, respectively. This resulted in reduction of firepower of 80% for 7 minutes and 40% for 23 minutes which might have had serious effects under less favourable conditions. There were also several defects of individual guns in addition to those effecting the turrets.
At 0925/27, HMS King George V, altered outwards to 150° and reduced speed to avoid getting too far ahead of the Bismarck. She closed in again at 1005 hours, fired several salvoes from a range of only 3000 yards and then resumed her northerly course. Meanwhile HMS Rodney was zigzagging across the Bismarck’s line of advance at a range of about 4000 yards firing her main and secondary armaments. She also fired four torpedoes, one of which is thought to have hit. By 1015 hours the Bismarck was no more than a wreck. All her guns were silenced, her mast had been blown away, she was a black ruin, pouring high into the air a great cloud of smoke and flame. Men were seen jumping overboard at this time and the Captain of the King George V later remarked had he known it he would have ceased fire.
End of the action.
The Commander-in-Chief was confident that the enemy could never get back to harbour, and as both battleships were running short of fuel and as further gunfire was unlikely to hasten the Bismarck’s end, the Commander-in-Chief signalled the King George V and Rodney to steer 027° at 1015/27 in order to break off the action and return to base. At 1036/27 the Commander-in-Chief ordered HMS Dorsetshire to use her torpedoes, if she had any, on the enemy. In the meantime HMS Norfolk had been closing the target but due to the movements of the King George V and Rodney, had not fired her torpedoes until 1010 hours when she fired four torpedoes from 4000 yards and two possible hits were reported. The Dorsetshire was then approaching a mile or so to the southward, and anticipating the Commander-in-Chief’s signal at 1025 hours fired two torpedoes from 3600 yards into the enemy’s starboard side. She then steamed round the Bismarck’s bow and at 1036 hours fired another torpedo but now into her port side from 2600 yards. This was the final blow, the Bismarck heeled over quickly to port and commenced to sink by the stern. The hull turned over keel up and disappeared beneath the waves at 1040/27.
The Dorsetshire then closed and signalled to one of HMS Ark Royal’s aircraft to carry out a close A/S patrol while she was to pick up survivors assisted by HMS Maori. After 110 men had been picked up by both ships from the water both ships got underway again as a submarine was suspected to be in the area.
Damage to the Bismarck.
Survivors have told the story of terrible damage inflicted on her. The fore turrets seem to have been knocked out at 0902 hours. The fore control position was knocked out around 0912 hours. The after control position followed about 0915 hours. The after turrets were at that moment still in action. Then the aftermost gun turret was disabled by a direct hit on the left gun which burst sending a flash right through the turret. ‘C’ turret was the last one in action.
One survivor stated that around 0930 hours a shell penetrated the turbine room and another one entered a boiler room. A hit in the after dressing station killed all the medical staff and wounded that were in there at that moment. The upper deck was crowded with killed and wounded men and the seas surging in washed them overboard. Conditions below were even more terrible. Hatches and doors were jammed by concussion and blocked with wreckage. The air was thick with smoke and even more smoke was coming in from great holes in the upper deck. By 1000 hours all heavy guns were out of action and 10 minutes later the all secondary guns were also silent.
As HMS King George V and HMS Rodney turned northwards they were joined by HMS Cossack, HMS Sikh and HMS Zulu at by 1600/28 more detroyers had joined the screen (HMS Maori, HMS Jupiter, HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo, HMS Punjabi, HMAS Nestor, HMS Inglefield, HMS Lance, HMS Vanquisher (Cdr. N.V. Dickinson, DSC, RN), HMCS St. Clair (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Wallace, RCNR), HMCS Columbia (Lt.Cdr. (Retd.) S.W. Davis, RN) and HMS Ripley (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Agnew, RN). Heavy air attacks were expected that day, but only four enemy aircraft appeared, one of which bombed the screen while another one jettisoned her bombs on being attacked by a Blenheim fighter. The destroyers HMS Mashona and HMS Tartar, 100 nautical miles to the southward, were not so furtunate. They were attacked in position 52°58’N, 11°36’W at 0955/28 by German aircraft. HMS Mashona was hit and sank at noon with the loss of 1 officer and 45 men. The Commander-in-Chief reached Loch Ewe at 1230/29. Vice-Admiral Somerville with Force H was on his way back to Gibraltar. HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffieldmad rendezvous at 0800/29 with the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN). At 1605/29, HMS Forester and HMS Fury were detached to hunt a submarine further to the west. Force H, minus the two destroyers that had been detached, arrived at Gibraltar around 2030/29.
End of ‘Operation Rheinübung’.
The Bismarck’s consort, heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, was not heard off until 4 June 1941 when aircraft reported her having arrived at Brest. After leaving the Bismarck at 1914/24, the Prinz Eugen’s primary need was to replenish her fuel stock. She set course for a rendez-vous with two tankers, the Spichern (9323 GRT, built 1935, former Norwegian Krossfonn) and the Esso Hamburg (9849 GRT, built 1939) which were position to the north-west of the Azores. All next day the German cruiser made her way southwards, and at 0906/26 , some 600 nautical miles west-north-west of the Azores she sighted the Spichern and refuelled. Two reconnaissance ships had also been ordered into this area, the Gonzenheim and the Kota Pinang. On the 28th Prinz Eugen fuelled from the Esso Hamburg. She then proceeded southwards to carry out cruiser warfare against independently routed ships in the area to the north and west of the Cape Verde Islands but an inspection of her engines the next day showed that an extensive overhaul was needed. Her Commanding Officer then decided to break off the action and course was set for Brest, France where she arrived at 2030/1 June.
A German reconnaissance ship, a supply vessel and two tankers were intercepted by Royal Navy warships and sunk by their own crew or sunk with gunfire. Also two tankers were captured. These were in chronological order; tanker Belchen (6367 GRT, built 1932, former Norwegian Sysla) by gunfire from HMS Kenya and HMS Aurora on 3 June 1941 in the Greenland area in approximate position 59°00'N, 47°00'W. On 4 June the tanker Esso Hamburg by HMS London and HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN) in position 07°35'N, 31°25'W, tanker Gedania (8966 GRT, built 1920) was captured in the North Atlantic in position 43°38'N, 28°15'W by naval auxiliary (Ocean Boarding Vessel) HMS Marsdale (Lt.Cdr. D.H.F. Armstrong, RNR), she was put into service with the MOWT as Empire Garden, reconnaissance vessel Gonzenheim (4000 GRT, built 1937, former Norwegian Kongsfjord) was scuttled by her own crew after being sighted by HMS Esperance Bay ((Capt.(ret) G.S. Holden, RN) and intercepted by HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN) and finally ordered to be boarded by HMS Neptune in position 43°29'N, 24°04'W. The next day (5 June) supply vessel Egerland (10040 GRT, built 1940) was intercepted by HMS London and HMS Brilliant in approximate position 07°00'N, 31°00'W. On 12 June, HMS Sheffield, intercepted tanker Friedrich Breme (10397 GRT, built 1936) in position 49°48'N, 22°20'W and finally on 15 June, HMS Dunedin (Capt. R.S. Lovatt, RN), captured the tanker Lothringen (10746 GRT, built 1940, former Dutch Papendrecht) in position 19°49'N, 38°30'W which had first been sighted by an aircraft from HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN). The Lothringen was sent to Bermuda and was put into service by the MOWT as Empire Salvage. (7)
26 May 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) arrived at Hvalfjord, Iceland to refuel. (8)
6 Jun 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) arrived at Hvalfjord, Iceland from the Denmark Strait patrol. (9)
16 Jun 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) arrived at Hvalfjord, Iceland from the Denmark Strait patrol. (10)
17 Jun 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) departed Hvalfjord, Iceland for Scapa Flow. (10)
18 Jun 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) arrived at Scapa Flow from Hvalfjord, Iceland. (10)
21 Jun 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) departed Scapa Flow for the Clyde. (10)
22 Jun 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) arrived in the Clyde area from Scapa Flow where she joined the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) for an aircraft ferry trip to Gibraltar. The destroyers HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) joined as escorts. (10)
24 Jun 1941
While approaching Gibraltar HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) were joined by the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN). They all arrived at Gibraltar the next day. (11)
26 Jun 1941
Operation Railway (phase 1).
Fighter aircraft to be flown off to Malta.
Arpund 0400/26, the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) departed Gibraltar to proceed to the eastwards.
On board HMS Ark Royal there were 12 erected and10 unerected Hurricanes. The latter were erected during the day, the operation being completed and and all aircraft satisfactorily tested before dusk.
Speed was increased to 22 knots at 0630/26 and course was altered to 060° at 1245/26. One Catalina provided A/S patrol ahead of the fleet during the day and a second carried out RDF exercises with HMS Hermione.
Weather forecasts fom the Vice-Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic and Vice-Admiral, Malta, indicated that wind would probably be light but would be easterly at the lower altitudes in the vicinity of Malta and that the visibility would be moderate but not good for part of the passage. In view of this, HMS Ark Royal reported at 1420/26 that it would be desirable but not essential, to move the flying off position 30 miles further to the eastward than planned. Vice-Admiral Sommerville decided to do this and speed was accordingly increased to 24.5 knots from 1800 to 2200/28 and then reduced to 22.5 knots for the night. A signal was passed to the Catalina to inform 200 Group at Gibraltar of the change of rendezvous.
As far as is known the force was not sighted by hostile aircraft during the day. No enemy reports were intercepthed and the only suspicious RDF contact was at 1730/26, 85 miles north of Oran, when an aircraft was detected 15 miles to the southward, waiting. After ten minutes it faded from the srceen. The visibility was moderate with a calm se and low lying haze and it is quite possible this aircraft did not sight the force.
Information was received at 0220/27 that the first pair of Bleneims was airborne at 0140/27 and was expected at the rendezvous at 0520/27.
At 0300/27, the force ran into variable patchy fog which persisted till shortly before the flying off position was reached. At 0456, HMS Hermione reported two aircraft bearing 230°, 21 miles. HMS Ark Royal was instructed to D/F these aircraft in and searchlights and black smoke were used as additional airds. The first pair of Blenheims was sighted at 0516/27 when course was altered to 300° and speed increased to 25 knots for flying off.
The first Hurricane took off at 0526/27, the 11th at 0531/27, and the flight took departure at 0537/27. One of these Hurricanes left with undercarriage down.
Course was altered to 090° at 0532/27 and to 285° at 0558/27. The second pair of Blenheims made contact at 0608/27 and course was altered to 320° for flying off. The 12th Hurricane took off at 0619/27, the 22nd at 0623/27 and the flight took departure at 0627/27.
The mean flying off position for the two flights was 37°34'Nm 04°55'W.
As soon as the last Hurricane had flown off course was altered to 271° and the force withdrew at 25 knots. A fighter patrol and an A/S patrol was flown off and maintained throughout the day. Course was altered to 250° at 0900/27.
At 0950/27, a signal was received from Vice-Admiral, Malta that the first flight was in touch, an hour later the second formation was reported in sight.
Shortly afterwards, at 1115/27, Vice-Admiral, Malta reported that the first formation was incomplete, ad asked if any of the Hurricanes had retuned. W/T silence was broken to reply in the negative.
As no further information was received i again broke W/T silence at 1430/278 to request a report from Malta.
Meanwhile at 1215/27, when 56 miles north-north-west of Algiers, HMS Hermione detected an aircraft bearing 040°, 48 miles. It closed to 38 miles before fading on bearing 135°, 58 miles. This aircraft was probably bound for Algiers.
Information was eventually received from the Vice-Admiral, Malta, at 1510/27 that all aircraft had arrived safely at Malta, but that one had crashed on landing, the pilot being safe.
Six Swordfish carried out flying exercises in the afternoon. At 1630/27, HMS Hermione opened out on the port beam for a range and inclination exercise.
At 1700/27, HMS Ark Royal reported that a Fulmar which was due to land on, had failed to return and that W/T communication could not be established on M/F. Attempts to D/F on R.T. failed owing to limitations of ship-intalled H/F - D/F. In order to clear the radar screen fighter and A/S patrols were ordered to circle over the fleet. HMS Hermione then located the lost aircraft 55 miles to the southwardd. The aircaft was given a course to ster and landed on successfully at 1820. It was then ascertained that the beacon was out of adjustement and the W/T set ha a defective valve.
The last fighter patol landed on at 1900/27 and the A/S patrol at 2034/27. There was a low haze and the surface visibility never exceeded five miles.
A speed of 25 knots was maintained till 0300/28 when speed was reduced to 18 knots. Eight fighters and eight Swordfish were flown off at 0600/28 for exercises. One Swordfish crashed after dropping its torpedo but the crew was picked up by HMS Lance who was acting as picking up destroyer.
' Force H' entered harbour at 0930/28. (12)
28 Jun 1941
Operation Railway (phase 2).
Fighter aircraft to be flown off to Malta.
Around 1800/28 hours, ' Force A', made up of the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and the destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) departed Gibraltar to the west. This was a diversion and they turned to the east after dark.
Around 0130/29, ' Force B ', made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN), and the escort destroyer HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, DSO, RN) departed at 0130/29th. HMS Wishart and HMS Avonvale were however soon detached to return to Gibraltar.
The two groups joined at 0700/29 in position 36°12'N, 03°33'W. Course was altered to 061° at 1105/29. Throughout the forenoon the weather was clear with maximum visibility but after noon visibility decreased considerably.
At 1240/29, in position 36°30'N, 01°40'W, HMS Foxhound, on the port side of the screen, investigated a contact. The force turned away and whilst doing so HMS Forester, on the starboard side of the screen, also investigated a contact and fired a pattern of depth charges. Neither these contacts was confirmed and it is probable that vlack fish were responsible, several of these being seen in the vicinity.
No suspicious RDF contacts were reported by HMS Hermione and it is improbable that ' Force H ' had been sighted.
Weather reports received from the Vice-Admiral Commanding, North Atlantic Station and Vice-Admiral, Malta, did not necessitate any alteration in the flying off position that had been arranged. Information was received at 0230/30 that the first formation of three Blenheims had left Gibraltar at 0220/30 and expected to arrive at the rendezvous at 0520/30.
Group II, consisting of HMS Furious, HMS Fearless, HMS Lance and HMS Legion, was detached at 0430/30 to take station 5 miles to the southward of Group I consisting of HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione and the remaining destroyers.
The first Blenheim was detected by HMS Hermione at 0515/30 bearing 247°, 54 miles. This aircraft was sighted at 0535/30 and Ark Royal's first flight of Hurricanes was started up.
The wind was light and sone delay ensued in finding the best course for flying off. The first Hurricane was flown off Ark Royal at 0557/30 and the 14th at 0604/30. The first flight took departure five minutes later.
The Blenheim detailed to lead the first flight from HMS Furious was sighted by that ship at 0605/30. Engines were at once warmed and flying off commenced. Almost immediately a large flash and cloud of black some was seen to rise from HMS Furious, who was now some 8 miles to the southward. Course was altered to close but 5 miles later the second flight of Blenheims was sighted and it became necessary for Group I to turn into the wind to fly off the remaining 12 Hurricanes from HMS Ark Royal.
The 15th Hurricane was flown off at 0633/30 ad the 25th at 0637/30, the formation taking departure at 0639/30.
The two flights from HMS Ark Royal were flown off from a mean position 38°43'N, 03°29'E. During the latter part of the operation a Vichy-French liner approached from the northward on a southerly course and probably observed the 2nd flight taking off and taking departure.
HMS Furious now reported flying completed, Groups I and II closed and withdrawal was made to the west-south-west at 25 knots. it was then ascertained that after the first Hurricane had taken off successfully from HMS Furious the second swerved when half way along the deck and hit the port navigating position. A long range tank was wrenched off and the aircraft crashed over the side. Burning petrol enveloped the port side of the bridge, the port navigating and signalling position and the look-out huts.
As the bridge was burning furiously the ship was turned out of the wind and the engines stopped. As soon as the fire was under control flying off was resumed and the fist flight was airborne by 0623/30. The formation of nine led by the Blenheim then proceeded to Malta.
Among the personnel in the positions which caught fire wee the Headquarters flying staf, all the RAF pilots of the second flight, the pilots of the Sea Hurricanes, communication ratings, submarine look-outs, port medical party and the port fire party.
HMS Fearless closed HMS Furious at once when the Hurricane crashed and picked up the pilot who as suffering from minor injuries, and also another pilot was had been seen to jump overboard in flames. This officer was severely burnt and later died on board HMS Fearless. Two officers and one rating died at once in Furious and by midnight the total casualty list was: 4 Naval Officers (FAA), 1 RAF Officer, 4 Naval ratings. Seriously injured were: 2 Naval Officers (1 FAA, both have since died), 3 RAF Officers, 7 Naval ratings (2 have since died), 4 RAF ratings (1 has since died). Also 1 Naval officer was injured as was 1 RAF rating.
As one of Furious' doctors was a casualty Ark Royal flew over two doctors to assist.
The seagoing efficiency of the ship is not affected except for the destruction of the communications to the port navigating position. The fighting efficiency is affected to the extent that various gun cummunication and control instruments are destroyed. The six Hurricanes of the second flight were not damaged but could not be flown off as all their pilots were casualties.
An A/S patrol was maintained all day and a fighter patrol of four aircraft till 1700/30.
At 1425/30 information was received that all the six Blenheims and 35 Hurricanes had arrived safely at Malta.
During the afternoon (flying) exercises were carried out. Before dark six Swordfish of 818 Squadron were transferred from HMS Ark Royal to HMS Furious.
At 0600/1 when off Europa Point HMS Furious flew off three Sea Hurricanes to North Point and then screened by HMS Faulknor and HMS Fearless proceeded into harbour. The remainder of the force turned back to the eastward for exercises. HMS Hermione was detached to act as target. Both destroyers that had escorted Furious into harbour also rejoined.
On completion of the exercises ' Force H ' arrived in harbour at 1030/1. (12)
1 Jul 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) departed Gibraltar around 2330/1 to proceed into the Atlantic to patrol in position 40°00'N, 15°00'W (to the west of Portugal) to search for enemy raider or supply ships. (13)
4 Jul 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) returned to Gibraltar, from a patrol in the Atlantic, around 1715 hours. (13)
4 Jul 1941
The aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) and the troopships Cameronia (16297 GRT, built 1920) and Scythia (British, 19761 GRT, built 1920) departed Gibraltar for the Clyde.
They were escorted by the light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and the destroyers HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN).
On 5 July HMS Furious was bombed by three German Focke Wulf aircraft but no damage was caused.
Light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN) relieved HMS Hermione around 0800/6 after being detached from convoy WS.9B on 3 July. HMS Hermione then proceeded on patrol.
Destroyer HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) was detached from convoy OG 66 on the 5 July to join the Furious group which she did on 8 July.
HMS Wishart departed the escort on the 8th with orders to proceed to Ponta Delgada, Azores to refuel and then return to Gibraltar.
HMS Edinburgh also parted company on the 8th.
HMS Edinburgh and HMS Hermione arrived at Gibraltar on the 10th. HMS Faulknor and HMS Fury arrived back at Gibraltar on the 14th.
HMS Furious, HMS Royal Sovereign with the troopships arrived in the Clyde on 12 July. They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Legion, HMS Lance and ORP Piorun. (12)
11 Jul 1941
The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN, with Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN on board) departed Gibraltar at 0730/11 for exercises and flying training. She was being escorted by the destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN). The light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) departed Gibraltar at 1020/11 to join the exercises. The Admiral later returned to Gibraltar in an aircraft.
At 0815/12, HMS Renown (Rear-Admiral R.R. McGrigor, RN) sailed from Gibraltar to join the exercises. All ships returned to harbour around 1700/12. (12)
21 Jul 1941
Operation Substance, convoys to and from Malta
Passage through the Straits of Gibraltar of the eastbound convoy and sailing from Gibraltar of the remaining ships involved in the operation.
Around 0130/21 convoy WS 9C passed the Straits of Gibraltar. The convoy at that moment consisted of six merchant ships; City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937), Deucalion (7516 GRT, built 1930), Durham (10893 GRT, built 1934), Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) and Sydney Star (11095 GRT, built 1936).
At the time they passed through the Straits they were escorted by HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN), flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, RN), HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) and HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN).
HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN), HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN) departed Gibraltar around 0200/21 escorting troopship Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937) which was to join the convoy. However Leinster grounded while leaving Gibraltar and had to left behind. The small fleet tanker RFA Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941, master D.B.C. Ralph) left Gibraltar around the same time escorted by the destroyer HMS Beverley (Lt.Cdr. J. Grant, RN).
About one hour later, around 0300/21, HMS Renown (Rear-Admiral R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) departed Gibraltar to give convoy for the convoy during the passage to Malta.
At sea the forces were redistributed; Force H, the cover force HMS Renown, HMS Nelson, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione, HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Fury, HMS Lightning and HMS Duncan.
Force X, the close escort for the convoy HMS Edinburgh, HMS Manchester, HMS Arethusa, HMS Manxman, HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMAS Nestor, HMS Fearless, HMS Firedrake, HMS Foxhound, HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Farndale.
Plan for the operation
Force H was to cover the convoy until it reached the narrows between Sicily and Tunisia. Force X was to escort the convoy all the way to Malta. Ships of Force X also had troops for Malta on board that had been taken to Gibraltar by troopship Pasteur. On 23 July 1941, the day the eastbound convoy would reach ‘the narrows’ five empty transports and two tankers would depart Malta for Gibraltar (Convoy MG 1) The seven empty transports were; Group 1 (speed 17 knots) HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939), Talabot (6798 GRT, built 1936),
Group 2 (speed 14 knots) Thermopylae (6655 GRT, built 1930), Amerika (10218 GRT, built 1930),
Group 3 (speed 12 knots) Settler (6202 GRT, built 1939), Tanker Svenor (7616 GRT, built 1931) and Tanker Hoegh Hood (9351 GRT, built 1936) These were escorted by the destroyer HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) which had been repairing and refitting at Malta.
Through intelligence it was known that the Italian Navy had five battleships operational (three of them at Taranto) and about ten cruisers divided between Taranto, Palermo and Messina. The Italian Air Force had about 50 torpedo planes and 150 bombers (30 of which were dive bombers) stationed in Sardinia and Sicily, roughly half of each type on both islands.
The Royal Air Force was able to be of more help than during the previous convoy trip from Gibraltar to Malta last January. Aircraft from Gibraltar conducted A/S patrols for the fleet during the first two days of the passage to the east. Also patrols were flown between Sardinia and the coast of Africa, while aircraft from Malta conducted reconnaissance between Sardinia and Sicily, besides watching the Italian ports. Malta would also provide fighter escort for Force X and the convoy after Force H would part with them and HMS Ark Royal could no longer provide fighter cover for them.
During the operation eight submarines (HMS Olympus (Lt.Cdr. H.G. Dymott, RN), HMS Unique (Lt. A.F. Collett, RN), HMS Upholder (Lt.Cdr. M.D. Wanklyn, DSO, RN), HMS Upright (Lt. J.S. Wraith, DSC, RN), HMS Urge (Lt. E.P. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Utmost (Lt.Cdr. R.D. Cayley, DSO, RN), HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) and HrMs O 21 (Lt.Cdr. J.F. van Dulm, RNN)) were on patrol to report and attack Italian warships that might be sailed to intercept the convoy.
The passage East, 22 July 1941
On 22 July the destroyers from Force X oiled from the Brown Ranger two at a time. A task that took about 10 hours. Having completed the oiling of the destroyers the Brown Ranger and her escort returned to Gibraltar. An Italian aircraft had reported Force H in the morning but the convoy and Force X, at that moment about 100 nautical miles to the south-westward, appeared not to have been sighed. At 2317/22 the Italian submarine Diaspro missed HMS Renown with torpedoes. HMAS Nestor sighted the torpedo tracks and was able to warn HMS Renown which was then able to avoid the torpedoes by doing an emergency turn to port.
The passage East and attacks by the Italian Air Force, 23 July 1941
Force H rejoined the convoy around 0800/23 as the British were now approaching the danger area. Shadowing aircraft had already reported the position of the fleet that morning and heavy air attacks soon followed.
The first came at 0945 hours, a well times combination of nine high level bombers and six or seven torpedo planes approaching from the north-east. HMS Ark Royal had eleven fighters up, which met the bombers about 20 miles from the fleet. They managed to down two of the nine bombers but unfortunately three Fulmars were shot down by the enemy. The other seven bombers came on working round the head of the screen of destroyers to attack the convoy from the starboard beam at a height of 10000 feet. Their bombs fell harmlessly amongst the leading ships as they altered course to avoid the attack. The torpedo planes however were more successful. They came from ahead out of the sun, flying low, and as the destroyers opened fire they divided into groups of two or three and to attack the convoy on both sides. Two aircraft attacked HMS Fearless, stationed ahead in the screen, dropping their torpedoes at ranges of 1500 and 800 yards from a height of 70 feet. The destroyer avoided the first torpedo, but was hit by the second, set on fire, and completely disabled. Other aircraft went to press on their attacks on the convoy itself. One of them, dropping its torpedo between two merchant vessels hit HMS Manchester as she was turning to regain her station after avoiding two torpedoes fired earlier. She reversed helm once more but to no avail. During the attacks three enemy torpedo bombers were shot down by AA fire from the ships.
HMS Manchester was badly damaged and could only use one engine out of four. At first she could steam only 8 knots. She was ordered to make for Gibraltar with HMS Avon Vale as escort. That evening, further to the westward, they were attacked again by three enemy torpedo planes but their AA gunfire kept the enemy at a distance. Both ships successfully reached Gibraltar on the 26th.
At 1010/23 five more bombers tried to attack the convoy crossing this time from north to south. Fighters from HMS Ark Royal forced them to drop their bombs from great height and mostly outside the screen.
At 1645/23 five more torpedo planes led by a seaplane came in from the northward. Three Fulmars caught them about 20 miles away. They managed to shoot down two planes and drove the remainder away.
Soon afterwards the fleet arrived off the entrance to the Skerki Channel. There HMS Hermione was transferred to Force X to take the place of HMS Manchester. Six destroyers were assigned to Force H and eight to Force X. At 1713 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville hauled round to the westward. HMS Ark Royal kept her Fulmars up until RAF Beaufighters had arrived from Malta to take over.
The convoy was attacked again around 1900/23. Four torpedo planes arrived from the eastward, flying low and and working round from ahead to the starboard side of the convoy. They approached in pairs in line abreast. They kept HMS Sikh (on the starboard bow of the screen) between them and their target until nearly the moment for attack, thereby hampering the AA fire from the other ships. They dropped their torpedoes from long range from a height of 50 feet and nearly hit HMS Hermione, sternmost ship in the starboard column. To avoid the attack each column of the convoy turned 90° outwards and all warships opened barrage fire from all guns that would bear. The barrage however fell short but it caused the Italians to drop their torpedoes early. Also one of the enemy was possibly shot down.
This attack scattered the convoy and it took some time to reform. At 1945/23 about seven bombers appeared from ahead at a height of about 14000 feet to attack the convoy from the port side. The convoy altered 40° to port together and the escort opened up a controlled fire with some hesitation as the Italian aircraft looked a lot like Beaufighters. The bombing was extremely accurate. Several bombs fell near HMS Edinburgh which was leading the port column, and a near miss abreast a boiler room disabled HMS Firedrake which had been sweeping ahead of the convoy. She could no longer steam so Rear-Admiral Syfret ordered her back to Gibraltar in tow of HMS Eridge. They had an anxious passage, being shadowed by aircraft continuously during daylight hours, but were not again attacked. On the 25th HMS Firedrake managed to lit one boiler so the tow was slipped. Both destroyers entered Gibraltar harbour on the 27th.
Soon after leaving the Skerki Channel in the evening of the 23th the convoy hauled up to the north-east towards the coast of Sicily. This was to lessen the danger of mines. The Italians did not shadow the convoy after the attack at 1945 hours and missed this alteration of course which they clearly did not expect. Around 2100 hours, as it was getting dark, enemy aircraft were seen searching along its old line of advance. During the evening the convoy sighted flares several times about 20 miles to the south.
Continued passage to the east and enemy attacks, 24 July 1941
Between 0250 and 0315 hours the convoy was however attacked by the Italian MAS boats MAS 532 and MAS 533. The managed to torpedo and damaged the Sydney Star. HMAS Nestor went alongside and took off almost 500 soldiers. Sydney Star was however able to continue her passage as staggler escorted initially by HMAS Nestor. Admiral Syfret however sent back HMS Hermione. At 1000/24 eight German dive bombers and two high level bombers attacked. Their bombs fell close the escorting ships. HMS Hermione shot down one dive bomber. The three ships arrived at Malta early in the afternoon.
The main body of the convoy meanwhile continued on its way unhindered after the attacks of the motor torpedo boats except for an attempt by three torpedo planes around 0700 hours. They dropped their torpedoes at a safe distance when fired on by the destroyers in the screen ahead. According to the orders Rear-Admiral Syfret was to leave the convoy now, if there was no threat from Italian surface forces, and go on to Malta with the cruisers and some of the destroyers. They were to land the passengers and stores, complete with fuel and return to Force H as soon as possible. The remaining destroyers were to accompany the transports to Malta. They too were to join Force H as soon as possible. Rear-Admiral Syfret felt easy about the surface danger as all Italian ships were reported in harbour the day before, but he was anxious about the threat to the convoy from the air. He decided to go ahead with the cruiser but leave all destroyers with the convoy so at 0745/24, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Arethusa and HMS Manxman left the convoy and pressed ahead at high speed to Malta where they arrived at noon the same day. The transports and the destroyers arrived about four hours later. They had been attacked only once by a torpedo plane since the cruisers separated.
Return passage of the warships of force X to make rendez-vous with Force H.
In the evening HMS Edinburgh, HMS Arethusa, HMS Hermione and HMS Manxman sailed together followed by five destroyers; HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMAS Nestor, HMS Foxhound, later the same evening. The destroyers overtook the cruisers in the morning of the 25th. The sixth destroyer, HMS Farndale, had to be left at Malta due to defects (condenser problems). All ships made rendez-vous with Force H to the north-west of Galita Island at 0800/25.
Movements of Force H after it parted from the convoy.
After parting with the convoy in the evening of the 23rd, Vice-Admiral Somerville had taken force H westward at 18 knots until the afternoon of the 24th going as far west as 03°30’E. He then turned back to meet Admiral Syfret, also sending from HMS Ark Royal six Swordfish aircraft which left her in position 37°42’N, 07°17’E at 1000/25. After their junction Forces H and X made the best of way towards Gibraltar. Fighter patrols of HMS Ark Royal shot down a shadowing aircraft soon after the fleet had shaped course to the westward, losing a Fulmar in doing so. However another aircraft had meanwhile reported the fleet.
High level bombers appeared from the east and torpedo bombers from the north at 1100 hours. HMS Ark Royal at that moment had four fighters in the air and sent up six more. They prevented the bombing attack shooting down three aircraft out of eight at a cost of two Fulmars, while the ships watched the enemy jettison their bombs 15 miles away. The torpedo attack came to nothing too for the enemy gave up the attempt and retired while still several miles from the fleet. Two days later, on the 27th, the fleet reached Gibraltar.
The movements of the seven empty ships coming from Malta.
Six of the transports / tankers left Malta for Gibraltar in the morning of the 23rd, escorted by HMS Encounter. The seventh ship, tanker Svenor grounded while leaving harbour and was held up for some hours. At dusk, when a few miles from Pantelleria, the six ships devided into pairs according to their speed. HMS Encounter initially escorted the middle pair but joined the leading ships in the evening of the 24th when past the Galita Bank.
Italian aircraft, both high level bombers and torpedo planes, attacked all these ships on the 24th to the southward of Sardinia. They made their first attempt on the second pair of transports and HMS Encounter. Four torpedo planes attacked at 1230/24 and four bombers at 1250/24. No ships were hit though the bombs fell close. Next came the turn for the leading pair, which were attacked further westwards by two bombers that came singly at 1330/24 and 1400/24. The second plane nearly hit HMS Breconshire. Finally when the third pair of ships reached about the same position in the evening they were attacked by torpedo planes and the Hoegh Hood was damaged but she managed to arrive at Gibraltar only a few hours after her consort on the 27th. The last ship, the one that had been delayed at Malta, arrived on the 28th. (14)
30 Jul 1941
Ferrying of troops and supplies to Malta and diversery attack on Sardinia.
' Force X ', made up of the light cruisers HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), fast minelayer HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN) and escorted by the destroyers HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN) and HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN) departed Gibraltar on the 31 July 1941 carrying the troops and supplies that had been on the troopship Leinster and the light cruiser HMS Manchester which had not reached Malta during Operation Substance.
To cover ' Force X ', ' Force H ' departed Gibraltar on 30 July 1940 and it was made up of the battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, now flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), battlecruiser HMS Renown (Rear-Admiral R.R. McGrigor, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN). They were also ordered to create a diversion for the operation.
An then these was also ' Force S ' which was made up of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941, master D.B.C. Ralph) escorted by the escort destroyer HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN). This force also departed Gibraltar on 30 July 1941.
At 1630/31, the destroyers HMS Cossack and HMS Maori were detached to bombard the harbours of Alghero and Port Conte on Sardinia and fire star shells for a night raid by aircraft from the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. Also the seaplane base at Porte Conte was to be attacked.
The destroyers at first proceeded as of making for the Straits of Bonifacio altering course after dark.
At 0130/1, HMS Maori parted company with HMS Cossack and proceeded toward Porte Conte while Cossack went towards Maddalena Island where she switched on her searchlight at 0220/1 to search the bay and the harbour. Cossack also fired starshell on various bearings from north to south-east and moved right into Alghero Roads. They harbour and roads were completely emptry and no targets could be found. One starshell started a fire in a building about 2 miles north of the town.
Meanwhile Maori had opened fire with starshell at 0210/1 in the entrance to Port Conte and steamed up the bay at 12 knots. The whole bay was illuminated and seen to be empty. Buildings on the hill to the east of the harbour were illuminated by searchlight and the Customs house and one other official looking building were demolished by gunfire at a range decreasing from 4000 to 2000 yards. A church between these two targets was not fired at. Maori detected a large number of sharp asdic contacts ahead and thinking they might be possibly caused by a line of mines, stopped engines and turned round.
At 0235/1, Cossack sighted a plane flying up the coast from the south and passing over Alghero. As there were no targets to be engaged and as he considered a sufficient diversion had been caused in the vicinity, Capt. Berthon ordered both destroyers to withdraw which they then did to the south-west. When clear of the 50 fathom line speed was increased to 32 knots and course was shaped to rejoin ' Force H ' after daylight.
At 0310/1, ' Force H ' alterered course together and HMS Ark Royal flew off 9 Swordfish from position 40°43'N, 06°35'E, for a bombing attack on Alghero airodrome. On completion of flying off the fleet withdrew on course 255° at 20 knots.
The aircraft, which were armed with four 250lb G.P. bombs, 40lb G.P. bombs and 20lb H.E. bombs abd flares were ordered to attack aircraft on the ground and the aerodrome buildings and hangars.
When they attacked two direct hits were observed on the equipment shop where a fire broke out. The eastern and western hangars and the living quarters were also hit and fired were caused in the two latter targets.
As soon as the flares illuminated the aerodrome considerable light AA fire was experienced but no aircraft was hit. No enemy aircraft were observed. A fire was burning in a two storey building just to the north of the town of Alghero which was probably that started by the starshell from HMS Cossack.
All aircraft returned to the carrier. Landing on began at 0621/1. As the third aircraft landed a 40lb G.P. bomb exploded which had probably hung up on the racks, exploded setting the aircraft on fire, blowing a hole in the deck and killing four officers and three ratings. One rating was wounded. The remaining aircraft now could not be landed before the remains of the burnt aircraft had been hauled aft and the flight deck was repaired. Also the arrestor gear was damaged by the explosion and had to be repaired. Repairs were completed at 0715/1 after the remaining six aircraft landed on. Course was continued to the westward and HMS Cossack and HMS Maori rejoined at 0800/1.
At 0812/1, an Italian aircraft was sighted but the fighters could not intercept as it hid in the low cloud.
Another aircraft was reported to the southward at 0852/1 but again the fighters failed to make contact. The aircraft was however believed to be a Spanish flying boat.
All aircraft were landed on by noon owing to low visibility and approaching heavy rain.
Attempts to refuel destroyers in the afternoon from Brown Ranger did not succeed owing to the weather and the tanker with its escort were ordered to proceed further to the south. HMS Cossack and HMS Maori went with them as they were the first that had to refuel. They were ordered to try to refuel during the night if possible ad make rendezvous with ' Force H ' at 0630/2.
At 1807/1, HMS Renown reported that her port bulge wa coming away and that she would require docking on arrival at Gibraltar and that high speed was undesirable except in an emergency.
Meanwhile ' Force X ' had proceeded to the eastward some 35 nautical miles from the African coast. They streamed paravanes at 0700/1 and then proceeded at 25 knots increasing to 26 knots at noon. At 2000/1 speed was increased to 28 knots which was Arethusa's best speed with paravanes streamed.
While ' Force X ' was passing south of Sardinia, ' Force H ' proceeded down the western side of the Balearics to make rendezvous with Brown Ranger the following morning.
At 0025/2, ' Force X ' intercepted an enemy report which might have emanated from a submarine sighting the force while it passed the Cani Rocks. Cape Bon was passed 1.5 nautical miles abeam to starboard at 0145/2.
At 0510/2 the light cruiser Hermione rammed and sank Italian submarine Tembien between Pantelleria and Linosa in position 36°21'N, 12°40'E. The light cruiser sustained only light damage. HMS Lightning was then briefly detached to search the area but soon rejoined having sighted nothing.
' Force X ' arrived safely at Malta at 0900/2.
Meanwhile ' Force H ', having passed to the westward of the Balearics during the night, made rendezvous with the Brown Ranger at 0630 some 40 nautical miles south-east of Ibiza. HMS Cossack and HMS Avon Vale had topped off with fuel ad HMS Maori who made an unsuccesful attempt before dark was completing with fuel as ' Force H ' approached.
There was a north-westerly wind force 4 and a slight south-west swell. Brown Ranger steamed to and fro south of te islands on courses either directly with or against the prevailing south-westerly swell whilst ' Force H ' cruised within visibility distance changing destroyers as necessary for fuelling. Problems with the gear on board the Brown Ranger caused some delays. All destroyers were however able to refuel and at 1900/2 Brown Ranger was ordered to return to Gibraltar now escorted by HMS Eridge.
While oiling was tanking place and A/S patrol was kept up over the area while a fighter patrol was kept ready on the deck of HMS Ark Royal.
At 1900/2, after the last destroyers had just completed fuelling, ' Force H ' altered course to 102° at 18 knots. Speed was increased to 20 knots at 2200/2 to rendezvous with ' Force X ' about 0830/3 in position 38°05'N, 07°28'E.
While ' Force H ' had been spending the day south of the Balearics, ' Force X ' was unloading troops and stores and fuelling at Malta. ' Force X ' sailed at 1600/2 augumented by the escort destroyer HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) who had completed repairs at Malta. The force proceeded at 24 knots, this being HMS Farndale's best speed. When north of Gozo, HMS Farndale reported that she could not maintain a higher speed than 18 knots. She was then ordered by HMS Hermione to return to Malta.
' Force X ' then increased speed to 26 knots and returned by the same route which they had followed successfully on the eastward passage through Tunisian territorial waters. Owing to loss of paravanes HMS Hermione was stationed astern of the line, which was led by HMS Arethusa.
At 2215/2, RDF indicated a low flying aircraft 20 miles to the southward and up moon. The aircraft came straight in, unseen, and passing about 1000 feet overhead, opened 8 miles to the northward and faded. It was though the aircraft had failed to sight the force but a little later it returned and appeared to circle ahead.
At 2225/2 when in position 36°28'N, 12°00'E, the aircraft approached at right angles on HMS Hermione'sHermione's stern. The aircraft was engaged by pom-pom and seen to jink just before dropping it's torpedo which missed well astern. The speed of ' Force X ' was evidently considerably underestimated. The aircraft which did not appear to be hit was held by RDF as far as Pantellaria before it faded. Twenty minutes later a shore station was heard apparently homing an aircraft but no enemy report was intercepted.
At 0027/3, ' Force X ' was turning to starboard to approach Kelibia a small darkeneded vesel was sighted at about 5000 yards on the port beam. Guns and searchlights were trained on but as the vessel drew into the path of the moon it was identified as a small schooner. The order was passed to 'revert to normal' but Hermione's pom-pom opened fire at about 4000 yards. HMS Manxman and HMS Arethusa both joining in. Cease fire was immediately ordered by W/T. No hits were observed.
' Force X ' proceeded without further incident to rendezvous with ' Force H '. A low layer of misty cloud and reduced visibility probably accounted for the abence of enemy air reconnaissance.
At 0612/3, HMS Ark Royal, flew off a reconnaissance of three aircraft along tracks 080°, 093° and 106° to a depth of 80 miles to locate ' Force X ' and any enemy forces that might be to the northward and between forces ' X ' and ' H '.
At 0640/3, HMS Foresight sighted a floating mine and sank it with small arms fire. HMS Foresight was then stationed 3 miles 160° from HMS Nelson to asist in homing in the reconnaissance aircraft.
The first fighter patrol was flown off at 0700/3. An hour later the reconnaissance aircraft returned reporting ' Force X ' bearing 117°, 33 nautical miles from HMS Nelson. No enemy forces had been sighted. HMS Foresight was then ordered to rejoin the destroyer screen.
at 0835/3, when ' Force H ' was 75 nautical miles west-north-west of Galita, ' Force X ' was sighted 6 nautical miles to the eastward.
' Force H ' altered course to 270° as ' Force X ' joined and the whole fleet withdrew to the westward at 20 knots. Visibility gradually improved.
At 0927/3, while the visibility was still low, an enemy aircraft was sighted and one section of fighters was sent to investigate. The enemy only entered the visibility circle to the north-west for a very short period before making off at high speed on a course of 250°. The fighters were not able to intercept the enemy.
At 1006/3, a shadower was detected by RDF and four fighters in the air were sent to intercept. The enemy was engaged by one of the Fulmars but was able to take cover in the clouds and disappeared to the north-east.
An emeny report was intercepted at 1045/3 indicating that this aircraft reported the position of the fleet at 1010/3. No further enemy aircraft were sighted.
Course was altered to 260° at 1515/3 and speed was reduced to 18 knots as by this time HMS Repulse's port bulge had started to fold back. At 1917/3 course was altered to 250°.
Low visibility probably persised in the vicinity of Cagliari during the forenoon and early afternoon may have been partly responsible for the enemy's lack of enterprise.
At 0400 when in position 37°22'N, 01°01'E, look-outs in HMS Avon Vale heard shouts and after investigating picked up an RAF sergeant pilot from a rubber dinghy. He was the sole survivor of a Wellington aircraft whichhad force landed on the night of 31 July when en-route from Gibraltar to Malta.
At daylight the fleetwas divided into three groups to facilitate berthing arrangements at Gibraltar. Group one comprising HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione, HMS Lightning, HMS Sikh, HMS Encounter and HMS Forester proceeded ahead at 27 knots and entered harbour at 2030/4.
Group two, comprising HMS Nelson, HMS Arethusa, HMS Manxman, HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Foxhound and HMS Fury proceeded at 20 knots and entered harbour at 2230 hours.
And finally, Group three, comprising HMS Renown, HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMAS Nestor and HMS Avon Vale proceeded at 18 knots and entered harbour at midnight. (12)
9 Aug 1941
A commercial aircraft reported sighting a suspicious merchant vessel in position 46°37'N, 09°22'W.
Following this report the destroyer HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN), which had been detached from convoy HG 34 on the 8th, was ordered to investigate.
Also the light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) departed Gibraltar around 2330/9 to intercepted this reported merchant vessel.
Then on the 10th, the heavy cruiser HMS London (Capt. R.M. Servaes, CBE, RN), detached from convoy WS 10, also proceeded to try to intercept the reported merchant vessel.
No contact was howefver made by these warships and on the 11th, HMS Hermione was ordered to return to Gibraltar, arriving around 0630/13.
14 Aug 1941
At 2230/14 the following ships departed Gibraltar for exercises; battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and the destroyers HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. H.G.D. de Chair, RN).
At 0930/16, HMS Nelson and HMS Vimy returned to harbour. HMS Hermione returned at 1610/16.
HMS Ark Royal returned to harbour at 1130/17 after having completed flying training. The destroyers HMS Nestor, HMS Fury, HMS Forester, HMS Foresight and HMS Encounter which had been screening the carrier only returned at 1400/17 after having conducted torpedo firings. (12)
21 Aug 1941
Air attacks on Sardinia and minelaying in the Gulf of Genoa.
At 2200/21, ' Force H ', departed Gibraltar and set course to the eastward. It was made up of the battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, now flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN) and light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN).
The fast minelayer HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN) departed Gibraltar at 0210/22 and also set course to the eastward.
' Force H ' passed 9 miles south of Alboran Island at 0530/22 and shaped course 080° at 17 knots altering course to 065° at 1400/22 when 28 miles north of Oran.
An east-north-east wind persisted all day, rising to force 6 by 1800/22 after which it fell to a light breeze. The visibility throughout the day was approximately 10 miles from 1000 feet and there is no reason to suppose that the force was sighted by enemy aircraft.
Several exercises had been carried out during the day. At 2200/22, ' Force H ' was in position 37°00'N, 01°32'E, steering 070°.
At 0600/23, when ' Force H ' was in position 37°48'N, 04°07'E course was altered to 300° to avoid being too far to the eastward before dark.
The first RDF report was at 0810/23 when the fleet was 80 nautical miles north-north-east of Algiers. An aircraft was detected bearing 020°, 30 miles. It pased from east to west some 25 miles north of the fleet. A section of fighters was then flown off from HMS Ark Royal.
An aircraft was sighted by HMS Ark Royal at 0850/23 and the fighters were directed on. The shadower, a Cant 506B, was attacked nine times fom astern before all ammunition was expended. The rear gunner was put out of action and one wing was damaged, but the aircraft escaped. Whilst returning to the carrier the fighters reported a second enemy aircraft ten miles to the southward and a relief section of fighters was flown off at 0915/23 and made contact ten minutes later with another Cant 506B. Seven attacks were carried out before all ammunition was expended. Although some of these attacks were made from close range, the enemy escaped with his rear gunner out of action. It appears that the pilots and engines in these aircraft are now well armoured.
At 1230/23, ' Force H ' altered course to 055° when in position 38°23'N, 02°45'E. Speed was increased to 18.5 knots to reach the required position for flying off the night striking force.
During the afternoon there were various RDF reports but the aircraft were all considered to be civil machines bound to or from North Africa. At 1722/23 when in position 38°58'N, 04°17'E an aircraft was sighted low down bearing 300° passing from North to South. The fighters were vectored on and shortly afterwards reported they had shot down a Ju.52 with swastika markings on the tail.
Speed was increased to 19 knots at 2000/23 and forty minutes later course was altered to 047° to reach the flying off position about 80 miles west of Port Conte.
At 0250/24, ' Force H ' altered course to 115° into the wind and increased speed to 23 knots. Ten Swordfish were flown off from position 40°50'N, 06°59'E to attack the cork woods in the vicinity of Tempio. Immediately all aircraft had flown off course was altered to 235° and withdrawal was made at 20 knots.
Flying conditions were good and navigation was aided by a clear starlight night and a poor black out at Tempio. Woods to the west and south-east of the town were attacked with incendiaries and many large fires were started. A warehouse on the south-west outskirts of the town was also left well alight. It was unfortunate there was only a slight breeze in the target area or the conflagration might have been considerably assisted. Only light AA fire was encountered. All aircraft returned safely at 0615/24 and all were landed on at 0645/24.
At 0735/24 an unknown aircraft was detected by RDF bearing 170° 32 miles and the fighter patrol was sent in to intercept. On reaching a position 28 miles from the fleet the unknown aircraft turned away and faded from the screen. The fighters were recalled.
At 0920/24 two signals were intercepted from an aircraft from Malta reporting units of the Italian Fleet about 30 miles south of Cagliari at 0810/24 steering 240° at 15 knots. The total enemy force at this time was reported as two battleships, four cruisers and nineteen destroyers.
At 1251/24 a signal was intercepted from HMS Upholder (Lt.Cdr. M.D. Wanklyn, DSO, RN) reporting one battleship, two cruisers and six destroyers in position 38°30'N, 12°00'E, steering 215° at 25 knots at 1030/24. This brought the total strenght of the enemy up to three battleships, six cruisers and twenty-five destroyers.
It was clear that ' Force H ' alone could not engage this concentration, but it hoped it might prove possible to launch a torpedo-bomber attack at dusk, provided the enemy were sufficiently far to the westward to reduce to a reasonable extent the chances of the torpedo-bombers being intercepted by enemy shore-based fighters. ' Force H ' steered 235° until 1340/24, when ' Force H ' was 67 miles south-east of Palma when course was chenged to 170°.
Vice-Admiral Sommerville however received no further information on the enemy and at 1420/24 he broke W/T silence to ask the Vice-Admiral Malta if he could shadow then enemy between 1600/24 and 2100/24, providing they were west of Cagliari. At 1520/24 when in position 38°28'N, 04°05'E, ' Force H ' altered course to 090°.
By 1600/24 there was still no information on the enemy's whereabouts. As it was thought possible that the enemy was within 40 to 50 miles of ' Force H ' if he had continued a westerly course at high speed, ' Force H ' turned to the westward flying off an air reconnaissance from position 38°25'N, 04°14'E to search to a depth of 110 miles.
At 1705/24 te RDF detected a hadower approaching from the eastward and the fighters were vectored on. Contact was made at 1720/24 and the shadower, although engaged until all ammunition was expended after sixteen attacks, escaped with his rear gunner silenced. Some fourty minutes later an enemy report was intercepted from an Italian aircraft.
The reconnaissance, which had sighted nothing, was landed on at 1945/24 when course was altered to 230° and speed reduced to 17 knots.
At 2012/24 a signal was received from the Vice-Admiral, Malta stating the air reconnaisance had sighted two battleships and fourteen destroyers in position 38°38'N, 09°31'E, steering 140°, speed 15 knots at 1655/24, and four cruisers and five destroyers in position 38°35'N, 09°25'E at 1700/24 steering 070° at 15 knots. The signal added that ethe enemy were not being shadowed. This report indicated that an attack on the enemy was not feasable and it was clearly his intention to refuse action except under close cover of his shore-based air forces.
At 2230/24, ' Force H ' altered course to pass between Ibiza and Majorca during the night.
At 0330/25, course was altered to 290° to steer for Valencia, where it was intended ' Force H ' should make a demonstration with a large number of aircraft in the air. Paravanes were streamed at 0645/25 before entering coastal waters.
At 0930/25, HMS Ark Royal started flying off aircraft and ' Force H ' steamed down the coast from Sugunto to Valencia seven miles off shore. Fourteen Fulmars and seventeen Swordfish circling overhead. During this demonstration a Spanish submarine surfaced about four miles on the port bow and displayed two large Spanish ensigns. Several small craft were passed at close quarters.
All aircraft were landed on by 1200/25 and the force proceeded to the southward at 17 knots. Various exercises were carried out during the afternoon and evening. One Swordfish, taking part in a navigation exercise, force landed due to oil-failure. HMS Hermione was despatched ahead at full speed and recovered the crw uninjured.
After dark a night-encounter exercise was carried out with HMS Hermione, star-shell and searchlights being used.
Various practices were carried out. Including an attack by aircraft during which nine torpedoes were dropped.
' Force H ' retuned to Gibraltar at 1430/26. (12)
2 Sep 1941
In the morning the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and the destroyers HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN) departed Gibraltar for exercises. HMS Hermione returned at 1630/2 while HMS Ark Royal and the destroyers only returned at 1515/3. (12)
7 Sep 1941
Operation Status (phase 1).
Fighter aircraft to be flown off to Malta.
At 1700/7, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) departed Gibraltar and proceeded to the west with a view of promoting the idea that no operation was intended and that the subequent movements of HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN) were connected with local exercises. HMS Hermione was instructed to return through the Straits after dark and rendezvous with HMS Ark Royal to to east and out of sight of Gibraltar and Ceuta after daylight.
After dark, HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) was warped close up to HMS Ark Royal and 26 Hurricanes and 1 Swordfish were transferred by means of the ramp.
At 2300 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville embarked onboard HMS Ark Royal with certain members of his staff.
HMS Ark Royal slipped at 0540/8 but owing to a westerly wind of 18 miles an hour and HMS Furious occupying the berth immediately astern, the three tugs available experienced great difficulty in hauling off and the harbour entrance was not passed until 0705/8.
After flying off 1 Swordfish and 1 Fulmar to North Front course was shaped to the eastward with the destroyers HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) as A/S screen. One Catalina was patrolling overhead.
During the day all Hurricanes were W/T tested, engines run up and then ranged aft. The pilots were also given full instructions for the take off and passage to Malta.
So far as can be ascertained the force was not sighted during this day.
After leaving Gibraltar a moderate westerly wind was experienced until reaching the vicinity of Alboran Island when the wind fell to light airs and subsequently changed to moderate and at times freh north-easterly.
At dawn on the 9th, the weather was clear with some cloud and a light north-easterly wind.
The first pair of Blenheims were due at the rendezvous, 40 miles north-east of Algiers at 0620/9 (sunrise), whilst the second pair were due at 0635/9.
At 0550/9, Hermione's RDF reported aircraft bearing 250° distant 35 miles. At 0551/9 an aircraft of the first pair asked for a course. This was signalled and courses continued to be passed throughout the approach of this aircraft.
Owing to poor W/T conditions at this time and interference from a beam station at Algiers, communications were slow and unreliable.
At 0621/9, requists for courses were received from other aircraft. Owing to the conditions referred to above, the first pair of Blenheims appeared to have passes to west and north of ' Force H ' without sighting and continued on a north easterly course as the result of confusion arising in the identifying the various Blenheims that were in the vicinity and unreliable communications.
At 0628/9, a Blenheim was sighted and proved to be the standby aircraft of the second pair. This Blenheim failed to answer V/S signals and proceeded to a waiting position to the northward. It was subeqently acertained that the Aldis lamp of the aircraft had developed defects.
At 0637/9, a second Blenheim was sighted to the southward. This proved to be the leader of the second pair ad as it crossed ahead of Ark Royal the first Hurricanes took off. Before the Blenheim had completed two circuits of the ship, the first flight of 14 Hurricanes had taken off and when formed on the Blenheim was given the order to proceed to Malta. The Hurricanes and their Bleinheims arrived at Malta at 1115/9.
With the figures then available concerning the endurance of the Blenheims and the time occupied flying off owing to the light winds, Vice-Admiral Sommerville did not consider it was advisable to retain the standby Blenheim until the second range of Hurricanes could be ranged up and flown off. This Blenheim wa therefore ordered to return to Gibraltar.
No contact either by RDF of W/T was obtained with the fouth Blenheim who returned to Gibraltar in due course.
The failure of the first pair of Blenheims to locate ' Force H ' is regrettable but was due to a considerable extent to the poor W/T conditions and the fact that these aircraft were not flying in company.
When it was clear that there could be no hope of either of the first pair of Blenheims making the rendezvous, the Force was turned to the west and proceeded at 19 knots.
A section of Fulmars was ranged on deck ahead of the remaining Hurricanes to deal with shadowers.
The RDF plot during the forenoon showed that a number of aircraft, possibly French, were in the vicinity and that in particular there were two shodowers waiting some 20 miles to the eastward.
In addition to these two shadowers, a Boston aircraft with French markings continued to circle the force just outside gun range. Two Fulmars were flown off to deal with the shadowers. One of the eastward shadowers was sighted for a few seconds by the Fulmars before disappearing in the clouds. The Fulmars were then vectored on the French Boston who waggled his wings when approached by the Fulmars but did not appear to be particularly disturbed by their presence.
As the Boston then made off to the north, the Fulmars were landed on at 1115/9 with the Hurricanes ranged before the barrier. Shortly after the Fulmars were landed on, the Boston again appeared for a few minutes and finally disappeared in the direction of Algiers.
At 2000/9, HMS Hermione was ordered to proceed at 26 knots and pas through the Straits during the dark hours returning to the eastward after daylight in ordered to maintain the impression that she had not proceeded to the east. From information subsequently available it does not appear that this rusa achieved its purpose.
HMS Ark Royal and the destroyers entered harbour at 0915/10. Vice-Admiral Sommerville then returned to HMS Nelson. HMS Hermione had returned shortly before HMS Ark Royal. (12)
10 Sep 1941
Operation Status (phase 2).
Fighter aircraft to be flown off to Malta.
At 1900/10, the aircraft carrier HMS Furious departed Gibraltar to the westward. She was being escorted by the destroyers HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) and HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN).
The remainder of ' Force H ', battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, now flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and the destroyers HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN) and HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN) sailed to the eastward at 2130/10. HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC, RN) was also to have sailed with them but was unable to do so due to defects.
At 0632/11, HMS Furious and her three escorting destroyers was sighted. She had passed through the Straits during the night. By 0700/11 when 30 miles north-east of Alboran Island all ships were formed on HMS Nelson and ' Force H ' was proceeding east at 17 knots.
HMS Hermione left the screen during the forenoon to act as target for a range and inclination exercise. It was also learnt from the Vice-Admiral North Atlantic Station that the departure of ' Force H ' had probably been reported to the enemy.
A Catalina was provided by 200 Group as A/S patrol throughout the day. This aircraft left the fleet at 2000/11. On it return flight to Gibraltar the Catalina experienced very bad weather conditions with frequent thunderstorm fromm Cape de Gata to Gibraltar.
During the night ' Force H ' proceeded eastward to reach approximate position 38°N, 04°E, at 0530/12 preparatory to flying off Hurricanes.
At 0530/12, HMS Furious screened by three destroyers proceeded 5 miles south of HMS Nelson. W/T communication with Gibraltar which commenced to be unreliable at midnight failed from 0100 to 0600 hours. No messages concerning the departure of the Blenheims an no weather forecast were received.
At 0625/12 a Catalina was sighted. This aircraft should have been 60 miles further eastward carrying out a reconnaissance as a precaution against interference by enemy surface forces.
The flying off position 38°N, 04°E was reached at 0530/12 but no Blenheims arrived and no information was available till 0730/12 when communication with Gibraltar was established and a message received which stated that these aircraft had been delayed 24 hours on account of weather. The signal giving this information was timed 0320/12 and the delay in its receiption was due to improvised arrangements whilst the main Gibraltar W/T transmitter was being shifted underground.
This postponement of the operation was disappointing as the weather conditions between ' Force H ' and Malta appeared to be ideal. It was subsequently learnt that the 24 hours delay was imposed as a result of the weather experienced by the Catalina referred to earlier.
At 0740/12 course was altered to the westward at 19 knots. Between 0900 and 0935 hours when in position 77 miles 017° from Algiers two unidentified aircraft were detected by RDF in the vicinity of the Fleet, and one float plane was sighted. Later an enemy report was intercepted timed 0930/12 which presumably originated from one of these aircraft. HMS Furious struck down her land Hurricanes and ranged three sea Hurricanes on deck to deal with any shadowers that offered a reasonable chance of interception.
A Catalina sent out from Gibraltar A/S patrol was detected by RDF at 0944/12 and sighted ten minutes later.
Speed was reduced to 17 knots at noon. At 1500/12 Vice-Admiral Somerville learnt that the force had been reported at 1010/12 as well as at 0930/12. There had been no indication of the presence of a shadowing aircraft at that time. Presumably the aircraft came in low below the RDF beam and was not sighted by lookouts. Again at 1655/12 an enemy report was intercepted without any sighting or RDF indication of shadowing aircraft.
A range and inclination exercise was carried out with HMS Hermione from 1700 to 1730 hours. At 1900/12 course was altered to 060°, speed 18 knots and a further alteration to 090° was made at 2200/12 to reach the flying off position at 0530/13.
A signal was received at 0450/13 stating that the first three Blenheims had left Gibraltar at 0310/13 and were expected to arrive over the fleet at 0635/13. Weather reports were favourable and inicated moderate westerly winds.
At 0410/13, when in position 38°04'N, 03°30'E, a merchant vesel northbound from Algiers passed about 4 miles from the fleet. HMS Furious screened by three destroyers was detached at 0550/13 to operate 5 miles to the southward of HMS Nelson.
The Catalina carrying out the dawn security patrol to the eastward of the fleet was detected by RF bearing 315° at 45 miles at 0547/13. A formation of friendly aircaft was detected at 0623/13 bearing 210°, 68 miles and closing. Courses to steer were passed to these aircraft by HMS Ark Royal and they were sighted at 0649/13.
The course for flying off was 050°. The extermely light wind rendered it necessary for Ark Royal to work up to 26 knots. Whilst in order to have sufficient deck space for taking off under these conditions HMS Furious was anly able to range a maximum of 7 Hurricanes instead of the required 10. This resulter in her flights being flown off in batches of 7 and 3. The figures for the first flight were as follows; HMS Furious, 1st off 0657/13, 10th off 0709/13, departure 0713/13. HMS Ark Royal, 1st off 0706/13, 14th off 0712/13, departure 0717/13 from position 38°04'N, 04°13'E.
The 3rd Hurricane to take off from HMS Furious crashed into the port bridge and was lost overboard together with its pilot (Sergeant W.R. Findlay, RCAF).
After the 7th aircraft took off there was a slight delay in ranging the remaining 3 of that flight due to the jambing of the fire curtains which had been lowered when the aircraft crashed.
At 0707/13 the second formation of 4 Blenheims was detected by RDF bearing 205°, 71 miles. These aircraft were sighted at 0730/13. Hurricanes were started up and flown off when ready, the figures being as follows; HMS Furious 11th off 0750/13, 20th off 0803/13, departure 0812/13. HMS Ark Royal 15th off 0745/13, 26th off 0750/13, departure 0755/13 from position 38°10'N, 04°20'E.
The homing of the Blenheims was greatly facilitated owing the flying in formation on this occasion. Hitherto objection has been raised to flying in formation on the grounds that this would entail some additional ependiture of fuel and that as the Blenheims have to fly at 5000 feet for maximum ful economy cloud condition might render formation flying impracticable.
Immeddiately on completion of flying off all ships formed on HMS Nelson and course was shaped to the westward at 20 knots. At 0826/13 HMS Ark Royal flew off an A/S patrol and one section of fighters. Before the fighters could take off HMS Hermione sighted an unidentified aircraft which faded from the RDF screen at a range of 16 miles at 0830/13. HMS Hermione again obtained a fleeting glimpse of an aircraft low down at 0910/13 but the fighters were unable to intecept. Later signals were recieved that the force had been reported at 0825 and 0843 hours.
It is clear that the enemy reconnaissance aircraft are taking full anti-RDF precautions. If the enemy aircraft do not attempt to gain height until out of RDF range they will enjoy a fair degree of immunity from fighter interception providing they restrict their obervation to a short sighting and then withdraw below the horizon.
At 1105/13 an unidentified aircraft was detected bearing 128° 33 miles. It closed to 23 miles and then opened on a bearing 160°. Fighters were directed but failed to make contact and were recalled at 35 miles.
News was recieved at 1130 and 1218 hours that the 1st and 2nd flights respectively had arrived at Malta. Confirmation that seven Blenheims and 45 Hurricanes had arrived was recieved at 1428/13. During the afternoon the fighter patrol was increased to give more pilots training. HMS Furious also exercised her Sea Hurricanes.
At 1615/13, HMS Hermione reported an aircraft in sight low down and later a signal was intercepted showing that this shadower had reported the force. Again lack of RDF results rendered fighter direction impossible.
The passage back to Gibraltar was uneventful and the 14th was devoted to various practices. One Fulmar crashed in the sea when attempting to land on buth both crewmembers were saved.
At 1310/14, HMS Nelson, HMS Furious, HMS Hermione with four destroyers (HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Lively and HMS Gurkha) proceeded ahead and entered harbour at 1630/14.
HMS Ark Royal and the remaining three destroyers (HMS Zulu, HMS Lance and HMS Legion) remained out for exercises upon completion of which no. 812 Squadron was landed on coming from North Front. They entered harbour at 1915/14. (12)
25 Sep 1941
Operation Halberd Supply convoy to Malta.
Continuation of the events of 17 September 1941, convoy WS 11X.
Situation at 1800 hours on 24 September 1941.
At 1800/24 the situation was as follows; Convoy WS 11X was to the west of Gibraltar escorted at that moment by the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral A.T.B. Curteis, CB, RN), the British light cruisers HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN, H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. A.W. Clarke, RN), the British destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, DSO, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Oribi (Lt.Cdr. J.E.H. McBeath, DSO, RN), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), the British escort destroyers HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) and HMS Heythrop (Lt.Cdr R.S. Stafford, RN).
At Gibraltar were the British battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN), the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), the British light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), the British destroyers HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN with Capt. D.(13) Capt. H.W. Williams, RN, on board), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), the Polish destroyers ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP) and the Dutch destroyer HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNethN). Also at Gibraltar was the RFA oiler Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941) and the British corvette HMS Fleur de Lys (Lt.(Retd.) A. Collins, RNR).
Movement of forces on the night of 24/25 September.
At 1815 hours, HMS Nelson departed Gibraltar and after passing farewell messages to HMS Rodney she proceeded westwards screened by HrMs Isaac Sweers, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland. These ships reversed course at 2130 hours and proceeded eastwards.
Shortly after HMS Nelson and her three escorting destroyers had departed Gibraltar harbour HMS Gurkha, HMS Zulu and HMS Lance, wich had been sent ahead to fuel aft Gibraltar, entered harbour.
At 2030/24 RFA Brown Ranger and her escort, corvette HMS Fleur de Lys departed Gibraltar to take up a position eastwards to fuel the destroyers that were to protect the Halberd convoy.
At 2300/24 HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione escorted by HMS Duncan, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Lively, HMS Zulu, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion and HMS Lance departed from Gibraltar eastwards to simulate a normal sortie by 'Force H' and to rendezvous with the convoy to the eastward of Gibraltar at 0800/25.
'Force Z', consisting of, HMS Princess Beatrix (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Cdr.(ret.) T.B. Brunton, RN), HMS Queen Emma (4136 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) G.L.D. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Royal Scotsman (3288 GRT, built 1936) (T/Cdr. J.W. Peters, RNR) (whose ultimate destination was Freetown), HMS Ulster Monarch (3791 GRT, built 1929) (T/Cdr. J. Wilson, RNR) and Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937) escorted by the British corvettes HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RD, RNR), HMS Spiraea (T/Lt. L.C. Head, RNVR) and HMS Azalea (Lt. G.C. Geddes, RNR) had been stationed behind the main convoy at dusk was ordered to proceed into Gibraltar Bay. It was hoped that the presence of these ships in the Bay would lay suspicion in the event of the convoy having been sighted and reported while passing through the Straits.
The remainder of convoy WS 11X, made up of transport ships Ajax (7797 GRT, built 1931), City of Calcutta (8063 GRT, built 1940), City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), Clan Macdonald (9653 GRT, built 1939), Dunedin Star (11168 GRT, built 1936), Imperial Star (12427 GRT, built 1934), Rowallan Castle (7801 GRT, built 1939) and HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) (Capt.(ret.) C.A.G. Hutchison, RN), with the escort, organised in two groups one mile apart, and led by the Vice Admiral, 2nd in Command, Home Fleet in HMS Prince of Wales, and the Rear Admiral commanding 18th Cruiser Squadron in HMS Edinburgh respectively, passed south of Europa Point at 0130/25. This disposition was adopted to reduce the frontage of the convoy during its passage through the Straits.
At 0730/25 HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal and their screening destroyers were sighted from HMS Nelson at a range of about 10 nautical miles. Half an hour later the convoy and its escort was sighted.
The escorting force was now reorganised into two groups; Group 1: HMS Nelson, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione, HMS Cossack, HMS Zulu, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Laforey and HMS Lightning.
Group 2: HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney, HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Sheffield, HMS Euryalus, HMS Duncan, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion, HMS Lance, HMS Lively, HMS Oribi, HrMs Iscaac Sweers, ORP Piorun, ORP Garland, HMS Fury, HMS Farndale and HMS Heytrop and the entire convoy.
Events of group 1 and group 2 during 25 September
At 1700/25 (time zone -2) HMS Duncan obtained an Asdic contact in position 36°36'N, 01°58'W and attacked with a pattern of four depth charges (more were intended but the starboard thrower failed to fire. Another depth charge attack was carried out by HMS Grukha at 1716 hours. She dropped a pattern of fourteen depth charges. HMS Duncan attacked again at 1750 hours with a second depth charge pattern. Both destroyers then proceeded to rejoin the screen at 1758 hours. Both ships sighted bubbles rising to the surface possibly from a damaged submarine.
Meanwhile on the 25th all destroyers of group 2 were fuelled by RFA Brown Ranger but not without delay as Brown Rangers speed was slower then anticipated and she was therefore further to the west then anticipated. This resulted in that not all destroyers were back in position at dusk. HMS Oribi was unable to find group 2 during the night and joined up with group 1 until daylight of the 26th when she rejoined group 1.
Events of group 1 and group 2 during 26 September
At 0932/26 lookouts on HMS Nelson spotted an Italian aircraft shadowing group 1 at a range of 10 miles. The aircraft was flying very low and had not been picked up by RDF. The fighters from HMS Ark Royal that were in the air failed to intercept this aircraft due to failure of the R/T equipment in the flight leaders aircraft. An enemy report from the aircraft was intercepted at 0935 hours. A re-broadcast of this signal by an Italian shore station was picked up 20 minutes later.
At 1300 hours Group 1 reversed course to close the distance to group 2 and HMS Hermione was stationed astern of HMS Ark Royal for RDF purposes and to give additional AA protection to the carrier.
At 1537 hours two aircraft were sighted low down to the eastward by HMS Zulu, HMS Nelson and HMS Hermione. These aircraft were at first thought to be Hudsons but turned out to be enemy when a signal they made was intercepted. By now it was too late to vector fighters towards them.
Movements of group 1 and group 2 and enemy air attacks during 27 September.
Around 0730/27 group 1 and 2 joined. HMS Ark Royal was now protected by HMS Euryalus (ahead) and HMS Hermione (astern) as close escort. Four Fulmar fighters were flown off at 0800 hours. This number was increased to ten at 1000 hours and twelve at 1100 hours and finally to sixteen at 1200 hours when it was though most likely air attacks might develop due to the fact the the forcehad been shadowed and reported by enemy aircraft from at least 0810 hours.
At 1255 hours RDF picked up enemy aircraft formations closing in on the convoy, one from the north and one from the east, both 30 miles distant. Position was 37°48'N, 08°50'E. Fighters were vertored towards these formations and one enemy aircraft was shot down at 1300 hours. Six enemy torpedo bombers approached from the port bow and beam of the convoy. Two were shot down at 1302 hours, most likely by AA fire from HMS Rodney and HMS Prince of Wales. An unknown number of torpedoes were dropped by the other aircraft. No hits were obtained but HMS Lance was narrowly missed by two of these torpedoes. HrMs Isaac Sweers was missed with one torpedo by 30 yards and HMS Rodney by one torpedo by 100 yards. One of the attacking aircraft was shot down by the destroyers while another torpedo bomber meanwhile was shot down by the Fulmars from the Ark Royal. Finally at 1310 hours a Fulmar was accidentaly shot down by HMS Prince of Wales. The first attack was was now over.
At 1327/27 RDF reported a group of aircraft splitting into two formations and approaching from the east. Destroyers on the starboard wing of the screen opened fire at 1329 hours when six or seven torpedo bombers (BR 20's) were seen approaching very low from the starboard bow and beam. Position was 37°49'N, 08°58'E.
Three of these aircraft pressed on through the barrage put up by the destroyers and made a most determined attack on HMS Nelson who was swinging to starboard to comb the tracks. On aircraft dropped its torpedo out 450 yards 20° on Nelson's starboard bow passing over the ship at a height of 200 feet. This aircraft was almost certainly shot down astern of HMS Nelson by HMS Sheffield and HMS Prince of Wales. The track of the torpedo was not seen until about 150 yards ahead of the ship and no avoiding action was possible and the torpedo hit HMS Nelson on the port bow 10 feet below the waterline. The speed of HMS Nelson was reduced to 18 knots.
The second aircraft of this formation missed HMS Nelson with its torpedo by about 100 yards while the third aircraft was claimed to have been shot down by HMS Laforey. It's W/T operator, the only one of the crew alive but wounded, was picked up by HMS Forester.
Three or four aircraft from this group attacked from the starboard quarted but without result.
One torpedo bomber was shot down by the Fulmars at 1336 hours. One of the Fulmars was now shot down by mistake by pompom fire from HMS Rodney but the crew was rescued by HMS Duncan.
At 1345 hours the third attack started. RDF reported a group coming in from the south-west. Ten or eleven S.79's split into two groups and were seen coming in low over the water and were taken under fire from the escorting ships on the starboard side of the convoy. Seven or eight of the attackers then retired to the south-west and disappeared but three others tried to work round the starboard bow of the convoy which then turned ay 60° to port. The three attackers were then driven off by gunfire from the destroyer screen and dropped their torpedoes at long range but one torpedo narrowly missed HMS Lightning. One of these aircraft was shot down by a Fulmar as it retired. Position of this attack was 37°50'N, 09°06'E.
At 1354 hours three of the aircraft that had initialy turned away returned from astern. Two of these retired again on being fired at but the third pressed on to attack HMS Ark Royal but it was shot down by AA fire from that ship and HMS Nelson before it had dropped it's torpedo.
At 1358 hours one aircraft, seen right ahead of HMS Nelson, dropped a torpedo outside the screen. HMS Cossack was able to avoid this torpedo by the HE of this torpedo being picked up by her Asdic set.
Attempt to intercept the Italian battlefleet
While the third air attack was still in progress at 1404 hours an emergency report was received from an aircraft operating from Malta that it had sighted two Italian battleships and eight destroyers in position 38°20'N, 10°40'E steering a course of 190° at 20 knots at 1340 hours. The position of HMS Nelson when this report was received was 37°46'N, 09°04'E so the enemy was only 70-75 miles away. At this time HMS Nelson, with it's gun armament unimpaired was thought to be capable of 18 knots or more. Admiral Somerville decided to proceed towards the enemy at best speed with HMS Nelson, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney and the destroyers HMS Duncan, HMS Gurkha, HMS Lance, HMS Lively, HrMs Isaac Sweers and ORP Garland, leaving HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Sheffield and ten destroyers with the convoy. HMS Euryalus, HMS Hermione and the destoyers HMS Piorun and HMS Legion remained with the Ark Royal.
It was also decided to fly off two Swordfish aircraft from the Ark Royal to take over shadowing duties from the aircraft operating out of Malta and to arm and fly off air striking force as soon as possible.
Ark Royal launched the two Swordfish at 1448 hours. It was intended to have launched them earlier but the launch was delayed due to the main armamant of HMS Ark Royal being in action and the recovery of two Fulmar fighters which were short on fuel.
In the meantime, at 1425 hours, the aircraft that was in contact with the Italians now also reported four cruisers and eight destroyers 15 nautical miles west-south-west of the enemy battlefleet. They were steering the same course and speed.
Meanwhile, at 1417 hours, the battleships had been ordered to form on HMS Nelson who had increased speed and proceeded ahead of the convoy. However at 1433 hours it became necessary for HMS Nelson to reduce speed to avoid further flooding due to the damage sustained. The Vice Admiral, 2nd in Command, Home Fleet in HMS Prince of Wales was now ordered to proceed with his flagship, HMS Rodney, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Sheffield and six destroyers to close the enemy at best speed. HMS Nelson meanwhile took station astern of the convoy.
While these instructions were carried out a report was received that the enemy had reversed course to 360°. This was followed by a further report that the enemy was steering 060°. Also a report was received that the battleships were of the Littorio class and not Cavour's as was previously believed. It was now clear that the enemy tried to avoid contact. It was still hoped that a striking force from HMS Ark Royal would be able to inflict damage to the enemy and reduced his speed allowing our battleships to overtake him before dark.
At 1530 hours a Fulmar fighter which was short of fuel force landed on the water astern of the Ark Royal. The crew was picked up by ORP Piorun.
At 1540 hours, HMS Ark Royal launched her stiking force of twelve Swordfish and four Fulmars. These aircraft did not find the enemy force and all aircraft returned to HMS Ark Royal around 1900 hours.
Between 1620 and 1645 hours, Fulmars from the CAP drove off an air attack threatening from the port side of the convoy. Later a shadowing enemy aircraft was shot down by Fulmars.
At 1658 hours, the Vice Admiral, second in Command Home Fleet, was ordered to reverse course and rejoin the convoy which was done at 1851 hours. No further reports of the enemy had been received for almost two hours and even if the striking force from HMS Ark Royal was able to inflict damage on the enemy these could not be intercepted before dark.
Detachment of Force X and the convoy.
At 1855 hours, on reaching the Skerki Channel, the escort of the convoy was split up into two forces, Force A, made up of HMS Nelson, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Duncan, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion, HMS Lively, HMS Lance, HMS Fury, HrMs Isaac Sweers, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland split off from the convoy while Force X, made up of HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburg, HMS Sheffield, HMS Hermione, HMS Euryalus, HMS Cossack, HMS Zulu, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Oribi, HMS Farndale and HMS Heythrop remained with the convoy.
Between 1915 and 1930 hours enemy aircraft twice approached the convoy but turned away after fire had been opened on them. They were probably CR.42 fighters.
Night T/B attack on Force X and the convoy and loss of the Imperial Star.
Between 2000 and 2040 hours four torpedo bomber attacks were made on the convoy and Force X from the port beam, two or three aircraft taking part in each attack. The first two attacks had no result for the Italians.
During the third attack the two rear ships in the port column of the convoy collided with each other, these were the Rowallan Castle and the City of Calcutta. No serious damage was sustained and both were able to proceed on their way.
During the fourth attack, at 2032 hours, in position 37°31'N, 10°46'E the Imperial Star was struck by a torpedo on her port side aft. HMS Oribi was also attacked and narrowly missed by a torpedo four minutes later. She was able to shoot down the aircraft that had dropped this torpedo with her pompom and oerlikons.
When the Imperial Star was torpedoed it is probable that the explosion blew away both propellers and her rudder. In addition no.6 hold and the after engine room were both flooded.
HMS Heythrop, the rear ship of the port screen, proceeded alongside, but did not attempt to take Imperial Star in tow as she did not consider she was a suitable vessel to do so.
About 2045 hours HMS Oribi was ordered by HMS Euryalus to go to the assistance of the Imperial Star. When Oribi closed Heythrop was already standing by, and while Heythtop took off the passengers of the Imperial Star, HMS Oribi proceeded alongside to receive a report of the damage. It was decided to attempt to tow her to Malta.
For two hours the most determined attemps were made by HMS Oribi to tow the Imperial Star to Malta and although a speed of 8 knots was obtained nothing could be done to prevent her steering in circles. At is thought that her damaged stern was now acting as rudder.
Eventually, at 0120/28, HMS Oribi found herself being dragged stern first by her tow sheering off and she was forced to slip the tow. Oribi went alongside to consult again and it was reluctantly decided that there was no other choice then to scuttle the ship. Three depth charges were placed lashed together abreast a bulkhead and these were fired by a safety fuse.
HMS Oribi cast off 0340/28 and the depth charges were fired eleven minutes later, starting a large fire aft. As this did not spread quickly, Oribi shelled Imperial Star with 4.7" S.A.P. shells. Oribi finally left her at 0452 hours. Imperial Star was by that time heavily on fire fore and aft and listing badly. Aircraft from Malta could not find the wreck of the Imperial Star so there is no doubt that she sank.
HMS Oribi then made off from the scene along the convoy route at 32 knots and came with them near Malta 1215/28 having passed unmolested within 7 nautical miles from the Sicilian coast in daylight.
Passage of the convoy and Force X through the narrows.
In the meantime the convoy and Force X had proceeded through the narrows along the south coast of Sicily.
In the meantime. at 2030/27, HMS Hermione had departed the convoy to carry out a bombardment of Pantellaria harbour. Having completed the bombardment HMS Hermione rejoined Force X at 0615/28. At daylight HMS Farndale and HMS Heythrop were detached to fuel at Malta.
Although several formations of enemy aircraft were detected between dawn and the arrival of the convoy at Malta, the excellent protection given by shore based fighters from Malta prevented any attack from developing.
At 0800/28 a report was received that no enemy surface forces were reported near the convoy. The cruisers HMS Kenya, HMS Sheffield, HMS Euryalus and HMS Hermione then proceeded ahead to Malta to fuel where they arrived at 1130 hours. The remainder of Force X and the entire convoy, with the exception of the Imperial Star, arrived later in the afternoon.
Movements of Force A during 28 September.
While Force X and the convoy continued on to Malta, Force A proceeded to the west at 14 knots, which was the best speed of HMS Nelson at that time.
At 0725/28 HMS Ark Royal flew off one A/S patrol and three fighters. At 0812 hours one enemy shadower was seen but it escaped into a cloud.
At 1025 hours HMS Nelson sighted a Cant. 506 aircraft very low down and fighters were vectored in. After a chase to the south-east this aircraft was shot down near Cape de Fer, Algeria.
Shadowers were again reported at 1640 hours and again one hour later but due to a failure of the R/T transmitter in Ark Royal it was not possible to vector fighters in time to intercept. An enemy report made by Italian aircraft was intercepted at 1720 hours.
At 1942/28 one of the destroyers of the screen, HMS Duncan, obtained an Asdic contact in position 37°30'N, 03°45'E. She carried out two depth charge attacks but with no apparent result. HMS Legion closed to co-operate but did not gain contact. Both ships left the area at 2012 hours to rejoin the screen.
At 2020 hours speed was reduced to 12 knots to reduce the strain on bulkheads and decks of HMS Nelson. At this time Nelson was about 8 feet down by the bows and it was estimated that 3500 tons of water had entered the ship.
At 2100/28, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Rodney, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Gurkha, HMS Lance, HMS Legion, HMS Lively, HMS Fury and HrMs Isaac Sweers were detached to proceed to the eastward and rendezvous with Force X. HMS Nelson, escorted by HMS Duncan, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland, continued on to Gibraltar.
At 0555/29, in position 37°30'N, 06°25'E, HMS Prince of Wales obtained an RDF surface echo ahead, and an emergency turn of 40° to port was carried out with all ships at 0609 hours. Three minutes after this turn HMS Gurkha sighted a torpedo track approaching. It was too late to alter course to avoid. A second torpedo track followed a few seconds later. Both torpedoes appeared to pass underneath the ship. HMS Gurkha then turned to port in the direction from which the torpedoes had approached and HrMs Isaac Sweers also joined to hunt the submarine. No A/S contacts were obtained and no depth charges were dropped. HMS Gurkha and HrMs Isaac Sweers rejoined the screen at 0700/29. The attacker was the Italian submarine Diaspro which managed to escape unharmed.
At 0810/29 HMS Gurkha obtained an A/S contact in position 37°26'N, 07°14'E. At 0815 hours a pattern of fourteen depth charges was dropped. Six minutes later a heavy underwater explosion was heard. At 0841 hours HMS Gurkha was ordered to rejoin screen and the hunt was abandoned.
Movements of Force X during 28/29 September on the return trip from Malta.
In the meantime the ships that are part of Force X had all fuelled at Malta and at 1500/28 the escort destroyers HMS Farndale and HMS Heythrop were sailed followed at 1615 hours by HMS Kenya, HMS Edinburgh and HMS Oribi. The remainder of Force X sailed at 1830 hours. HMS Farndale and HMS Heythrop joined Force A at 0835/29. The remainder of Force X joined Force A at 1030/29.
Movements of HMS Nelson and passage to Gibraltar.
In the meantime HMS Nelson and her three escorting destroyers were still proceeding to the west. They were joined by aircraft to provide additional A/S protection from 0730/29 onwards.
At 1110/29, ORP Piorun obtained a doubtful A/S contact and dropped one depth charge.
At 1909/29, HMS Duncan also obtained A/S contact and dropped one depth charge.
At 1945/29 the A/S screen was reinforced by the destroyer HMS Rockingham (Lt.Cdr. A.H.T. Johns, RN) coming from Gibraltar. Later in the evening four corvettes also joined for additional A/S protection of the damaged battleship, HMS Samphire (Lt.Cdr. F.T. Renny, DSC, RNR) joined at 2120/29, HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RD, RNR) at 2140/29, HMS Fleur de Lys at 2150/29 and finally HMS Arbutus (T/Lt. A.L.W. Warren, DSC, RNR) at 2340/29. Nelson's screen now consisted of four destroyers and four corvettes.
At 0130/30 HMS Samphire and HMS Arbutus obtained an A/S contact and dropped depth charges without result, the contact was probably non-sub.
At 1200/30 HMS Nelson entered Gibraltar Harbour.
Movements of Force A and Force X as of 1030 hours on 29 September.
Meanwhile after all ships of Force X had joined up with force A at 1030/29 course was shaped to the westward, keeping 40 nautical miles clear of the African coast.
At 1645/29, in position 37°26'N, 04°37'E, HMS Lively, sighted an object resembling a ship's lifeboat with mast at a range of 1000 yards. This was soon identified as the conning tower and periscope of a submarine momentarily breaking surface. Two torpedo tracks were sighted shortly afterwards. Lively immediately attacked with a pattern of fourteen depth charges at 1650 hours. HMS Legion, which was next to Lively in the destroyer screen, had already dropped a pattern of five depth charges about a minute and a half earlier. HMS Legion then joined up with HMS Lively to hunt this submarine.
At 1700 hours HMS Lively obtained a definate A/S contact and attacked with another pattern of fourteen depth charges five minutes later. After having dropped this pattern contact was regained at 1715 hours. Contact was however soon lost at and not regained. The hunt was abandoned at 1745 hours.
At 1930/29, HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Kenya, HMS Sheffield, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Oribi, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester and HMS Fury parted company with the rest of the force and proceeded ahead to arrive at Gibraltar p.m. 30 September 1941. They arrived at Gibraltar at 1800/30.
At 0928/30, in position 37°10'N, 00°56'E, HMS Gurkha, obtained Asdic contact wich was confirmed as a submarine. She immediately attacked and fired a pattern if fourteen depth charges at 0935 hours. A black circular buoy with electric cable attached to it came to the surface after this attack. At 0945 hours a loud underwater explosion was heard and felt and oil started to come to the surface. Gurkha was unable to gain contact on the submarine from now on. HMS Legion who was by now assisting Gurkha in the hunt obtained contact and attacked with a fourteen depth charge pattern at 0955 hours. A second fourteen depth charge pattern was fired at 1009 hours. During Legion's second attack wreckage and oil came to the surface. Among the wreckage picked up was an Italian dictionary, a mattess, a pillow, numerous pieces of wood, some with bright screws and a piece of human scalp attached to a piece of wood by a splinter of metal. The interiors of the dictionary, the mattress and the pillow were dry. There was now no doubt that an Italian submarine was sunk by HMS Gurkha and HMS Legion.
All ships in this force entered Gibraltar harbour between 0700 and 0900 hours on 1 October.
Convoy MG 2, passage of three merchant vessels from Malta to Gibraltar.
At noon on the 26th the first out of three empty transports, the Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), departed Malta for Gibraltar. At 1030/27 the other two ships Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) and City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937). These last two ships were escorted by the corvette HMS Gloxinia (Lt.Cdr. A.J.C. Pomeroy, RNVR) until 1930/27. After an uneventful passage the Melbourne Star arrived at Gibraltar at 0700/29. The Port Chalmers and City of Pretoria were spotted and reported by Italian aircraft at 1200/27, shortly after leaving Malta. No enemy surface craft were seen until 2320/27 when it was believed that an E-boat was sighted by the Port Chalmers which was following in the wake of the City of Pretoria. The Port Chalmers opened fire on the E-boats bow wave with it's 4" gun. The enemy then returned fire with a machine gun. After six rounds of 4" the enemy crossed the stern of the Port Chalmers and was not seen again. The City of Pretoria had not seen the enemy at all. The action had taken place about 15 nautical miles south-south-west of Pantelleria.
At 0535/28 the Commodore of the convoy ordered he Port Chalmers to part company. Port Chalmers then proceeded at full speed, wearing French colours.
At 0915/28 an Italian Cant. 506 seaplane approached from the direction of the French north African coast and circled the City of Pretoria. This aircraft then made off to the westward and gave the Port Chalmers the same attention. Both ships were wearing French colours and had taken care to keep all service personnel out of sight. Both ships were fully ready for action, but did not open fire as the aircraft took no offensive action.
At 1015/28 the City of Pretoria was circled several times by a large three-engine seaplane, with distinct French markings, which approached from the direction of Bizerta.
At 1145/28 the City of Pretoria sighted a twin-engined Italian seaplane stopped on the water, five nautical miles to the north. She lost sight of this aircraft at 1215 hours.
The Port Chalmers was circled by an Italian aircraft at 1555/28. The aircraft did not attack.
At 1725/28 the City of Pretoria was attacked by three Italian torpedo bombers. As the aircraft approached with obviously hostile intentions the British colours were hoised and fire was opened as soon as the leader came in range. By skilful handling all three torpedoes were avoided. A submarine periscope was then reported on the starboard quarter by two independent lookouts. Three smoke floats and a depth charge set to 150 feet were dropped and under the cover of the smoke the City of Pretoria turned away.
When the City of Pretoria was approaching Cape de Gata at 0200/30 an unidentified vessel, possibly a submarine, was seen to be following. Two or three rapid shots, followed by a dull explosion, were heard. City of Pretoria made smoke and dropped smoke floats and then made close in Almeira Bay, into territorial waters, thus shaking off her pursuer.
The Port Chalmers arrived at Gibraltar at 0900/30. City of Pretoria followed during the afternoon. (15)
7 Oct 1941
HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) departed Gibraltar at 0630 hours. Upon completion of the exercises they returned to harbour at 1915 hours. (12)
16 Oct 1941
Aircraft to be flown off to Malta and the transfer of ' Force K ' to Malta.
At 1100/16, ' Force H ' made up of the battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) departed Gibraltar and proceeded eastwards.
Some exercises were carried out during the afternoon and early evening.
At 0640/17, two Swordfish were flown off from HMS Ark Royal for A/S patrol. These patrols were maintained throughout the day. A section of fighers was kept ranged until 0850/17 when they were flown off. During daylight always one section of fighters was kept in the air.
At 0710/17 the fleet made an emergeny turn after HMS Legion had obtained an A/S contact. The contact turned out to be non-sub.
Another non-sub contact was obtained by HMS Cossack about an hour later and again the fleet made an emergency turn. Two whales were sighted shortly afterwards which were the source of the A/S contact.
During the forenoon two more Fulmars were flown off for exercises (heightfinding and plotting). Also trials were carried out with the close range weapons in all ships.
At 1120/17 an unidentified aircraft was detected by RDF. It passed about 12 miles ahead of the fleet, steering a southerly course. It was not sighted.
Half an hour later HMS Ark Royal reported severe interference with fighter R/T from RDF transmissions. The interference proved to be coming from HMS Hermione and she was stationed further away from HMS Ark Royal.
At noon on the 17th ' Force H ' was in position 38°01'N, 02°26'E.
At 1350/17, a low flying Cant. 506 enemy aircraft was seen by HMS Ark Royal. This aircraft had not been picked up on RDF. One section of fighters was vectored towards it. The enemy was shot down after a chase of about 20 miles.
Around an hour later the fighters were vectored against an aircraft first detected by RDF and subsequently sighted to the north-west of the fleet. It proved to be a four-engined flying boat with French markings.
As ' Force H ' was ahead of time for arrival at the flying off position course was reversed at 1600/17 for one hour.
At 0130/18, course was altered to 050° for flying off. The destroyers took station in a circular screen around HMS Rodney and HMS Ark Royal. 11 Albacores and 2 Swordfish aircraft wee flown off between 0135 and 0145/18. One Albacore had been unable to take off due to a defect. On completion of flying off, the fleet formed up again and set course to 270°.
At 0547/18 the fleet had to make an emergency turn when HMS Forester reported a contact but it was soon reported to be non-sub and the fleet resumed its mean course.
At daylight, 0650/18, a fighter patrol of two Fulmars was flown off by HMS Ark Royal. Also two Swordfish for A/S patrol were flown off.
Fighters were vectored towards an aircraft reported by RDF as 25 miles ahead of the fleet at 0825/18 but they did not intercept. The aircraft which was on a northerly course was probably French on passage from Algiers to Merseilles.
A signal reporting the arrival at Malta of 11 Albacores was received at 0849/18. Later a further signal announced that one Swordfish had arrived. No news of the second Swordfish was recieved. No reason is known why this second Swordfish failed to arrive at Malta.
An aircraft was sighted from HMS Sikh south-west of the fleet at 0958/18. Fighters were vectored towards and they soon sighted an Italian BR.20. After a chase of 45 miles to the south-east the enemy was shot down about 10 miles from Cape Bengut.
Later another aircraft was detected by HMS Hermione. It was seen to be a Cant.506 but the fighters failed to intercept it.
At noon ' Force H ' was in position 37°20'N, 02°49'E. At 1400/18 course was altered to 245° to pass south of Alboran Island.
At 1450/18, HMS Hermione sighted a floating mine in position 37°25'N, 01°46'E but failed to sink it. She was then stationed ahead of the fleet for execises.
A/S and fighter patrol were withdrawn at 1825/18 and then landed on HMS Ark Royal.
At 2323/18, HMS Forester obtained an A/S contact which was thought to be a submarine. A pattern of five depth charges was dropped. The fleet turned 90° to starboard on the first report but when contact was not regained after the depth charge attack the fleet resumed the mean course.
The fleet altered course to 280° at 0645/19 and a few minutes later an A/S patrol of 2 Swordfish aircraft were flown off. This patrol was maintained until 1315/19 when it was reduced to one aircraft.
During the day an exercises programme was carried out. At 1000/19 ' Force K ' was sighted by HMS Hermione and also by the aircraft from HMS Ark Royal.
Ten Swordfish aircraft landed on HMS Ark Royal at 1120/19. They had come from North Front aerordrome.
The fleet entered Gibraltar Bay at 1619/19 and then entered harbour.
Meanwhile the cruisers of ' Force K ', HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN) and HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) departed Gibraltar and joined up at 0800/19 some 40 miles from Europa Point with the destroyers HMS Lance (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN) and HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN) which had been already out for exercises since 1715/18.
' Force K ' arrived at Malta umolested at 0915/21. (12)
20 Oct 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) departed Gibraltar around 1745/20 to search for an unidentified tanker that was reported by aircraft north-west of Cape Finisterre, Spain in position 44°07'N, 10°07'W.
She returned to Gibraltar around 0730/25 without having made contact with the tanker. On arriving at Gibraltar she was immediately docked for repairs, bottom cleaning and painting. (16)
7 Nov 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN) is undocked. (17)
10 Nov 1941
Operation Perpetual and the sinking of HMS Ark Royal
Transfer of Hurrican fighters (from aircraft carriers) and Blenheim bombers (from Gibraltar) to Malta.
10 November 1941.
At 0235 hours (zone -1) on 10 November 1941, Force H departed Gibraltar for operation Perpetual. Force H was made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, CBE, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN). They were escorted by seven destroyers; HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN).
At 0800 hours, HMS Argus flew off one aircraft for A/S patrol and a Catalina aircraft joined from Gibraltar at 0930 hours. The force passed to the north of Alboran Island. A French merchant vessel was sighted ahead at 1526 hours. She was north bound. During the afternoon AA firing exercises were carried out.
11 November 1941.
Force H continued to the eastward during the night. As the takeoff of the Blenheim bombers from Gibraltar was delayed due to unsuitable weather conditions it was decided that Force H would withdraw to the westward for a while, with the dual object of increasing the distance to the enemy air bases in Sardinia and to give the impression to possible enemy shadowers that the fly off of the Hurricanes had already taken place, and that Force H was already retiring.
At 0935 two aircraft were reported by RDF to the southward. Later the echo faded, but they were sighted flying very low over the Algerian coast. They were too far to be identified and were thought to be possibly French. However a report timed 0935 by an Italian reconnaissance aircraft was intercrypted shortly afterward and it became clear that the two aircraft were in fact Italian.
As hurricanes were range on Ark Royal’s flight deck, making it impossible for her to operate her own fighters. Argus had two Sea Hurricanes ranged, but the enemy aircraft disappeared before these could be launched.
Between 1835 and 1910 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville had a message transmitted that unless the Hurricanes could be flown off the following morning he intended to return to Gibraltar, as he did not consider it desirable to remain in this area without A/S air and fighter patrols.
At 2130 hours, Force H turned to the eastward again towards the flying off position.
12 November 1941.
Shortly after midnight a signal was received that it was intended that the carriers could launch their Hurricanes for Malta at 1000 hours.
At 0743 hours a signal was received that the firt group of Blenheim bombers was airborn at that they would be near the takeoff position of the Hurricanes shortly after 1000 hours.
Between this time and the completion of flying off of all the land Hurricanes, no fighters were available for the interception of enemy aircraft.
Two aircraft, presumed hostile, were detected by RDF to the north-eastward at 0907 hours, but they were not sighted. Later a report from an Italian reconnaissance aircraft time 0907 hours was intercripted, and this no doubt originated from one of these two aircraft.
At 1004 hours four Blenheim bombers were sighted and by 1021 hours 13 Hurricanes had been launched by Ark Royal and 6 by Argus. One of the Hurricanes that was to be launched from Ark Royal had troubles with the engine and was, after repairs, included in the second batch that was to be launched.
At 1048 hours, two more Blenheims were sighted, and within five minutes Ark Royal had flown off the first of the Hurricanes for her second batch. By 1112 hours all Hurricanes had been launched by the carriers and they made off with the Blenheims for Malta.
By 1130 hours all ships were back in position after the flying off operations and course was set to the west. From Ark Royal one Swordfish was flown off for A/S duties and four Fulmars for fighter patrol. These patrols were maintained until dusk.
At 1425 hours HMS Ark Royal reported an aircraft in sight low down to the southward. The four Fulmar fighters were vectored but a section of two Fulmars only sighted the enemy until on the return trip from the chase. One of the Fulmars was able to fire one good burst of gunfire from 300 yards before the enemy aircraft escaped into the clouds. Both wings of this Fulmar were damaged by enemy gunfire. Two sighting reports from this aircraft were intercepted.
Between 1500 and 1515 hours RDF reported that enemy aircraft were shadowing the fleet but by now weather had deteriorated and there was much low rain cloud. Although fighters were vectored no interceptions were made.
At 1625 hours hours Malta reported the arrival of 34 Hurricanes and 7 Blenheims. One Blenheim had returned to Gibraltar with engine trouble. Also a report on U-boat sightings in the Western Mediterranean was received.
Late in the evening speed had to be reduced in the bad weather to avoid weather damage to the escorting destroyers.
13 November 1941
At 0140 hours, weather had improved at bit and speed was increased by one knot to 17 knots but by 0500 hous weather had worsened even further then earlier and speed was reduced to 15 knots. This was only temporary though and at 0630 hours speed was increased to 17 knots and by 0800 hours (daylight) even to 19 knots.
An underwater explosion was observed by HMS Legion in her wake at 0413 hours. This was also heard be several of the other ships. Legion at that time was the starboard wing destroyer. This was thought to be a torpedo exploding at the end of its run.
This might well be correct as according to German sources the German submarine U-205, at 0506 hours (Berlin time), made a torpedo attack on a force of enemy warships but no hits were obtained.
At 0645 hours, Ark Royal flew of an AS patrol of six Swordfish for a dawn A/S patrol. They sighted nothing. They returned at 0850 hours. More A/S patrol were maintained throughout the day.
At 0817 hours a report was received that submarine were to be expected to be in the area. Course was now altered to approach Gibraltar directly from the east and not as was usually the case along the Spanish or Maroccan coast.
Later in the morning HMS Laforey and later HMS Lightning both reports A/S contacts and the fleet evaded these.
The fleet conducted exercises in the afternoon. HMS Laforey reported another A/S contact and the fleet once again made an emergency turn. The contact was however soon classified as ‘non sub’ and the main course was promptly resumed.
At 1541 hours, while in position 36°03’N, 04°40’W HMS Ark Royal was hit by a torpedo on the starboard side. Following this HMS Malaya immediately altered course to port and increased speed. HMS Legion and HMS Gurkha, the rear destroyers on the starboard wing at once turned outwards and started an A/S search to the north and east of the Ark Royal, the most probable area where the attacker must have been.
At this time HMS Ark Royal was still going ahead at considerable speed, listing to starboard and apparently under port wheel. A number of her aircraft were still circling overhead as she had been conducting aircraft operations when she was hit.
At 1549 hours, HMS Laforey and HMS Lightning were ordered to join HMS Ark Royal who appeared to be loosing speed. Signals were also made to require tugs to be sent out from Gibraltar and all available A/S craft to be sent out to patrol the area. HMS Hermione was ordered to stand by HMS Ark Royal The remaining three destroyers, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and HrMs Isaac Sweers were ordered to screen HMS Malaya.
By 1610 hours, HMS Ark Royal was laying stopped and listing heavily to starboard but she reported she had steam on her port engine. HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning and HMS Gurkha had closed her and were circling Ark Royal. HMS Legion was alongside Ark Royal. HMS Hermione was still closing. HMS Malaya and her three escorting destroyers were about 5 miles off and proceeding to Gibraltar at 18 knots as was HMS Argus who was some distance astern of her but catching up on Malaya. At 1615 hours Argus flew off two Swordfish aircraft for A/S patrol.
At 1710 hours, when 8 nautical miles eastwards of Europa Point, HMS Malaya was passed by units coming out of Gibraltar to assist. These were the destroyer HMS Wild Swan (Lt.Cdr. C.E.L. Sclater, RN), motor launches ML 121, ML 130, ML 132, ML 135, ML 170, ML 172, ML 176 and the tugs St. Omar and Thames. Shortly before the tug St. Day had also been sighted proceeding eastwards. Besides these ships the destroyer HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, RN) had also been ordered to proceed to the east.
HMS Malaya and HMS Argus entered harbour around 1820 hours and before she was berthed Vice-Admiral Somerville had transferred to HMS Sikh and went out again to proceed to HMS Ark Royal. Shortly before Sikh left the harbour the destroyer HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN) had also left the harbour to assist. Sikh, Zulu, Isaac Sweers and Wishart joined the patrol near Ark Royal for the night.
At 1900 hours, three corvettes departed Gibaltar to assist. These were; HMS Rhododendron (Lt. H.I. Davis, RNVR), HMS Marigold (T/Lt. J. Renwick, RNR), HMS Pentstemon (Lt.Cdr. J. Byron, RNR). This last corvette had a large 6” portable pump on board
The trawlers HMS St. Nectan (T/Lt.Cdr. H.B. Phillips, RNR) and HMS Lady Shirley (Lt.Cdr. A.H. Callaway, RANVR) had also been sailed around 1715 hours to patrol the area. They had not been very near to Ark Royal during the coming night.
Around 2040 hours the situation was as follows. Ark Royal was being towed by Thames and St. Day. The tow was proceeding at 2 knots. It was hoped that Ark Royal was able to raise steam shortly.
At 2224 hours, the Capt. (D) 19th Destroyer Flotilla on board Laforey reported that Ark Royal had her own steam and power and that flooding was apparently under contral and that no more tugs would be required until off the harbour. Shortly afterwards Vice-Admiral Somerville therefore ordered the three corvettes to establish A/S patrol astern of the Ark Royal and to close her only by daylight.
At 2355 hours, HMS Legion arrived at Gibraltar packed with crew of HMS Ark Royal which were not needed in the rescue effort. After landing these she proceeded back to sea.
14 November 1941
At 0221 hours, the Capt. (D) 19th Destroyer Flotilla reported that Ark Royal had lost steam (and power) and that a powerful pump would be required. Another signal at 0242 hours stated that another tug would be required. This indicated that the situation was deteriorating. Vice-Admiral Somerville therefore ordered HMS Sikh to close. HMS Pentstemon, the corvette with the portable pump on board, was also ordered to close. From Gibraltar the tug Rollicker was also sent out to assist.
On approaching HMS Laforey, which was alongside Ark Royal together with St. Day, signaled to Sikh that Vice-Admiral Somerville could better transfer to an ML which he did. At 0430 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville boarded Laforey to find she was on the point of casting off from HMS Ark Royal. Capt. Maund was also on board Laforey with the last of the steaming party. Ark Royal now had a list of 35° and was listing still further judging by the straining and parting of wires securing the ships alongside her. The situation was reported by signal to the Admiralty at 0446 hours.
After getting clear in HMS Laforey, Vice-Admiral Somerville, ordered St. Day to go ahead of Thames but at 0600 hours Thames reported that she had cast off the tow as Ark Royal was sinking. The carrier turned over at 0613 hours and remained bottom up for a few minutes after which she disappeared from sight. This was reported by signal to the Admiralty at 0623 hours.
Vice-Admiral Somerville then ordered the Capt. (D) 19th Destroyer Flotilla to take all destroyers in the area under his command and to commence an A/S sweep to the eastward. He was instructed to return to Gibraltar by dark. In the end HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion and HMS Zulu returned to Gibraltar at 1535/14 followed about 15 minutes later by HMS Wild Swan.
Vice-Admiral Somerville himself returned to Gibraltar in HMS Sikh arriving at 0830 hours as did HrMs Isaac Sweers at 0900 hours. (12)
16 Nov 1941
Late in the evening of 16 November 1941, HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN) departed Gibraltar for the U.K. They were escorted by HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN).
At dawn on 17 November 1941, Argus escorted the destroyers Laforey, Lightning, Legion and Isaac Sweers left the formation to return to Gibraltar where they arrived late in the evening of 19 November. The other three destroyers escorted the capital ships all the way to the U.K.
HMS Hermione remained with the formation longer, until midnight of the night of 18/19 November. She returned to Gibraltar shortly after noon on 21 November.
22 Nov 1941
HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN) departed Gibraltar at 0900 hours for exercises.
During the night of 22/23 November they carried out an extensive A/S search to the east of Gibraltar about 18 nautical miles beyond Malaga.
The next day, around 0200 hours, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) joined them for the exercises.
HMS Hermione returned to Gibraltar shortly before noon on the 23th. HMS Laforey returned at 1400/23, HMS Maori and HrMs Isaac Sweers returned at 1612/23. The last to returned were HMS Lightning and HMS Legion returned to the harbour of Gibraltar at 1745.
8 Dec 1941
Around 1500/8, the light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyer HMS Maori (Cdr R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN) and escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN) and HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN) departed Gibraltar to intercept a reported convoy, most likely Vichy French, near Malaga, Spain.
At sea they were to join the destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Arrow (Cdr. A.M. McKillop, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN) that were already to the east of Gibraltar on an A/S hunt.
All ships were ordered to return to Gibraltar at 0800/9. The reported convoy had not been sighted. Soon afterwards however HMS Laforey, HMS Blankney and HMS Exmoor were ordered to proceed to position 36°35'N, 07°35'W (to the west-north-west of Gibraltar) where three submarines had been reported by an aircraft. (12)
11 Dec 1941
After a report had been received from the Admiralty that a civil aircraft had sighted a merchant vessel in position 43°07'N, 10°00'W. HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) was ordered to raise steam. She was ready to sail at 1900/11 and was then ordered to do so.
Later a signal was received from the Admiralty that the ship was Spanish and HMS Hermione was ordered to return to Gibraltar.
She arrived back in harbour at 0800/13. (12)
20 Dec 1941
At 0900 hours, the aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Arrow (Cdr. A.M. McKillop, RN) and HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN) departed Gibraltar for exercies. They returned to harbour at 1800 hours. During the exercises one Fulmar aircraft, while making a simulated dive bomb attack on a destroyer, crashed into the sea. The pilot was killed. (12)
At 2300/20, HMS Hermione turned to the westward. She passed south of Europa Point at 0001/21.
HMS Dido arrived at Gibraltar at 2340/20.
HMS Hermione was ordered to return at 0630/22, by which time HMS Dido would have sailed for Malta. (12)
27 Dec 1941
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) departed Gibraltar at 1110 hours for gunnery exercises to the east of Gibraltar.
HMS Hermione returned to Gibraltar on completion. (12)
3 Jan 1942
At 1900 hours, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN) departed Gibraltar for Plymouth. (18)
4 Jan 1942
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN) is ordered to adjust her course so as if to be in a better position to intercept a possible enemy supply vessel or blockade breaker. (19)
6 Jan 1942
At 1231 hours, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), arrived at Plymouth from Gibraltar. (18)
9 Jan 1942
The flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN was struck on board HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN). (18)
10 Jan 1942
The flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN was hoisted on board HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN). (18)
11 Jan 1942
At 1230 hours HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN) departed Plymouth for Gibraltar. (18)
14 Jan 1942
At 0830 hours HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN) arrived at Gibraltar from Plymouth. At 0900 hours the flag of Rear-Admiral Syfret was transferred to HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN). (18)
20 Jan 1942
At 0900 hours the aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and at escort destroyers HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN) and HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN) departed Gibraltar for exercises.
They retuned to harbour around 1800 hours. For the duration of the exercises Rear Admiral Syfret had been on board HMS Argus. (20)
22 Jan 1942
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) departed Gibraltar to carry out a patrol in the area from 41°30'N to 43°00'N, 22°00'W to 25°00'W. (20)
27 Jan 1942
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) arrived at Ponta Delgada, Azores to fuel. After doing so she departed to resume her patrol later the same day. (20)
30 Jan 1942
In the morning, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), joined RFA Dingledale and her escorts, submarine HMS Clyde (Cdr. D.C. Ingram, DSC, RN) and corvettes HMS Geranium (T/Lt. A. Foxall, RNR) and HMS Spiraea (T/Lt. R.W. Tretheway, RNR). HMS Hermoine then fuelled from Dingledale which took until midnight. At 1830 hours, HMS Geranium was detached. (21)
31 Jan 1942
At 0815 hours, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), parted comapany with RFA Dingledale and her escorts, submarine HMS Clyde (Cdr. D.C. Ingram, DSC, RN) and corvette HMS Spiraea (T/Lt. R.W. Tretheway, RNR).
At 1330 hours, the escort destroyers HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN), HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN) and the corvettes HMS Geranium (T/Lt. A. Foxall, RNR) and HMS Vetch (T/A/Lt.Cdr. H.J. Beverley, DSC, RNR) joined.
The escort destroyers were to fuel from Dingledale but the swell was too high and they parted company at 1500 hours as did HMS Spiraea which was to proceed to the U.K. for the fitting of radar equipment. (21)
2 Feb 1942
At 1400 hours, HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), returned to Gibraltar from patrol. (20)
8 Feb 1942
Force H made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN), HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN) and HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN) departed Gibraltar for the Clyde.
13 Feb 1942
Force H made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN), HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN) and HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN) arrived in the Clyde from Gibraltar.
16 Feb 1942
Convoy WS 16.
This convoy departed the Clyde on 16 February 1942 and arrived at Freetown on 1 March 1942.
The convoy was made up of the troopships / transports; Awatea (British, 13482 GRT, built 1936), Bergensfjord (British, 11015 GRT, built 1913), Brisbane Star (British, 12791 GRT, built 1937), City of Edinburgh (British, 8036 GRT, built 1938), City of Lincoln (British, 8039 GRT, built 1938), Cuba (British, 11420 GRT, built 1923), Delftdijk (British, 10220 GRT, built 1929), Denbighshire (British, 8983 GRT, built 1938), Duchess of Richmond (British, 20022 GRT, built 1928), Duchess of York (British, 20021 GRT, built 1929), Empire Pride (British, 9248 GRT, built 1941), Monarch of Bermuda (British, 22424 GRT, built 1931), Mooltan (British, 20952 GRT, built 1923), Nea Hellas (British, 16991 GRT, built 1922), Ormonde (British, 14982 GRT, built 1917), Port Jackson (British, 9687 GRT, built 1937), Potaro (British, 5410 GRT, built 1940), Sibajak (Dutch, 12226 GRT, built 1927), Strathaird (British, 22281 GRT, built 1932), Stratheden (British, 23722 GRT, built 1937), Volendam (Dutch, 15434 GRT, built 1922) and Worcestershire (British, 11402 GRT, built 1931).
The Straithaid was unable to sail with the convoy and joined at sea on 21 February 1942.
On departure from the Clyde the convoy was escorted by the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.LaT. Bisset, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN), HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Panther (Lt.Cdr. R.W. Jocelyn, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Verity (Cdr. R.H. Mills, RN), HMS Walker (Cdr. D.G.F.W. MacIntyre, DSO, RN), HMS Witherington (Lt. R. Horncastle, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN) and HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN).
Between 1300/18 and 1500/18 the transports City of Edinburgh, City of Lincoln and Potaro reported that their cargo had shifted. The Potaro was able to continue but was ordered to proceed to Freetown independently. The other two ships had to return to the U.K.
At 0920/20 the destroyer HMS Anthony left the convoy to proceed to the Azores with condensor trouble.
At 1800/20 HMS Panther was detached to fuel at the Azores and then rejoin the convoy.
At 1300/21 the light cruiser HMS Newcastle (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) and destroyer HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.D. Pugsley, RN) joined the convoy. They had the troopship Strathaird with them.
At 0800/21 HMS Croome was detached to Gibraltar.
At 1530/21 HMS Malaya, HMS Eagle, HMS Hermione, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Duncan, HMS Active and HMS Blankney were detached to Gibraltar.
At 1600/21 HMS Paladin was detached to the Azores to refuel after which she was to rejoin the convoy.
At 1800/21 HMS Firedrake was detached. She was to return to the U.K independently.
At 1800/22 HMS Verity, HMS Walker and HMS Witherington were detached to the Azores where they were to fuel after which they were to proceed to Halifax.
At 1600/23 HMS Paladin rejoined the convoy. HMS Panther had sailed from the Azores before her but apparently she was unable to find the convoy. Eventually she joined in the evening.
The convoy arrived safely at Freetown in the morning of 1 March 1942 escorted by HMS Formidable, HMS Newcastle, HMS Paladin, HMS Panther, HMS Boreas, HMS Brilliant and HMS Wild Swan. (22)
23 Feb 1942
HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN) arrived at Gibraltar from convoy escort duty. (23)
26 Feb 1942
Transfer of Spitfire fighters to Malta.
Around 1830/26 the aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN) and HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN) departed Gibraltar westwards. They were to turn eastwards during the night but this move was made as a diversion to 'fool' the enemy spies in Spain that HMS Argus had been relieved at Gibraltar by HMS Eagle which had arrived there on 23 February 1942.
Around 0330/27 the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN).
Around 0630/27 the two groups joined to the east of Gibraltar and then continued on eastwards.
Around 2100/27 course was reversed to return to Gibraltar. The operation had to be abandoned due to problems with the long range fuel tanks of the Spitfire fighters in HMS Eagle that were to be flow off to Malta.
'Force H' returned to Gibraltar in the evening of the 28th. (20)
6 Mar 1942
Operation Spotter II.
Transfer of Spitfire fighters to Malta.
Around 0400 hours 'Force H' departed Gibraltar for Operation Spotter II, a renewed attempt to fly off Spitfire fighters to Malta.
'Force H' was made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN), HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN) and HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN).
At 1018/7 the first flight of Spitfire fighters for Malta was launched from position 37°29'N, 03°18'E. All eight Spitfires from 'A' flight were airbone at 1032/7.
Meanwhile signals were intercepted that 'Force H' had been reported by German and Italian aircraft.
At 1146/7 the first aircraft of the second flight of Spitfires for Malta was launched. All seven aircraft from 'B' flight were airborne by 1157/7.
Course was then set to return to Gibraltar while it was till being shadowed by enemy aircraft.
In the evening a signal was received that all aircraft had arrived safely at Malta.
On the 8th various exercises were carried out.
At 1330/8 HMS Hermione was detached to act as a target for an exercise by the 9.2" shore battery of the Rock of Gibraltar.
At 1344/8 HMS Eagle, HMS Argus escorted by HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Anthony, HMS Blankney and HMS Croome were detached to conduct flying exercises. After HMS Hermione completed her exercise she joined this group.
At 1420/8 HMS Malaya entered the harbour and immediately proceeded into No.1 dock for periodical docking. She had been escorted by the remaining destroyers; HMS Active, HMS Wishart and HMS Whitehall. HMS Active and HMS Wishart then joined the carrier group while HMS Whitehall also entered the harbour for repairs to her condensors.
Between 1800/8 and 1840/8, HMS Eagle, HMS Argus and HMS Hermione entered the harbour. The destroyers remained out for night exercises upon completion of which they also returned to harbour. (20)
17 Mar 1942
HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN) and HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) conducted exercises off Gibraltar. They were escorted by (at least) HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) and HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN). (24)
20 Mar 1942
Transfer of Spitfire fighters to Malta.
Around 0200 hours 'Force H' departed Gibraltar for Operation Picket, in which they were to launch Spitfire fighters for passage to Malta.
'Force H' was made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN), HMS Whitehall (Lt.Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN), HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN) and HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN).
At 0320/20, while passing Europa Point, they were joined by the destroyer HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN).
At 1440/20, when 'Force H' was in position 36°33'N, 01°26'W, underwater explosions were felt by the majority of the ships. At the time these were thought to have originated by aircraft dropping depth charges but later investigations showed that these were most likely torpedoes exploding. [This was indeed the case as the Italian submarine Mocenigo at that time had made an attack on HMS Argus.]
At 0814/21 the first Spitfire of 'A' flight was flown off and the whole flight of aircraft was in the air by 0838/21 where they joined two Blenheim bombers coming from Gibraltar.
After 'A' flight had been launched the aircraft for 'B' flight were brought up to the flight deck. However it became apparent that no more escorting Blenheims would come from Gibraltar and the lauch of this flight had to be cancelled and 'Force H' set course to the westward with the intention to lauch 'B' flight the next day.
In the afternoon a signal was received that all aircraft of 'A' flight had arrived safely at Malta. Meanwhile throughout the afternoon 'Force H' had been shadowed by enemy aircaft which the fighter patrol were unable to intercept.
At 1530/21, HMS Whitehall was detached due to fuel shortage and ordered to proceed to Gibraltar independently.
The next moring, at 0715/22 it apparent that the weather at Malta was unsuitable and the remainder of the operation was cancelled and 'Force H' set course to return to Gibraltar.
In the morning the fleet was still shadowed by an enemy aircraft.
'Force H' arrived at Gibraltar around 0800/23. HMS Hermione had been detached and arrived a little earlier. (20)
27 Mar 1942
Operation Picket II.
Transfer of Spitfire fighters to Malta.
Around 1600/27 'Force H' departed Gibraltar for Operation Picket II, in which they were to launch Spitfire fighters for passage to Malta.
'Force H' was made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSC, RN), HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, DSO, RN) and HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN).
In the afternoon of March 28th German reconnaissance aircraft were sighted so the force must have been detected.
Between 0720/29 and 0728/29 HMS Eagle launched seven Spitfires for Malta.
'Force H' then set course to return to Gibraltar.
'Force H' returned to Gibraltar early in the afternoon of 30 March 1942.
[We have so far been unable to find a report for this operation.]
1 Apr 1942
The battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) departed Gibraltar for Freetown. (25)
6 Apr 1942
HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) arrived at Freetown. (25)
9 Apr 1942
Convoy WS 17A.
This convoy departed Freetown on 9 April 1942 and arrived at Durban on 22 April 1942.
This convoy was made up of the following troopships / transports; Bhutan (British, 6104 GRT, built 1929), Domion Monarch (British, 27155 GRT, built 1939), Duchess of Atholl (British, 20119 GRT, built 1928), Karanja (British, 9891 GRT, built 1931), Keren (British, 9890 GRT, built 1930), Oronsay (British, 20043 GRT, built 1925), Port Wyndham (British, 11005 GRT, built 1935), Rembrandt (British, 5559 GRT, built 1941), Sobieski (Polish, 11030 GRT, built 1939), Winchester Castle (British, 20012 GRT, built 1930) and Windsor Castle (British, 19141 GRT, built 1922).
On departure from Freetown the convoy was escorted by the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Pakenham (Capt. E.B.K. Stevens, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Lookout (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. G.E. Fardell, RN), HMS Inconstant (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Clouston, RN), HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN).
At 1800/12, the Dominion Monarch was detached. She proceeded to Capetown independently arriving there on 19 April.
At 1600/13, HMS Pakenham, HMS Duncan, HMS Active and HMS Anthony were detached to fuel at St.Helena from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Abbeydale.
At 0615/14, HMS Laforey and HMS Javelin were detached to fuel at St.Helena from the Abbeydale.
At 1515/14, HMS Pakenham, HMS Duncan, HMS Active and HMS Anthony rejoined the convoy. HMS Hermione, HMS Lightning, HMS Lookout and HMS Inconstant were then detached to fuel at St.Helena from the Abbeydale.
At 1825/15, HMS Laforey and HMS Javelin rejoined the convoy.
At 1100/16, HMS Hermione, HMS Lightning, HMS Lookout and HMS Inconstant rejoined the convoy.
At 1000/18, HMS Hermione discovered missing plating near her bow. She was to be docked to repair this damage.
At 0700/19, HMS Illustrious, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Lookout and HMS Duncan were detached to Capetown where they arrived later the same day.
At 1000/19, HMS Devonshire (Capt. R.D. Oliver, DSC, RN) took over the escort of the convoy. HMS Malaya, HMS Pakenham, HMS Javelin, HMS Inconstant, HMS Active and HMS Anthony were then detached to Capetown where they arrived later the same day. The flag of Rear-Admiral Syfret was then transferred from HMS Malaya to HMS Illustrious.
At 0815/20, HMS Hermione arrived at Simonstown. She was then docked for repairs to her bow.
The convoy arrived at Durban on 22 April 1942 still escorted by HMS Devonshire.
23 Apr 1942
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) is undocked at Simonstown. She then immediately left for Durban. (26)
25 Apr 1942
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) arrived at Durban. (26)
28 Apr 1942
Operation Ironclad, the landing on Madagascar.
The main body of the assault forces sailed from South Africa in two convoys, these were;
Convoy Y, Slow convoy.
This convoy departed Durban on 25 April 1942.
This convoy was made up of the following troopships / transports; Empire Kingsley (British, 6996 GRT, built 1941), Mahout (British, 7921 GRT, built 1925), Martand (British, 7967 GRT, built 1925), Nairnbank (British, 5155 GRT, built 1925), Thalatta (Norwegian, 5671 GRT, built 1922) as well as the landing ship HMS Bachaquero (A/Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) A.W. McMullan, RNR) and the RFA tankers Derwentdale (8398 GRT, built 1941), Easedale (8032 GRT, built 1942).
On departure from Durban the convoy was escorted by the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire (Capt. R.D. Oliver, CBE, DSC, RN), destroyers HMS Duncan ( Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), corvettes HMS Auricula (fitted for mineweeping) (Lt.Cdr. S.L.B. Maybury, RN), HMS Freesia (T/Lt. R.A. Cherry, RNR), HMS Fritillary (Lt.Cdr. W.H. Barker, RD, RNR), HMS Jasmine (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) C.D.B. Coventry, RNR), HMS Nigella (fitted for minesweeping) (T/Lt. L.J. Simpson, RNR), HMS Thyme (Lt. H. Roach, RNR) and the minesweepers HMS Cromarty (Lt.Cdr. C.G. Palmer, DSC, RNZNVR), HMS Cromer (Cdr. R.H. Stephenson, DSC, RN), HMS Poole (Lt. W.L.G. Dutton, RNR) and HMS Romney (Cdr.(Retd.) R.H.V. Sivewright, RN).
The transport City of Hong Kong (British, 9678 GRT, built 1924) had been delayed and sailed on 26 April 1942 escorted by the corvettes HMS Cyclamen (Lt. A.G. Scott, RNR) and HMS Genista (Lt.Cdr. R.M. Pattinson, DSC, RNR).
Convoy Z, Fast convoy.
This convoy departed Durban on 28 April 1942.
This convoy was made up of the following troopships / transports; Duchess of Atholl (British, 20119 GRT, built 1928), Franconia (British, 20175 GRT, built 1923), HMS Karanja (British, 9891 GRT, built 1931), HMS Keren (British, 9890 GRT, built 1930), Oronsay (British, 20043 GRT, built 1925), HMS Royal Ulsterman (British, 3244 GRT, built 1936), Sobieski (Polish, 11030 GRT, built 1939) and Winchester Castle (British, 19141 GRT, built 1922).
Upon departure from Durban the convoy was escorted by the battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Pakenham (Capt. E.B.K. Stevens, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN), HMS Lookout (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. G.E. Fardell, RN) and HMS Inconstant (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Clouston, RN).
The convoys met around noon on 3 May. Earlier that day the aircaft carrier HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.D. Pugsley, RN) and HMS Panther (Lt.Cdr. R.W. Jocelyn, RN) had joined the 'Z' convoy.
Both convoys had a good passage so far thanks also to the favourable weather conditions. From the 'Y' convoy all escorts had been able to fuel from the RFA tanker Easedale. Also HMS Hermione and the destroyers from the 'Z'-convoy were now able to fuel.
By dusk on 3 May the fast convoy had closed to within about 4 miles from the slow convoy and it maintained this position until the final approach on the following afternoon.
At noon on the 4th of May, the flagship was some 95 mils west of Courrier Bay and at 1430/4, Group I, made of of HMS Ramillies, HMS Indomitable, HMS Illustrious, HMS Hermione and seven destroyers parted company with the convoys and steered for the covering position near Cape Amber. At 1500/4 the signal was made to proceed in execution with the orders and Groups II to V formed up for the final approach.
The composition of these groups was as follows; II; HMS Laforey, one corvette, two minesweeping corvettes and the four minesweepers.
III; HMS Devonshire, Winchester Castle, HMS Royal Ulsterman and one destroyer.
IV; HMS Keren, HMS Karanja Sobieski, Derwentdale, HMS Bachaquero and three corvettes.
V; HMS Pakenham, two corvettes, 10 transports, store ships and auxliaries.
Capt. Oliver of HMS Devonshire was the senior officer. It was his task of bringing the convoy of 34 ships safely to its anchorage. It had 88 miles to go, most of it in the dark.
At 1800/4, HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning and HMS Anthony were detached to make landfall of Nosi Amambo, and proceeded to the south-east. At 1950/4 a suspicious vessel was reported and the division was about to attack with torpeoes at 2021/4 when it was seen to be a distant island (sic !). Twenty minutes later shallow sounding raised doubts as to their position, but at 2100/4 a white light was seen on Noi Anambo and at 2122 the moon rose silhouetting a tower on the island. Half an hour later the first buoy was laid (ZA) and course was shaped for Nosi Fati shoal, which was found without difficulty, both land and beakers showing up well in the moonlight.
At 2310/4 No.1 main channel buoy was laid and HMS Lightning anchored off it. At 2340/4, she swithched on the prearranged lights (green, white, red) to seaward. HMS Anthony then went to inform the convoy that these buoy were in place, and the Laforey went on laying the remainder in the 15-mile channel to Nosi Hara.
This was an easy task, as the channel between Nosi Hari and Nosi Anjombavola could be seen clearly in the moonlight, and after dropping the last buoy, she turned back at 0003/5. The convoy could be seen just entering the channel. Its ships were clearly visible to the naked eye. HMS Laforey then stood to the westward. At 0026/5, HMS Laforey reported ' Channel OK, no corss set ' to the Devonshire and Keren, then turning, took station astern of the minesweepers.
HMS Devonshire, meanwhile, with group IV and V astern, had been groping her way in. It was quite dark at 184/4, but star sights showed that the north-easterly set allowed for had in effect been running the other way during the afternoon carrying her some 5 miles to the south-westward of her intended position. She altered coursev without signal at 1900/4 to correct this and her screen not immediately observing the alteration, got a long way out of station. At 2100/4 the high land on Cape Sebastian was sighted, and a reasonably good fix was obtained by visual bearing and RDF range. More land was sighted after moonrise, and at 2150/4 the jaged peak of Windsor Castle was identified 40 miles away and an accurate fix placed the Devonshire 298°, 18 miles from position ZB. Course was altered to 118° at 2200/4 and speed was reduced to 8.5 knots.
At 2312/4 another good fix showed that she had been set 2.5 miles to the northward, placing her 360°, 6 miles from position ZB, and course was altered to 138° at 2318/4. Twenty minutes later the lights displayed by HMS Lightning were sighted so navigation was no longer difficult. At 2342/4 HMS Anthony passed close alongside and reported there was no set though the outer dan buoy had drifted to the south-westward. Course was altered to follow the minesweepers which could be seen clearly ahead and HMS Lightning was passed 6 cables abeam to starboard at 0008/5. This showed that HMS Devonshire had passed position ZB 33 minutes ahead of time. The right hand edge of Nosi Hara selected as a leading mark was clearly visible, bearing 114°, but it was not easy to follow the passage as several of the dan buoys had broken adrift and it wa difficult to ee which minesweepers were sweeping. Actually their work had come to a sudden halt. Owing to the out dan buoy being to the south-west of it intended position, the mineweepers had gone too close to Nosi Fati shoal and all four had parted their sweepers. Nothing was known of this at the time, and it was supposed that the channel was being swept according to plan, though in fact it was not being swept at all. Fortunately no mines had been laid so far to seaward.
At 0130/5, the ships in group III passed between Nosi Hari and Nosi Anjombavola. Before them lay Ambararata Bay. At 0154/5 the Winchester Castle came noiselessly to an anchor, the Royal Ulsterman and HMS Lightning standing by to the north-eastward of her. The troops were all drawn up and her assault craft were lowered and manned. HMS Devonshire anchored some 3.5 cables to the eastward of Nosi Hara, ready to open fire on the enemy's batteries under Windsor Castle. She lay invisible against the background of the island. Through unlit and tortuous channels studded with rocks and shoals the ships had been brought safely to their anchorage. Silently, Groups IV and V entered and took up their berths, anchoring some 10 minutes earlier than planned.
Assault landing, 5 May 1942.
While the assault craft were being manned, HMS Romney and HMS Cromarty accurately and steadfastly led by HMS Freesia commened to sweep the 8-mile channel from the Winchester Castle's berth to position JJ. They were closely followed by HMS Laforey leading the Winchester Castle's flotilla with HMS Lightning and HMS Royal Ulsterman some distance astern. During this passage about 17 mines were cut. At 0300/5 one detonated in the Romney's sweep, but no sign of life came from the French garrison ashore. A quarter of an hour later another mine exploded. All waited for the expected fusillade, but to their surprise the quiet of the summer night remained undisturbed. The garrison was evidently sleeping soundly, and at 0330/5 the dispersal point (JJ) was reached and the flotilla moved off towards the 'Red' beaches, while HMS Royal Ulsterman silently anchored and commenced landing her cobles. Meanwhile the flotillas from the Keren and Karanja had left at 0253/5 and 0319/5 for the 'Green' and 'White' beaches respectively.
The navigation of the landing craft was as good as that of their parent ships. All made accurate landings and the assault was carried out exactly as planned. Despite the explosions of the mines, complete surprise was achieved, and all three beaches and No.7 battery were carried without loss. 'Blue' beach was then assaulted. Here opposition was experienced, but it was overcome by troops which had landed at 'White' beach, who crossed the peninsula and took the defenders in the rear.
Simultaneously with these landings, HMS Hermione was carrying out her diversion on the east coast, consisting of a demonstration with delay action smoke floats, rockets, and the firing of star shell to burst over the beach at the head of Ambodi Vahibe Bay. She then established a patrol of the entrance to Diego Saurez Bay which she maintained for the rest of the day without incident, except for a short engagement (0643 to 0655/5) with No.1 coast defence batterey, Oranjiia, which she outranged at 18000 yards.
Half an hour after the initial landing, air attacks by the FAA developed on the Vichy-French shipping in Diego Saurez harbour and on Antsirane aerodrome. The former, carried out by 18 Swordfish from HMS Illustrious armed with torpedoes, bombs and depth charges, proved very effective. The armed merchant cruiser Bougainville was hit by a torpedo, the submarine Beveziers was sunk by depth charges and the sloop D'Entrecasteaux, another submarine and AA batteries were narrowly missed by bombs. Fighter protection was provided by 8 Martlets, which demonstrated ovr the town during the attack. One Swordfish was shot down during the attack.
At the same time six Albacores from HMS Indomitable carried out a low level bombing attack on Antsirane airport. Here, again, the surprise was complete and the hangars, which were full of aircraft, were left burning. This was followed by an attack with incendiary bullets by eight sea Hurricanes.
After these main air attacks, three Swordfish dropped dummy parachutists in a valley 6 mines west-south-west of Ambodi Vahibe Bay, to strengthen the effect of the diversion by HMS Hermione. Fighter patrols were then established over the town, beaches and transports, and an A/S patol off the entrance to Diego Saurez harbour.
At 0545/5 the ' success ' signal from No.7 battery was received and Keren, Karanja, Sobieski, Winchester Castle and Bachaquero proceeded to shift to the main anchorage off Ambararata Bay. The three former were still loading their second flight of landing craft but Winchester Castle and Bachaquero at once got under way. By that time it was broad daylight and they were seen by HMS Devonshire advancing up the swept channel. Just at that moment Capt. Oliver received a signal from HMS Romney that she had exploded two mines just north of the anchorage. Capt. Oliver therefore ordered the two ships to stop and the ordered to move was then cancelled until the new anchorage was swept.
By 0620/5, about 2000 troops had been landed but the turn round for the landing craft was very long. Reports of a successful advance and the capture of prisoners began to come in.
At 0750/5, group IV, followed by the remainder of the convoy, shifted berth to the main anchoragem which by that time had been swept by HMS Cromer, HMS Poole, HMS Auricula and HMS Nigella. No mines had been found in the actual anchorage, but about a mile to the north-west, HMS Cromer and HMS Auricula cut seven in quick succession and cut six more and detonated one in the same position shortly afterwards.
Conditions in the anchorage by this time were far from pleasant. The south-easterly wind had increased to force 8 and was raising a heavy sea. Ships were dropping second anchors and the handling and loading of landing craft was difficult but non the less disembarkation continued at full speed.
Sweeping was still continuing in the vicinity of position HH, when at 1138/5, HMS Auricula struck a mine and broke her back. As she had no casualties and was in no immediate danger of sinking, she remained where she was, anchored by her sweep. By this time the minesweepers had swept up no less than 35 mines but half of them were now out of action with defects to their gear. As it was imperative to have sufficient minesweepers with the fleet to proceed into Diego Saurez after its capture it was decided to cease further minesweeping for the moment.
Landing continued throughout the day. Two or three machine-gun attacks were made on the beaches by enemy fighter aircraft, but FAA patrols provided effective protection and, thanks to the initial blow to the aerodrome no attacks were made on the transports.
At 1354/5, an enemy post on Windsor Castle, becoming a nuisance was engaged by HMS Laforey. Shortly afterwards a white flag and signals of surrender were observed and fire was ceased. However, on advancing, the British troop wee bombed by the French with hand granades.
Considerable difficulty was experienced in finding a suitable beach for the Bachaquero but a spot close to 'Red' beach was eventually found. She had to approach it through the minefield but was swept in by HMS Cromarty who cut two mines adrift, and she landed her cargo in 14 minutes.
At sunset landing operations were suspended till sunrise, in order to avoid damage to the landing craft. Before dark destroyers and corvettes took up their stations as A/S patrols of the entrances to the harbour, and orders were given to abandon HMS Auricula for the night.
Operations of Group I, 4 to 6 May 1942.
Meanwhile, outside the harbour the night had passed without incident. Group I, made up of HMS Ramillies, HMS Indomitable, HMS Illustrious, HMS Hermione, HMS Paladin, HMS Panther, HMS Lookout, HMS Javelin, HMS Inconstant, HMS Duncan and HMS Active, after the assault landing force parted company (4th May), had continued to the north-eastwar, HMS Hermione being detached at 1700/4 to the east coast to carry out her diversion next morning. The remainder patrolled up and down in the vicinity of position 'AA' till 2200/4, when course was shaped towards Nosi Fati and towards midnight the ships in Group V could be seen bearing 070°, distant 11 miles, steering for position 'ZC'. At 0015/5, land loomed up ahead and it was clear that the force was further to the south-eastward than had been aniticipated, course was altered the the north-east under the stern of the convoy at 0020/5.
Shortly before 0300/5, HMS Anthony was sighted. She reported that the channel had been buoyed without difficulty, that at 0015/15 Winchester Castle was approaching position 'ZC' with the remainder of the ships closed up, and that conditions for landing were very good.
The time had come for the carriers to get to work, and at 0300/5 they, with HMS Paladin, HMS Panther, HMS Javelin and HMS Inconstant were detached to operate independently under Rear-Admiral Boyd, some 35 miles were of Cape Amber, while HMS Ramilles with HMS Lookout, HMS Duncan and HMS Active kept within visual supporting distance.
THe carrier had barely moved off when the first news was received by the Admiral from the ships inshore. It was a signal time 0318/5 from HMS Laforey reporting that mines had been cut near position 'JJ'. A long pause then followed. About 0440/5 star shell was seen, which were taken to be from HMS Hermione.
At 0540/5 another signal came in from HMS Laforey reported no sign of oppostion on the shore. Further signals from her reported No.7 battery captured with negligible opposition, native troops surrendering, and the advance continuing. No.8 battery could not be found and was apparently non-existent, and the situation was under complete control. Later it was reported that mines were delaying the move to the main anchorage.
Signals were also received from HMS Hermione and the carriers, reporting the progress of their activities. At 0836/5, HMS Illustrious reported that there were no submarines remaining in Diego Saurez harbour and all ships were then warned that most likely two of them would be at sea in the area.
At 0719/5, a reply on the ultimatum was received from the French stain that they would defend to the last.
By 0720/5, the Combined Commander-in-Chief felt that the assault had made a very good start. Troops were advancing, prisoners taken, HMS Hermione diversion had proceeded satisfacorily, air attacks had been successful both on the aerodrome and on ship. On the debit side it was clear that unswept mines in Courrier Bay were causing delays in disembarkation, and the rejection of the ultimatum showed that opposition might be expected to stiffen.
During the forenoon, though news was somewhat scanty it seemed that the disembarkation was proceeding steadily, and the assault was advancing to their objectives it was evident that resistance was increasing. Rear-Admiral Boyd, confirmed that there were no submarines in harbour and that a sloop was seen undeway. She was later attacked by Swordfish aircraft from HMS Illustrious. She was hit forward and was beached but she remained in action.
At noon on the 5th, Major-General Sturges, who was on board HMS Ramillies expressed a wish to disembark, so the flagship shaped course for position 'ZB'. At 1420/5 the General and hi staff were transferred to HMS Anthony for passage ashore. The information on board HMS Ramillies at that time was that Headquarter, No.5 Commando was east of Andrakaka village and that they were advancing with very little resistance.
HMS Ramillies then proceeded towards a position some 88 miles to the westward of Cape Amber, being joined by the carriers at sunset. A message was received that the attack on the Antsirane position was held up but that a fresh assault would be made at daylight. Air support was asked for and this was arranged.
During the night of 5/6 May 1942, Group I cruiser in the vicinity of position 12°S up to 100 miles from Cape Amber. At 0148/6, a situation report timed 2200/5 was received. It stated that the advance of troops had been delayed but that new attacks had been planned for the following day.
On receipt of this signal, HMS Devonshire was ordered to join HMS Hermione to the eastward of Diego Saurez to give supporting fire to upcoming assaults.
At 0400/6, the carriers and their escort were detached to carry out flying operations, and the bombing of enemy positions south of Antsirane started at 0500/6, followed up by machine-gun attacks by Martlets at 0530/6. A bombing attack was also launched on the aerodrome at first light. Enemy Potez 63 bombers were engaged over the town by fighters from HMS Illustrious, which shot down two for certain, and probably a third. Fighters from HMS Indomitable attacked the sloop D'Entrecasteaux, which was firing on out troops. The sloop was set on fire.
As it was uncertain when entry into the harbour of Diego Saurez would be possible, Rear-Admiral Syfret decided to refuel HMS Ramillies and her destroyer screen after detaching the carriers. The destroyers were then to swap places with the ones escorting the carriers so that these could also refuel. They accordingly proceeded to Ambararata Baym anchoring near position ZD at 0722/6. Twenty minutes later HMS Auricula broke in two and sank, while attempts were being made by HMS Freesia to tow her to shallow water. No life was lost.
The general situation at 0900/6 was as follows; HMS Devonshire and HMS Hermione were concentrated east of Diego Saurez, and the minesweepers HMS Cromer, HMS Cromarty, HMS Romney, HMS Nigella had also proceeded to this area. No report had been received of the progress of the land assault on Antsirane. At 0600/6, HMS Lightning had bombarded an enemy machine-gun nest which had been re-estalished on Windsor Castle. HMS Pakenham also fired a few rounds on this target. HMS Laforey from position 'JJ' was just opening fire on the D'Entrecasteaux, which had extinguished the fire caused by the air attack and was still flying her battle ensign.
At 1009/6, HMS Laforey reported the sloop again on fire with ammunition exploding. She then joined HMS Lightning near 'Red' beach and with her bombarded a position south of Antsirane.
During the forenoon, 6th May, no information was forthcoming as to the progress of the assault, and it was not until 1250/6 that the Admiral learnt that it had failed. Of the situation as it appeared that afternoon the Admiral says: At about 1400/6 the General arrived on board. He was hot, begrimed and unhappy. Things were not going well, he said. French resistance was heavier then expected and they appeared to be well organized and equipped.
The Admiral offered the General " any and all assistance " the fleet could give. The enemy's position was outside the range of the Ramillies and cruisers guns, but aircraft bombing was promised. Then came a suggestion which had a substantial effect. The General asked if it would be possible to put 20 or 30 seamen ashore on the Antsirane Peninsula to create a diversion in the enemy's rear. It was decided to try to land 50 marines there from a destroyer. Assistance might be forthcoming from No.5 Commano which was in control of Andrakaka Peninsula, but this would depend on their finding boats to cross Port Nievre.
At was then 1430/6and the party had to be collected, a destroyer told off and a passage of 100 miles to be accomplished. The Admiral recommended that the hour for the attack should be put off till 2030 hours. HMS Anthony was called alongside and instructions were given to her Commanding Officer, Lt.Cdr. Hodges and to Captain Price, Royal Marines who was to lead the landing party. The General then left the flagship in order to organise the night attack by the 17th Brigade. The 50 marines were embarked in HMS Anthony by 1530/6, one hour ater the decision to make the ettempt - and at 1545/6 she cast off. The Admiral then proceeded to sea in HMS Ramillies, keeping within 45 miles of position 'ZB' in order to facilitate wireless communication with the Army.
The impression left on Rear-Admiral Syfret after the General's visit was that the intended quick capture of Diego Saurez was a 90 per cent failure. The night attack, planned in a hurry, to be carried out by tired troops against very strong positions, had only a small chance of success. Prolonged operations, which we so much wished to avoil, was the unpleasant alternative. The Anthony' chance of success the Rear-Admiral assessed at about 50 per cent though his advisers thought only 15 per cent. They thought that the Royal Marines would not survive the night. The next few hours were not going to be happy ones they thought.
Meanwhile the landing on the beaches had continued throughout the day. By 1700/6, 10000 men were ashore.
The capture of Antsirane, 6 May 1942.
After leaving Ambararata Bay at high speed, HMS Anthony ran into a heavy sea. Most of the marines were sick - a sorry start for the task before them.
Cape Amber was abeam at 1805/6, course was altered to 170° a quarter of an hour later and speed was reduced to 13 knots. Thanks to echo sounding and RDF little difficulty was experienced in making the entrance to Diego Saurez Harbour, and speed was increased to 22 knots at 2001/6 when 1 mile from the entrance. The ship was apparently unobserved till she was through Oranjia Pass and half a mile to the westward, when fire was opened by Nos. 2, 4 and 5 batteries and later by No. 1 battery. About 25 rounds were fired. HMS Anthony replied briskly with her after 4.7" guns (the two foremost would not bear), the port pom-pom and Oerlikon, and the enemy ceased fire at 2018/6, when course was altered to 212° short of Nosi Langor.
It had been intended to go alongside the deep water quay, port side to, where it was hoped men from No.5 Commando would be waiting ti help berth the ship. They had failed, however, to find any boats to bring them across from Andrakaka, and in the darkness the jetty was overshot. HMS Anthony turned round and an attempt was made to go alongside starboard side to, but a strong off-shore wind prevented this so with supreme skill Lt.Cdr. Hodges held his stern against the jetty long enough for Captain Price to get his men ashore. Snipers were firing from the jetty and the wooded slopes from the eastward, but a constant stream of bright tracer from pom-pom, Oerlikon, Lewis and Bren guns evidently disconcerted them, and by the time the Marines disembarked the majority had ceased fire. HMS Anthony, having done her part, left at high speed. The barreries at Oronjia opened fire on her, but she was not hit, though some of the rounds fell rather close. She replied with rapid salvos from the whole gun armament. No.1 battery continued to fire till she was about 3 miles from the harbour entrance, when course was shaped to the northward to return to Ambararata Bay.
Meanwhile, Captain Price and his Marines - left entirely to their own devices, with no means of retreat - were groping their way south through the dockyard. In spite of fires still burning after the raids by FAA aircraft, it was very dark and they missed the turning to the eastward by which they had meant to enter the town. Progress was delayd by having to spread to avoid heavy casualties from rifle and machine-gun fire. For some time a high wall on their left forced them to parallel the town, but eventually they found a gap in it and Captain Price led them over a very high bank. It was a rough scramble which brought them to a wall and through a stiff wire fence into the compund of the artillery General's house. Captain Price occupied it with No.1 platoon while Lieutenant Powell, with the other platoon formed another strong point a few hundred yards down the road. Attempts to advertise the diversion by fires had little success as the houses seemed to be under construction and had nothing in them to burn.
Lieutenant Powell soon reached what proved to be the naval depot. A feeble fire was opened on his party, they replied with hand grenades, on which the defenders, headed by the Commandant of the barracks, proceeded to surrender. Lieutenant Powell had barely accepted the surrender when the drummer sounded off a call and was immediately 'overwhelmed' for his treachery by a posse of marines. The Commandant then explained that the call was the 'cease fire'. Apologies were made and accepted.
In the barracks were found three British Army officers with 50 other ranks, three FAA personnel, and a British agent who was awaiting execution next morning. Two or three thousand rifles and some heavy machine-guns were found in the artillery headquarters.
to Captain Price's astonishment crowds then appeared who wished to surrender, both from the naval headquarters as from the artillery depot. Rifle and machine-gun fire was opened on his party periodically from the right flank but this caused no appreciable inconvenience.
Meanwhile, the attack from the south by the 17th and 29th Brigades had commenced at 2030/6. The General had finally decided to use both brigades. Firing as sporadic until the success signal from the town showed that the Marines had landed. Then the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers and the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers pressed home their attac and by 0300/7, Brigadier Festing was able to report that he was in complete possession of the town and its defences, and had received the personal surrender of the naval and military commanders and staffs. Rear-Admiral Syfret was of opinion that, on hearing the firing in the town, the men in the trenches made for the town to look after their homes and belongings, thus simplifying the task of our troops. Be that as it may, the town was in British hands that night, a result largely due to the success of the hazardous enterprise launched suddenly at the enemy's back door, and to the splendid leadership of both Captain Price and Lieutenant Powell as well as the fine qualities displayed by the whole landing party.
By 0800/7, the work of sorting out the prisoners was in full swing.
Occupation of Diego Saurez, 7 May 1942.
Whilst affairs in Antsirane were taking this happy turn, Rear-Admiral Syfret was cruising to the south-west of a line 300° from Nosi Fati, while the aircraft carrier to the north-eastward were carrying out flying operations in support of the night attack. The first indication or a possible success reached the Admiral at 2129/6, a signal from HMS Anthony reporting that she had accomplished her task successfully.
No news from the Army came in until 0103/7, when a requist came in for ship and air support at 0900/7 for an attack on Oronjia Peninsula by the 29th Brigade. From this it was clear that the night attack had succeeded. HMS Ramillies then shaped course to join HMS Devonshire and HMS Hermione to the eastward of te Oronjia Peninsula, in readiness to bombard.
During the night these were two submarine alarms. At 2345/6, HMS Genista reported a contact, 285°, 4 miles from Nosi Hara, She attacked with a pattern of 10 depth-charges before losing it at 0111/7. A search by HMS Pakenham, HMS Laforey and corvettes failed to regain contact.
At early dawn, 0504/7, a Swordfish from HMS Illustrious sighted a submarine, which proved to be the Le Heros, on the surface off Voailava Point, the northern entrance to Courrier Bay and immediately sank her with depth charges. 6 Officers and 44 ratings were picked up by HMS Pakenham and HMS Jasmine three hours later some 4 miles west of the position of the attack.
Meanwhile HMS Ramillies had joined HMS Devonshire and HMS Hermione at 0625/7. The squadron formed line ahead in the order Ramillies, Devonshire and Hermione. They were screened by HMS Paladin, HMS Panther, HMS Lightning and HMS Active. They were ready to open fire at 0900/7.
Then a message came in from the Army stating that the reorganisation of units in Antsirande had necessitated a revised plan, and the 17th Brigade would commence the attack on Oranjia Peninsula at noon/7. Bombardment was requisted as soon as possible after 1000/7, unless and ultimatum to surrender was accepted by the French. Orders were therefore given to open fire at 1030/7m but at 1003/7 came a signal that the chances of surrender seemed good and requesting a further postponement of action. The Admiral, however, was averse to keeping the Fleet steaming up and down in dangerous waters, and decided to commence a 15 minute bombardment ' to encourage the enemy to surrender'.
At 1040/7, fire was opened accordingly from a range of 20000 to 21000 yards, in order to keep outside the maximum range (18000 yards) of the 6.6" guns of No.1 battery, which was engaged by HMS Ramillies and HMS Lightning. Spotting aircraft failed to arrive and firing was carried out under very difficult condition, against targets seen only as the crests of a gently sloping ridge of hills, but despite this hanicap out of 23 15" shells fired, six fell in the immediate vicinity of the battery and quarters.
Great difficulty was experienced in spotting te fall of HMS Lightning's shot at this long range, and she fired only a few rounds. HMS Hermione fired half a dozen rounds at a battery which she had reported the previous day, but it was in thickly wooded country, and she was unable to identify it with certainty. HMS Devonshire did not fire at all, partly owing to the interpretation placed on signals received from the Army, and partly on accoint of the Admiral's instructions to conserve ammunition during the preliminary bombardment. Ten minutes after fire was opened, a message that Oronjia Peninsula had surrendered was reeived, and the bombardment ceased.
This ended the fighting. By 1620/7 the four minesweepers which had been standing by since the day before had swept the channel and harbour. At 1700/7, HMS Ramillies, HMS Hermione, HMS Paladin and HMS Lightning, entered Diego Saurez harbour. A bare 60 hours had elapsed since the initial landing in Courrier Bay.
The slow convoy had already sailed from Ambararata Bay at 1600/7 and the fast convoy followed the next morning. Both anchoring in Baie des Francais in the afternoon of the 8th. Rear-Admiral Boyd in HMS Indomitable also arrived on the morning of the 8th. When 7 miles to the eastward of Oranjia Pass she was attacked by a submarine - subsequently identified as the Monge - whose torpedo passed 50 yards ahead of the ship. HMS Active, joined later by HMS Panther, carried out two counter-attacks, which the wreckage and oil brought ti the surface proved to have been successful.
HMS Illustrious and HMS Devonshire remained at sea for a further 24 hours to provide fighter and A/S protection till 0800/9 when the joined the remainer of the force in Diego Saurez Bay.
19 May 1942
The following vessels departed Diego Saurez for Kilindini; aircraft carriers HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN), HMS Illustrious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Pakenham (Capt. E.B.K. Stevens, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.D. Pugsley, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. G.E. Fardell, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) and the minesweepers HMS Cromarty (Lt.Cdr. C.G. Palmer, DSC, RNZNVR), HMS Cromer (Cdr. R.H. Stephenson, DSC, RN), HMS Poole (Lt. W.L.G. Dutton, RNR) and HMS Romney (Cdr.(Retd.) R.H.V. Sivewright, RN).
22 May 1942
HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN), HMS Illustrious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), HMS Pakenham (Capt. E.B.K. Stevens, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.D. Pugsley, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. G.E. Fardell, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Cromarty (Lt.Cdr. C.G. Palmer, DSC, RNZNVR), HMS Cromer (Cdr. R.H. Stephenson, DSC, RN), HMS Poole (Lt. W.L.G. Dutton, RNR) and HMS Romney (Cdr.(Retd.) R.H.V. Sivewright, RN) all arrived at Kilindini from Diego Saurez.
30 May 1942
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) departed Mombasa for Aden.
She was to proceed to the Mediterranean to join the 15th Cruiser Squadron based at Alexandria.
30 May 1942
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) arrived at Aden. After fuelling she departed for Port Said later the same day. (28)
7 Jun 1942
HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN) arrived at Port Said. She departed for Alexandria later the same day escorted by the escort destroyers HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN) and HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN). (29)
11 Jun 1942
Convoy MW 11 from ports in the Eastern Mediterranean to Malta.
Operation Vigorous in the Eastern Mediterranean took place at the same time of Operation Harpoon in the Western Mediterranean.
11 June 1942.
On 11 June 1942, a diversionary convoy, MW 11C, departed Port Said for Malta. It was made up of the following transports; Aagtekerk (Dutch, 6811 GRT, built 1934), Bhutan (British, 6104 GRT, built 1929), City of Calcutta (British, 8063 GRT, built 1940) and Rembrandt (Dutch, 8126 GRT, built 1941).
The convoy was escorted by the AA cruiser HMS Coventry (Capt. R.J.R. Dendy, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Airedale (Lt.Cdr. A.G. Forman, DSC, RN), HMS Aldenham (Lt. H.A. Stuart-Menteth, RN), HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN), HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Egan, RN), HMS Dulverton (Lt.Cdr. W.N. Petch, OBE, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN) and HMS Hurworth (Lt.Cdr. J.T.B. Birch, RN).
The convoy proceeded eastwards and on 12 June the convoy was joined while near Alexandria by the escort destroyer HMS Exmoor (Lt.Cdr. L.StG. Rich, RN).
12 June 1942.
On 12 June 1942, convoy MW 11A departed Haifa for Malta. It was made up of the following transports; Ajax (British, 7540 GRT, built 1931), City of Edinburgh (British, 8036 GRT, built 1938), City of Lincoln (British, 8039 GRT, built 1938), City of Pretoria (British, 8049 GRT, built 1937), Elizabeth Bakke (British, 5450 GRT, built 1937) and Princess Marguerite (Canadian, 5875 GRT, built 1925).
On depature from Haifa this part of the convoy was escorted by the detroyers HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, DSO, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, DSO and Bar, RAN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, DSC, RAN), HMAS Norman (Cdr. H.M. Burrell, RAN), HMS Inconstant (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Clouston, RN) and HMS Hotspur (Lt. T.D. Herrick, DSC and Bar, RN).
Also on 12 June 1942, convoy MW 11B departed Port Said to join up with convoy MW 11A. It was made up of the following merchant vessels; Bulkoil (American (tanker), 8071 GRT, built 1942) and Potaro (British, 5410, built 1940).
13 June 1942.
Convoy MW 11C turned back eastward after dark on the 12th and joined convoys MW 11A and MW 11B near Alexandria on the 13th. The Hunt-class escort destroyers escorting convoy MW 11C were sent to Alexandria to fuel.
The transport City of Calcutta had been damaged by a near miss at 2100/12 while the convoy was still proceeding to the west. She had been detached and was now escorted to Tobruk by HMS Croome and HMS Exmoor. The four MTB's that were in tow of the four merchant ships of convoy MW 11C, were slipped and also sent to Tobruk due to the bad weather conditions. MTB 259 however was damaged and sunk.
The transport Elizabeth Bakke was unable to keep up with the convoy and was therefore detached from convoy MW 11A to return to Alexandria. The decoy ship Centurion joined the convoy from Alexandria. This ship was disguised as a battleship.
The destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. A.L. Poland, CB, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), HMS Javelin (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, DSO, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. M.S. Townsend, OBE, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh (Capt. St.J.A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. R.T. White, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. N.H.G. Austen, RN) and HMS Hero (Lt. W. Scott, RN) departed Alexandria in the afternoon to relieve all the fleet destroyers which were with the convoy at that time. The rescue ships Antwerp (British, 2957 GRT, built 1920) and Malines (British, 2969 GRT, built 1921) took passage to the convoy with these destroyers. The destroyers they were to relieve were then to proceed to Alexandria to fuel. The corvettes HMS Delphinium (Cdr.(Retd.) R.L. Spalding, RN), HMS Erica (Lt.Cdr. W.C. Riley, RNR), HMS Primula (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) J.H. Fuller, RNR) and HMS Snapdragon (T/Lt. P.H. Potter, RNR) also joined the convoy escort from Alexandria.
At 1730/13 the Rear Admiral Commanding, Fifteenth Cruiser Squadron, which was in overal command, sailed from Alexandria in HMS Cleopatra (Capt. G. Grantham, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, KBE, DSO and 2 Bars, RN) with HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Newcastle (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, DSO, RN, fling the flag of Rear Admiral W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), HMS Birmingham (Capt. H.B. Crane, RN) and HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers: HMAS Napier, HMAS Nestor, HMAS Nizam, HMAS Norman, HMS Pakenham, HMS Paladin, HMS Inconstant, HMS Fortune, HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN), HMS Hotspur and the escort destroyers HMS Dulverton, HMS Airedale, HMS Aldenham, HMS Beaufort, HMS Eridge, HMS Hurworth and HMS Tetcott (Lt. R.H. Rycroft, RN).
14 June 1942.
HMS Erica had to be detached to Mersa Matruh during night of 13th/14th due to defects.
The escort destroyers HMS Croome and HMS Exmoor rejoined the convoy at daylight coming from Tobruk.
The transport Aagtekerk was unable to keep up with the convoy and was ordered to proceed to Tobruk escorted by HMS Tetcott and HMS Primula. She was later attacked by aircraft, set on fire and had to be grounded near Tobruk. She was later declared a total loss.
During the afternoon and evening the convoy and escort were heavily bombed. The transport Bhutan was hit and sank while the transport Potaro was damaged but she was able to remain with the convoy. The rescue ships picked up crew and passengers from the Bhutan following which they parted company with the convoy and proceeded to Tobruk.
In the early evening it was reported that Italian warships had left Taranto.
15 June 1942.
Rear-Admiral Vian ordered the convoy to turn back at 0145/15 so that an air attack could launched on the enemy fleet before contact could be made. During the night of the 14th/15th the convoy was constantly illuminated by aircraft flares and was also attacked by E-Boats and submarines. HMS Newcastle was hit forward by an E boat (S 56) torpedo around 0300/15, her speed being reduced to 24 knots and her forward turret was put out of action. HMS Hasty was torpedoed and damaged also byan E boat (S 55) at 0525/15 and later had to be scuttled by HMS Hotspur which also rescued her crew, only 12 of the crew of HMS Hasty were lost.
At 0630/15 the convoy turned west again, but had to turn back to the east at 0930/15 when the enemy was only 100 miles to the west and air attacks had not developed. At 1115/6 a Beaufort torpedo bomber striking force reported hits on the two Littorio battleships, and the Commander in Chief Mediterranean ordered the convoy to turn westward once again. However the enemy continued to proceed to the south-east, apparently not reduced in speed. Rear-Admiral Vian, therefore, maintained his course to the eastward.
There were heavy air attacks with mainly Ju-88's and Ju-87's throughout the day and torpedo bombers attacked at dusk. Both Centurion and HMS Birmingham were damaged, but were able to continue. HMS Airedale was hit and she was later scuttled by HMS Aldenham and HMS Hurworth, casualties were fortunately once again slight. HMAS Nestor was also hit and immobilized but she did not sink and taken in tow by HMS Javelin with HMS Beaufort and HMS Eridge escorting the tow.
By 1630/5 it had been reported that the enemy fleet had turned northward and the Commander in Chief Mediterranean again ordered the convoy to turn to the westward if in any way possible. Shortage of fuel and ammunition, however, did not permit this, and Rear-Admiral Vian was instructed to return to Alexandria with his whole force.
Submarines then intercepted the enemy fleet, but a simultaneous air attack caused the enemy to alter course and unfortunately the attacks could not be pressed home. The heavy cruiser Trento was damaged by the air attack and later sunk by HMS P 35 (Lt. S.L.C. Maydon, RN) while making her way back to Italy. HMS P 35 also reported one torpedo hit on a Littorio-class battleship but this was not the cast, she had missed the Vittorio Veneto.
16 June 1942.
At 0126/16 HMS Hermione was torpedoed by the German submarine U-205 and sank shortly afterwards taking 88 of her crew with her. HMS Aldenham, HMS Beaufort and HMS Exmoorrescued 498 of her crew.
The efforts to tow the damaged HMAS Nestor had to be abandoned at 0530/16 and she was scuttled by HMS Javelin who then proceeded to rejoin the 15th Cruiser Squadron and its escort.
During the day several attacks on A/S contacts were carried out by the convoy escort, but there was no evidence of damage or a submarine sunk.
In the early evening ships started to arrive back at Alexandria and all the remaining ships arrived there during the evening except the merchant vessels Bulkoil and Ajax which went on to Port Said escorted by HMS Pakenham, HMS Inconstant, HMS Griffin and HMS Fortune. (31)
- ADM 53/114414
- ADM 53/114415
- ADM 53/114887
- ADM 53/114416
- File 2.12.03.6387 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
- ADM 53/114416 + ADM 199/411
- ADM 234/322
- ADM 53/114416 + ADM 199/396
- ADM 53/114417
- ADM 53/114417 + ADM 199/396
- ADM 53/114417 + ADM 199/657
- ADM 199/657
- ADM 53/114418
- ADM 53/114626 + ADM 234/335
- ADM 199/831
- ADM 53/114421
- ADM 53/114422
- ADM 53/116059 + ADM 199/649
- ADM 199/649
- ADM 199/649
- ADM 199/1222
- ADM 199/1211
- ADM 53/116212
- ADM 53/116213 + ADM 53/116061
- ADM 53/116214
- ADM 53/116062
- ADM 234/331
- ADM 187/19
- ADM 199/650 + ADM 199/2556
- ADM 199/650
- ADM 199/650 + ADM 234/353
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.
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