HMS Hotspur (H 01)
Destroyer of the H class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. (Greenock, Scotland)|
|Ordered||5 Sep 1934|
|Laid down||27 Feb 1935|
|Launched||23 Mar 1936|
|Commissioned||29 Dec 1936|
|End service||Oct 1947|
In April 1940 British mining operations were carried out in Norwegian waters by the 2nd DD Flotilla under the command of Captain Warburton-Lee HMS Hotspur was involved in the escorting of four mine laying destroyers. On the 10th of that month in poor visibility and in company with four of her sister ships, she entered the fjords around Narvik and in a surprise attack sunk, in addition to a number of merchant ships caught up in hostilities, two German destroyers and succeeded in damaging two others. Hotspur and HMS Havock were damaged in this engagement and HMS Hardy and HMS Hunter were sunk. After repairs she was a unit of Force H based in Gibraltar. In September Hotspur sighted a Vichy French task force, consisting of three cruisers and four large destroyers as it passed through the Straits of Gibraltar on its way to Dakar. In October Hotspur, HMS Gallant and HMS Griffin sank the Italian submarine Lafole east of Gibraltar. In November Hotspur was deployed as a unit of Force F comprising cruisers HMS Manchester and HMS Southampton and four corvettes to accompany three transport vessels.
In March 1941 Hotspur was a unit of the 10th DD Flotilla under Captain Walker and was based on Alexandria as part of the Mediterranean Fleet, between the 27-30th, of that month the 10th DD Flotilla was responsible for the screening of Admiral Andrew Cunningham`s 1st Battle Squadron in the Battle of Cape Matapan. In April she was involved in operation demon, this was the evacuation from Greece by the British Fleet in which over 50.000 troops were embarked and brought to Crete and Egypt, the evacuation was carried out under the direction of Vice Admiral Pridham-Wippell using six light cruisers, twenty destroyers, five sloops and corvettes, two assault ships, and nineteen transport vessels. The British forces were mostly embarked on the open beach, two destroyers and five transport vessels were bombed and sunk by the Luftwaffe off the Kaso Strait. At Kalamata Hotspur and HMS Hereward were sent on ahead of the convoy arriving off the harbour in darkness and found the entrance of the harbour unlit. When the destroyer came alongside, the quay was practically deserted and great difficulty was experienced in finding anybody to berth the ships. It appeared that no information had been received about embarkation as the telephone system was out of action and the army W/T set had failed to receive any signals during the day, however within ten minutes four hundred RAF officers and ranks and about one hundred and fifty army ranks arrived and the quays were soon a scene of activity. Hotspur rigged lights on both harbour breakwaters and Hotspur, Hereward and HMS Defender started to ferry troops making a total for the night of twenty one thousand four hundred. The ships sailed at dawn leaving some ten thousand troops behind. In May Hotspur with the cruiser HMS Ajax and the destroyers HMS Havock and HMS Imperial, shelled the harbour of Benghazi and two steamers were also sunk to the south of the harbour. All British attempts to bring reenforcement’s to the Island of Crete were unsuccessful and the island had to be evacuated. On the 28th, Admiral Rawling left Alexandria in the cruiser HMS Orion with Ajax and HMS Dido, escorted by Hotspur, Havock and Imperial on their way to the evacuation area and as they were passing through the Kaso Strait, German bombers from Scarpanto spotted them and dived to the attack, Ajax and Imperial were damaged by bombs and although damaged they managed to stay with the squadron. On the 31st, Rear Admiral King made a last desperate attempt to evacuate the remaining six thousand troops off the Island of Crete, using the cruiser HMS Phoebe, and the destroyers HMS Hotspur, HMS Decoy, HMS Jackal and HMS Hereward, they stole into the harbour of Heraklion and berthed two deep at the mole, embarkation went smoothly, and the troops were safely conveyed by the destroyers to the waiting cruisers, the enemy made no attempt to interfere. By 0320 the force had formed up and was steaming at 29 knots for Kaso Strait. Shortly after, problems were experienced onboard the destroyer Imperial whose steering gear apparently damaged by a near miss the previous day suddenly failed. Hotspur was detailed to go back and take everyone off and sink her. Hotspur her task completed, now had nine hundred persons onboard. On June 6th, Hotspur , the destroyer HMS Isis and the assault ship Glengyle left Port Said with a Commando party, on the 9th, they were landed near Tyre in Syria to capture an important bridge behind the French troops lines. Air cover for this sortie was provided by the AA cruiser HMS Coventry. On the 9th, the large French destroyers Guepard and Valmy shelled the forward troops of an Australian unit as they advanced along the coast. Hotspur and Isis intercepted the French off Sidon after the destroyer HMS Janus received five heavy hits, the French destroyers retreated and returned to Beruit. On the 15th, Isis was damaged by bombs from JU-88s. On the 23rd, Hotspur with three other destroyers were involved in a search for an enemy submarine that had been reported off the coast of Beruit. In October she escorted the fast minelayers HMS Abdiel and HMS Latona who were transporting 7,138 troops and supplies to Tobruk to relieve 7,234 Australians and 727 wounded. Latona was bombed and sunk by JU87s, Hotspur and the destroyer HMS Encounter managed to escape unscathed. On November 25th, Hotspur in company with the Australian destroyer HMAS Nizam rescued survivors from the battleship HMS Barham that had been torpedoed by U-331. Hotspur safely recovered Admiral Pridham-Wippel who had been blown overboard by the explosion, 866 men perished. In December 1941 Hotspur, in company with light cruisers HMS Naiad, HMS Euryalus and HMS Galatea and four destroyers, made a sortie against German and Italian supply traffic to North Africa, and shelled Derna. Italian aircraft several damaged the destroyer Jackal using aerial torpedoes. On the 23rd, whilst escorting a convoy between Egypt and Cyrenaica, Hotspur and HMS Hasty sank the submarine U-79.
In January 1942 she was part of a covering force for a British supply operations to Malta. One of the transport vessels had to be sent to Benghazi because of engine trouble with the cruiser HMS Carlisle, Hotspur and HMS Foxhound as escorts. They were continuously harassed by air attacks. In August 1942 Hotspur was docked in the Selborne dry dock at Simonstown,. South Africa. In September the British operation to occupy Madagascar required air support, this was provided by the carrier HMS Illustrious and the aircraft depot ship HMS Albatross with Hotspur and three other destroyers as escorts.
In January 1943 Hotspur was once again docked in the dry dock at Simonstown. In February she returned to the U.K. where she was converted to an escort destroyer. She was fitted with a Hedgehog on the focsle deck and more depth charge throwers were fitted. In September she was transferred to the East Indies Fleet, and stationed at Kilindini as an attendant destroyer to the battleship HMS Warspite. At the end of the year she returned to the U.K.
During January – March 1944 Hotspur was taken in hand for further rearming. In June she was deployed against the U- boat threat to operation Neptune, and was detached to the 14th Escort Group, under the command of the C-in-C Western Approaches. By December the escort group was based in Liverpool for patrol work in that area. In April 1945, the escort group was disbanded and she was placed into reserve.
In February 1948 Hotspur was sold to the Dominican Republic and renamed Trujillo. In 1962 Trujillo was renamed Duarte. In 1972 the old destroyer was finally discarded.
Commands listed for HMS Hotspur (H 01)
Please note that we're still working on this section.
|1||Cdr. Herbert Francis Hope Layman, RN||3 Jan 1939||Jan 1941|
|2||Lt.Cdr. Cecil Powis Frobisher Brown, DSC, RN||Jan 1941||Jun 1941|
|3||Lt. Terence Desmond Herrick, RN||Jun 1941||28 Jul 1942|
|4||Lt. Philip Bekenn, RN||28 Jul 1942||25 Jun 1943|
|5||Cdr. Alec Murray McKillop, RN||25 Jun 1943||Mar 1944|
|6||Lt.Cdr. Leopold Hewetson Landman, RN||Mar 1944||1 Sep 1944|
|7||Lt. Charles Shelly Battersby, RN||1 Sep 1944||late 1944|
|8||Lt.Cdr. Derek Roy Mallinson, RN||3 Feb 1945|
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Notable events involving Hotspur include:
1 Oct 1939
1 October 1939, an enemy raider reported in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. The chase of the German ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee
Movements of the German ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee 21 August 1939 – 13 December 1939.
Before the Second World War had started, on 21 August 1939, the German ‘pocked battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee departed Wilhelmshaven bound for the South Atlantic. On 1 September the Admiral Graf Spee was off the Canary Islands where she made rendes-vous with the supply ship Altmark and supplies were transferred.
On 11 September another rendes-vous was made with the Altmark in the South Atlantic. The Admiral Graf Spee had launched her Arado floatplane to scout in the area as supplies were transferred. The aircraft spotted the British heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland (Capt. W.H.G. Fallowfield, RN). The German ships then immediately parted company and cleared the area at high speed. Two days later, on the 13th, the ships again met and fueling was completed. The Admiral Graf Spee was still under orders to remain unseen.
On 20 September 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee and Altmark met again to fuel. On the 26th the Admiral Graf Spee was ordered to start raiding the British trade lanes. She then proceeded towards the Pernambuco area.
On 30 September 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee found her first victim, the British merchant vessel Clement (5050 GRT, built 1934) that was en-route from New York, U.S.A. to Bahia, Brasil. She then sank the ship in position 09°05’S, 34°05’W. The Admiral Graf Spee then proceeded eastwards and found three more victims between 5 and 10 October. On the 5th she captured the British merchant Newton Beech (4644 GRT, built 1925) in position 09°35’S, 06°30’W. This ship was en-route from Capetown to the U.K. via Freetown. On the 7th she sank the British merchant Ashlea (4222 GRT, built 1929) in position 09°52’S, 03°28’W. This ship was en-route from Durban to Falmouth. The crew of the Ashlea was transferred to the Newton Beech. The next day both crew were transferred to the Admiral Graf Spee and the Newton Beech was scuttled. On 10 October the Admiral Graf Spee captured the British merchant Huntsman (8196 GRT, built 1921) in position 08°30’S, 05°15’W. This ship was en-route from Calcutta to the U.K. On 15 October 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee met the Altmark again to receive supplies and fuel. On the 17th the crew of the Huntsman was transferred to the Altmark and the ship was scuttled in approximate position 16°S, 17°W. The next day the crews of the Newton Beech and Ashlea were also transferred to the Altmark and the German ships then parted company.
On 22 October 1939, the Admiral Graf Spee sank her next victim, the British merchant Trevanion (5299 GRT, built 1937) which was en-route from Port Pirie (Australia) to Swansea. This ship was sunk in position 19°40’S, 04°02’E. On 28 October 1939, near Tristan da Cunha, the Admiral Graf Spee once more refuelled from the Altmark. The Admiral Graf Spee then set course for the Indian Ocean.
On 15 November 1939 she sank the small British tanker Africa Shell (706 GRT, built 1939) in position 24°45’S, 35°00’E. This ship was in ballast and en-route from Quelimane (Portugese East Africa now called Mozambique) to Lourenco Marques (now Maputo, also in Portugese East Africa / Mozambique). Next day the Admiral Graf Spee stopped the Dutch merchant Mapia (7188 GRT, built 1923) but had to let her go as she was a neutral ship. The Admiral Graf Spee then set course to return to the South Atlantic where she met once more with the Altmark on 27 November 1939 and the next day she fuelled from her about 300 miles from Tristan da Cunha.
On 2 December 1939, the Admiral Graf Spee sank her largest victim, the British merchant Doric Star (10086 GRT, built 1921),in position 19°15’S, 05°05’E. This ship was en-route from Auckland, New Zealand to the U.K. The next morning the Admiral Graf Spee sank the British merchant Tairoa (7983 GRT, built 1920) in position 19°40’S, 04°02’E. This ship was en-route from Brisbane, Australia to London. On 6 December 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee refuelled once more from the Altmark. She then set course to the River Plate area where the British merchant traffic was the thickest. She was to sink more ships there and disrupt British shipping movements in that area before returning to Germany.
On 7 December 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee sank what was to be her last victim, the British merchant Streonshalh (3895 GRT, built 1928) in position 25°01’S, 27°50’W. This ship was en-route from Montevideo to Freetown and then onwards to the U.K.
Then in the morning of 13 December 1939, her smoke was sighted by three cruisers from the South America Division. More on this in the article ‘The Battle of the River Plate, 13 December 1939’.
British Dispositions in the South Atlantic / South America area
Shortly before the outbreak of the war the South America Division of the America and West Indies Station was transferred to the newly formed South Atlantic Station. The South America Division at that moment consisted of the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. F.S. Bell, RN, flying the flag of Commodore H.H. Harwood, OBE, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Ajax (Capt. C.H.L. Woodhouse, RN). In late August 1939 HMS Exeter was at Devonport with her crew on foreign leave when she was recalled to South American waters. On 25 August 1939 she sailed from Devonport. HMS Exeter arrived at Freetown on 1 September 1939. Commodore Harwood then met the Commander-in-Chief South Atlantic Station, Vice-Admiral G. D’Oyly Lyon, CB, RN. Later the same day HMS Exeter sailed for Rio de Janeiro.
Meanwhile four destroyers from the 4th Destroyer Division, Mediterranean Fleet, the HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, RN), HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Courage, RN), HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN) and HMS Hunter (Lt.Cdr. L. de Villiers, RN) had left Gibraltar on 31 August 1939 for Freetown.
HMS Ajax was already on station off the coast of South America. Shortly after noon on 3 September she intercepted the German merchant vessel Olinda (4576 GRT, built 1927) in position 34°58’S, 53°32’W. This ship was en-route from Montivideo to Germany. As HMS Ajax had no prize crew available the ship was sunk by gunfire a few hours later. In the afternoon of the next day, the 4th, HMS Ajax intercepted another German ship, the Carl Fritzen (6594 GRT, built 1920) in position 33°22’S, 48°50’W. This ship was en-route from Rotterdam to Buenos Aires. This ship was also sunk with gunfire.
On 5 September two of the destroyers from the 4th Destroyer Division, HMS Hotspur and HMS Havock departed Freetown to join the South America Division. They were ordered to examine Trinidade Island on the way. On 8 September 1939 the heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland (Capt. W.H.G. Fallowfield, RN) departed Freetown to join the South America Division as well. This cruiser came from the Home Fleet and had arrived at Freetown on the 7th.
On 7 September 1939, HMS Exeter entered Rio de Janeiro where Commodore Harwood had a meeting with the Brazilian Secretary-General of Foreign Affairs and H.M. Ambassadors to Brazil and Argentine. HMS Exeter departed Rio de Janeiro the next day. Later that day Commodore Harwood was informed by the Admiralty that the German merchant ships General Artigas (11343 GRT, built 1923), Gloria (5896 GRT, built 1917) and Monte Pascoal (13870 GRT, built 1931) were assembling off the Patagonian coast. He decided to move both HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax south, and ordered the Ajax to meet him at 0800/9. They actually made rendezvous at 0700 hours. The Commodore considered it possible that the German merchant ships might embark German reservists and raid the Falkland Islands therefore he decided to sent HMS Ajax there. HMS Exeter proceeded to the Plate area to cover that important area.
On the evening of the 10th, Commodore Harwood was informed that the transportation of German reservists by the three German merchant ships was very unlikely but as it appeared probable that the German ships were converting themselves into armed raiders the Commodore decided to start short distance convoys from the Santos-Rio and Plate areas. He therefore ordered HMS Cumberland to refuel at Rio de Janeiro on her arrival there and to organize and run ‘out’ convoys in that area with HMS Havock as A/S escort. The convoys were to leave at dawn and be protected against submarines and surface raiders until dusk. The ships were then to be dispersed so that they would be far apart by dawn the next day. At the same time the Commodore ordered HMS Hotspur to join him in the Plate area after refuelling at Rio de Janeiro, so that similar convoys could be started from Montevideo. If one of the German ‘pocket battleships’ was to arrive of South America, HMS Cumberland was to abandon the convoy sheme and join HMS Exeter in the Plate area. Also on the 10th, Commodore Harwood was informed by the Admiralty that the German merchant Montevideo (6075 GRT, built 1936) was leaving Rio Grande do Sul for Florianopolis but decided not to intercept her as this would divert HMS Exeter 500 nautical miles from the Plate area.
On the night of 12 September 1939 the Commodore was informed by the British Naval Attaché, Buenos Aires, that a concentration of German reservists was taking place in southern Argentina with the Falklands as a possible objective. He therefore ordered HMS Ajax to remain in the Falklands till the situation cleared, and the Commodore then proceeded south of the Plate area to be closer to the Falklands himself and yet remain in easy reach of the Plate area. During the next few days HMS Exeter intercepted several British and neutral vessels.
In view of a report that the German merchant vessels Porto Alegré (6105 GRT, built 1936) and Monte Olivia (13750 GRT, built 1925) were leaving Santos on 15 September 1939 Commodore Harwood decided to start the short distance convoys from Montevideo as soon as possible. HMS Cumberland had meanwhile arranged a twelve-hour convoy system from Santos. Ships from Rio de Janeiro for Freetown would sail at dawn on odd numbered days, and ships for the south on even numbered days with HMS Havock as anti-submarine escort and HMS Cumberland in distant support. HMS Cumberland left Rio de Janeiro on 16 September and during the next eight days sighted 15 British and neutral ships while on patrol.
On 17 September 1939, HMS Hotspur joined HMS Exeter in the Plate area. HMS Exeter then made a visit to Montevideo and resumed her patrol off the Plate area on the 20th. Fuelling was done from the oiler RFA Olwen (6470 GRT, built 1917, Master B. Tunnard) in the mouth of the River Plate. Soon after leaving Montevideo on 20 September Commodore Harwood learned from the British Naval Attaché, Buenos Aires, that the local German authorities were endeavoring to inform German ships at sea that the British merchant Lafonia (1872 GRT, built 1911) was on her way to the Falklands with British reservists for the Falkland Islands defence force. It was also reported that on 17 September an unknown warship had passed Punta Arenas eastwards. In view of these reports and of other pointing out that German merchant ships in southern waters were being outfitted as armed raiders the Commodore ordered HMS Hotsput to escort the Laofona to Port Stanley. As the volume of trade in the Plate area was greater than in the Rio de Janeiro – Santos area, HMS Havock was ordered to proceed southwards to the Plate area.
The first local convoy outward from Montevideo sailed on 22 September 1939. It consisted of the British merchant ships Sussex (11062 GRT, built 1937), Roxby (4252 GRT, built 1923), El Ciervo (5841 GRT, built 1923) in addition to the earlier mentioned Lafonia, and was escorted by HMS Hotspur. HMS Exeter met this convoy during the forenoon and covered it throughout the day. At dusk the merchant ships were dispersed on prearranged courses while HMS Exeter remained within supporting distance and HMS Hotspur escorted the Lafonia to Port Stanley.
On 24 September 1939, Vice-Admiral Lyon (C-in-C, South Atlantic) and Commodore Harwood learned from the Naval Attaché, Buenos Aires, that ‘according to a reliable source’ arrangements had been made for a number of German ships and a submarine to meet near Ascension on 28 September 1939. HMS Cumberland was ordered to proceed there and HMS Ajax was ordered to leave the Falklands and take up her place in the Rio de Janeiro area. HMS Neptune (Capt. J.A.V. Morse, DSO, RN) was also ordered to proceed to the area off Ascension with the destroyers HMS Hyperion and HMS Hunter which departed Freetown on the 25th. No German ships were however encountered off Ascension and all ships then proceeded to Freetown where they arrived on 2 October 1939 with HMS Cumberland low on fuel.
While HMS Cumberland left the station to search for the German ships, HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax were sweeping of the Plate and Rio de Janeiro – Santos area respectively. On 27 September 1939, HMS Havock escorted a convoy made up of the British merchants Miguel de Larrinaga (5231 GRT, built 1924), Pilar de Larringa (7352 GRT, built 1918) and Sarthe (5271 GRT, built 1920) out of the Plate area. The next day another convoy, made up of the British merchants Adellen (7984 GRT, built 1930), Cressdene (4270 GRT, built 1936), Holmbury (4566 GRT, built 1925), Lord Byron (4118 GRT, built 1934), Ramillies (4553 GRT, built 1927) and Waynegate (4260 GRT, built 1931) left the Plate area escorted by HMS Havock and with cover from HMS Exeter.
At daylight on 29 September 1939 HMS Ajax was off Rio de Janeiro ready to escort ships sailing northward. She sighted none until the early afternoon when she met the Almeda Star (12848 GRT, built 1926) and a few hours later the tanker San Ubaldo (5999 GRT, built 1921). That night several neutral steamers were sighted off Rio de Janeiro and the next day the British La Pampa (4149 GRT, built 1938) was met and escorted during daylight on her way to Santos. So far on the work of the South American Division during September 1939. The ships assigned to Commodore Harwood had been busy patrolling and escorting ships near the focal areas.
A surface raider reported, 1 October 1939.
When a report that the British merchant Clement had been sunk on 30 September 1939 by a surface raider off Pernambuco was received by the Admiralty in the afternoon of October 1st, the C-in-C, South Atlantic was informed that he should retain the 4th Destroyer Division and that his command would be reinforced by the cruisers HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.G.B. Wilson, DSO, RN), HMS Capetown (Capt. T.H. Back, RN), HMS Effingham (Capt. J.M. Howson, RN), HMS Emerald (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) and HMS Enterprise (Capt. H.J. Egerton, RN). Also the battleships HMS Resolution (Capt. C.H. Knox-Little, RN), HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN) and the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (Capt. F.E.P. Hutton, RN) were to proceed to either Jamaica or Freetown. These dispositions however never materialised being superseded on 5 October 1939 by a more general policy (the institution of hunting groups) which cancelled them.
The institution of hunting groups, 5 October 1939.
On 5 October 1939 the Admiralty formed five hunting groups in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean of sufficient strength to destroy any ‘pocket battleship’ or Hipper-class cruiser. These were; Force F; area: North America and West Indies. HMS Berwick (Capt. I.M. Palmer, DSC, RN), HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), Force G; area: S.E. coast of South America. HMS Cumberland, HMS Exeter Force H; area: Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. HMS Sussex (Capt. A.R. Hammick, RN), HMS Shropshire (Capt. A.W.LaT. Bisset, RN), Force I; area: Ceylon. HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hamill, RN), HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.S.C. Martin, RN), HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), Force K; area: Pernambuco, Brazil. HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN), Force L; area: Brest, France. Dunkerque (Capt. J.L. Nagadelle, replaced by Capt. M.J.M. Seguin on 16 October), Bearn (Capt. M.M.A. Lafargue, replaced by Capt. Y.E. Aubert on 7 October), Georges Leygues (Capt. R.L. Perot), Gloire (Capt. F.H.R. de Belot), Montcalm (Capt. P.J. Ronarc’h), Force M; area: Dakar, Senegal. Dupleix (Capt. L.L.M. Hameury), Foch (Capt. J. Mathieu), and Force N; area: West Indies. Strasbourg (Capt. J.F.E. Bouxin), HMS Hermes.
The institution of the hunting groups were not the only measures taken. The battleships HMS Resolution, HMS Revenge and the light cruisers HMS Emerald and HMS Enterprise were ordered to proceed to Halifax, Nova Scotia to escort homeward bound convoys. Light cruiser HMS Effingham was to join them later. The battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, DSO, RN) left Gibraltar on 5 October for the same duty but was recalled the next day when the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. I.B.B. Tower, DSC, RN) and the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious (Capt. G. D’Oyly-Hughes, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN) were ordered to leave the Mediterranean and proceed to the Indian Ocean where they formed an addition hunting group, Force J which was to operate in the Socotra area off the entrance to the Gulf of Aden.
Now back to the South Atlantic, on 9 October 1939 the C-in-C, South Atlantic had informed the Admiralty and Commodore Harwood that he intended to co-ordinate the movements of ‘Force G’, ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’. As this would entail long periods of wireless silence in ‘Force G’ he proposed that Commodore Harwood should transfer his flag to HMS Ajax, leaving Capt. Fallowfield of HMS Cumberland in command of Force G. The Admiralty approved of this. Commodore Harwood stated that it was his intention to transfer his flag from HMS Exeter to HMS Ajax in the River Plate area on 27 October. He also stated that the endurance of HMS Exeter was only half the endurance of HMS Cumberland and that this would prove problematic when they were to operate together and he proposed that the Exeter would be relieved by another 10000 ton cruiser but for the moment no suitable cruiser was available to relieve her.
On 12 October 1939 the first of the hunting forces arrived on their station when HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal reached Freetown that morning coming from the U.K. They were soon followed by three more destroyers of the H-class coming from the Mediterranean; HMS Hardy (Capt. B.A. Warburton-Lee, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, RN). On 13 October 1939 the cruisers HMS Sussex and HMS Shropshire arrived at Simonstown from the Mediterranean and one day later HMS Hermes arrived at Dakar from Plymouth.
The South America Division during the first half of October 1939.
When the news of an enemy raider in the South Atlantic reached the C-in-C at Freetown on 1 October 1939 he immediately suspended sailings from Pernambuco and Natal and he ordered HMS Havock and HMS Hotspur to escort British ships clear of the area. But next morning he cancelled these dispositions and ordered Commodore Harwood to concentrate HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax and the two destroyers off Rio de Janeiro. By this time, however, the raider was far away from the South American coast. On 3 October 1939 the Commodore signalled the C-in-C that he intened to concentrate the Exeter and Ajax off Rio and have the Hotspur to cover the Rio – Santos area and keep the Havock off the Plate but upon receiving the orders from the C-in-C to concentrate he ordered to destroyers to join the cruisers after fuelling but not later then 0800 hours on 4 October. Reports that the enemy raider was not a ‘pocket battleship’ however kept coming in and the Commodore decided that he could not leave the heavy traffic in the Plate area without some form of protection and he ordered HMS Havock to return there but when a report coming in from Bahia, Brazil confirmed that the Clement had been sunk by the ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Scheer the Commodore once more ordered HMS Havock to join him. In the end HMS Ajax joined HMS Exeter at 1700/3, HMS Hotspur at 0500/4 and finally HMS Havock at 1300/4.
The Commodore was also informed by the Admiralty that the New Zealand cruiser HMNZS Achilles (Capt. W.E. Parry, RN) would join his station coming from the west coast of South America. HMS Cumberland left Freetown at 1900/3 to join the Commodore in the Rio de Janeiro area as well.
Commodore Harwood’s policy against enemy raiders and a new raider report coming on on 5 October 1939.
Commodore Harwood had decided to keep his forces concentrated and as no new raider reports had come in to patrol the Rio de Janeiro area in accordance with the C-in-C, South Atlantic’s order. If he met a ‘pocket battleship’ he intended to shadow it until dusk. He would then close and attack in the dark hours. If, on the other hand, he made contact at night, his destroyers would at once close the enemy’s beam and attack her with torpedoes.
On 5 October 1939, the British merchant Martand (7967 GRT, built 1939) informed HMS Cumberland that a German armed raider had attacked an unknown ship, this unknown ship was in fact the Newton Beech that was attacked about 900 nautical miles away. This information was not acted upon by the Commanding Officer of the Cumberland. The Captain of the Cumberland assumed the raider report would have been intercepted by other ships and passed on to the C-in-C, South Atlantic. He considered it was important to keep radio silence and decided against breaking it. The Admiralty however later was of the opinion that the report should have been passed on to the Commander-in-Chief.
By 5 October 1939, the Exeter, Ajax, Havock and Hotspur were concentrated in the Rio de Janeiro area ready to engage the raider if she came south from the Pernambuco area. HMNZS Achilles was on her way round Cape Horn.
When HMS Ajax visited Rio de Janeiro on 7 October 1939, Commodore Harwood directed her to suggest to the Consular Shipping Advisers there, and at Santos, that, owning to the small volume of shipping leaving these ports, the local convoy systems, which had been instituted on 22 September against armed merchant raiders, should be suspended, and Allied merchant ships be routed independently.
The Commodore intended to meet HMS Cumberland at 1700/8, but at 1600/7 he received a message from the Consular Shipping Adviser at Rio de Janeiro in which he desired an escort for a 13 knot convoy that was to sail at 0430/8 and that had received much local publicity. The Commodore thought that this publicity might draw the enemy raider to the area and he therefore took his entire force back towards Rio de Janeiro and sent HMS Hotspur ahead to make contact with the convoy, while keeping his other ships in support. The convoy consisted of the British merchants Highland Chieftain (14131 GRT, built 1929), Nariva (8723 GRT, built 1920) and the French merchant Alsina (8404 GRT, built 1922).
Meanwhile the Commodore had directed HMS Cumberland to meet him at dawn on October 9th. When the convoy was dispersed at 1800/8 the Exeter and Ajax steered to meet her while the Havock was detached to fuel at Rio de Janeiro. At 2200/8 HMS Ajax was detached. HMS Cumberland made rendezvous with HMS Exeter at 0500/9. They were ordered by the C-in-C, South Atlantic to make a sweep northwards but this could not be carried out as HMS Exeter was short of fuel. The Commodore therefore decided to make a sweep southwards towards the Plate area where HMS Exeter could refuel. He also decided to keep HMS Hotspur with the two cruisers as long as possible.
On 12 October 1939, Rio Grande do Sul reported that the German merchant Rio Grande (6062 GRT, built 1939) was about to sail. The Commodore at once ordered HMS Cumberland to proceed there and intercept. She arrived off Rio Grande do Sul at 1600/13 but on finding it all quiet in the harbour she shaped course for the Plate area at nightfall. Meanwhile the Commodore had ordered HMS Hotspur to fuel at Montevideo when HMS Havock left that port early on the 14th.
about this time RFA Olwen informed the Commodore the the German merchant Bahia Laura (8611 GRT, built 1918) was leaving Montevideo at 1000 next morning and might protest if HMS Havock sailed the same day. Instead, therefore, of entering Montevideo HMS Hotspur at once fueled from the Olwen and then remained out on patrol. The Bahia Laura however, showed no signs of leaving and at 0800/14, HMS Havock put to sea. At 1200 hours HMS Hotspur entered Montevideo. Later that day HMS Exeter and HMS Cumberland fueled from the Olwen in San Borombon Bay at the southern entrance to the Plate estuary. At 1430 hours they were joined by HMS Havock. Commodore Harwood then ordered her to patrol off Montevideo to watch the Bahia Laura. When HMS Exeter finished fueling she immediately put to sea. HMS Cumberland rejoined him next morning at 0700 hours. HMS Havock was then ordered to join the cruisers. On 16 October the commodore learned that the Bahia Laura had sailed at 1015 hours the previous day. By the time the signal reached him the German ship was far out at sea well past his patrol line. But as the whole area was enveloped in dense fog the Commodore decided against trying to catch her.
The South America Division during the second half of October 1939.
Meanwhile Commodore Harwood had informed the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic on 13 October that as HMS Exeter required certain minor repairs he proposed to proceed to the Falklands on the17th and then return to the Plate area on the 27th. The Commander-in-Chief replied that he preferred that HMS Exeter would stay in the Plate area till the Commodore would transfer his Broad Pendant to HMS Ajax on the 27th. As HMNZS Achilles was due in the Plate area on this day also, she and HMS Cumberland could then operate as ‘Force G’ during the Exeter’s absence. This would mean that there would be no cruiser in the Rio de Janeiro area until HMS Exeter would return from her repairs at the Falklands. The Commodore therefore ordered HMS Havock to sail on 21 October for a four day patrol in the Rio – Santos Area, where HMS Hotspur, which could remain at sea until 2 November, would relieve her. From that date until the relief of HMNZS Achilles there would be no warship in this area. The Commodore therefore asked the Commander-in-Chief to allow ‘Force G’ to operate in that area from 2 to 10 November. When HMS Hotspur joined the Exeter and Cumberland from Montevideo on 17 October the Commodore ordered her to patrol off Rio Grande do Sul to intercept the German ships Rio Grande and Montevideo if they would come out, and sent HMS Havock to patrol inshore with orders to anchor the night clear of the shipping route.
This proved to be the last duty of these two destroyers with the South America Division. On 20 October the Admiralty ordered their transfer to the West Indies. Three days later the Commodore sent them into Buenos Aires to refuel, and as the distance to Trinidad, 4000 miles, was at the limit of their endurance, also obtained permission to refuel them at Pernambuco. They both left Buenos Aires on the 25th and, bidding the Commodore farewell, proceeded northwards. They sailed from Pernambuco on 1 November but on the 3rd HMS Havock was diverted to Freetown with engine trouble. The two remaining destroyers of the 4th Division, HMS Hyperion and HMS Hunter, had left Freetown with convoy SL 6 on 23 October. Off Daker their escort duty was taken over by the French light cruiser Duguay-Trouin (Capt. J.M.C. Trolley de Prevaux). The destroyers then fueled at Dakar on the 27th and sailed for Trinidad early on the 28th.
Meanwhile HMS Cumberland had entered Montevideo at 0800/26. At 0900/26 HMNZS Achilles joined HMS Exeter in the Plate area and after fueling from RFA Olwen sailed to meet HMS Cumberland off Lobos the next day and then patrol with her as ‘Force G’ in the Rio – Santos area. The Olwen was now nearly out of fuel and filled up HMS Ajax ,which had arrived from the Rio area on the 26th, with her remaining fuel minus 500 tons for her passage to Trinidad. In the morning of 27 October, Commodore Harwood transferred his Broad Pendant to HMS Ajax and HMS Exeter then parted company to proceed to the Falklands for repairs.
Meanwhile the newly formed ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’ were busy on the other side of the South Atlantic. ‘Force H’, made up of HMS Sussex and HMS Shropshire had reached the Cape on 13 October. As HMS Cumberland had not passed on the report of the Martland, no news on the raider had reached the Admiralty or the Commander-in-Chief since October 1st. On 14 October ‘Force H’ sailed to search for her along the Cape – Freetown route as far as the latitude of St. Helena. That day ’Force K’ (HMS Ark Royal and HMS Renown) left Freetown with HMS Neptune, HMS Hardy, HMS Hero (Cdr. C.F. Tower, MVO, RN) and HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) to search westwards towards St. Paul Rocks, the direction of their sweep being determined by the complete lack of any further raider information.
Finally a raider report on 22 October 1939, Sweeps by ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’.
The three weeks old ‘mystery’ of the raiders whereabouts was partially solved on 22 October when the British merchant vessel Llanstephan Castle (11293 GRT, built 1914) intercepted a message from an unknown ship ‘Gunned in 16°S, 04°03’E’ at 1400 G.M.T. There was however no immediate confirmation of her report and the Commander-in-Chief ordered ‘Force H’ to sail after dark on the 27th to sail for the latitude of St. Helena. At noon on 31 October this Force was in 15°S, 02°51’E, the north-eastern limit of it’s patrol, when a Walrus aircraft failed to return to HMS Sussex from a reconnaissance flight. It was never found, though the two cruisers spend over three days searching for it. Being short of fuel they then returned to the Cape by the same route they had used outwards.
Sweep by ‘Force K’, 28 October – 6 November 1939.
To cover the northern end of the route from St. Helena onward, HMS Neptune and the destroyers HMS Hardy, HMS Hasty, HMS Hero and HMS Hereward had left Freetown on 28 October. HMS Neptune was to sweep independently from position 03°20’S, 01°10’W and then through 14°30’S, 16°50’W back to Freetown. On 30 October a report from Dakar stated that the German merchant Togo (5042 GRT, built 1938) had left the Congo on 26 October, that the German merchant Pionier (3254 GRT, built 1934) had sailed from Fernando Po (now called Bioko Island) on 28 October and that five German ships had left Lobito (Angola) the same day. When the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers, received this information her detached HMS Hardy and HMS Hasty to sweep north-westward for the Pioneer, while ‘Force K’ and the remaining two destroyers searched for her to the south-westward. Both searches were unsuccessful. Meanwhile a message from Lobito had stated that the five German ships that were stated to have left the harbour were still there. On 5 November the German merchant vessel Uhenfels (7603 GRT, built 1931), that had left Laurenco Marques (now called Maputo, Mozambique) on 16 October was sighted by an aircraft from HMS Ark Royal. Only energetic action from HMS Hereward saved her from being scuttled in position 06°02’N, 17°25’W. She was brought into Freetown on 7 November by HMS Herward, a few hours behind ‘Force K’.
’Force H’ and ‘Force G’, first half of November 1939.
The first half of November was relatively quiet on both sides of the South Atlantic At the start of the month ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’ were still on the shipping lane between Sierra Leone and the Cape. On 3 November 1939 the Admiralty informed the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic that all German capital ships and cruisers were apparently in home waters. It appeared therefore that the pocket battleship, which was still thought to be the Admiral Scheer, had returned home and that the raider reported by the Llangstephan Castle on 22 October was nothing but an armed merchantman. Here was a good opportunity for resting the hunting groups and on 4 November the Admiralty issued orders that ‘Force G’ and ‘Force H’ should exchange areas. This exchange would not only give ‘Force G’ an opportunity of resting and refitting at the Cape, but would also provide Commodore Harwood with the hunting group of long endurance that he desired.
The Commander-in-Chief had planned that ‘Force H’ which had returned to the Cape on 7 November would then sweep towards Durban, arriving there on 16 November. However on the 11th they were ordered to sail for patrol in the Atlantic and on the evening of the 17th, while west of St. Helena, exchange patrol areas with ‘Force G’. The exchange of areas however did not take place as ‘Force G’ was delayed due to HMS Exeter being damaged while casting off from the oiler in heavy seas. Before the exchange now could take place it was cancelled.
South America Division, first half of November 1939.
After hoisting Commodore Harwood’s Broad on 27 October the HMS Ajax had swept the Plate focal area. When the Commodore received the signal of the Commander-in-Chief on the 5th regarding the changeover over patrol areas between ‘Force G’ and ‘Force H’, he ordered HMS Cumberland to proceed to the Plate at 20 knots to refuel. About this time a message reached him from Buenos Aires that the Argentinian Foreign Minister had drawn attention to cases of fueling in the Plate by HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax. Although the Argentinian Government had no apparent intention of raising the issue he decided to cut down the fuellings in the inshore waters of the Plate as much as possible. He therefore cancelled the fuelling of HMS Exeter, due to take place on 7 November from the oiler RFA Olynthus (6888 GRT, built 1918, Master L.N. Hill), which had relieved RFA Olwen. He ordered HMS Cumberland to fuel at Buenos Aires on 9 November. HMS Exeter which had arrived at the Falklands on 31 October for repairs, sailed again on 4 November to meet up with HMS Cumberland off the Plate on 10 November, but the Commodore ordered her to enter Mar del Plata for a 24-hour visit on the 9th. As this gave her some time at hand, he ordered her to cover the Plate while HMS Ajax visited Buenos Aires from 6 to 8 November during which the Commodore discussed the question of fuelling his ships in the River Plate Estuary with the Argentine naval authorities. During his visit to Buenos Aires, the Commodore discussed the matter of fuelling his ships of English Bank with the Argentinian Minister of Marine and his Chief of Naval Staff they both suggested that he should use San Borombon Bay which was most acceptable. He had in fact been using it for some time.
When HMS Ajax left Buenos Aires on 8 November she patrolled the Plate area. HMS Exeter arrived at Mar del Plata the next day but fuel could not be obtained there. She was ordered to fuel from RFA Olynthus in San Borombon Bay on the 10th and then meet up with HMS Cumberland off Lobos Island at 0600/11. On the 10th HMS Ajax also fueled from RFA Olynthus as did HMS Exeter after her while HMS Ajax was at anchor close by. However weather quickly deteriorated and the Olynthus was forced to cast off, damaging the Exeter in doing so. Besides that she was still 600 tons short of fuel. As she could not reach the Cape without a full supply the sailing of ‘Force G’ to exchange areas with ‘Force H’ was delayed. The Exeter finally finished fuelling on the 13th and sailed with HMS Cumberland for Simonstown. Before the exchange of areas could be effected, however, a raider was reported in the Indian Ocean and the order was cancelled.
Another raider report, 16 November 1939.
On 16 November 1939 the Naval Officer-in-Charge, Simonstown, reported that the small British tanker Africa Shell ( GRT, built ) had been sunk off Lourenco Marques the previous day by a raider identified as a pocket battleship. After the usual conflicting reports from eye-widnesses during the next few days, however, it was doubtful how many raiders there were or whether they were pocket battleships or heavy cruisers.
The presence of an enemy heavy ship in the Mozambique Channel called for new dispositions. When the raider report reached the Admiralty on 17 November they immediately cancelled the exchange of areas between ‘Force G’ an ‘Force H’. ‘Force H’ was ordered to return to the Cape and ‘Force G’ was ordered to return to the east coast of South America. They also ordered the dispatch of ‘Force K’ towards the Cape with instructions to go on to Diego Saurez in Madagascar. That morning a report reached the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic that the German merchant vessels Windhuk (16662 GRT, built 1937) and Adolph Woermann (8577 GRT, built 1922) had left Lobito. He at once ordered ‘Force H’, which was at that moment west of St. Helena in the approximate latitute of Lobito to spend three days searching for them.
Next day, 18 November 1939, ‘Force K’ left Freetown together with HMS Neptune, HMS Hardy, HMS Hero and HMS Hostile to sweep west of St. Helena through position 16°30’S, 10°W and thence on to Diego Saurez. The destroyers parted company at 2300/18 to search for the German ships. On 20 November 1939, the Commander-in-Chief ordered ‘Force H’ to return to the Cape of nothing of the German merchant vessels had been sighted. HMS Sussex and HMS Shropshire did so on 23 November.
The Adolph Woermann had not escaped. Early on 21 November 1939, the British merchant Waimarama (12843 GRT, built 1938) reported her in position 12°24’S, 03°31’W. At 1127/21, ‘Force K’ (HMS Ark Royal and HMS Renown) was in position 05°55’S, 12°26’W, altered course to close, and HMS Neptune, which was still with them, went ahead at high speed. Shortly after 0800/22 she made contact with the Adolf Woermann in position 10°37’S, 05°11’W and went alongside. Despite efforts to save her the German vessel was scuttled and when HMS Neptune returned to Freetown on 25 November 1939 she had 162 German survivors on board.
’Force H’ and ‘Force K’, second half of November 1939.
As the search for the Adolf Woermann had taken ‘Force K’ nearly 200 miles to the eastward, the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers decided to proceed to the Cape by the route east of St. Helena to save fuel. In hindsight this might have saved Altmark for being intercepted as she was waiting for the Admiral Graf Spee in the area ‘Force K’ would have otherwise passed through. On 23 November 1939, the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, ordered ‘Force H’ to sail from the Cape the next day and patrol the ‘diverse routes’ as far as 33°E until 28 November.
At the northern end of the South Atlantic station HMS Neptune, HMS Hardy, HMS Hero, HMS Hostile, HMS Hasty and the submarine HMS Clyde (Cdr. W.E. Banks, RN) had established a patrol between 22 and 25 November 1939 to intercept escaping German merchant ships or raiders. No ships were however sighted and they were recalled to Freetown on 30 November.
In the meantime the Admiralty had ordered, ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’ to conducted a combined patrol on the meridian of 20°E. The two forces met early on 1 December. The plan, according to the Commander-in-Chief, appeared to be a good one in theory but was found unsuitable in practice that on account of local weather conditions. These permitted flying off aircraft from HMS Ark Royal only once in five or six days, so that the patrol could not be extended far enough to the south to intercept a raider bent on evasion. In fact, only once, on 2 December weather was suitable for flying off aircraft.
South America Division, second half of November 1939.
After HMS Cumberland and HMS Exeter (‘Force G’) had sailed from San Borombon Bay for Simonstown on 13 November 1939, HMS Ajax patrolled the Plate area and escorted the French Massilia ( GRT, built ) that was bound for Europe from Buenos Aeres with French reservists. After parting from the Massilia she closed Rio Grande do Sul and ascertained that the German merchant vessels Rio Grande and Montevideo were still there. For the next two days she patrolled the normal peace time shipping routes.
When the Admiralty cancelled the exchange of ereas between ‘Force G’ and ‘Force H’ on 17 November, Commodore Harwood sent ‘Force G’ to cover Rio de Janeiro. He ordered HMNZS Achilles to fuel off the Olynthus in the Plate area on 22 November and then relieve ‘Force G’ in the Rio area as HMS Exeter would need to refuel in the Plate area again on 26 November. HMS Cumberland was to remain with the Exeter to keep ‘Force G’ together so she could refuel from the Olynthus as well. They were then to patrol the Plate area so that HMS Ajax could visit the Falklands.
On 18 November the Commodore was informed that the German merchant Ussukuma ( GRT, built ) might sail from Bahia Blanca for Montevideo at any time. He at once ordered the Olynthus to watch for her between Manos and Cape San Antonio and took the Ajax south to the same vicinity.
On 22 November 1939 HMNZS Achilles heard the German merchant Lahn (8498 GRT, built 1927) calling Cerrito by wireless, and when HMS Ajax arrived half an hour later a search was carried out. It was insuccessful for both cruisers but both the Lahn and another German merchant the Tacoma (8268 GRT, built 1930) reached Montevideo safely during the forenoon.
HMS Ajax and HMNZS Achilles then both fuelled from the Olynthus at San Borombon Bay during the next afternoon. The Achilles the sailed for the Rio de Janeiro area. She had orders to move up to Pernambuco and show herself off Cabadello and Bahia as a number of German ships in Pernambuco were reported ready to sail to Cabadello to load cotton for Germany. She was to return at once to the Rio area if any raiders were reported in the South Atlantic.
HMS Ajax left the Plate area on 25 November 1939 and sent up a seaplane to reconnoitre Bahia Blanca. The Ussukuma showed no signs of sailing so HMS Ajax proceeded to the Falklands, arriving there on the 27th. By this time HMS Cumberland and HMS Exeter were in urgent need of refits after long periods at sea, and Commodore Harwood ordered the Exeter to proceed to the Falklands forthwith. She arrived at Port Stanley on 29 November 1939 and her defects were immediately taken in hand as far as local resources permitted.
8 December 1939 was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Battle of the Falklands, and thinking the enemy might attempt to avenge the defeat, the Commodore ordered HMS Cumberland to patrol off the Falklands as of 7 December for two days after which she too was to enter Port Stanley for rest and refit.
French Forces at Dakar in November 1939.
During November them most important event at Dakar, where the French were maintaining a number of more or less regular patrols, was the reorganisation of ‘Force X’. On 1 November 1939 the large destroyer L’Audacieux (Cdr. L.M. Clatin) sailed from Dakar to the westward to 26°W and thence south-west to search for the German merchant Togo. She returned to Dakar on 4 November having sighted nothing. That day the French light cruiser Duguay-Trouin sailed to sweep round the Cape Verde Islands and then on to St. Paul Rocks. She returned to Dakar on 10 November. The old ‘Force X’, the Strasbourg (Capt. J.F.E. Bouxin), Algerie (Capt. L.H.M. Nouvel de la Fleche) and Dupleix (Capt. L.L.M. Hameury) sailed on 7 November to sweep west of the Cape Verde Islands. It returned to Dakar on 13 November 1939. Meanwhile French submarines based at Casablanca were maintaining a continuous patrol round the Canary Islands between 25°N and 30°N.
On 18 November a new ‘Force X’ was formed, now made up of the Dupleix and her sister ship Foch (Capt. J. Mathieu) and the British aircraft carrier HMS Hermes. On 21 November the Strasbourg, Algerie and the destroyers Le Terrible (Cdr. A.E.R. Bonneau) and Le Fantasque (Capt. P.A.B. Still) left Dakar to return to France. The next day the new ‘Force X’ sailed with the destroyers Milan (Cdr. M.A.H. Favier) and Cassard (Cdr. R.A.A. Braxmeyer) to cruiser towards 08°N, 30°W. That day L’Audacieux departed Dakar with a convoy for Casablanca.
On 25 November, the Duguay-Trouin sailed to patrol the parallel of 19°N, between 25° and 30°W. Two days later the British submarine HMS Severn (Lt.Cdr. B.W. Taylor, RN) docked at Dakar. On the 30th the Dupleix and Foch returned from patrol being followed the next day by HMS Hermes and her escorts Milan and Cassard.
Dispositions of South Atlantic Forces at the beginning of December 1939.
At the beginning of December 1939, HMS Ark Royal, still flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Aircraft Carriers, and HMS Renown (‘Force K’), were patrolling the meridian of 20°E, south of the Cape together with HMS Sussex and HMS Shropshire (‘Force H’) to intercept the raider reported in the Mozambique Channel on 15 November 1939.
In the north the light cruiser HMS Neptune with the destroyers HMS Hardy, HMS Hero, HMS Hostile and HMS Hasty and the submarine HMS Clyde were returning to Freetown after patrolling between there and Cape San Roque for escaping German merchant ships or raiders. The French cruiers Dupleix and Foch and the British carrier HMS Hermes (‘Force X’) and their two escorting destroyers Milan and Cassard were approaching Dakar. The French cruiser Duguay-Trouin was patrolling the parallel of 19°N, between 25° and 30°W. The British submarine Severn was refitting at Dakar. Across the South Atlantic, Commodore Harwood, in HMS Ajax was at Port Stanley as was HMS Exeter. HMS Cumberland was patrolling of the Plate area and HMNZS Achilles was off Rio de Janeiro.
Forces ‘H’ and ‘K’, 1 – 13 December 1939.
No further reports have been received of the raider which had sunk the Africa Shell off Laurenco Marques on 15 November and it seemed clear that she had either gone further into the Indian Ocean or doubled back into the South Atlantic by going well south of the Cape. On 2 December 1939 the Admiralty ordered ‘Force K’ and ‘Force H’ to their patrol line south of the Cape after refueling, and the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic at once ordered them to proceed for the Cape ports to fuel. That day a reconnaissance aircraft of the South African Air Force reported a suspicious ship south of Cape Point at noon. HMS Sussex intercepted her but her crew set her on fire. She proved to be the German merchant Watussi (9521 GRT, built 1928). She was eventually be HMS Renown. Her survivors were taken on board HMS Sussex and were landed at Simonstown.
No news of the missing raider had been coming in since 16 November but then the mistery shrouding her whereabouts was again partially solved. At 1530/2 a raidar signal ‘R.R.R., 19°15’S, 05°05’E, gunned battleship) reached the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic. It came from the British merchant Doric Star. As this signal placed the raider in the South Atlantic he immediately ordered to abandon the patrol south of the Cape and ordered ‘Force H’ to cover the trade routes between the Cape and the latitude of St. Helena at 20 knots on completion of fuelling. As it was too late for ‘Force K’ to reach the Freetown-Pernambuco area in time to intercept the rainder if she was to proceed to the North Atlantic he proposed the Admiralty that ‘Force K’, after fuelling should sweep direct from the Cape to position 20°S, 15°W. This was changed at the request of the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers to place his force in a more central position for proceeding to Freetown, to the Falklands or to Rio de Janeiro. At 1030/3 a report reached the Commander-in-Chief that the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer had been in 21°20’S, 03°10’E at 0500 hours, clearly indicating that the raider was moving westwards, clear of the Cape-Sierra Leone trade route. ‘Force H’ left Simonstown at 1700 that afternoon and ‘Force K’ sailed from Capetown at 0915/4.
The Commander-in-Chief estimated that if the enemy was proceeding northwards to the North Atlantic she would cross the Freetown-Pernambuco line between 9 and 10 December. He therefore arranged that ‘Force X’ should take HMS Neptune and her destroyers under her orders and patrol the parallel of 3°N between 31° and 38°W from 10 to 13 December. ‘Force K’ would meet HMS Neptune and the destroyers on the 14th and then return with them to Freetown to refuel. The destroyers of the 3rd Division of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla (HMS Hardy, HMS Hostile and HMS Hero) left Freetown on 6 December with the oiler RFA Cherryleaf ( GRT, built ). They had orders to meet the Dupleix, Foch, HMS Hermes and their escorting destroyers Milan and Cassard and HMS Neptune in position 03°N, 31°W on 10 December. On 7 December ‘Force X’ left Dakar for the rendez-vous. That day the submarine HMS Clyde left Freetown to patrol between 03°N, 23°W and 03°N, 28°W and thence to 05°15’N, 23°W between 9 (PM) and 13 (AM) December.
On the evening of 8 December 1939 the German merchant ship Adolf Leonhardt (2989 GRT, built 1925) sailed from Lobito for South America. ‘Force H’ which was by then between St. Helena and the west coast of Africa, was at once ordered to intercept her. The Walrus from HMS Shropshire made contact at 0952 hours next morning and alighted alongside in position 13°S, 11°44’E. At 1250 hours HMS Shropshire arrived at that position but the German ship was scuttled by her crew and could not be saved. ‘Force H’ then returned to the Cape to refuel where they arrived on 14 December.
At 0800/11 the submarine HMS Severn left Freetown for Port Stanley. She was to protect the whaling industry in South Georgio and was to intercept hostile raiders or supply ships. The cruiser HMS Dorsetshire, which arrived at Simonstown from Colombo on the 9th to finally relieve HMS Exeter in the South America Division left Simonstown on 13 December for Port Stanley. She was to call at Tristan da Cunha on the way. On that day, 13 December 1939, was fought the action between the British South America Division and the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, known as the Battle of the River Plate.
The South America Division, 1 to 13 December 1939.
At the beginning of December 1939, HMS Ajax and HMS Exeter were at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. HMS Cumberland was off the River Plate and HMNZS Achilles was patrolling the Rio de Janeiro area. On 2 December HMS Ajax left Port Stanley for the Plate area. That evening the Commodore learned that the Doric Star had been sunk by a raider to the south-east of St. Helena. Two days later the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic informed him that HMS Dorsetshire would arrive at Port Stanley on 23 December to relieve HMS Exeter which was then to proceed to Simonstown for a much needed refit.
Early on 5 December the British Naval Attaché at Buenos Aires reported that the German merchant Ussukuma had left Bahia Blanca at 1900 hours the previous evening. The Commodore immediately ordered HMS Cumberland which was on the way south to the Falkland Islands to search for her. Meanwhile HMS Ajax turned south and closed the Argentinian coast in case the Ussukuma, which was known to be short of fuel, should attempt to reach Montevideo inside territorial waters. At 1910/5, HMS Ajax sighted her smoke to the north-north-east but the Germans managed to scuttle their ship and despite the efforts to save her she sank during the night. At 0615/6, HMS Cumberland came up and embarked the German survivors and made off for the Falklands. HMS Ajax then refuelled at San Borombon Bay from the Olynthus.
About the same time the Brazilian authorities asked that HMNZS Achilles should not refuel in any Brazilian port at an interval less then three months. The Commodore, therefore, ordered her to return south and refuel at Montevideo on 8 December. HMNZS Achilles then joined HMS Ajax at 1000/10 in position 35°11’S, 51°13’W, 230 miles west of English Bank. At 0600/12 they were joined by HMS Exeter in position 36°54’S, 53°39’W.
Ever since the beginning of the war Commodore Harwood’s cruisers had worked off the east coast of South America either single or in pairs. The concentration of these three cruisers off the River Plate on 12 December 1939 was, however, no mere matter of chance.
Concentration of British Force in the River Plate area, 12 December 1939.
When a pocket battleship was located in position 19°15’S, 05°05’E on 2 December by the sinking of the Doris Star, her position was over 3000 miles from any of the South America focal areas. The Commodore however recognised that her next objective might be the valuable shipping off the east coast of South America. He estimated that at a cruising speed of 15 knots the enemy could reach the Rio area on 12 December the Plate area on 13 December and the Falklands on 14 December. As the Plate area was by far the most important of these three focal areas he decided to concentrate all his available ships off the Plate on 12 December.
The three cruisers then proceeded together towards position 32°N, 47°W. That evening the Commodore informed the Captains of his cruisers that it was intention that if they met a pocket battleship to attack immediately, by day or by night. By they they would act as two units, the light cruisers were to operate together and HMS Exeter was to operate diverged to permit flank marking. By night the ships were to remain in company in open order.
At 0614/13 HMS Ajax sighted smoke bearing 324° in position 34°28’S, 49°05’W and Commodore Harwood then ordered HMS Exeter to investigate it.
10 Apr 1940
HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, RN) was severely damaged in the first battle of Narvik. Repairs were completed by Chatham Dockyard on 13 July. (2)
31 Jul 1940
Transfer of twelve Hurricane fighters and two Skua aircraft to Malta, air attack on Cagliari, minelaying in Cagliari Bay by Force H and diversion in the Eastern Mediterranean by the Mediterranean Fleet.
Operations of Force H.
At 0800 hours on 31 August 1940, Force H, consisting of the battlecruiser HMS Hood (Capt. Sir I.G. Glennie, RN), battleship HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN), light cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. Q.D. Graham, RN), HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C.A. Annesley, DSO, RN) and escorted by the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Foresight, HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN), HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H Layman, DSO, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSC, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St.J. Morgan, RN), HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, RN) and HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN). sailed from Gibraltar.
Passage eastward was uneventful until at 1749/1 eight Italian aircraft were seen coming in to attack in position 37.34’N, 04.10’E. The aircraft turned away before they reached a favourable attack position. A few minutes later a second wave of nine aircraft was seen coming in but this attack was also not pressed home with determination and no hits were obtained. Some 80 bombs in all were dropped and only a few near misses were obtained on HMS Ark Royal and HMS Forester.
At 2045/1 the attack force for Cagliari was detached. This force was made up of HMS Hood, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Enterprise, HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester and HMS Foxhound. They proceeded at 20 knots towards position 38.30’N, 07.00’E where the striking force from HMS Ark Royal was to be flown off.
The remaining ships of Force H also proceeded eastwards to fly off the aircraft for Malta from HMS Argus at dawn. The position where the aircraft were to be launched depended on the latest weather reports coming in from Malta.
At 2130/1, HMS Enterprise, was detached by the attack force to create a diversion and intercept a Vichy-French ship en-route from Algiers to Marseilles.
At 0200/2, HMS Ark Royal and the destroyers proceeded ahead and aircraft were launched at 0230 hours. Twelve aircraft were launched, nine carried bombs and three carried mines. One of the aircraft crashed on taking off. Due to a misunderstanding the crew was not picked up and was lost.
In the air attacks direct hits were reported four hangars, two of which were reported to burn fiercely. At least four aircraft which were parked in the open were reported to have been destroyed in addition to those in the hangars. Many aerodrome buildings were destroyed or damaged. Three mines were laid inside Cagliari harbour. One Swordfish aircraft made a forced landing on an Italian airfield and the crew was made prisoner of war.
After flying of the air striking force the group of which HMS Ark Royal was part turned to the southward to rejoin the other ships of Force H which had in the meantime also proceeded eastwards and adjusted speed to be in position 37.40’N, 07.20’E at 0445/2. Two flights of one Skua and six Hurricane’s each were launched from HMS Argus at 0515/2 and 0600/2. The two groups of ships from Force H sighted each other at 0520/2 and then made rendez-vous which was effected at 0815/2. All aircraft launched by HMS Argus reached Malta but one of the Hurricane’s crashed on lading.
At 0930/3, HMS Arethusa, was detached to search for the Vichy French ship HMS Enterprise was also searching for. They both failed to intercept this ship. HMS Enterprise was to the north of Minorca and was in supporting distance from Force H and was therefore ordered to proceed to Gibraltar passing west of the Baleares. HMS Arethusa rejoined force H before dark on the 3rd.
HMS Ark Royal, escorted by HMS Hotspur, HMS Encounter and HMS Escapade, were detached as to arrive at Gibraltar before dark on the 3rd. The remained of Force H arrived at Gibraltar around dawn on the 4th.
Diversions by the Mediterranean Fleet in the eastern Mediterranean. Operation MA 9.
At 0600/31, light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN) and destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN) and ORP Garland (Lt. A. Doroszkowski, ORP) departed Alexandria for an anti-shipping raid / contraband control in the Gulf of Athens area. They were to pass through the Kaso Strait and arrived off the Doro Channel at dawn on 1 August. They then exercises contraband control during the day in the Gulf of Athens area retiring to the westward between Cape Malea and Agria Grabusa at dusk. After dark they returned to the Aegean to exercise contraband control on 2 August. They returned to Alexandria in the evening of 3 August 1940.
A cover force went to sea around 1420 hours, this force was made up of the battleships HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN, HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Hostile (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) and HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN) and HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN). They carried out exercises and then proceeded westwards towards Gavdos Island to the south of Crete. Due to engine problems in HMS Malaya the cover force returned to Alexandria late on the the morning of August 1st. (3)
20 Oct 1940
The Italian submarine Lafolé was sunk north off Melilla in position 36°00'N, 03°00'W by the British destroyers HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, DSO, RN) and HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN).
25 Nov 1940
Operation Collar and the resulting Battle of Cape Spartivento
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. Sommerville, KCB, 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 AMediterranean. 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 Bow 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 Sommerville 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 Sommerville 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 Sommerville 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 Sommerville 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 Sommerville 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 Sommerville 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 Sommerville’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 Sommerville’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 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 Sommerville. 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 Sommerville’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 Sommerville 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 Sommerville 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;
From Naples. Battleships Vittorio Veneto and Giulio Cesare, escorted by the 13th Destroyer Flotilla made up of the Granatiere, Fuciliere, Bersagliere and Alpino and the 7th Destroyer Flotilla made up of the Freccia, Saetta, Dardo. Heavy cruisers from the 1st Cruiser Division Pola, Fiume and Gorizia) escorted by the 9th Destroyer Flotilla made up of Vittorio Alfieri, Alfredo Oriani, Giosuè Carducci and Vincenzo Gioberti.
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 bt 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 the event for 23 November 1940, Convoy operations MW 4 and ME 4 for more info on these movements (to be added at a later date).
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. (4)
19 Feb 1941
HMS Upright (Lt. E.D. Norman, DSC, RN) departed Malta for her 7th war patrol (5th in the Mediterranean). She was ordered to patrol off Kerkenah, Tunisia. Before proceeding on patrol A/S exercises were carried out off Malta with the British destroyers HMS Havock (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Hotspur (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN).
For the daily and attack positions of HMS Upright during this patrol see the map below.
21 Apr 1941
Submarine HMS Truant (Lt.Cdr. H.A.V. Haggard, RN) acts as beacon for the Mediterranean Fleet during a bombardment of Tripoli. The bombardment was carried out by the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN), HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN), and HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, RN), light cruiser HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN), and destroyers HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN), HMS Havock (Lt. G.R.G. Watkins, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt. W.J. Munn, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hotspur (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), and HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN). The Italian torpedo boat Partenope and six freighters were damaged in the bombardment. According to Italian sources the steamers Assiria (2705 GRT, built 1928) and Marocchino (1524 GRT, built 1920) sank in shallow waters, the motorboat Ciconetti sank in deep waters and the steamer Sabbia (5787 GRT, built 1926) was damaged.
Later on this day Truant attacks what is believed to be the small Italian tanker Prometeo (1080 GRT, built 1920) with 2 torpedoes off Tripoli, Libya. Both torpedoes missed their target. Italian sources cannot confirm the identity of the ship attacked.
(All times are zone -2)
In position 033° Tajura 3.5 nautical miles sighted the Italian Auxiliary Prometeo to the Southward. Closed to attack.
1410 hours - In only 50 feet of water fired 2 torpedoes from 2000 yards. The torpedoes were sighted by the enemy which altered course to avoid.
1430 hours - Surfaced and proceeded to deeper water on the main engines.
1520 hours - Dived. (6)
28 Jun 1941
HMS Ilex (Capt. H. St. L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) departed Haifa for Port Said. Due to the damage sustained on the 15th she was towed by HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN). They were escorted by HMS Carlisle (Cdr. W. Pope, RN), HMS Hotspur (Lt. T.D. Herrick, RN) and HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr M.J. Clark, RAN).
23 Dec 1941
German U-boat U-79 was sunk in the Mediterranean north of Sollum, in position 32°15'N, 25°19'E, by depth charges from the British destroyers HMS Hasty (Lt. N.H.G. Austen, RN) and HMS Hotspur (Lt. T.D. Herrick, DSC, RN).
29 Mar 1942
Operations by the Eastern Fleet from 29 March to 13 April 1942. Enemy air attacks on Colombo and later Trincomalee and the loss of HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall on 5 April 1942 and HMS Hermes, HMAS Vampire on 9 April 1942.
Dispositions of the Eastern Fleet on 29 March 1942.
On 29 March 1942 the disposition of the Eastern Fleet was as follows; At Colombo: Aircraft Carrier HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.LaT. Bisset, RN), heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) (refitting) and HMS Cornwall (Capt. P.C.W. Manwaring, RN), light cruisers HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C.A. Annesley, DSO, RN), HMS Dragon (Capt. R.J. Shaw, MBE, RN) and HMS Caledon (A/Capt. H.J. Haynes, DSO, DSC, RN), the destroyers HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.D. Pugsley, RN), HMS Panther (Lt.Cdr. R.W. Jocelyn, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, DSO and Bar, RAN), HMS Hotspur (Lt. T.D. Herrick, DSC, RN), HMS Arrow (Cdr. A.M. McKillop, RN) and HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN).
At Trincomalee: The flagship of the Eastern Fleet, the battleship HMS Warspite (Capt. F.E.P. Hutton, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Sommerville, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN), the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (Capt. R.F.J. Onslow, DSC, MVO, RN), light cruisers HMS Emerald (Capt. F.C. Flynn, RN) and HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Cdr. E.J. van Holte, RNN), the destroyer HMAS Vampire (Cdr. W.T.A. Moran, RAN). HMS Warspite departed Trincomalee this day and arrived at Colombo in the evening.
At Addu Atoll; The battleships HMS Resolution (Capt. A.R. Halfhide, CBE, RN , flying the flag of A/Vice-Admiral A.U. Willis, DSO, RN, second in command Eastern Fleet), HMS Ramillies (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, DSO, RN), HMAS Norman (Cdr. H.M. Burrell, RAN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, DSC, RAN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN), HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. I.M. Balfour, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. W. Harmsen, RNN).
The Japanese had been operating in the Indian Ocean in early March and more attacks were expected in this area by the Allies. The most likely target would be the island of Ceylon and the harbours of Colombo and Trincomalee.
30 and 31 March 1942.
Admiral Sommerville therefore planned to concentrate the Eastern Fleet on the late afternoon / early evening of 31 March 1942 in position 04°40’N, 81°00’E. The fleet would then be divided in two groups; Force A (the fast division) was made up of the flagships, battleship HMS Warspite, both fleet carriers, HMS Indomitable and HMS Formidable. They were escorted by the cruisers HMS Cornwall, HMS Enterprise, HMS Emerald and six destroyers; HMAS Napier, HMAS Nestor, HMS Paladin, HMS Panther, HMS Hotspur and HMS Foxhound. This force would try to intercept the enemy and deliver a night air attack on the enemy with their carriers as the main target.
Force A would be covered by the slower Force B which was made up of the battleships HMS Resolution, HMS Ramillies, HMS Royal Sovereign and the light carrier HMS Hermes. Escort to these ships was proviced by the cruisers HMS Dragon, HMS Caledon, HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck and a total of eight destroyers HMS Griffin, HMS Decoy, HMAS Norman, HMS Fortune, HrMs Isaac Sweers, HMS Arrow and one of the old destroyers that had managed to escape from the China station also joined, this was HMS Scout (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) H. Lambton, RN). They were to remain about 20 nautical miles to the west of Force A. If Force A encountered a superior enemy force the would withdraw towards Force B.
At 1400/30 the ships mentioned earlier at the top of this article departed Colombo. HMS Hotspur and HMAS Nestor carried out an A/S sweep of the searched channel before Force A sailed.
By 1600/31 the fleet had made the pre-arranged rendez-vous and formed up. It then proceeded northwards. After dark, to avoid detection from the air by the enemy, Force A altered course to 080° and proceeded at 15 knots until about 0230 hours when it was thought they would be in the estimated position from where the enemy would fly off their aircraft for the expected attack on Ceylon. If nothing was sighted or located by 0230/1, Force A was to turn back to the south-west and to withdraw outside the enemy’s air search area. Force B was to act as a supporting force for Force A, keeping 20 miles to the west of it and confirming to the movements of Force A through the night. This procedure was carried out as planned during the night of 31 March / 1 April but nothing was seen or located.
In the late afternoon / early evening of 31 March HMS Indomitable briefly separated from the fleet for flying operations during which she was escorted by HMS Emerald. From 2100/31 to 0600/1 a search was carried out, to a depth of 120 miles from 050° to 110°, by three A.S.V. fitted Albacores from HMS Formidable. Also two Albacores fitted with long-range tanks were kept standing by for shadowing purposes if required. One of the Albacores crash landed on HMS Formidable upon return at 0340/1.
1 April 1942.
At 0940 hours HMS Decoy reported the breakdown of her main feed pumps. Dhe was detached to Colombo to effect repairs.
Around noon several of the destroyers reported submerged contacts. HMS Scout reported sighting a periscope. The fleet took avoiding action in each case, but nothing further transpired from these contact which are now considered to be non-sub.
At 1400 hours, HMS Scout, one of the oldest destroyers of the Royal Navy with a short enducance, was detached to oil at sea from RFA Appleleaf (5892 GRT, built 1917, Master E. Mills) in position 04°00’N, 80°00’E. Upon completion of oiling HMS Scout was to proceed to position 05°40’N, 81°08’E by 0800/2. RFA Appleleaf and her escort, HMS Shoreham (Cdr. E. Hewitt, RD, RNR), were to proceed towards a new waiting position 05°00’N, 80°30’E.
In the afternoon, around 1420 hours, HMS Dorsetshire joined Force A. This cruiser had been refitting at Colombo but this refit was cut short to enable her to take part in this operation. Air searches were carried out from Ceylon as the days before but they sighted nothing of the enemy. Also from 1430/1800 hours a search was carried out by aircraft from HMS Indomitable between 142° to 207° to a depth of 215 miles. Admiral Sommerville decided to carry out the same sweep to the north-east as had been done the previous night. Again nothing was seen and Force A made rendez-vous with Force B at daybreak on 2 April 1942.
2 April 1942.
At 0800 hours the destroyers HMS Fortune and HMAS Vampire were detached to fuel from RFA Appleleaf in position 05°00’N, 80°30’E. and an Albacore was ordered to search for HMS Scout and order her to rejoin the fleet. Shortly after noon the fleet sighted RFA Appleleaf, HMS Shoreham, HMS Fortune and HMAS Vampire. The last two ships then rejoined the fleet while the tanker and it’s escort were ordered to proceed towards Colombo at 1200/3.
During the day the Eastern Fleet cruised in an area about 50 miles further to the west then the previous day to avoid being detected by enemy submarines that had been reported. Throughout the day several of the escorting destroyers obtained unconfirmed echoes. Two more destroyers fuelled during the afternoon, HMAS Napier and HMS Arrow took in fuel from HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall.
As the enemy had not shown herself by 2100 hours, Admiral Sommerville decided to proceed to Addu Atoll to fuel and to take on fresh water as the R-class battleships were running out of this as they had been unable to top up at Addu Atoll before they sailed.
3 April 1942.
At 0520 hours, the destroyer HMS Fortune was detached to search for survivors from the merchant vessel Glensheil (9415 GRT, built 1924) that had been torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-7 in position 00°48’S, 78°35’E at 0230 hours. HMS Fortune picked up 88 survivors and then proceeded to Addu Atoll where she arrived at 1130/4.
As at this time Admiral Sommerville felt confident that something must have held up the Japanese or that their intentions were incorrectly appreciated. At 0940 hours, he sent HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall to Colombo. The former to continue her refit and the latter to act as escort for the Australian troop convoy SU 4. HMS Hermes and the destroyer HMAS Vampire were also detached but to Trincomalee as HMS Hermes was to prepare for the upcoming operation ‘Ironclad’, the attack on Madagascar.
Late in the morning three of the destroyers of the screen oiled from the battleships; HMAS Norman from HMS Warspite, HMS Griffin from HMS Revenge and HMS Foxhound from HMS Royal Sovereign.
At 1820 hours Force A proceeded ahead to Addu Atoll at 19 knots followed by Force B at 15 knots. Force A arrived at Addu Atoll at 1200/4. Force B at 1500/4.
4 April 1942.
In the early morning hours, and while approaching Addu Atoll, a simulated air strike was carried out on Force B by aircraft from HMS Indomitable and HMS Formidable. One aircraft crashed into the sea, it’s crew was picked up by the Dutch AA-cruiser Jacob van Heemskerck. A second simulated air attack was made on Force A later in the morning.
At 1630 hours, Admiral Sommerville received a report that a large enemy force was in position 00°40’N, 83°10’E at 1605/F. Enemy course was 315°. Shortly afterwards this report was confirmed by another report in which they gave an enemy course of 330°. This positioned the enemy in a position 155° from Dondra Head, 360 miles, the distance from Addu Atoll being 085°, 600 miles. There was no indication about the composition of this force.
The condition of the Eastern Fleet at Addu Atoll at that time was as follows; Owning to the limited number of oilers available, the vessels comprising Force A had taken about half their fuel and Force B had not yet commenced fuelling. In addition the ‘R’-class battleships were very short of water which had to be taken in before they could sail. This meant that Force A could sail immediately, minus HMS Emerald and HMS Enterprise. These cruisers could sail shortly after midnight. Force B could not leave until 0700 hours the following morning at the earliest.
It appeared that the enemy’s probable plan was as follows. All the evidence supported Admiral Sommerville’s original appreciation that the enemy would attack Colombo (and possibly Trincomalee) with carrier borne aircraft either before dawn or shortly afterwards and would return to the carriers in a position about 150 miles south-east of Ceylon. On completion the whole force would then withdraw to the east. The enemy’s reported position made it apparent that this attack was to be made on the morning of 5 April 1942.
Admiral Sommerville considered his possible courses of action were as follows: 1) Force A, less HMS Emerald and HMS Enterprise to proceed immediately at best speed to the area to the south of Ceylon and to be joined there by HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall coming from Colombo and attack any enemy force located. 2) Delay the sailing of Force A until HMS Emerald and HMS Enterprise, valuable units with their strong torpedo armament, had completed refuelling and sail about midnight. Force B could sail in the morning of the 5th and follow astern to act as a supporting force. 3) Delay the sailing of Force A until both force could leave together on the morning of the 5th. 4) Force A and Force B would remain at Addu Atoll and leave the RAF to deal with the enemy attack.
The choise Admiral Sommerville made was governed by the following considerations: 1) First and foremost the total defence of the Indian Ocean and it’s vital lines of communication depend on the existence of the Eastern Fleet. The longer this fleet remained ‘in being’ the longer it would limit and check the enemy’s advances against Ceylon and further west. This major policy of retaining ‘a fleet in being’, already approved by Their Lordships, was, in Admiral Sommerville’s opinion, paramount. 2) The only hope of dealing the enemy an affective blow was by means of a carrier borne air striking force preferably at night. To operate both carriers escorted by HMS Warspite out of supporting distance of the ‘R’-class battleships would offer the enemy an opportunity to cripple our only offensive weapon. Admiral Sommerville considered it a cardinal point in any operation the Force A should not proceed out of the supporting distance from Force B unless it could be presumed that that enemy capital ships would not be encountered. 3) No matter what course of action Admiral Sommerville would take the enemy force could not be intercepted either before or during the attack on Ceylon on the morning of the 5th. The only hope was that the air striking force from Ceylon might inflict damage to the enemy so that the Eastern Fleet could ‘finish them off’, or that the enemy attack on Ceylon would be delayed 24 hours.
Admiral Sommerville therefore decided to adopt ‘plan 2’. So he sailed Force A including both E-class cruisers at midnight and ordered Force B to proceed as early as possible the following morning.
Admiral Sommerville therefore instructed HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall to sail from Colombo and to make rendez-vous with Force A at 1600/5 in position 00°58’N, 77°36’E. The position of this rendez-vous was based on their expected time of departure from Colombo and estimated as being the earliest possible time at which they could cross the track of Force A, taking into consideration that HMS Dorsetshire had resumed her refit and was at extended notice. Admiral Sommerville considered that the course to be steered should take them well clear of any enemy forces operating in the vicinity. Actually these instructions had been anticipated by the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet and these two cruisers, at his discretion, sailed at 2300/4 for Addu Atoll. On receipt of the signal from Admiral Sommerville the Deputy Commander-in-Chief amended his instructions accordingly at 0409/5.
5 April 1942.
Force A sailed from Addu Atoll at 0015 hours and proceeded 070° at 18 knots towards a position which would bring it 250 miles south of Ceylon by dawn on the 6th. Shortly before departure the destroyer HMS Hotspur conducted an A/S search of the entrance to Addu Atoll.
During the night Admiral Sommerville received reports from the Catalina reconnaissance aircraft on patrol from Ceylon of an enemy destroyer in position 01°59’N, 82°20’E, course 315°, speed 20 knots; six enemy destroyers in position 02°54’N, 82°10’E, course 325°, speed 21 knots; and at 0701 hours a report of one battleship, two cruisers an four other ships in position 195°, Dondra Head, 110 miles. Later this message was subsequently amplified to the effect that the vessels previously reported were definitely hostile and consisted of two battleships, two cruisers and destroyers.
At about 0825 hours an air raid on shipping and harbour facilities at Colombo was commenced in which some 75 aircraft were taking part. These were later reported to be mainly Navy ‘O’ fighters, armed with one bomb each. This enemy force withdrew from Colombo before 0900 hours and was seen by several merchant ships to the south-west of Ceylon probably returning to the carriers. In several cases these merchant were machine gunned.
From 0645 hours an air A/S patrol was maintained ahead of the fleet. HMS Indomitable also sent four Fulmars to commence a search to the eastward. This search covered the area between the arcs 055° to 105° to a depth of 215 miles. It proved negative except for the sighting of an enemy seaplane at 0855 hours, 076°, 150 miles from Force A. This suggested that the enemy was carrying out reconnaissance in a south-westerly direction by means of cruiser aircraft, or a seaplane carrier, in a position 70 miles of the main enemy force. There was no indication that this aircraft sighted any of our surface forces or our air search.
Between 0702 and 1145 hours, Admiral Sommerville received reports of battleships in approximate positions 03°55’N, 80°40’E, steering 290° at 0648 hours, steering 120° at 0730 hours, and at 1004 hours in position 04°00’N, 80°25’E steering 282°. This suggested that the battleships were making time while the carriers recovered their aircraft. The estimated position of HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall at this time was 150 miles from the enemy and opening.
At 1327 hours a mutilated ‘Shad’ signal was received from what was thought to be Colombo but was identified half an hour later as coming from HMS Dorsetshire whose position was estimated as being 037°, 90 miles from Force A at 1400 hours. No contact could be established.
At 1344 hours an enemy air formation was detected by RD/F, 030°, 84 miles from Force A. This had faded after five minutes and it later it became clear that this was the enemy attacking the Dorsetshire and Cornwall. At 1552 hours, a reconnaissance aircraft from Force A, reported wreckage in position 02°08’N, 78°08’E.
The destroyer HMS Panther was then detached to search but was recalled about one hour later when a reconnaissance aircraft from Force A reported a force of 5 ‘unknown’ ships in position 03°38’N, 78°18’E at 100 hours. There was no indication of the course or speed of the enemy but it could be either a force previously unreported or the force previously and last reported 1004 hours.
No relief shadowers were however sent off by the Rear-Admiral aircraft carriers as soon s the report was received and Admiral Sommerville omitted to obtain confirmation that this had been done. At 1700 hours, Admiral Sommerville, received a report from Ceylon that there were indications of enemy aircraft carriers steering 230° at 24 knots from an unknown position at 1400 hours. This was thought to be subsequent to the attack on our 8” cruisers and Admiral Sommerville’s deductions from this enemy moves were as follows. If the enemy held on this course they would at 0400 be in a position to deliver a night attack on Addu Atoll. This seemed quite a possible course of action. In any case it was necessary for Force A to keep clear to the southward and for Force B (estimated to be 135 miles astern of Force A) to steer to the southward so that Force A and B could close for supporting action at daylight the following morning (April 6th). It was also necessary for Force B to steer to the southward to keep clear of the enemy carrier force should it be proceeding to attack Addu Atoll.
At 1726 hours, therefore, Force A altered course to 210° at 18 knots and a signal was made to Vice-Admiral second-in-Command and to HMS Dorsetshire to steer south, although at this time Admiral Sommerville feared about the fate of the two heavy cruisers. As he had received no signal from them that they had been attacked he thought it possible they had escaped and maintained W/T silence.
At 1800 hours Admiral Sommerville received a signal from the Rear-Admiral Aircraft Carriers, stating that a reconnaissance aircraft reported the estimated enemy position as 020°, 120 miles at 1710 hours. This position was very close to the previous position reported at 1600 hours. The course of the enemy had not been given in either of these reports but the positions fitted in well with the course received earlier (230°).
At 1817 hours, a further signal was received from the Rear-Admiral Aircraft Carriers, adjusting the 1600 hours position of the enemy’s force, amplifying it to include two carriers and three unknown vessels and giving the course north-west. This was the first indication Admiral Sommerville had of the enemy now proceeding to the north-west. He immediately ordered force A to alter course to 315° and instructed the Vice-Admiral, second-in-Command to conform. These movements had to object of keeping Force A within night air striking distance of the enemy force, trusting to an A.S.V. (airborne surface vessel radar) search to locate the enemy and to bring Force B within supporting distance should it be necessary to retire in that direction. A dawn rendez-vous was arranged with Force B in approximate position 03°00’N, 75°00’E.
As no news had been received of HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall it was assumed they had been sunk.
At 1930 hours a night search with A.S.V. aircraft was commenced to cover the sector 345° to 030° to a depth of 180 nautical miles. Northing was located on this search.
6 April 1942.
From 2100/5 to 0600/6 further A.S.V. searches were carried out to cover the sector 020° to 080° to a depth of 200 miles. These searches also failed to make any contact with the enemy but reported that Force B was 220°, 25 miles from Force A at 0400 hours.
At 0615 hours, Force A altered course to 135° and sighted Force B ten minutes later. By 0720 hours the Fleet was formed up and course was altered to 090°.
Whilst no furher information had been received regarding the enemy’s movements nothing had occurred to diminish the possibility of the enemy’s being in the vicinity of Addu Atoll, either to attack it by air this morning or to await the return of the Eastern Fleet.
Admiral Sommerville intended to keep clear of the superior enemy forces by day. It was still his intention to get into a position to attack them with a night air striking force on their possible return from at Addu Atoll area, and also rescue the possible survivors from HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall. He therefore steered east and at 1115 hours course was altered to south-east in the direction of the wreckage that had been reported the previous evening. During the morning reports came in from merchant ships being attacked in the Bay of Bengal. There must be a second Japanese force operating there.
At 1300 hours HMS Enterprise, HMS Paladin and HMS Panther were detached to search for survivors in the vicinity of the wreckage position. Air search was provided to assist and fighter escort was sent to cover the operation. These ships were successful in picking up a total of 1122 survivors from both heavy cruisers. They rejoined the fleet at noon the following day. At 1800/6, when about 50 miles from the wreckage position course was reversed and the fleet retired to the north-west. All-round air searches were carried out to a depth of 200 miles but again nothing was seen.
At about 1400 hours a signal was received from the C-in-C, Ceylon estimating that a strong Japanese force was still somewhere between Addu Atoll and Colombo. Admiral Sommerville therefore decided to keep clear of the Addu area until daylight on the 7th.
7 April 1942.
At 0200 hours the Eastern Fleet altered course to the west, 270°.
At 0427 hours, an A.S.V. aircraft located two submarines in position 02°08’N, 75°16’E and 02°46’N, 75°10’E, to the southward of the course of the Eastern Fleet. This indicated that the possibility of an enemy submarine patrol having been established to cover the eastern approaches to Addu Atoll. Admiral Sommerville therefore decided to pass through Veimandu Channel to the west of the Maldives and make an unexpected approach to Addu Atoll from the west. At 0700 hours the course of the fleet was altered to 210°.
At 1335 hours, HMS Fortune was detached to investigate a ship contact made by HMS Emerald but no ship was sighted. Fortune only rejoined the fleet at about 0600/8.
At 1600 hours, HMS Enterprise, HMS Paladin and HMS Panther rejoined with the survivors they had picked up and medical stores were transferred from HMS Warspite to HMS Paladin for treatment of the wounded. Enterprise and Paladin were then detached to proceed immediately to Addu Atoll.
At 2100 hours, the Eastern Fleet altered course to 160°.
8 April 1942.
At 0700 hours aircraft were flown off from the carriers to carry out an all-round search to a depth of 175 miles. Again nothing was seen and at 1100 hours the Eastern Fleet entered Addu Atoll. Refuelling commenced immediately, Force B being refuelled first.
Admiral Sommerville held a conference on board HMS Warspite with Flag and Commanding Officers in the afternoon.
Having discussed the situation Admiral Sommerville decided to sent Force B to Kilindini and to proceed to Bombay with Force A. This later decision coincided with Their Lordships views as later in the day he received Their Lordships instructions that Force A was not to be sent to Colombo for the time being. Further by proceeding to Bombay the could arrange a meeting with the Commander-in-Chief, India and discuss the situation in the Far East with him.
At 1800 hours HMAS Nestor departed Addu Atoll to maintain an A/S patrol in the sector between 090° to 150° to a depth of 35 miles from the Port War Signal Station. One hour earlier HMS Resolution launched her Walrus aircraft for a ‘round the island’ A/S patrol. It returned at dusk.
9 April 1942.
Force B sailed for Kilindini at 0200 hours where it was due to arrive on April 15th. Force A sailed at 0600 hours for Bombay shaping course to pass to the westward of the Maldives.
During the morning Admiral Sommerville was informed of further Japanese attacks in the Bay of Bengal and on Trincomalee and the sinking of several ships, including HMS Hermes and HMAS Vampire but nothing could be done about this.
10 April 1942.
At 1000 hours HMS Panther closed HMS Warspite to transfer Staff Officers for passage to Colombo where they were to inform the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet of Admiral Sommerville’s views and make preliminary arrangements to transfer Admiral Sommerville’s administrative staff and secretariat to Kilindini.
13 April 1942.
At 0705 hours, HMS Paladin rejoined Force A bringing back the Staff Officers who had been transferred to her on 10 April and also Rear-Admiral Danckwerts, Admiral Sommerville’s Chief of Staff ashore. Force A arrived at Bombay later that morning (1040 hours) and commenced oiling.
Japanese operation in the Indian Ocean in late March 1942 and April 1942.
On 26 March 1943 the 1st Japanese Carrier Fleet departed Staring Bay, Celebes, Netherlands East Indies for a raid on Ceylon. This Fleet was made up of the aircraft carriers Akagi, Hiryu, Soryu, Zuikaku, Shokaku, battlecruisers Kongo, Haruna, Hiei, Kirishima, heavy cruisers Tone, Chikuma and the destroyers Urakaze, Tanikaze, Isokaze, Hamakaze, Kasumi, Arare, Kagero, Shiranuhi and Akigumo. This force then proceeded west of Timor and to a position to the south of Java where they fuelled from oilers on April 1st.
On 1 April the Japanese Mayala Force departed Mergui for operations in the Bay of Bengal. This force was made up of the heavy cruisers Chokai, Kumano, Mikuma, Mogami, Suzuya, aircraft carrier Ryujo, light cruiser Yura, and the destroyers Fubuki, Shirayuki, Hatsuyuki and Murakumo. On 4 April the estroyers were substituted for four other destroyers; Amagiri, Asagiri, Shirakumo and Yugiri.
On 5 April the Japanse 1st Carrier Fleet launched their air attack on Colombo. 53 bombers, 38 dive bombers and 36 fighters were launched. They destroyed 19 Hurricane fighters, 1 Fulmar fighter and 6 Swordfish torpedo bombers. At Colombo the harbour facilities were heavily damaged and the armed merchant cruiser HMS Hector and destroyer HMS Tenedos were sunk.
Then around noon a reconnaissance aircraft from the Tone sighted the heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall. The 1st Carrier Fleet immediately launched an attack force of 53 dive bombers that sank both cruisers with the loss of 424 members of their crews (Dorsetshire 234 and Cornwall 190). The Japanese then retired to the south-east.
In the evening of 5 April the Japanese Malaya-Force was ordered to commence attacking Allied shipping along the Indian east coast. On 6 April the northern group (Kumano, Suzuya and Shirakumo destroyed 9 ships off Puri (Orissa). The central group (Chokai, Yura, Asagiri and Yugiri) sank 4 ships. The southern group (Mikuma, Mogami and Amagiri sank 3 ships and damaged 2 more. Meanwhile aircraft from the carrier Ryuju, which operated with the central group, sank 4 more ships and damaged 1 more. In all about 92000 GRT of shipping was sunk.
On 8 April 1942 a Catalina aircraft spotted the Japanese 1st Carrier Fleet proceeding for an attack on Trincomalee but the Eastern Fleet was approaching Addu Atoll to refuel and could do nothing. Shipping at Trincomalee was ordered to leave port and proceed to the southward. In the morning of the following day 91 Japanese bombers and 41 fighters attacked Trincomalee. They destoyed 9 Hurricane and Fulmar fighters and 14 aircraft on the ground. The harbour most mostly empty but they sank a merchant vessel and 4 aircraft it had on board and not unloaded yet. Also the British monitor HMS Erebus (Capt. H.F. Nalder, RN) was damged. The Japanese 1st Carrier Fleet was then attacked by 9 Blenheim bombers but they inflicted no damage for 5 of their own lost to Japanese fighter cover. Then Japanese reconnaissance aircraft from the Haruna sighted ships escaping southwards. 85 Dive bombers and 3 fighters were then launched which sank HMS Hermes and HMAS Vampire as well as the corvette HMS Hollyhock (Lt.Cdr. T.E. Davies, OBE, RNR), two tankers and a merchant ship.
By mid-April 1942 all Japanese forces had returned to their bases. (8)
- ADM 186/794
- Personal communication
- ADM 199/386 + ADM 199/391
- ADM 234/325 + ADM 234/326
- ADM 199/1819
- ADM 199/1861
- ADM 173/17327
- ADM 199/1389
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.