HMS Sikh (F 82)
Destroyer of the Tribal class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||A. Stephen & Sons Ltd. (Glasgow, Scotland)|
|Ordered||19 Jun 1936|
|Laid down||24 Sep 1936|
|Launched||17 Dec 1937|
|Commissioned||12 Oct 1938|
|Lost||14 Sep 1942|
|Loss position||32° 05'N, 24° 00'E|
HMS Sikh started her naval life with the 1st Destroyer Flotilla (1st D.F.). Her builders trials commenced in August 1938 and after being fitted with a gyro-compass and other equipment at Chatham, England she was completed on 2 November 1938 even though she had been commissioned a month earlier. After bringing King Carol and Crown Prince Michael of Romania from Boulogne, France to Dover England, Sikh returned to Portsmouth while the royal party went on a state visit to Buckingham Palace. The Tribal returned the East European royals to Boulogne on 18th November. After more workups, Sikh sailed for the Mediterranean, arriving at Malta on 2 December.
In February 1939, HMS Afridi led Sikh and the rest of the flotilla to Gibraltar for exercises followed by individual cruises. On 21 March 1939, Sikh sailed to Cartagena, Spain to embark refugees from the Spanish Civil War.
HMS Sikh, HMS Gurkha, HMS Afridi and HMS Mohawk were patrolling in the Red Sea when war broke out. The ships quickly returned back to the Mediterranean for convoy escort duty and blockades. After a short operational period, Sikh was ordered back to home waters but a broken turbine interrupted her departure from Malta. Eventually, the Tribal made it home by 26 December 1939 and after a quick refit, she joined the 4th D.F. in 1940.
Anti-submarine patrols, fleet sweeps and convoy escorts occupied SIKH for the next few months. By April, the Tribal found herself involved with the Norwegian campaign. At Nasmos Norway, Sikh and her sister Tribals were attacked from the air almost continuously and usually at meal times. As soon as she returned to Scapa Flow, Scotland, Sikh was detailed for the evacuation of Allied trops from Central Norway at the beginning of May. She then accompanied the 6th D.F. when they embarked troops in the Andalsnes area of Norway. More turbine trouble developed, so it was off to Alexander Stephen's Yard at Govan for repairs and refit.
Routine screening, North Sea patrols and anti-invasion exercises followed and continued through the autumn and winter months. Sikh escorted convoys in the Western Approaches and protected the capital ships of the Home Fleet in northern waters. It was mostly monotonous work in filthy weather but there were some notable incidents. Sikh escorted one East Coast convoy from the Forth River to the Thames River during the Battle of Britain and without any air or sea attacks. The night of 16/17th October was also eventful when Sikh narrowly avoided following HMS Fame and HMS Ashanti onto the beach at Whitburn, England.
On 21 May 1941, HMS Sikh, HMS Cossack, HMS Maori and HMS Zulu left the Clyde River to escort another troop convoy through the Western Approaches. Enroute, these ships were detached to screen Home Fleet capital ships which were attacking the German battleship Bismarck. The 4th D.F. witnessed the destruction of Bismarck at dawn on 27 May 1941.
After undergoing two more refits, Sikh helped to escort HMS Nelson back to the U.K. The battleship had been temporarily repaired following a torpedo hit during a Malta convoy. Sikh rejoined Force H at Gibraltar taking part in various sweeps and exercises. Ordered to reinforce the 14th D.F., HMS Sikh, HMS Maori, HMS Legion, and HrMs Isaac Sweers proceeded eastward and off Cape Bon, Tunisia they sank the Italian cruisers Alberico di Barbiano and Alberto di Giussano. After calling at Malta, HMS Sikh and HMS Maori took part in the First Battle of Sirte, then arrived at Alexandria, Egypt on 18/19th December. It was then decided that HMS Sikh and HMS Maori should return to Malta, to join HMS Zulu and form the 22nd D.F. This would act as a strike force against Axis supply convoys between Italy and North Africa.
On 12/13th September, HMS Sikh (Capt. St John Aldrich Micklethwait, DSO and 2 Bars, RN) and HMS Zulu were supporting an assault off the coast of Africa. While picking up troops in boats at 0505hours, a searchlight on shore suddenly lit up HMS Sikh. Quickly, HMS Zulu moved away, then came in bow first into the searchlight. Shore batteries opened fire. One 88mm shell exploded in Sikh's Gear Room, damaging the lubrication feed system and the steering gear. A second hit forward, blew up the ready-use ammunition locker for 'A' gun and started a fierce fire that killed, burned, or disabled all of the Royal Marines who had just been picked up. It also trapped more Royal Marines who had been waiting in the messdecks. Emergency damage control and first aid parties rescued the wounded, flooded 'A' and 'B' magazines, and dealt with the blaze. Sikh was steaming in circles at 10 knots and getting slower. A third shell struck her range finder director and from then on, all her guns had to fire under local control. As Sikh came to a stop, Captain Micklethwait, Sikh's Commanding Officer, ordered all Royal Navy Forces to leave the area while HMS Zulu towed Sikh away from danger. While under tow, a forth shell hit the unlucky destroyer setting off the charges around Sikh's 'Y' mounting. This started another bad fire aft while a fifth shell struck 'B' mounting killing the gun crew. Others took up their places and the guns continued firing. During the shelling, the towline broke and Zulu made attempts to get a heaving line to Sikh. Captain Micklethwait, went forward to supervise the towing preparations on the fo'c'sle when a sixth shell smashed the bridge. It was now broad daylight and the two ships were getting underway when another 88mm shell hit the towline and severed it. There was no hope of saving Sikh. HMS Zulu laid a smokescreen around Sikh and tried to come in to take Sikh's crew. It was too dangerous. HMS Zulu was ordered away. Shells continued to hit Sikh but her 'X' gun kept firing until the ammunition in the ready use locker was exhausted. Captain Micklethwait fired the scuttling charges which flooded the engine and boiler rooms. He made a final tour of his ship and left. Sikh took a long time to die, heeling over to starboard as she sank in position 32º05'N, 24º00'E while shells continued to hit. All the survivors were taken as prisoner of war.
Commands listed for HMS Sikh (F 82)
Please note that we're still working on this section.
|1||Cdr. John Agnew Giffard, RN||5 Sep 1938||25 Oct 1940|
|2||Cdr. Graham Henry Stokes, RN||25 Oct 1940||3 Feb 1942|
|3||Lt. David Edmund Cole-Hamilton, DSC, RN||3 Feb 1942||21 Feb 1942|
|4||Capt. St. John Aldrich Micklethwait, DSO, RN||21 Feb 1942||14 Sep 1942|
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Notable events involving Sikh include:
At 1140 hours, HMS Manchester (Capt. H.H. Bousfield, RN), HMS Southampton (Capt. F.W.H. Jeans, CVO, RN), HMS Sheffield (Capt. C.A.A. Larcom, RN) and HMS Glasgow (Capt. F.H. Pegram, RN) were detached for an operation in Norwegian territorial waters (operate against German forces in water at and around Bergen). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Afridi (Capt. P.L. Vian, RN), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. A.W. Buzzard, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. J.A. Giffard, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Somali (Capt. R.S.G. Nicholson, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) and HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN).
Soon after 1400 hours however a signal was received cancelling the operation and the ships set course to re-join the fleet.
In the afternoon the German Luftwaffe however started to attack the ships and near missed lightly damaged HMS Southampton and HMS Glasgow. HMS Gurkha was however sunk. Survivors were picked up by HMS Aurora (Capt. L.H.K. Hamilton, DSO, RN) who was also on her way to join the Home Fleet at sea.
Later on the 9th most of the ships involved in the intended opertion against Bergen were ordered to proceed to Scapa Flow or Sullom Voe for refuelling. (3)
17 Apr 1940
Troopship Chrobry departed Lillesjona for Namsos to land more troops and stores together with the troops that had been put on board the destroyers HMS Afridi (Capt. P.L. Vian, RN), HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. J.A. Giffard, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN) and HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN). The newly arrived AA cruiser HMS Curlew (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) went in with the Chrobry and the five destroyers while HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN) remained at sea while the other AA cruiser, HMS Cairo (Capt. P.V. McLaughlin, RN), was sent north to Skjel Fjord to fuel. The Empress of Australia was ordered to return to the U.K. escorted by HMS Birmingham (Capt. A.C.G. Madden, RN) and the destroyers HMS Vanoc (Lt.Cdr. J.G.W. Deneys, RN) and HMS Whirlwind (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Rodgers, RN). HMS Highlander (Cdr. W.A. Dallmeyer, RN) was also initially have to been part of this escort but she had run aground while on A/S patrol off Lillesjona around 0130 hours and had been damaged. She was detached soon after departure for the Tyne where she was to undergo repairs. Shortly before Highlander was detached she forced a German submarine to dive which enabled the convoy to pass unharmed.
At 0200/18 unloading of the Chrobry was halted and she went out to sea again with 170 tons of stores still onboard. She had to clear the area before daylight and the expected air attacks. She was to return the next night. Chrobry indeed succeeded in landing her remaining stores in the evening of the 18th. She then took on board a cargo of timber and set course for the U.K. escorted by HMS Sikh and HMS Mashona. HMS Matabele and HMS Curlew meanwhile had gone back to the U.K. for fuel. HMS Manchester was also on her way back home but was ordered to return to assist a French convoy that was next to land troops at Namsos. HMS Manchester could not be back in time to assist in the landings but course and speed were adjusted so as to meet the convoy at sea and escort it on the return passage. HMS Manchester joined the convoy in the evening of the 20th and remained with it until off the Shetlands the next day after which she was detached and set course for Scapa Flow. HMS Cairo had meanwhile also returned after fueling at Skjel Fjord and assisted the French during the landings. Cairo then returned to the U.K. bolstering the escort of the French convoy. (3)
18 Dec 1940
HMS Nelson (Capt. Sir G.J.A. Miles, RN), HMS Hood (Capt. Sir I.G. Glennie, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. Sir W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN) and HMS Manchester (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN) departed Scapa Flow to conduct exercises west of the Orkneys. They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. L.P. Skipwith, RN), HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN), HMS Bulldog (Lt.Cdr. F.J.G. Hewitt, RN), HMS Beagle (Lt.Cdr. R.H. Wright, RN), HMS Douglas (Lt.Cdr. H.G. Bowerman, RN), HMS Escapade (Cdr. R.E. Hyde-Smith, RN), HMS Electra (Lt.Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN) and HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN). (4)
25 May 1941
The 4th Destroyer Flotilla comprising the British destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, DSO, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. H.R. Graham, DSO, RN) and the Polish destroyer Piorun (Cdr. E. Plawski, Polish Navy) was escorting convoy WS-8B when they received an order to leave the convoy and take part in the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck. (5)
12 Jul 1941
Convoy WS 9C
This convoy was formed at sea and was initially made up of the British merchants/ troop transports Avila Star (14443 GRT, built 1927), City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937), Deucalion (7516 GRT, built 1930), Durham (10893 GRT, built 1934), Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937), Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), Pasteur (30447 GRT, built 1939), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) and Sydney Star (11095 GRT, built 1936).
They were escorted by the battleship HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN) (12-20 July), cruisers HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), (12-17 July), AA cruiser HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Cdr. E.J. van Holthe, RNN) (12-15 July), cruiser-minelayer HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN), (15-16 July), destroyers HMS Winchelsea (Lt.Cdr. W.A.F. Hawkins, OBE, DSC, RN) (12 July), HMS Vanoc (Lt.Cdr. J.G.W. Deneys, DSO, RN) (12-15 July), HMS Wanderer (Cdr. A.F.St.G. Orpen, RN) (12-15 July), ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski, ORP) (12-15 July), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN) (12-15 July), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN) (12-17 July), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN) (12-17 July), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN) (12-17 July), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN) (18-20 July), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) (17-20 July), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) (17-20 July), escort destroyers HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN) (18-20 July), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) (18-20 July), HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN) (18-20 July) and sloop HMS Stork (Lt. G.T.S. Gray, DSC, RN) (12-13 July).
The merchant ships from the convoy departed either Avonmouth, Liverpool, the Clyde area and Belfast. The convoy was finally formed up at sea early on the 13th in position 55°40'N, 06°55'W.
The passage of the convoy was uneventful.
HMS Gurkha and ORP Garland left the convoy around 0330/15 reaching the limit of their endurance. HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck, HMS Vanoc and HMS Wanderer did the same around 1830/15. Around 2000/15 HMS Manxman joined the convoy, she parted company at 1900/16 and set course for Gibraltar. The merchant Avila Star had meanwhile left the convoy at 1000/16.
At 0700/17 the 8th Destroyer Flotilla was to join the convoy coming from Gibraltar but due to thick for no contact was made. At 1000/17 the Pasteur left the convoy for Gibraltar escorted by HMS Manchester, HMS Maori, HMS Lightning and HMAS Nestor. Shortly afterwards the fog lifted and the 8th Destroyer Flottilla was sighted and joined the convoy. At 1200/17 the Leinster also left the convoy for Gibraltar escorted by HMS Arethusa, HMS Cossack and HMS Sikh.
At 1800/18 HMS Firedrake joined the convoy coming from Gibraltar.
At 0700/18 HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Farndale joined the Pasteur, HMS Manchester, HMS Lightning and HMAS Nestor. HMS Maori then left that group and joined the group that was made up of the Leinster, HMS Arethusa, HMS Cossack and HMS Sikh. HMS Manchester departed the ‘Pasteur group’ at 1000/19 to join the ‘Leinster group’ which she did at 1500/19.
The ‘Pasteur group’ arrived at Gibraltar shortly after noon on the 19th and around 0330/20 the ‘Leinster group’ arrived at Gibraltar. Troops aboard these ships then disembarked.
Around 0200/20, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Manxman, HMS Lightning, HMAS Nestor, HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Farndale departed Gibraltar to rendez-vous with the now incoming convoy WS 9C. They joined the convoy shortly before noon, the six F-class destroyers of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla then left to refuel at Gibraltar.
For the continuation of the events see the event for 21 July 1941 on Operation Substance. (6)
21 Jul 1941
Operation Substance, convoys to and from Malta
Passage through the Straits of Gibraltar of the eastbound convoy and sailing from Gibraltar of the remaining ships involved in the operation.
Around 0130/21 convoy WS 9C passed the Straits of Gibraltar. The convoy at that moment consisted of six merchant ships; City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937), Deucalion (7516 GRT, built 1930), Durham (10893 GRT, built 1934), Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933) and Sydney Star (11095 GRT, built 1936).
At the time they passed through the Straits they were escorted by HMS Nelson (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), HMS Edinburgh (Capt. H.W. Faulkner, RN), HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. R.G. Stewart, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, RAN), HMS Avon Vale (Lt.Cdr. P.A.R. Withers, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN) and HMS Farndale (Cdr. S.H. Carlill, RN).
HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN), HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), HMS Cossack (Capt. E.L. Berthon, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh departed Gibraltar around 0200/21 escorting troopship Leinster (4302 GRT, built 1937) which was to join the convoy. However Leinster grounded while leaving Gibraltar and had to left behind. The small fleet tanker RFA Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941, master D.B.C. Ralph) left Gibraltar around the same time escorted by the destroyer HMS Beverley (Lt.Cdr. J. Grant, RN).
About one hour later, around 0300/21, HMS Renown (Rear-Admiral R.R. McGrigor, RN), HMS Ark Royal (Capt. L.E.H. Maund, RN), HMS Hermione (Capt. G.N. Oliver, RN), HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Foresight (Cdr. J.S.C. Salter, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. T.C. Robinson, RN) and HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) departed Gibraltar to give convoy for the convoy during the passage to Malta.
At sea the forces were redistributed; Force H, the cover force HMS Renown (Flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Sommerville, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Nelson, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hermione, HMS Faulknor, HMS Foresight, HMS Forester, HMS Fury, HMS Lightning and HMS Duncan.
Force X, the close escort for the convoy HMS Edinburgh (Flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.N. Syfret, RN), HMS Manchester, HMS Arethusa, HMS Manxman, HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMAS Nestor, HMS Fearless, HMS Firedrake, HMS Foxhound, HMS Avon Vale, HMS Eridge and HMS Farndale.
Plan for the operation
Force H was to cover the convoy until it reached the narrows between Sicily and Tunisia. Force X was to escort the convoy all the way to Malta. Ships of Force X also had troops for Malta on board that had been taken to Gibraltar by troopship Pasteur. On 23 July 1941, the day the eastbound convoy would reach ‘the narrows’ five empty transports and two tankers would depart Malta for Gibraltar (Convoy MG 1) The seven empty transports were; Group 1 (speed 17 knots) HMS Breconshire (9776 GRT, built 1939), Talabot (6798 GRT, built 1936),
Group 2 (speed 14 knots) Thermopylae (6655 GRT, built 1930), Amerika (10218 GRT, built 1930),
Group 3 (speed 12 knots) Settler (6202 GRT, built 1939), Tanker Svenor (7616 GRT, built 1931) and Tanker Hoegh Hood (9351 GRT, built 1936) These were escorted by the destroyer HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) which had been repairing and refitting at Malta.
Through intelligence it was known that the Italian Navy had five battleships operational (three of them at Taranto) and about ten cruisers divided between Taranto, Palermo and Messina. The Italian Air Force had about 50 torpedo planes and 150 bombers (30 of which were dive bombers) stationed in Sardinia and Sicily, roughly half of each type on both islands.
The Royal Air Force was able to be of more help than during the previous convoy trip from Gibraltar to Malta last January. Aircraft from Gibraltar conducted A/S patrols for the fleet during the first two days of the passage to the east. Also patrols were flown between Sardinia and the coast of Africa, while aircraft from Malta conducted reconnaissance between Sardinia and Sicily, besides watching the Italian ports. Malta would also provide fighter escort for Force X and the convoy after Force H would part with them and HMS Ark Royal could no longer provide fighter cover for them.
During the operation eight submarines (HMS Olympus (Lt.Cdr. H.G. Dymott, RN), HMS Unique (Lt. A.F. Collett, RN), HMS Upholder (Lt.Cdr. M.D. Wanklyn, DSO, RN), HMS Upright (Lt. J.S. Wraith, DSC, RN), HMS Urge (Lt. E.P. Tomkinson, RN), HMS Utmost (Lt.Cdr. R.D. Cayley, DSO, RN), HMS P 32 (Lt. D.A.B. Abdy, RN) and HrMs O 21 (Lt.Cdr. J.F. van Dulm, RNN)) were on patrol to report and attack Italian warships that might be sailed to intercept the convoy.
The passage East, 22 July 1941
On 22 July the destroyers from Force X oiled from the Brown Ranger two at a time. A task that took about 10 hours. Having completed the oiling of the destroyers the Brown Ranger and her escort returned to Gibraltar. An Italian aircraft had reported Force H in the morning but the convoy and Force X, at that moment about 100 nautical miles to the south-westward, appeared not to have been sighed. At 2317/22 the Italian submarine Diaspro missed HMS Renown with torpedoes. HMAS Nestor sighted the torpedo tracks and was able to warn HMS Renown which was then able to avoid the torpedoes by doing an emergency turn to port.
The passage East and attacks by the Italian Air Force, 23 July 1941
Force H rejoined the convoy around 0800/23 as the British were now approaching the danger area. Shadowing aircraft had already reported the position of the fleet that morning and heavy air attacks soon followed.
The first came at 0945 hours, a well times combination of nine high level bombers and six or seven torpedo planes approaching from the north-east. HMS Ark Royal had eleven fighters up, which met the bombers about 20 miles from the fleet. They managed to down two of the nine bombers but unfortunately three Fulmars were shot down by the enemy. The other seven bombers came on working round the head of the screen of destroyers to attack the convoy from the starboard beam at a height of 10000 feet. Their bombs fell harmlessly amongst the leading ships as they altered course to avoid the attack. The torpedo planes however were more successful. They came from ahead out of the sun, flying low, and as the destroyers opened fire they divided into groups of two or three and to attack the convoy on both sides. Two aircraft attacked HMS Fearless, stationed ahead in the screen, dropping their torpedoes at ranges of 1500 and 800 yards from a height of 70 feet. The destroyer avoided the first torpedo, but was hit by the second, set on fire, and completely disabled. Other aircraft went to press on their attacks on the convoy itself. One of them, dropping its torpedo between two merchant vessels hit HMS Manchester as she was turning to regain her station after avoiding two torpedoes fired earlier. She reversed helm once more but to no avail. During the attacks three enemy torpedo bombers were shot down by AA fire from the ships.
HMS Manchester was badly damaged and could only use one engine out of four. At first she could steam only 8 knots. She was ordered to make for Gibraltar with HMS Avon Vale as escort. That evening, further to the westward, they were attacked again by three enemy torpedo planes but their AA gunfire kept the enemy at a distance. Both ships successfully reached Gibraltar on the 26th.
At 1010/23 five more bombers tried to attack the convoy crossing this time from north to south. Fighters from HMS Ark Royal forced them to drop their bombs from great height and mostly outside the screen.
At 1645/23 five more torpedo planes led by a seaplane came in from the northward. Three Fulmars caught them about 20 miles away. They managed to shoot down two planes and drove the remainder away.
Soon afterwards the fleet arrived off the entrance to the Skerki Channel. There HMS Hermione was transferred to Force X to take the place of HMS Manchester. Six destroyers were assigned to Force H and eight to Force X. At 1713 hours Vice-Admiral Sommerville hauled round to the westward. HMS Ark Royal kept her Fulmars up until RAF Beaufighters had arrived from Malta to take over.
The convoy was attacked again around 1900/23. Four torpedo planes arrived from the eastward, flying low and and working round from ahead to the starboard side of the convoy. They approached in pairs in line abreast. They kept HMS Sikh (on the starboard bow of the screen) between them and their target until nearly the moment for attack, thereby hampering the AA fire from the other ships. They dropped their torpedoes from long range from a height of 50 feet and nearly hit HMS Hermione, sternmost ship in the starboard column. To avoid the attack each column of the convoy turned 90° outwards and all warships opened barrage fire from all guns that would bear. The barrage however fell short but it caused the Italians to drop their torpedoes early. Also one of the enemy was possibly shot down.
This attack scattered the convoy and it took some time to reform. At 1945/23 about seven bombers appeared from ahead at a height of about 14000 feet to attack the convoy from the port side. The convoy altered 40° to port together and the escort opened up a controlled fire with some hesitation as the Italian aircraft looked a lot like Beaufighters. The bombing was extremely accurate. Several bombs fell near HMS Edinburgh which was leading the port column, and a near miss abreast a boiler room disabled HMS Firedrake which had been sweeping ahead of the convoy. She could no longer steam so Rear-Admiral Syfret ordered her back to Gibraltar in tow of HMS Eridge. They had an anxious passage, being shadowed by aircraft continuously during daylight hours, but were not again attacked. On the 25th HMS Firedrake managed to lit one boiler so the tow was slipped. Both destroyers entered Gibraltar harbour on the 27th.
Soon after leaving the Skerki Channel in the evening of the 23th the convoy hauled up to the north-east towards the coast of Sicily. This was to lessen the danger of mines. The Italians did not shadow the convoy after the attack at 1945 hours and missed this alteration of course which they clearly did not expect. Around 2100 hours, as it was getting dark, enemy aircraft were seen searching along its old line of advance. During the evening the convoy sighted flares several times about 20 miles to the south.
Continued passage to the east and enemy attacks, 24 July 1941
Between 0250 and 0315 hours the convoy was however attacked by the Italian MAS boats MAS 532 and MAS 533. The managed to torpedo and damaged the Sydney Star. HMAS Nestor went alongside and took off almost 500 soldiers. Sydney Star was however able to continue her passage as staggler escorted initially by HMAS Nestor. Admiral Syfret however sent back HMS Hermione. At 1000/24 eight German dive bombers and two high level bombers attacked. Their bombs fell close the escorting ships. HMS Hermione shot down one dive bomber. The three ships arrived at Malta early in the afternoon.
The main body of the convoy meanwhile continued on its way unhindered after the attacks of the motor torpedo boats except for an attempt by three torpedo planes around 0700 hours. They dropped their torpedoes at a safe distance when fired on by the destroyers in the screen ahead. According to the orders Rear-Admiral Syfret was to leave the convoy now, if there was no threat from Italian surface forces, and go on to Malta with the cruisers and some of the destroyers. They were to land the passengers and stores, complete with fuel and return to Force H as soon as possible. The remaining destroyers were to accompany the transports to Malta. They too were to join Force H as soon as possible. Rear-Admiral Syfret felt easy about the surface danger as all Italian ships were reported in harbour the day before, but he was anxious about the threat to the convoy from the air. He decided to go ahead with the cruiser but leave all destroyers with the convoy so at 0745/24, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Arethusa and HMS Manxman left the convoy and pressed ahead at high speed to Malta where they arrived at noon the same day. The transports and the destroyers arrived about four hours later. They had been attacked only once by a torpedo plane since the cruisers separated.
Return passage of the warships of force X to make rendez-vous with Force H.
In the evening HMS Edinburgh, HMS Arethusa, HMS Hermione and HMS Manxman sailed together followed by five destroyers; HMS Cossack, HMS Maori, HMS Sikh, HMAS Nestor, HMS Foxhound, later the same evening. The destroyers overtook the cruisers in the morning of the 25th. The sixth destroyer, HMS Farndale, had to be left at Malta due to defects (condenser problems). All ships made rendez-vous with Force H to the north-west of Galita Island at 0800/25.
Movements of Force H after it parted from the convoy.
After parting with the convoy in the evening of the 23rd, Vice-Admiral Sommerville had taken force H westward at 18 knots until the afternoon of the 24th going as far west as 03°30’E. He then turned back to meet Admiral Syfret, also sending from HMS Ark Royal six Swordfish aircraft which left her in position 37°42’N, 07°17’E at 1000/25. After their junction Forces H and X made the best of way towards Gibraltar. Fighter patrols of HMS Ark Royal shot down a shadowing aircraft soon after the fleet had shaped course to the westward, losing a Fulmar in doing so. However another aircraft had meanwhile reported the fleet.
High level bombers appeared from the east and torpedo bombers from the north at 1100 hours. HMS Ark Royal at that moment had four fighters in the air and sent up six more. They prevented the bombing attack shooting down three aircraft out of eight at a cost of two Fulmars, while the ships watched the enemy jettison their bombs 15 miles away. The torpedo attack came to nothing too for the enemy gave up the attempt and retired while still several miles from the fleet. Two days later, on the 27th, the fleet reached Gibraltar.
The movements of the seven empty ships coming from Malta.
Six of the transports / tankers left Malta for Gibraltar in the morning of the 23rd, escorted by HMS Encounter. The seventh ship, tanker Svenor grounded while leaving harbour and was held up for some hours. At dusk, when a few miles from Pantelleria, the six ships devided into pairs according to their speed. HMS Encounter initially escorted the middle pair but joined the leading ships in the evening of the 24th when past the Galita Bank.
Italian aircraft, both high level bombers and torpedo planes, attacked all these ships on the 24th to the southward of Sardinia. They made their first attempt on the second pair of transports and HMS Encounter. Four torpedo planes attacked at 1230/24 and four bombers at 1250/24. No ships were hit though the bombs fell close. Next came the turn for the leading pair, which were attacked further westwards by two bombers that came singly at 1330/24 and 1400/24. The second plane nearly hit HMS Breconshire. Finally when the third pair of ships reached about the same position in the evening they were attacked by torpedo planes and the Hoegh Hood was damaged but she managed to arrive at Gibraltar only a few hours after her consort on the 27th. The last ship, the one that had been delayed at Malta, arrived on the 28th. (7)
13 Dec 1941
The Italian light cruisers Alberico da Barbiano and Alberto di Giussano were torpedoed and sunk off Cape Bon by the Royal Navy destroyers HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, DSC, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN) and the Dutch destroyer HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNethN) on a supply mission to Tripoli.
16 Apr 1942
HMS Otus (Lt. R.M. Favell, RN) conducted exercises off Alexandria together with HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Sikh (Capt. St.J.A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN) and HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO and Bar, RN). (8)
5 May 1942
HMS Otus (Lt. R.J. Clutterbuck, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Alexandria together with HMS Airedale (Lt.Cdr. A.G. Forman, DSC, RN), HMS Sikh (Capt. St.J.A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN) and HMS Jackal (Cdr. C.T. Jellicoe, DSC, RN). (10)
4 Aug 1942
German U-boat U-372 was sunk in the Mediterranean south-west of Haifa, in position 32°28'N, 34°37'E, by depth charges from the British destroyers HMS Sikh (Capt. St.J.A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN) and HMS Zulu (Cdr. R.T. White, DSO and Bar, RN) and the British escort destroyers HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Egan, RN) and HMS Tetcott (Lt. R.H. Rycroft, RN) and by depth charges from a British Wellington aircraft (221 Sqdn.).
- ADM 173/15881
- ADM 173/16643
- ADM 53/112663 + ADM 186/798
- ADM 53/112671
- Personal communication
- ADM 53/114626 + ADM 53/114204 + ADM 199/1138
- ADM 53/114626 + ADM 234/335
- ADM 173/17330 + ADM 53/115622
- ADM 173/17330
- ADM 173/17331
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.