HMS Vidette (D 48)
Destroyer of the Admiralty V & W class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Class||Admiralty V & W|
|Mod||Long range escort|
|Built by||A. Stephen & Sons Ltd. (Glasgow, Scotland)|
|Ordered||30 Jun 1916|
|Laid down||1 Feb 1917|
|Launched||28 Feb 1918|
|Commissioned||27 Apr 1918|
Reconstruction to Long Range Escort at Sheerness Dockyard was finished in January 1943.
HMS Vidette is not listed as active unit in the July 1945 Navy list
Sold to be broken up for scrap on 4 March 1947.
Commands listed for HMS Vidette (D 48)
Please note that we're still working on this section.
|1||Cdr. (retired) Denys Royds Brocklebank, RN||15 Jun 1939||Jul 1940|
|2||Lt. Eric Norman Walmsley, RN||Jul 1940||late 1942|
|3||Lt.Cdr. Raymond Hart, DSC, RN||21 Dec 1942||6 Nov 1943|
|4||Cdr. Sir Peter William Gretton, DSO, DSC, OBE, RN||6 Nov 1943||1 Dec 1943|
|5||Lt.Cdr. Raymond Hart, DSC, RN||1 Dec 1943||Mar 1944|
|6||Lt. Percival John Stoner, RN||Mar 1944||14 Apr 1944|
|7||T/A/Lt.Cdr. George Stephen Woolley, RNVR||14 Apr 1944||mid 1945|
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Notable events involving Vidette include:
16 Jun 1940
Dakar, the French battleship Richelieu and the fall of France Timespan; 16 June to 7 July 1940.
The fall of France, 16 June 1940.
On 16 June 1940, less then six weeks after the invasion of France and the low countries had started on May 10th, all military resitance in France came to an end. The question of control of the French fleet had thus become, almost overnight, one of vital importance, for if it passed into the hands of the enemy the whole balance of sea power would be most seriously disturbed. It was therefore policy of H.M. Government to prevent, at all costs, the French warships based on British and French harbours overseas from falling into the hands of Germany.
The bulk of the French fleet was at this time based in the Mediterranean. There drastic steps were taken to implement this policy. Elsewhere the most important units were the two new battleships completing, the Jean Bart at St. Nazaire and more importantly as she was almost complete, the Richelieu, at Brest.
Events during the Franco-German negotiations 17-25 June 1940 and politics.
It was on the 17th of June 1940, when the newly-formed Pétain Cabinet asked the Germans to consider ‘honourable’ peace terms in order to stop the fighting in France. At 1516 (B.S.T.) hours that day the Admiralty issued orders that British ships were not to proceed to French ports. On receipt of these orders Vice-Admiral George D’Oyly Lyon, Commander-in-Chief South Atlantic, ordered the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (Capt R.F.J. Onslow, DSC, MVO, RN) then on her way to Dakar after a patrol off the Canary Islands to proceed to Freetown instead at her best speed. At the same time he recalled the British SS Accra which had sailed from Freetown for Dakar at 1730 hours (zone +1) with 850 French troops on board. She returned to Freetown at 0800/18. The British transport City of Paris with 600 French troops on board from Cotonou was ordered to put into Takoradi. On the 18th the Commander-in-Chief was also informed by Commander Jermyn Rushbrooke, RN, the British Naval Liaison Officer at Dakar that the Commander-in-Chief of the French Navy, Admiral Darlan had ordered Admiral Plancon at Dakar to continue fighting and also that the shore batteries and AA personnel there had declared for the British. At 0245/18 Vice-Admiral Lyon passed this information to the Admiralty, cancelled his orders to HMS Hermes to proceed to Freetown and directed her with the armed merchant cruisers HMS Carnarvon Castle (Capt. M.J.C. de Meric, RN) and HMS Mooltan (Capt.(Retd.) G.E. Sutcliff, RN), which were on passage to Freetown from the Western Approaches, to proceed to Dakar at full speed in order to strengthen the French morale. That afternoon the Admiralty ordered HMS Delhi (Capt. A.S. Russell, RN) to leave Gibraltar and proceed to Dakar and join the South Atlantic Station. She left Gibraltar on the 19th with an arrival date of the 23rd. In the morning of the 18th the French troopship Banfora reached Freetown, from Port Bouet, Ivory Coast with 1000 troops on board, and sailed for Dakar without delay. The French armed merchant cruiser Charles Plumier, which had been on patrol south of the Cape Verde Islands reached Dakar at 1015/18.
Meanwhile the British Naval Liaison Officer, Dakar’s signal had been followed by a report from the Naval Control Service Officer at Duala that an overwhelming spirit existed amongst the military and civilian population of the French Cameroons to continue fighting on the British side, but that they required lead, as the Governer was not a forceful character; but that morning the Governor of Nigeria informed the Commander-in-Chief that he considered steps to be taken to prevent a hostile move from Fernando Po (off the entrance to the Cameroon River). Accordingly, at 1845/18, the armed merchant cruiser HMS Bulolo (A/Capt. C.H. Petrie, RN) sailed from Freetown at 14 knots to show herself off San Carlos on the morning of the 23rd, and thence to anchor of Manoka in the Cameroon River the next day (her draught prevented her from reaching Duala). A/Capt. Petrie was then to proceed to Duala and call a conference.
It was difficult to arrive at a clear appreciation of the situation in French West-Africa but on the morning of the 19th June the Commander-in-Chief informed the Admiralty that, as the evidence pointed to an established resolve on the part of the West-African Colonies to join Great Britain whatever happened, he intended to allow French troop movements to continue. This he anticipated would avoid French exasperation and mistrust. During the early afternoon he heard from the Governors of Nigeria and the Gold Coast that French officers and non-commissioned officers were planning to leave the Cameroons and to join the British forces in Nigeria. At 1900/19 the Commander-in-Chief held a conference with the Governor of Sierra Leone at which it was decided that the Governor should cable home urging immediate action to persuade the French colonial troops and authorities to remain in their territories and hold their colonies against all attacks. In the evening the Commander-in-Chief reported to the Admiralty that French Guinea was determined to keep fighting on the British side. Meanwhile the Governor-General of French Equatorial Africa at Brazzaville was wavering and suggested leading his troops to the nearest British Colony. Late that night, still on the 19th, the Commander-in-Chief informed him that it was essential that he should remain at his post and that it was the expressed intention of French West Africa to fight on to victory.
Next morning, on the 20th, the Admiralty informed the Commander-in-Chief that the new French battleship Richelieu (about 95% complete) had departed Brest for Dakar on the 18th. Her sister ship, Jean Bart (about 77% complete) had left St. Nazaire for Casablanca on the 19th. During the afternoon of the 20th the British Liaison Officer at Dakar reported that according to the French Admiral at Dakar the French Government had refused the German armistice terms and would continue the fight in France. This was entirely misleading. For nearly two days the Commander-in-Chief had no definite information till at noon on 22 June when a BB C broadcast announced the signing of a armistice between France and Germany, which was to followed by one between France and Italy. Still there was much uncertainty, and the rest of the day was apparently spent in waiting for news. Early next morning, the 23rd June, the Admiralty informed the Commander-in-Chief that the French Bordeaux Government had signed an armistice with Germany. As the terms were not fully known the attitude of the French Navy remained uncertain. Shortly after 0200/23 the Admiralty gave orders that HMS Hermes was to remain at Dakar, and gave the Commander-in-Chief the text of the British Government’s appeal to the French Empire and to Frenchmen overseas to continue the war on the British side. The final collapse of France naturally exercised an important influence on the dispositions and movements of the South Atlantic forces. Also on the 23rd the cruiser HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and the destroyer HMS Watchman (Lt.Cdr. E.C.L. Day, RN) departed Gibraltar for Dakar and Casablanca respectively, and the same morning HMS Bulolo arrived off Fernando Po and showed herself of San Carlos and Santa Isabel. At noon she anchored off Manoka, in the Cameroon River, in the hope of restoring morale at Duala. Meanwhile HMS Mooltan had arrived at Freetown from Dakar and the United Kingdom, and during the afternoon (1500/23) the armed merchant cruiser HMS Maloja (A/Capt. V. Hammersley-Heenan, RN) reached Dakar from the Northern Patrol to join the Freetown escort force. Half an hour later the Richelieu and escorting destroyer Fleuret arrived at Dakar.
For a time the attitude of the French Governor-General at Dakar, the French North African colonies and the French Mediterranean Fleet, and the battleship Richelieu remained in doubt. Then owning to the anticipated difficulty of maintaining French salaries and supplies if the French did not accept the British offer, the situation at Dakar rapidly deteriorated, and by the evening of the 23rd reached a critical state. Early on the 24th, therefore, the Admiralty ordered the Commander-in-Chief to proceed there as soon as possible. The Commander-in-Chief replied that he intended to proceed there in the ex-Australian seaplane carrier HMS Albatross (Cdr. W.G. Brittain, RN), which was the only available ship, and expected to reach Dakar around noon on the 25th. At 1015/24 he left Freetown and reached Dakar around 1600/25. Meanwhile the Richelieu had put to sea. From then on the naval operations centred mainly on the battleship.
The problem of the Richelieu, 25-26 June 1940.
The Richelieu which had been landing cadets at Dakar, had sailed with the Fleuret at 1315/25 for an unknown destination. She was shadowed by an aircraft from HMS Hermes until 1700 hours. She was reported to be steering 320° at 18 knots. At 1700 hours the Admiralty ordered HMS Dorsetshire to shadow her, and at 2200 hours HMS Dorsetshire reported herself as being in position 16°40’N, 18°35’W steering 225° at 25 knots, and that she expected to make contact with the Richelieu at midnight. At 2126 hours, the Admiralty ordered the Vice-Admiral aircraft carriers (Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN) in HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) to proceed with dispatch to the Canary Islands with HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN) and five destroyers (actually only four sailed with them; HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN) and HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, RN)). They departed Gibraltar in the morning of the 26th.
Early on the 26th, the Admiralty informed the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, and the Vice-Admiral, aircraft carriers, that His Majesty’s Government had decided that the Richelieu was to be captured and taken into a British port. They were to take every step to avoid bloodshed and to use no more force then was absolutely necessary. It was understood that the French battleship had H.A. ammunition on board but no main armament ammunition, that forenoon however, the British Liaison Officer Brest reported that she had embarked 15” ammunition before leaving there. HMS Hood was to perform this task if possible but that there were a risk that the Richelieu might get away before her arrival, or if she tried to enter a neutral port such as La Luz in the Canaries, HMS Dorsetshire was to take action. After the capture she was to be taken to Gibraltar. The battleship HMS Resolution (Capt. O. Bevir, RN) was detailed to intercept the Jean Bart in case she would depart Casablanca and deal with her in the same way.
Vice-Admiral Wells reported that HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hood and their escorting destroyers would pass through position 36°00’N, 06°35’W at 0300/26, steering 225° at 20 knots. HMS Dorsetshire, meanwhile, having seen nothing of the Richelieu by 0015/26, had proceeded to the northwestward, and then at 0230/26 turned to course 030°. At 0530/26 she catapulted her Walrus aircraft to search to the northward, and at 0730 hours it sighted the Richelieu in position 19°27’N, 18°52’W on course 010°, speed 18.5 knots. Eleven minutes later she altered course to 195°. The aircraft proceeded to shadow, but missed HMS Dorsetshire when it tried to return and in the end was forced to land on the sea at 0930 hours about 50 nautical miles to the southward of her. The Dorsetshire which had turned to 190° at 0905 hours was then in position 18°55’N, 17°52’W. She turned to search for her aircraft. Around noon she abandoned the search and steered 245° at 25 knots to intercept the Richelieu, which she correctly assumed to be continuing to the southward. She made contact soon after 1430 hours and at 1456 hours reported that she was shadowing the battleship from astern.
In the meantime the French Admiral at Dakar had informed Vice-Admiral Lyon that the ‘Admiral Afrique’ had ordered the Richelieu and the Fleuret to return to Dakar. At 1512 hours the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic asked the Admiralty whether, under these circumstances, HMS Dorsetshire was to attempt to capture the Richelieu. He was confident that any interference would antagonise all the local authorities and the French people in general. He also pointed out that His Majesty’s ships at Dakar would be placed in a most difficult position.
At 1630/26, HMS Dorsetshire, reported that she was in position 17°21’N, 18°22’W with the Richelieu within easy visual distance. Relations between the two ships remained cordial. The French ship had not trained her guns when she sighted the Dorsetshire, and she expressed regret that, having no aircraft embarked, she was unable to co-operate in the search for her missing Walrus aircraft but she signalled to Dakar for a French plane to assist. In view of her declared intention to return to Dakar, Capt. Martin took no steps to capture her and at 1700 hours he was ordered by the Admiralty to only shadow the Richelieu. At the same time HMS Hermes left Dakar to search for HMS Dorsetshire’s Walrus.
Shortly after 1900/26, the Admiralty ordered Ark Royal, HMS Hood and their four escorting destroyers to return to Gibraltar. At 2015 hours, the Admiralty ordered HMS Dorsetshire to cease shadowing the Richelieu and to search for her missing Walrus. On receipt of these orders she parted company with the Richelieu and Fleuret at 2300/26, being then some 70 nautical miles from Dakar. HMS Dorsetshire then proceeded to the north-north-eastward at 23 knots.
At first light on the 27th, HMS Hermes, then some 30 nautical miles to the southward, flew off seven aircraft to assist in the search. It was however HMS Dorsetshire herself which eventually found and recovered her aircraft at 1107/27. Meanwhile the Richelieu had arrived off Dakar at 0900/27 but did not enter the port. Shortly afterwards she made off the the north yet again. HMS Hermes then steered to the northward to be in a position to intercept if needed. Nothing was seen of the Richelieu until she was again located off Dakar at 0500/28. HMS Hermes, by that time about 400 nautical miles north of Dakar, was ordered to proceed southwards and return to Dakar.
The Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, at Dakar 26-29 June 1940.
While these movements were going on at sea, the position at Dakar was steadily deteriorating. At about 1830/26, the Commander-in-Chief had reported to the Admiralty that the French Admiral at Dakar had informed him, on Admiral Darlan’s instructions, that the presence of British warships at Dakar was in contrary to the terms of the Franco-German armistice. At 1700/26 (zone -1) however, the Admiralty had signalled to the Commander-in-Chief that, as the French codes were compromised, that French authorities could no longer be sure that orders came from Admiral Darlan but Admiral Plancon refused to question the authenticity of any signal he received. During the night the appointment of the British Liaison Officer at Dakar was terminated.
At 0500/27 the Richelieu was seen approaching Dakar, but 25 minutes later she turned to seaward again and the Commander-in-Chief ordered a Walrus aircraft from HMS Albatros to shadow her. That afternoon he informed the Admiralty that the Richelieu had put to sea to escort five French armed merchant cruisers [according to another source these were the armed merchant cruisers (four in number and not five) El D’Jezair, El Kantara, El Mansour, Ville d’Oran and the large destroyers Milan and Epervier which came from Brest] to Dakar. The Admiralty was clearly anxious that the Richelieu should not escape and at 0021/28, they ordered Vice-Admiral Wells with HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hood escorted by four destroyers (HMS Faulknor, HMS Fearless, HMS Foxhound and HMS Vidette (Cdr.(Retd.) D.R. Brocklebank, RN) to proceed to the Canaries to intercept her if she continued to steam to the northward. These ships (with HMS Escapade instead of HMS Vidette) had only returned to Gibraltar late the previous evening from their first sortie to intercept the Richelieu. Now they left again around 0600/28 but were quickly ordered to return to Gibraltar and were back in port around noon.
Around 0500/28 HMS Dorsetshire, proceeding back towards Dakar after having picked up her lost aircraft encountered the Richelieu about 10 nautical miles north of Dakar. Admiral Wells was then ordered by the Admiralty to return to Gibraltar. The rapid deterioration of the situation in West Africa is clearly shown in a series of signals which passed between the Commander-in-Chief South Atlantic and the Admiralty on 28 June. At 1100 hours, the Commander-in-Chief signalled that the French had refused HMS Dorsetshire permission to enter Dakar and that she was therefore proceeding to Freetown with all dispatch to fuel and return to the Dakar area as soon as possible. HMS Dorsetshire arrived at Freetown at 0545/29. At 1415/28 the Commander-in-Chief informed the Admiralty that the French Admiral at Dakar had issued orders to prevent H.M. ships from communicating with, or receiving stores, from the shore. In reply he had told the French Admiral that HMS Hermes would enter Dakar on the 29th to embark aircraft stores and fuel, and that he himself would sail from there in HMS Albatros after seeing the commanding officer of HMS Hermes. At 1515/28 the Commander-in-Chief informed the Admiralty of the steps he would take in case the Richelieu would proceed to sea again. The Admiralty then issued orders that Dakar was to be watched by an 8” cruiser within sight of the French port by dayand within three miles by night. HMS Hermes was to remain off Dakar until relieved by HMS Dorsetshire after this ship had returned from fueling at Freetown.
HMS Hermes arrived at Dakar at 0900/29. During the day she embarked Fleet Air Arm personnel and stores which had been landed there earlier. She then completed with fuel and sailed at 1800/29. She then patrolled off Dakar until she was relieved by HMS Dorsetshire at 1800/30. The Commander-in-Chief had sailed from Dakar in HMS Albatros at 1030/29. He arrived at Freetown at 1800/30 and transferred his flag to the accommodation ship Edinburgh Castle.
Deterioration of Franco-British relations, 1 – 3 July 1940.
The first few days of July saw a swift deterioration of Franco-British relations everywhere. The paramount importance of keeping the French fleet out of the hands of the enemy forced the British Government to take steps. According to the armistice terms the French fleet had to assemble at ports under German or Italian control and be demilitarized. To the Government it was clear that this would mean that the French ships would be brought into action against us. The Government therefore decided to offer the French naval commanders the following options; - to continue the fight against the Axis, to completely immobilization in certain ports or to demilitarize or sink their ships.
Already a powerful squadron, known as ‘Force H’ had been assembled at Gibraltar, in order to fill the strategic naval vacuum in the Western Mediterranean caused by the defection of the French fleet, and on 30 June Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville hoisted his flag in HMS Hood. His first task was to present the British alternatives to the Admiral commanding the French ships at Oran, failing the acceptance of one of them, he was to use force.
To return to West-Africa, HMS Hermes reached Freetown with the Fleet Air Arm passengers and stores from Dakar on 2 July. Early that afternoon the Commander-in-Chief asked the Consul General at Dakar to obtain, if possible, assurance from the French Admiral there that if British warships were not allowed to use Dakar, enemy men-of-war should also be forbidden to use it. At 1915/2, the ex-British Liaison Officer, who had not yet left Dakar, reported the arrival of a British merchant ship which had not been diverted. He also reported that the French ships Katiola and Potiers might be sailing for Casablanca, escorted by armed merchant cruisers and destroyers. The Admiralty however ordered HMS Dorsetshire, which was maintaining the watch on Dakar, to take no action. At 2310/2 the Commander-in-Chief asked the Consul-General whether there was any chance of the Polish and Belgian bullion which was in the armed merchant cruiser Victor Schoelcher being transferred to either the Katiola or Potiers. He received no reply, and the continued silence of the British Consul led him to believe that the Consul’s signals were either being held up or mutilated.
Next forenoon, 3 July, the Commander-in-Chief informed the Admiralty that he intended to divert all British shipping in the South Atlantic from all French ports. Early that morning Vice-Admiral Somerville’s Force H had arrived off Oran. For the next ten hours strenuous efforts were made to persuade the French Admiral to accept one of the British alternatives, but without success. At 1554 hours (zone -1) Force H sadly opened fire on the ships of their former ally at Mers-el-Kebir, inflicting heavy damage and grievous loss of life. None could predict the result of these measures on the Franco-British relations, but it was sure they would not be improved.
During the afternoon of July 3rd the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, on Admiralty instructions, directed all British Naval Control Officers and Consular Shipping Advisers to order all Biritsh and Allied ships to leave French ports as soon as possible, if necessary disregarding French instructions. All British warships in French ports were to remain at short notice and to prepared for every eventuality. The only warship in a French port within the limits of the South Atlantic Station at the time was HMS Bulolo, which was at Manoka in the Cameroons. At 2048 hours (B.S.T.) the Admiralty ordered all British warships in French ports to proceed to sea and at 2223 hours the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic ordered HMS Bulolo to proceed to Lagos, where she was to remain with HMS Dragon (Capt. R.G. Bowes-Lyon, MVO, RN) until further orders.
HMS Dorsetshire off Dakar, 3-7 July 1940.
Meanwhile HMS Dorsetshire had continued her watch off Dakar. On 3 July 1940 there were sixteen French warships and seven auxiliaries in the harbour. This number included the battleship Richelieu, the large destroyers Fleuret, Milan, Epervier, the armed merchant cruisers El D’Jezair, El Kantara, El Mansour, Ville d’Oran, Ville d’Alger, Victor Schoelcher and Charles Plumier, the colonial sloop Bougainville, the submarines Le Heros and Le Glorieux. At 0917/3 the Admiralty asked the Commander-in-Chief for the Richelieu’s berth at Dakar. HMS Dorsetshire informed him that at 1125/3 she was in position 045°, Cape Manuel lighthouse, 2.6 nautical miles, ships head 230°. Captain Martin seems to have drawn his own conclusions from this question and at 1350 hours he signalled to the the Commander-in-Chief his opinion that the Richelieu’s propellers could be severely damaged by depth charges dropped from a fast motor dinghy, and he asked permission to carry out such an attack about 2300 hours that night. Vice-Admiral Lyon replied that he had no instructions from the Admiralty to take offensive action against the Richelieu. At 1625 hours, however, the Admiralty ordered HMS Dorsetshire to get ready, but to await approval before actually carrying out an attack. This was followed at 1745 hours by a signal that the proposed attack was not approved as it was feared to be ineffective and for the time being the idea was ‘shelved’. [More on this idea later on.]
At 1904/3, the Admiralty ordered HMS Hermes to leave Freetown with all despatch to join HMS Dorsetshire off Dakar at 0500/5. At 2112/3 the Admiralty ordered HMS Dorsetshire to shadow the Richelieu if she sailed and proceeded northwards. If the vessel however made for the French West Indies, the Dorsetshire was to make every effort to destroy her by torpedo attack, and, if that failed, by ramming [ !!! ]. Late that evening the French Government decreed that all British ships and aircraft were forbidden, under penalty of being fired upon without warning, to approach within 20 nautical miles of French territory at home or overseas. Just before midnight the Admiralty gave orders that HMAS Australia (Capt. R.R. Stewart, RN), after refueling at Freetown, was to join HMS Dorsetshire off Dakar. At 0926/4, the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic ordered HMS Hermes and HMAS Australia to rendez-vous with HMS Dorsetshire 21 nautical miles from Dakar instead of the 15 nautical miles previously arranged and at 1037 hours he informed all three ships that as the French Air Force and submarines had orders to attack British ships off Casablanca and Dakar. He therefore issued orders that French aircraft and submarines were to be attacked and destroyed on sight. During that afternoon the Prime Minister announced in the House of Commons that, as an alternative to the German demands, French warships might proceed to the West Indies. At 2041 hours the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic asked whether, in view of this, the Admiralty intended that the Richelieu should be attacked if she was to proceed to the West Indies. Before this message was received, a signal was sent at 2050 hours cancelling the orders for the Richelieu’s destruction and at about midnight the Admiralty directed that she should be shadowed only.
Early on the 5th the Consul-General at Dakar reported that the merchant vessel Argyll with Commander J. Rushbrooke, RN, the ex-British Naval Liaison Officer, Dakar and his staff onboard, had, in accordance with instructions from the French authorities left Dakar the previous day but that she was recalled on reaching the outer boom, an order which had led the Consul-General to make a protest. Soon after midnight 4/5 July orders were received from the Admiralty that the sloop HMS Milford (Capt. R.J. Shaw, MBE, RN) should be sent to join the patrol off Dakar to provide A/S protection. She left Freetown for Dakar at 1000/5.
At 0723/5, in view of the French order forbidding the approach of British vessels and aircraft within 20 nautical miles from French territory at home and overseas, the Commander-in-Chief ordered his ships off Dakar not to approach within 20 nautical miles of the shore and replied in the affirmative when HMS Dorsetshire asked whether this rule also applied by night. During the afternoon he informed his command that French warships was orders not to attack the British unless they were within these 20 nautical miles. He later added that also submarines had the same orders.
At 1853/5, the Commander-in-Chief ordered HMS Dorsetshire, HMAS Australia, HMS Hermes and HMS Milford not to attack French submarines outside the 20 mile zone unless they were obviously hostile. An Admiralty report then came in the the Richelieu was reported to have put to sea but HMS Dorsetshire quickly contradicted that report.
Dispositions off Dakar at 0300 on 7 July 1940.
At 0300/7, two of the British warships off Dakar which were under the command of Capt. Martin (being the senior officer) were patrolling of Dakar (HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Hermes). The third ship (HMAS Australia) was patrolling about 35 to 40 nautical miles further to the north. The fourth ship HMS Milford was approaching Dakar from the south. At 0307 hours a signal from the Admiralty was received which gave a completely different complexion to their operations.
28 Jun 1940
HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN) departed Gibraltar for operations. They returned later the same day.
[See the event ' Dakar, the French battleship Richelieu and the fall of France ' for 16 June 1940 for more information.]
2 Jul 1940
Operations Catapult and Lever.
Operations agains the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir.
Timespan: 2 to 6 July 1940.
Polical situation June / July 1940.
The situation created by the collapse of French military resistance in June 1940 brought to the forefront the question of the disposal of the powerful modern French Fleet. With France eliminated from the contest, Great Britain would stand virtually alone, separated only by the English Channel from the triumphant German Army and threatened by the largest Air Force in the World. On her command of the sea depended her very existence. Suddenly to lose the co-operation of the French Fleet would be a severe blow, but it was a matter of life and death that it should not be added to those of her opponents and used against her.
In circumstances of increasing chaos the marsh of events was swift. On 11 June 1940 the French Prime Minister and the French Government retired to Tours, and three days later moved on to Bordeaux. On the same day the Germans entered Paris.
It was the French Prime Minister who had declared ‘We shall fight before Paris, we shall fight behind Paris. We shall shut ourselves up in one of our provinces and if they drive us out we shall go to north Africa and, if need be, to our American possessions. It was the French Prime Minister who asked the British Government on 16 June to release France from her treaty obligations. The Cabinet refused to do so asked for French warships to be despatched to British ports and offered an Act of Union. The offer fell on deaf ears. The French Prime Minister (Mr. M Reynaud) was no longer in power. He had been displaced in the night of 16/17 June by a defeatist group headed by Marshal Pétain, General Weygand, Admiral Darlan, Mr. Laval, Mr. Baudouin and other politicians.
Negotiations with Germany were opened on 17 June, when Marshal Pétain, in a letter to Hitler, asked if he was ready to sign with him, as between soldiers after the fight and in honour, terms that would put an end to the hostilities.
The British Government, receiving the news ‘with grief and amazement’ refused to release France from her treaty obligations, and announced its intention to continue the fight. Every effort was made to persuade the French Government to order the French Fleet to British ports, or to sink itself before armistice terms were discussed. But the situation was very confusing and no guarantees could be obtained. At the same time it was determined that, if all other courses failed, action should be taken to prevent any important French ships falling into the enemy’s hands. British offers of assistance to the French authorities in arranging for an evacuation from Marseilles to North African ports were declined.
The terms of the armistice signed by France were not made public until 25 June, the day on which the hostilities ended. The clauses effecting the French sea forces stated that the French Fleet was to be assembled in ports under German or Italian control and demilitarized.
It seemed clear to the British Government that in these clauses the enemy had merely provided themselves with a pretext for keeping the whole French Fleet in a state of readiness for action against us when an opportunity accurred. The British Government had evidence, too, that from 20 June the Germans were in possession of, and were using, French naval codes.
The first reactions to the armistice terms of the French naval, military and colonial authorities indicated a determination to fight on. This attitude, however, in face of instructions was however soon abandoned. The British Government consequently decided to offer the French Naval Commanders the following alternatives: to continue the fight; complete immobilisation in certain ports; to demilitarise or sink their ships. By no other means could the French Fleet be prevented from falling into the hands of the enemy.
Reports received from various sources indicated that, the senior French Naval Officers had elected to obey their central government, most junior Officers desired to continue the struggle. The men, divided in their loyalties and lacking firm leadership, were chiefly influenced by the fear of reprisals to their families.
The French Fleet at Oran, coast defences, etc.
The bulk of the French Fleet was distributed between Toulon and the French North African ports in the Western Mediterranean. A squadron of one battleship, four cruisers and a few destroyers was at Alexandria; operating with Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham’s Mediterranean Fleet. The new battleships Richelieu and Jean Bart which had been completing at Brest had sailed a few days before respectively for Dakar and Casablanca. But by far the most important concentration of French warships was at Mers-el-Kebir, under Vice-Admiral Gensoul.
The shore defences of Mers-el-Kebir cosisted of a battery of two 7.5” guns on top of a hill to the west of the harbour. The harbour entrance was protected by an anti-torpedo boom and anti-submarine booms. A mine net stretched from Cape Falcon to a point one mile north of Cape Canastel. The breakwater (30 feet high) and Fort Mers-el-Kebir (100 feet high) afforded a certain amount of protection to the side armour of the ships inside the harbour from short range gunfire. Also in the vicinity of Oran there was a battery of two 9.2” guns at Cape Canastel.
Assembly of ‘Force H’ at Gibraltar.
In order to fill the Allied vacuum in the Western Mediterranean, caused by the defection of the French Fleet, the Admiralty decided to assemble a strong force, to be known as Force H, at Gibraltar. On 27 June Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville was ordered to hoist his flag in the light cruiser HMS Aretusa and to proceed there to take command of ‘Force H’. His immediate task was to secure the transfer, surrender or destruction of the French ships at Mers-el-Kebir and Oran, so as to ensure that they could not fall into German or Italian hands. It was hoped that the employment of force would be unnecessary, but every preparation to use it was to be made. This was explained to him in an interview with the First Lord and the First Sea Lord.
The Vice-Admiral sailed from Spithead in HMS Arethusa on 28 June. During his passage to Gibraltar he was in constant communication with the Admiralty. On the 29th he received Admiralty message 0435/29, stating certain alternatives which it was proposed to offer the French. (a) to steam their ships to a British port. (b) to sink their ships. (c) to have their ships sunk by gunfire. Later in the day the Admiralty directed the submarines HMS Pandora and HMS Proteus to patrol off Algiers and Oran respectively in order to report any French movements, but not to attack. On the 30th they ordered the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft carriers (Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells) to establish a destroyer patrol 30 nautical miles to the west of Oran and that should the French battlecruisers Dunkerque and Strasbourg proceed to the westward, they were to be captured and taken to the United Kingdom.
Vice-Admiral Somerville arrived at Gibraltar on 30 June where he transferred his flag to the battlecruiser HMS Hood. He lost no time with discussing the matter with the Vice-Admiral North Atlantic (Vice-Admiral Sir D.B.N. North) and later with Vice-Admiral Wells, his senior officers and with two officers who had recently been attached to the French as liaison officers. All were strongly opposed to the use of force, believing that this would alienate the French completely and turn them from a defeated ally into an active enemy. So impressed was Vice-Admiral Somerville by these views that he communicated them to the Admiralty at 1230 hours on 1 July together with certain alternative proposals. He received a reply that evening that it was the firm intention of His Majesty’s Government that if the French would not accept (any of) the alternatives then being sent to him, their ships must be destroyed.
Meanwhile a plan of operation had been drawn up, and the Admiralty was informed that the earliest date for it’s execution would be A.M. 3 July. The operation was named ‘Catapult’.
Admiralty instructions to Vice-Admiral Somerville.
At 0426, 2 July, Vice-Admiral Somerville received his final instructions from the Admiralty in dealing with the French Fleet at Mers-el-Keber. These may be summarised as follows: A) Four alternatives were to be offered to the French: (1) To sail their ships to a British port to continue the fight with us. (2) To sail their ships with reduced crews to a British port from which the crews would be repatriated whenever desired. (3) To sail their ships with reduced crews to a French port in the West Indies. After arrival there they would either be demilitarised to our satisfaction, if so desired or to be entrusted to U.S.A. jurisdiction for the remainder of the war. The crews would be repatriated. (4) To sink their ships.
In case of alternatives 1 or 2 being adopted the ships were to be restrored to France at the conclusion of the war, or full ompensation would be paid if they were damaged meanwhile. If the French Admiral accepted alternative 2 but asked that the ships would not be used during the war, we would accept this condition for so long Germany and Italy observed the armistice terms. We particularly did not want to raise this point ourselves.
B) If the French Admiral refused to observe all the above alternatives and suggested demilitarisation of his ships to our satisfaction at their present berths acceptance of this further alternative was authorised, provided that the Flag Officer, ‘Force H’ was satisfied that the measures for demilitarization could be carried out under his supervision within six hours, so as to prevent the ships being brought to service for at least one year, even at a fully equipped dockyard port.
C) If none of the alternatives were accepted by the French, the Flag Officer ‘Force H’ was to endeavour to destroy the ships in Mers-el-Kebir, particularly the Dunkerque and Strasbourg, using all means at his disposal. Ships at Oran should also be destroyed, if this did not entail any considerable loss of civilian life.
As it was undesirable to have to deal with the French Fleet at sea, the Flag Officer ‘Force H’ was instructed to arrive in the vicinity of Oran at his selected time, to send emissaries ashore, and to take such action as he considered fit in the period before the given time limit expired.
A further signal timed 0108 contained the terms in which these demands were to delivered to Admiral Gensoul.
Plan for ‘Operation Catapult’.
A meeting of Flag and Commanding Officers was held during the forenoon of 2nd July, at which the orders for ‘Operation Catapult’ were explained and discussed.
Capt. C.S. Holland, of the Ark Royal, who had recently been Naval Attaché at Paris, had been selected to act as emissary assisted by Lt.Cdr’s A.Y. Spearman and G.P.S. Davies, lately employed as liaison officers. The destroyer HMS Foxhound was detailed to embark these officers. Captain Holland was instructed, if necessity arose, to question the French concerning their plan for demilitarisation at two hours’ notice which had been mentioned to Vice-Admiral North at Gibraltar, and to enquire whether the proposed measures would render the ships ‘ineffective for service during 12 months, even with dockyard assistance.’
The intention of the Flag Officer ‘Force H’, if he was obliged to use force was: a) To destroy morale, damage AA equipment and induce the French crews to abandon their ships by means of long range gunfire with the main armaments of his capital ships, assisted by aircraft spotting. b) Bombing by the aircraft of HMS Ark Royal with the same object. c) Torpedo attack by aircraft from HMS Ark Royal in order to cripple those ships exposed to torpedo fire. d) Sinking of ships still afloat by demolition parties from destroyers. e) The cruisers were to engage light craft or shore batteries as ordered.
The orders drawn up did not propose the laying of magnetic mines by aircraft from HMS Ark Royal, which was held to interference with the first two alternatives offered to the French but if needed this measure could be resorted to.
Attempts to Communicate with Admiral Gensoul.
At 1500 hours, 2nd July, destroyers sailed to carry out an A/S sweep in Gibraltar Bay and approaches and ‘Force H’ cleared harbour at 1700/2.
The composition of ‘Force H’ was as follows; battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), battleships HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Resolution (Capt. O. Bevir, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN) [as Capt. Holland had been embarked on the destroyer HMS Foxhound, it was probably Cdr. R.M.T. Taylor, RN who was temporary in command], light cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. Q.D. Graham, RN), HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C. Annesley, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN), HMS Escort (Lt.Cdr. J. Bostock, RN), HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. E.C.L. Turner, RN), HMS Keppel (Lt.Cdr.(Emgy.) E.G. Heywood-Lonsdale, RN), HMS Wrestler (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, RN), HMS Vortigern (Lt.Cdr. R.S. Howlett, RN) and HMS Vidette (Cdr.(Retd.) D.R. Brocklebank, RN).
The operations orders referred to the possibility of interference but the only evidence of them being even remotely on the alert was that at 2247/2 in position 36°12’N, 03°05’W HMS Vortigern reported a torpedo exploding ahead of her. This was indeed an attack by an Italian submarine, the Marconi. HMS Vortigern and HMS Vidette hunted the submarine for a little over an hour but without success.
At 0300/3, HMS Foxhound was sent ahead and arrived of Cape Falcon at 0545/3. Communication was established with the Port War Signal Station and at 0620 hours the following message was passed. ‘To Admiral Gensoul, The British Admiralty had sent Captain Holland to confer with you. The British Navy hopes that their proposals will enable you and the valiant and glorious French Navy to be by our side. In these circumstances your ships would remain yours and no one need to have anxiety for the future. A British fleet is at sea off Oran waiting to welcome you.’
Permission for HMS Foxhound to enter the port of Mers-el-Kebir was received at 0742 hours. She anchored at 0805/3, outside the net defence, in a position 1.6 nautical miles, 115° from Mers-el-Kebir lighthouse. Five minutes later the French Flag Lieutenant came alongside and informed Capt. Holland that Admiral Gensoul was unable to see him, but would sent his Chief of Staff.
Admiral’s Gensoul refusal to confer with Capt. Holland was emphasized when at 0847 hours HMS Foxhound received a signal from him requisting her to sail immediately. She weighted accordingly, leaving Capt. Holland and Lt.Cdr’s Spearman and Davies behind in her motor boat. Meeting the French Flag Lieutenant off the entrance, Capt. Holland handed him the written British proposals to be given to Admiral Gensoul, saying that he would await a reply. It was around 0935 hours when they reached Admiral Gensoul. The French ships were reported by air reconnaissance to be raising steam. At 1000 hours the Flag Lieutenant returned and handed over a written reply from Admiral Gensoul. It stated the same that had earlier been said to Vice-Admiral North that the French Fleet would never be surrendered and that force would be met by force.
Then followed a further exchange of written statements and a discussion with the French Chief of Staff who came out at 1109 hours. As it was evident that Admiral Gensoul was resolved not to see Capt. Holland, the latter returned on board HMS Foxhound to communicate with Vice-Admiral Somerville.
Meanwhile ‘Force H’ had arrived off Mers-el-Kebir at 0910/3 and by means of projectors transferred the following message (in French) ‘To Admiral Gensoul from Admiral Somerville. We hope most sincerely that the proposals will be acceptable and hat we shall ave you by our side.’
’Force H’ then proceeded to steam to and from across the bay while HMS Ark Royal, with a destroyer screen, was acting independently for flying off aircraft.
At 1140/3 Lt.Cdr. Spearman was sent in with a message from the Flag Officer ‘Force H’ that the French ships would not be allowed to leave harbour unless the terms were accepted. It was at this time that Capt. Holland signalled to the French Admiral, from HMS Foxhound, information of the action taken by Admiral Godfroy at Alexandria to demilitarise his ships. HMS Foxhound then proceeded outside the outer boom to a position inside visual signalling range.
British delegate received and terms refused.
Admiral Gensoul’s reply reached HMS Hood at 1227/3 and Vice-Admiral Somerville considering that it was unsatisfactory and indicated an intention to put to sea and fight, gave the order to mine the harbour entrance. Five mines were accordingly laid by aircraft inside the booms guarding the entrance to Mers-el-Kebir harbour.
It was Vice-Admiral Somerville’s first intention to open fire at 1330 hours but the time for a final answer was extended to 1500 hours on the strength of air reports that there was no immediate indication of the French ships proceeding to sea. In order to ensure the least possible delay, a signal was passed to Admiral Gensoul requisting him to hoist a large square flag at the masthead if he accepted the British terms.
These measures appeared to be effective, for at 1440 hours Admiral Gensoul signalled that he would receive a delegate for honourable discussion. This message forstalled, only by a few minutes, the despatch of a signal from Vice-Admiral Somerville notifying that he would proceed to destroy the French ships at 1530 hours. Despite Vice-Admiral Somerville’s suspicion that the French Admiral was temporizing, he authorised Capt. Holland to proceed, and the latter, in the motor boat from HMS Foxhound and accompanied by Lt.Cdr. Davies, reached the Dunkerque at 1615/3.
Captain Holland’s reception on board the Dunkerque was coldly formal. Admiral Gensoul was extremely indignant and angry. A lengthy discussion ensued, in which he emphasised that the use of force would range the whole French Navy against the British, and that in effect he rejected all conditions proposed stating that he would only obey orders from his Government and Admiral Darlan. It was evident to Captain Holland that it was only during this discussion that Admiral Gensoul began to realise that force might actually be used.
Whilst the discussion was proceeding an Admiralty message was received at 1646 hours by HMS Hood instructing Vice-Admiral Somerville to settle matters quickly or he would have reinforcements to deal with. A signal accordingly passed by visual and wireless at 1715 hours to Admiral Gensoul informing him that if one of the alternatives was not accepted by 1730 hours his ships would be sunk. At the same time action stations was sounded in the ships of the British Fleet.
A summary of Admiral Gensoul’s final statement was passed by signal from Capt. Holland to Vice-Admiral Somerville. It read ‘Admiral Gensoul says crews being reduced and if threatened by enemy would go Martinique or U.S.A. but this is not quite our proposition. Can get no nearer.’
This signal was received on board HMS Hood at 1729 hours. As it did not comply with any of the alternatives laid down, the air striking force from HMS Ark Royal was ordered to fly off and the battleships stood in towards the coast.
Captain Holland left the Dunkerque at 1725 hours. As he left ‘Action stations’ was being sounded in the French ships, all of which were by that time in an advanced state of readiness for sea, with tugs standing by and control positions manned.
Meanwhile signs of movement of French ships in adjacent harbour of Oran having been reported by air reconnaissance, two mines were laid in it’s entrance, and the destroyer HMS Wrestler was ordered to relieve HMS Vortigern on patrol there.
Action against the French ships at Mers-el-Kebir.
At 1754/3 fire was opened at 17500 yards. Aircraft were spotting. The line of fire was from the north-west, so that fire from the French ships was blanked to some extent by Mers-el-Kebir Fort, and risk of damage to civilian life and property reduced.
The four French capital ships and aviation transport were moored stern-on to the mole in the following order, from north-west to south-east; Dunkerque, Provence, Strasbourg, Bretagne and Commandant Teste while the remaining ships were moored on the west side of the harbour. The destroyers, according to an aircraft report, were underway inside the booms.
The effect of the opening salvoes was observed from the Foxhound’s motor boat. The first salvo fell short. The second hit the breakwater, sending large fragments of concrete flying through the air, which probably caused casualties amongst the crews of the ships. The third salvo fell amongst the ships and the battleship Bretagne blew up, a column of orange flame leaping into the sky, followed by an immense column of smoke several hundred feet high. Another smaller explosion indicated that a destroyer had blown up (Mogador). By this time the harbour was shrouded in smoke from explosions and fires. Direct spotting was almost impossible and air spotting most difficult. The French shore batteries and Dunkerque and Strasbourg opened fire about a minute after the first British salvo. The shore batteries were promptly engaged by HMS Arethusa, the older guns of HMS Enterprise being outranged. Heavy projectiles were soon falling near the British battleships as the French fire, at first very short, began to improve in accuracy. The observers in Foxhound’s motor boat recorded several direct hits on the French ships, another explosion with a sheet of orange flame from a battleship, and a direct hit on a large destroyer as she was leaving harbour.
None of the French projectiles hit, though a number of them fell close to – and in some cases straddled – the British ships. Some splinters caused some minor superficial damage in HMS Hood and injured one officer and a rating. After thirty-six salvoes of 15” the fire of the French ships died down, but hat of the forts became increasingly accurate. To avoid damage from the latter, course was altered 180° to port together and the ships were ordered to make smoke.
At 1803/3 as the French ships were no longer firing, ‘cease fire’ was ordered. Vice-Admiral Somerville considered that this would give them an opportunity to abandon their vessels and as the entrance to the harbour had been mined they would make no attempts to put to sea. Repeated signals were being receive in HMS Hood from the shore visual and wireless stations requisting fire to be discontinued, to which the reply was made: ‘unless I see your ships sinking, I shall open fire again’. Vice-Admiral Somerville then proceeded to the westward to take up a position from which, if necessary, the bombardment could be renewed without causing casualties to men in boats or exposing the British ships to unduly fire from the forts. He also deemed it prudent to stand out to sea to avoid the possibility of a surprise attack by aircraft under cover of the clouds of smoke then laying between his ships and the shore.
When the pall of smoke over Mers-el-Kebir harbour cleared away, the scene viewed from HMS Foxhound’s boat showed the Dunkerque, which had slipped from the mole, lying stopped in the harbour. The Provence appeared to have been hit, fires were burning in the Commandant Teste, while nothing could be seen of the Bretagne. Clear of the harbour and gathering speed fast were the Strasbourg and two destroyers (thought to be Mogador-class), steering eastward close under the land.
Chase of, and F.A.A. attacks on, the Strasbourg.
Vice-Admiral Somerville received an air report at 1820/3 that one of the Dunkerque-class battlecruisers had put to sea and was steering east. This report was confirmed 10 minutes later. An air striking force of six Swordfish aircraft of no. 818 Squadron armed with 250-lb. bombs and escorted by Skua’s was flow off by HMS Ark Royal at 1825 hours to attack the ships in Mers-el-Kebir but they were then diverted to attack the fleeing ship which was accompanied by eight destroyers. ‘Force H’ altered course to the eastward at 1838 hours and commenced a chase.
During this period, HMS Wrestler, which was patrolling of Oran, was heavily engaged by shore batteries. At least 100 shells fell near her before she withdrew in accordance with orders.
At 1843 hours the cruisers and destroyers with HMS Hood were ordered to proceed ahead. Both battleships following behind at their best speed without a destroyer screen. Every ships worked up to full speed.
The bombing attack on the Strasbourg was well pressed home, and, although it was met with heavy opposition, was believed to have obtained at least one hit. Two Swordfish aircraft failed to return, but the crews were picked up by HMS Wrestler.
At 1914/3 HMS Wrestler picked up Capt. Holland and Lt.Cdr.’s Spearman, Davies and the crew from the motor boat of HMS Foxhound. The motor boat was then abandoned.
Between 1933 and 1945 hours a French destroyer, steering west close inshore, was engaged at ranges of 12000 and 18000 yards by the Arethusa and Enterprise. Later the Hood and Valiant fired a few 15” salvoes at her. At least three hits were observed before the destroyer turned back to Oran. The British ships were obliged to alter course to avoid torpedoes.
at 1950/3 six Swordfish aircraft of no. 820 Squadron, armed with torpedoes were flown off from HMS Ark Royal, with orders to press home their attack, making use of the failing light. They attacked at 2055 hours, twenty minutes after sunset. Approaching from the land, with their target silhouetted against the afterglow, they were able to deliver the attack unseen, only the last two attacking aircraft encountered some machine gun fire from the screening destroyers. The observation of results was rendered difficult by darkness and funnel smoke, but an explosion was seen under the Strasbourg’s stern and there was some evidence of a hit amidships. All the aircraft returned safely, through one came under machine gun fire from a group of destroyers seven miles astern of the target.
Chase abandoned and return to Gibraltar.
Meanwhile Vice-Admiral Somerville had abandoned the chase about half-an-hour before the torpedo attack took place. At 2020/3 the Strasbourg with her attendant destroyers, was some 25 nautical miles ahead of him. By that time the French Algiers force with several 8” and 6” cruisers was known to be at sea and was calculated to be able to join the Strasbourg shortly after 2100 hours.
Vice-Admiral Somerville considered that a night contact and engagement was not justified. His destroyers had not had recent experience of shadowing, and the French would be numerically superior. Besides that there were more reasons to disengage.
Accordingly at 2025/3 course was altered to the westwards and the Admiralty was informed that ‘Force H’ would remain to the west of Oran during the night with the intention to carry out air attacks on the ships at Mers-el-Kebir at dawn.
Between 1930 and 2100 hours French reconnaissance and bomber aircraft were fired on. These dropped a few bombs which all fell wide except for four bombs which fell close to HMS Wrestler. The attacks were not pressed home.
At 2150/3 the submarine HMS Proteus, which had been ordered to keep clear of ‘Force H’ to the northward during the day, was ordered to patrol north of 35°55’N off Cape de l’Aiguille or Abuja Point (15 nautical miles east of Oran). At the same time she and HMS Pandora (off Algiers) were ordered to sink any French ships encountered. The latter, which had reported six cruisers and four destroyers making to the westward at 1745/3, was warned that the Strasbourg might arrive off Algiers at 2300/3.
During the night of 3 / 4 July. ‘Force H’ steered to reach position 36°12’N, 01°48‘W (about 60 nautical miles west-north-west of Mers-el-Kebir) at 0430/4. It was intended to then fly off 12 Swordfish and 9 Skua aircraft to finish off the ships remaining in the harbour. Shortly after 0400/4, however dense fog was encountered. This rendered flying impossible. As Vice-Admiral Somerville had received a message from Admiral Gensoul the evening before (2250/3) stating that his ships were ‘hors de combat’ (‘out of action’) and that he had ordered the crews to evacuate them, Vice-Admiral Somerville decided to return to Gibraltar where ‘Force H’ arrived at 1900/4.
Review of the operation by Vice-Admiral Somerville.
Reviewing the operation, Vice-Admiral Somerville remarked that it was clear he committed an error of judgement in proceeding so far to the westward after ceasing fire, and gave his reasons for his decision.
He considered that the mines laid in the harbour entrance were sufficient to prevent any French ships from leaving and also he was under the impression that the French crews were abandoning their ships due to the signals to ‘cease shelling’ and the heavy explosions observed. The though uppermost in his mind was how to complete his task without causing further loss of life to the very gallant but ill-advised Frenchmen, and without exposing his fleet to damage by the shore batteries or to submarine attack. He was also under the impression that a torpedo flight, to complete the destruction of ships afloat, had either taken off or was about to do so. In fact, however, the repeated postponement of the attack by gunfire had, unknown to him, seriously upset the Ark Royal’s flying on and off programme.
Vice-Admiral Somerville went into question whether the use of force might have been avoided had Admiral Gensoul agreed at once to receive Capt. Holland. The French Admiral’s final offer differed, unfortunately, from the British proposals in the single proviso that the disablement of ships would only be carried into effect if there was a danger of the French ships falling into enemy hands. Admiral Gensoul maintained that this danger was not imminent, whereas we maintained that it was. Had more time been available Capt. Holland might possibly have converted Admiral Gensoul to the British point of view, but when he made his offer it was already too late, for the discussion could not be continued beyond 1720 hours as French reinforcements were approaching and the ordered of His Majesty’s Government were explicit that a decision had to be reached before dark.
’ I consider ‘ wrote Vice-Admiral Somerville, ‘ that Capt. Holland carried out his most difficult task with the greatest tact, courage and perseverance. That he failed in his mission was not his fault – that he nearly succeeded is greatly to his credit ‘.
Preparations to renew the attack on the Dunkerque.
After the arrival of ‘Force H’ at Gibraltar the ships were immediately completed with fuel and ammunition so to be able to carry out operations against the French battleship Richelieu at Dakar if required.
Vice-Admiral Somerville informed the Admiralty that it was not possible from aircraft observation positively to assess the damage done to the battlecruiser Dunkerque, but that she was aground. Consequently the Admiralty directed that unless Vice-Admiral Somerville was certain that the Dunkerque could not be refloated and repaired in less then a year, she was to be subjected to further destruction by bombardment. This was to precede any operation against the Richelieu.
To put this decision into effect, plans were drawn up for another operation (Operation Lever), and the Admiralty was informed that a further bombardment would be carried out at 0900/6 by ‘Force H’.
At 2005/4 a signal was received from the Admiralty. It contained instructions with regard to the attitude to be adopted towards French warships, which stated that ‘ships must be prepared for attack, but should not fire the first shot’. After confirmation at 2045/5 that this applied to the submarines operating of Oran and Algiers, the instructions were passed on to HMS Pandora and HMS Proteus. It was however already too late.
Proceeding by British submarines 4-6 July 1940.
When ‘Force H’ returned to Gibraltar on 4 July, the submarines HMS Pandora and HMS Proteus remained on patrol off the North African coast.
At 1126/4, HMS Pandora, off Algiers, sighted three destroyers 065° about 1 nautical mile from the shore, but she was unable to get within range. Three and a half hours later (1458/4), however, she sighted a French cruiser thought at that time to be of the La Galissoniere class. In fact it was the sloop Rigault de Genouilly. HMS Pandora turned immediately to a firing course and at 1507/4 HMS Pandora fired four torpedoes from about 3800 yards. Two certain and one probable hits were obtained. The French ship stopped at once and soon after she was observed to be on fire. Closing in HMS Pandora saw that there was no chance this ship could be saved. At 1632/4 she was seen to sink by the stern and a few seconds later an extremely heavy explosion occurred, probably her magines blowing up.
For some time from 1718/4 HMS Pandora was hunted by aircraft and a destroyer or patrol craft, explosions of bombs and or death charges were heard at intervals.
The Admiralty expressed deep regret to the French Ambassy for the tragic happening, which was ascribed to the fact that on completion of the operation at Mers-el-Kebir on 3 July, the instructions that French ships were no longer to be attacked did not reach one submarine.
The seaplane carrier Commandant Teste was more fortunate. She was sighted by HMS Proteus at 1447/4. The weather was foggy and before an attack could be started the French ship altered course to the eastward and was soon lost out of sight.
At 2200/5, in obedience to instructions, HMS Proteus proceeded to patrol off Cape Khamis, about 65 nautical miles east of Oran. At 0243/6 a signal from the Flag Officer Commanding North Atlantic (F.O.C.N.A.) was received that French ships were not to be attacked unless they attacked first.
The Commandant Teste was again sighted at 1734/6. This time she was accompanied by two destroyers. Shorty afterwards HMS Proteus was ordered to proceed to Gibraltar.
HMS Pandora remained on patrol until July 7th when she too was ordered to proceed to Gibraltar.
F.A.A. attack on the Dunkerque, 6 July 1940.
Meanwhile ‘Force H’ sailed from Gibraltar at 2000/5. They first proceeded westwards but turned to the east at 2200 hours and proceeded at 22 knots towards Oran.
’Force H’ was now made up of the battlecruiser HMS Hood, battleship HMS Valiant, aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, light cruisers HMS Aurora, HMS Enterprise and the destroyers HMS Fearless, HMS Forester, HMS Foxhound, HMS Escort, HMS Active, HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN), HMS Vidette, HMS Vortigern and HMS Wrestler.
At 0250/6, Vice-Admiral Somerville received a signal from the Admiralty which instructed him to cancel the bombardment. He was ordered to attack the Dunkerque from the air until she was sufficiently damaged.
In position 36°19’N, 02°23’W (about 90 nautical miles from Oran) at 0515/6, the first striking force was flown off. The attack on the Dunkerque was made in three waves. The aircraft taking part were armed with torpedoes, carrying Duplex pistols, set for depth 12 feet, speed 27 knots.
The first wave of six Swordfish of no. 820 Squadron took of from the Ark Royal at 0515 hours. It made landfall at Habibas Island (about 20 nautical miles west of Mers-el-Kebir) and then shaped course at 7000 feet to keep 15 miles from the coast in order to gain up-sun position from the target as the sun rose. The attack achieved complete surprise, only one aircraftbeing fired upon during the get-away. As the first rays of the sun, rising above thick haze, struck the Dunkerque, the flight commenced a shallow dive in line ahead down the path of the sun. Coming in low over the breakwater, the aircraft attacked in succession. The first torpedo hit the Dunkerque amidships, glanced off without exploding and continued it’s run. It had probably been released inside pistol safety range. The second was thought at the time to have hit and exploded under the bridge on the starboard side. The third torpedo to have missed and exploded ashore and the remaining three torpedoes to have hit and exploded near ‘B’ turret. In the light of later information, it seems that no torpedo in this or subsequent attacks actually hit and damaged her. The first (as noticed by the British) glanced off without exploding. The second exploded underneath the stern of a trawler, the Terre Neuve, which – apparently unnoticed by the aircraft – was about 30 yards to starboard of the battlecruiser and sank the trawler. Of the remainder three torpedoes may have hit without exploding or run into shallow water, and one missed. One torpedo exploded ashore against a jetty.
The second attack was made by three Swordfish of no. 810 Squadron with a fighter escort of six Skua’s. They took off at 0545 hours. This sub-flight manoeuvred to a position up-sun at 2000 feet. At 0647 hours they tuned to attack in line astern. They came under heavy AA fire and had to take avoiding action during their approach and they made their attack from over the breakwater. The torpedo of the first aircraft was not released. The second and third torpedoes are thought to have hit the starboard side of the Dunkerque. During the get-away a large explosion was observed, smoke and spray rising in a great column over 600 feet high which was thought to have possibly been a magazine explosion in the Dunkerque. Actually, one torpedo hit the wreck of the Terre Neuve, detonating about 24 to 28 depth charges with which she was loaded, and thereby causing considerable damage to the Dunkerque. The other torpedo missed astern and exploded ashore. No enemy aircraft were encountered, but the 6” and 4” batteries from the east of Oran to Mers-el-Kebir Point kept up continuous fire throughout the attack.
The third wave was also made up of three Swordfish from no. 810 Squadron. These too were escorted by six Skua’s. They wre flown off at 0620 hours. They made landfall at a height of 4000 feet at 0650 hours over Cape Falcon. In line astern the sub-flight made a shallow dive with avoiding action as the Provence and shore batteries opened fire. This sub-flight then came in low over the town of Mers-el-Kebir for its attack. The first torpedo is reported to have struck the Dunkerque amidships on her port side but it did not explode. The second, which would have hit the ship, exploded under a tug close to her which blew the tug into the air. The third torpedo was dropped too close and did therefore not explode, although it appeared to be going to hit. While making its get-away this sub-flight was engaged by French fighter aircraft. The Skua escorts had many dog fights with the French fighters which easily out-manoeuvred our aircraft but they did not press home their attacks. One Skua, damaged in combat, had to make a forced landing on the water on its return. The crew was rescued by a destroyer. There were no casualties although several aircraft were damaged by gunfire.
Vice-Admiral Somerville was satisfied with the results as it appeared that the Dunkerque for sure would be out of action for more then a year. ‘Force H’, having completed its task returned to Gibraltar at 1830/6. After temporary repairs the Dunkerque arrived at Toulon only on 19 February 1942 having made the passage under her own power escorted by five destroyers. (2)
25 Aug 1940
At 0730/25, HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C. Annesley, DSO, RN), HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, DSO, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) and HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) departed Gibraltar for exercises.
At 2030/25, HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN), HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN) departed Gibraltar to join the Ark Royal group at sea. Course was then set into the North Atlantic to make rendezvous with ships coming from the UK.
Rendezvous was effected around 0730/27 with HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CVO, DSO, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN), HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN), HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and the transport Royal Scotsman (3244 GRT, built 1936).
HMS Enterprise, HMS Velox and HMS Vidette then parted company and escorted the Royal Scotsman to Gibraltar. (3)
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.R. 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 (this was Milan) 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. (1)
17 Sep 1940
Around 0330/17, HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), escorted by HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN), HMS Wrestler (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN), departed Gibraltar for a patrol to the west-south-west of Casablanca.
At 0800/18, HMS Renown and her escorting destroyers were joined by the destroyers HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) and HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN) which came from Gibraltar. These two destroyers had not been ready to sail with HMS Renown when she departed. HMS Wrestler and HMS Vidette then parted company and proceeded to Gibraltar where they arrived at 1900/18.
At 1945/19, HMS Renown was ordered by the Admiralty to return to Gibraltar which they did at 0700/20. (4)
11 Oct 1940
At 0204/11, Vice-Admiral Somerville received Admiralty message 0108/11 stating that the Vichy French light cruiser Primauget had departed Casablanca escorting a merchant ship loaded with munitions and bound for Dakar.
At 1737/11, Vice-Admiral Somerville received Admiralty message 1710/11 ordering HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN), HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN) and HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN) to steer course 090°. Seven minutes later Admiralty mesage 1718/11 was received ordering HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN) to come to four hour's notice.
At 1821/11, Admiralty message 1732/11 was received in which HMS Barham and her three escorting destroyers were ordered to intercept the Primauget and the merchant vessel she was escorting. At the same time Admiralty message 1727/11, ordering HMS Renown and HMAS Australia (Capt. R.R. Stewart, RN) to proceed to the westward, being clear of the harbour as soon after 0700/12 as possible, was received.
Destroyers on patrol were then rcalled and those making good minor defects were ordered to complete repairs with all despatch. HMS Australia was warned to be ready to proceed at midnight.
At 2145/11, Admiralty message 2112/11 was received which ordered HMS Australia to sail as soon as possible for Las Palmas at 25 knots. HMS Renown was ordered to sail to the westward at 0500/12. HMS Australia sailed accordingly at 2330/11.
At 0450/12, HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN), HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) and HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN) departed Gibraltar to carry out an A/S sweep in Gibraltar Bay. HMS Renown slipped shortly afterwards. Course was shaped to the westward at 18 knots with the destroyers screening.
A Vichy-French Glenn Martin aircraft was sighted at 1440/12 shadowing HMS Renown from astern. Course was altered to 300° to mislead this machine. This Glen Martin finally made off to the eastward at 1635/12.
At 1600/12, Vice-Admiral Somerville received a signal stating that the Yugoslav merchant vessel Orao (5135 GRT, built 1919), on passage to Gibraltar under armed guard from HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, DSO, RN), was being fired at by a submarine (this was the Italian Enrico Tazzoli) and that the crew had taken to the boats in position 35°43'N, 10°20'W. As there appeared to be a reasonable chance of attacking this submarine, Vice-Admiral Somerville decided to sent the whole of Renown's screen to hunt this submarine. HMS Gallant and HMS Griffin were therefore ordered to proceed to the vicinity at full speed, HMS Wishart and HMS Vidette following at 25 knots. Meanwhile HMS Renown increased to 24 knots and carried out a broad zig-zag, subsequently altering course at 1700/12 to 180°.
Before parting company the destroyers were ordered to rendezvous with HMS Renown at 0800/13 in position 33°22'N, 11°58'W, this position being selected in order to make contact with the transports Ettrick (British, 11279 GRT, built 1938) and Karanja (British, 9891 GRT, built 1931) that were proceeding to Gibraltar escorted by HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN).
Shortly afterwards HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), previously escorting convoy HG 45, reported that she was proceeding to the position of the Orao at 32 knots. As four destroyers had already been directed to hunt the submarine, the Admiral Commanding North Atlantic Station, instructed HMS Firedake to join HMS Greyhound to provide additional escort for the two transports.
The four destroyers arrived in the position of the arrived in the position of te Orao about 1930/12 and found the ship in a sinking condition. The crew and armed boarding party of HMS Hotspur were picked up by HMS Gallant and HMS Griffin, who carried out an A/S sweep to the westward and the northward. HMS Wishart and HMS Vidette swept to the eastward and southward.
No contact had been obtained by midnight, at which time the destroyers left the area to rendezvous with HMS Renown as previously arranged. The submarine that attacked the Arao was a large one with two guns. Before leaving HMS Wishart sank the Arao, who was still afloat, with one torpedo.
HMS Renown sighted HMS Firedrake at 0724/13 proceeding to join HMS Greyhound. At 0745/13, HMS Gallant, HMS Griffin, HMS Wishart and HMS Vidette were all in sight and all were in their position in the screen by 0820/13. Course was then altered to close the estimated position of the convoy that was being escorted by HMS Greyhound.
At 1045/13, a merchant ship was sighted bearing 060° and HMS Gallant was detached to investigate. This ship turned out to be Portugese and was bound from the Cape Verde Islands to Lisbon. She was boarded and after investigation was allowed to proceed.
HMS Firedrake was again encountered at 1100/13 still searching for the convoy. Vice-Admiral Somerville ordered her stationed 10 miles on his port beam.
The convoy was sighted at 1300/13 and HMS Vidette was ordered to join HMS Greyhound and the convoy. HMS Firedrake was now ordered to take the place of HMS Vidette in Renown's screen as she had more fuel remaining than Vidette.
At 1430/13, Vice-Admiral Somerville received Admiralty's 1308/13 directing HMS Renown, HMS Barham and HMAS Australia and their accompanying destroyers to return to Gibraltar if the Primauget had not been sighted by 1800/13.
In view of the recent submarine reports in the vicinity of the Straits Vice-Admiral Somerville decided that HMS Wishart should join the convoy. HMS Renown now screened by HMS Firedrake, HMS Gallant and HMS Griffin proceeded towards Gibraltar at 24 knots with the object of entering the harbour as early as possible, so as to free the screening destroyers for local patrol and convoy escort duty.
On passing through the Straits HMS Renown overhauled the Vichy-French destroyer Fleuret escorting two merchant vessels proceeding eastwards.
HMS Renown and her escorting destroyers entered harbour at 1030/14. (4)
15 Oct 1940
HMS Barham (Capt G.C. Cooke, RN) arrived at Gibraltar escorted by HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN), HMS Echo (Cdr. S.H.K. Spurgeon, DSO, RAN) and HMS Fortune (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO, RN).
Later the same day the transports Ettrick (British, 11279 GRT, built 1938) and Karanja (British, 9891 GRT, built 1931) also arrived escorted by the destroyers HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN).
5 Nov 1940
Hunt for the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer after the attack on convoy HX 84.
Timespan: 5 October to 23 October 1940.
In response to the attack on convoy HX 84 by the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer the Admiralty acted quickly.
The battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), light cruisers HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.L.S. King, CB, MVO, RN), HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN), HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.J. Egerton, RN) and the destroyers HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St. J.A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. R.St.V. Sherbrooke, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN) and HMS Electra (Lt.Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN) departed Scapa Flow at 2330/5 to proceed to the last reported position of the German pocket battleship 52°50'N, 32°15'W at 2003/5.
At 1050/6 the force split up; HMS Hood, HMS Naiad, HMS Phoebe, HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo and HMS Punjabi proceeded to patrol off the Bay of Biscay to cover the approaches to Brest and Lorient.
HMS Repulse, HMS Bonaventure, HMS Mashona, HMS Matabele and HMS Electra towards the Admiral Scheer's last known position.
At 0700/6 the battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN, flying the flag of Admiral of the Fleet C.M. Forbes, GCB, DSO, RN) and HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN), light cruiser HMS Southampton (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN), HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN), HMS Douglas (Cdr.(Retd.) J.G. Crossley, RN), HMS Keppel (Lt. R.J. Hanson, RN) and HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. D.J.B. Jewitt, RN) departed Scapa Flow to cover the patrols in the Iceland-Faroes Channel.
Shortly before midnight during the night of 6/7 November HMS Rodney was detached to escort to escort convoy HX 83 and once this convoy was safe, HX 85 from Halifax.
Three armed merchant cruisers, which were on patrol were recalled to port on the 8th. These were HMS Chitral (Capt.(Retd.) G. Hamilton, RN), which was to the northwest of Iceland and HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) and HMS Worcestershire (A/Capt. J. Creswell, RN), which were to the south of Iceland. The light cruiser HMS Southampton was ordered to take over the place of HMS Chitral. She split off from HMS Nelson at 1600/8. HMS Worcestershire joined HMS Nelson and her escorting destroyers around 1500/9.
There were also the destroyers HMS Churchill (Cdr.(Retd.) G.R. Cousins, RN), HMS Lewes (Lt.Cdr. J.N.K. Knight, RN), HMS Lincoln (Cdr. A.M. Sheffield, RN) and HMS Ludlow (Cdr. G.B. Sayer, RN). They were en-route to the U.K. and had departed Halifax on 31 October and refuelled at St. Johns on 3 November. After receiving distress signals from ships in convoy HX 84 they rushed to the reported location. The only thing they found was an empty lifeboat. They then continued their Atlantic crossing and arrived at Londonderry on 9 November.
The destroyer HMS Stanley (A/Lt.Cdr. R.B. Stannard, VC, RNR) had departed Halifax on 1 November and St. Johns on 5 November. Now she and the Canadian destroyer HMCS St.Francis (Lt.Cdr. H.F. Pullen, RCN) escorted convoy HX 85, which had been recalled, back to Nova Scotia.
On 8 November, after machinery defects had been repaired, the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (Capt. R.R. Stewart, RN) departed the Clyde to protect convoys.
The battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and the destroyers HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) departed Gibraltar at 0500/6 to provide cover for convoys HG 46 and SL 53.
At 1225/6, off Cape St Vincent, the submarine HMS Utmost (Lt. J.H. Eaden, DSC, RN) was identified as enemy by HMS Encounter which then rammed the submarine which was en-route to Gibraltar. HMS Encounter was escorted to Gibraltar by HMS Forester. They arrived at 0800/7.
On 11 November, HMAS Australia relieved Renown from covering convoy HG 46 and Renown arrived back at Gibraltar around 1515/12. Renown had been joined at 0807/12 by the destroyers HMS Duncan (Cdr. A.D.B. James, RN) and HMS Forester.
Aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Despatch (Capt. C.E. Douglas-Pennant, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Verity (Cdr. R.H. Mills, RN), HMS Vesper (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN) and HMS Windsor (Lt.Cdr. G.P. Huddart, RN) departed the Clyde on 7 November for Gibraltar and were also ordered to keep a look out for the German pocket battleship. The destroyers were later detached; HMS Windsor around 0100/9 and HMS Verity and HMS Vesper around 0600/9. HMS Despatch was detached at 1000/13 and proceeded to Gibraltar where she arrived at the next day. Shortly before HMS Despatch was detached the destroyers HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN) had joined followed later in the day by HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN). HMS Argus, HMS Vidette, HMS Wishart and HMS Wrestler arrived at Gibraltar very late on the 14th.
Battlecruiser HMS Repulse escorted by the destroyers HMS Matabele and HMS Electra arrived at Scapa Flow for refuelling around 1100/11.
Light cruiser HMS Bonaventure and destroyer HMS Mashona arrived at Scapa Flow around 1130/11 for refuelling.
Battlecruiser HMS Hood, light cruisers HMS Naiad, HMS Phoebe and the destroyers HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo and HMS Punjabi returned to Scapa Flow around 1400/11 for refuelling. HMS Eskimo had suffered weather damage to her asdic dome and had some forecastle deck plates buckled. She was docked for repairs in the floating drydock at Scapa Flow from 13 to 16 November.
After fuelling HMS Bonaventure departed Scapa Flow at 2300/11 to continue to search for survivors from convoy HX 84. Armed merchant cruiser HMS Chitral was also back at sea to search for survivors. She had departed from Reykjavik, Iceland around 2330/10.
HMS Bonaventure returned to Scapa Flow on the 19th with weather damage.
The armed merchant cruiser HMS Letitia (A/Capt. E.H. Longsdon, RN) departed the Clyde around 1300/11 for the Northern Patrol.
HMS Repulse, HMS Naiad departed Scapa Flow around 1330/12 for patrol and also to provide cover for ships of the Northern Patrol. They were escorted by the destoyers HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), HMS Mashona, HMS Matabele and HMS Punjabi.
HMS Naiad parted company on the 13th to proceed to Jan Mayen Island where a German weather / wireless station in Jameson Bay was to be raided.
HMS Repulse returned to Scapa Flow at 0015/19 being escorted by the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Mashona and HMS Matabele. They had provided cover for HMS Naiad during her raid on Jan Mayen Island.
Battleship HMS Rodney arrived at Scapa Flow around 1500/23rd. She had been joined at dawn the previous day by the destroyers HMS Beagle, HMS Brilliant, HMS Bulldog and HMS Electra. (5)
15 Nov 1940
HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, RN) departed Gibraltar to make rendez-vous with the battleship HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN) which was coming north from Freetown and which they were to escort to Gibraltar. (6)
16 Nov 1940
In the early afternoon, HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN), made rendezvous with her escorts towards Gibraltar, HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, RN). (7)
25 Nov 1940
Operation Collar and the resulting Battle of Cape Spartivento.
See also the event for 23 November 1940 called ‘Operation MB 9’ for the events in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Departure of the convoy from Gibraltar / passage through the Straits of Gibraltar and plan of the operation.
During the night of 24/25 November 1940 the three merchants / troop transports, Clan Forbes (7529 GRT, built 1938), Clan Fraser (7529 GRT, built 1939) and New Zealand Star (10740 GRT, built 1935), passed the Straits of Gibraltar. To the eastward of Gibraltar they were joined by the four corvettes (HMS Peony (Lt.Cdr. (rtd.) M.B. Sherwood, DSO, RN), (HMS Salvia (Lt.Cdr. J.I. Miller, DSO, RD, RNR), HMS Gloxinia (Lt.Cdr. A.J.C. Pomeroy, RNVR) and HMS Hyacinth (T/Lt. F.C. Hopkins, RNR) that were part of Force ‘F’, which was the close support force of the convoy. The other ships of Force ‘F’ were the light cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN) and HMS Southampton (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) and the destroyer HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H Layman, DSO, RN), which was in a damaged state and was to proceed to Malta for full repairs. These last three ships sailed at 0800/25. The cruisers had each about 700 RAF and other military personnel onboard that were to be transported to Alexandria.
The cover force for this convoy, force ‘B’ also left Gibraltar at 0800/25. This force was made up of the battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), the light cruisers HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and HMS Despatch (Capt. Cyril Eustace Douglas-Pennant, DSC, RN). They were escorted by destroyers from the 8th and 13th Destroyer Flotillas; HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN, Capt. D.8), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN), HMS Duncan (Capt. A.D.B. James, RN, Capt. D.13), HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN), HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St.J. Morgan, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN).
Force ‘F’ and the merchant ship New Zealand Star were to proceed to Alexandria except for HMS Hotspur which was to detach to Malta as mentioned earlier as well as the other two merchant ships. Force ‘B’ was to cover Force ‘F’ and the merchant ships during the passage of the Western Mediterranean. To the south of Sardinia these forces were to be joined around noon on 27 November 1940 by Force ‘D’ which came from the Eastern Mediterranean and was made up of the battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Reid, RN), the heavy cruiser HMS Berwick (Capt. G.L. Warren, RN), the light cruiser HMS Newcastle (Capt. E.A. Aylmer, DSC, RN) and the AA cruiser HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN), HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSC, RN) and HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN). All forces were then to proceed towards the Sicilian narrows for a position between Sicily and Cape Bon which was to be reached at dusk. After dark Force ’F’, reinforced by HMS Coventry and the destroyers from Force ‘D’ were then to proceed through the narrows to the Eastern Mediterranean where they would be met the next day by ships of the Mediterranean Fleet. Force ‘B’ with HMS Ramillies, HMS Berwick and HMS Newcastle from Force ‘D’ were then to return to Gibraltar.
Disposition of British forces at 0800 hours, 27 November 1940.
At 0800/27, about half an hour before sunrise, the situation was as follows. Vice-Admiral Somerville in HMS Renown, with HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield and four destroyers were in position 37°48’N, 07°24’E (about 95 nautical miles south-west of Cape Spartivento, Sardinia) steering 083° at 16 knots.
Some 25 nautical miles to the south-west of him, the Vice-Admiral 18th cruiser squadron in HMS Manchester, with HMS Southampton, HMS Despatch and five destroyers were in company with the convoy in position 37°37’N, 06°54’E. The four corvettes had been unable to keep up with the convoy and were about 10 nautical miles to the westward of it. The visibility was excellent, the wind south-easterly, force 3 to 4 and the sea was calm.
At this time HMS Ark Royal flew off a section of fighters, one A/S patrol, one meteorological machine and seven reconnaissance aircraft. Vice-Admiral Somerville continued on his easterly course to concentrate with Force ‘D’ which was approaching from the Skerki Bank. At 0900 hours he changed course to the south-west to join the convoy to provide additional AA defence for the convoy for expected air attacks from Sardinian aerodromes.
Reconnaissance aircraft report enemy forces at sea.
Shortly before the course change, at 0852/27 one of Ark Royal’s aicraft sighted a group of enemy warships about 25 nautical miles to the southward of Cape Spartivento and while closing to investigate at 0906 hours sent an alarm report of four cruisers and six destroyers, which, however was not received by any ship of the British forces. On sighting the convoy at 0920 hours, HMS Renown maneuvered to pass astern of it and take station to the southward and up sun, in the probable direction of any air attack. At 0956 hours, while still on the port quarter of the convoy, Vice-Admiral Somerville received from HMS Ark Royal an aircraft report timed 0920/27, of five cruisers and five destroyers some 65 nautical miles to the north-eastward of him.
Steam was at once ordered for full speed and screens of two destroyers each were arranged for both HMS Ark Royal and the merchant ships. Further reports from aircraft, confirmed by HMS Ark Royal, established by 1015/27 the presence of enemy battleships and cruisers and HMS Renown altered course to 075° to join HMS Ramillies increasing speed as rapidly as possible to 28 knots.
Measures to safeguard the convoy and to join Force ‘D’.
At 1035/27 the plot showed enemy forces to the north-east but their composition and relative position were still in doubt. In these circumstances Vice-Admiral Somerville decided that the convoy should continue to its destination steering a south-easterly course (120°) in order to keep clear of any action which might develop. It was given an escort of two cruisers, HMS Despatch and HMS Coventry and the destroyers HMS Duncan and HMS Wishart. The remaining two cruisers and three destroyers of Force ‘F’ were ordered to join Force ‘B’ which steered to make contact with Force ‘D’ which was approaching from the east and then to attack the enemy together. HMS Ark Royal was ordered to prepare and fly off a torpedo bomber striking force. She was to act independently escorted by HMS Kelvin and HMS Jaguar and under cover from the battlefleet.
At 1058/27 a Sunderland flying boat closed HMS Renown and reported Force ‘D’ bearing 070°, range 34 nautical miles. As the junction of the two forces seemed to be assured, the speed was reduced to 24 knots, in order to maintain a position between the convoy and the enemy force which estimated position was bearing 025°, range 50 nautical miles. The Sunderland flying boat was ordered to shadow and report its composition.
The cruisers HMS Manchester, HMS Southampton and HMS Sheffield had meanwhile concentrated with the destroyers in the van, bearing 5 nautical miles from HMS Renown in the direction of the enemy.
Reports from the reconnaissance aircraft of HMS Ark Royal contained a number of discrepancies which made it impossible to obtain a clear picture of the situation. Two groups of cruisers had been reported, as well as two battleships. It seemed certain that five or six cruisers were present, but the number of battleships remained in doubt. But whatever the composition of the enemy force in order to get the convoy through Vice-Admiral Somerville wanted to attack as soon as possible. At 1115/27 the enemy was reported to be changing course to the eastward.
All this time Force ‘D’ had been coming westwards and at 1128/27 they were sighted from HMS Renown bearing 073°, range about 24 nautical miles. The aircraft reports now indicated that the enemy force was made up of two battleships, six or more cruisers and a considerable number of destroyers. The action seemed likely to develop into a chase, and HMS Ramillies was therefore ordered to steer 045°, so as not to lose ground due to her slow speed. Vice-Admiral Holland was put in command of all the cruisers in the van and HMS Berwick and HMS Newcastle from Force ‘D’ were ordered to join him. It was shortly after this that HMS Ark Royal flew off her first torpedo bombers striking force.
The approach on the enemy.
At 1134 hours, Vice-Admiral Somerville increased to 28 knots and at 1140 hours altered course to 050° to close the enemy. The position of the British forces was now as follows. Fine on the port bow of HMS Renown were HMS Manchester, HMS Southampton and HMS Sheffield in single line ahead. HMS Berwick and HMS Newcastle was coming from the eastward to join them. Two miles astern HMS Faulknor (Capt. D 8) was gradually collecting the other ships of his Flotilla and HMS Encounter some of which had been screening the convoy. The five destroyers of Force ‘D’ were proceeding westwards to join and were eventually stationed bearing 270°, 3 nautical miles from her.
Ten nautical miles fine on the starboard bow of HMS Renown, HMS Ramillies was altering to a parallel course. HMS Ark Royal had dropped some distance astern. She was carrying out flying operations between the main force and the convoy, which was now about 22 nautical miles west-south-west of HMS Renown.
At 1154 hours, the Sunderland aircraft returned and reported six cruisers and eight destroyers bearing 330°, range 30 nautical miles from HMS Renown. Her report unfortunately did not give course and speed of the enemy and she disappeared from sight before these could be obtained. It appeared now that one of the enemy forces was further to the west than previously thought and might be in a position to outflank the main force and attack HMS Ark Royal and the convoy. Course was therefore altered to the north in order to avoid getting to far to the eastward.
Vice-Admiral Somerville’s appreciation of the situation at noon, 27 November 1940.
The prospects of bringing the enemy into action seemed favourable. The composition of the enemy force was still not definitely established but there did not appear to be more than two battleships with them. The British had effected their concentration of which the enemy seemed to be unaware, since no shadowing aircraft had been sighted or detected by RD/F. The speed of the enemy was reported as being 14 to 18 knots. The sun was immediately behind the British forces, giving them the advantage of light and if the nearest reported position of the enemy was correct there seemed every possibility of bringing off a simultaneous surface and torpedo bombers attack, providing that the enemy did not retire immediately at high speed. Vice-Admiral Somerville’s intentions were; To drive off the enemy from any position from which he could attack the convoy and to except some risk to the convoy providing there was a reasonable prospect of sinking one or more of the enemy battleships. To achieve the second of them he considered that the speed of the enemy would have to be reduced to 20 knots or less by torpedo bombers attacks and that the enemy battleships could be attacked by HMS Renown and HMS Ramillies in concert.
Contact with the enemy.
At 1207/27, HMS Renown developed a hot bearing on one shaft which limited her speed to 27.5 knots. At the same time puffs of smoke were observed on the horizon bearing 006°, and the cruisers of the van sighted masts between 006° and 346°. At 1213 hours a signal came in from HMS Ark Royal reporting the composition of the enemy as two battleships, six cruisers accompanied by destroyers. The British cruisers in the van by this time had formed a line of bearing 075° to 255° in the sequence from west to east, HMS Sheffield, HMS Southampton, HMS Newcastle, HMS Manchester, HMS Berwick.
The nine destroyers were stationed five miles bearing 040° from HMS Renown in order to be placed favourably to counter-attack any destroyers attempting a torpedo attack on HMS Renown or HMS Ramillies.
The situation as seen by the cruisers immediately before the action commenced was as follows. Between the bearings of 340° to 350° three enemy cruisers and some destroyers were visible at a range of about 11 nautical miles. These were steering a northerly course. This force will be referred to as ‘the Western Group’. A second group of cruisers, also accompanied by destroyers, which will be referred to as the ‘Eastern Group’ bore between 003° and 013°. This group was further away and steering approximately 100°.
At 1220/27 the enemy cruisers in the ‘Western Group’ opened fire, and the British advanced forces immediately replied. The enemy’s first salvo fell close to HMS Manchester. As soon as fire was opened by the British cruisers, the Italians made smoke and retired on courses varying between north-west and north-east. Behind their smoke screen they seemed to be making large and frequent alterations of course.
At 1224 hours HMS Renown opened fire at the right hand ship in the ‘Western Group’ which was identified as a Zara-class heavy cruiser. Range was 26500 yards. After six salvoes, the target was lost in smoke. HMS Ramillies also fired two salvoes at maximum elevation to test the range but both fell short. She then dropped astern in the wake of HMS Renown and tried to follow at her best speed, 20.7 knots, throughout the action.
Just before opening fire HMS Renown had sighted two ships which were not making smoke, bearing 020° at extreme visibility. These were thought at first to be the Italian battleships but later turned out to be cruisers of the ‘Eastern Group’. On losing her first target HMS Renown altered course to starboard to close these supposed battleships and to bring the cruisers of the ‘Western Group’ broader on the bow. She had hardly done so when the centre ship of the latter group appeared momentarily through the smoke and was given two salvoes. Again course was altered to open ‘A’ arcs on the left hand ship, at which eight salvoes were fired before she too disappeared in the smoke at 1245 hours. At this moment two large ships steering westward emerged from the smoke cloud but before fire was opened these ships were identified as French liners.
The enemy by this time was on the run and had passed outside the range of our capital ships although at 1311 hours, HMS Renown fired two ranging salvoes at two ships of the ‘Eastern Group’ but both fell short. Meanwhile the British cruisers had been hotly engaged at ranges varying between 23000 and 16000 yards. Many straddles were obtained, but smoke rendered spotting and observation very difficult.
HMS Manchester, HMS Sheffield and HMS Newcastle all opened fire on the right-hand ship of the ‘Western Group’. HMS Berwick engaged the left-hand ship of the same group and HMS Southampton engaged the left-hand ship of the ‘Eastern Group’. HMS Manchester and HMS Sheffield continued to fire at the same ship for about 20 minutes (until 1236 and 1240 hours respectively) but HMS Newcastle shifted target to the ship already engaged by HMS Berwick after 18 salvoes. HMS Southampton, after 5 salvoes shifted target to a destroyer which was seen to be hit. At least one other destroyer is believed to have been hit during this phase and two hits by a large caliber shell on a cruiser were observed by HMS Faulknor at 1227 and HMS Newcastle at 1233 hours.
The enemy’s fire was accurate during the initial stages but when fully engaged it deteriorated rapidly and the spread became ragged. Their rate of fire was described as extremely slow. The only casualties on the British side occurred in HMS Berwick when at 1222 hours she received a hit from an 8” shell which put ‘Y’ turret out of action. HMS Manchester was straddled several times but despite being under continuous fire from 1221 to 1300 hours escaped unscatched. Her passengers were quite excited about having been in a sea battle.
At 1245 hours the cruisers altered course to 090° to prevent the enemy from working round ahead to attack the convoy. This brought the relative beating of the ‘Eastern Group’ to Red 40° and HMS Manchester once more engaged the left-hand ship. Five minutes later a further alteration of course to the southward was made to counter what appeared to be an attempt by the enemy to ‘cross the T’ of the cruisers. The enemy however at once resumed their north-easterly course and Vice-Admiral Holland led back to 070° at 1256 hours and 030° at 1258 hours. The rear ship of the enemy line was heavily on fire aft and she appeared to loose speed. But at 1259 hours picked up again and drew away with her consorts.
At 1301 hours the masts of a fresh enemy unit steering to the south-west were seen at extreme visibility right ahead of HMS Manchester. It bore 045° and two minutes later two battleships were identified in it. Their presence was quickly corroborated by large splashes which commenced to fall near HMS Manchester and HMS Berwick and these ships were reported to Vice-Admiral Somerville. The end on approach resulted in the range decreasing very rapidly and at 1305 hours Vice-Admiral Holland turned to cruisers to 120° with the dual purpose of working round the flank of the battleships and closing the gap to HMS Renown. The enemy battleships were not prepared to close and altered course to the north-eastward, presumably to join their 8” cruisers. Vice-Admiral Holland therefore altered course to 090° at 1308 hours and shortly afterwards to 050°. The enemy were by now rapidly running out of range and ten minutes later the action came to an end.
First attack by the torpedo bombers from HMS Ark Royal
Meanwhile a torpedo bomber striking force consisting of 11 Swordfish of no. 810 Squadron had been flown off from HMS Ark Royal at 1130 hours with orders to attack the Italian battleships. At 1216 hours they sighted two battleships and altered course as to approach them from the direction of the sun. The ships were identified as one Littorio-class and one Cavour-class. They were screened by seven destroyers. Enemy course was easterly at a speed of 18 knots. The leading battleship (Littorio-class) was selected as the target and all torpedoes were dropped inside the destroyer screen at ranges of 700 to 800 yards. One hit was observed abaft the after funnel and another explosion was seen just astern of the target. Yet another explosion was seen ahead of the Cavour-class. No other hits were seen. All aircraft returned safely to HMS Ark Royal.
Vice-Admiral Somerville’s Appreciation at 1315/27.
At 1315/27 firing had practically ceased owning to the enemy drawing out of range. The heavy smoke made by the Italians during the chase had prevented accurate fire, and so far as was known, no serious damage was inflicted on them. The torpedo bomber striking force from HMS Ark Royal had attacked but no report had been received yet but it seemed evident that the speed of the enemy had not been materially reduced.
The British forces were meanwhile rapidly closing the enemy coast. The main object of the whole operation was the safe passage of the convoy. The main enemy units had been driven off far enough that they could no longer interfere with it. It was also important to provide additional AA protection to the convoy against enemy air attack at dusk and in order to reach the convoy in time to do this course had to be set for it before 1400 hours so it was decided to break off the chase.
The chase broken off and further attacks by aircraft from HMS Ark Royal.
Around 1345/27, a damaged enemy cruiser was reported, Vice-Admiral Somerville considered sending HMS Berwick and HMS Newcastle north to finish this ship off. As these two cruisers also needed a cover/support force this idea was quickly abandoned. HMS Ark Royal was ordered to attack this cruiser with aircraft. A second torpedo bomber squadron was about to take off and Skua dive bombers were also being armed. Capt. Holland of the Ark Royal intended to attack the battleships again with the torpedo bombers and sent out the dive bombers to attack the damaged cruiser.
The torpedo bomber force of 9 Swordfish was flown off at 1415 hours. The Squadron Leader was given the enemy battleships as his objective, but with the full liberty to change it to his discretion, as he alone would be in a position to judge the possibility or otherwise achieving a successful attack.
The aircraft sighted three cruisers escorted by four destroyers about 12 nautical miles off the south-east coast of Sardinia, steering to the eastward at high speed. Some 8 nautical miles ahead of these cruisers were the two battleships escorted by about ten destroyers. There was a total absence of cloud cover, and it was considered essential to attack from the direction of the sun, if any degree of surprise were to be achieved. As any attempt, however, to gain such a position with regard to the battleships would inevitably have led to the striking force being sighted by the cruisers it was decided to attack the latter.
The attack was carried out at 1520/27 and was not sighted by the enemy until very late, only two salvoes being fired against the aircraft before the first torpedo was dropped. As the first aircraft reached the dropping position, the cruisers turned together to starboard causing several of the following Swordfish who had already committed to their drop to miss their targets. One hit was claimed on the rear cruiser and a possible one on the leading cruiser. Two Swordfish were hit by shrapnel from enemy AA fire but air aircraft returned safely to HMS Ark Royal.
A striking force of 7 Skua’s had meanwhile been flown off at 1500 hours. They failed to locate the reported damaged cruiser but reported to have carried out an attack on three light cruisers steering north of the south-west corner of Sardinia. Two near misses may have caused some damage to the rear ship. On the way back to HMS Ark Royal they encountered and shot down an Italian RO 43 reconnaissance aircraft from the battleship Vittorio Venoto.
Enemy air attacks on British Forces.
While these British flying operations were taking place Vice-Admiral Somerville had been steering to the southward in accordance with his decision to close the convoy. HMS Ark Royal had lost sight of HMS Renown to the north-eastward about 1250 hours, but since the receipt of the signal ordering the retirement of the British forces, Captain Holland had been making good a course of 090°, so far as his flying operations permitted, in order to rejoin the Flag. The first RD/F indications of the presence of enemy aircraft were received in HMS Renown at 1407 hours. Shortly afterwards bomb splashes were seen on the horizon when the Italian aircraft were attacked by Fulmars from the Ark Royal and several machines jettisoned their bombs. Ten enemy aircraft were then seen to be coming in and they eventually dropped their bombs well clear of the heavy ships but close to the screening destroyers.
Two further attacks were made around 1645/27 when two groups of five aircraft each concentrated on HMS Ark Royal, which by that time was in company with the Fleet, but owning to flying operations, not actually in the line. Apart from a few bombs being jettisoned again as a result of the interception by the Fulmar fighters, the high level bombing performed from a height of 13000 feet was most accurate. Some 30 bombs fell near HMS Ark Royal, two at least within 10 yards, and she was completely obscured by splashes.
About 1,5 minutes after this attack a stick of bombs dropped by four Caproni bombers, which had not been seen during the previous attack, missed HMS Ark Royal by a very narrow margin. HMS Ark Royal fortunately suffered no damage.
The British ships sighted the convoy at 1700/27 and proceeded to join it for passage to the Sicilian narrows.
The Battle of Cape Spartivento from the Italian side
At noon on 26 November 1940 the Italian had received reports that British forces had left Gibraltar and Alexandria the day before. The Italians then went to sea from Naples and Messina in three forces;
Battleships Vittorio Veneto and Giulio Cesare, escorted by the 13th Destroyer Flotilla made up of the Granatiere, Fuciliere,
From Messina. Heavy cruisers from the 3rd Cruiser Division Trieste, Trento and Bolzano and the 12th Destroyer Flotilla made up of the Lanciere, Ascari, Carabiniere and Libeccio. This last destroyer had temporarily replaced the Carabinieri.
These forces were to intercept the British forces coming from Gibraltar.
From Trapani, Sicily, torpedo-boats from the 10th Torpedo-boat Flotilla, Vega, Sagittario, Alcione and Sirio, were ordered to patrol in the Sicily narrows to scout for possible British forces proceeding westwards from the Eastern Meditarranean. Sirio actually made an unobserved torpedo attack shortly after midnight (during the night of 26/27 November) on a group of seven enemy warships (Force ‘D’).
By 1015/27 the Italian forces were in the Sardinia-Sicily Channel. The only information available to the Italian Commander-in-Chief (Admiral Campioni in the Vittorio Veneto) up to that moment was that Force H had left Gibraltar westwards on the 25th and on the same day a force had also left Alexandria westwards. He assumed correctly that the force attacked by the torpedo-boat Sirio was en-route to rendez-vous with Force H.
Then at 1015 hours he received an aircraft report (from an aircraft catapulted by the heavy cruiser Bolzano) that at 0945/27 it had sighted a group of enemy warships comprising one battleship, two light cruisers and four destroyers 20 nautical miles north of Cape de Fer. Enemy course was 090°. These were also seven warships, the same number as reported by torpedo-boat Sirio the night before but these were too far to the West to be the same ships.
Then at 1144 hours he received another aircraft report (from an aircraft catapulted by the heavy cruiser Gorizia) that confirmed the position given at 1015 hours. It did not report the two cruisers however but by that time these had split from HMS Renown and had gone ahead.
Acting on the report of the aircraft of the Bolzano the Italian Admiral turned to course 135° at 1128/27. Both divisions of cruisers also turned round. He then thought to be making for an encounter with HMS Renown and two cruisers supported by a few destroyers. The 1144/27 report from the aircraft of the Gorizia confirmed him in this belief. The Italian admiral was unaware of the fact that by that time Force ‘D’ had already joined with the other British forces. He was also unaware that HMS Ark Royal was present although he was aware of the fact that she had left Gibraltar westwards with the other ships two days before.
The Italian admiral was very careful, after the attack on Taranto only two battleships were operational and he could not afford any further reduction in strength of the capital ships. He therefore decided that his forces were not to come in action but before he could sent out a signal regarding this his cruiser were already in action with the British. They were ordered to break off the action and retire at high speed.
The Italians were then attacked by aircraft from the Ark Royal but despite the claim by the British for hits none were actually obtained. The Italians claimed to have shot down two aircraft but this also was not the case.
At 1235/27, the destroyer Lanciere was hit by a 6” shell in the after engine room. This shell is thought to have been originated from HMS Southampton. She continued at 23 knots on her forward engines but at 1240 hours another shell struck her amidships on the port side, penetrating a petrol tank. Then a third shell struck her on the starboard side without exploding and without penetrating the hull. Around 1300 hours she came to a stop with no water in her boilers, and asked for a tow. Ater about one hour her boilers were relit (seawater being used to feed them) and her forward engines were restarted. At 1440 hours, the Ascari took her in tow and both made for Cagliari at 7 knots. The 3rd Cruiser Division was ordered to protect the retreat of these destroyers.
A force of 10 bombers and 5 fighters had taken off at 1330 hours. These were driven off but the Fulmars from HMS Ark Royal. Almost two hours later, at 1520 hours a second force of 20 bombers took off. It were these aircraft that attacked and almost hit HMS Ark Royal.
Convoy operations in the Eastern Mediterranean and the subsequent movements of the ‘Collar’ convoy.
Before and during operation Collar there were also convoy movements in the Eastern Mediterranean going on. [See also the event for 23 November 1940 called ‘Operation MB 9’ for the events in the Eastern Mediterranean.]
After passing through the Sicilian narrows the Clan Forbes and Clan Fraser went to Malta escorted by HMS Hotspur and HMS Decoy. Both destroyers were to repair and refit at Malta. The New Zealand Star proceeded to Suda Bay escorted by HMS Defender and HMS Hereward and covered part of the way by HMS Manchester and HMS Southampton. (9)
7 Jan 1941
Convoy WS 5B
This convoy departed U.K. ports on 7 January 1941 for variuos ports in the Far East and Mediterranean (see below).
The convoy was made up of the following troop transports; Arundel Castle (British, 19118 GRT, built 1921), Athlone Castle (25564 GRT, built 1936), Britannic (British, 26943 GRT, built 1930), Capetown Castle (British, 27002 GRT, built 1938), Duchess of Bedford (British, 20123 GRT, built 1928), Duchess of Richmond (British, 20022 GRT, built 1928), Duchess of York (British, 20021 GRT, built 1929), Durban Castle (British, 17388 GRT, built 1938), Empress of Australia (British, 21833 GRT, built 1914), Empress of Japan (British, 26032 GRT, built 1930), Franconia (British, 20175 GRT, built 1923), Highland Chieftain (British, 14131 GRT, built 1929), Highland Princess (British, 14133 GRT, built 1930), Monarch of Bermuda (British, 22424 GRT, built 1931), Nea Hellas (British, 16991 GRT, built 1922), Orbita (British, 15495 GRT, built 1915), Ormonde (British, 14982 GRT, built 1917), Pennland (Dutch, 16082 GRT, built 1922), Samaria (British, 19597 GRT, built 1921), Winchester Castle (British, 20012 GRT, built 1930) and Windsor Castle (British, 19141 GRT, built 1922).
Four of these ships departed Avonmouth on 7 January and six sailed from Liverpool. These ships anchored in Moelfre Bay for several days as the eleven ships that were to be sailed from the Clyde could not do so due to thick fog.
The Avonmouth (Bristol Channel) section of the convoy had been escorted to Moelfre Bay by the destroyer HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. R.L.S. Gaisford, RN).
The Liverpool section was escorted to Moelfre Bay by the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (Capt. R.R. Stewart, RN) and the destroyers HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN), HMS Highlander (Cdr. W.A. Dallmeyer, DSO, RN) and HMS Witherington (Lt.Cdr. J.B. Palmer, RN).
The ships and their escorts anchored in Moelfre Bay from 8 to 11 January. The escorts remained there for A/S patrol and AA protection and were joined by the destroyer HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. G.T. Lambert, RN) which had departed Liverpool on the 8th and the light cruiser HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.L.S. King, CB, MVO, RN) which came from the Clyde.
When it became clear that the ships from the Clyde were finally able to sail the ships in Moelfre Bay sailed for Lough Foyle (near Londonderry, Northern Ireland) to take on board additional water.
The ships from Lough Foyle and the Clyde made rendez-vous at sea on 12 January and course was then set to Freetown.
The convoy was now escorted by the battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN), heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, light cruisers HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN), HMS Naiad, destroyers HMS Jackal (Cdr. C.L. Firth, MVO, RN), HMS Harvester, HMS Highlander, HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN), HMS Beagle (Lt.Cdr. R.H. Wright, DSC, RN), HMS Witherington, HMS Watchman (Lt.Cdr. E.C.L. Day, RN), HMS Vansittart, HMS Lincoln (Cdr. A.M. Sheffield, RN), HMS Leamington (Cdr. W.E. Banks, DSC, RN) and Léopard (Lt.Cdr. J. Evenou).
On 14 January the destroyers HMS Witherington and FFS Leopard parted company.
The light cruiser HMS Emerald (Capt. F.C. Flynn, RN) departed Plymouth on 12 January. She joined the convoy around noon on the 15th. Shortly afterwards HMS Naiad then parted company with the convoy and proceeded to Scapa Flow where she arrrived around 1430/17.
HMS Phoebe and HMS Fearless also parted company with the convoy escorting the Capetown Castle and Monarch of Bermuda to Gibraltar where they arrived in the afternoon of the 18th. On the 17th they were joined by the destroyer HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and on the 18th by two more destroyers; HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN) and HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN).
At Gibraltar the two troopships took on board troops from the damaged troopship Empire Trooper. They departed Gibraltar for Freetown on 19 January being escorted by the destroyers HMS Fury, HMS Fearless and HMS Duncan until 21 January when they parted company. Both troopships arrived at Freetown on 26 January escorted by HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN) and HMS Forester.
Meanwhile convoy WS 5B had coninued its passage southwards.
On the 16 January all remaining destroyers parted company.
HMS Ramillies parted company with the convoy on 17 January.
The troopship / liner Duchess of York was apparently detached at some point.
When approaching Freetown local A/S vessels started to join the convoy. On 21 January the corvettes HMS Asphodel (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) K.W. Stewart, RN) and HMS Calendula (Lt.Cdr. A.D. Bruford, RNVR) joined and the next day the destroyer HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN) also joined the convoy. Finally on 24 January the destroyer HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN) also joined the convoy.
On 25 January 1941 the convoy arrived at Freetown escorted by HMAS Australia, HMS Emerald, HMS Velox, HMS Vidette, HMS Asphodel and HMS Calendula.
The convoy departed Freetown on 29 January with the addition of troop transport Cameronia (British, 16297 GRT, built 1920) still escorted by HMAS Australia and HMS Emerald. A local A/S force remained with the convoy until 1 February and was made up of the destroyers HMS Faulknor, HMS Forester, sloop HMS Milford (Capt.(Retd.) S.K. Smyth, RN) and the corvettes HMS Clematis (Cdr. Y.M. Cleeves, DSC, RD, RNR) and HMS Cyclamen (Lt. H.N. Lawson, RNR).
HMS Emerald arrived at Capetown on 8 February escorting Arundel Castle, Athlone Castle, Capetown Castle, Duchess of Bedford, Durban Castle, Empress of Australia, Empress of Japan, Monarch of Bermuda and Winchester Castle. The light cruiser then went to Simonstown.
HMAS Australia arrived at Durban on 11 February with Britannic, Cameronia, Duchess of Richmond, Franconia, Highland Chieftain, Highland Princess, Nea Hellas, Ormonde, Pennland, Samaria and Windsor Castle.
The Capetown section departed that place on 12 February and the Durban section on 15 February after which a rendez-vous of Durban was effected.
On 21 February the troopships Empress of Australia, Empress of Japan, Ormonde and Windsor Castle were detached to Mombasa escorted by HMS Emerald. They arrived at Mombasa on 22 February. In the approaches to Mombasa the convoy was joined by the destroyer HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, RN).
The remainder of the convoy continued on Suez escorted by HMS Australia and HMS Hawkins (Capt. H.P.K. Oram, RN) which joined the convoy shortly before HMS Emerald and the four troopships for Mombasa were detached, arriving on 3 March. The sloop HMAS Parramatta (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Walker, MVO, RAN) provided A/S escort during the passage through the Red Sea. The convoy arrived at Suez on 3 March 1941.
The 'Mombasa section' meanwhile departed there on 24 February as convoy WS 5X now escorted by light cruiser HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C. Annesley, DSO, RN). On 27 February light cruiser HMS Capetown (Capt. P.H.G. James, RN) joined this convoy as additional escort. The convoy arrived at Bombay on 3 March 1941.
Convoy WS 5X, now made up of the troopship Aquitania (British, 44786 GRT, built 1914) and Empress of Japan, departed Bombay for Singapore on 5 March escorted by HMS Enterprise. The convoy was joined on 8 March by the light cruiser HMS Durban (Capt. J.A.S. Eccles, RN). HMS Enterprise left the convoy on 9 March. The convoy arrived at Singapore on 11 March.
10 Jan 1941
Around 0600 hours (zone +1), HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.La T. Bisset, RN), HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral W.F. Wake-Walker CB, OBE, RN), HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN) split off from convoy WS 5A and proceeded to cover this convoy from a distance.
Both destroyers parted company, the next day, around 1715/11 to return to Freetown. (10)
9 Feb 1941
Convoy WS 6A.
This convoy departed U.K. waters on 9 February 1941 and arrived at Freetown on 1 March 1941.
The convoy was formed at in position from three sections of troopships / transports coming from Avonmouth, Liverpool and the Clyde.
The convoy was made up of the following troopships / transports; Almanzora (British, 15551 GRT, built 1914), Ascanius (British, 10048 GRT, built 1910), Bellerophon (British, 9019 GRT, built 1906), Bergensfjord (Norwegian, 11015 GRT, built 1913), Burdwan (British, 6069 GRT, built 1928), Cape Horn (British, 5643 GRT, built 1929), City of Athens (British, 6558 GRT, built 1923), City of Corinth (British, 5318 GRT, built 1918), City of Hankow (British, 7360 GRT, built 1915), City of Pittsburg (British, 7377 GRT, built 1922), Consuelo (British, 4847 GRT, built 1937), Dalesman (British, 6343 GRT, built 1940), Highland Brigade (British, 14134 GRT, built 1929), Kina II (British, 9823 GRT, built 1939), Leopoldville (Belgian, 11509 GRT, built 1929), Llandaff Castle (British, 10799 GRT, built 1926), Llangibby Castle (British, 11951 GRT, built 1929), Logician (British, 5993 GRT, built 1928), Masheer (British, 7911 GRT, built 1925), Manchester Citizen (British, 5343 GRT, built 1925), Mataroa (British, 12390 GRT, built 1922), Nova Scotia (British, 6796 GRT, built 1926), Opawa (British, 10354 GRT, built 1931), Port Alma (British, 8400 GRT, built 1928), Rangitata (British, 16737 GRT, built 1929), Ruahine (British, 10832 GRT, built 1909), Salween (British, 7063 GRT, built 1937), Scythia (British, 19761 GRT, built 1920) and Thysville (Belgian, 8351 GRT, built 1922).
Escort was initially provided by the light cruisers HMS Birmingham (Capt. A.C.G. Madden, RN), HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN), armed merchant cruiser HMS Cathay (A/Capt.(Retd.) C.M. Merewether, RN), destroyers HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, RN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, RAN), HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Cdr. H.N. Lay, OBE, RN), HMCS St. Laurent (Lt. H.S. Rayner, RCN), HMCS Skeena (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Hibbard, RCN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP), HMS Keppel (?), HMS Broadwater (Lt.Cdr. C.L.de H. Bell, RD, RNR) and the escort destroyers HMS Atherstone (Lt.Cdr. R.F. Jenks, RN) and HMS Cottesmore (Lt.Cdr. J.C.A. Ingram, RN).
Information on this convoy is difficult to find but it appears that most of the A/S escort parted company with the convoy in the early evening of 12 February (according to the logbook of HMS Birmingham) and then proceeded as follows; HMAS Napier and HMAS Nizam to Scapa Flow passing north of Rockall, HMS Keppel, HMS Atherstone and HMS Cottesmore to Londonderry, HMCS Ottawa, HMS Restigouche, HMCS St. Laurent and HMCS Skeena through area 52°N to 53°N, 23°W to 20°W and then to Greenock through position 55°N, 15°W, HMS Legion, HMS Broadwater, ORP Piorun and ORP Garland through position 57°N, 19°W and then to Greenock while passing north of Rockall. All groups were to conduct A/S sweeps on their way back.
Shortly before noon on the 15th the battleship HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN) joined the convoy.
Shortly after Rodney joined HMS Phoebe parted company with the convoy to fuel at Gibraltar.
HMS Rodney remained with the convoy until 1700/16. She then set course to join convoy HX 108.
The battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt R.R. McGrigor, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN) and aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) joined the convoy at 1000/17. They remained with the convoy until 1030/21 when they were relieved by HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN).
HMS Phoebe rejoined the convoy shortly before noon on 23 February 1941.
At 2030/25 the armed yacht HMS Surprise (Capt.(Retd.) E.C. Stubbs, RN) also joined.
Around 0900/27 the sloop HMS Milford (Cdr.(Retd.) the Hon. V.M. Wyndham-Quin, RN) and the destroyers HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) joined the escort of the convoy.
On February 28th, HMS Malaya parted company with the convoy to proceed to Freetown taking the destroyers HMS Faulknor and HMS Forester with her. Also on this day the destroyers HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Isis (Cdr. C.S.B. Swinley, DSC, RN) joined the escort of the convoy.
23 Mar 1941
HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) departed Freetown around 0600/23 to proceed to position 03°00'N, 21°00'W. She is escorted by the destroyers HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN).
The destroyers were to detach at 0600/24 and then return to Freetown.
At 1823/23 however all ships were ordered to return to Freetown which they did around 0730/25. (12)
17 Apr 1941
Convoy SL 72
This convoy departed Freetown on 17 April 1941 for Liverpool where it arrived on 13 May 1941.
The convoy was made up of the following merchants; Alcinous (Dutch, 6189 GRT, built 1925), Bangalore (British, 6067 GRT, built 1928), Baron Douglas (British, 3899 GRT, built 1932), Coracero (British, 7252 GRT, built 1923), Corinaldo (British, 7131 GRT, built 1921), Daldorch (British, 5571 GRT, built 1930), Dixcove (British, 3790 GRT, built 1927), Empire Lotus (British, 3696 GRT, built 1920), Gaelic Star (British, 5596 GRT, built 1917), Garoet (Dutch, 7118 GRT, built 1917), Hainaut (Belgian, 4312 GRT, built 1905), Hazelside II (British, 5297 GRT, built 1940), Inverbank (British, 5149 GRT, built 1924), Jeypore (British, 5318 GRT, built 1920), Kelbergen (Dutch, 4823 GRT, built 1914), Llanberis (British, 5055 GRT, built 1928), Lorca (British, 4875 GRT, built 1931), Moanda (Belgian, 4621 GRT, built 1937), Mokambo (Belgian, 4996 GRT, built 1938), Mount Kitheron (Greek, 3876 GRT, built 1912), Muneric (British, 5229 GRT, built 1919), Norman Star (British, 6817 GRT, built 1919), Penrose (British, 4393 GRT, built 1928), Perth (British, 2259 GRT, built 1915), Prinses Maria-Pia (Belgian, 2588 GRT, built 1938), Saint Bernard (British, 5183 GRT, built 1939), Scottish Star (British, 7224 GRT, built 1917), Somerset (British, 8790 GRT, built 1918), St. Helena (British, 4313 GRT, built 1936), Testbank (British, 5083 GRT, built 1937), Tyndareus (British, 11361 GRT, built 1916), Ulysses (British, 14647 GRT, built 1913), Velma (Norwegian (tanker), 9720 GRT, built 1930), Winkfield (British, 5279 GRT, built 1919) and Yorkwood (British, 5401 GRT, built 1936).
The merchant vessel Empire Advocate (British, 5787 GRT, built 1913) joined at sea on 25 April near the Azores.
A/S Escort was provided on the day of departure when the convoy was near Freetown by the destroyers HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN), HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, RN) and the corvettes HMS Asphodel (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) K.W. Stewart, RN) and HMS Calendula (Lt.Cdr. A.D. Bruford, RNVR).
Ocean escort was provided by the light cruiser HMS Dragon (Capt. R.W. Shaw, MBE, RN) until being relieved around noon on the 19th by HMS Fiji (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, RN) which then remained with the convoy until May 1st.
On 20 April the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Dunnottar Castle (Capt.(Retd.) C.T.A. Bunbury, RN) joined the convoy and she remained with it until May 11th.
Local escort in British home waters was provided from 10 to 13 May by the destroyers HMS Keppel (Cdr. A.M. Sheffield, RN), HMS Lincoln (Lt. R.J. Hanson, RN), HMS Sabre (Lt. Sir P.W. Gretton, DSC, RN) (to 12 May only), HMCS Columbia (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) S.W. Davis, RN), sloop HMS Fleetwood (Cdr. R.W. Moir, RN), corvettes HMS Alisma (A/Lt.Cdr. M.G. Rose, RANVR), HMS Dianella (T/Lt. J.G. Rankin, RNR), HMS Kingcup (Lt. R.A.D. Cambridge, RNR) and the A/S trawlers HMS Man o' War (T/Lt. W.W. Creber, RNR), HMS St. Loman (T/Lt. R.C. Warwick, RNR) and HMS Wellard (Lt.(Retd.) R.F. Turnbull, RD, RNR).
23 Jul 1941
At 0947 hours (zone -2), HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN), is damaged by a torpedo fired by an Italian aircraft. The result was that only one engine out of four remained operational and she could only do 8 knots. Later this was increased to 12 knots. Manchester, who had 750 soldiers for Malta onboard, was ordered to return to Gibraltar escorted by HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN). Around 1800 hours, HMS Manchester was attacked by 3 Italian torpedo bombers but these obtained no more hits. At 0920/24 HMS Manchester and HMS Avon Vale were joined by two more destroyers coming from Gibraltar, HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. H.G.D. de Chair, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, RN). At 0730/25 HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) also joined the screen relieving HMS Avon Vale that had left the screen after fueling from HMS Manchester the previous evening. (13)
24 Jul 1941
HrMs O 23 (Lt.Cdr. G.B.M. van Erkel, RNN) carries out an A/S exercise off Gibraltar with the British destroyers HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. H.G.D. de Chair, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, RN).
26 Jul 1941
HMS Severn (Lt.Cdr. A.N.G. Campbell, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Gibraltar together with HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, RN). (14)
29 Jul 1941
HMS Talisman (Lt. M. Willmott, RN) departed from Gibraltar for Malta. Before departing A/S exercises were carried out with HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. H.G.D. de Chair, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, RN).
No map of this passage can be displayed as there are no logs available for HMS Talisman for this period. (15)
10 Nov 1941
Operation Perpetual and the sinking of HMS Ark Royal
Transfer of Hurrican fighters (from aircraft carriers) and Blenheim bombers (from Gibraltar) to Malta.
10 November 1941.
At 0235 hours (zone -1) on 10 November 1941, Force H departed Gibraltar for operation Perpetual. Force H was made up of the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. C. Coppinger, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, CBE, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, DSC, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, DSO, RN). They were escorted by seven destroyers; HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, DSC, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN).
At 0800 hours, HMS Argus flew off one aircraft for A/S patrol and a Catalina aircraft joined from Gibraltar at 0930 hours. The force passed to the north of Alboran Island. A French merchant vessel was sighted ahead at 1526 hours. She was north bound. During the afternoon AA firing exercises were carried out.
11 November 1941.
Force H continued to the eastward during the night. As the takeoff of the Blenheim bombers from Gibraltar was delayed due to unsuitable weather conditions it was decided that Force H would withdraw to the westward for a while, with the dual object of increasing the distance to the enemy air bases in Sardinia and to give the impression to possible enemy shadowers that the fly off of the Hurricanes had already taken place, and that Force H was already retiring.
At 0935 two aircraft were reported by RDF to the southward. Later the echo faded, but they were sighted flying very low over the Algerian coast. They were too far to be identified and were thought to be possibly French. However a report timed 0935 by an Italian reconnaissance aircraft was intercrypted shortly afterward and it became clear that the two aircraft were in fact Italian.
As hurricanes were range on Ark Royal’s flight deck, making it impossible for her to operate her own fighters. Argus had two Sea Hurricanes ranged, but the enemy aircraft disappeared before these could be launched.
Between 1835 and 1910 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville had a message transmitted that unless the Hurricanes could be flown off the following morning he intended to return to Gibraltar, as he did not consider it desirable to remain in this area without A/S air and fighter patrols.
At 2130 hours, Force H turned to the eastward again towards the flying off position.
12 November 1941.
Shortly after midnight a signal was received that it was intended that the carriers could launch their Hurricanes for Malta at 1000 hours.
At 0743 hours a signal was received that the firt group of Blenheim bombers was airborn at that they would be near the takeoff position of the Hurricanes shortly after 1000 hours.
Between this time and the completion of flying off of all the land Hurricanes, no fighters were available for the interception of enemy aircraft.
Two aircraft, presumed hostile, were detected by RDF to the north-eastward at 0907 hours, but they were not sighted. Later a report from an Italian reconnaissance aircraft time 0907 hours was intercripted, and this no doubt originated from one of these two aircraft.
At 1004 hours four Blenheim bombers were sighted and by 1021 hours 13 Hurricanes had been launched by Ark Royal and 6 by Argus. One of the Hurricanes that was to be launched from Ark Royal had troubles with the engine and was, after repairs, included in the second batch that was to be launched.
At 1048 hours, two more Blenheims were sighted, and within five minutes Ark Royal had flown off the first of the Hurricanes for her second batch. By 1112 hours all Hurricanes had been launched by the carriers and they made off with the Blenheims for Malta.
By 1130 hours all ships were back in position after the flying off operations and course was set to the west. From Ark Royal one Swordfish was flown off for A/S duties and four Fulmars for fighter patrol. These patrols were maintained until dusk.
At 1425 hours HMS Ark Royal reported an aircraft in sight low down to the southward. The four Fulmar fighters were vectored but a section of two Fulmars only sighted the enemy until on the return trip from the chase. One of the Fulmars was able to fire one good burst of gunfire from 300 yards before the enemy aircraft escaped into the clouds. Both wings of this Fulmar were damaged by enemy gunfire. Two sighting reports from this aircraft were intercepted.
Between 1500 and 1515 hours RDF reported that enemy aircraft were shadowing the fleet but by now weather had deteriorated and there was much low rain cloud. Although fighters were vectored no interceptions were made.
At 1625 hours hours Malta reported the arrival of 34 Hurricanes and 7 Blenheims. One Blenheim had returned to Gibraltar with engine trouble. Also a report on U-boat sightings in the Western Mediterranean was received.
Late in the evening speed had to be reduced in the bad weather to avoid weather damage to the escorting destroyers.
13 November 1941
At 0140 hours, weather had improved at bit and speed was increased by one knot to 17 knots but by 0500 hous weather had worsened even further then earlier and speed was reduced to 15 knots. This was only temporary though and at 0630 hours speed was increased to 17 knots and by 0800 hours (daylight) even to 19 knots.
An underwater explosion was observed by HMS Legion in her wake at 0413 hours. This was also heard be several of the other ships. Legion at that time was the starboard wing destroyer. This was thought to be a torpedo exploding at the end of its run.
This might well be correct as according to German sources the German submarine U-205, at 0506 hours (Berlin time), made a torpedo attack on a force of enemy warships but no hits were obtained.
At 0645 hours, Ark Royal flew of an AS patrol of six Swordfish for a dawn A/S patrol. They sighted nothing. They returned at 0850 hours. More A/S patrol were maintained throughout the day.
At 0817 hours a report was received that submarine were to be expected to be in the area. Course was now altered to approach Gibraltar directly from the east and not as was usually the case along the Spanish or Maroccan coast.
Later in the morning HMS Laforey and later HMS Lightning both reports A/S contacts and the fleet evaded these.
The fleet conducted exercises in the afternoon. HMS Laforey reported another A/S contact and the fleet once again made an emergency turn. The contact was however soon classified as ‘non sub’ and the main course was promptly resumed.
At 1541 hours, while in position 36°03’N, 04°40’W HMS Ark Royal was hit by a torpedo on the starboard side. Following this HMS Malaya immediately altered course to port and increased speed. HMS Legion and HMS Gurkha, the rear destroyers on the starboard wing at once turned outwards and started an A/S search to the north and east of the Ark Royal, the most probable area where the attacker must have been.
At this time HMS Ark Royal was still going ahead at considerable speed, listing to starboard and apparently under port wheel. A number of her aircraft were still circling overhead as she had been conducting aircraft operations when she was hit.
At 1549 hours, HMS Laforey and HMS Lightning were ordered to join HMS Ark Royal who appeared to be loosing speed. Signals were also made to require tugs to be sent out from Gibraltar and all available A/S craft to be sent out to patrol the area. HMS Hermione was ordered to stand by HMS Ark Royal The remaining three destroyers, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu and HrMs Isaac Sweers were ordered to screen HMS Malaya.
By 1610 hours, HMS Ark Royal was laying stopped and listing heavily to starboard but she reported she had steam on her port engine. HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning and HMS Gurkha had closed her and were circling Ark Royal. HMS Legion was alongside Ark Royal. HMS Hermione was still closing. HMS Malaya and her three escorting destroyers were about 5 miles off and proceeding to Gibraltar at 18 knots as was HMS Argus who was some distance astern of her but catching up on Malaya. At 1615 hours Argus flew off two Swordfish aircraft for A/S patrol.
At 1710 hours, when 8 nautical miles eastwards of Europa Point, HMS Malaya was passed by units coming out of Gibraltar to assist. These were the destroyer HMS Wild Swan (Lt.Cdr. C.E.L. Sclater, RN), motor launches ML 121, ML 130, ML 132, ML 135, ML 170, ML 172, ML 176 and the tugs St. Omar and Thames. Shortly before the tug St. Day had also been sighted proceeding eastwards. Besides these ships the destroyer HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, RN) had also been ordered to proceed to the east.
HMS Malaya and HMS Argus entered harbour around 1820 hours and before she was berthed Vice-Admiral Somerville had transferred to HMS Sikh and went out again to proceed to HMS Ark Royal. Shortly before Sikh left the harbour the destroyer HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN) had also left the harbour to assist. Sikh, Zulu, Isaac Sweers and Wishart joined the patrol near Ark Royal for the night.
At 1900 hours, three corvettes departed Gibaltar to assist. These were; HMS Rhododendron (Lt. H.I. Davis, RNVR), HMS Marigold (T/Lt. J. Renwick, RNR), HMS Pentstemon (Lt.Cdr. J. Byron, RNR). This last corvette had a large 6” portable pump on board
The trawlers HMS St. Nectan (T/Lt.Cdr. H.B. Phillips, RNR) and HMS Lady Shirley (Lt.Cdr. A.H. Callaway, RANVR) had also been sailed around 1715 hours to patrol the area. They had not been very near to Ark Royal during the coming night.
Around 2040 hours the situation was as follows. Ark Royal was being towed by Thames and St. Day. The tow was proceeding at 2 knots. It was hoped that Ark Royal was able to raise steam shortly.
At 2224 hours, the Capt. (D) 19th Destroyer Flotilla on board Laforey reported that Ark Royal had her own steam and power and that flooding was apparently under contral and that no more tugs would be required until off the harbour. Shortly afterwards Vice-Admiral Somerville therefore ordered the three corvettes to establish A/S patrol astern of the Ark Royal and to close her only by daylight.
At 2355 hours, HMS Legion arrived at Gibraltar packed with crew of HMS Ark Royal which were not needed in the rescue effort. After landing these she proceeded back to sea.
14 November 1941
At 0221 hours, the Capt. (D) 19th Destroyer Flotilla reported that Ark Royal had lost steam (and power) and that a powerful pump would be required. Another signal at 0242 hours stated that another tug would be required. This indicated that the situation was deteriorating. Vice-Admiral Somerville therefore ordered HMS Sikh to close. HMS Pentstemon, the corvette with the portable pump on board, was also ordered to close. From Gibraltar the tug Rollicker was also sent out to assist.
On approaching HMS Laforey, which was alongside Ark Royal together with St. Day, signaled to Sikh that Vice-Admiral Somerville could better transfer to an ML which he did. At 0430 hours Vice-Admiral Somerville boarded Laforey to find she was on the point of casting off from HMS Ark Royal. Capt. Maund was also on board Laforey with the last of the steaming party. Ark Royal now had a list of 35° and was listing still further judging by the straining and parting of wires securing the ships alongside her. The situation was reported by signal to the Admiralty at 0446 hours.
After getting clear in HMS Laforey, Vice-Admiral Somerville, ordered St. Day to go ahead of Thames but at 0600 hours Thames reported that she had cast off the tow as Ark Royal was sinking. The carrier turned over at 0613 hours and remained bottom up for a few minutes after which she disappeared from sight. This was reported by signal to the Admiralty at 0623 hours.
Vice-Admiral Somerville then ordered the Capt. (D) 19th Destroyer Flotilla to take all destroyers in the area under his command and to commence an A/S sweep to the eastward. He was instructed to return to Gibraltar by dark. In the end HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Gurkha, HMS Legion and HMS Zulu returned to Gibraltar at 1535/14 followed about 15 minutes later by HMS Wild Swan.
Vice-Admiral Somerville himself returned to Gibraltar in HMS Sikh arriving at 0830 hours as did HrMs Isaac Sweers at 0900 hours. (17)
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. (20)
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.] (21)
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.
30 Jul 1942
HMS P 37 (Lt. H. Winter, RN) ended her 5th war patrol (1st in the Mediterranean) at Gibraltar. Before entering the harbour, A/S exercises were carried out with HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, DSC, RN). (22)
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. G.E. Fardell, 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 Dessiè 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. ‘ (23)
6 May 1943
German U-boat U-531 was sunk in the North Atlantic north-east of Newfoundland, in position 52°48'N, 45°18'W, by depth charges from the British destroyer HMS Vidette (Lt. R. Hart, DSC, RN).
6 May 1943
German U-boat U-630 was sunk in the North Atlantic north-east of Newfoundland, in position 52°31'N, 44°50'W, by depth charges from the British destroyer HMS Vidette (Lt. R. Hart, DSC, RN).
21 Jul 1943
HMS H 34 (Lt. B. Charles, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Duncan (Cdr. Sir P.W Gretton, DSO and Bar, DSC, OBE, RN), HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN), HMS Snowflake (Lt. H.G. Chesterman, DSC, RNR), HMS Loosestrife (Lt. H.A. Stonehouse, DSC, RNR) and HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. R. Hart, DSC, RN). (25)
23 Jul 1943
HMS P 511 (Lt. C.W. Taylor, RNR) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle together with HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. R. Hart, DSC, RN), HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN), HMS Loosestrife (Lt. H.A. Stonehouse, DSC, RNR), HMS Snowflake (Lt. H.G. Chesterman, DSC, RNR), HMCS Assiniboine (Cdr. K.F. Adams, RCN), HMS Deveron (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RD, RNR), HMS Sabre (T/A/Lt.Cdr. The Hon. G. Howard, RNVR) and HMS Wallflower (Lt. G.R. Greaves, RNR). (26)
23 Oct 1943
German U-boat U-274 was sunk in the North Atlantic south-west of Iceland in position 57°14'N, 27°50'W, by depth charges from the British destroyers HMS Duncan (Cdr. P.W. Gretton, OBE, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. R. Hart, DSC and Bar, RN), and by depth charges from a British Liberator aircraft (Sqdn. 224/Z).
29 Oct 1943
German U-boat U-282 was sunk south-east of Greenland, in position 55°28'N, 31°57'W, by depth charges from the British destroyers HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. R. Hart, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Duncan (Cdr. P.W. Gretton, OBE, DSO, DSC, RN) and the British corvette HMS Sunflower (A/Lt.Cdr. J. Plomer, DSC, RCNVR).
29 Dec 1943
HMS H 32 (Lt. K.S. Renshaw, DSC, RNR) conducted A/S exercises off Lough Foyle with HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. R. Hart, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Pink (Lt. W.K. Tadman, RNR), HMS Loosestrife (Lt. H.A. Stonehouse, DSC, RNR) and HMS Portchester Castle (Lt. A.G. Scott, RNR). (28)
15 Mar 1944
HrMs O 9 (Lt. J.B.M.J. Maas, RNN) participated in A/S exercises off Lough Foyle together with HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. R. Hart, DSC, RN or Lt. P.J. Stoner, RN), HMS Goodall (Lt.Cdr. J.V. Fulton, RNVR), HMCS Midland (T/Lt. W.O.O. Barbour, RCNR) and HMS Swale (Lt.Cdr. J. Jackson, DSC, RNR). (29)
23 Apr 1944
HrMs O 9 (Lt. R.W. van Lynden, RNN) participated in A/S exercises off Lough Foyle together with HMS Flint Castle (T/Lt. N. Harrison, RNVR), HMS Oxford Castle (T/Lt. H.E. Holden, DSC, RNR), HMS Rushen Castle (T/A/Lt.Cdr. R.C. Warwick, DSC, RNR), HMS Vidette (Lt. P.J. Stoner, RN), HMS Chelmer (T/A/Lt.Cdr. R.A. Cherry, RNR) and HMS Swale (Lt.Cdr. J. Jackson, DSC, RNR). (29)
20 Aug 1944
German U-boat U-413 was sunk in the English Channel south of Brighton, in position 50°21'N, 00°01'W, by depth charges from the British escort destroyer HMS Wensleydale (A/Lt.Cdr. W.P. Goodfellow, RNVR) and the British destroyers HMS Forester (Lt. D.C. Beatty, RN) and HMS Vidette (T/A/Lt.Cdr. G.S. Wooley, RNVR).
- ADM 234/318
- ADM 186/797
- ADM 199/391
- ADM 199/392
- ADM 199/379
- ADM 199/654
- ADM 53/113151
- ADM 53/113151 + ADM 199/654
- ADM 234/325 + ADM 234/326
- ADM 53/114129 + ADM 53/114264 + ADM 53/114806
- ADM 199/1136
- ADM 199/394
- ADM 53/114626 + ADM 234/335
- ADM 173/16984
- ADM 199/1151
- ADM 173/16985
- ADM 199/657
- ADM 173/17567
- ADM 173/17179
- ADM 234/353
- ADM 53/116216
- ADM 199/1826
- ADM 199/651 + ADM 234/353
- ADM 173/17756
- ADM 173/17796
- ADM 173/17926
- ADM 173/18449
- ADM 173/17777
- File 2.12.03.6372 (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands)
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.
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