HMS Ilex (D 61)
Destroyer of the I class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||John Brown Shipbuilding & Engineering Company Ltd. (Clydebank, Scotland)|
|Ordered||14 Nov 1935|
|Laid down||16 Mar 1936|
|Launched||28 Jan 1937|
|Commissioned||7 Jul 1937|
Sold to be broken up for scrap in 1948.
Commands listed for HMS Ilex (D 61)
Please note that we're still working on this section.
|1||Lt.Cdr. Philip Lionel Saumarez, RN||1 Jan 1938||30 Dec 1940|
|2||Cdr. Hugh St. Lawrence Nicolson, DSO, RN||30 Dec 1940||mid 1941|
|3||Lt. Giles Richard Penn Goodden, RN||mid 1941||8 Jul 1942|
|4||Lt.Cdr. Vere Alison Wight-Boycott, OBE, RN||8 Jul 1942||1944|
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Notable events involving Ilex include:
13 Oct 1939
German U-boat U-42 was sunk south-west of Ireland, in position 49°12'N, 16°00'W, by depth charges from the British destroyers HMS Imogen (Cdr. E.B.K. Stevens, RN) and HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, RN).
14 Oct 1939
HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, RN) picks up all survivors from the British merchant Lochavon that was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-45 about 230 miles southwest of Fastnet in position 50°25'N, 13°10'W.
14 Oct 1939
The French merchant Bretagne was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-45 about 230 miles south-west of Fastnet. The survivors were later picked up by HMS Imogen (Cdr. E.B.K. Stevens, RN) and HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, RN).
13 Feb 1940
HMS Thistle (Cdr. R.W. Stirling-Hamilton, RN) departed from Rosyth for convoy escort duty. She is part of the escort of convoy ON-12 that arrived safely at Bergen, Norway on 16 February. Other ships of the escort were light cruiser HMS Edinburgh (Capt. F.C. Bradley, RN) and destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.de W. Kitcat, RN) and HMS Delight (Cdr. M. Fogg-Elliott, RN). On the 15th the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Calcutta (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN) and the destroyer HMS Imogen (Cdr. C.L. Firth, MVO, RN) joined the escort. (1)
16 Feb 1940
HMS Thistle (Cdr. R.W. Stirling-Hamilton, RN) departed from Bergen, Norway as part of the escort of convoy HN-12. The convoy was to arrive at Methil on 19 February. Other ships of the escort were light cruisers HMS Edinburgh (Capt. F.C. Bradley, RN) and HMS Arethusa (Capt. Q.D. Graham, RN), destroyers HMS Inglefield (Capt. P. Todd, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Imogen (Cdr. C.L. Firth, MVO, RN) and HMS Delight (Cdr. M. Fogg-Elliott, RN). Anti-Aircraft protection was provided by the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Calcutta (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN).
The destroyer HMS Daring (Cdr. S.A. Cooper, RN) joined the convoy at sea on the 16th having departed Rosyth on the 15th.
HMS Edinburgh and HMS Aurora were detached on the 17th to Scapa Flow. They were escorted by HMS Inglefield and HMS Imogen.
On the 18th the convoy was joined by three merchant ships from the Orkneys and by destroyer HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.de W. Kitcat, RN).
On the 18th HMS Daring was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-23. HMS Thistle sights the sinking destroyer and directs the other destroyers to the rescue. HMS Inglefield picked up one officer and three ratings from a Carley float and HMS Ilex another rating from wreckage, they are the only survivors. 156 of the crew are lost. HMS Ilex also hunted the U-boat without success. (1)
18 Feb 1940
HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, RN) picks up one survivor from the British destroyer HMS Daring that was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-23 about 40 nautical miles east of the Pentland Firth in position 58°40'N, 01°35'W.
21 Jun 1940
Operation MD 3
Bombardment of Bardia, 21 June 1940.
An Allied force sailed on 20 June 1940 to carry out operation MD 3, the object was to destroy military objectives at Bardia and to destroy enemy submarines.
At 0800/20, the destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, RN), HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN) and HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, DSO, RN), sailed to carry out an A/S sweep along the North African coast as far as the longtitude of Tobruk, reaching this position at 0400/21 and to return to Alexandria at 1830/21.
A second force, made up of the French battleship Lorraine (Capt. L.M.L. Rey), the British light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O’Coner, RN), the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, RAN) and the destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN) and HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Thyrwitt, RN) departed Alexandria at 1130/20 to conduct a bombardment of Bardia, Libya.
After this force had sailed, information was received from air reconnaissance that there were three enemy cruisers, three destroyers, two submarines and ten other ships over 40 feet long and eleven smaller vessels at Tobruk. It was therefore decided to provide cover for the destroyers of the A/S sweep. Another force left Alexandria at 1730/20 with orders to be in a position 40 nautical miles north of Tobruk at 0600/21 and if no enemy forces were encountered to return to Alexandria by 2000/21. This force was made up of the French cruisers Suffren (Capt. R.J.M. Dillard) and Duguay Trouin (Capt. J.M.C. Trolley de Prevaux). They were escorted by the British destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) and HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitkat, RN).
The actual bombardment.
The bombarding squadron arrived off the coast at 0500/21, a few minutes before sunrise. As he could not avoid the disadvantage of the dawn light, Vice-Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN had decided to make the last 20 nautical miles or so of his approach at that time, and to attack while the sun was still low enough to dazzle the Italian gunners on the shore. The ships spread as their instructions prescribed, and stood to the south-westward towards Bardia in the order HMS Orion, Lorraine, HMS Neptune and HMAS Sydney with two destroyers on the outer bow of each wing ship, HMAS Stuart and HMS Decoy to port and HMS Dainty and HMS Hasty to starboard.
At 0548 hours, HMS Orion opened fire, followed immediately by the other big ships except HMAS Sydney, which joined in about five minutes later, by which time the squadron had altered course to 145 degrees. The destroyers also started firing after the turn. At 0610 hours the squadron withdrew to the north-westward.
HMS Orion started by ranging on the lighthouse on Point Bluff at about 13500 yards range, it stood close to the position of the Italian coast defence battery, and at that time was the ony object in the target area that could be seen clearly to the haze. After turning to the south-westerly course at 0550 hours, she fired on the battery position itself until it was clear that the battery was not replying. Then at 0600 hours, she shifted to her second target area, the Wadi Jefran. Shooting was difficult as communication with her spotter aircraft could not be established.
The Lorraine attacked various targets in the left half of the area assigned to HMS Neptune, the town of Bardia, with her 13.4” guns, and perhaps silenced an anti-aircraft battery in that area with her 5.5” guns.
HMS Neptune ranged on the barracks in the left half of the town. As soon as she began firing for effect, however, the smoke of the explosions prevented her aircraft from observing, so she fired a few salvoes blind, which, with the Lorraine’s fire in the same quarter, raised cloud of dust that hid all that part of the target area. Accordingly HMS Neptune shifted her fire right, by steps, to attack an anti-aircraft battery in the northern half of that area and on regaining communication with her spotter aircraft during this sweep, she fired seventeen 4-gun salvoes with its help and the battery ceased fire.
HMAS Sydney fired at one target throughout, the camp in the centre of her area, starting a fire in one corner and probably causing losses amongst troops that were seen to leave the camp during the shoot. Smoke and dust obscured the target, so that she only saw half her shell burst. An unfortunate attack by fighter aircraft from the R.A.F. drove the spotter aircraft for HMAS Sydney out of action after her second salvo.
As for the destroyers, HMAS Stuart and HMS Decoy, now ahead of the line fired into the area of HMS Neptune at the wireless masts and the barracks respectively from a range of about 12000 yards. Smoke and dust made spotting difficult, and HMS Decoy fired only four salvoes in consequence. On the other hand HMAS Stuart could distinguish her shell bursts from those of HMS Neptune and the ones from the Lorraine so she continued firing until the smoke at last made spotting impossible.
HMS Dainty and HMS Hasty were astern of HMAS Sydney. The former attacked a house near the artillery headquarters, and believed she set it on fire. She also fired at the wireless masts. The main range for her shoot was about 14000 yards. Like the other destroyers she found her fall of shot hard to distinguish from that of the bigger ships. HMS Hasty fired on the wireless station, probably the same building as one of targets of the Lorraine. HMS Hasty then shifted her fire to a party of troops coming from the camp in the area HMAS Sydney was firing on. She could not see her fall of shot when firing at these troops.
Rounds expended in the shore bombardment was as follows; HMS Orion 118 rounds of 6”, Lorraine 53 rounds of 13.4” and 37 rounds of 5.5”, HMS Neptune 134 rounds of 6”, HMAS Sydney 148 rounds of 6”, HMAS Stuart 39 rounds of 4.7”, HMS Decoy 12 rounds of 4.7”, HMS Dainty 56 rounds of 4.7” and HMS Hasty 47 rounds of 4.7”.
The Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet, called this bombardment ‘ a useful minor operation, in which the damage caused fully justified the ammunition expended ‘. So far as could be judged from air reconnaissance / photographs and from what the ships could see at the time, the squadron destroyed some ammunition and other storehouses in the Wadi Jefran, blew up an anti-aircraft battery’s ammunition dump, and damaged or set fire to barracks and other government buildings in and near the town.
The Italians did not reply to the fire, indeed the squadron could see no coast-defence guns in position. The only opposition came from anti-aircraft guns, which fired a few rounds at the spotting aircraft without effect. (2)
22 Jun 1940
Bombardment of Augusta, Sicily and raid to the south of the Strait of Messina.
Composition of forces taking part.
Force A: Battleship HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, OBE, RN, flying the flag of the C-in-C, Mediterranean Fleet, A/Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), light cruisers HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, RAN), destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN).
Force B: Light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN), HMS Gloucester (Capt. F.R. Garside, CBE, RN) destroyers HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN) and HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN).
Force C: Battleships HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN), HMS Hasty, (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, DSO, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN).
Force D: French heavy cruisers Duquesne (Capt. G.E. Besineau, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral R.E. Godfroy), Suffren (Capt. R.J.M. Dillard), light cruiser Duguay Trouin (Capt. J.M.C. Trolley de Prevaux)., destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN) and HMAS Vampire (Lt.Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN).
Sailing of the forces and the cancellation of the operation.
At 1700/22 HMS Eagle from Force C sailed with all the destroyers assigned to that force. They were followed at 2000 hours by the two R-class battleships assigned to that force.
At 2130/22 Force B sailed.
At 2200/22 Force A sailed.
At 2153 hours a signal was received from the Admiralty ordering the cancellation of the operation due to the French armistice. Following this signal the sailing of Force D was cancelled. Force A returned to the harbour immediately. Forces B and C were ordered to return to harbour on the morning of the next day. Orders were also issued to the Vice-Admiral Malta to not sail a convoy to Alexandria as had been intended under the cover of the operation. (3)
27 Jun 1940
The Italian submarine Console Generale Liuzzi was scuttled south-east of Crete in position 33°36'N, 27°27'E after being depth charged by the British destroyers HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN) and the Australian destroyer HMAS Voyager (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Morrow, RAN).
27 Jun 1940
Operation MA 3, convoy’s from Malta and convoy AS 1 from the Dardanelles.
Convoy AS 1 from the Aegean (mostly from the Dardanelles) to Port Said.
This convoy was made up of the following ships:
From the Dardanelles: British merchants: Deebank (5060 GRT, built 1929), Destro (3553 GRT, built 1920), Eastlea (4267 GRT, 1924), Egyptian Prince (3490 GRT, 1922), Palermo (2797 GRT, built 1938), Volo (1587 GRT, built 1938) and the tug Brittania towing the small river tanker Danube Shell II (704 GRT, built 1934).
From Kalamata: British merchant Destro (3553 GRT, built 1920).
From Izmir: British merchant African Prince (4653 GRT, built 1939).
The Dutch merchant Ganymedes (2682 GRT, built 1917) also joined the convoy. Her port of origin is currently unknown to us.
These ships were escorted by the British light cruisers HMS Caledon (Capt. C.P. Clarke, RN), HMS Capetown (Capt. T.H. Back, RN, senior officer of the escort) and the destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN) and ORP Garland (Kpt. mar. (Lt.) A. Doroszkowski, ORP). These ships had sailed from Port Said (HMS Capetown, HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk. These ships had sailed late in the afternoon of the 26th.) and Alexandria (HMS Caledon, HMAS Vampire and ORP Garland. These ships had sailed in the evening of the 26th).
The escort joined up with the convoy late in the morning of 28 June 1940 and then proceeded towards Port Said where it arrived on 2 July 1940. In the afternoon of 29 June 1940, when near the Doro Channel, the convoy had been bombed by Italian aircraft but no damage had been sustained. The next day, when between Gavdo Island and Crete the convoy was attacked again by the Italian air force but again no damage was sustained. Following the first air attack HMS Orion, HMS Neptune and HMAS Sydney proceeded to the convoy to provide additional protection. They were near the convoy when it was attacked for the second time and were attacked themselves by eight enemy aircraft. Heavy bombs fell close to the Orion and Neptune but no actual hits were sustained although Neptune suffered some splinter damage to her aircraft and some superficial damage to the superstructure as well. The aircraft was jettisoned due to the danger of fire. Three of her crew were injured. The three cruisers left the convoy at 0900/1. When they arrived at Alexandria in the second half of 1 July 1940, HMAS Sydney landed 44 survivors from the Espero.
Operation MA 3
On 27 June 1940, five destroyers (HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) and HMAS Voyager (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Morrow, RAN) departed Alexandria at 0600/27 to carry out an A/S hunt off the Anti-Kithera channel on 28 June leaving that area at 2200/28 to arrive at Malta at 1800/29 to provide escort for two groups of merchants ships that were to proceed from Malta to Alexandria. They were to sail at 2100/29 with a 13 knot convoy and a 9 knot convoy. The convoy’s were to arrive at Alexandria on 2 July and 4 July respectively. The fast convoy was to be escorted by HMS Dainty, HMS Ilex and one destroyer from Malta, HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN). The slow convoy was to be escorted by the other destroyers, HMS Decoy, HMS Defender and HMAS Voyager.
Also on 27 June 1940, at 1100 hours, to provide cover for the convoy’s from a position about 60 nautical miles north of their track. They were to return to Alexandria at 1800/3. HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN), HMS Hasty, (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN) and HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN) were to leave Alexandria at 1230/28. They were to cruise to the north-west of position 35°N, 22°E from 2000/29 until the convoy had passed.
The 7th Cruiser Squadron, made up of HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMS Gloucester (Capt. F.R. Garside, CBE, RN), HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN) and and HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, RAN) departed Alexandria also at 1100/27 to provide close cover for the convoy’s coming from Malta.
On 28 June air reconnaissance reported three Italian destroyers about 75 nautical miles west-south-west of Cape Matapan and the 7th Cruiser Squadron set a course to intercept which they successfully did at 1830 hours. In a long range action one of the Italian destroyers, the Espero was sunk by HMAS Sydney. She attacked the British cruisers so that the other two destroyer had a chance to escape in which the succeeded. After this action it was decided the next to postpone the sailing of the convoy’s and to send HMS Gloucester and HMS Liverpool to Port Said to complete with ammunition and the remaining forces were ordered to cover convoy AS 1 coming from the Aegean. As said above the other three cruisers of the 7th Cruiser Squadron returned to Alexandria on 1 July. HMS Royal Sovereign, HMS Ramillies, HMS Eagle and their escorting destroyers returned to Alexandria in the first half of 2 July.
The A/S sweep by the five destroyers also proved very successful as they sank three Italian submarines. On the 27th the Console Generale Liuzzi by HMS Decoy, HMS Defender and HMS Ilex and on the 29th HMS Decoy, HMS Dainty, Defender, HMS Ilex and HMAS Voyager carried out depth charge attacks on three Italian submarines. They sank the Uebi Scebelli and damaged the Salpa. The Capitano Tarantini (offsite link) managed to escape. Following the sinking of the Uebi Scebelli, HMAS Voyager picked up secret Italian documents and she was ordered to proceed with these documents to Alexandria where she arrived in the second half of 30 June 1940. The destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN) and HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, DSO, RN) proceeded to sea from Alexandria to join the hunt for other Italian submarines of which the patrol positions were mentioned in these secret documents. HMS Dainty had picked up 10 officers and 72 ratings from the Liuzzi and Uebi Scebelli. The destroyers continued their A/S sweep until 2000/30 but no further enemy submarines were encountered. (3)
29 Jun 1940
On 29 June 1940 around 0615 hours the Italian submarine Uebi Scebeli was sunk in the central Mediterranean in position 35°16'N, 20°20'E by the British destroyers HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) and the Australian destroyer HMAS Voyager (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Morrow, RAN). The Italian submarines Capitano Tarantini (offsite link) and Salpa were also hunted but escaped.
It is also possible that the submarine sunk might have been the Italian Argonauta.
9 Jul 1940
Operation MA 5 and the resulting battle of Punta Stilo on 9 July 1940.
The passage of convoys MF 1 (fast) and MS 1 (slow) from Malta to Alexandria with evacuees and fleet stores.
After the cancellation of Operation MA 3 a new plan to pass the convoys from Malta to Alexandria was made.
The Mediterranean Fleet, less HMS Ramillies and the 3rd Cruiser Squadron (HMS Caledon and HMS Capetown) departed Alexandria on 7 July 1940 to carry out operation MA 5, the object being to cover convoys MF 1 (fast) and MS 1 (slow) from Malta to Alexandria with evacuees and fleet stores.
The composition of these convoys were as follows:
Convoy MF 1, the fast convoy: This convoy departed Malta on 9 July 1940 and arrived at Alexandria on 11 July 1940 and was made up of the Egyptian merchant El Nil (7775 GRT, built 1916), British merchants Knight of Malta (1553 GRT, built 1929), Rodi (3220 GRT, built 1928, former Italian).
Convoy MS 1, the slow convoy: This convoy departed Malta on 10 July 1940 and arrived at Alexandria on 14 July 1940 and was made up of the British merchant ships Kirkland (1361 GRT, built 1934), Misirah (6836 GRT, built 1919), Tweed (2697 GRT, built 1926), Zeeland (2726 GRT, built 1930) and the Norwegian merchant Novasli (3194 GRT, built 1920).
Cover for these convoys was provided by ships of the Mediterranean Fleet which was divided into three groups:
Force A: Light cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice Admiral J.C. Tovey, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMS Gloucester (Capt. F.R. Garside, CBE, RN), HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN) and HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, RAN) and the destroyer HMS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN).
Force B: Battleship HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, OBE, RN flying the flag of A/Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) and HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN).
Force C: Battleships HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. Sir A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN), HMS Hasty, (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, DSO, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN), HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN) and HMS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, RAN).
8 July 1940.
All forces were clear of the harbour by midnight during the night of 7/8 July 1940. All forces were to make rendez-vous in position 36°30’N, 17°40’E at 1400/10. HMS Liverpool, who was at Port Said, sailed directly from there to the rendez-vous position. HMS Imperial had to return to Alexandria with defects.
Shortly before midnight, at 2359 hours, HMS Hasty reported that she sighted a surfaced submarine at a range of 1000 yards. A full pattern depth charge attack was made an the submarine was thought to have been sunk. One hour later when about to rejoin Force C she carried out another attack on a confirmed contact. It was consided that this attack caused damage to another Italian submarine.
At 0807/8 a report was received from the submarine HMS Phoenix (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Nowell, RN) that she had sighted two enemy battleships escorted by four destroyers in position 35°23’N, 17°45’E, steering 180° at 0515/8. It was suspected that this force was covering an important enemy convoy. The Vice-Admiral, Malta, was ordered to arrange air reconnaissance to the eastward and to the Rear-Admiral, Alexandria to arrange for a flying boat to shadow this force. Two enemy submarines were sighted by A/S patrols from HMS Eagle.
The Italians were aware of the Mediterranean Fleet being at sea as the Fleet had been reported by the Italian submarine Beilul. This resulted in air attacks on the Fleet during the 8th.
Damage was done to HMS Gloucester which was hit on the compass platform causing seven officers to be killed and three wounded. Amongst the officers killed was the ships Captain. Besides the officers eleven ratings were killed and six were wounded.
At 1510/8 a flying boat reported a force of three battleships, six cruisers and seven destroyers in position 33°18’N, 19°45’E, steering 340°. At 1610 hours it was reported that this force had changed course to 070°. The flying boat that reported this force had to return to base at 1715 hours but no relief was available to continue shadowing. The Commander-in-Chief therefore, in the absence of further information, decided to continue the course of the Fleet to the north-westward in order to get between the enemy and his base. A mean line of advance of 310° at 20 knots was therefore maintained during the night.
9 July 1940.
There were no incidents during the night and at 0600 hours the Fleet was concentrated in position 36°55’N, 20°30’E. An air search by aircraft from HMS Eagle was commenced at dawn between 180° and 300°. Meanwhile a mean line of advance of 300° at 16 knots was maintained by the Fleet.
The first enemy report was received from a flying boat from Malta who reported two battleships, four cruisers and ten destroyers at 0732 hours in position 37°00’N, 17°00’E, steering 330° and subsequent reports showed that there was a further large force of cruisers and destroyers in the vicinity.
A second search by aircraft from HMS Eagle covered these positions and by 1130 hours it was considered that the enemy’s position was sufficiently well established to launch the air striking force. At this time the enemy fleet was approximately 90 miles to the westward of our forces. Unfortunately, touch with the enemy fleet was lost by the shadowing aircraft at this time and shortly afterwards it appears that the enemy turned to the southward. The striking force therefore failed to locate the enemy battlefleet, but carried out an attack on some cruisers at about 1330 hours without result.
Touch was regained with the enemy battleships at 1340 hours by a relief shadower from HMS Eagle and by a flying boat. The air striking force was flown of again at 1539 hours shortly after action was joined and they are believed to have scored one hit on a cruiser. All aircraft from HMS Eagle returned. In the meanwhile reports from shadowing aircraft show that the enemy force consisted of two battleships of the Cavour-class, twelve cruisers and twenty destroyers, and that they appeared to be keeping close to the coast of Calabria.
At 1400 hours the British Fleet as in position 38°02’N, 18°40’E. The 7th Cruiser Squadron was 8 nautical miles ahead of HMS Warspite, with HMS Royal Sovereign, HMS Eagle and HMS Malaya 10 nautical miles astern. Destroyers were screening these ships. The mean line of advance the Fleet was 270° the speed being limited by that of HMS Royal Sovereign. The Commander-in-Chief was obliged to use HMS Warspite as a battle cruiser to keep ahead of the battle Squadron, in order to support the cruisers, who being so few and lacking 8” ships, were very weak compared to the enemy’s cruiser force.
At 1510 hours the enemy, consisting of six 8” cruisers and a number of destroyers, was sighted steering about 020°. HMS Eagle and the 19th division (HMAS Stuart, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Voyager) were now detached from the 1st Battle Squadron and the damaged HMS Gloucester was ordered to join them. At 1514 hours HMS Neptune sighted the enemy battlefleet bearing 260° from HMS Warspite The ensuing action can best be described in five phases.
A short action with enemy 8” and 6” cruisers in which our own cruisers were out ranged and came under a very heavy fire. HMS Warspite intervened and engaged successively two 8” and two 6” cruisers at long range, which after a few salvos turned away. One hit might have been obtained on a 8” cruiser.
After a short lull, during which HMS Warspite fell back on HMS Malaya who was now proceeding ahead of HMS Royal Sovereign. HMS Warspite and HMS Malaya then engaged two battleships of the Cavour-class at 1553 hours. HMS Warspite was straddled at 26000 yards and she herself scored a hit on one of the enemy battleships (the Guilio Cesare). The enemy then turned away making smoke. HMS Malaya was outranged and by now HMS Royal Sovereign was now well astern and never got into action. The 7th Cruiser Squadron continued their action with the enemy cruisers, who appeared to be working round to the north with the intention of engaging HMS Eagle. They were driven off with the assistance of a few salvoes from HMS Warspite.
Enemy destroyers moved out to attack, but half heartedly, and made a large volumes of smoke which soon obscured the larger targets. Destroyers were now ordered to counter attack the enemy destroyers, in which they were assisted by the 7th Cruiser Squadron, but before the range could be closed sufficiently to do damage to them the enemy retired behind their extensive smoke screen.
The British fleet chased up the smoke but, appreciating that to pass through it would be playing the enemy’s game, and suspecting that enemy submarines might be in the vicinity, the Commander-in-Chief worked round to the northward and windward of the screen. When clear, all enemy forces were out of sight and air attacks had started. The British fleet was now (1652 hours) only 45 miles from the coast of Calabria and continued on a westerly course until within 25 miles of the Punta Stilo lighthouse.
A succession of heavy bombing attacks were carried out between 1640 and 1912 hours. At least nine distinct bombing attacks were made and it is estimated that probably some 100 aircraft took part. Many attacks were made on HMS Eagle, but the fleet suffered no damage. Between 1640 and 1740 hours the fleet made good a course of 270° and from 1740 hours of 220°, this latter course being selected in the hope that the enemy would renew the fight. At 1830 hours it became clear that the enemy could not be intercepted before reaching Messina and course was altered to the south-eastward to open the land, turning back at 2115 hours to 220° for a position south of Malta.
During the action one of the aircraft from HMS Warspite was damaged by gun blast of her own gunfire and had to be jettisoned. The other aircraft was catapulted for action observation. After this mission was completed the aircraft landed at Malta. During the night there were no incidents.
10 July 1940.
At 0800 hours, the fleet was in position 35°24’N, 15°27’E, steering west, and remained cruising to the southward of Malta throughout the day while destroyers were sent there to refuel. The following fuelling programme was carried out. At 0530 hours the following destroyers arrived at Malta; HMAS Stuart, HMS Dainty, HMS Defender, HMS Hyperion, HMS Hostile, HMS Hasty, HMS Ilex and HMS Juno. After they had fuelled they sailed again at 1115 hours and rejoined the fleet at 1525 hours.
HMS Hero, HMS Hereward, HMS Decoy, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Voyager were then sent in, the last three to sail with convoy MS 1 after fuelling.
At 2030 hours, HMS Royal Sovereign with HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk and HMS Janus were detached to refuel and to rejoin the fleet before noon the next day.
HMS Gloucester and HMAS Stuart were detached to join convoy MF 1, which had been sailed from Malta at 2300/9 escorted by HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN) and HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades RAN).
In the morning an air raid took place at Malta at 0855 hours. Three or four of the attackers were shot down. Destroyers that were fuelling at Malta were not hit.
Flying boat reconnaissance of Augusta had located three cruisers and eight destroyers in harbour and at 1850 hours a strike force was flown off from HMS Eagle to carry out a dust attack. Unfortunately the enemy forces left harbour before the attack force arrived. One flight however located a Navigatori class destroyer in a small bay to the northward, which was sunk, this was the Leone Pancaldo which was later raised and repaired. The other flight did not drop their torpedoes. All aircraft landed safely at Malta.
At 2100 hours the position of the fleet was 35°28’N, 14°30’E, steering 180°. There were no incidents during the night.
In view of the heavy bombing attacks experienced during the last three days, the Commander-in-Chief has requested the Air Officer Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, to do anything possible to occupy the Italian air forces during the passage of the fleet and the convoys to Alexandria.
11 July 1940.
At 0130 hours, the fleet altered course to 000° to be in position 35°10’N, 15°00’E at 0800 hours. HMS Royal Sovereign with HMS Hero, HMS Hereward, HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk and HMS Janus rejoined from Malta at this time, and HMS Eagle landed on her striking force from Malta.
At 0900 hours the Commander-in-Chief in HMS Warspite, screened by HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk, HMS Juno and HMAS Vampire, proceeded ahead to return to Alexandria at 19 knots. The Rear-Admiral, First Battle Squadron, in HMS Royal Sovereign , with HMS Malaya and HMS Eagle and the remaining destroyers, proceeded on a mean line of advance of 80° at 12 knots to cover the passage of the convoys. The 7th Cruiser Squadron had already been detached at 2000/10 to search to the eastward in the wake of convoy MF 1.
The fleet was again subjected to heavy bombing attacks. Between 1248 and 1815 hours, five attacks were made on HMS Warspite and her escorting destroyers. A total of 66 bombs were counted. Between 1112 and 1834 hours, twelve attacks were carried out on forces in company with Rear-Admiral First Battle Squadron, a total of about 120 bombs were dropped. No damage was sustained. It was noted that the fleet was shadowed by aircraft who homed in attacking aircraft.
At 1200 hours, HMAS Vampire was sighted. She reported that her Gunner had been badly wounded in an air attack made on convoy MS 1 at 1015 hours. The officer was transferred to HMS Mohawk for treatment but died aboard that ship later the same day.
At 2100 hours, HMS Warspite was in position 34°22’N, 19°17’E steering 210°.
12 July 1940.
There had been no incidents during the night. Course was altered to 070° at 0200 hours and to 100° at 0630 hours. Course was altered from time to time during the day to throw off shadowers and attacking aircraft.
At 0700 hours, Vice-Admiral (D) with the 7th Cruiser Squadron rejoined the Commander-in-Chief. Vice-Admiral (D) in HMS Orion, together with HMS Neptune was detached to join convoy MF 1.
The following bombing attacks took place during the day; Between 0850 and 1550 hours, seventeen attacks were made on HMS Warspite. About 160 bombs were dropped but none hit although there were several near misses. On the First Battle Squadron and HMS Eagle between 1110 and 1804 hours, three attacks were made, 25 bombs were dropped but none hit.
13 July 1940.
HMS Warspite, HMS Orion, HMS Neptune, HMS Liverpool, HMAS Sydney, HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk, HMS Juno and HMAS Vampire arrived at Alexandria around 0600 hours. Convoy MF 1 and it’s escort (HMS Jervis, HMS Diamond and HMAS Vendetta) arrived during the forenoon. This convoy had been unmolested during it’s passage from Malta to Alexandria.
HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN) then departed Alexandria to join the escort of convoy MS 1 escorted by HMS Nubian, HMS Mohawk, HMS Juno and HMAS Vampire. The two cruisers from the 3rd Cruiser Squadron, HMS Caledon (Capt. C.P. Clarke, RN) and HMS Capetown (Capt. T.H. Back, RN), had already left Alexandria on the 12th to join the escort of convoy MS 1.
14 July 1940.
The 1st Battle Squadron, HMS Eagle and their escorting destroyers arrived at Alexandria in the forenoon. They reported very heavy bombing attacks of the Libyan coast. Three enemy aircraft were reported shot down by fighters from HMS Eagle while a fourth was thought to be heavily damaged.
15 July 1940.
Convoy MS 1, HMS Ramillies, HMS Caledon, HMS Capetown, HMS Decoy, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Voyager arrived at Alexandria before noon.
Italian forces involved in the battle of Punta Stilo. On 6 July 1940 an important Italian troop convoy departed Naples for Benghazi, Libya. This convoy was made up of the troopship Esperia (11398 GRT, built 1920) and the transports Calitea (4013 GRT, built 1933), Marco Foscarini (6338 GRT, built 1940), Vettor Pisani (6339 GRT, built 1939). Escort was provided by the torpedo boats Orsa, Pegaso, Procione and Orione. The next day this convoy was joined by the transport Francesco Barbaro (6343 GRT, built 1940) that came from Catania and was escorted by the torpedo boats Giuseppe Cesare Abba and Rosolino Pilo. Cover for this convoy was provided by the light cruisers Giovanni Delle Bande Nere and Bartolomeo Colleoni and the destroyers Maestrale, Libeccio, Grecale and Scirocco.
This cover force was joined on 7 July by the heavy cruiser Pola and the destroyers Lanciere, Carabinieri, Corazziere and Ascari which came from Augusta.
From Messina came the heavy cruisers Zara, Fiume, Gorizia and the destroyers Vittorio Alfieri, Giosuè Carducci, Vincenzo Gioberti and Alfredo Oriani.
From Messina (these ships departed shortly after the other ships) came also the heavy cruisers Bolzano and Trento and the destroyers Artigliere, Camicia Nera, Aviere and Geniere.
From Palermo came the light cruisers Eugenio di Savoia, Emanuelle Filiberto Duca D’Aosta, Muzio Attendolo and Raimondo Montecuccoli with the destroyers Granatiere, Fuceliere, Bersagliere and Alpino.
From Taranto came the battleships Gulio Cesare (flagship) and Conte di Cavour with the dstroyers Freccia, Saetta, Dardo and Strale.
Also from Taranto came the light cruisers Giuseppe Garibaldi and Luigi di Savoia Duca delgi Abruzzi with the destroyers Folgore, Fulmine, Baleno and Lampo.
And finally, also from Taranto, came the light cruisers Armando Diaz, Luigi Cadorna, Alberto di Giussano, Alberico di Barbiano and the destroyers Antonio Pigafetta, Nicolò Zeno, Nicoloso Da Recco, Emanuelle Pessagno and Antoniotto Usodimare. Later the destroyers Ugolino Vivaldi, Antonio Da Noli and Leone Pancaldo were sent out as reinforements.
The destroyers Stale, Dardo and Antonio da Noli developed mechanical problems and had to return to port for repairs.
During the battle with the Mediterranean Fleet the following ships sustained damage; Battleship Gulio Cesare was hit by a heavy shell from HMS Warspite, heavy cruiser Bolzano sustained three medium shell hits. As stated earlier the destroyer Leone Pancaldo was sunk off Augusta by aircraft from HMS Eagle but was later raised and repaired.
The Italian convoy meanwhile had arrived at Benghazi without losses on 8 July. (3)
18 Jul 1940
HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN) and HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) departed Alexandria for an A/S hunt towards the Kaso Strait, then along the north coast of Crete, then through the Anti-Kithera Strait and finally back towards Alexandria where they were to return around 0800/20. (3)
19 Jul 1940
Action of Cape Spada, 19 July 1940.
Plan for operations against enemy submarines and shipping in the Aegean.
On 18 July 1940, four destroyers departed Alexandria for an anti-submarine hunt towards the Kaso Strait and then along the north coast of Crete. These destroyers were; HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN) and HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN).
The same day the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, RAN) departed Alexandria with the destroyer HMS Havock (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC, RN) for an anti-shipping raid into the Gulf of Athens.
Two more destroyers left Alexandria for Port Said, these were HMS Hereward and HMS Imperial. They were to escort a convoy towards the Aegean and then to bring back a convoy from the Aegean to Egypt.
Proceeding of the sweeping forces up to the time of the sighting of two enemy cruisers, 18 – 19 July 1940.
The destroyers which were to perform the A/S sweep sailed from Alexandria at 0015/18 carrying out an A/S sweep towards the Kaso Strait. After passing through the Strait at 2130 hours they kept well over towards the Cretan shore to avoid being sighted from Kaso Island. They then steered towards the westward at 18 knots between Ovo Island and the Cretan mainland. At 0600/19 course was altered to 240° to pass through the Anti-Kithera Channel. At 0722 hours two Italian cruisers were sighted ahead by HMS Hero.
Meanwhile HMAS Sydney and HMS Havock had sailed from Alexandria at 0430/18. After passing through the Kaso Strait at 2345 hours they steered 295° at 18 knots. At 0733/19 they were in position 010°, Cape Spada, 40 nautical miles when HMAS Sydney received the enemy report from HMS Hyperion of two enemy cruisers steering 160°, bearing 255°, distant 10 nautical miles. HMS Hyperion gave her position as 340°, Agria Grabusa lighthouse, 3 nautical miles. Acting on this information, Captain Collins of HMAS Sydney altered course at 0736 hours to 240° to close the destroyers.
When an amplifying report from HMS Hyperion gave her course as 060°, and the enemy course as 360°, HMAS Sydney altered course to 190° and commenced to work up to full speed. At 0800 hours another alteration of course was made to 150°. Shortly afterwards signals were received from the Commander-in-Chief directing the destroyers to join up with HMAS Sydney and the latter to support them.
When Commander Nicolson continued from time to time to inform HMAS Sydney of his movements of his division and of the enemy, Captain Collins preserved W/T silence to avoid disclosing the presence of HMAS Sydney. In this he was entirely successful. Further alterations of course by HMAS Sydney were; at 0815 hours to 160°, at 0820 hours to 120°.
At 0826 hours the enemy cruisers were sighted. They were steering 090°, bearing 188°, range 23000 yards. They were about 20° before the starboard beam.
Until 0722 hours the destroyer division had been spread in line abreast 1.5 nautical miles apart, carrying out an A/S sweep at 18 knots. After sighting the enemy Commander Nicholson turned his division to starboard together to course 060°, and, in accordance with previous instructions, the destroyers concentrated in sub-divisions on the Hyperion.
It was estimated that HMAS Sydney at 0900 hours would be in a position 010°, Cape Spada, 55 nautical miles, and while steering towards this position Commander Nicholson endeavoured to work round to the northward. At 0725 hours, when speed was increased to 25 knots, the enemy was seen to have altered course to 360°.
Destroyer engagement with the enemy cruisers.
At 0726/19 one of the enemy cruisers opened fire on HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex an the latter returned fire. With their engines working up fast the speed of the destroyers was increased to 31 knots by 0735 hours. HMS Hyperion now opened fire with her after guns at maximum range, but ceased firing very soon as all her shots fell short. The enemy’s shooting was erratic, probably because he was firing against the sun. His salvoes fell short.
Although the range was opening rapidly, the enemy instead of heading in chase of the destroyers held on their course due north. Possibly he was uncertain of the strength of the force opposing him, but whatever the reason his neglect to close lost him a favourable chance of utilising his superior gun power. At 0738 hours the enemy bore 270°, range was 11 nautical miles, and HMS Hyperion at 0740 hours, ordered her division to cease firing as the enemy was out of range. Five minutes later the enemy also ceased fire.
At 0747 hours, the enemy, who bore 270°, range 14 nautical miles, was still steering north. With the object of gaining ground and of identifying the class of the enemy cruisers, the destroyer division altered course to 360°. At 0753 hours, when the enemy turned to close, course was altered back to 060°. The Commander-in-Chief’s signal to join HMAS Sydney was received by HMS Hyperion at 0800 hours, and four minutes later course was altered to 030°, with the enemy then bearing 265°, range 17 nautical miles. The enemy’s course at that moment was 090°. These positions were signaled to HMAS Sydney at 0805 hours, and course was altered to 060° one minute later. At about this time a Greek steamer was sighted ahead but it wisely turned north quickly.
Still trying to work to the northward, the destroyer’s course was altered to 040° at 0814 hours and to 030° at 0821 hours. The enemy re-opened fire at 0825 hours, but again his shooting was very short and erratic. After five minutes the enemy ceased fire and was then seen to be altering course to the southward.
HMAS Sydney and HMS Havock sighted by the destroyer division.
At 0819/19 gun flashes were seen away on the port beam of HMS Hyperion and a minute later the destroyers enjoyed the welcome sight of HMAS Sydney and HMS Havock bearing 290°, range 10 nautical miles. Commander Nicolson immediately altered course, first to 020° and at 0832 hours to 240°. Finally at 0835 hours he formed the division in line ahead and altered course to 260°. The enemy cruisers, now 17400 yards distant, were steaming fast to the southward, making heavy black smoke. At 0838 hours, the destroyer division, now steering 170°, opened fire in divisional concentration at extreme range on the left hand cruiser but the enemy was drawing out of range and the destroyers ceased fire at 0843 hours as their salvoes were falling short.
At 0844 hours, HMAS Sydney ordered the destroyers to ‘close and attack the enemy with torpedoes’. Course was altered together to 215°, and the Hyperion signalling the division to form on a line bearing 350°, at 0846 hours fired a ranging salvo. One minute later the enemy altered course to starboard.
HMAS Sydney engaged enemy cruisers.
The action now had become a stern chase, whose main interest lies in the movements of HMAS Sydney from the moment of her sighting the enemy. Her unexpected arrival together with HMS Havock seems to have taken the Italians completely by surprise. They were then engaged with the destroyers on the other side, and, in fact, their first impression was that they had to deal with two Allied cruisers.
At 0829 hours, when HMAS Sydney opened fire on the leading enemy cruiser at a range of 20000 yards. The fall of her salvoes were the first intimation of her presence to the enemy. The destroyer division was at that time still out of sight.
When the enemy recovered from their surprise at 0832 hours, he returned a concentrated fire on the Sydney, while the latter continued on a south-easterly course to intercept the destroyer division at and at the same time to close the enemy. The enemy salvoes fell short at first, then over, with an occasional straddle. At 0835 hours, the Sydney’s fire appeared to be effective, and the enemy was seen to be turning away. When the destroyer division was sighted at 0838 hours, steering south, about 6 nautical miles off, HMS Havock hauled over to join the other destroyers. Captain Collins signalled the destroyer division to attack with torpedoes, but a further alteration off course by the enemy, to the south-westward at 0840 hours prevented any possibility of a torpedo attack. HMAS Sydney turned to course 215° in pursuit of the now rapidly retreating enemy, and an alteration which brought her on the beam of the destroyers, who, at 0846 hours, were practically in line abreast in close order chasing at full speed.
In the early stages of the action there was some difficulty of identifying the class of the enemy cruisers but by now they had been identified as being of the ‘Bande Nere’ class. In fact they were the Giovanni delle Bande Nere herself and the Bartolomeo Colleoni which had left Tripoli on 17 July for Leros.
Chase of the enemy cruisers.
About 0846/19 the Sydney’s original target was so obscured by smoke that fire was shifted to the rear cruiser (the Colleoni), which was engaged by ‘A’ and ‘B’ turrets on bearing 203° at a range of 18000 yards. The destroyer division at 0848 hours also renewed its fire at extreme range for a couple of minutes.
At 0851 hours, as the enemy altered course to port, the Sydney made a similar movement, which had the effect of opening her ‘A’ arcs. The enemy, making vast quantities of smoke, next altered course at 0853 hours to starboard. The purpose of these manoeuvres are not clear. Perhaps they were trying to throw of the pursuit to the eastward under the cover of smoke. If so it failed, for the Sydney, observing the enemy steading on course 230° at 0856 hours, resumed the chase in a south-westerly direction.
For a minute, at 0901 hours, the Sydney checked fire while she shifted target again to the leading cruiser (Bande Nere). When this ship at 0908 hours again became obscured by smoke fire was shifted back to the rear cruiser (Colleoni) then bearing 210° at a range of 18500 yards. At 0915 hours, HMAS Sydney altered course 30° to starboard to open her ‘A’ arcs, and it was soon evident that her fire had considerable effect. With the range down to 17500 yards at 0919 hours the Sydney also came under an accurate fire, receiving her only hit at 0921 hours. This projectile, bursting on the foremost funnel, blew a hole about 3 feet square in the casings, causing minor damage to three boats and some fittings but only one slight casualty.
The Bartolomeo Colleoni disabled.
The range now began to close rapidly, and at 0923/19 the Colleoni was seen to be stopped, apparently out of action, in position 250° , Cape Spada, 5 nautical miles. According to the evidence of prisoners, she was brought to by a shot in the engine or boiler room. All her lights went out and the electrical machinery ceased functioning, including the turret power hoists and steering gear. The Colleoni was now left to her fate by the Bande Nere, which, after making a tentative turn towards made off at high speed, and, steering 205°, rounded Agria Grabusa Island at a distance of about a mile.
During the 40 minutes chase described above, the destroyer division, at 32 knots, had made every effort to reduce the range, altering course as necessary from time to time. At 0909 hours, fire was renewed for a minute to test the range, and at 0911 hours the division formed on a line of bearing 350° . At 0918 hours, the range of the rear cruiser (Colleoni) was down to 17000 yards and closing rapidly. Course was altered to 240° at 0923 hours and fire opened in a divisional concentration on the Colleoni from 14500 yards. At 0928 hours the Colleoni was seen to be stopped and silent. For some minutes she had been hit repeatedly. Her whole bridge structure was soon in flames.
The Bartolomeo Colleoni torpedoed.
The Hyperion and the Ilex prepared to attack with torpedoes and the Hero was ordered by Commander Nicholson to take charge of the other two destroyers. At 0935/19, HMS Hyperion fired four and HMS Ilex two torpedoes from a range of 1400 yards. One torpedo from the Ilex hit the Colleoni forward, blowing away about 100 feet of her bows and her aircraft. The Hyperion’s torpedoes, however, owning to too great a spread, passed two ahead and two astern of the Colleoni and ran on to explode on the shore of Agria Grabusa Island.
According to survivors accounts, the men of the Colleoni started to jump overboard as soon as the ship stopped, and many of them were in the sea before to torpedo from the Ilex struck the ship. She had suffered many casualties forward, round the bridge and on the upper deck. Her Captain (Captain U. Navaro) was seriously wounded and died from his wounds at Alexandria on 23 July 1940. The Italians were much impressed by the rate and accuracy of the gunfire from the Allied ships and their tactical superiority.
During the chase the destroyers were never within satisfactory range, the last distance being 14000 yards until after the Colleoni started to drop back. The shooting from HMAS Sydney as seen from HMS Hyperion had been excellent except for a short spell when a large spread was noted.
When Captain Collins, at 0933 hours, ordered Commander Nicholson to torpedo the Colleoni the range was 7500 yards. The Colleoni was then on fire amidships, and a heavy explosion was seen to occur forward. Captain Collins signaled to HMS Hyperion to leave one destroyer to deal with the disabled enemy and to resume the chase of the other cruiser in which HMAS Sydney, HMS Hero and HMS Hasty were pressing on at full speed.
Sinking of the Bartolomeo Colleoni.
At 0952/19 the Hyperion closed in and, observing the Colleoni more or less abandoned but not sinking or too heavily on fire, Commander Nicholson’s first intention, as he passed down her starboard side, was to go alongside and salve everything possible. Barely two minutes elapsed, however, before a large fire, breaking out in the forward superstructure, was followed by an explosion which blew the whole bridge away in a cloud of smoke. The Hyperion then fired another torpedo at short range, which hit the doomed ship amidships. At 0959 hours the Colleoni heeled over and sank bottom up, in position 029° , Agria Grabusa lighthouse, 4.6 nautical miles. HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex immediately began to rescue survivors in which they were soon joined by HMS Havock.
Chase of the Giovanni delle Bande Nere.
At 0945/19 the Bande Nere, after passing between the island of Pondiko Nisi and the Cretan mainlan, bore 192° at a range of 20000 yards. As on board the Sydney ammunition in the ‘A’ and ‘B’ turrets was running low she had to check fire. The Bande Nere however, continued firing from her after guns but the shots consistently fell 300 yards away on the Sydney’s quarter. Captain Collins at 0955 hours repeated his signal to the destroyers to finish off the Colleoni and three minutes later he re-opened fire on the Bande Nere from 20000 yards. With the range increasing and the visibility of the target and fall of shot becoming more and more indistinct HMAS Sydney checked fire again at 1011 hours. The haze combined with the enemy’s smoke now rendered spotting conditions impossible. The result from a final couple of salvoes at 1022 hours from 21000 yards could not be observed. By that time the Sydney had remaining only four rounds per gun in ‘A’ turret and only one round per gun in ‘B’ turret. Shortly afterwards the Bande Nere, now 11 nautical miles off, was completely lost from sight in the haze. She was last seen to do 32 knots on course 200°.
HMS Hero and HMS Hasty had continued the chase at 31 knots, firing ranging salvoes at intervals, which all fell short. At 1028 hours, HMS Hero informed HMAS Sydney that she was unable to close the enemy and broke off the chase. She formed, with HMS Hasty a close screen on HMAS Sydney. When last seen from the destroyers at 1044 hours, the Bande Nere bore 177°, 15 nautical miles. At 1037 hours, HMAS Sydney finally abandoned the chase and altered course for Alexandria, reducing speed to 25 knots to allow HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex to come up.
Rescue of the survivors from the Bartolomeo Colleoni.
At 1024/19, leaving HMS Havock to continue picking up survivors of the Colleoni, HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex had proceeded at high speed to join HMAS Sydney. HMS Ilex had 230 prisoners on board of which about 30 were seriously wounded and 3 subsequently died the same night.
HMS Havock, as mentioned earlier, had been ahead of HMAS Sydney, but had proceeded to join the other destroyers when the action commenced. Taking up station on the starboard wing when she got within range at 0911 hours and joined in with the concentration fire. The shooting, even at longer range, appeared to be effective, several hits being observed.
HMS Havock then joined HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex and closed in on the Colleoni after that ship had come to a halt.
When the HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex left the scene of the sinking HMS Havock carried on rescuing the survivors. By 1237 hours she had picked up some 260 survivors. Six Italian bombers were then seen approaching from the southward. HMS Havock was forced to abandon her humane task and left the scene at full speed for Alexandria.
HMS Havock damaged in air attack.
At 1245/19 the enemy aircraft attacked in two formations of three aircraft each but without success. At 1455 hours nine more aircraft attacked in flights of three, the second flight scoring a near miss which penetrated and flooded no.2 boiler room. These attacks, which were made from levels between 3000 and 4000 feet were countered with effective gunfire, which in two instances broke up the formations. Two ratings in the boiler room received minor injuries. The bomb that caused the damage appeared to be 250lb, which burst 6 feet under water, about 10 feet from the ships side. After loosing way for about 5 minutes, the Havock picked up speed again and proceeded at 24 knots.
On receiving the Havock’s signals around 1500 hours, reporting her damage, HMAS Sydney turned back to support her. HMS Hero and HMS Hasty were ordered to continue to Alexandria. Shorty afterwards a heavy bombing attack was made on HMAS Sydney but without success. Realising the possible danger of submarine attack, Captain Collins, ordered HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex to join him. At 1540 hours, HMS Havock was sighted and HMAS Sydney took station one nautical mile astern of her.
Meanwhile HMS Hyperion and HMS Ilex were proceeding towards Alexandria being unable to make rendez-vous. When the report of HMS Havock was received stating that she was damaged in an air attack, Commander Nicholson turned back and at 1840 hours they made rendez-vous with the Sydney and Havock. One more air attack was made between 1845 and 1848 hours but no damage was done.
At 2100 hours, HMAS Sydney parted company to join the 7th Cruiser Squadron. The destroyers continued on towards Alexandria where they arrived at 0845/20.
Fleet movements 19-20 July 1940.
Acting on the possibility that other enemy forces might be at sea, the Commander-in-Chief, immediately after he received information that enemy ships had been sighted off Cape Spada, took the following measures; Air reconnaissance by flying boats of 201 Group was to be sent out to search for the Bande Nere. The movements of Convoy Aegean North 2 were postponed and the ships which had sailed from Port Said were ordered to return. An oiler convoy from Alexandria to Port Said was ordered to proceed unescorted. The Fleet was ordered to proceed to sea.
At 1100/19, HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, OBE, RN, flying the flag of A/Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO and 2 Bars, RN) with a destroyer screen (these appeared to have been HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN) and HMS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN)) sailed for a sweep in the same direction.
At 1230/19, HMS Malaya (Capt. Sir A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN), HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN) and a destroyer screen (seems to be made up of HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN), HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades RAN) and HMS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, RAN)) sailed for a sweep to the westward.
From the Sydney’s last enemy report at 1016/19, indicating that the Bande Nere was steaming south-westwards at high speed it was evident that she could reach Tobruk without being intercepted if she was making for that port. HMS Eagle was therefore ordered to prepare a striking force to attack Tobruk harbour and 201 Group was requested to make a dusk reconnaissance. HMS Liverpool was detached to join HMAS Sydney as additional escort for the damaged HMS Havock. HMS Liverpool joined HMAS Sydney at 0500/20.
As there was no further information of the Bande Nere during the afternoon, the Commander-in-Chief decided that at 2100 hours all forces should return to Alexandria. The aircraft from HMS Warspite which was catapulted at 1700/19 to make a search of the Tobruk area made a forced lading to the eastward of that port. The destroyer HMS Jervis was detached to search the area for the missing aircraft but failed to find it. Search for the aircraft continued on the 20th by aircraft from 201 Group but again they failed to find the missing aircraft. An Italian report on 25 July 1940 stated that the crew had been rescued.
Aircraft of No. 55 and 211 Squadrons carried out bombing attacks on shipping in Tobruk harbour and claimed several hits. At 0240/20 six aircraft from No. 844 Squadron FAA from HMS Eagle made a successful moonlight torpedo attack on shipping at Tobruk, encountering heavy barrage fire from all sides of the harbour, which damaged three aircraft, seriously wounded one observer and slightly wounded a pilot. Hits were claimed on three ships, and a sheet of flame from an oiler indicated that she was carrying petrol. During this attack the Italian destroyers Nembo and Ostro were sunk as was the merchant vessel Sereno (2333 GRT, built 1918).
The Fleet returned to Alexandria on the morning of the 20th where all ships cheered HMAS Sydney and the destroyers when they entered harbour. The total number of Italian prisoners disembarked was 545 officers and men from a complement of the Bartolomeo Colleoni of about 630 officers and men. The Bande Nere eventually returned to Tripoli and was reported there on 26 July. (4)
21 Jul 1940
Convoy operations AN 2 and AS 2
Convoys to and from the Aegean.
On 21 July 1940 six merchant vessels departed Port Said and two departed Alexandria. The next day they merged into convoy AN 2 at sea. The six merchant ships coming from Port Said had been escorted by the destroyers HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN) and HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN). The two merchant ships coming from Alexandria were escorted by the light cruisers HMS Liverpool (Capt. A.D. Read, RN), HMS Capetown (Capt. T.H. Back, RN) and the destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN). After the rendez-vous the convoy proceeded northwards to the Aegean. While in the Aegean the ships were to disperse and proceed independently towards their destinations covered by the escorting warships.
Distant cover for this convoy was provided by the battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN) escorted by the destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN) and HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN). This force departed Alexandria at 0400/23 and returned in the afternoon of the 26th.
A diversion was also created by having the light cruiser HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN) escorted by the destroyers HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN) and HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN) appear of Castellorizio island on 23 July 1940. They had sailed from Alexandria at 0001/24. HMS Orion then proceeded to Haifa while the destroyers proceeded to Port Said.
The escorting warships from convoy AN 2 were then to escort a convoy coming from the Aegean (AS 2) southwards. This convoy was formed off the Dardanelles on 27 July 1940 and was escorted in the Aegean by HMS Capetown, HMAS Stuart and HMS Defender. The next day the convoy was joined by HMS Liverpool, HMS Dainty and HMS Diamond and passed through the Kaso Strait.
Distant cover for this convoy was provided by the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, OBE, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), HMS Ramillies, aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), light cruisers HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Hyperion, HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, RN), HMS Hereward, HMS Ilex, HMS Imperial and HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, RN) which departed Alexandria at 0330/27.
Again a diversion was created by having the light cruiser HMS Orion escorted by the destroyers HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta appear of Castellorizio island but this time the ocean boarding vessels HMS Chakla (Cdr. L.C. Bach, RD, RNR) and HMS Fiona (Cdr. A.H.H. Griffiths, RD, RNR) were added to the force so that it appeared that troops were going to be landed on the island in the evening of the 27th. The destroyers and the ocean boarding vessels departed at 0700/27 and then made rendez-vous with HMS Orion which came from Haifa.
HMS Warspite escorted by HMS Hyperion, HMS Ilex and HMS Imperial returned to Alexandria at 2000/29. In the approaches to Alexandria the destroyer screen was reinforced by the destroyers HMS Hostile (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN) and HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN).
The remaining warships returned to Alexandria the following day except for HMS Capetown, HMS Dainty and HMS Diamond which went with the convoy to Port Said. The following merchant ships made up the convoy; British cargo ships Bantria (2407 GRT, built 1928) and Sardinian Price (3491 GRT, built 1922), Norwegian cargo ship Bruse Jarl (1890 GRT, built 1923) and the Greek cargo ship Perseus (5178 GRT, built 1918).
During this operation the cruisers HMS Neptune and HMAS Sydney made a anti-shipping raid in the Gulf of Athens sinking the small Greek tanker Ermioni (436 GRT, built 1902) which was transporting fuel for the Italians in the Dodecanese. They had separated from the fleet to intercept this ship on the 27th.
During 27 to 29 July 1940 the Allied ships were attacked several times by the Italian air force but no hits were obtained except a dud bomb hit on HMS Liverpool on the 29th causing one crewmember to be killed and two to be wounded. (3)
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. (5)
17 Aug 1940
In the early morning the British battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN) the British heavy cruiser HMS Kent (Capt. D. Young-Jamieson, RN) escorted by the British destroyers HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Hostile (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN) and the Australian destroyers HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, RAN), HMAS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RAN) and HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades, RAN) carried out a bombardment of Italian positions around the fortress of Bardia.
8 Oct 1940
A British convoy with the merchants Memnon (7506 GRT), Lanarkshire (11275 GRT), Clan Macauley (10492 GRT) and Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT) left Alexandria for Malta on 8 October 1940. This convoy was escorted by the British Anti-Aircraft cruisers HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN), HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN) and the Australian destroyers HMS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN), HMS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RAN) and the British destroyer HMS Wryneck (Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN).
Cover was provided by the Mediterranean Fleet (Admiral Cunningham) with the British battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN), the British aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN), HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN), the British heavy cruiser HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), the British light cruisers HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN), HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D. McCarthy, RN), HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN), the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN)escorted by the British destroyers HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Havock (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Hasty, (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN), HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN), HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN) and the Australian destroyers HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN) and HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhoades RAN).
The convoy was not spotted and arrived safe at Malta on 11 October. The only damage sustained was to the destroyer HMS Imperial that was mined off Malta and was out of action for over 6 months.
While on the return trip the Mediterranean Fleet was sighted by an Italian aircraft. The Italian Navy tried to intercept them in the Ionian Sea. In the night of 11/12 October the first Italian torpedo boat flotilla with Airone, Alcione and Ariel attacked HMS Ajax. The attack failed and Ajax sank Airone and Ariel, Alcione escaped. A little while later the Italian 11th destroyer flotilla, with Artigliere, Aviere, Camicia Nera and Geniere arrived at the scene. They were surprised by the radar-directed gunfire from HMS Ajax. Artigliere was heavily damaged and Aviere was slightly damaged. Camicia Nere tried to tow Artigliere away but she was sighted by a British Sunderland aircraft that homed in 3 Swordfish aircraft from HMS Illustrious. However, the torpedoed they fired didn't hit the Italian ships. Later the British heavy cruiser HMS York arrived at the scene. Camicia Nera quickly slipped the towing line and sped off. After her crew had left the ship Artiglire was sunk by York.
While the Mediterranean Fleet was still on the return trip aircraft from HMS Illustrious and HMS Eagle attacked Leros and in the evening of the 14th the British light cruiser HMS Liverpool while south-east of Crete was hit in the bow by a torpedo from an Italian aircraft. The cruiser was heavily damaged and was repaired at the Mare Island Navy Yard in the USA. HMS Liverpool was not operational again until January 1942.
5 Dec 1940
HMS Rover (Lt.Cdr. H.A.L. Marsham, RN) departed Alexandria for her 7th war patrol (3rd in the Mediterranean). She was ordered to patrol off Benghazi, Libya.
6 Jan 1941
Operations Excess and Operation M.C. 4.
Convoy operations in the Mediterranean.
Timespan; 6 January to 18 January 1941.
The principal object of this operation was the passage of a convoy of four ships (five were intended, see below) from Gibraltar to Malta and Piraeus (Operation Excess). One of these was to unload her stores at Malta, the other three had supplies on board for the Greek army.
Three subsidiary convoys (Operation M.C. 4) were to be run between Malta and Egypt. These consisted of two fast ships from Malta to Alexandria (convoy M.E. 5½), two fast ships from Alexandria to Malta (convoy M.W. 5½) and six slow ships from Malta to Port Said and Alexandria (convoy M.E. 6).
Composition of the convoys and their escort.
The ‘Excess convoy from Gibraltar’ was made up of one ship that was to proceed with stores to Malta. This was the Essex (11063 GRT, built 1936). The three other ships were to proceed with stores to Piraeus, these were the Clan Cumming (7264 GRT, built 1938), Clan Macdonald (9653 GRT, built 1939) and Empire Song (9228 GRT, built 1940). It had the light cruiser HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN) and the destroyers HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Hereward (Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) and HMS Duncan (A/Capt. A.D.B. James, RN) as close escort (‘Force F’). A fifth merchant ship was to have been part of this convoy and was to hve proceeded to Malta with stores and troops. However this ship, the Northern Prince (10917 GRT, built 1929) grounded at Gibraltar and was not able to join the convoy. The about four-hundred troops now boarded HMS Bonaventure for passage to Malta.
The most dangerous part of the ‘Excess convoy’ would be the part between Sardinia and Malta. For a stretch of about 400 nautical miles ships were exposed to enemy air attack from bases in Sardinia and Sicily less then 150 nautical miles away from the convoy’s track. Also submarines and surface torpedo craft were a constant menace. An attack by large enemy surface forces was thought less likely although this was potentially more dangerous.
’Convoy M.W.5 ½ from Alexandria to Malta’ made the passage westwards at the same time as the Mediterranean fleet moved westwards (see below). This convoy was made up of HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939) and Clan Macauley (10492 GRT, built 1936). These ships were escorted by HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN), HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. G.L. Farnfield, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr .P.A. Cartwright, RN).
’Convoy’s M.E. 5½ and M.E. 6’ that sailed from Malta to Egypt will be dealth with later on.
Cover forces for these convoy’s
At Gibraltar there was ‘Force H’ which had the following ships available for the operation. Battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN and flagship of Vice-Admiral J.F. Sommerville, RN, KCB, DSO, RN), battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN), light cruiser HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN).
’Force H’ was to provide cover for the ‘Excess convoy’ from Gibraltar to the Sicilian narrows.
South-south-west of Sardina ‘Force H’ was to be reinforced by ‘Force B’ which came from the eastern Mediterranean and was made up of the light cruisers HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E. de F. Renouf, CVO, RN), HMS Southampton (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) and the destroyer HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicholson, DSO and Bar, RN).
Further cover was to be provided by ‘Force A’, this was the Mediterranean fleet based at Alexandria. This force was made up of the following warships. Battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Admiral Sir A.B. Cunningham, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Thyrwhitt, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A’Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, RN) and HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN).
During the passage of the ‘Excess convoy’ three submarines were stationed off Sardinia. HMS Pandora off the east coast and HMS Triumph and HMS Upholder were stationed to the south of Sardinia.
Chronology of events
The actual ‘Excess convoy’ and it’s escort (Force B) departed Gibraltar before dark in the evening of January 6th. Course was set to the west as if to proceed into the Atlantic. This was done to deceive enemy spies based in Spain. They turned back in the night after moonset and passes Europa Point well before daylight next morning. At dawn the next morning HMS Bonaventure parted company with the convoy to make rendez-vous with ‘Force H’ which departed Gibraltar around that time. All that day the ‘Excess convoy’ followed the Spanish coast so as if to make for a Spanish port. During the night of 7/8 January the convoy crossed over towards the coast of North-Africa and steered eastwards towards the Sicilian narrows while keeping about 30 nautical miles from the shore of North Africa. ‘Force H’ overtook the convoy during the night and was now stationed to the north-east of it to shield it from Italian air attack. If Italian naval units were reported the plan was that he would join the convoy.
In the morning of the 8th, HMS Bonaventure rejoined the actual ‘Excess convoy’. Late in the afternoon of the 8th HMS Malaya escorted by HMS Firedrake and HMS Jaguar parted company with ‘Force H’ and joined the ‘Excess convoy’ very early in the evening.
At dawn on the 9th ‘Force H’ was ahead of the convoy. At 0500/9, while in position 37°45’N, 07°15’E, HMS Ark Royal flew off five Swordfish aircraft for Malta which was still some 350 nautical miles away. All of which arrived safely. ‘Force H’ then turned back and joined the ‘Excess convoy’ at 0900/9 about 120 nautical miles south-west of Sardinia. HMS Ark Royal meanwhile had launched several aircraft, one of her reconnaissance aircraft reported at 0918 hours that it had sighted two enemy cruisers and two destroyers but this soon turned out to be Rear-Admiral Renouf’s ‘Force B’ which was to join the Excess convoy for the passage through the Sicilian narrows. They joined the convoy about one hour later.
’Force B’ had departed Alexandria in the morning of the 6th with troop for Malta on board. They had arrived at Malta in the morning of the 8th and after disembarking the troops sailed early in the afternoon. At 0900/9 ‘Force B’ was sighted by an Italian reconnaissance aircraft. This aircraft soon made off when being fired at. One hour later another Italian reconnaissance aircraft was however sighted. It was engaged by the fighter patrol from HMS Ark Royal but managed to escape. At 1320 hours, while in position 37°38’N, 08°31’E, Italian bombers arrived on the scene and made their attack on the convoy.
The convoy of the four merchant ships was steaming in two columns in line ahead, 1500 yards apart. HMS Gloucester and HMS Malaya were leading the columns while HMS Bonaventure and HMS Southampton were the sternmost ships. The seven destroyers were placed as a screen ahead of the convoy. ‘Force H’, with HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Sheffield and their five escorting destroyers were on the convoy’s port quarter, operating in close support. The mean line of advance was 088° and the ships were zigzagging at 14 knots.
The enemy consisted of ten Savoia bombers. HMS Sheffield detected them on her radar about 43 nautical miles off, this was the maximum range of her radar equipment. They were fine on the starboard bow and came into sight fourteen minutes later, flying down the starboard side of the convoy out of range of the AA guns at a eight of about 11000 feet. At 1346 hours, when they were broad on the bow, they started their attack. They came in from 145°, which was the bearing of the sun. All the ships opened up a very heavy fire and the enemy was diverted of their course. Eight of the aircraft were seen to drop bombs, some of which fell close to HMS Gloucester and HMS Malaya but no damage was caused. The other two bombers were seen to turn away during their approach. Both were shot down by a Fulmar fighter from HMS Ark Royal. Three men from their crews were picked up from the water. Another bombers is thought to have been shot down by HMS Bonaventure. The other seven are thought to have got away.
Nothing more happened during the afternoon of the 9th. Reconnaissance showed that the Italian fleet was not at sea so at dusk, while in position 37°42’N, 09°53’E, some 30 nautical miles west of the Sicilian narrows and north of Bizerta, Tunisia, ‘Force H’ parted company with the ‘Excess convoy’ and set course to return to Gibraltar. Rear-Admiral Renouf in HMS Gloucester meanwhile continued eastwards with the convoy with his three cruisers and five destroyers of forces ‘B’ and ‘F’.
They had a quiet night, passing Pantelleria after moonset. They remained in deep water to reduce the danger of mines. Next morning, at dawn on the 10th at 0720 hours, they encountered two Italian torpedo boats in position 36°30’N, 12°10’E. HMS Jaguar, the port wing destroyer in the screen, and HMS Bonaventure, stationed astern of the convoy columns, sighted the enemy at the same time. Initially thinking they might be destroyers from the Mediterranean Fleet, which the convoy was due to meet. British ships reported the contact by signal to Rear-Admiral Renouf. HMS Bonaventure challenged the ‘strangers’ and fired a star shell and then turned to engage the enemy working up to full speed. Rear-Admiral Renouf meanwhile turned away with the bulk of the convoy. HMS Southampton, HMS Jaguar and HMS Hereward hauled out from their stations on the engaged side of the convoy and made for the enemy. HMS Bonaventure meanwhile was engaging the right-hand ship of the pair. When the other three ships arrived on the scene Bonaventure shifted her fire to the other enemy ship which came towards her at full speed to attack. The enemy fired her torpedoes which HMS Bonaventure avoided. The four British ships now quickly stopped the enemy but she did not sink. In the end HMS Hereward torpedoed the damaged Italian torpedo boat some 40 minutes later. The other Italian torpedo-boat meanwhile had disappeared. [The Italian ships were the torpedo-boats Vega, which was sunk, and the Circe. HMS Boneventure had sustained some superficial damage from splinters during the action.
Enemy air attacks during 10 January.
At 0800/10, Admiral Cunningham arrived on the scene with ‘Force A’ before the fight was finished. ‘Force A’ turned to the south-east in the wake of the ‘Excess convoy around 0830 hours. While doing so, the destroyer HMS Gallant hit a mine and had her bow blown off. [This was a mine from the Italian minefield ‘7 AN’]. HMS Mohawk took the stricken destroyer in tow towards Malta escorted by HMS Bonaventure and HMS Griffin. They were later joined by HMS Gloucester and HMS Southampton. While HMS Mohawk was passing the towline two Italian torpedo planes attacked but they had to drop their torpedoes from long range and they missed. Between 1130 and 1800 hours, as the tow crept along at five or six knots, with their escort zig-zagging at 20 knots, they were attacked or threatened by aircraft ten times. Nearly all German high level bombers, which came in ones, twos or threes. The enemy dropped bombs in five out of the ten attempts but no hits were obtained. At 1300 hours German dive bombers arrived an obtained a near miss on HMS Southampton causing some minor damage.
At 0500/11, when about 15 nautical miles from Malta, all was going well and Rear-Admiral Renouf made off with for Suda Bay, Crete with HMS Gloucester, HMS Southampton and HMS Diamond. This last ship had joined the evening before. HMS Gallant, still being towed by HMS Mohawk and escorted by HMS Bonaventure and HMS Griffin arrived at Malta in the forenoon. At Malta, HMS Bonaventure disembarked the soldiers she had on board. [HMS Gallant was further damaged by bombs while at Malta and was eventually found to be beyond economical repair and was cannibalized for spares.]
Meanwhile, Admiral Cunningham in ‘Force A’ had a similar experience on a larger scale. He had sailed from Alexandria on the 7th and enemy aircraft spotted his force already on the same day. During the afternoon of the 10th heavy dive bombing attacks were pressed home by the emeny with skill and determination. The main target was HMS Illustrious. Had the enemy attacked the convoy itself the four transports would most likely all have been sunk, instead the Ilustrious was disabled and she would be out of action of many months.
At noon on the 10th the transports were steering south-eastward, zigzagging at 14 to 15 knots with an escort of three destroyers. At 1320 hours, HMS Calcutta joined them. HMS Warspite, HMS Illustrious and HMS Valiant were steaming in line ahead on the convoy’s starboard quarter, course 110° and zigzagging at 17 to 18 knots. These ships were screened by seven destroyers. The weather was clear, with high cloud.
The fleet was in position 35°59’N, 13°13’E some 55 nautical miles west of Malta when the battle began with an air attack by two Savoia torpedo planes which were detected six nautical miles away on the starboard beam at 1220 hours. They came in at a steady level, 150 feet above the water and dropped their torpedoes about 2500 yards from the battleships. They were sighted a minute before firing and the ships received them with a barrage from long- and short-range guns, altering course to avoid the torpedoes, which passed astern of the rearmost ship HMS Valiant. Five Fulmar fighters from the Illustrious had been patrolling above the fleet. One had returned before the attack being damaged while assisting to destroy a shadower some time before the attack. The other four aircraft chased the torpedo aircraft all the way to Linosa Island, which was about 20 miles to the westward. They claimed to have damaged both the enemy machines.
Directly after this attack, while the ships were reforming the line, a strong force of aircraft were reported at 1235 hours, coming from the northward some 30 miles away. The Fulmars, of course, were then a long way off, flying low and with little ammunition remaining. Actually two were even out of ammunition. They were ordered to return and the Illustrious sent up four fresh fighters as well as reliefs for the anti-submarine patrol. This meant a turn of 100° to starboard into the wind to fly off these aircraft. The enemy aircraft came into sight in the middle of this operation which lasted about four minutes. All the ships opened fire. The fleet had just got back to the proper course, 110°, and the Admiral had made the signal to assume loose formation, when the new attack began. The enemy had assembled astern of their target ‘in two very loose and flexible formations’ at a height of 12000 feet.
They were Junkers dive bombers, perhaps as many as 36, of which 18 to 24 attacked HMS Illustrious at 1240 hours, while a dozen attacked the battleships and the destroyer screen. They came down in flights of three on different bearings astern and on either beam, to release their bombs at heights from 1500 to 800 feet, ‘a very severe and brilliantly executed dive-bombing attack’ says Captain Boyd of the Illustrious. The ships altered course continually, and beginning with long-range controlled fire during the approach, shifted to barrage fire as the enemy dived for attack. The ships shot down at least three machines, while the eight Fulmar fighters that were up shot down five more, at the coast of one British machine. Even the two Fulmars that were out of ammo made dummy attacks and forced two Germans to turn away. But, as Captain Boyd pointed out ‘ at least twelve fighters in the air would have been required to make any impression on the enemy, and double that number to keep them off’.
HMS Illustrious was seriously damaged. She was hit six times, mostly with armour-piercing bombs of 1100 pounds. They wrecked the flight deck, destroyed nine aircraft on board and put half the 4.5” guns out of action, and did other damage, besides setting the ship on fire fore and aft and killing and wounding many of the ship’s company (13 officers and 113 ratings killed and 7 officers and 84 ratings injured) . The Warspite too, narrowly escaped serious injury, but got away with a split hawsepipe and a damaged anchor.
As HMS Illustrious was now useless as a carrier and likely to become a drag on the fleet Captain Boyd decided to make for Malta. The Commander-in-Chief gave her two destroyers as escort, one from his own screen and one from the convoy’s (these were HMS Hasty and HMS Jaguar) and she parted company accordingly. She had continual trouble with her steering gear, which at last broke down altogether, so that she had to steer with the engines, making only 17 to 18 knots. Her aircraft that were in the air also proceeded to Malta.
A third attack came at 1330 hours. By this time HMS Illustrious was 10 nautical miles north-eastward of the battleships which, due to the manoeuvres during the previous attack, were nearly as far away from the transports. The enemy came in again with high level bombers. Seven machines attacked the Illustrious and seven more the battleships. They were received with heavy AA fire. All the bombs they dropped fell wide. HMS Calcutta claimed to have destroyed one of the attackers.
More serious in it’s results was a second dive-bombing attack upon HMS Illustrious at 1610 hours. There were 15 JU-87’s Stuka’s escorted by 5 fighters. Actually 9 of the Stuka’s dropped their bombs, the other 6 were kept at bay due to heavy AA fire from the Illustrious, Hasty and Jaguar. One bomb hit and two near misses on the Illustrious were obtained by the enemy for the loss of one of their aircraft which was shot down by the Illustrious and the Jaguar. A few minutes later the 6 Stuka’s that had been driven off attacked the battleships but they again retired after fire was opened on them.
At 1715 hours, 17 more Stuka’s attacked the battleships. Again they were received with heavy AA fire. The enemy dropped their bombs from a greater height and non of them hit although splinters from a near miss killed a rating on board HMS Valiant and a bombs fell very near HMS Janus but it did not explode. The ships may have destroyed one aircraft with their AA fire. Three of the Fulmars from the Illustrious came from Malta and destroyed three of the attackers.
This turned out to be the end of the ordeal for the ‘Excess Convoy’ and its supporting ships of war, but not for HMS Illustrious which had one more encounter with the enemy before she reached Malta. At about 1920 hours, a little more then an hour after sunset and in moonlight, some aircraft approached from seaward when she was only five nautical miles from the entrance to Grand Harbour, Malta. She had received warning from Malta that enemy aircraft were about and she sighted two – probably torpedo planes. Illustrious, Hasty and Jaguar fired a blind barrage on which the enemy disappeared. Directly afterwards HMS Hasty obtained an Asdic contact and attacked it with depth charges, but whether it was a submarine remains uncertain. HMS Illustrious finally entered harbour at 2100 hours accompanied by HMS Jaguar which had passengers to land.
Movements of the actual ‘Excess Convoy’.
In the meantime, after the mild attack at 1340/10, the convoy went on its way unhindered. Its movements then became involved in those of the Malta to Egypt convoys, which were to sail under cover of the main operation with the special support of Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell’s ‘Force D’ which was made up of the cruisers HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN) and HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN). The first of these convoys, the two ships of M.W. 5½ (see above), had left Alexandria for Malta on 7 January, some hours after Admiral Cunningham sailed westwards with ‘Force A’ to meet the ‘Excess Convoy’. Both ships of this convoy reached Malta without adventure in the morning of the 10th escorted by HMS Calcutta, HMS Diamond and HMS Defender. On arrival HMS Calcutta joined the six slow ships which made up convoy M.E. 6 which was bound for Port Said and Alexandria. The ships in this convoy were the; Devis (6054 GRT, built 1938), Hoegh Hood (tanker, Norwegian, 9351 GRT, built 1936), Pontfield (tanker, 8290 GRT, built 1940), Rodi (3220 GRT, built 1928, former Italian), Trocas (tanker, 7406 GRT, built 1927) and Volo (1587 GRT, built 1938). They were escorted by four corvettes; HMS Peony (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) M.B. Sherwood, DSO, RN), HMS Salvia (Lt.Cdr. J.I. Miller, DSO, RN, RNR), HMS Hyacinth (T/Lt. F.C. Hopkins, RNR), HMS Gloxinia (Lt.Cdr. A.J.C. Pomeroy, RNVR). At the end of the searched channel this convoy was joined by ‘Force D’. HMS Calcutta was then ordered to join the ‘Excess Convoy’ and arrived in time to defend it from the Italian bombers as already described.
The last convoy, M.E. 5½, two fast ships (the Lanarkshire (8167 GRT, built 1940) and Waiwera (12435 GRT, built 1934)) bound for Alexandria, also left Malta in the morning of the 10th under escort of HMS Diamond. They were to join the ‘Excess Convoy’ until they were to turn to the south to clear Crete and then proceed to Alexandria. The ‘Excess Convoy’ would then proceed to Pireaus, Greece. The two convoys met that afternoon. The transport Essex then left and proceeded to Malta escorted by HMS Hero. After the Essex was safely inside Grand Harbour, HMS Hero joined the fleet.
Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell stayed with convoy M.E. 6 until dark on the 10th. As ‘Force A’ was somewhat behind due to the air attacks and Admiral Cunningham ordered Vice Admiral Pridham-Whippell to position HMS Orion and HMAS Perth to the north of the convoy to be in a good position in case of an attack by Italian surface forces. ‘Force A’ made good ground during the night and was some 25 nautical miles north of the convoy by daylight on the 11th at which time Orion and Perth joined ‘Force A’. Their forces stayed within a few miles of the convoy until the afternoon when they turned back to help HMS Gloucester, HMS Southampton which had come under air attack (see below). In the evening the ships destined for Alexandria left the convoy, while HMS Calcutta went ahead to Suda Bay to fuel there. The three ships and their destroyer escort continued on to Pireaus where they arrived safely next morning, at 1000 on the 12th.
HMS Ajax and HMS York had been ordered to join convoy M.E. 6. HMS Ajax however was ordered to proceed to Suda Bay soon after she had joined the convoy. In the morning of the 11th therefore, Rear-Admiral Renouf in HMS Gloucester and with HMS Southampton and HMS Diamond in company, was ordered to overtake the convoy and support it. They were at that moment steering for Suda Bay having left the disabled Gallant off Malta some hours before. Rear-Admiral Renouf altered course accordingly and made 24 knots against the convoys 9 to 10 knots. He also send up a Walrus aircraft to find the convoy.
The sinking of HMS Southampton.
At 1522 hours, when his ships were some 30 nautical miles astern of the convoy, and in position 34°56’N, 18°19’E, they were suddenly attacked by a dozen German Ju-87 ‘Stuka’ dive-bombers. Fortune was against them. The attack came as an entire surprise and according to Captain Rowley of the Gloucester the ‘aircraft were not sighted until the whistle of the first bomb was heard’. Six machines attacked each cruiser, diving steeply from the direction of the sun, releasing a 550-lb bomb each, at heights of around 1500 to 800 feet. The ships opened fire with 4” AA guns and smaller AA guns. They also increased speed and altered course to avoid the attack but two bombs, perhaps three hit HMS Southampton causing disastrous damage. Another hit and some near misses did some damage to HMS Gloucester. Half-an-hour later seven high-level bombers attacked but they were detected in time and taken under fire as a result of which all bombs fell wide. During the attack the Walrus from HMS Gloucester returned and ditched alongside HMS Diamond which took off the crew and then scuttled the aircraft.
Rear-Admiral Renouf immediately reported the damage to his cruisers to Admiral Cunningham who went to their aid. He send Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell ahead with the Orion, Perth, Jervis and Janus. From Malta HMS Griffin and HMS Mohawk were sent. Before they arrived however, Rear-Admiral Renouf reported that the Southampton must be abandoned and that he would sink her. HMS Gloucester took on board 33 officers and 678 ratings of which 4 officers and 58 ratings were wounded while HMS Diamond took on board 16 wounded ratings. Upon this signal the battleships turned east again. HMS Southampton had cought fire badly upon being hit. For a time the ships company fought the fire successfully and kept the ship in action and under control but in the end the fire got out of control. Also it was found that some magazines could not be flooded. In the end the crew had to give it up and was taken off. A torpedo was fired into her by HMS Gloucester but it did not sink her. Soon afterwards Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell arrived on the scene and his flagship, HMS Orion then scuttled her with three more torpedoes (four were fired).
Further proceedings of the convoys and the fleet.
Next morning, the 12th, HMS Orion, HMS Perth, HMS Gloucester, HMS Jervis and HMS Janus joined Admiral Cunningham’s Force off the west end of Crete meeting there also A/Rear-Admiral Rawlings (‘Force X’) in HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN) and with HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, CBE, RN), HMS Ajax and their destroyer screen made up of HMAS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN), HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN), HMAS Vendetta (Lt.Cdr. R. Rhodes, RAN), HMAS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN) and HMS Wryneck (Lt.Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN). These ships were to have begun a series of attacks on the Italian shipping routes but the disabling of HMS Illustrious put an end to that part of the plan so Admiral Cunningham took HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant, HMS Gloucester and the destroyers HMS Jervis, HMS Janus, HMS Greyhound, HMS Diamond, HMS Defender, HMS Hero and HMAS Voyager straight to Alexandria where they arrived in the early morning hours of the 13th.
HMS Barham, HMS Eagle, HMS York, HMS Orion, HMS Ajax, HMAS Perth, HMAS Stuart, HMAS Vampire, HMAS Vendetta, HMS Wryneck, HMS Griffin and HMS Mohawk then proceeded to Suda Bay to fuel where they arrived around 1900/12.
After fuelling at Suda Bay, Vice-Admiral Pridham-Whippell took HMS Orion, HMAS Perth to Pireaus where they arrived at 0230/13. There they took some troops from the ‘Excess Convoy’ on board and departed for Malta at 0600/13, a task the Southampton was to have done. They arrived at Malta around 0830/14. After unloading HMS Orion departed for Alexandria later the same day together with HMS Bonaventure and HMS Jaguar. They arrived at Alexandria in the morning of the 16th. HMAS Perth remained at Malta due to defects.
Meanwhile the six ships of convoy M.E. 6 arrived safely at their destinations on 13 January.
HMS Barham, HMS Eagle, HMS Ajax, HMAS Stuart, HMS Juno, HMS Hereward, HMS Hasty and HMS Dainty departed Suda Bay for operations south-west of Crete early in the morning of the 13th. The destroyers HMS Ilex, HMS Wryneck, HMAS Vampire and HMAS Vendetta also departed Suda Bay to conduct a sweep in the Kythera Channel. They joined ‘Force X’ around noon but Vampire and Vendetta were soon detached to investigate explosions which turned out to be underwater volcano activity. Meanwhile Ilex and Wryneck were also detached for a sweep towards Stampalia.
’Force X’ returned to Suda Bay in the afternoon of the 15th and departed from there on the 16th for Alexandria where they arrived on the 18th.
Not a single of the 14 merchant ships in the convoys was lost but the fleet paid a heavy price for this loosing a light cruiser and a valuable aircraft carrier out of action for many months. As there were now German aircraft based in Italy future operations for the supply of Malta would be extremely difficult and dangerous. (7)
22 Jan 1941
Operation MBD 2 (also called operation Inspection).
Extraction of the damaged HMS Illustrious from Malta.
Timespan; 22 January to 25 January 1941.
Having arrived at Malta in the evening of January 10th, HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN) underwent temporary repairs there. However the enemy soon noticed this and commenced a series of heavy air attacks with the object of destroying the crippled carrier. It soon became obvious that the Illustrious had to leave Malta as soon as possible.
While at Malta HMS Illustrious was damaged further in these air attacks. She was hit again on the 16th but this caused no serious damage. On the 17th she was hit again on the quarterdeck but again this caused no serious damage. On the 19th she was hit yet again and now more serious damage was caused causing the operation to move her to be delayed. At 1927/20 Vice-Admiral Malta reported that HMS Illustrious would be ready to sail after noon on the 23rd at a speed of about 20 knots.
Departure of HMS Illustrious from Malta.
At 1930/23 HMS Illustrious departed Malta escorted by HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN), HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN), HMS Juno (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Thyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall-A’Deane, DSO, DSC, RN). During the night of 23/24 January the Illustrious made better speed then anticipated (about 24 knots).
A cover force, ‘Force B’, made up of HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral H.D. Pridham-Whippell, CB, CVO, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D.B. McCarthy, RN), HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.G. Egerton, RN), HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), HMS Ilex (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN) and HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), which had departed Suda Bay around dawn on the 23rd, failed to make contact with her.
However in the forenoon ‘Force C’ made up of HMS Barham (Capt. G.C. Cooke, RN, flying the flag of A/Rear-Admiral H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. C.E. Morgan, DSO, RN), HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN), HMS Hereward (Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, RN) and HMS Diamond (Lt.Cdr. P.A. Cartwright, RN), which had departed Alexandria around noon on the 22nd, joined her.
HMS Illustrious was detected by enemy aircraft twice but no air attacks on her developed. ‘Force B’ however came under heavy air attack. Torpedo bombing, high-level bombing and dive-bombing attacks were carried out. HMS Hero became detached due to a breakdown in her steering gear and was singled out for a specially heavy attack. There were many near misses no ship was actually hit, although HMS Ajax sustained some minor damage from a near miss. At least one enemy aircraft was shot down by AA gunfire.
All forces involved arrived at Alexandria on the 25th. (8)
15 Jun 1941
HMS Ilex (Capt. H. St. L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) was damaged by near misses from Vichy-French aircraft while operation off Syria. She sustained major structural damage was was towed to Haifa by HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN).
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).
29 Jun 1941
HMS Ilex (Capt. H. St. L. Nicolson, DSO, RN) arrived at Port Said.
20 Jul 1941
After temporary repairs, HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) departed Port Said for Aden. She was to proceed to Simonstown, South Africa where the damage was to be investigated before it would be decided where repairs were te be effected. It had at first been intended that she was to be sent to India for repairs but she could not be accepted there.
24 Jul 1941
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) arrived at Aden. During passage south through the Red Sea she had developed leaks. She needed further repairs before she was fit to continue her passage to South Africa.
15 Sep 1941
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) departed Aden for Mombasa.
23 Sep 1941
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) arrived at Mombasa.
4 Oct 1941
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) departed Mombasa for Durban.
10 Oct 1941
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) arrived at Durban where repairs were effected as she was not in a state to continue passage to a large repair yard.
5 Feb 1942
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) departed Durban for Simonstown.
7 Feb 1942
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) arrived at Simonstown.
11 Feb 1942
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) departed Simonstown for Freetown. Ilex was to proceed to the USA for repairs at the Boston Navy Yard.
23 Feb 1942
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) arrived at Freetown. It had now been decided that full repairs were to be effected at the Charleston Navy Yard.
24 Feb 1942
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) departed Freetown for Pernambuco, Brasil.
1 Mar 1942
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) arrived at Pernambuco.
3 Mar 1942
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) departed Pernambuco for Trinidad.
8 Mar 1942
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) arrived at Trinidad.
9 Mar 1942
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) departed Trinidad for Charleston.
14 Mar 1942
HMS Ilex (Lt. G.R.P. Goodden, RN) arrived at Charleston to start full repairs at the Navy Yard.
- ADM 199/373
- ADM 199/386 + ADM 234/323
- ADM 199/386
- ADM 199/386 + ADM 234/317
- ADM 199/386 + ADM 199/391
- ADM 199/283
- ADM 199/414 + ADM 199/656 + ADM 223/679 + ADM 234/335
- ADM 199/414
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.