HMS Antelope (H 36)
Destroyer of the A class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||Hawthorn Leslie & Co. (Hebburn-on-Tyne, U.K.)|
|Ordered||6 Mar 1928|
|Laid down||11 Jul 1928|
|Launched||27 Jul 1929|
|Commissioned||20 Mar 1930|
HMS Antelope is not listed as active unit in the October 1944 Navy List onwards
Sold to be broken up for scrap on 31 January 1946. Scrapped at Blyth.
Commands listed for HMS Antelope (H 36)
Please note that we're still working on this section.
|1||Lt.Cdr. Richard Taylor White, RN||24 Sep 1938||26 Feb 1941|
|2||Lt.Cdr. Roger Bertram Nettleton Hicks, DSO, RN||26 Feb 1941||Aug 1941|
|3||Lt.Cdr. Erroll Norman Sinclair, RN||Aug 1941||4 Oct 1943|
|4||Cdr. James Gordon Gould, RN||4 Oct 1943||late 1944|
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Notable events involving Antelope include:
Adopted by Brentwood (a small town in Essex, UK, north-east of London) and has sent ?50 to the local hospital. (1)
15 Oct 1939
Convoy OA 20G.
This convoy departed Southend on 15 October 1939. It merged with convoy OG 20 into convoy OB 3 on 17 October 1939 in position 49°40’N, 07°00’W.
This convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; African Prince (British, 4653 GRT, built 1939), Anthippi N. Michalos (Greek, 3436 GRT, built 1905), Athelcrown (British (tanker), 11999 GRT, built 1929), Baron Fairlie (British, 6706 GRT, built 1925), Bendoran (British, 5567 GRT, built 1910), Benledi (British, 5943 GRT, built 1930), British Colonel (British (tanker), 6999 GRT, built 1921), British Confidence (British (tanker), 8494 GRT, built 1936), British Councillor (British (tanker), 7048 GRT, built 1922), British Workman (British (tanker), 6694 GRT, built 1922), Camerata (British, 4875 GRT, built 1931), Corhampton (British, 2495 GRT, built 1933), Leadgate (British, 2125 GRT, built 1925), Medjerda (British, 4380 GRT, built 1924), Telesfora de Larrinaga (British, 5780 GRT, built 1920), Uskside (British, 2706 GRT, built 1937), Wisla (Polish, 3108 GRT, built 1928) and Woodlark (British, 1501 GRT, built 1928).
Escort was provided by the destroyers HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, RN) and HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, RN) which joined the convoy in the Downs at shortly after 1600 hours. They escorted the convoy until 0700/17 when they were relieved by HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr. N.E.G. Roper, RN) and HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, RN).
29 Dec 1939
Convoy HX 14
Convoy from Halifax to the U.K. Departure date: 29 December 1939. Arrival date: 12 January 1940.
The following merchant ships were part of this convoy; British: tanker Athelsultan (8882 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Baron Douglas (3899 GRT, built 1932), cargo ship Baron Lovat (3395 GRT, built 1926), Baron Pentland (3410 GRT, built 1927), tanker Benedick (6978 GRT, built 1928), cargo ship Blairmore (4141 GRT, built 1928), cargo ship Bonheur (5327 GRT, built 1920), cargo ship Bridgepool (4845 GRT, built 1924), cargo ship Bristol City (2864 GRT, built 1920), cargo ship Brookwood (5100 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Dallas City (4952 GRT, built 1935), tanker El Ciervo (5841 GRT, built 1923), tanker El Oso (7267 GRT, built 1921), cargo ship Greyburn (6342 GRT, built 1938), cargo ship Grelhead (4274 GRT, built 1925), tanker Horn Shell (8272 GRT, built 1931), tanker Inverilen (9456 GRT, built 1938), cargo ship Kenbane Head (5225 GRT, built 1919), tanker Luculus (6546 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Montreal City (3066 GRT, built 1920), cargo ship New Westminster City (4747 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Penrose (4393 GRT, built 1928), cargo ship Queen Adelaide (4933 GRT, built 1936), cargo ship Queen Anne (4937 GRT, built 1937), tanker Reginolite (9069 GRT, built 1926), cargo ship Ridley (4993 GRT, built 1937), tanker Saranac (12049 GRT, built 1918), cargo ship Swiftpool (5205 GRT, built 1929), cargo ship Tacoma City (4738 GRT, built 1929), tanker Vaclite (5026 GRT, built 1928), tanker Vancouver (5729 GRT, built 1928), tanker Wellfield (6054 GRT, built 1924), tanker Winamac (8621 GRT, built 1926)
French: tanker Limousin (7619 GRT, built 1930),
Greek: cargo ship Keramiai (5085 GRT, built 1917)
Panamanian: tanker H. H. Rogers (8807 GRT, built 1916), tanker H.M. Flagler (8208 GRT, built 1918),
Norwegian: cargo ship Rio Branco (3210 GRT, built 1924), tanker Solstad (5952 GRT, built 1927), tanker South America (6246 GRT, built 1931),
Escort was provided by the following warships; Ocean escort: Licht cruiser HMS Effingham (Capt. J.M. Howson, RN) and submarine HMS Cachalot (Lt.Cdr. S.W.F. Bennetts, RN) from 29 December 1939 to 9 January 1940.
Local escort in British waters HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, RN), HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. C.G.W. Donald, RN), HMS Walker (Cdr. W.J.C. Robertson, RN) and HMS Whitshed (Cdr. E.R. Conder, RN) from 9 January to 12 January 1940.
Losses: Tanker El Oso was mined and sunk on 11 January 1940. (2)
29 Apr 1940
Operation Klaxon, the evacuation of troops from Namsos.
Timespan: 29 April to 5 May 1940.
At 2000/29 the French armed merchant cruisers El D’Jezair, El Kantara and El Mansour departed Scapa Flow for Namsos, Norway where they were to evacutate troops. They were escorted by the British destroyers HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. G.N. Brewer, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.de W. Kitcat, RN) and the French large destroyer Bison (Capt. J.A.R. Bouan).
A cover force departed Scapa Flow one hour later. It was made up of the British heavy cruisers HMS Devonshire (Capt. J.M. Mansfield, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.H.D. Cunningham, CB, MVO, RN), HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), the French light cruiser Montcalm (Capt. J.L. de Corbiere, flying the flag of Commodore (Contre-Admiral) E.L.H. Derrien) and the British destroyers HMS Grenade (Cdr. R.C. Boyle, RN) and HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, RN) and HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN).
These forces were later reinforced by the British destroyers HMS Afridi (Capt. P.L. Vian, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN) and the French destroyer Foudroyant Foudroyant (Cdr. P.L.A. Fontaine)
The force lead by Vice-Admiral Cunningham arrived off the Norwegian coast near Namsos on May 1st.
HMS Maori had been sent on ahead and reported fog. HMS Kelly, HMS Grenade, HMS Griffin and Bison were ordered to join her.
When entering the Namsenfjord in fog on 2 May 1940, HMS Maori is bombed and damaged from near misses. She had to retire for temporary repairs but was able to participate in the evacuation during the next night. The evacuation attempt was then postponed to the night of 2/3 May.
On 2 May the force was reinforced by the AA cruiser HMS Carlisle (Capt. G.M.B. Langley, OBE, RN).
In the evening of 2 May the force entered the Fjord to embark troops except HMS Devonshire, Montcalm, HMS Grenade, HMS Griffin, HMS Hasty and HMS Imperial which remained at sea to cover the operation.
A total of 1850 British, 2345 French, some Norwegian troops and 30 German prisoners were evacuated. The evacuation was completed around 0445/3.
Heavy German air attacks developed when the Force was leaving the area. The attacks concentrated on the Devonshire and Montcalm but they were not hit.
The French destroyer Bison was hit at 1010 hours in position 65°42'N, 07°17'E and her forward magazine exploded blowing off the fore part of the ship.The survivors were rescued by HMS Grenade, HMS Imperial and HMS Afridi The wreck was then scuttled by HMS Afridi.
But the attacks continued and at 1400 hours HMS Afridi was hit in position 66°14'N, 05°45'E and sank around 1445 hours. Her survivors were picked up by HMS Griffin and HMS Imperial.
The destroyers with the survivors; HMS Grenade, HMS Griffin and HMS Imperial were detached to land these at Sullom Voe where they arrived around 1700/4. They departed again around 2130/4 for Scapa Flow where they arrived around 0730/5.
Reinforcements had meanwhile been sent out from Sullom Voe these were the light cruiser HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Beagle (Lt.Cdr. R.H. Wright, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) and HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN). They had departed Sullom Voe late in the evening of May, 2nd with orders to give support to the forces operating in the Namsos area.
Shortly before midnight during the night of 3/4 May, four more destroyers were sent out, these were; HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, DSO, RN), HMS Acheron (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. E.W.B. Sim, RN).
All forces arrived at Scapa Flow in the evening of May 4th or the early hours of May 5th. (3)
5 May 1940
The British heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire (Capt. J.M. Mansfield, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.H.D. Cunningham, CB, MVO, RN), French light cruiser Montcalm (Capt. J.L. de Corbiere, flying the flag of Commodore E.L.H. Derrien), British light cruiser HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN), French troopships (armed merchant cruisers) El D’Jezair, El Kantara, and the British destroyers HMS Acheron (Lt.Cdr. R.W.F. Northcott, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, DSO, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN) and HMS Fury (Cdr. E.W.B. Sim, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) and HMS Maori (Cdr. G.N. Brewer, RN) arrived at Scapa Flow at 0400/5th from operations off Namsos, Norway.
13 May 1940
Convoy NP 3.
This convoy departed the Clyde on 13 May 1940 for the Narvik area, Norway where it arrived on 17 May 1940.
It was made up of the following troopships; Batory (Polish, 14287 GRT, built 1936) and Sobieski (Polish, 11030 GRT, built 1939).
17 May 1940
In the early evening convoy NP 3, the troopships; Batory (Polish, 14287 GRT, built 1936), Sobieski (Polish, 11030 GRT, built 1939) and their escort; the British destroyers HMS Delight (Cdr. M. Fogg-Elliott, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, RN) and the large French destroyer Milan (Cdr. L.M.E. Plumejeaud) arrived at Narvik.
9 Jun 1940
At 1245 hours, the battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN, flying the flag of Admiral of the Fleet C.M. Forbes, KCB, DSO, RN), battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN) escorted by the destroyers destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Electra (Lt.Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN), HMS Escort (Lt.Cdr. J. Bostock, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. J.S. Crawford, RN) and HMS Kelvin (Lt.Cdr. J.L. Machin, RN) departed Scapa Flow to provide cover for convoys coming down from Norway and to search for the reported German capital ships. A sixth destroyer, HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr. N.E.G. Roper, RN), which had been en-route from the Clyde to Scapa Flow, apparently joined at sea.
At 1345/10, HMS Amazon was detached to fuel at Sullom Voe.
On June, 10th the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) was ordered to join this force which she did at 1525/10. She had the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN) and HMS Highlander (Cdr. W.A. Dallmeyer, RN) with her.
At 1925/10, HMS Mashona was detached to join the destroyer HMS Campbell (Lt.Cdr. R.M. Aubrey, RN) and escort this destroyer, which had to proceed at the most economical speed due to fuel shortage, to Sullom Voe where they arrived at 0745/12.
At 1020/11, HMS Ashanti and HMS Highlander were detached to Scapa Flow. They were ordered to proceed through positions 64'N, 05'W and 61'N, 05'W.
The destroyers HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, RN), and HMS Amazon departed Sullom Voe at 2230/11th to join the Home Fleet at sea which they did at 0830/12. [HMS Amazon did not join the Home Fleet so either she did not sail or returned.] At 2100/12, the destroyer HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) sailed from Scapa Flow to make rendez-vous with the Home Fleet in position 63'N, 04'W at 1300/13. The destroyers HMS Mashona, HMS Campbell and HMS Veteran (Cdr. J.E. Broome, RN) departed Sullom Voe at 0400/13 to do the same. They joined the Home Fleet at 1725/14 with the exception of HMS Campbell which joined HMS Ark Royal's screen at 2230/13.
Between 0007 and 0015/13, HMS Ark Royal flew off fifteen Skuas to attack German warships at Trondheim. Seven of them returned around 0330 hours, eight had been lost.
Around 0430/13, HMS Electra collided with HMS Antelope in thick fog which the Fleet had just entered. HMS Inglefiel stood by HMS Antelope while HMS Zulu took HMS Electra in tow. All set course for Scapa Flow.
At 0600/13, HMS Ark Royal was detached to proceed to Scapa Flow escorted by HMS Escort and HMS Kelvin. HMS Campbell joined them at 2230/13. They arrived at Scapa Flow wit at 1545/14.
At 1130/13, the destroyers HMS Tartar (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, DSO, RN) and HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN) departed Scapa Flow to make rendez-vous with the Home Fleet in position 65'N, 04'W. They joined at 0840/14.
At 0950/14, HMS Escapade was detached from the screen of the Home Fleet to join HMS Electra that was being towed by HMS Zulu..
At 0100/15, HMS Forester and HMS Veteran were detatched from the Home Fleet to proceed to the Faroes for escort duty.
At 0330/15, HMS Antelope, escorted by HMS Inglefield arrived at Scapa Flow.
At 1715/15, HMS Rodney, HMS Renown, HMS Tartar, HMS Mashona, HMS Maori, HMS Bedouin, HMS Ashanti and HMS Fearless arrived at Scapa Flow.
At 1430/16, HMS Electra, in tow of the tug HMS Brigand and escorted by HMS Zulu and HMS Escapade arrived at Scapa Flow. (4)
13 Jun 1940
While escorting HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) off Norway HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, DSO, RN) and HMS Electra (Lt.Cdr. S.A. Buss, RN) collide with each other in heavy fog. Both destroyers were damaged and repairs took until ca. mid-August.
28 Aug 1940
Operation Menace, the attack on Dakar, 23-24 September 1940.
Part I, initial movements of the Allied naval forces
The actual attack on Dakar took place on 23 and 24 September 1940 but preparations off course started earlier.
28 August 1940.
The battleship HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN) departed Scapa Flow for Gibraltar. She was escorted by HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) and HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN). They were joined at sea by HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN) which sailed later.
29 August 1940.
The transports Anadyr (British, 5321 GRT, built 1930), Casamance (French, 5817 GRT, built 1921), Fort Lamy (British, 5242 GRT, built 1919), Nevada (French, 5693 GRT, built 1918) and the tanker Ocean Coast (British, 1173 GRT, built 1935) split off in position 54’N, 18’W from convoy OB 204 (which had departed from the British east coast on 26/27 August) to proceed to Dakar. When they split off their escort towards Dakar were the Free French sloop Savorgnan de Brazza and the Free French A/S trawler President Houduce.
31 August 1940.
On this day three groups of ships departed from British ports.
From Scapa Flow the following ships sailed; troopships Ettrick (British, 11279 GRT, built 1938), Kenya (British, 9890 GRT, built 1938) and Sobieski (Polish, 11030 GRT, built 1939). These were escorted by the light cruiser HMS Fiji (Capt. W.G. Benn, RN) and the destroyers HMS Ambuscade (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Fell, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, DSO, RN), HMS Volunteer (Lt.Cdr. N. Lanyon, RN) and HMS Wanderer.
From Liverpool the following ships sailed; troopships Karanja (British, 9891 GRT, built 1931), Pennland (Dutch, 16082 GRT, built 1922) and Westernland (Dutch, 16313 GRT, built 1918) and the transport Belgravian (British, 3136 GRT, built 1937). These were escorted by the destroyers HMS Mackay (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), HMS Vanoc (Lt.Cdr. J.G.W. Deneys, RN) and the corvette HMS Erica (Lt.Cdr. W.C. Riley, RNR).
From the Clyde the following warships sailed; HMS Devonshire (Capt. J.M. Mansfield, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.H.D. Cunningham, CB, MVO, RN, the Commander of the upcoming operation), the destroyer HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, RN) and the French sloops (minesweepers) Commandant Dominé and Commandant Duboc.
All these ships were expected to arrive at Freetown on 13 September where they would be joined by ships coming from Gibraltar and ships that were based at Freetown.
1 September 1940.
The outward passage was initially uneventful and Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s group joined up with the group that came from Liverpool at 0600/1 (zone -1). But that evening misfortune occurred when HMS Fiji was torpedoed by the German submarine U-32 when about 40 nautical miles north-northeast of Rockall in position 58°10’N, 12°55’W. She then returned to the Clyde. Her convoy then continued on escorted by the four destroyers until they met Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s force at 0900/2. The convoy was now known as ‘Convoy MP’. The place of HMS Fiji in the operation was subsequently taken over by the Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (Capt. R.S. Stewart, RN).
2 September 1940.
HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN), HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) and HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN) arrived at Gibraltar from Scapa Flow.
The destroyer escort for the MP convoy parted company at 1400/2 and was ordered to join HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN) which was escorting Canadian troop convoy TC 7 to the Clyde.
Passage of the MP convoy southwards was relatively uneventful except for some submarine alarms and also some engine defects during which speed had to be reduced a bit.
6 September 1940.
HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN), HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, DSO, RN), HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) and HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN) departed Gibraltar for Freetown in the evening but now accompanied by ships from Force H; the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), battleship HMS Resolution (Capt. O. Bevir, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN).
After passing between Madeira and the Canary Islands on the 8th this force, which constituted the major part of the warships involved in the upcoming operation, turned south at 0900/9. By 0800/11 the force was in position 20°18’N, 19°54’W about 1000 nautical miles south of Casablanca.
Vice-Admiral Cunningham in HMS Devonshire was then in position 16°50’N, 22°00’W, about 240 nautical miles to the south-west ward of the main force. He had just sighted the MS convoy (the five transports), escorted by Savorgnan de Brazza, some 300 nautical miles north-west of Dakar. Vice-Admiral Cunningham ordered the convoy Commodore to take the convoy into Freetown.
A signal was then received that Vichy-French warships had passed the Straits of Gibraltar and had turned south. Three light cruisers and three large destroyers were reported to have made up this force. It was not known where they were bound for but possibly Casablanca. Their appearance seriously affected the whole operation.
The Vichy-French cruiser force.
At 1850 hours on 9 September 1940, H.M. Consul General, Tangier, had informed Admiral Sir Dudley North, Flag Officer commanding North Atlantic, and repeated to the Foreign Office, that a French Squadron in the Mediterranean might try to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar within the next 72 hours. This report received confirmation the next day when the French Admiralty requested the British Naval Attaché, Madrid, to advise the Naval authorities at Gibraltar of the departure from Toulon on the 9th of three light cruisers of the Georges Leygues class and three large destroyers of the Fantasque class. They would pass through the Straits of Gibraltar on the morning of the 11th, no mention was made of their destination. This information reached the Admiralty at 2350/10 and Admiral North at 0008/11.
The Government policy with regards to Vichy warships at that time had been defined in a signal sent to all Commanders-in-Chief and Flag Officers commanding shortly after the attack on the battleship Richelieu at Dakar in July. This message, after stressing the importance of terminating the state of tension then existing between the French navy and ourselves, stated that His Majesty’s Government had decided to take no further action in regard to French ships in French colonial and North African ports, and went on to say ‘ We shall, of course, however, reserve the right to take action in regard to French warships proceeding to enemy controlled ports.’ Recent intelligence had indicated that it was highly improbable that any warships would make for the German occupied Biscay ports, and a Admiral North had not been informed of the Dakar project, he saw no reason to take any steps to interfere with the movements of the French warships.
Early on September 11th, the destroyers HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, DSO, RN) , HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) and HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN),which were hunting a reported submarine to the eastward of the Strait of Gibraltar. At 0445 they sighted six French warships steaming fast to the westward and reported them. At 0617/11, Admiral North informed the Admiralty that the lights of six ships, probably warships, steering west at high speed, had been reported by HMS Hotspur at 0515 hours in position 36°03'N, 04°14'W (60 miles east of Gibraltar) and that he had ordered the destroyers to take no further action. At 0711 hours he added that he intended to keep in touch with this force by air and that he would report probable destination.
Meanwhile, Vice-Admiral Somerville, commanding Force H, on receiving the signal from HMS Hotspur had brought HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and the only destroyer available, HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN), to one hour’s notice for full speed. He did not put to sea because he too, believed the Government’s policy was to avoid interference with French warships as stated in the signal of 12 July.
The French squadron passed Gibraltar to the westward shortly after 0830/11 having given it’s composition in reply to the demand as the light cruisers Georges Leygues, Gloire, Montcalm and the destroyers Le Malin, Le Fantasque and L’Audacieux. This information reached the Admiralty at 1043/11 in a signal sent by Admiral North at 0917/11.
No further action was taken during the forenoon and the situation at noon was that the French Squadron was in position 35°00'N, 06°40'W (about 75 nautical miles south-south-west of Gibraltar) steering 213° at 20 knots. They were being observed by reconnaissance aircraft from RAF 200 Sq. based at Gibraltar. The Admiralty and Air Ministery were being kept informed.
Here was a complication that might well effect the Dakar operation should Dakar be the destination of the French Squadron. It does not seem to have been viewed in this light at the Admiralty, until the 1st Sea Lord himself, who was attending a meeting in the Cabinet Offices that forenoon, telephoned orders for HMS Renown and all available destroyers to raise steam for full speed. A signal to this end was then sent to Admiral Somerville at 1239/11. This was over twelve hours after the original message from Madrid had reached the Admiralty.
Movements of Force H, 11 to 14 September 1940.
The noon position and their course indicated Casablanca as the most probable destination of the French Squadron and at 1347/11 the Admiralty ordered Admiral Somerville to sea to intercept them. Further instructions followed at 1429 hours. These was no objection with them going to Casablanca but they could not be allowed to proceed to Dakar. Shortly after 1600 hours aircraft reported that the French Squadron had entered Casablanca.
Admiral Somerville left Gibraltar at 1630 hours in the Renown escorted by the destroyers HMS Griffin, HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN) and HMS Vidette. At 2006 hours he was ordered by the Admiralty to establish a patrol to intercept the French Squadron if they sailed southwards from Casablanca. In the early morning hours of the 12th at 0235 hours, HMS Vidette, encountered a four-funneled French destroyer in position 33°55'N, 08°31'W (west-north-west of Casablanca). She sighted a darkened ship some 6 miles on her port bow. She challenged but got no reply. A searchlight was turned on and revealed a four-funneled French destroyer. Vidette then fired two salvoes and the French destroyer, ignoring a signal to stop, then retired at high speed behind a smoke screen. Shortly afterwards Vidette was recalled from her patrol and ordered to rejoin Renown.
The French squadron was still at Casablanca at 0923/12 according to an aircraft report. At 0934 hours, Admiral Somerville turned north to meet three more destroyers coming from Gibraltar. These were; HMS Hotspur, HMS Encounter and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN). These were met at 1300 hours, in position 33°05'N, 09°40'W. They then turned to the south-west again. HMS Hotspur was stationed to patrol closer inshore.
At 0405/13, HMS Renown sighted three darkened ships in position 31°25'N, 11°30'W. These were thought to be the three Fantasque class destroyers. They were steaming north at 20 knots and were allowed to proceed. Admiral Somerville continued his patrol but fuel began to become an issue. The weather was to rough for the destroyers to fill up at sea and two of them will have to be detached that evening to refuel. This would much reduce the chance to intercept the French Squadron and Admiral Somerville informed the Admiralty of this. Adding tat he considered a patrol should be established off Dakar. His signal crossed one from the Admiralty stating that according to French sources the Squadron would remain only shortly at Casablanca before proceeding to Dakar.
This forecast proved correct. At 1530/13 aircraft reported that the light cruisers were no longer at Casablanca. Due to his fuel situation Admiral Somerville signalled that he would leave his patrol area for Gibraltar at 2000 hours that evening. But at 1916 hours the Admiralty ordered him to steer for Dakar at 18 knots. This was being done but Vidette and Velox were detached to Gibraltar to fuel.
At 2335/19 the Admiralty cancelled the order so at 0121/14, Renown and the four remaining destroyers set course to return to Gibraltar which they reached at 2000/14.
Patrol of Dakar by Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s forces.
To return to Vice-Admiral Cunningham. He knew that the French Squadron had left the Mediterranean at 1542/11 and that Vice-Admiral Somerville had been ordered to intercept them. Within a couple of hours he learnt that the French Squadron had entered Casablanca. The next forenoon (0947/12) he was informed that Vice-Admiral Somerville had been ordered to establish a patrol and to prevent them from proceeding to the south.
Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s forces were then approaching Freetown. At 1145/12, an aircraft from HMS Ark Royal approached HMS Devonshire to report that the Ark Royal would be in position 13°59'N, 20°08'W at 1300 hours and expected to arrive at Freetown with HMS Barham, HMS Resolution and ten destroyers at 0700/14. The next morning, 13 September, at 0820 hours an aircraft again closed HMS Devonshire. An order was then passed that four destroyers were to be detached to join HMS Devonshire and the convoy before dark. At 1008 hours HMS Devonshire left the convoy to close Ark Royal’s force, sighing it an hour later 20 nautical miles to the north-north-east. Devonshire remained in visual touch until 1700 hours when course was set to return to the convoy taking the destroyers HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester and HMS Fury with him.
Shortly after 1800/13, Vice-Admiral Cunningham was informed that the French cruisers had left Casablanca and that Vice-Admiral Somerville in the Renown had been ordered to proceed to the Dakar area.
Shortly after midnight 13th/14th, a signal came in from the Admiralty ordering Vice-Admiral Cunningham to establish a patrol immediately to prevent the French cruisers from reaching Dakar, employing every available ship. The same orders went to the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic. HMS Cumberland (Capt. G.H.E. Russell, RN), which had departed Freetown for the U.K. at 2000/13 was placed under Vice-Admiral Cunninham’s orders and HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hammill, RN), on her way from Simonstown to Freetown, was ordered to increase speed.
The original operation was now swallowed up in the task of intercepting the French ships. Time had become a factor of the utmost importance and without waiting for daylight, Vice-Admiral Cunningham and General Irwin, went over to see General de Gaulle on board the Westernland at 0120/14, who immediately roused Capitaine Thierry d’Argenlieu and armed him with a letter forbidding any French warship to proceed to Dakar. Within twenty minutes they were on their way back to the Dorsetshire with Capt. D’Argenlieu and the following measures were taken;
HMAS Australia which was coming from the Clyde to take the place of HMS Fiji was ordered to close HMS Devonshire, which would be steering for Dakar, then 400 nautical miles distant.
The Ark Royal was ordered to sent her six remaining destroyers; HMS Inglefield, HMS Greyhoud, HMS Fortune, HMS Echo, HMS Eclipse and HMS Escapade to Freetown to fuel and herself proceed with despatch to position 16’N, 17°40’W.
HMS Barham and HMS Resolution and the other four destroyers; HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester and HMS Fury, were to fuel at Freetown and leave for the Dakar area as soon as fuelling had been completed.
Convoy’s MP and MS were to proceed to Freetown with their French escorts.
HMS Devonshire meanwhile had altered course to the northward for Dakar at 0230/14, speed 18 knots. It was not possible to transfer General Irwin and his staff and the General thus found himself speeding northward with the orders for the landing while his troops went on to Freetown. HMAS Australia joined HMS Devonshire at 0300 hours and half an hour later the cruisers had worked up to 27 knots. HMS Cumberland and HMS Ark Royal were approaching from the south.
At 1000/14, HMS Devonshire and HMAS Australia were 200 nautical miles south of Dakar in position 11°23’N, 17°42’W, with HMS Cumberland and HMS Ark Royal respectively 45 and 100 miles astern of them. Aircraft from Ark Royal carried out reconnaissance ahead of Devonshire and Australia from this time onwards. Also flights over Dakar were carried out. That afternoon a large amount of shipping was reported in the harbour and also a submarine was sighted on the surface at 1533 in position 260°, Cape Manuel, 10 nautical miles, steering 260°. It could not be seen if the French cruisers had arrived at Dakar.
At 1900/14 the Devonshire and Australia, reduced to 17 knots on reaching the latitude of Dakar and then turned back to join Cumberland. She was met at 1940 hours and then the cruisers turned northward once more. They established a patrol line at 2320 hours, 4 miles apart, courses 270°-090°, between the meridians 17°30’W and 18°00W in latitude 16°00’N.
But they were too late. Just before midnight 14/15 September a message was received from the Admiralty that a Vichy report had announced that the cruisers had arrived safely at Dakar. The Vichy cruisers actually had arrived at Dakar at 1600/14.
Dawn air reconnaissance on the 15th failed to spot the cruisers at Dakar and by this time the three heavy cruisers were running low on fuel and at 1001 hours Vice-Admiral Cunningham sent a signal to the Admiralty to ask if he should withdraw to Freetown to refuel and prepare for operation ‘Menace’, leaving HMS Cumberland to patrol off Dakar, or to report the patrol about 0001/17 and accept indefinite delay of operation ‘Menace’. He recommended the first alternative.
At 1027 hours, however, the Ark Royal signalled that the cruisers had been located at Dakar. All ships then set course for Freetown to refuel except HMS Cumberland which was left to patrol off Dakar. The next day, the 16th, she met the Vichy French merchant vessel Poitiers (4185 GRT, built 1921) 100 miles south of Dakar and fired a salvo across her bows. Her crew then set her on fire and abandoned her. She was then sunk by gunfire from the cruiser.
Cancellation of Operation ‘Menace’.
By the evening of 15 September, Vice-Admiral Cunningham’s forces were all making once again for Freetown. A destroyer had been sent on ahead with the operation orders and two staff officers. The escape of the French cruisers, however, called for a drastic re-consideration of the original plan.
In London the War Cabinet met at 1000/16 to consider the new situation. The Prime Minister pointed out that in his view the operation had to be cancelled and at 1346/16, Vice-Admiral Cunningham received a signal that the landing of troops at Dakar in ‘Operation Menace’ was impracticable. It was proposed that General de Gaulle’s force should land at Duala with the object of consolidating his influence in the Cameroons, Equatorial Africa and the Chads. The British portion of the force was to remain at Freetown. Unless de Gaulle had any strong objection, this plan had to be put into operation forthwith.
Vice-Admiral Cunningham and General Irwin were reluctant to take this view. They replied at 1642 hours suggesting that if HMS Cornwall and HMS Cumberland would be added to their force they should be enough to deal with the French cruisers. The answer came at 2245 hours; they were left a liberty to consider the whole situation and discuss it with de Gaulle, whom they informed of the new proposal.
HMS Devonshire arrived at Freetown at 0630/17. The Vice-Admiral and the General proceeded to consult with General de Gaulle. The latter was much perturbed at the possible cancellation of the original plan and that very morning he sent a telegram to the Prime Minister desiring ‘to insist’ that the plan should be carried out and emphasising the vital importance to the Allies of gaining control of the basis in French Africa. He now urged on the Force Commanders that if the unopposed landing failed the Free French troops should attempt a landing at Rufisque. They decided to support this proposal and shortly after midnight they forwarded their recommendations to the Admiralty for consideration. The reply from H.M. Government came at 1159/18; ‘ We cannot judge relative advantages of alternative schemes from here. We give you full authority to go ahead and do what you think is best, in order to give effect to the original purpose of the expedition. Keep us informed.’
With a free hand such as is seldom enjoyed in these days of rapid communication by the leaders of an overseas expedition in unbroken touch with their Government, the Joint Commanders decided to proceed with ‘Menace’ on 22 September.
The French cruisers again, 19 to 26 September 1940.
The naval and military staffs were working hard at preparations for the landing when the next day, 19 September, French cruiser appeared again on the scene. HMAS Australia, which had left Freetown the day before to relieve HMS Cumberland on patrol, at 1019/19 in position 10°23’N, 16°54’W, north-west of Freetown, sighted the three La Galissonniere class cruisers 14 nautical miles off steering south-east. Once more the naval forces had to raise steam with all despatch. HMAS Australia and HMS Cumberland were already had on the trial. General de Gaulle again arranged for Captain Thierry d’Angenlieu to carry a message requisting the French cruisers to return to Casablanca.
General Irwin and his staff, with Admiral Cunningham’s Chief Staff Officer, Capt. P.N. Walter, were transferred to the troopship Karanja, and at 1400 hours HMS Devonshire left Freetown at 27 knots with the destroyers HMS Inglefield, HMS Greyhound and HMS Escapade. It was hoped to sight the French cruisers before dark. HMS Barham with HMS Fortune and HMS Fury made for a position to the south-east of the French. HMS Ark Royal, which had engine trouble to repair first, was to follow at 0500/20. A message came from the Admiralty that the French cruisers were not to return to Dakar.
The French cruisers turned back to the north-west and increased speed to 29 knots. Torrential rain was falling, hiding everything from view, but HMAS Australia and HMS Cumberland were able to keep in touch and at 1830/19 HMAS Australia managed to pass directions not to return to Dakar. She was then in position 09°02’N, 15°14’W, just keeping in touch while doing 31 knots. Then the French cruiser Gloire broke down and separated from the other two cruisers. The British then lost touch with these two cruisers. HMS Devonshire meanwhile was steaming to a position to cut off the way to Conakri in French Guinea. HMS Cumberland then regained touch with the two French cruisers (Georges Leygues (flag) and Montcalm) who were speeding north while HMAS Australia picked up the Gloire which was steering eastwards at reduced speed. Night had fallen when HMS Devonshire with HMS Inglefield still in company showed up. HMS Inglefield took Captain d’Argenlieu on board of the Gloire. The French captain refused to accede to his representations, but when Vice-Admiral Cunningham intervened he agreed to proceed to Casablanca. HMAS Australia escorted her until 21 September, leaving her then, on Admiralty instructions, to proceed unescorted.
HMS Cumberland meanwhile managed to keep in touch with the other two cruisers. Her attempts at parley failed, but the French signalled that ‘under no circumstances shall my cruisers pass under German control’. HMS Cumberland followed them all the way to Dakar but was unable to prevent them from entering, which they did at 0550/20.
Meanwhile, on 18 September, far away to the southward, a fourth French cruiser had been sighted escorting a naval tanker. This was the Primaguet escorting the Tarn. HMS Cornwall had departed Freetown on 16 September to meet HMS Delhi (Capt. A.S. Russell, RN) and HMS Dragon (Capt. R.W. Shaw, MBE, RN) off Cape Formosa (south Nigeria). They swept towards Fernando Po [now called Bioko] to intercept any French forces bound for the Cameroons with instructions to direct them back to Casablanca. On 17 September at 2000 hours information came that a French warship and an oiler had been in position 07°25’N, 14°40’W at 1500/15. The Cornwall proceeded to search and on the 18th her aircraft picked up the cruiser Primaguet and oiler Tarn 35 nautical miles ahead. The Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic ordered her to be shadowed.
Her lights were sighted at 2142/18 but disappeared at 0425/19. When dawn broke the horizon was clear. She was picked up again at 1009/19. A boarding party from HMS Delhi went on board. The Captain, after making a formal protest, asked to be allowed to remain stopped until 1700/19 after which she proceeded, first westward, then northward, being shadowed by HMS Cornwall and HMS Delhi until 1830/21 when HMS Delhi had to proceed to Freetown to refuel. HMS Cornwall shadowed her alone untul the 23rd when she was rejoined by HMS Delhi. For two days they followed her close, still steaming north. On the 25th Primaguet fuelled from the Tarn. They were then off the Cape Verde Island. The next day the Admiralty approved the cruisers to return to Freetown. The Primaguet gave a promise that she would proceed to Casablanca with the Tarn where they indeed arrived in due course. The British cruisers then turned south. They had kept the Primaguet and Tarn in sight for five days. Thus two out of the four cruisers in the area had been diverted to Casablanca without the use of force. (5)
31 Aug 1940
Convoy MP was part of the upcoming Dakar operation. The convoy departed Scapa Flow on 31 August 1940 for Freetown.
The convoy was made up of the troopships Ettrick (11279 GRT, built 1938), Kenya (9890 GRT, built 1930) and Sobieski (11030 GRT, built 1939). Escort was provided by the light cruiser HMS Fiji (Capt. W.G. Benn, RN) and the destroyers HMS Ambuscade (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Fell, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, DSO, RN), HMS Volunteer (Lt.Cdr. N. Lanyon, RN) and HMS Wanderer (Cdr. J.H. Ruck-Keene, DSC, RN). The next day the convoy was joined to the north of Ireland by the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire (Capt. J.M. Mansfield, DSC, RN), the destroyer HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, RN) and the Free French sloops (minesweepers) Commandant Dominé and Commandant Duboc which came from the Clyde.
At 1709/1 (zone -1), HMS Fiji was hit by a torpedo fired by the German submarine U-32 when about 40 nautical miles north-northeast of Rockall in position 58°10’N, 12°55’W. She then left the convoy 10 minutes later and set course for the Clyde. She was joined by the destroyer HMS Antelope soon afterwards. The forward boiler room and five adjacent were flooded and five ratings had been killed.
Around 2030 hours HMS Fiji and HMS Antelope were joined by the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, DSO, RN) and HMS Volunteer. Fiji and her escort arrived at the Clyde around 1700/3. After inspection it was estimated repairs would take three to four months.
Meanwhile on 31 August 1940 the convoy escort had been joined by the destroyers HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN), HMS Tartar (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) and HMS Javelin (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN). All destroyers parted company with the convoy on September 1st except for HMS Harvester which parted company with the convoy on the 3rd.
The place of HMS Fiji in the upcoming Dakar operation was taken by HMAS Australia (Capt. R.R. Stewart, RN) which departed the Clyde for Freetown on 6 September.
The convoy, escorted by the two Free French sloops (minesweepers), arrived at Freetown on 14 September 1940.
2 Nov 1940
German U-boat U-31 was sunk north west of Ireland in position 56°26'N, 10°18'W by depth charges from the British destroyer HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, DSO, RN).
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.
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.
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)
22 May 1941
At 0050 hours the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN) and the battleship Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) were ordered to proceed to Hvalfjord, Iceland as the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were spotted by air reconnaissance at Bergen, Norway. As there were indications that these two were going to 'set sail' for a raid on the ocean trade routes.
The two British capital ships were escorted by the destroyers HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN) and HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN).
[For more info, see the events ' Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941, parts I and II ' for 18 May 1941.]
23 May 1941
The force comprising the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. R. Kerr, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN), battleship Prince of Wales (Capt. J.C. Leach, MVO, RN) and their escorting destroyers HMS Electra (Cdr. C.W. May, RN), HMS Echo (Lt.Cdr. C.H.deB. Newby, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN), HMS Achates (Lt.Cdr. Viscount Jocelyn, RN) and HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN) continued towards Iceland at high speed.
At 1400 hours the destroyers HMS Anthony and Antelope were detached and ordered to proceed to Hvalfjord, Iceland to refuel.
[For more info see the events ' Chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, 18 to 27 May 1941, parts I and II ' for 18 May 1941.]
23 Jul 1941
HrMs O 14 (Lt.Cdr. G. Quint, RNN(R)) conducted A/S exercises at / off Scapa Flow with HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN), ORP Kujawiak (Lt.Cdr. L. Lichodziejewski, ORP), HMS Davyk (Skr. C.A. Grimmer, RNR) and (the drifter) HMS Craigroy. (6)
18 Sep 1941
HMS King George V (Capt. W.R. Patterson, CVO, RN) and HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN) conducted exercises in the Pentland Firth during which they were escorted by HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.B.N. Hicks, DSO, RN), HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) and HMS Eskimo (Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN). (8)
Following these fuelling exercises HMS Malaya and HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN) conducted tactical exercises off the Orkneys during the night of 24/25 September 1941. (8)
31 Oct 1941
HrMs O 14 (Lt.Cdr. G. Quint, RNN(R)) conducted A/S exercises at / off Scapa Flow with HMS Lowestoft (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) F.B. Proudfoot, RN), HMS Chiddingfold (Lt. L.W.L. Argles, RN), HMS Montrose (Lt.Cdr. W.J. Phipps, OBE, RN) and HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN). (9)
21 Mar 1942
HrMs O 9 (Lt. J.F. Drijfhout Van Hooff, RNN) participated in A/S exercises off Tobermory together with HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN) and HMS Campanula (Lt.Cdr. W. Hine, RNR). (11)
12 Jun 1942
Operation Harpoon. Supply convoy to Malta from Gibraltar.
Timespan: 12 to 18 June 1942.
During March and April 1942 Malta had been attacked very heavily by the German and Italian air forces and was in much need of supplies. It was therefore decided that two convoy’s were to be sent, one from the west (Harpoon) and one from the east (Vigorous). This was to increase the chance of success as the enemy would have to split force if they want to attack both convoys. Also a group of minesweepers were to be sent to Malta.
Below we will give the events regarding the Harpoon convoy in chronological order.
12 June 1942.
Western Mediterranean (Harpoon convoy)
During the night convoy WS 19 Z passed the Straits of Gibraltar. This convoy had departed the Clyde on June 6th. It was made up of five merchant vessels; Burwan (British , 6069 GRT, built 1928), Chant (American, 5601 GRT, built 1938), Orari (British, 10350 GRT, built 1931), Tanimbar (Dutch, 8169 GRT, built 1930) and Troilus (British, 7422 GRT, built 1921).
Off Gibraltar the tanker Kentucky (American , 9308 GRT, built 1942) joined the convoy.
Close escort was provided by ‘Force X’ which was made up of the AA-cruiser HMS Cairo (A/Capt. C.C. Hardy, DSO, RN), destroyers HMS Bedouin (Cdr. B.G. Scurfield, OBE, RN), HMS Marne (Lt.Cdr. H.N.A. Richardson, DSC, RN), HMS Matchless (Lt.Cdr. J. Mowlam, RN), HMS Partridge (Lt.Cdr. W.A.F. Hawkins, DSC, OBE, RN), HMS Ithuriel (Lt.Cdr. D.H. Maitland-Makgill-Crichton, DSC, RN), escort destroyers HMS Badsworth (Lt. G.T.S. Gray, DSC, RN), HMS Blankney (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Middleton (Lt.Cdr. D.C. Kinloch, RN), ORP Kujawiak (Lt. L. Lichodziejewski), minesweepers HMS Hebe (Lt.Cdr. G. Mowatt, RD, RN), HMS Speedy (Lt. J.G. Brookes, RN), HMS Rye (Lt. J.A. Pearson, DSC, RN), HMS Hythe (Lt.Cdr. L.B. Miller, RN) and the motor launches (ML’s) ML 121 (group commander Lt.Cdr. E.J. Strowlger, RNVR), ML 134, ML 135, ML 168, ML 459 and ML 462.
Also operating with ‘Force X’ was the fast minelayer HMS Welshman (Capt. W.H.D. Friedberger, RN).
Distant cover was provided by ‘Force W’ which was made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. J.W.A. Waller, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN), light cruisers HMS Kenya (Capt. A.S. Russell, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral A.T.B. Curteis, CB, RN), HMS Liverpool (Capt. W.R. Slayter, DSC, RN), AA-cruiser HMS Charybdis (Capt. L.D. Mackintosh, DSC, RN), destroyers HMS Onslow (Capt. H.T. Armstrong, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Escapade (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN), HMS Westcott (Cdr. I.H. Bockett-Pugh, DSO, RN), HMS Wrestler (Lt. R.W.B. Lacon, DSC, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, DSC, RN). This force was to cover the convoy until off the Skerki Channel, the entrance to the Sicily-Tunis Narrows. The cover forces for this convoy were however rather weak. For instance the aircraft carriers were rather old and had hardly enough fighters available to provide a decent air patrol.
Then there was also a tanker force to fuel the escorts ‘Force Y’. It was made up of the RFA oiler Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941), escorted by two corvettes; HMS Geranium (T/Lt. A. Foxall, RNR) and HMS Coltsfoot (T/Lt. the Hon. W.K. Rous, RNVR).
Besides these forces four submarines were on patrol in the western Mediterranean. They were stationed between Sardinia and Sicily. These were HMS P 211 (Cdr. B. Bryant, DSC, RN), HMS P 42 (Lt. A.C.G. Mars, RN), HMS P 43 (Lt. A.C. Halliday, RN) and HMS P 46 (Lt. J.S. Stevens, DSC, RN).
By 0800 hours on the 12th force was in full strength and proceeded eastwards at 12 to 13 knots.
The remainder of the day was uneventful except for the sighting of a Spanish merchant vessel in the evening.
13 June 1942.
On this day the convoy was shadowed continuously by German and Italian aircraft. Also it was thought an Italian submarine might have spotted the convoy but was not the case as of yet.
HMS Cairo and almost all the destroyers and escort destroyers oiled from Brown Ranger and HMS Liverpool. This was completed late in the evening.
Italian warships reported to be at sea.
Two Italian cruisers and five destroyers had been reported at daybreak (actually six detroyers were present). These were the light cruisers Eugenio di Savoia, Raimondo Montecuccoli and the destroyers Alfredo Oriani, Vincenzo Gioberti, Ascari, Ugolino Vivaldi, Nicolò Zeno and Premuda. They had sailed on the 13th from Cagliari, Sardinia. The most western British submarine on patrol HMS P 43 had attacked them at 1931 hours on the 13th. She claimed to have hit a cruiser but this was obviously not the case. Two hours later the next submarine on the patrol line HMS P 211 also sighted this Italian force but was too far off to attack.
14 June 1942.
During the night the force was spotted and reported by an Italian submarine. In fact two Italian submarines made attacks on the convoy during the night. These were the Uarsciek at 0152 hours (zone -2) which fired two torpedoes at a destroyer in position 38°02'N, 05°06'E. Both torpedoes missed. Then at 0505 hours, the Giada fired four torpedoes at an aircraft carrier (probably HMS Eagle although this carrier did not report hearing torpedo explosions and HMS Argus did) and a cruiser or battleship in position 37°55'N, 06°12'E. She claimed two hits but in fact all torpedoes missed.
At dawn enemy shadowing aircraft appeared once more. The convoy was approaching the danger area for air attacks coming from Sardinia. At 1000 hours the first radar warning came and at about the same time fighters from Eagle shot down an Italian torpedo aircraft. More of these aircraft were seen gathering about 20 miles from the convoy and form up for attack.
It was a bright and clear morning with hardly a cloud in the sky. There was little wind but such as there was came from the west and this made it difficult for the British fighter crews, especially for those from the 25-year old Argus with her small margin of speed, unless she would turn into the wind and leave the destroyer screen.
The convoy was steering east in two columns in line ahead. HMS Kenya was leading the port column while HMS Liverpool was leading the starboard one. Astern of the convoy was HMS Malaya with HMS Welshman astern of her. The aircraft carriers were operating independently to port of the convoy. Each carrier had an AA cruiser and a destroyer as escort. HMS Eagle was with HMS Cairo and HMS Wishart while HMS Argus was with HMS Charybdis and HMS Vidette.
The remaining fifteen destroyers and four minesweepers formed an all-round screen spread from three to three and a half miles from the convoy. This was done on purpose so that all ships could fire outward but also inward with a freedom that would have been impossible with a closer screen.
The air attacks began at 1030 hours. The first was a shallow dive-bombing attack by two groups, each of four or five Italian fighter-bombers (CR. 42). One group approached from astern at 12000 feet and diving to 6000 feet. The other group came from ahead at 6000 feet and dropped their bombs from 3000 to 4000 feet. Their target was HMS Argus and her consorts on the port beam of HMS Malaya. No damage was done, only one bomb fell close to HMS Charybdis. Two of the enemy planes were shot down after their attack by Fulmar’s from Eagle which were controlled by the Argus and afterwards landed aboard her. It was the policy to employ the Hurricanes from Eagle as high fighter force and the Fulmar’s from Argus as low fighter force.
A much more serious attack followed half an hour later when 28 Savoia torpedo aircraft escorted by 20 Macchi fighters conducted a combined attack with 10 Cant. high level bombers. The Savoia approached from the northward in two waves of equal strength. The first wave came in at 1110 hours and the second soon afterwards. The firstwave passed through the destroyer screen at 500 feet above the water, rounded the rear of the convoy, and attacked from the starboard side, splitting into groups before firing. They dropped their torpedoes from a height of 100 feet at a range of 2000 yards. They hit HMS Liverpool, which was leading the starboard column, when she was turing to meet the attack. Also the Dutch merchant Tanimbar was hit in the rear and she sank within a few minutes in position 36°58’N, 07°30’E.
The second wave attacked the port column dropped their torpedoes at longer range. All torpedoes missed. The Cant. bombers also came in two formations, coming from ahead out of the sun at a height of about 10000 feet. Their targets seemed to be Eagle and Argus but none of their bombs hit.
A little before 1200 hours several torpedo planes made harmless attacks from long range. They were probably stragglers turned back by gunfire during the earlier attacks and anxious to get rid of their torpedoes before turning back to base.
Upon the whole the Italians seem to have attacked gallantly. The British fighters claimed to have shot down three enemy fighters and three torpedo aircraft. Three British fighters were lost ofwhich one was shot down in error by a ship in the screen. The convoy and escort claim to have shot down seven enemy aircraft, all Savoia SM 79’s.
HMS Liverpool was hit in the engine room and badly damaged. She could only make 3 to 4 knots on one shaft. She was ordered to return to Gibraltar being towed by HMS Antelope and screened by HMS Westcott. A long voyage during which the first 24 hours she was attacked from the air. At 1640 hours, five CR. 42 fighter-bombers attacked from astern out of the sun, luckily without hitting, though one or two bombs fell close enough to increase the ships list. At 1800 hours, the tow having parted, there was a harmless attempt by eleven high-level bombers followed by an equally harmless attempt by seven torpedo aircraft which were heavily escorted by fighters. The Liverpool and Westcott each claimed to have destroyed a torpedo plane.
At 2015 hours, now once more in tow, fife high-level bombers attacked but their bombs fell wide.
At 2230 hours, six torpedo bombers made a twilight attack from very long range only to loose one of their number to the barrage HMS Liverpool put up.
The fruitless attacks on the damaged Liverpool in the afternoon and evening of the 14th evidently occupied the remaining aircraft available to the enemy in Sardinia for as the convoy was able to continue without being attacked. It was however still being shadowed and came within range of the Sicilian air bases in the evening.
HMS Welshman had replaced HMS Liverpool at the head of the starboard column of the convoy. She however parted company with the convoy around 2000 hours to continue the passage to Malta on her own at high speed.
At 1820 hours German bombers appeared, about ten Ju. 88’s approached the convoy from astern at 10000 feet and then dived to 6000 feet to make the attack. Both carriers had narrow escapes, Argus in particular. A bomb pitched fine on her port bow, dived under the ship and exploded on the starboard bow. No ship was damaged however. No enemy aircraft were shot down. Six British fighters however harassed the enemy and forced several of them to release their bombs prematurely. One Fulmar was lost.
As in the morning the shallow dive-bombing attack preluded a heavy combined torpedo and bombing attack but in the evening the lapse of time was greater and dive-bombers as well as high level-bombers took part in the massed attack. It was a combination of Italians and Germans. 16 Savoia 79 bombers heavily escorted by Macchi fighters with 10 Ju 88’s and 15 Ju 87’s. The first to appear were the Savoia’s which approached from the north-east to port at about 2000 hours. They were flying well above the water. Worked their way around the stern of the convoy outside gun range to glide down and attack on the starboard side. In the meantime, a few minutes after the Savoia’s had been sighted, two groups of Ju 88’s came in from ahead at 12000 feet and dropped their bombs without effect as they flew across the screen and along the columns of the convoy. Next the Ju 87’s arrived on the port bow and attacked the port wing of the screen, diving from 7000 to 1000 feet. They narrowly missed HMS Icarus and HMS Wrestler, though they had probably hoped to reach HMS Eagle. These dive bombers took most of the attention of the screen but then at 2020 hours the Italian torpedo-bombers came in. Most of them concentrated onHMS Malaya, HMS Argus, HMS Charybdis and HMS Vidette. They managed to drop three torpedoes within 300 yards from the carrier but she still managed to avoid them.
Around the time of these attacks HMS Middleton sighted a periscope and dropped a depth charge. Two other destroyers then hauled out of the screen and dropped depth charges. The periscope was next sighted by HMS Malaya after which HMS Speedy obtained an Asdic contact and attacked with depth charges in position 37°39’N, 09°35’E, claiming to have destroyed the enemy submarine.
This was the last encounter with the enemy before ‘Force W’ would separate from the convoy which was then to continue on to Malta only escorted by ‘Force X’.
As the convoy reached the entrance of the Narrows at 2100 hours, four Beaufighters arrived from Malta to relieve the hard worked naval aviators of the carriers. Around this time the Italian submarine Alagi attacked an aircraft carrier with two stern torpedoes in position 37°36'N, 09°53'E which both missed. The attack was not reported by either of the carriers and was probably not observed. Half an hour later ‘Force W’ turned westwards. The convoy continued eastwards with A/Capt. Hardy of HMS Cairo in command. For the passage of the Tunisian coast the five remaining merchant vessels formed a single line ahead with ‘Force X’ screening them.
At 2205 hours, as it was getting dark, eight Ju 88’s made a shallow dive-bombing attack dropping down from 6000 to 3000 feet to release their bombs. No hits were obtained. They lost two aircraft, one was shot down by a Beaufighter and the ther by gunfire from the ships. This was the end of this day’s fighting.
The Italian ships that had been reported to be at sea the previous day.
On receiving the submarines reports Vice-Admiral Leatham at Malta arranged for a striking force of Wellington aircraft to attack the enemy. Aircraft again sighted the enemy north-west of Cape San Vito, Sicily at 0255/14. At 0525/14 the enemy was sighted off Palermo. At 1800/14 two cruisers were reported to be in the harbour there. At dusk, at 2125 hours, two cruisers and four destroyers were reported to be leaving Palermo harbour but their course was not reported. Vice-Admiral Leatham judged that they were proceeding to the east to join the main Italian battlefleet that had left Taranto that same evening to operate against the ‘Vigorous-convoy’ in the eastern Mediterranean. Accordingly he stationed a naval air patrol over the Strait of Messina, with a naval air striking force at Malta standing by to attack.
Vice-Admiral Curteis, who was taking ‘Force W’ westwards, also received the report of the enemy leaving Palermo and had to decide whether to strengthen ‘Force X’ with either one or both his cruisers, HMS Kenya and HMS Charybdis. He was then, at 2315/24, in position 37°30’N, 09°30’E, over 50 nautical miles from the convoy, which would be a further 100 nautical miles further on to the east by dawn on the 15th. He also judged that the Italian ships would be unlikely to be danger to the convoy and that the escort would be strong enough ‘to deter them from doing any harm’ escpecially as it would be expected that the Italians would be attacked from the air by aircraft from Malta. Apart from this he was anxious for the safety of his aircraft carriers, which would need the cruisers support while within striking distance from the enemy air bases in Sardinia. Furthermore there was barely time to overtake the convoy before by the morning. With the force available a decision either way was a gamble this might have been different had Liverpool not been torpedoed. He therefore decided against sending any reinforcement to the convoy.
15 June 1942.
Action south of Pantellaria
A/Capt. Hardy, the convoy escort commander in HMS Cairo first knew of the presence of the enemy through the report of a Beaufighter which was on it’s way to patrol above the convoy and which at 0620 hours reported two cruisers and four destroyers to be 15 nautical miles on the port beam of the convoy. The convoy at that time was stearing at 12 knots to the south-east. The merchantmen were formed in two columns again, with HMS Cairo ahead, the five ‘Fleet’ destroyers in the screen to starboard and the four ‘Hunt’s’ to port. The minesweepers and the ML’s were astern of the convoy. A few minutes later the Italian ships were sighted hull down against the brightening sky to the eastward. They were broad on the port bow and drawing ahead of the convoy at high speed. It was now also seen that there were five destroyers present instead of the reported four. Commander Scurfield (in HMS Bedouin led out the ‘Fleet’ destroyers to attack while HMS Cairo and the remainder of the convoy escort started making smoke to cover the merchant ships, which were ordered to turn to starboard and to seek shelter in Tunisian waters. It was A/Capt. Hardy’s intention to gain as much time as possible to enable an air striking force from Malta to attack the enemy.
At 0640 hours, the Italian cruisers opened fire at a range of over 20000 yards. Their second salvo straddled HMS Cairo and others fell near the convoy before the smoke screen could take effect. The British ships could not yet reply as the enemy was still out of range. As the ‘Fleet’ destroyers gathered way, they became strung out in a loose line of bearing, nearly line ahead, in the order HMS Bedouin, HMS Partridge, HMS Ithuriel, HMS Marne and HMS Matchless, though the last ship worked up to 32 knots in the endeavour to keep up. The first to destroyers opened fire on the enemy cruisers at 0645 hours with their guns at maximum elevation but in a quarter of an hour both Bedouin and Partridge were badly hit and stopped and the fight passed them by. Ithuriel held her fire till she got within 15000 yards, then she engaged a cruiser, which she eventually hit at a range of 8000 yards. Marne also engaged a cruiser, opening fire at over 18000 yards. In the meantime the Italian destroyers had fallen astern of the cruisers, three of them, in fact, soon left the line and disappeared to the northward. The last two enemy destroyers opened fire on the Marne from her port beam at around 0700 hours and she and Matchless, which was astern of her, replied. Both British destroyers soon found the range and hit one of the enemy (Ugolino Vivaldi) and drove them off. They then pressed on to engage the enemy cruisers which kept their distance and were zig-zagging and making smoke to upset the aim of the British ships.
As soon as the convoy was well behind the smoke screen and on it’s way to the westward. HMS Cairo and the four Hunt class escort destroyers were proceeding south and now also engaged the two enemy destroyers which had been engaged by Marne and Matchless. At about 0700 hours HMS Cairo came under fire from the enemy cruisers again. They were using two turrets each to engage the Cairo and two turrets to engage the ‘Fleet’ destroyers. HMS Cairo was hit by a 6” shell. She herself fired her 4” guns occasionally, though without much hope of doing real damage to the enemy.
At 0715 hours, A/Capt. Hardy decided to concentrate the remaining three ‘Fleet’ destroyers on HMS Cairo and ordered HMS Ithuriel to join him. HMS Marne and HMS Matchless continued to engage the enemy for about half an hour. Though fire from both sides was accurate no hits were obtained on either side. At 0745 hours the Italians turned to port on which A/Capt. Hardy turned north and ordered all destroyers to join him.
Meanwhile, the convoy, 15 nautical miles away to the north-west, steering westwards, now turned to the south-east again. At 0705 hours, now deprived of the support of HMS Cairo, all destroyers and escort destroyers, and without air support, the convoy was attacked by eight German JU 87 dive bombers. They sank the Chant and disabled the Kentucky. HMS Hebe took the Kentucky in tow. The convoy then went on until 0745 hours when course was changed to rejoin the escorts. The Italians however meanwhile where following the British escorts and kept them under fire.
At 0834 hours, A/Capt. Hardy, ordered the convoy to reverse course while Cairo and the destroyers laid a smokescreen across it’s track. This seems to have baffled the Italians which first turned to the south-west and then at 0840 hours hauled round to the north-eastward and stood away. A/Capt. Hardy then sent the ‘Hunt’-class escort destroyers to rejoin the convoy and then led the ‘Fleet’ destroyers after the enemy. At this time HMS Cairo was hit for the second time. For the present however the Italians had given up the game. By 0930 hours they were out of sight and the British ships then turned to rejoin the convoy.
At 1030 hours the merchant vessel were back on their proper course to Malta, with the escort at full strength except for HMS Bedouin and HMS Partridge. Long-range Spitfires from Malta were patrolling overhead.
At 1040 hours a few German bombers appeared but these were driven off before they could drop their bombs. The fighters were able to shot one down. Unfortunately this exhausted fuel and ammunition of the Spitfires which were operating at their extreme range so when at 1120 hours another attack started they were not able to repel it. Their relief had not yet arrived.
It was a combination of high-level and dive bombing by Ju. 88’s and Ju. 87’s. Gunfire destroyed one of the German’s. One or two were shot down afterwards by the relieving Spitfires which had arrived during the attack. By then however the merchant vessel Burdwan was disabled. There was still 150 nautical miles to go, with the likelihood of further attacks from the air and with Italian ships nearby. A/Capt. Hardy therefore decided that he had no other choice then to sacrifice the damaged Kentucky and Burdwan as the best way to save the rest of the convoy whose speed would otherwise be reduced to six knots. He ordered HMS Hebe and HMS Badsworth to sink the cripples which enabled the remaining two merchant ships to continue at their best speed.
At 1315 hours, dive-bombers attacked yet again. And again there was no fighter cover present over the convoy. This time however the German’s were unsuccessful. One bomber out of twelve was shot down by the ships AA fire while the relief flight of Spitfires came in time to shoot down two more as the enemy retired. This was the last time the convoy was attacked from the air before it arrived at Malta under the protection from short-range Spitfires. The next threat of attack came from the Italian warships which closed the convoy once more.
After the engagement in the morning the Italian cruisers had gone back to join up with their destroyers, one of wich had been badly damaged by HMS Marne and HMS Matchless. While preparing to take this destroyer in tow the Italians were disrupted by British aircraft. Malta had been able to sent a small torpedo aircraft force to attack them. Four Albacores followed by two Beauforts attacked them about 12 nautical miles south of Pantelleria at 1030 hours. Unfortunately without success.
The two cruisers with two destroyers then went south again hoping to find stagglers from the convoy. They found HMS Hebe, which was on her way back to rejoin the convoy, having left the tanker Kentucky in a sinking condition astern. HMS Hebe sighted the enemy a long way to the north at 1255 hours. In the next half an hour the enemy was able to close as to open fire on the small minesweeper and eventually she was hit.
On receiving Hebe’s enemy report, A/Capt. Hardy, left the convoy in HMS Cairo taking the three remaining ‘Fleet’ destroyers with him; HMS Ithuriel, HMS Marne and HMS Matchless. Besides the Hebe to protect there were other ships coming back from the scuttled merchantmen and also HMS Bedouin and HMS Partridge which, A/Capt. Hardy believed to be following the convoy.
At 1355 hours the Italians gave up the chase, presumably on sighting HMS Cairo and turned to engage a target to the westward. This could only be HMS Bedouin and HMS Partridge but A/Capt. Hardy felt bound to return to the convoy, then nearly 15 nautical miles off, though it meant leaving the damaged destroyers to their fate.
These two ships had been had been striving to preserve themselves for the King’s service ever since they had been crippled in the morning. HMS Partridge was ready to steam again by 0745 hours, three-quarters of an hour after being put out of action. She prepared to take HMS Bedouin in tow as that ship was entirely disabled. These preparations were disrupted by two Italian destroyers which had to be driven away. By 1000 hours however Bedouin was being towed by Partridge and the two ships were proceeding slowly towards the convoy which they had orders to join. They met it at 1145 hours. There was still hope to get one engine going in HMS Bedouin but later on it became evident that this hope had to be abandoned. It was then thought best to try to make it to Gibraltar.
At 1320 hours, the Italian Squadron came into sight again and two destroyers were apparently closing the two British destroyers while there were also enemy dive-bombers flying around. HMS Partridge therefore had no choice then to slip the tow and to lay smoke around HMS Bedouin. As the enemy cruisers approached, after their chase of HMS Hebe, HMS Partridge stood away to draw their fire and in this she succeeded. She was straddled from long range at 1400 hours. It was the intention the return to HMS Bedouin later but the latter ship was torpedoed by an Italian torpedo bomber at 1425 hours and she sank within a few minutes but not before shooting down the attacker. Italian torpedo bombers also sank the derelict Kentucky and Burdwan around the same time.
A/Capt. Hardy rejoined the convoy at 1530 hours after the last encounter with the Italian squadron. At 1730 hours, HMS Welshman rejoined the convoy south of Linosa coming from Malta. She had arrived there in the morning and was sent out again by Vice-Admiral Leatham as soon as she had landed her cargo.
Then at 1910 hours, there was another air attack. Upon that time the enemy had been kept away by the strong fighter escort from Malta directed by the radar in HMS Cairo. Twelve German bombers managed to close and near misses were obtained on HMS Welshman, HMS Matchless and the merchant Troilus.
A last attempt was foiled at 2040 hours by the fighters from Malta and the ships guns. There was now only one danger to be overcome, enemy mines.
At 1420 hours, three torpedo aircraft made a final unsuccessful attempt to attack HMS Liverpool after which she, HMS Antelope and HMS Westcott were not again molested. That afternoon the tug HMRT Salvonia arrived from Gibraltar and they took over the tow. Antelope then joined Westcott as A/S screen. With Salvonia came also the A/S trawler HMS Lady Hogarth (T/Lt. S.G. Barnes, RNR).
At 2345 hours the Italian submarine Bronzo sighted an enemy escort vessel of the 'Kingfisher-class' which opened fire on the submarine in position 36°50'N, 00°10'E. This was HMS Coltsfoot. The submarine was depth-charged and escaped by going down to 117 metres.
16 June 1942.
It had been intended that the minesweepers would be ahead of the convoy when approaching Malta but owning to mistakes the convoy arrived first. The result was that one of the two remaining merchant vessels, the Orari, the destroyer HMS Matchless, two escort destroyers HMS Badsworth, ORP Kujawiak and the minesweeper HMS Hebe hit mines. Fortunately damage was light except for ORP Kujawiak which unfortunately sank in three minutes.
After having taken on board ammunition at Malta, HMS Cairo, HMS Ithuriel, HMS Marne, HMS Middleton and HMS Blankney departed the island in the evening to return to Gibraltar.
Shortly after 0800 hours, the destroyer HMS Panther (Lt.Cdr. R.W. Jocelyn, RN) joined the A/S screen of the disabled HMS Liverpool. Two more vessels came out from Gibraltar to join the A/S screen, these were the corvette HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RD, RNR) which joined around 0940 hours. At 1530 hours, the motor launch ML 458 joined.
17 June 1942.
As HMS Cairo and the two destroyers and two escort destroyers were skirting along the African coast they were shadowed from sunrise onward. They were however not attacked until midday, when they were passed the Galita bank. From then until 2030 hours that evening, German bombers pestered them continuously. The Germans came sometimes in flights of six, though generally in flights of two and three. Main target seems to have been HMS Ithuriel which had a tough time and sustained some minor damage due to leaks from near misses. During the attacks one enemy bomber was shot down by HMS Cairo.
At 2017 hours, they joined with Vice-Admiral Curteis with HMS Kenya and HMS Charybdis in position 37°30’N, 04°30’E. After leaving the convoy in the evening of the 14th, the Vice-Admiral had taken ‘Force W’ some 400 nautical miles to the west of Sardinia in order to avoid observation and attack while waiting for the return of ‘Force X’. His ships had however been shadowed on the 15th and was then attacked by two small groups of torpedo aircraft. Hurricanes from HMS Eagle forced them to drop their torpedoes from long range. They were also able to shoot down one of the attackers.
From the morning of the 16th to noon on the 17th, Vice-Admiral Curteis, cruised with HMS Kenya and HMS Charybdis near the rendez-vous position. HMS Malaya both aircraft carriers and the remaining destroyers had been sent to Gibraltar around 0800/16. They arrived at Gibraltar around 1030/17.
Around noon on the 17th, Vice-Admiral Curteis, with his two cruisers proceeded eastwards to meet up with A/Capt. Hardy’s force after which they proceeded in company to Gibraltar where they arrived in the early evening of the 18th.
HMS Liverpool and her escorts safely arrived at Gibraltar late in the afternoon of the 17th. (12)
20 Jun 1942
Convoy WS 20.
This convoy was formed of Oversay on 20 June 1940 and arrived at Freetown on 2 July 1940.
It departed Freetown on 6 July 1940 for Capetown / Durban.
It was made up of the troopships / transports; Abosso (British, 11330 GRT, built 1935), Adrastus (British, 7905 GRT, built 1923), Arundel Castle (British, 19118 GRT, built 1921), Awatea (British, 13482 GRT, built 1936), Banfora (British, 9472 GRT, built 1914), Batory (Polish, 14287 GRT, built 1936), Bergensfjord (Norwegian, 11015 GRT, built 1913), Cuba (British, 11420 GRT, built 1923), Duchess of Richmond (British, 20022 GRT, built 1928), Durban Castle (British, 17388 GRT, built 1938), Empire Pride (British, 9248 GRT, built 1941), Empress of Australia (British, 21833 GRT, built 1914), Empress of Russia (British, 16810 GRT, built 1913), Esperance Bay (British, 14204 GRT, built 1922), Leopoldville (Belgian, 11509 GRT, built 1929), Narkunda (British, 16632 GRT, built 1920), Nigerstroom (Dutch, 4639 GRT, built 1939), Orion (British, 23371 GRT, built 1935), Palma (British, 5419 GRT, built 1941), Stirling Castle (British, 25550 GRT, built 1936), Stratheden (British, 23722 GRT, built 1937) and Strathmore (British, 23428 GRT, built 1935).
On forming off Orsay Island the convoy was escorted by the destroyers HMS Beagle (Cdr. R.C. Medley, RN), HMS Boadicea (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN), HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN), HMS Wolverine (Lt.Cdr. P.W. Gretton, OBE, DSC, RN), HMS Georgetown (Lt.Cdr. P.G. MacIver, RNR), HMS Ripley (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) G.W.E. Castens, RN), HMS Salisbury (Lt.Cdr. H.M.R. Crichton, RN) and HNoMS St. Albans (Lt.Cdr. S.V. Storheill, RNorN).
On 24 June HMS Georgetown and HMS Salisbury were detached.
On 25 June HMS Boadicea and HMS Ripley were detached. At 0900/26, the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. J.W.A. Waller, RN joined the convoy. She came from Gibraltar and had been escorted by the destroyers HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, DSC, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN). The troopship Narkunda then parted company with the convoy proceeding to Gibraltar escorted by HMS Beagle, HMS Antelope, HMS Vidette, HMS Wishart and HMS Wolverine.
At 1230/26, HMS St.Albans parted company with the convoy to join northound convoy SL 113.
Between 0700 and 0800/27 HMS Vansittart fuelled from HMS Malaya.
At 1620/27, HMS Vansittart parted company with the convoy to proceed to Ponta Delgada, Azores to fuel and to proceed to Gibraltar afterwards.
At 0600/28, the destroyer HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. H.G.D. de Chair, RN) joined the convoy.
Between 0946 and 1023/28, HMS Brilliant fuelled from HMS Malaya. HMS Blackmore was fuelled by HMS Malaya late in the afternoon of the 28th.
At 0800/1, the destroyers HMS Boreas (Lt.Cdr. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN) and HMS Wivern (Cdr. M.D.C. Meyrick, RN) joined the convoy. The were to have joined the day before but were unable to find the convoy due to the bad visibility and the convoy, poor fixes and the convoy being a bit ahead of shedule. HMS Vimy parted company with the convoy shortly after these two destroyer had joined.
At 1250/1, the destroyer HMS Velox (Lt. G.B. Barstow, RN) joined the convoy.
The convoy arrived safely at Freetown on 2 July 1942.
On departure from Freetown on 6 July the convoy, in the same composition as in which it had arrived, was escorted by HMS Malaya, HMS Brilliant, HMS Velox, HMS Wivern and HMS Blackmore.
At 1130/7, the troopship Batory parted company with the convoyto proceed to Takoradi escorted by HMS Blackmore. They arrived at Takoradi on 11 July. HMS Blackmore then departed Takoradi, after fuelling, later the same day to rejoin convoy WS 20.
At 1845/8, HMS Wivern was detached to fuel at Pointe Noire to fuel, then proceed to Walvis Bay to fuel there and then rejoin convoy WS 20.
At 0650/9, HMS Brilliant was detached to fuel at Pointe Noire.
At 1815/9, HMS Boreas joined the convoy coming from Takoradi. HMS Velox was then detached to Lagos.
At 1650/12, HMS Boreas was detached to Pointe Noire.
At 1720/12, HMS Blackmore rejoined coming from Takoradi.
At 1130/13, HMS Brilliant rejoined coming from Pointe Noire.
At 1650/14, HMS Brilliant was detached to Walvis Bay.
At 0715/16, HMS Brilliant and HMS Wivern joined coming from Walvis Bay.
Between 0720 to 0815/16, HMS Blackmore fuelled from HMS Malaya.
At 0705/17, HMS Brilliant and HMS Wivern were detached to Simonstown.
At 0800/17, heavy cruiser HMS Shropshire (Capt. J.T. Borrett, OBE, RN) joined the convoy to take care of the Durban section. The Capetown section then split off escorted by HMS Malaya and HMS Blackmore. The Capetown section arrived at Capetown later the same day. It was made up of the troopships / transports; Abosso, Adrastus, Banfora, Bergensfjord, Cuba, Duchess of Richmond, Empire Pride, Empress of Australia, Esperance Bay, Leopoldville and Palma.
At 0830/18 (GMT), HMS Brilliant and HMS Wivern departed Simonstown to join the Durban section of the convoy that was being escorted by HMS Shropshire.
The Durban section arrived at Durban in the moning of July, 20th. HMS Shropshire parted company to proceed to Simonstown. HMS Brilliant and HMS Wivern then patrolled off Durban until the last ships of the convoy had entered the harbour. The Durban section had been made up of the troopships / transports; Arundel Castle, Awatea, Durban Castle, Empress of Russia, Nigerstroom, Orion, Stratheden and Strathmore.
In the morning of 21 July 1941 the troopships / transports Abosso, Adrastus, Bergensfjord, Cuba, Duchess of Richmond, Empire Pride, Empress of Australia, Leopoldville and Palma departed Capetown to the rendez-vous point near Durban. They were escorted by the escort destroyer HMS Blackmore. Around 1600/21 they were joined by the battleship HMS Malaya which had departed Simonstown at 1215/21.
Around 0930/26 the convoy arrived off Durban where it merged with the Durban section.
The Durban section was made up of the troopships / transports; Arundel Castle, Orion, Stirling Castle and Stratheden. They wer escorted by the light cruiser HMS Gambia (Capt. M.J. Mansergh, CBE, RN) and the destroyers HMS Brilliant and HMS Wivern.
HMS Malaya split off from the Capetown section to proceed to Capetown escorted by HMS Brilliant and HMS Wivern. HMS Blackmore entered Durban.
The convoy was now made up of the troopships / transports; Abosso, Adrastus, Arundel Castle, Bergensfjord, Cuba, Duchess of Richmond, Empire Pride, Empress of Australia, Leopoldville, Orion, Palma, Stirling Castle and Stratheden and was being escorted by HMS Gambia.
At 0900/30, the convoy, now to the east of Madagascar, was joined by the heavy cruiser HMS Frobisher (Capt. J.F.W. Mudford, RN) and the armed merchant cruiser HMS Worcestershire (A/Capt.(Retd.) E.H. Hopkinson, RN). The troopship Stirling Castle then split off to proceed to Mauritius escorted by HMS Gambia.
At 1410/31, HMS Worcestershire parted company with the convoy. Her speed had proven to be be to low and she had difficulty keeping up.
At 0900/3, the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire (Capt. R.D. Oliver, CBE, DSC, RN) joined the convoy. Shortly afterwards the convoy split up in two sections, one with the destination Aden (Perim) (WS 20A) and one with the destination Bombay (WS 20B).
24 Jun 1942
HMS Malaya (Capt. J.W.A. Waller, RN) departed Gibraltar to join convoy WS 20 at sea. The was escorted by the destroyers HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, DSC, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN).
[See the event ' Convoy WS 20 ' for 20 July 1942 for more information on this convoy.] (13)
26 Jun 1942
At 0900 hours, HMS Malaya (Capt. J.W.A. Waller, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, DSC, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN) made rendez-vous with convoy WS 20. HMS Malaya then joined the convoy while the destroyers returned to Gibraltar with HMS Beagle (Cdr. R.C. Medley, RN) and HMS Wolverine (Lt.Cdr. P.W. Gretton, OBE, DSC, RN) escorting the troopship Narkunda.
10 Aug 1942
Convoy WS 21S, Operation Pedestal.
Convoy WS 21S and the concentration of the escort forces
Convoy WS 21S departed the Clyde on 2 August 1942. The convoy was made up of the following ships; American freighters; Almeria Lykes (7773 GRT, built 1940), Santa Elisa (8379 GRT, built 1941), British freighters; Brisbane Star (12791 GRT, built 1937), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), Deucalion (7516 GRT, built 1930), Dorset (10624 GRT, built 1934), Empire Hope (12688 GRT, built 1941), Glenorchy (8982 GRT, built 1939), Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933), Rochester Castle (7795 GRT, built 1937), Waimarama (12843 GRT, built 1938), Wairangi (12436 GRT, built 1935), and the American tanker; Ohio (9264 GRT, built 1940).
These ships were escorted by light cruisers HMS Nigeria (Capt. S.H. Paton, RN, flying the flag of the Rear-Admiral 10th C.S., Sir H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. A.S. Russell, RN) and the destroyers HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN), HMS Venomous (Cdr. H.W. Falcon-Stewart, RN), HMS Wolverine (Lt.Cdr. P.W. Gretton, OBE, DSC, RN), HMS Malcolm (A/Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN), HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr.(Emgy) Lord Teynham, RN), HMS Derwent (Cdr. R.H. Wright, DSC, RN) and HMS Zetland (Lt. J.V. Wilkinson, RN).
A cover force made up of departed Scapa Flow on the same day. This force was made up of the battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN) and HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, DSO, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Somali (Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN), HMS Pathfinder (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Penn (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RN) and HMS Quentin (Lt.Cdr. A.H.P. Noble, DSC, RN). They were to rendez-vous with convoy WS 21S at sea on 3 August. HMS Penn was delayed by a defect and after topping off with fuel at Moville, Northern Ireland overtook the force and joined at sea.
The aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Rear Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CB, CVO, DSO, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Sirius (Capt. P.W.B. Brooking, RN) meanwhile had already left Scapa Flow on 31 July 1941 to rendez-vous with the convoy. They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Intrepid (Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Fell, RN). These ships were joined at sea on 1 August 1942 by the aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, RN), loaded with spare fighter aircraft for the operation, and her two escorts the destroyers HMS Buxton (Lt.Cdr. I.J. Tyson, RD, RNR) and HMS Sardonyx (Lt.Cdr. A.F.C. Gray, RNR). HMS Argus and her two escorting destroyers had departed the Clyde on 31 July. HMS Buxton later split off and proceeded towards Canada and HMS Sardonyx proceeded to Londonderry.
The last ships to take part in the operation to depart the U.K. (Clyde around midnight during the night of 4/5 August) were the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. T.O. Bulteel, RN), loaded with Hurricane fighters for Malta, and her escorts, the light cruiser HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN) and the Polish destroyer ORP Blyscawica (Lt.Cdr. L. Lichodziejewski, ORP). They were joined at sea, around dawn, by HMS Sardonyx coming from Londonderry. The destroyers parted company around midnight during the night of 5/6 August. They arrived at Londonderry on 7 August. HMS Furious and HMS Manchester then joined convoy WS 21S around midnight of the next night but HMS Manchester parted company shortly afterwards to proceed ahead of the convoy and fuel at Gibraltar.
On 1 August 1942 the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), light cruiser HMS Phoebe (Capt. C.P. Frend, RN) and the destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN) and HMS Lookout (Lt.Cdr. A.G. Forman, DSC, RN) departed Freetown to proceed to a rendez-vous position off the Azores.
On 5 August 1942, the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. L.D. Mackintosh, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Charybdis (Capt. G.A.W. Voelcker, RN) and the the destroyers HMS Wrestler (Lt. R.W.B. Lacon, DSC, RN), HMS Westcott (Cdr. I.H. Bockett-Pugh, DSO, RN) and HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN) departed Gibraltar also to the rendez-vous position off the Azores.
The convoy conducted maneuvering and AA exercises with the escorts between the Azores and Gibraltar during the period of 6 to 9 August. (Operation Berserk). Also dummy air attacks were carried out by aircraft from the carriers.
Passage of the Straits of Gibraltar and organization of escort forces.
The convoy then passed the Straits of Gibraltar during the night of 9/10 August 1942 in dense fog but despite this the convoy was detected by German and Italian spies and reported.
After passing the Straits of Gibraltar the convoy was organized as follows; The actual convoy was protected a large force of warships until the whole force would split up before entering the Sicilian narrows after which ‘Force X’ under command of Rear-Admiral Sir H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN was to accompany the convoy to the approaches to Malta where they would be met by the Malta Minesweeping Flotilla, which was then to sweep the convoy into the harbour. Force X was made up of the following ships: Licht cruisers: HMS Nigeria (flagship), HMS Kenya,, HMS Manchester. AA cruiser: HMS Cairo (A/Capt. C.C. Hardy, DSO, RN). Destroyers: HMS Ashanti, HMS Fury, HMS Foresight, HMS Icarus, HMS Intrepid, HMS Pathfinder and HMS Penn. Escort destroyers: HMS Derwent, HMS Bicester (Lt.Cdr. S.W.F. Bennetts, RN), HMS Bramham (Lt. E.F. Baines, RN), HMS Ledbury (Lt.Cdr. R.P. Hill, RN) and HMS Wilton (Lt. A.P. Northey, RN). Also the rescue tug HMS Jaunty was to be part of this force.
After the escort was to be split up cover was provided by ‘Force Z’ under Vice-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN. This force was made up of the following ships: Battleships: HMS Nelson (flagship) and HMS Rodney. Aircraft carriers: HMS Victorious, HMS Indomitable and HMS Eagle. Light cruisers: HMS Phoebe, HMS Sirius and HMS Charybdis. Destroyers: HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Lookout, HMS Eskimo, HMS Somali, HMS Tartar, HMS Quentin, HMS Ithuriel (Lt.Cdr. D.H. Maitland-Makgill-Crichton, DSC, RN) HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair), HMS Wishart and HMS Vansittart. Escort destroyer: HMS Zetland. Also attached were the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (for Operation Bellows, the launching of Hurricane fighters for Malta. HMS Furious only carried four Albacore aircraft for A/S searches after the Hurricanes had been launched) and the ‘spare’ destroyers HMS Keppel (Cdr. J.E. Broome, RN), HMS Malcolm, HMS Venomous, HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, DSC, RN), HMS Westcott, HMS Wolverine, HMS Wrestler and HMS Amazon. These ‘spare’ destroyers were to take the place of destroyers in the screen ‘Force Z’ if needed, escort HMS Furious during her return passage to Gibraltar after she had completed Operation Bellows and / or strengthen the escort of ‘Force R’.
Then there was also ‘Force R’, the fuelling force. This force was made up of the following ships: Corvettes: HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RD, RNR), HMS Spiraea (Lt.Cdr. R.S. Miller, DSC, RNR), HMS Geranium (T/Lt. A. Foxall, RNR) and HMS Coltsfoot (T/Lt. the Hon. W.K. Rous, RNVR). Rescue tug: HMS Salvonia. RFA tankers: RFA Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941, Master D.B.C. Ralph) and RFA Dingledale (8145 GRT, built 1941, Master R.T. Duthie).
Before we give an account of the passage of the main convoy we will now first describe the operations taking place in the Eastern Mediterranean (Operations MG 3 and MG 4), the launching of the Hurricane fighters for Malta by HMS Furious (Operation Bellows) and the return convoy from Malta (Operation Ascendant) as well as on submarine operations / dispositions.
Diversion in the Eastern Mediterranean.
As part of the plan for Operation Pedestal the Mediterranean Fleet had to carry out a diversion in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean. Before we go to the operations in the Western Mediterranean we will first give an account of the events in the Eastern Mediterranean.
It was at this time not possible to sent any supplies from Egypt to Malta as all supplies and forces were much needed for the upcoming land battle at El Alamein it was agreed that ‘a dummy convoy’ would be sent towards Malta with the object of preventing the enemy to direct the full weight of their air and naval power towards the Western Mediterranean.
In the evening of 10 August 1942 a ‘convoy’ (MG 3) of three merchant ships departed Port Said escorted by three cruisers and ten destroyers. Next morning one more merchant ship departed Haifa escorted by two cruisers and five destroyers. The two forces joined that day (the 11th) and then turned back dispersing during the night. The Italian fleet however did not go to sea to attack ‘the bait’.
The forces taking part in this operation were: From Port Said: Merchant vessels City of Edinburgh (8036 GRT, built 1938), City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938) and City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937) escorted by the light cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), the AA cruiser HMS Coventry (Capt. R.J.R. Dendy, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. A.L. Poland, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. M.S. Townsend, OBE, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Pakenham (Capt. E.B.K. Stevens, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Dulverton(Lt.Cdr. W.N. Petch, OBE, RN), HMS Hurworth (Lt.Cdr. J.T.B. Birch, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN), HMS Hursley (Lt. W.J.P. Church, DSC, RN), HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN) and HMS Belvoir (Lt. J.F.D. Bush, DSC and Bar, RN).
From Haifa: Merchant vessel Ajax (7797 GRT, built 1931) escorted by the light cruisers HMS Cleopatra (Capt. G. Grantham, DSO, RN, flagship of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, KBE, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), the destroyers HMS Sikh (Capt. St.J. A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. R.T. White, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. H.C. Simms, DSO, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Tetcott (Lt. H.R. Rycroft, RN) and HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Egan, RN).
After dark on 11 August 1942 the force turned back and the City of Pretoria returned to Port Said escorted by HMS Eridge and HMS Hursley. The City of Edinburgh, escorted by HMS Beaufort and HMS Belvoir proceeded to Haifa. The City of Lincoln escorted by HMS Dulverton and HMS Hurworth proceeded to Beirut and finally the Ajax, escorted by HMS Tetcott and HMS Croome returned to Haifa. HMS Dido had to return to Port Said with hull defects. She was escorted by HMS Pakenham, HMS Paladin and HMS Jervis.
HMS Cleopatra, HMS Arethusa, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu, HMS Javelin and HMS Kelvin then proceeded to carry out another diversion (Operation MG 4). They bombarded Rhodos harbour and the Alliotti Flour Mills during the night of 12/13 August but did little damage. On the way back HMS Javelin attacked a submarine contact in position 34°45’N, 31°04’E between 0654 and 0804 hours. She reported that there was no doubt that the submarine was sunk but no Axis submarines were operating in this area so the attack must have been bogus. This force returned to Haifa at 1900/13.
During operation Bellows, the aircraft carrier HMS Furious, started 37 Spitfire which were to proceed to Malta, when south of the Balearic Islands. The Admiralty had decided to carry out this operation at the same time as Operation Pedestal.
HMS Furious remained with the convoy until 1200/11. She then launched the Spitfires for Malta in 5 batches between 1230 and 1515 hours. During these flying off operations she acted independently with the destroyers HMS Lookout and HMS Lightning. After having launched the last batch of Spitfires she briefly re-joined to convoy until around 1700 hours when she split off and set course for Gibraltar escorted by the destroyers HMS Malcolm, HMS Wolverine and HMS Wrestler. These were joined shortly afterwards by HMS Keppel and HMS Venomous.
Around 0100/12, HMS Wolverine, rammed and sank the Italian submarine Dagabur which was trying to attack HMS Furious. Around 0200 hours, HMS Wolverine reported that she was stopped due to the damage she had sustained in the ramming. HMS Malcolm was detached to assist her.
At 1530/12, the destroyer HMS Vidette joined the screen. The force then entered Gibraltar Bay around 1930/12. The damaged HMS Wolverine arrived at Gibraltar at 1230/13 followed by HMS Malcolm around 1530/13.
On 10 August 1942 the empty transports Troilus (7648 GRT, built 1921) and Orari (10107 GRT, built 1931) departed Malta after dark for Gibraltar. They were escorted by the destroyer HMS Matchless (Lt.Cdr. J. Mowlam, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Badsworth (Lt. G.T.S. Gray, DSC, RN). They first proceeded to the south of Lampedusa, then hugged the Tunisian coast as far as Galita Island. Near Cape Bon they encountered the Italian destroyer Lanzerotto Malocello that was laying a minefield. They had a brief gunfight but this was soon ended as both sides were thinking the enemy was Vichy-French. The remained of the passage to Gibraltar was uneventful and the convoy arrived at Gibraltar shortly before noon on 14 August 1942.
Submarine operations / dispositions. Eight submarines took part in the operation; these were HMS Utmost (Lt. A.W. Langridge, RN), HMS P 31 (Lt. J.B.de B. Kershaw, DSO, RN), HMS P 34 (Lt. P.R.H. Harrison, DSC, RN), HMS P 42 (Lt. A.C.G. Mars, RN), HMS P 44 (Lt. T.E. Barlow, RN), HMS P 46 (Lt. J.S. Stevens, DSC, RN), HMS P 211 (Cdr. B. Bryant, DSC, RN), HMS P 222 (Lt.Cdr. A.J. MacKenzie, RN). Two of these were to carry out normal dived patrol to the north of Sicily, one off Palermo, the other off Milazzo which is futher to the east. The other six submarines were given alternative patrol lines south of Pantelleria, one od which they were to take up at dawn on 13 August 1942, according to the movements of enemy surface ships that might threathen the convoy from the westward. When the convoy had passed the patrol line, which it should have done by that time, the submarines were to proceed on the surface parallel to the convoy as a screen and to dive away clear of the convoy at noon. It was expressly intended that they should be seen on the surface and reported by enemy aircraft in order to deter enemy warships from attacking the convoy.
Enemy warships did go to sea but as soon as it was clear that the enemy ships could not reach the convoy the sunmarines were ordered to dive and retire. These six sumarines had no contact with the enemy. One of the the two submarines off the north coast of Sicily, HMS P 42, managed to torpedo two Italian cruisers near Stromboli on the morning of 13 August 1942.
Now we return to the main convoy to Malta.
Passage eastwards after passing the Straits of Gibraltar.
10 and 11 August 1942.
After passing through the Straits of Gibraltar in the early hours of 10 August 1942, in dense fog, the convoy was first sighted by an Italian passenger aircraft, which sighted the convoy in the afternoon of the same day. German reconnaissance aircraft started shadowing the convoy from dawn on the 11th, and thereafter they or Italian aircraft kept the convoy under continuous observation, despite the effort of the fighters from the carriers to shoot them down or drive them off. At 1315 hours, HMS Eagle, was hit an sunk by torpedoes from the German submarine U-73 which had penetrated the destroyer screen. At that moment there were thirteen destroyers in the screen, the remainder was away from the main convoy, escorting HMS Furious during the flying off operations of the Hurricane fighters for Malta or oiling from and screening ‘Force R’ which was several miles away. Between 1430/10 and and 2030/11 no less then three cruisers and twenty-four destroyers fuelled from the two oilers of ‘Force R’.
At the time of the torpedoing of HMS Eagle the convoy was in four columns, zigzagging at 13 knots, with the heavy ships stationed close round it and a destroyer screen ahead. HMS Eagle was on the starboard quarter of the convoy. She was hit on her starboard side by four torpedoes which had dived through the destroyer screen and the convoy columns undetected and then torpedoed and sank the Eagle in position 38°05’N, 03°02’E (Another source gives 03°12’E but this might be a typo). The carrier sank quickly in about 8 minutes, 926 of her crew, including the Commanding Officer, were rescued by the destroyers HMS Laforey and HMS Lookout and the rescue tug HMS Jaunty. At the time of her sinking, HMS Eagle had four aircraft on patrol. These landed on the other carriers. All other aircraft were lost with the ship. The survivors picked up were later transferred to the destroyers HMS Keppel, HMS Malcolm and HMS Venomous that were to escort HMS Furious back to Gibraltar. The tug HMS Jaunty that had been involved in picking up survivors was never able to rejoin the convoy due to her slow speed.
Late in the afternoon air attacks were expected so Vice-Admiral Syfret ordered the destroyer to form an all-round screen. Indeed the air attacks started around sunset, 2045 hours. The last destroyers had just returned from oiling from ‘Force R’. The enemy aircraft that were attacking were 36 German bombers and torpedo aircraft, Ju 88’s and He 111’s, most of which attacked the convoy but a few attacked ‘Force R’ to the southward. The Junkers arrived first, diving down from 8000 feet to 2000 / 3000 feet to drop their bombs. They claimed to have hit an aircraft carrier and one of the merchant ships. Then the Heinkels attacked, they claimed to have torpedoed a cruiser but during the attacks no ship was hit. The British fighter cover was unable to attack / find the enemy in the failing light. Four enemy aircraft were claimed shot down by the ships AA fire but it appears only two JU 88’s were in fact shot down.
12 August 1942
At 0915/12 another wave of German aircraft attacked the convoy. Some twenty or more JU 88’s approached the convoy out of the sun ahead. They were intercepted by fighters about 25 miles from the convoy. About a dozen got through to the convoy, making high-level or shallow dive-bombing attacks individually but without any result. Eight German aircraft were claimed to be shot down by the fighters and two more by AA guns from the ships. The fighters meanwhile were also busy dealng with shadowers, three of which are claimed to have been shot down before the morning attack. Around this time destroyers were also busy with numerous submarine contact which were attacked by depth charges.
Around noon the enemy launched heavy air attacks from the Sardinian airfields. Seventy aircraft approached which were heavily escorted by fighters. They attacked in stages and employed new methods.
First ten Italian torpedo-bombers were each to drop some sort of circling torpedo or mine a few hundred yards ahead of the British force, while eight fighter bombers made dive-bombing and machine-gun attacks. The object at this stage was clearly to dislocate the formation of the force and to draw anti-aircraft fire, making the ships more vulnerable to a torpedo attack which soon followed with over forty aircraft. They attacked in two groups, one on either bow of the convoy. The next stage was a shallow dive-bombing attack by German aircraft, after which two Italian Reggiane 2001 fighters, each with a single heavy armour-piercing bomb were to dive bomb on one of the aircraft carriers, whilst yet another new form of attack was to be employed against the other carrier, but defects in the weapon prevented this attack from taking place.
The enemy attack went according to plan besides that the torpedo attack was only made half an our after the ‘mines’ were dropped instead of five minutes. British fighters met the minelaying aircraft, they shot down one of them as they approached. The remaining nine aircraft dropped their ‘mines’ at 1215 hours in the path of the force, which turned to avoid the danger. The mines were heard to explode several minutes later. Only three of the fighter-bombers of this stage of the attack appear to have reached as far the screen, but HMS Lightning had a narrow escape from their bombs.
The torpedo-aircraft appeared at 1245 hours. Their number were brought down a bit due to British fighters. The remaining aircraft, estimated at 25 to 30 machines, attacked from the port bow, port beam and starboard quarter. They dropped their torpedoes well outside the screen some 8000 yards from the merchant ships which they had been ordered to attack. The force turned 45° to port and then back to starboard to avoid the attack.
In the next stage, around 1318 hours, the German bombing attack, the enemy scored their one success. These aircraft were also intercepted on their way in but about a dozen of about twenty aircraft came through. They crossed the convoy from starboard to port and then dived to 3000 feet. They managed to damage the transport Deucalion which was leading the port wing column. More bombs fell close to several other ships.
Finally, at 1345 hours, the two Reggiane fighters approached HMS Victorious as if to land on. They looked like Hurricanes and HMS Victorious was at that time engaged in landing her own fighters. They managed to drop their bombs and one hit the flight deck amidships. Fortunately the bomb broke up without exploding. By the time HMS Victorious could open fire both fighters were out of range.
The Deucalion could no longer keep up with the convoy and was ordered to follow the inshore route along the Tunisian coast escorted by HMS Bramham. Two bombers found these ships late in the afternoon, but their bombs missed. At 1940 hours, however, near the Cani Rocks, two torpedo aircraft attacked and a torpedo hit the Deucalion. She caught fire and eventually blew up.
The convoy passed some 20 miles north of Galita Island and spent the afternoon avoiding enemy submarines which were known to be concentrated in these waters. There were innumerable reports of sightings and Asdic contacts and at least two submarines proved dangerous. At 1616 hours, HMS Pathfinder and HMS Zetland attacked one on the port bow of the convoy and hunted her until the convoy was out of reach. HMS Ithuriel, stationed on the quarter, then attacked, forced the enemy to surface and finally rammed her. She proved to be the Italian submarine Cobalto. Meanwhile HMS Tartar, on the starboard quarter, saw six torpedoes fired at close range at 1640 hours, and the next destroyer in the screen, HMS Lookout sighted a periscope. Together they attacked the submarine, continuing until it was no longer dangerous. There was no evidence this submarine was sunk.
At 1750 hours, HMS Ithuriel, which was on her way back to the convoy after sinking the Italian submarine Cobalto was attacked by a few dive-bombers, when still a dozen miles astern of the convoy. At this time the convoy came under attack by aircraft stationed on Sicily. This force numbered nearly 100 aircraft. Ju.87 dive-bombers as well as Ju.88’s and SM-79’s all with a strong escort of fighters. The enemy started attacking at 1835 hours, the bombers attacking from both ahead and astern which last was the direction of the sun. The torpedo aircraft came from ahead to attack on the starboard bow and beam of the convoy.
The Italian SM-79’s torpedo bombers dropped their torpedoes from ranges of about 3000 yards outside the destroyer screen, and once again the convoy turned away to avoid them. However the destroyer HMS Foresight was hit by a torpedo and disabled. The bombers chose HMS Indomitable as their main target. She was astern of HMS Rodney at the time on the port quarter of the convoy. Four Ju.88’s and eight Ju.87’s came suddenly out of the sun and dived steeply towards HMS Indomitable from astern. Some of the Ju.87 came down to 1000 feet and the carrier received three hits and her flight deck was put out of action. Her airborne fighters eventually had to land on HMS Victorious. HMS Rodney meanwhile had a narrow escape when a bomber attacked from ahead. One enemy aircraft was claimed to have been shot down by AA fire from the ships while the fighters claimed nine more although there were about twice as much enemy fighters in the air then British.
HMS Tartar took the damaged HMS Foresight in tow and proceeded westward for Gibraltar. Next day, as they were shadowed by enemy aircraft, and enemy submarines were known to be in the area, it was decided to scuttle the cripple before both ships might be lost. HMS Tartar then torpedoed HMS Foresight a few miles from Galita Island.
Passage through the narrows, 12-13 August 1942, and the loss off HMS Manchester.
These last air attacks took place about 20 nautical miles west of the Skerki Channel and at 1900 hours, when the attacks were clearly over, Vice-Admiral Syfret turned away with ‘Force Z’. It was now up to Rear-Admiral Burrough with ‘Force X’ to take the convoy to Malta.
At 2000 hours, when the convoy was changing it’s formation from four to two columns, the convoy was attacked by Italian submarines. The submarine Dessie attacked a freighter with four torpedoes and claimed three hits. The sound of the torpedo hits was however not caused by her attack but by an attack by the Axum which hit three ships, HMS Nigeria, HMS Cairo and the tanker Ohio.
HMS Nigeria had to turn back to make for Gibraltar escorted by the escort destroyers HMS Derwent, HMS Wilton and HMS Bicester. Rear-Admiral Burrough transferred his flag to the destroyer HMS Ashanti. The stern of HMS Cairo had been blown off and she had to be sunk as she was beyond salvage with both engines also out of action. She was scuttled by HMS Pathfinder. The Ohio meanwhile managed to struggle on.
At this time the convoy was still trying to form up the the submarine attacks messed things up and right at thus time the convoy was once more attacked from the air in the growing dusk at 2030 hours. About 20 German aircraft, Ju-88’s made dive bombing and torpedo attacks, hitting the Empire Hope with a bomb and the Clan Ferguson and Brisbane Star with torpedoes. The first of these ships had to be sunk (by HMS Bramham, the second blew up but the last eventually reached Malta. Soon after this attack, at 2111 hours, HMS Kenya was torpedoed by the Italian submarine Alagi. She was able to evade three of the four torpedoes but was hit in the bow by the fouth. She was however able to remain with the convoy.
The situation was then as follows. HMS Kenya and HMS Manchester with two merchant ships, and with the minesweeping destroyers HMS Intrepid, HMS Icarus and HMS Fury sweeping ahead, had passed the Skerki Channel and were steering to pass Zembra Island on the way to Cape Bon. HMS Ashanti, with Rear-Admiral Burrough on board was fast overhauling these ships. The other two destroyers HMS Pathfinder, HMS Penn and the escort destroyer HMS Ledbury, were rounding up the remaining nine merchant ships. The escort destroyer HMS Bramham was also catching up after having escorted the single Deucalion until she sank.
On learing about the fate of HMS Nigeria and HMS Cairo, Vice-Admiral Syfret detached HMS Charybdis, HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali to reinforce Rear-Admiral Burrough. It would take these ships several hourse to catch up with the convoy.
The main body of the convoy passed Cape Bon around midnight. Fourty minutes later enemy Motor Torpedo Boats appeared and started to attack. Their first victim was HMS Manchester which was torpedoed at 0120/13 by the Italian MS 16 or MS 22. She had to be scuttled by her own crew. Many of her ships company landed in Tunisia and were interned by the Vichy-French but about 300 were picked up by destroyers (first by HMS Pathfinder, and later by HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali. These last two destoyers then set off towards Gibraltar.)
Four and possibly five of the merchant ships were also hit by the Motor Torpedo Boats. These were the Wairangi, Rochester Castle, Almeria Lykes, Santa Elisa and probably the Glenorchy. They were attacked between 0315 and 0430 hours about 15 nautical miles south-east of Kelibia whilst taking a short cut to overhaul the main body of the convoy. Four were lost, only the Rochester Castle survived and she managed to catch up with the main body of the convoy at 0530 hours. The Glenorchy was sunk by the Italian MS 31, the other four, of which the Rochester Castle survived as mentioned earlier, were hit by the German S 30 and S 36 as well as the Italian MAS 554 and MAS 557.
Shortly before 0530 hours HMS Charybdis, HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali had joined the main body of the convoy making the force now two cruisers and seven destroyers with the transports Rochester Castle, Waimarama and Melbourne Star. The damaged tanker Ohio was slowly catching up. With her was the escort destroyer HMS Ledbury. Astern of the main body was the Port Chalmers escorted by the destroyer HMS Penn and the escort destroyer HMS Bramham. The destroyers recued the crew of the Santa Elisa when the passed by the abandoned ship which was afterwards finished off by a German bomber. The Dorset was proceeding without escort and lastly the damaged Brisbane Star was still keeping close to the Tunisian coast independently, intending to steer towards Malta after nightfall.
At 0730 hours, Rear-Admiral Burrough, sent back HMS Tartar and HMS Somali to Kelibia to assist HMS Manchester and then go to Gibraltar. When they arrived they found out that the Manchester had been scuttled several hours earlier so they rescued those of her crew that had not reached the shore yet and then made off to Gibraltar as ordered. Besides crew of the Manchester they also picked up survivors from the Almeria Lykes and Wairangi.
The next encounter with the enemy was an air attack on the main body of the convoy at 0800 hours by German bombers. About 12 Ju.88’s made a shallow diving attack coming down from 6000 feet to 2000 feet to drop their bombs. Two dived on the Waimarama hitting her several times and she blew up immediately, one of the bombers was even destroyed in the explosion. HMS Ledbury saved some of her crew out of the blazing sea. At 0925 hours, when the Ohio, Port Chalmers and Dorset where with the main body again, a few Ju.87’s escorted by Italian fighters attacked. They dived down to 1500 to 1000 feet. HMS Kenya leading the port column, and the Ohio last ship but one in the starboard column, had narrow escapes. One of the enemy aircraft crashed on board the Ohio just after having released it’s bomb after being damaged by gunfire from the Ohio and HMS Ashanti. Another aircraft was claimed to have been shot down by fighters from Malta that had been patrolling overhead since daybreak.
Arrivals at Malta 13-15 August 1942.
At 1050 hours, about 20 bombers, mostly Ju.88’s with a few Ju.87’s, came in to attack. Target was the Ohio and she received four or five near misses and her engines were disabled. At the same time the Rochester Castle in the port column was near-missed and set on fire but she continued with the convoy. The Dorset which was astern of her was hit and stopped. The convoy went on leaving the Dorset behind with the Ohio and two destroyers.
At 1125 hours the last air attack on the main body took place. Five Italian SM.79’s attacked with torpedoes and almost hit the Port Chalmers as the torpedo got stuck in the paravane. Further attacks on the main body were held of by fighters from Malta. At 1430 hours, four minesweepers from Malta joined the main body of the convoy, these were HMS Speedy (Lt.Cdr. A.E. Doran, RN, with the group’s commander A/Cdr. H.J.A.S. Jerome, RN on board), HMS Hebe, HMS Rye and HMS Heyte. Also with them were seven Motor Launches; ML 121, ML 126, ML 134, ML 135, ML 168, ML 459 and ML 462. HMS Rye and two of the ML’s were sent towards the damaged Ohio which was ‘vital for Malta’, according to A/Cdr. Jerome.
At 1600 hours, Rear-Admiral Burrough, set course to the west with his two cruisers and with five destroyers. The Port Chalmers, Melbourne Star and Rochester Castle arrived in Grand Harbour around 1800 hours with the force of A/Cdr. Jerome. The Rochester Castle was by that time very low in the water, she had just made it into port on time.
Out were still the Ohio, Dorset and the Brisbane Star. The valuable Ohio had been helpless with HMS Penn and HMS Bramham. When HMS Rye arrived at 1730 hours, HMS Penn took the Ohio in tow. Meanwhile HMS Bramham was sent to the Dorset but soon afterwards German bombers came again and the ships were attacked repeatedly until dark. Both merchantman were hit around 1900 hours and the Dorset sank.
At daylight on the 14th HMS Ledbury arrived to help bringing the Ohio to Malta. HMS Speedy also soon arrived on the scene with two ML’s. The rest of his force he had sent to search for the Brisbane Star. At 1045 hours, enemy aircraft made their last attempt, causing the parting of the tow. Fighter from Malta shot down two of the attackers. The tow was passed again and the slow procession went on and in the morning of the 15th the vital tanker finally reached Malta.
The Brisbane Star had by then also arrived. She left the Tunisian coast at dusk on the 13th. Aircraft had attacked her unsuccessfully and one of the attackers was shot down by a Beaufighter escort that had been sent from Malta. She arrived at Malta in the afternoon of the 14th.
Italian surface ships to operate against the convoy ?
The convoy had experienced the violence of the enemy in every shape except that of an attack by large surface ships. Yet Italian cruisers and destroyers had been at sea to intercept and attack it. Two light cruiser had left Cagliari in the evening of 11 August 1942 and the heavy cruisers Gorizia and Bolzano from Messina, and a light cruiser from Naples had sailed on the morning of the 12th. That evening reconnaissance aircraft reported one heavy and two light cruisers with eight destroyers about 80 nautical miles to the north of the western tip of Sicily and steering south. It would have been possible for this force to meet the convoy at dawn on the 13th so the shadowing aircraft was therefore ordered in plain language to illuminate and attack. This apparently influenced the Italians as they had limited air cover and they turned back at 0130/13 when near Cape San Vito. At 0140 hours the aircraft reported that it had dropped its bombs but no hits had been obtained. Similar orders were signalled, in plain language, to relief shadowers and to report the position of the enemy force to the benefit of imaginary Liberator bombers in case the Italians would change their minds and turn back. They however held on to the eastward.
The submarine HMS P 42 sighted them around 0800/13 off Stromboli and attacked with four torpedoes claiming two hits. She had in fact hit the heavy cruiser Bolzano which was able to proceed northwards and the light cruiser Muzio Attendolo which managed to reach Messina with her bows blown off. The other cruisers went to Naples. Following the attack P 42 was heavily depth charged by the destroyers but managed to escape.
In fact the following Italian ships had been at sea; heavy cruisers Gorizia, Trieste, Bolzano, light cruisers Eugenio di Savoia Raimondo Montecuccoli, Muzio Attendolo. They were escorted by eleven destroyers; Ascari, Aviere, Camicia Nera, Corsaro, Fuceliere, Geniere, Legionaro, Vincenzo Gioberti, Alfredo Oriani, Grecale and Maestrale.
The return to Gibraltar.
The British ships returning to Gibraltar had better fortune. Having left the convoy off Malta in the afternoon of the 13th, they rounded Cape Bon around 0130/14 and from that point until past Zembra Island they successful ran the gauntled of E-boats laying in wait.
at 0450/14, near the Fratelli Rocks, a submarine fired torpedoes at HMS Ashanti from the surface. She was nearly rammed by HMS Kenya, which was next astern of the ‘flagship’ (Rear-Admiral Burrough was still in HMS Ashanti). The inevitable shadowers arrived soon after daylight to herald their air attacks that began at 0730 hours. They lasted until around 1315 hours. German bombers came in first with three attemps by a few Ju.88’s. This was followed by a more severe attack with about 30 bombers, Ju-88’s and Ju-87’s between 1030 and 1050 hours. An hour later 15 Savoia high-level bombers attacked followed until 1315 hours by torpedo-carrying Savoia’s. Around 20 aircraft attacking single or in pairs. Also aircraft are though to be laying mines ahead. Several ships were near missed, but no further damage was sustained. After these attacks the British were left alone and in the evening they joined ‘Force Z’.
Vice-Admiral Syfret had gone as far west as 01’E where he ordered the damaged carrier HMS Indomitable to proceed to Malta with HMS Rodney and a destroyer screen (which). He then turned back to the east to make rendez-vous with Rear-Admiral Burrough. They arrived at Gibraltar on the 15th.
A few hours before they arrived the damaged HMS Nigeria and her escort had also entered port, as had HMS Tartar, HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali. On her way back HMS Nigeria had been attacked by torpedo-bombers and a submarine but she had not been hit.
Out of the fourteen ships that had sailed only five arrived ‘safe’ at Malta. This was not a very high score also given the very heavy escort that had been provided also taken in mind that an aircraft carrier, a light cruiser, an AA cruiser an a destroyer had been lost and two heavy cruiser had been damaged. But the convoy had to meet very heavy air attacks by over 150 bombers and 80 torpedo aircraft, all in the space of two days. Also these aircraft were protected by fighter in much greater strength that the carriers and Malta could provide. And there were also the enemy submarines and E-boats.
The spirit in which to operation was carried out appears in Vice-Admiral Syfret’s report: ‘ Tribute has been paid to the personnel of His Majesty’s Ships, both the officers and men will desire to give first place to the conduct, courage, and determination of the masters, officers, and men of the merchant ships. The steadfast manner in which these ships pressed on their way to Malta through all attacks, answering every maneuvering order like a well trained fleet unit, was a most inspiring sight. Many of these fine men and their ships were lost. But the memory of their conduct will remain an inspiration to all who were privileged to sail with them. ‘ (14)
19 Jan 1943
British destroyer HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN) and the Canadian corvette HMCS Port Arthur (T/A/Lt.Cdr. E.T. Simmons, DSC, RCNVR) sank the Italian submarine Tritone (offsite link) (Cdr. Paolo Monechi / 26 dead.) near Bougie, Algeria in position 37°06'N, 05°22'E. The Italian submarine was on it's first war patrol. She had been commissioned on 10 October 1942.
20 Apr 1943
The battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. J.W.A. Waller, RN) departed Gibraltar for Scapa Flow. She was escorted by the destroyers HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Velox (Lt. G.B. Barstow, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, DSC, RN).
At 1550/22, HMS Antelope, HMS Velox and HMS Wishart were detached. They arrived back at Gibraltar on April, 24th.
Around midnight during the night of 24/25 April, HMS Matchless, HMS Meteor and ORP Piorun were detached to Londonderry to fuel. They had been reliever by the destroyers HMCS Iroquois (Cdr. W.B.L. Holms, RCN), HMS St. Marys (Lt. D.B.G. Dumas, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Stevenstone (Lt. P.B.N. Lewis, DSC, RN). (15)
18 Nov 1943
HMS Unshaken (Lt. J. Whitton, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Gibraltar together with HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Wallace, DSC, RN), HMS Antelope (Cdr. J.G. Gould, RN) and HMS Wishart (Lt. J.A. Holdsworth, RN). (17)
9 Apr 1944
During the night of 9/10 April 1944, HMS Vampire (Lt. C.W. Taylor, RNR), conducted A/S exercises off Gibraltar with HMS Antelope (Cdr. J.G. Gould, RN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Wallace, DSC, RN). (18)
- Personal communication
- ADM 53/108475
- ADM 199/361
- ADM 199/376
- ADM 234/318
- File 2.12.03.6387 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
- ADM 234/322
- ADM 53/114606
- File 2.12.03.6388 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
- ADM 199/424
- File 2.12.03.6369 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
- ADM 234/353
- ADM 53/116216
- ADM 199/651 + ADM 234/353
- ADM 53/117879 + ADM 199/767
- ADM 173/18393
- ADM 173/18418
- ADM 173/19337
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.
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