Allied Warships

FR Le Fantasque

Large destroyer of the Le Fantasque class

NavyThe French Navy
TypeLarge destroyer
ClassLe Fantasque 
Built byArsenal de Lorient (Lorient, France) 
Laid down15 Nov 1931 
Launched15 Mar 1934 
Commissioned10 Mar 1935 
End service2 May 1957 

Operated by the Vichy French and based at Dakar during the Allied landing in North Africa in November 1942.
Rejoined the Allied cause.
Stricken 2 May 1957.


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Notable events involving Le Fantasque include:

1 Oct 1939

1 October 1939, an enemy raider reported in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean.
The chase of the German ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee

Movements of the German ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee 21 August 1939 – 13 December 1939.

Before the Second World War had started, on 21 August 1939, the German ‘pocked battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee departed Wilhelmshaven bound for the South Atlantic. On 1 September the Admiral Graf Spee was off the Canary Islands where she made rendes-vous with the supply ship Altmark and supplies were transferred.

On 11 September another rendes-vous was made with the Altmark in the South Atlantic. The Admiral Graf Spee had launched her Arado floatplane to scout in the area as supplies were transferred. The aircraft spotted the British heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland (Capt. W.H.G. Fallowfield, RN). The German ships then immediately parted company and cleared the area at high speed. Two days later, on the 13th, the ships again met and fueling was completed. The Admiral Graf Spee was still under orders to remain unseen.

On 20 September 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee and Altmark met again to fuel. On the 26th the Admiral Graf Spee was ordered to start raiding the British trade lanes. She then proceeded towards the Pernambuco area.

On 30 September 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee found her first victim, the British merchant vessel Clement (5050 GRT, built 1934) that was en-route from New York, U.S.A. to Bahia, Brasil. She then sank the ship in position 09°05’S, 34°05’W. The Admiral Graf Spee then proceeded eastwards and found three more victims between 5 and 10 October. On the 5th she captured the British merchant Newton Beech (4644 GRT, built 1925) in position 09°35’S, 06°30’W. This ship was en-route from Capetown to the U.K. via Freetown. On the 7th she sank the British merchant Ashlea (4222 GRT, built 1929) in position 09°52’S, 03°28’W. This ship was en-route from Durban to Falmouth. The crew of the Ashlea was transferred to the Newton Beech. The next day both crew were transferred to the Admiral Graf Spee and the Newton Beech was scuttled. On 10 October the Admiral Graf Spee captured the British merchant Huntsman (8196 GRT, built 1921) in position 08°30’S, 05°15’W. This ship was en-route from Calcutta to the U.K. On 15 October 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee met the Altmark again to receive supplies and fuel. On the 17th the crew of the Huntsman was transferred to the Altmark and the ship was scuttled in approximate position 16°S, 17°W. The next day the crews of the Newton Beech and Ashlea were also transferred to the Altmark and the German ships then parted company.

On 22 October 1939, the Admiral Graf Spee sank her next victim, the British merchant Trevanion (5299 GRT, built 1937) which was en-route from Port Pirie (Australia) to Swansea. This ship was sunk in position 19°40’S, 04°02’E. On 28 October 1939, near Tristan da Cunha, the Admiral Graf Spee once more refuelled from the Altmark. The Admiral Graf Spee then set course for the Indian Ocean.

On 15 November 1939 she sank the small British tanker Africa Shell (706 GRT, built 1939) in position 24°45’S, 35°00’E. This ship was in ballast and en-route from Quelimane (Portugese East Africa now called Mozambique) to Lourenco Marques (now Maputo, also in Portugese East Africa / Mozambique). Next day the Admiral Graf Spee stopped the Dutch merchant Mapia (7188 GRT, built 1923) but had to let her go as she was a neutral ship. The Admiral Graf Spee then set course to return to the South Atlantic where she met once more with the Altmark on 27 November 1939 and the next day she fuelled from her about 300 miles from Tristan da Cunha.

On 2 December 1939, the Admiral Graf Spee sank her largest victim, the British merchant Doric Star (10086 GRT, built 1921),in position 19°15’S, 05°05’E. This ship was en-route from Auckland, New Zealand to the U.K. The next morning the Admiral Graf Spee sank the British merchant Tairoa (7983 GRT, built 1920) in position 19°40’S, 04°02’E. This ship was en-route from Brisbane, Australia to London. On 6 December 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee refuelled once more from the Altmark. She then set course to the River Plate area where the British merchant traffic was the thickest. She was to sink more ships there and disrupt British shipping movements in that area before returning to Germany.

On 7 December 1939 the Admiral Graf Spee sank what was to be her last victim, the British merchant Streonshalh (3895 GRT, built 1928) in position 25°01’S, 27°50’W. This ship was en-route from Montevideo to Freetown and then onwards to the U.K.

Then in the morning of 13 December 1939, her smoke was sighted by three cruisers from the South America Division. More on this in the article ‘The Battle of the River Plate, 13 December 1939’.

British Dispositions in the South Atlantic / South America area

Shortly before the outbreak of the war the South America Division of the America and West Indies Station was transferred to the newly formed South Atlantic Station. The South America Division at that moment consisted of the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. F.S. Bell, RN, flying the flag of Commodore H.H. Harwood, OBE, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Ajax (Capt. C.H.L. Woodhouse, RN). In late August 1939 HMS Exeter was at Devonport with her crew on foreign leave when she was recalled to South American waters. On 25 August 1939 she sailed from Devonport. HMS Exeter arrived at Freetown on 1 September 1939. Commodore Harwood then met the Commander-in-Chief South Atlantic Station, Vice-Admiral G. D’Oyly Lyon, CB, RN. Later the same day HMS Exeter sailed for Rio de Janeiro.

Meanwhile four destroyers from the 4th Destroyer Division, Mediterranean Fleet, the HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, RN), HMS Havock (Lt.Cdr. R.E. Courage, RN), HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicholson, RN) and HMS Hunter (Lt.Cdr. L. de Villiers, RN) had left Gibraltar on 31 August 1939 for Freetown.

HMS Ajax was already on station off the coast of South America. Shortly after noon on 3 September she intercepted the German merchant vessel Olinda (4576 GRT, built 1927) in position 34°58’S, 53°32’W. This ship was en-route from Montivideo to Germany. As HMS Ajax had no prize crew available the ship was sunk by gunfire a few hours later. In the afternoon of the next day, the 4th, HMS Ajax intercepted another German ship, the Carl Fritzen (6594 GRT, built 1920) in position 33°22’S, 48°50’W. This ship was en-route from Rotterdam to Buenos Aires. This ship was also sunk with gunfire.

On 5 September two of the destroyers from the 4th Destroyer Division, HMS Hotspur and HMS Havock departed Freetown to join the South America Division. They were ordered to examine Trinidade Island on the way. On 8 September 1939 the heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland (Capt. W.H.G. Fallowfield, RN) departed Freetown to join the South America Division as well. This cruiser came from the Home Fleet and had arrived at Freetown on the 7th.

On 7 September 1939, HMS Exeter entered Rio de Janeiro where Commodore Harwood had a meeting with the Brazilian Secretary-General of Foreign Affairs and H.M. Ambassadors to Brazil and Argentine. HMS Exeter departed Rio de Janeiro the next day. Later that day Commodore Harwood was informed by the Admiralty that the German merchant ships General Artigas (11343 GRT, built 1923), Gloria (5896 GRT, built 1917) and Monte Pascoal (13870 GRT, built 1931) were assembling off the Patagonian coast. He decided to move both HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax south, and ordered the Ajax to meet him at 0800/9. They actually made rendezvous at 0700 hours. The Commodore considered it possible that the German merchant ships might embark German reservists and raid the Falkland Islands therefore he decided to sent HMS Ajax there. HMS Exeter proceeded to the Plate area to cover that important area.

On the evening of the 10th, Commodore Harwood was informed that the transportation of German reservists by the three German merchant ships was very unlikely but as it appeared probable that the German ships were converting themselves into armed raiders the Commodore decided to start short distance convoys from the Santos-Rio and Plate areas. He therefore ordered HMS Cumberland to refuel at Rio de Janeiro on her arrival there and to organize and run ‘out’ convoys in that area with HMS Havock as A/S escort. The convoys were to leave at dawn and be protected against submarines and surface raiders until dusk. The ships were then to be dispersed so that they would be far apart by dawn the next day. At the same time the Commodore ordered HMS Hotspur to join him in the Plate area after refuelling at Rio de Janeiro, so that similar convoys could be started from Montevideo. If one of the German ‘pocket battleships’ was to arrive of South America, HMS Cumberland was to abandon the convoy sheme and join HMS Exeter in the Plate area. Also on the 10th, Commodore Harwood was informed by the Admiralty that the German merchant Montevideo (6075 GRT, built 1936) was leaving Rio Grande do Sul for Florianopolis but decided not to intercept her as this would divert HMS Exeter 500 nautical miles from the Plate area.

On the night of 12 September 1939 the Commodore was informed by the British Naval Attaché, Buenos Aires, that a concentration of German reservists was taking place in southern Argentina with the Falklands as a possible objective. He therefore ordered HMS Ajax to remain in the Falklands till the situation cleared, and the Commodore then proceeded south of the Plate area to be closer to the Falklands himself and yet remain in easy reach of the Plate area. During the next few days HMS Exeter intercepted several British and neutral vessels.

In view of a report that the German merchant vessels Porto Alegré (6105 GRT, built 1936) and Monte Olivia (13750 GRT, built 1925) were leaving Santos on 15 September 1939 Commodore Harwood decided to start the short distance convoys from Montevideo as soon as possible. HMS Cumberland had meanwhile arranged a twelve-hour convoy system from Santos. Ships from Rio de Janeiro for Freetown would sail at dawn on odd numbered days, and ships for the south on even numbered days with HMS Havock as anti-submarine escort and HMS Cumberland in distant support. HMS Cumberland left Rio de Janeiro on 16 September and during the next eight days sighted 15 British and neutral ships while on patrol.

On 17 September 1939, HMS Hotspur joined HMS Exeter in the Plate area. HMS Exeter then made a visit to Montevideo and resumed her patrol off the Plate area on the 20th. Fuelling was done from the oiler RFA Olwen (6470 GRT, built 1917, Master B. Tunnard) in the mouth of the River Plate. Soon after leaving Montevideo on 20 September Commodore Harwood learned from the British Naval Attaché, Buenos Aires, that the local German authorities were endeavoring to inform German ships at sea that the British merchant Lafonia (1872 GRT, built 1911) was on her way to the Falklands with British reservists for the Falkland Islands defence force. It was also reported that on 17 September an unknown warship had passed Punta Arenas eastwards. In view of these reports and of other pointing out that German merchant ships in southern waters were being outfitted as armed raiders the Commodore ordered HMS Hotsput to escort the Laofona to Port Stanley. As the volume of trade in the Plate area was greater than in the Rio de Janeiro – Santos area, HMS Havock was ordered to proceed southwards to the Plate area.

The first local convoy outward from Montevideo sailed on 22 September 1939. It consisted of the British merchant ships Sussex (11062 GRT, built 1937), Roxby (4252 GRT, built 1923), El Ciervo (5841 GRT, built 1923) in addition to the earlier mentioned Lafonia, and was escorted by HMS Hotspur. HMS Exeter met this convoy during the forenoon and covered it throughout the day. At dusk the merchant ships were dispersed on prearranged courses while HMS Exeter remained within supporting distance and HMS Hotspur escorted the Lafonia to Port Stanley.

On 24 September 1939, Vice-Admiral Lyon (C-in-C, South Atlantic) and Commodore Harwood learned from the Naval Attaché, Buenos Aires, that ‘according to a reliable source’ arrangements had been made for a number of German ships and a submarine to meet near Ascension on 28 September 1939. HMS Cumberland was ordered to proceed there and HMS Ajax was ordered to leave the Falklands and take up her place in the Rio de Janeiro area. HMS Neptune (Capt. J.A.V. Morse, DSO, RN) was also ordered to proceed to the area off Ascension with the destroyers HMS Hyperion and HMS Hunter which departed Freetown on the 25th. No German ships were however encountered off Ascension and all ships then proceeded to Freetown where they arrived on 2 October 1939 with HMS Cumberland low on fuel.

While HMS Cumberland left the station to search for the German ships, HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax were sweeping of the Plate and Rio de Janeiro – Santos area respectively. On 27 September 1939, HMS Havock escorted a convoy made up of the British merchants Miguel de Larrinaga (5231 GRT, built 1924), Pilar de Larringa (7352 GRT, built 1918) and Sarthe (5271 GRT, built 1920) out of the Plate area. The next day another convoy, made up of the British merchants Adellen (7984 GRT, built 1930), Cressdene (4270 GRT, built 1936), Holmbury (4566 GRT, built 1925), Lord Byron (4118 GRT, built 1934), Ramillies (4553 GRT, built 1927) and Waynegate (4260 GRT, built 1931) left the Plate area escorted by HMS Havock and with cover from HMS Exeter.

At daylight on 29 September 1939 HMS Ajax was off Rio de Janeiro ready to escort ships sailing northward. She sighted none until the early afternoon when she met the Almeda Star (12848 GRT, built 1926) and a few hours later the tanker San Ubaldo (5999 GRT, built 1921). That night several neutral steamers were sighted off Rio de Janeiro and the next day the British La Pampa (4149 GRT, built 1938) was met and escorted during daylight on her way to Santos. So far on the work of the South American Division during September 1939. The ships assigned to Commodore Harwood had been busy patrolling and escorting ships near the focal areas.

A surface raider reported, 1 October 1939.

When a report that the British merchant Clement had been sunk on 30 September 1939 by a surface raider off Pernambuco was received by the Admiralty in the afternoon of October 1st, the C-in-C, South Atlantic was informed that he should retain the 4th Destroyer Division and that his command would be reinforced by the cruisers HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.G.B. Wilson, DSO, RN), HMS Capetown (Capt. T.H. Back, RN), HMS Effingham (Capt. J.M. Howson, RN), HMS Emerald (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) and HMS Enterprise (Capt. H.J. Egerton, RN). Also the battleships HMS Resolution (Capt. C.H. Knox-Little, RN), HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN) and the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (Capt. F.E.P. Hutton, RN) were to proceed to either Jamaica or Freetown. These dispositions however never materialised being superseded on 5 October 1939 by a more general policy (the institution of hunting groups) which cancelled them.

The institution of hunting groups, 5 October 1939.

On 5 October 1939 the Admiralty formed five hunting groups in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean of sufficient strength to destroy any ‘pocket battleship’ or Hipper-class cruiser. These were;
Force F; area: North America and West Indies.
HMS Berwick (Capt. I.M. Palmer, DSC, RN),
HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN),
Force G; area: S.E. coast of South America.
HMS Cumberland,
HMS Exeter
Force H; area: Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.
HMS Sussex (Capt. A.R. Hammick, RN),
HMS Shropshire (Capt. A.W.LaT. Bisset, RN),
Force I; area: Ceylon.
HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hamill, RN),
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.S.C. Martin, RN),
HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN),
Force K; area: Pernambuco, Brazil.
HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN),
HMS Ark Royal (Capt. A.J. Power, RN),
Force L; area: Brest, France.
Dunkerque (Capt. J.L. Nagadelle, replaced by Capt. M.J.M. Seguin on 16 October),
Bearn (Capt. M.M.A. Lafargue, replaced by Capt. Y.E. Aubert on 7 October),
Georges Leygues (Capt. R.L. Perot),
Gloire (Capt. F.H.R. de Belot),
Montcalm (Capt. P.J. Ronarc’h),
Force M; area: Dakar, Senegal.
Dupleix (Capt. L.L.M. Hameury),
Foch (Capt. J. Mathieu),
and Force N; area: West Indies.
Strasbourg (Capt. J.F.E. Bouxin),
HMS Hermes

The institution of the hunting groups were not the only measures taken. The battleships HMS Resolution, HMS Revenge and the light cruisers HMS Emerald and HMS Enterprise were ordered to proceed to Halifax, Nova Scotia to escort homeward bound convoys. Light cruiser HMS Effingham was to join them later. The battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, DSO, RN) left Gibraltar on 5 October for the same duty but was recalled the next day when the battleship HMS Malaya (Capt. I.B.B. Tower, DSC, RN) and the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious (Capt. G. D’Oyly-Hughes, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN) were ordered to leave the Mediterranean and proceed to the Indian Ocean where they formed an addition hunting group, Force J which was to operate in the Socotra area off the entrance to the Gulf of Aden.

Now back to the South Atlantic, on 9 October 1939 the C-in-C, South Atlantic had informed the Admiralty and Commodore Harwood that he intended to co-ordinate the movements of ‘Force G’, ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’. As this would entail long periods of wireless silence in ‘Force G’ he proposed that Commodore Harwood should transfer his flag to HMS Ajax, leaving Capt. Fallowfield of HMS Cumberland in command of Force G. The Admiralty approved of this. Commodore Harwood stated that it was his intention to transfer his flag from HMS Exeter to HMS Ajax in the River Plate area on 27 October. He also stated that the endurance of HMS Exeter was only half the endurance of HMS Cumberland and that this would prove problematic when they were to operate together and he proposed that the Exeter would be relieved by another 10000 ton cruiser but for the moment no suitable cruiser was available to relieve her.

On 12 October 1939 the first of the hunting forces arrived on their station when HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal reached Freetown that morning coming from the U.K. They were soon followed by three more destroyers of the H-class coming from the Mediterranean; HMS Hardy (Capt. B.A. Warburton-Lee, RN), HMS Hasty (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN) and HMS Hostile (Cdr. J.P. Wright, RN). On 13 October 1939 the cruisers HMS Sussex and HMS Shropshire arrived at Simonstown from the Mediterranean and one day later HMS Hermes arrived at Dakar from Plymouth.

The South America Division during the first half of October 1939.

When the news of an enemy raider in the South Atlantic reached the C-in-C at Freetown on 1 October 1939 he immediately suspended sailings from Pernambuco and Natal and he ordered HMS Havock and HMS Hotspur to escort British ships clear of the area. But next morning he cancelled these dispositions and ordered Commodore Harwood to concentrate HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax and the two destroyers off Rio de Janeiro. By this time, however, the raider was far away from the South American coast. On 3 October 1939 the Commodore signalled the C-in-C that he intened to concentrate the Exeter and Ajax off Rio and have the Hotspur to cover the Rio – Santos area and keep the Havock off the Plate but upon receiving the orders from the C-in-C to concentrate he ordered to destroyers to join the cruisers after fuelling but not later then 0800 hours on 4 October. Reports that the enemy raider was not a ‘pocket battleship’ however kept coming in and the Commodore decided that he could not leave the heavy traffic in the Plate area without some form of protection and he ordered HMS Havock to return there but when a report coming in from Bahia, Brazil confirmed that the Clement had been sunk by the ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Scheer the Commodore once more ordered HMS Havock to join him. In the end HMS Ajax joined HMS Exeter at 1700/3, HMS Hotspur at 0500/4 and finally HMS Havock at 1300/4.

The Commodore was also informed by the Admiralty that the New Zealand cruiser HMS Achilles (New Zealand Division) (Capt. W.E. Parry, RN) would join his station coming from the west coast of South America. HMS Cumberland left Freetown at 1900/3 to join the Commodore in the Rio de Janeiro area as well.

Commodore Harwood’s policy against enemy raiders and a new raider report coming on on 5 October 1939.

Commodore Harwood had decided to keep his forces concentrated and as no new raider reports had come in to patrol the Rio de Janeiro area in accordance with the C-in-C, South Atlantic’s order. If he met a ‘pocket battleship’ he intended to shadow it until dusk. He would then close and attack in the dark hours. If, on the other hand, he made contact at night, his destroyers would at once close the enemy’s beam and attack her with torpedoes.

On 5 October 1939, the British merchant Martand (7967 GRT, built 1939) informed HMS Cumberland that a German armed raider had attacked an unknown ship, this unknown ship was in fact the Newton Beech that was attacked about 900 nautical miles away. This information was not acted upon by the Commanding Officer of the Cumberland. The Captain of the Cumberland assumed the raider report would have been intercepted by other ships and passed on to the C-in-C, South Atlantic. He considered it was important to keep radio silence and decided against breaking it. The Admiralty however later was of the opinion that the report should have been passed on to the Commander-in-Chief.

By 5 October 1939, the Exeter, Ajax, Havock and Hotspur were concentrated in the Rio de Janeiro area ready to engage the raider if she came south from the Pernambuco area. HMS Achilles was on her way round Cape Horn.

When HMS Ajax visited Rio de Janeiro on 7 October 1939, Commodore Harwood directed her to suggest to the Consular Shipping Advisers there, and at Santos, that, owning to the small volume of shipping leaving these ports, the local convoy systems, which had been instituted on 22 September against armed merchant raiders, should be suspended, and Allied merchant ships be routed independently.

The Commodore intended to meet HMS Cumberland at 1700/8, but at 1600/7 he received a message from the Consular Shipping Adviser at Rio de Janeiro in which he desired an escort for a 13 knot convoy that was to sail at 0430/8 and that had received much local publicity. The Commodore thought that this publicity might draw the enemy raider to the area and he therefore took his entire force back towards Rio de Janeiro and sent HMS Hotspur ahead to make contact with the convoy, while keeping his other ships in support. The convoy consisted of the British merchants Highland Chieftain (14131 GRT, built 1929), Nariva (8723 GRT, built 1920) and the French merchant Alsina (8404 GRT, built 1922).

Meanwhile the Commodore had directed HMS Cumberland to meet him at dawn on October 9th. When the convoy was dispersed at 1800/8 the Exeter and Ajax steered to meet her while the Havock was detached to fuel at Rio de Janeiro. At 2200/8 HMS Ajax was detached. HMS Cumberland made rendezvous with HMS Exeter at 0500/9. They were ordered by the C-in-C, South Atlantic to make a sweep northwards but this could not be carried out as HMS Exeter was short of fuel. The Commodore therefore decided to make a sweep southwards towards the Plate area where HMS Exeter could refuel. He also decided to keep HMS Hotspur with the two cruisers as long as possible.

On 12 October 1939, Rio Grande do Sul reported that the German merchant Rio Grande (6062 GRT, built 1939) was about to sail. The Commodore at once ordered HMS Cumberland to proceed there and intercept. She arrived off Rio Grande do Sul at 1600/13 but on finding it all quiet in the harbour she shaped course for the Plate area at nightfall. Meanwhile the Commodore had ordered HMS Hotspur to fuel at Montevideo when HMS Havock left that port early on the 14th.

about this time RFA Olwen informed the Commodore the the German merchant Bahia Laura (8611 GRT, built 1918) was leaving Montevideo at 1000 next morning and might protest if HMS Havock sailed the same day. Instead, therefore, of entering Montevideo HMS Hotspur at once fueled from the Olwen and then remained out on patrol. The Bahia Laura however, showed no signs of leaving and at 0800/14, HMS Havock put to sea. At 1200 hours HMS Hotspur entered Montevideo. Later that day HMS Exeter and HMS Cumberland fueled from the Olwen in San Borombon Bay at the southern entrance to the Plate estuary. At 1430 hours they were joined by HMS Havock. Commodore Harwood then ordered her to patrol off Montevideo to watch the Bahia Laura. When HMS Exeter finished fueling she immediately put to sea. HMS Cumberland rejoined him next morning at 0700 hours. HMS Havock was then ordered to join the cruisers. On 16 October the commodore learned that the Bahia Laura had sailed at 1015 hours the previous day. By the time the signal reached him the German ship was far out at sea well past his patrol line. But as the whole area was enveloped in dense fog the Commodore decided against trying to catch her.

The South America Division during the second half of October 1939.

Meanwhile Commodore Harwood had informed the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic on 13 October that as HMS Exeter required certain minor repairs he proposed to proceed to the Falklands on the17th and then return to the Plate area on the 27th. The Commander-in-Chief replied that he preferred that HMS Exeter would stay in the Plate area till the Commodore would transfer his Broad Pendant to HMS Ajax on the 27th. As HMS Achilles was due in the Plate area on this day also, she and HMS Cumberland could then operate as ‘Force G’ during the Exeter’s absence. This would mean that there would be no cruiser in the Rio de Janeiro area until HMS Exeter would return from her repairs at the Falklands. The Commodore therefore ordered HMS Havock to sail on 21 October for a four day patrol in the Rio – Santos Area, where HMS Hotspur, which could remain at sea until 2 November, would relieve her. From that date until the relief of HMS Achilles there would be no warship in this area. The Commodore therefore asked the Commander-in-Chief to allow ‘Force G’ to operate in that area from 2 to 10 November. When HMS Hotspur joined the Exeter and Cumberland from Montevideo on 17 October the Commodore ordered her to patrol off Rio Grande do Sul to intercept the German ships Rio Grande and Montevideo if they would come out, and sent HMS Havock to patrol inshore with orders to anchor the night clear of the shipping route.

This proved to be the last duty of these two destroyers with the South America Division. On 20 October the Admiralty ordered their transfer to the West Indies. Three days later the Commodore sent them into Buenos Aires to refuel, and as the distance to Trinidad, 4000 miles, was at the limit of their endurance, also obtained permission to refuel them at Pernambuco. They both left Buenos Aires on the 25th and, bidding the Commodore farewell, proceeded northwards. They sailed from Pernambuco on 1 November but on the 3rd HMS Havock was diverted to Freetown with engine trouble. The two remaining destroyers of the 4th Division, HMS Hyperion and HMS Hunter, had left Freetown with convoy SL 6 on 23 October. Off Daker their escort duty was taken over by the French light cruiser Duguay-Trouin (Capt. J.M.C. Trolley de Prevaux). The destroyers then fueled at Dakar on the 27th and sailed for Trinidad early on the 28th.

Meanwhile HMS Cumberland had entered Montevideo at 0800/26. At 0900/26 HMS Achilles joined HMS Exeter in the Plate area and after fueling from RFA Olwen sailed to meet HMS Cumberland off Lobos the next day and then patrol with her as ‘Force G’ in the Rio – Santos area. The Olwen was now nearly out of fuel and filled up HMS Ajax ,which had arrived from the Rio area on the 26th, with her remaining fuel minus 500 tons for her passage to Trinidad. In the morning of 27 October, Commodore Harwood transferred his Broad Pendant to HMS Ajax and HMS Exeter then parted company to proceed to the Falklands for repairs.

Meanwhile the newly formed ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’ were busy on the other side of the South Atlantic. ‘Force H’, made up of HMS Sussex and HMS Shropshire had reached the Cape on 13 October. As HMS Cumberland had not passed on the report of the Martland, no news on the raider had reached the Admiralty or the Commander-in-Chief since October 1st. On 14 October ‘Force H’ sailed to search for her along the Cape – Freetown route as far as the latitude of St. Helena. That day ’Force K’ (HMS Ark Royal and HMS Renown) left Freetown with HMS Neptune, HMS Hardy, HMS Hero (Cdr. C.F. Tower, MVO, RN) and HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN) to search westwards towards St. Paul Rocks, the direction of their sweep being determined by the complete lack of any further raider information.

Finally a raider report on 22 October 1939, Sweeps by ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’.

The three weeks old ‘mystery’ of the raiders whereabouts was partially solved on 22 October when the British merchant vessel Llanstephan Castle (11293 GRT, built 1914) intercepted a message from an unknown ship ‘Gunned in 16°S, 04°03’E’ at 1400 G.M.T. There was however no immediate confirmation of her report and the Commander-in-Chief ordered ‘Force H’ to sail after dark on the 27th to sail for the latitude of St. Helena. At noon on 31 October this Force was in 15°S, 02°51’E, the north-eastern limit of it’s patrol, when a Walrus aircraft failed to return to HMS Sussex from a reconnaissance flight. It was never found, though the two cruisers spend over three days searching for it. Being short of fuel they then returned to the Cape by the same route they had used outwards.

Sweep by ‘Force K’, 28 October – 6 November 1939.

To cover the northern end of the route from St. Helena onward, HMS Neptune and the destroyers HMS Hardy, HMS Hasty, HMS Hero and HMS Hereward had left Freetown on 28 October. HMS Neptune was to sweep independently from position 03°20’S, 01°10’W and then through 14°30’S, 16°50’W back to Freetown. On 30 October a report from Dakar stated that the German merchant Togo (5042 GRT, built 1938) had left the Congo on 26 October, that the German merchant Pionier (3254 GRT, built 1934) had sailed from Fernando Po (now called Bioko Island) on 28 October and that five German ships had left Lobito (Angola) the same day. When the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers, received this information her detached HMS Hardy and HMS Hasty to sweep north-westward for the Pioneer, while ‘Force K’ and the remaining two destroyers searched for her to the south-westward. Both searches were unsuccessful. Meanwhile a message from Lobito had stated that the five German ships that were stated to have left the harbour were still there. On 5 November the German merchant vessel Uhenfels (7603 GRT, built 1931), that had left Laurenco Marques (now called Maputo, Mozambique) on 16 October was sighted by an aircraft from HMS Ark Royal. Only energetic action from HMS Hereward saved her from being scuttled in position 06°02’N, 17°25’W. She was brought into Freetown on 7 November by HMS Herward, a few hours behind ‘Force K’.

’Force H’ and ‘Force G’, first half of November 1939.

The first half of November was relatively quiet on both sides of the South Atlantic At the start of the month ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’ were still on the shipping lane between Sierra Leone and the Cape. On 3 November 1939 the Admiralty informed the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic that all German capital ships and cruisers were apparently in home waters. It appeared therefore that the pocket battleship, which was still thought to be the Admiral Scheer, had returned home and that the raider reported by the Llangstephan Castle on 22 October was nothing but an armed merchantman. Here was a good opportunity for resting the hunting groups and on 4 November the Admiralty issued orders that ‘Force G’ and ‘Force H’ should exchange areas. This exchange would not only give ‘Force G’ an opportunity of resting and refitting at the Cape, but would also provide Commodore Harwood with the hunting group of long endurance that he desired.

The Commander-in-Chief had planned that ‘Force H’ which had returned to the Cape on 7 November would then sweep towards Durban, arriving there on 16 November. However on the 11th they were ordered to sail for patrol in the Atlantic and on the evening of the 17th, while west of St. Helena, exchange patrol areas with ‘Force G’. The exchange of areas however did not take place as ‘Force G’ was delayed due to HMS Exeter being damaged while casting off from the oiler in heavy seas. Before the exchange now could take place it was cancelled.

South America Division, first half of November 1939.

After hoisting Commodore Harwood’s Broad on 27 October the HMS Ajax had swept the Plate focal area. When the Commodore received the signal of the Commander-in-Chief on the 5th regarding the changeover over patrol areas between ‘Force G’ and ‘Force H’, he ordered HMS Cumberland to proceed to the Plate at 20 knots to refuel. About this time a message reached him from Buenos Aires that the Argentinian Foreign Minister had drawn attention to cases of fueling in the Plate by HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax. Although the Argentinian Government had no apparent intention of raising the issue he decided to cut down the fuellings in the inshore waters of the Plate as much as possible. He therefore cancelled the fuelling of HMS Exeter, due to take place on 7 November from the oiler RFA Olynthus (6888 GRT, built 1918, Master L.N. Hill), which had relieved RFA Olwen. He ordered HMS Cumberland to fuel at Buenos Aires on 9 November. HMS Exeter which had arrived at the Falklands on 31 October for repairs, sailed again on 4 November to meet up with HMS Cumberland off the Plate on 10 November, but the Commodore ordered her to enter Mar del Plata for a 24-hour visit on the 9th. As this gave her some time at hand, he ordered her to cover the Plate while HMS Ajax visited Buenos Aires from 6 to 8 November during which the Commodore discussed the question of fuelling his ships in the River Plate Estuary with the Argentine naval authorities. During his visit to Buenos Aires, the Commodore discussed the matter of fuelling his ships of English Bank with the Argentinian Minister of Marine and his Chief of Naval Staff they both suggested that he should use San Borombon Bay which was most acceptable. He had in fact been using it for some time.

When HMS Ajax left Buenos Aires on 8 November she patrolled the Plate area. HMS Exeter arrived at Mar del Plata the next day but fuel could not be obtained there. She was ordered to fuel from RFA Olynthus in San Borombon Bay on the 10th and then meet up with HMS Cumberland off Lobos Island at 0600/11. On the 10th HMS Ajax also fueled from RFA Olynthus as did HMS Exeter after her while HMS Ajax was at anchor close by. However weather quickly deteriorated and the Olynthus was forced to cast off, damaging the Exeter in doing so. Besides that she was still 600 tons short of fuel. As she could not reach the Cape without a full supply the sailing of ‘Force G’ to exchange areas with ‘Force H’ was delayed. The Exeter finally finished fuelling on the 13th and sailed with HMS Cumberland for Simonstown. Before the exchange of areas could be effected, however, a raider was reported in the Indian Ocean and the order was cancelled.

Another raider report, 16 November 1939.

On 16 November 1939 the Naval Officer-in-Charge, Simonstown, reported that the small British tanker Africa Shell ( GRT, built ) had been sunk off Lourenco Marques the previous day by a raider identified as a pocket battleship. After the usual conflicting reports from eye-widnesses during the next few days, however, it was doubtful how many raiders there were or whether they were pocket battleships or heavy cruisers.

The presence of an enemy heavy ship in the Mozambique Channel called for new dispositions. When the raider report reached the Admiralty on 17 November they immediately cancelled the exchange of areas between ‘Force G’ an ‘Force H’. ‘Force H’ was ordered to return to the Cape and ‘Force G’ was ordered to return to the east coast of South America. They also ordered the dispatch of ‘Force K’ towards the Cape with instructions to go on to Diego Suarez in Madagascar. That morning a report reached the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic that the German merchant vessels Windhuk (16662 GRT, built 1937) and Adolph Woermann (8577 GRT, built 1922) had left Lobito. He at once ordered ‘Force H’, which was at that moment west of St. Helena in the approximate latitute of Lobito to spend three days searching for them.

Next day, 18 November 1939, ‘Force K’ left Freetown together with HMS Neptune, HMS Hardy, HMS Hero and HMS Hostile to sweep west of St. Helena through position 16°30’S, 10°W and thence on to Diego Suarez. The destroyers parted company at 2300/18 to search for the German ships. On 20 November 1939, the Commander-in-Chief ordered ‘Force H’ to return to the Cape of nothing of the German merchant vessels had been sighted. HMS Sussex and HMS Shropshire did so on 23 November.

The Adolph Woermann had not escaped. Early on 21 November 1939, the British merchant Waimarama (12843 GRT, built 1938) reported her in position 12°24’S, 03°31’W. At 1127/21, ‘Force K’ (HMS Ark Royal and HMS Renown) was in position 05°55’S, 12°26’W, altered course to close, and HMS Neptune, which was still with them, went ahead at high speed. Shortly after 0800/22 she made contact with the Adolf Woermann in position 10°37’S, 05°11’W and went alongside. Despite efforts to save her the German vessel was scuttled and when HMS Neptune returned to Freetown on 25 November 1939 she had 162 German survivors on board.

’Force H’ and ‘Force K’, second half of November 1939.

As the search for the Adolf Woermann had taken ‘Force K’ nearly 200 miles to the eastward, the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers decided to proceed to the Cape by the route east of St. Helena to save fuel. In hindsight this might have saved Altmark for being intercepted as she was waiting for the Admiral Graf Spee in the area ‘Force K’ would have otherwise passed through. On 23 November 1939, the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, ordered ‘Force H’ to sail from the Cape the next day and patrol the ‘diverse routes’ as far as 33°E until 28 November.

At the northern end of the South Atlantic station HMS Neptune, HMS Hardy, HMS Hero, HMS Hostile, HMS Hasty and the submarine HMS Clyde (Cdr. W.E. Banks, RN) had established a patrol between 22 and 25 November 1939 to intercept escaping German merchant ships or raiders. No ships were however sighted and they were recalled to Freetown on 30 November.

In the meantime the Admiralty had ordered, ‘Force H’ and ‘Force K’ to conducted a combined patrol on the meridian of 20°E. The two forces met early on 1 December. The plan, according to the Commander-in-Chief, appeared to be a good one in theory but was found unsuitable in practice that on account of local weather conditions. These permitted flying off aircraft from HMS Ark Royal only once in five or six days, so that the patrol could not be extended far enough to the south to intercept a raider bent on evasion. In fact, only once, on 2 December weather was suitable for flying off aircraft.

South America Division, second half of November 1939.

After HMS Cumberland and HMS Exeter (‘Force G’) had sailed from San Borombon Bay for Simonstown on 13 November 1939, HMS Ajax patrolled the Plate area and escorted the French Massilia ( GRT, built ) that was bound for Europe from Buenos Aeres with French reservists. After parting from the Massilia she closed Rio Grande do Sul and ascertained that the German merchant vessels Rio Grande and Montevideo were still there. For the next two days she patrolled the normal peace time shipping routes.

When the Admiralty cancelled the exchange of ereas between ‘Force G’ and ‘Force H’ on 17 November, Commodore Harwood sent ‘Force G’ to cover Rio de Janeiro. He ordered HMS Achilles to fuel off the Olynthus in the Plate area on 22 November and then relieve ‘Force G’ in the Rio area as HMS Exeter would need to refuel in the Plate area again on 26 November. HMS Cumberland was to remain with the Exeter to keep ‘Force G’ together so she could refuel from the Olynthus as well. They were then to patrol the Plate area so that HMS Ajax could visit the Falklands.

On 18 November the Commodore was informed that the German merchant Ussukuma ( GRT, built ) might sail from Bahia Blanca for Montevideo at any time. He at once ordered the Olynthus to watch for her between Manos and Cape San Antonio and took the Ajax south to the same vicinity.

On 22 November 1939 HMS Achilles heard the German merchant Lahn (8498 GRT, built 1927) calling Cerrito by wireless, and when HMS Ajax arrived half an hour later a search was carried out. It was insuccessful for both cruisers but both the Lahn and another German merchant the Tacoma (8268 GRT, built 1930) reached Montevideo safely during the forenoon.

HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles then both fuelled from the Olynthus at San Borombon Bay during the next afternoon. The Achilles the sailed for the Rio de Janeiro area. She had orders to move up to Pernambuco and show herself off Cabadello and Bahia as a number of German ships in Pernambuco were reported ready to sail to Cabadello to load cotton for Germany. She was to return at once to the Rio area if any raiders were reported in the South Atlantic.

HMS Ajax left the Plate area on 25 November 1939 and sent up a seaplane to reconnoitre Bahia Blanca. The Ussukuma showed no signs of sailing so HMS Ajax proceeded to the Falklands, arriving there on the 27th. By this time HMS Cumberland and HMS Exeter were in urgent need of refits after long periods at sea, and Commodore Harwood ordered the Exeter to proceed to the Falklands forthwith. She arrived at Port Stanley on 29 November 1939 and her defects were immediately taken in hand as far as local resources permitted.

8 December 1939 was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Battle of the Falklands, and thinking the enemy might attempt to avenge the defeat, the Commodore ordered HMS Cumberland to patrol off the Falklands as of 7 December for two days after which she too was to enter Port Stanley for rest and refit.

French Forces at Dakar in November 1939.

During November them most important event at Dakar, where the French were maintaining a number of more or less regular patrols, was the reorganisation of ‘Force X’. On 1 November 1939 the large destroyer L’Audacieux (Cdr. L.M. Clatin) sailed from Dakar to the westward to 26°W and thence south-west to search for the German merchant Togo. She returned to Dakar on 4 November having sighted nothing. That day the French light cruiser Duguay-Trouin sailed to sweep round the Cape Verde Islands and then on to St. Paul Rocks. She returned to Dakar on 10 November. The old ‘Force X’, the Strasbourg (Capt. J.F.E. Bouxin), Algerie (Capt. L.H.M. Nouvel de la Fleche) and Dupleix (Capt. L.L.M. Hameury) sailed on 7 November to sweep west of the Cape Verde Islands. It returned to Dakar on 13 November 1939. Meanwhile French submarines based at Casablanca were maintaining a continuous patrol round the Canary Islands between 25°N and 30°N.

On 18 November a new ‘Force X’ was formed, now made up of the Dupleix and her sister ship Foch (Capt. J. Mathieu) and the British aircraft carrier HMS Hermes. On 21 November the Strasbourg, Algerie and the destroyers Le Terrible (Cdr. A.E.R. Bonneau) and Le Fantasque (Capt. P.A.B. Still) left Dakar to return to France. The next day the new ‘Force X’ sailed with the destroyers Milan (Cdr. M.A.H. Favier) and Cassard (Cdr. R.A.A. Braxmeyer) to cruiser towards 08°N, 30°W. That day L’Audacieux departed Dakar with a convoy for Casablanca.

On 25 November, the Duguay-Trouin sailed to patrol the parallel of 19°N, between 25° and 30°W. Two days later the British submarine HMS Severn (Lt.Cdr. B.W. Taylor, RN) docked at Dakar. On the 30th the Dupleix and Foch returned from patrol being followed the next day by HMS Hermes and her escorts Milan and Cassard.

Dispositions of South Atlantic Forces at the beginning of December 1939.

At the beginning of December 1939, HMS Ark Royal, still flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Aircraft Carriers, and HMS Renown (‘Force K’), were patrolling the meridian of 20°E, south of the Cape together with HMS Sussex and HMS Shropshire (‘Force H’) to intercept the raider reported in the Mozambique Channel on 15 November 1939.

In the north the light cruiser HMS Neptune with the destroyers HMS Hardy, HMS Hero, HMS Hostile and HMS Hasty and the submarine HMS Clyde were returning to Freetown after patrolling between there and Cape San Roque for escaping German merchant ships or raiders. The French cruiers Dupleix and Foch and the British carrier HMS Hermes (‘Force X’) and their two escorting destroyers Milan and Cassard were approaching Dakar. The French cruiser Duguay-Trouin was patrolling the parallel of 19°N, between 25° and 30°W. The British submarine Severn was refitting at Dakar. Across the South Atlantic, Commodore Harwood, in HMS Ajax was at Port Stanley as was HMS Exeter. HMS Cumberland was patrolling of the Plate area and HMS Achilles was off Rio de Janeiro.

Forces ‘H’ and ‘K’, 1 – 13 December 1939.

No further reports have been received of the raider which had sunk the Africa Shell off Laurenco Marques on 15 November and it seemed clear that she had either gone further into the Indian Ocean or doubled back into the South Atlantic by going well south of the Cape. On 2 December 1939 the Admiralty ordered ‘Force K’ and ‘Force H’ to their patrol line south of the Cape after refueling, and the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic at once ordered them to proceed for the Cape ports to fuel. That day a reconnaissance aircraft of the South African Air Force reported a suspicious ship south of Cape Point at noon. HMS Sussex intercepted her but her crew set her on fire. She proved to be the German merchant Watussi (9521 GRT, built 1928). She was eventually be HMS Renown. Her survivors were taken on board HMS Sussex and were landed at Simonstown.

No news of the missing raider had been coming in since 16 November but then the mistery shrouding her whereabouts was again partially solved. At 1530/2 a raidar signal ‘R.R.R., 19°15’S, 05°05’E, gunned battleship) reached the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic. It came from the British merchant Doric Star. As this signal placed the raider in the South Atlantic he immediately ordered to abandon the patrol south of the Cape and ordered ‘Force H’ to cover the trade routes between the Cape and the latitude of St. Helena at 20 knots on completion of fuelling. As it was too late for ‘Force K’ to reach the Freetown-Pernambuco area in time to intercept the rainder if she was to proceed to the North Atlantic he proposed the Admiralty that ‘Force K’, after fuelling should sweep direct from the Cape to position 20°S, 15°W. This was changed at the request of the Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers to place his force in a more central position for proceeding to Freetown, to the Falklands or to Rio de Janeiro. At 1030/3 a report reached the Commander-in-Chief that the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer had been in 21°20’S, 03°10’E at 0500 hours, clearly indicating that the raider was moving westwards, clear of the Cape-Sierra Leone trade route. ‘Force H’ left Simonstown at 1700 that afternoon and ‘Force K’ sailed from Capetown at 0915/4.

The Commander-in-Chief estimated that if the enemy was proceeding northwards to the North Atlantic she would cross the Freetown-Pernambuco line between 9 and 10 December. He therefore arranged that ‘Force X’ should take HMS Neptune and her destroyers under her orders and patrol the parallel of 3°N between 31° and 38°W from 10 to 13 December. ‘Force K’ would meet HMS Neptune and the destroyers on the 14th and then return with them to Freetown to refuel. The destroyers of the 3rd Division of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla (HMS Hardy, HMS Hostile and HMS Hero) left Freetown on 6 December with the oiler RFA Cherryleaf (5896 GRT, built 1917). They had orders to meet the Dupleix, Foch, HMS Hermes and their escorting destroyers Milan and Cassard and HMS Neptune in position 03°N, 31°W on 10 December. On 7 December ‘Force X’ left Dakar for the rendez-vous. That day the submarine HMS Clyde left Freetown to patrol between 03°N, 23°W and 03°N, 28°W and thence to 05°15’N, 23°W between 9 (PM) and 13 (AM) December.

On the evening of 8 December 1939 the German merchant ship Adolf Leonhardt (2989 GRT, built 1925) sailed from Lobito for South America. ‘Force H’ which was by then between St. Helena and the west coast of Africa, was at once ordered to intercept her. The Walrus from HMS Shropshire made contact at 0952 hours next morning and alighted alongside in position 13°S, 11°44’E. At 1250 hours HMS Shropshire arrived at that position but the German ship was scuttled by her crew and could not be saved. ‘Force H’ then returned to the Cape to refuel where they arrived on 14 December.

At 0800/11 the submarine HMS Severn left Freetown for Port Stanley. She was to protect the whaling industry in South Georgio and was to intercept hostile raiders or supply ships. The cruiser HMS Dorsetshire, which arrived at Simonstown from Colombo on the 9th to finally relieve HMS Exeter in the South America Division left Simonstown on 13 December for Port Stanley. She was to call at Tristan da Cunha on the way. On that day, 13 December 1939, was fought the action between the British South America Division and the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, known as the Battle of the River Plate.

The South America Division, 1 to 13 December 1939.

At the beginning of December 1939, HMS Ajax and HMS Exeter were at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. HMS Cumberland was off the River Plate and HMS Achilles was patrolling the Rio de Janeiro area. On 2 December HMS Ajax left Port Stanley for the Plate area. That evening the Commodore learned that the Doric Star had been sunk by a raider to the south-east of St. Helena. Two days later the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic informed him that HMS Dorsetshire would arrive at Port Stanley on 23 December to relieve HMS Exeter which was then to proceed to Simonstown for a much needed refit.

Early on 5 December the British Naval Attaché at Buenos Aires reported that the German merchant Ussukuma had left Bahia Blanca at 1900 hours the previous evening. The Commodore immediately ordered HMS Cumberland which was on the way south to the Falkland Islands to search for her. Meanwhile HMS Ajax turned south and closed the Argentinian coast in case the Ussukuma, which was known to be short of fuel, should attempt to reach Montevideo inside territorial waters. At 1910/5, HMS Ajax sighted her smoke to the north-north-east but the Germans managed to scuttle their ship and despite the efforts to save her she sank during the night. At 0615/6, HMS Cumberland came up and embarked the German survivors and made off for the Falklands. HMS Ajax then refuelled at San Borombon Bay from the Olynthus.

About the same time the Brazilian authorities asked that HMS Achilles should not refuel in any Brazilian port at an interval less then three months. The Commodore, therefore, ordered her to return south and refuel at Montevideo on 8 December. HMS Achilles then joined HMS Ajax at 1000/10 in position 35°11’S, 51°13’W, 230 miles west of English Bank. At 0600/12 they were joined by HMS Exeter in position 36°54’S, 53°39’W.

Ever since the beginning of the war Commodore Harwood’s cruisers had worked off the east coast of South America either single or in pairs. The concentration of these three cruisers off the River Plate on 12 December 1939 was, however, no mere matter of chance.

Concentration of British Force in the River Plate area, 12 December 1939.

When a pocket battleship was located in position 19°15’S, 05°05’E on 2 December by the sinking of the Doris Star, her position was over 3000 miles from any of the South America focal areas. The Commodore however recognised that her next objective might be the valuable shipping off the east coast of South America. He estimated that at a cruising speed of 15 knots the enemy could reach the Rio area on 12 December the Plate area on 13 December and the Falklands on 14 December. As the Plate area was by far the most important of these three focal areas he decided to concentrate all his available ships off the Plate on 12 December.

The three cruisers then proceeded together towards position 32°N, 47°W. That evening the Commodore informed the Captains of his cruisers that it was intention that if they met a pocket battleship to attack immediately, by day or by night. By they they would act as two units, the light cruisers were to operate together and HMS Exeter was to operate diverged to permit flank marking. By night the ships were to remain in company in open order.

At 0614/13 HMS Ajax sighted smoke bearing 324° in position 34°28’S, 49°05’W and Commodore Harwood then ordered HMS Exeter to investigate it.

What then followed can be read in the article ‘The battle of the River Plate, 13 December 1939’ which can be found on the pages of HMS Ajax, HMS Exeter and HMS Achilles. (1)

7 Oct 1939
Around 1000A/7, the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (Capt. F.E.P. Hutton, RN) departed Plymouth for the Brest area to make rendezvous with French warships and then on to Dakar. On departure from Plymouth HMS Hermes was escorted by the destroyers HMS Keith (Cdr.(Retd.) H.T.W. Pawsey, OBE, RN) and HMS Vesper (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN).

Around 1915A/7, HMS Hermes anchored off Brest. The destroyers then returned to Plymouth.

Around 2115A/7, HMS Hermes got underway again to proceed to the Dakar area in company with French warships. These were the battlecruiser Strasbourg (Capt. J.F.E. Bouxin) and the destroyers Le Fantasque (Capt. P.A.B. Still), Le Terrible (Cdr. A.E.R. Bonneau) and L’Audacieux (Cdr. L.M. Clatin). This force was known as 'Force N'.

Around 1430A/10, the heavy cruisers Algerie (Capt. L.H.M. Nouvel de la Fleche) and Dupleix (Capt. L.L.M. Hameury) and the destroyers Maille Breze (Cdr. H.M.E.A. Glotin) and Vauquelin (Cdr. R. Jaujard) joined.

The Force arrived at Dakar on 14 October 1939. (2)

24 Oct 1939
The battlecruiser Strasbourg (Capt. J.F.E. Bouxin), aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (Capt. F.E.P. Hutton, RN), heavy cruisers Algerie (Capt. L.H.M. Nouvel de la Fleche) and Dupleix (Capt. L.L.M. Hameury) and the destroyers Le Fantasque (Capt. P.A.B. Still) and Le Terrible (Cdr. A.E.R. Bonneau) departed Dakar to patrol in the mid-Atlantic.

On 25 October 1939 they intercepted and captured the German merchant vessel Santa Fe (4627 GRT, built 1921) in position 09°43'N, 27°52'W.

The German ship was renamed Saint André in French service, but returned to German service after the fall of France.

The force returned to Dakar on 29 October 1939. (3)

25 Oct 1939
The German merchant Santa Fé (4627 GRT) is intercepted and captured in the Atlantic in approximate position 05°00N, 34°00'W by the French heavy cruiser Dupleix Capt. L.L.M. Hameury) and the French large destroyers Le Fantasque (Capt. P.A.B. Still) and Le Terrible (Cdr. A.E.R. Bonneau).

7 Nov 1939
The battlecruiser Strasbourg (Capt. J.F.E. Bouxin), aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (Capt. F.E.P. Hutton, RN), heavy cruisers Algerie (Capt. L.H.M. Nouvel de la Fleche) and Dupleix (Capt. L.L.M. Hameury) and the destroyers Le Fantasque (Capt. P.A.B. Still), Le Terrible (Cdr. A.E.R. Bonneau) and L’Audacieux (Cdr. L.M. Clatin) departed Dakar to patrol in the mid-Atlantic to the west of the Cape Verde Islands.

They returned to Dakar on 13 November 1939. Also on the 13th, a Swordfish of 814 Squadron of HMS Hermes crashed into the sea on landing. Lt. J.H. Dundas, RN (FAA) and the other crewmembers were picked up from the sea by the Le Fantansque. (4)

22 Dec 1939

Convoy TC 2.

This convoy of troopships departed Halifax on 22 December 1939 for the Clyde where it arrived on 30 December 1939.

The convoy was made up of the following troopships / liners; Almanzora (British, 15551 GRT, built 1914, carrying 1284 troops), Andes (British, 25689 GRT, built 1939, carrying 1358 troops), Batory (Polish, 14287 GRT, built 1936, carrying 806 troops), Chrobry (Polish, 11442 GRT, built 1939, carrying 1045 troops) Orama (British, 19840 GRT, built 1924, carrying 935 troops), Ormonde (British, 14982 GRT, built 1917, carrying 1269 troops) and Reina del Pacifico (British, 17702 GRT, built 1931, carrying 1455 troops).

A/S escort was provided on leaving Halifax the Canadian destroyers HMCS Fraser (Cdr. W.N. Creery, RCN), HMCS Ottawa (Capt. G.C. Jones, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Lt.Cdr. W.B.L. Holms, RCN), HMCS St. Laurent (Lt.Cdr. H.G. de Wolf, RCN) and the British destroyer HMS Hunter (Lt.Cdr. L. De Villiers, RN). These destroyers remained with the convoy until 24 December 1939 when they set course to return to Halifax.

Ocean Escort was provided by the British battleship HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral L.E. Holland, CB, RN) [Rear-Admiral Holland had hoisted his flag shortly before departure], French battlecruiser Dunkerque (Capt. M.J.M. Seguin and the French light cruiser Gloire (Capt. F.H.R. de Belot).

On 26 December, the battleship HMS Resolution (Capt. O. Bevir, RN), which was on passage from the Clyde to Halifax provided additional cover for the convoy. before she continued her passage to Halifax.

When the convoy approached the British isles, the destroyers HMS Somali (Capt. R.S.G. Nicholson, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St.J.A. Micklethwait, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. G.K. Whitmy-Smith, RN), HMS Mohawk (Cdr. J.W.M. Eaton, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Firedrake (Lt.Cdr. S.H. Norris, DSC, RN), HMS Fury (Cdr. G.F. Burghard, RN), HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. W. Kitcat, RN) and HMS Impulsive (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Thomas, RN) departed Greenock on the 25th to join the convoy on the 28th. On the 26th two more destroyers departed Greenock, these were HMS Kashmir (Cdr. H.A. King, RN) and HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, RN). These destroyers also joined the convoy on the 28th.

On the 29th the French battlecruiser Dunkerque and the light cruiser Gloire parted company with the convoy. They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Fearless, HMS Firedrake and HMS Fury until they were relieved by the French large destroyers Mogador (Cdr. P. Maerte), Volta (Cdr. C.V.E. Jacquinet), Le Triomphant (Cdr. M.M.P.L. Pothuau), Le Fantasque (Capt. P.A.B. Still), and Le Terrible (Cdr. A.E.R. Bonneau).

Four more escorts joined the convoy on the 29th. These were the minesweepers HMS Jason (Lt.Cdr. D.H. Fryer, RN), HMS Gleaner (Lt.Cdr. H.P. Price, RN).and the patrol vessels HMS Puffin (Lt.Cdr. Hon. J.M.G. Waldegrave, DSC, RN) and HMS Shearwater (Lt.Cdr. P.F. Powlett, RN).

The convoy arrived safely in the Clyde area in the morning of 30 December 1939. (5)

7 Sep 1943
Around 1600B/7, ' Force H ', both the ' 1st Division ' and the ' 2nd Division ' departed Malta for the Tyrrhenian Sea. They were to provide cover for the landings at Salerno during ' Operation Avalanche '.

The ' 1st Division ' was made up of the battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.H.E. Russell, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral A.U. Willis, KCB, DSO, RN), HMS Rodney (Rear-Admiral. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN) the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (Capt. R.L.B. Cunliffe, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral C. Moody, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Quilliam (Capt. S.H. Carlill, DSO, RN), HMS Quail (Lt.Cdr. R.F. Jenks, RN), HMS Queenborough (Cdr. E.P. Hinton, DSO and Bar, MVO, RN), HMS Petard (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Egan, RN), HMS Troubridge (Capt. C.L. Firth, MVO, RN), HMS Tumult (Lt.Cdr. N. Lanyon, RN), HMS Tyrian (Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN), HMS Offa (Lt.Cdr. R.F. Leonard, RN) and ORP Piorun (Cdr. S.T. Dzienisiewicz).

The ' 2nd Division ' was made up of the battleships HMS Warspite (Capt. H.A. Packer, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.W.LaT. Bisset, RN), HMS Valiant (Capt. L.H. Ashmore, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, DSO, RN), HMS Fury (Cdr. C.H. Campbell, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Echo (Lt. R.H.C. Wyld, RN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. E. Mack, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Inglefield (Cdr. C.F.H. Churchill, RN), HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. V.A. Wight-Boycott, OBE, RN), HMS Intrepid (Cdr. W. Kitcat, RN), HMS Raider (Lt.Cdr. K.W. Michell, RN) and RHS Vasilissa Olga (Lt.Cdr. G. Blessas).

Around 0800B/8, the ' 1st Division ' was joined at sea by the French destroyers Le Fantasque (Capt. C.Y.F.M. Perzo) and Le Terrible (Cdr. P.J.G.M. Lancelot) which came from Bizerta.

At 1630B/8, HMS Eclipse was detached to act as beacon for troop-carrying aircraft. She rejoined at 0630/9.

Around 2100B/8, both divisions were attacked by enemy torpedo bombers when about 60 nautical miles south-west of Capri. Several ships sighted torpedo tracks and both HMS Warspite and HMS Formidable reported being narrowly missed. The attacks continued until 0025B/9.

At 1330B/9, the ' 2nd Division ' less HMS Eclipse and HMS Ilex but with Le Terrible was detached to meet the Italian battlefleet that was coming from La Spezia to surrender in accordance with the terms of the armistice. The ' 2nd Division ' then escorted the Italian fleet to Malta where they arrived in the morning of the 11th.

At 1530B/9, HMS Eclipse was once more detached for beacon duties.'

During the day both carriers had provided eight fighters for a continuous CAP patrol during daylight.

As of 0550B/10, the CAP patrol was started up again by the carriers and was kept up throughout the day. Nothing of interest happened on this day.

At 1800B/10, Le Terrible was detached to fuel at Palermo and then rejoin the fleet.

At 0600B/11, the CAP patrol was started up yet again.

At 1900B/11, ' Force H, 1st Division ' withdrew from the area in which several German submarines were now known to be operating.

Around 1800B/12, ' Force H, 1st Division ' returned to Malta. Both French ships had proceeded to Algiers where they also arrived on the 12th. (6)

19 Nov 1943
Around 0615B/19, the light cruiser HMS Phoebe (Capt. C.P. Frend, RN) and the destroyers Le Fantasque (Capt. C.Y.F.M. Perzo) and Le Terrible (Cdr. P.J.G.M. Lancelot) departed Alexandria. The destroyers were to conduct an anti-shipping sweep in the Aegean.

Around 1620B/19, they were attacked by around 20 Ju-88 bombers and HMS Phoebe and Le Fantasque were near missed but sustained no damage. A second attack took place around 1711B/19 during which the destroyers were attacked but again sustained no damage.

Around 1740B/19, the destroyers parted company with HMS Phoebe and proceeded to enter the Aegean.

During the night of 19/20 November 1943, Le Fantasque carried out a sweep around Levitha and Amorgos. Le Terrible patrolled a bit further to the north. Both sighted nothing during their patrols and then retired to the south to rejoin HMS Phoebe.

Le Terrible rejoined HMS Phoebe around 0640B/20 and twenty minutes later also Le Fantasque rejoined. Course was then set to return to Alexandria where they arrived around 1545B/20. (7)

23 Nov 1943
Around 0945B/23, the light cruiser HMS Phoebe (Capt. C.P. Frend, RN) and the destroyers Le Fantasque (Capt. C.Y.F.M. Perzo) and Le Terrible (Cdr. P.J.G.M. Lancelot) departed Alexandria. The destroyers were to conduct an anti-shipping sweep in the Aegean against German Crete-Rhodes shipping traffic.

Around 1730B/23, the destroyers parted company with HMS Phoebe and proceeded to enter the Aegean.

Around 0620B/23, HMS Phoebe sighted Le Terrible approaching and at 0650B/23, Le Fantasque was also sighted. The destroyers had patrolled around Scarpanto Island and then one astwards towards Alimia Island and the other westwards towards the Gulf of Mirabella, Crete. Both had sighted nothing though.

After the destroyers had rejoined course was set for Alexandria where they arrived around 1520B/23. (7)

23 Dec 1943

Attempted interception, as part of Operation Stonewall, of the German blockade breaker Osorno, interception of the German blockade breaker Alsterufer and subsequent action on 28 December 1943, between HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise and German destroyers and torpedo boats.

During the latter half of November and beginning December 1943, movements of vessels considered to be possible blockade breakers along the French coast of the Bay of Biscay, together with reports received that these ships were fully loaded and likely soon to start for the Far East, gave reason for intensifying operation Stonewall. The long winter nights also would probably be used by the enemy to bring back from the Far East some of the ships which had managed to evade the blockade at the end of 1942 beginning of 1943.

The surface forces available to the C-in-C, Plymouth for the operation were two light cruisers; HMS Glasgow (Capt. C.P. Clarke, RN) and HMNZS Gambia (Capt. N.J.W. William-Powlett, DSC, RN). These were reinforced by the arrival of HMS Enterprise (Capt. H.T.W. Grant, RCN) at Plymouth on 23 December 1943 on completion of her post refit working up period at Scapa Flow.

The initial dispositions for the upcoming period were basd on the following considerations;
A) It was desirable to locate inward bound blockade breakers as far west as possible and that main reliance on this must be based on air patrols.
B) The density of these air patrol, owing to various causes, were always somewhat uncertain.
C) It was anticipated that the presence of outward bound blockade runners would be revealed at the earliest possible moment due to the aircraft on anti-uboat patrol over the Bay of Biscay.
D) Cruiser patrols should be as close as possible to the air patrol line to ensure that the earliest possible use is made of air sightings, and to reduce the likelihood of contact being lost owing to the exhaustion of fuel in the aircraft (as had happened before).
E) It was not considered desirable to maintain constant cruiser patrol east of 25°W due to the presence of German HE 177 long range bombers in Bordeaux.
F) It was considered desirable that no cruiser should have less then 3-4 days endurance remaining when the enemy would be sighted.

Arising out of the above considerations great importance was attached to the air patrol to the northward of the Azores (patrol H, between positions NN (42.05'N, 31.18'W) and OO (48°58'N, 34°04'W), 50 nautical miles on either side of this line and later patrol L, between positions QQ (43.10'N, 30.00'W) and OO (49°50'N, 30°00'W), 50 nautical miles on either side of this line).

This was backed up by the cruiser patrol from the Azores. HMS Glasgow and HMNZS Gambia relieving one other at 3 to 4 day intervals.

The endurance of HMS Enterprise, on the other hand, made her unsuitable for operations from the Azores so she was kept at Plymouth where she could be dispatched immediately on receipt of definite information regarding the enemy.

Passage of the German blockade breaker Osorno.

On 23 December 1943, HMNZS Gambia was operating on patrol line G (between positions LL (42°15'N, 30°10'W) and MM (49°10'N, 35°52'W), 50 nautical miles on either side of this line) having relieved HMS Glasgow which had returned to Horta to fuel on 22 December 1943. At 1911A/23, HMS Glasgow was informed that she was to leave Horta at 1100 hours on the 24th to relieve HMNZS Gambia on patrol G and that HMNZS Gambia was to return to Horta to fuel at 1300 hours on the 26th.

At 2035A/23, the C-in-C Plymouth, received a telephone call from the Admiralty that an aircraft from USS Card (T/Capt. A.J. Isbell, USN) had sighted an unknown vessel in position 47°45'N, 18°53'W at 1539 hours on the 23rd. This ship had been steering a course of 110° at 10 knots. This vessel could not be identified as being Allied and was therefore most probably a German blockade runner. This vessel must have passed patrol line H at some time on 21st December but had not been detected.

At the same time, reports were beginning to come in from aircraft flying patrols over the Bay of Biscay of A.S.V. (airborne surface vessel - radar) contact with surface vessels. The first of these indicated that some 12 ships were proceeding on a westerly course in position 45°38'N, 06°18'W and that their speed was 20 knots. Subsequent reports during the night gave various positions and composition of the enemy force, but all agreed that their course was westerly and that there were destroyers and also a merchant ship or ships present.

In fact there was no German outward blockade runner present. Six destroyers of the 8th German destroyer flotilla had left the Gironde around 0530B/23. These were the destroyers Z 27 (Senior Officer), Z 23, Z 24, Z 32, Z 37 and ZH 1. Half an hour before, at 0500B/23, the German 4th torpedo boat flotilla had left Brest. These were the torpedo boats T 22, T 23, T 24, T 25, T 26 and T 27. They were to join company around 1700B/23 in approximate position 45°33'N, 04°46'W (grid BF 8323) and then proceed to make rendezvous with the incoming blockade breaker.

At 2340A/23, HMS Enterprise was ordered to raise steam immediately and at the same time the Admiralty requisted the C-in-C Mediterranean to place one cruiser under the orders of the Vice-Admiral Gibraltar forthwith for anti-blockade runner duty. HMS Mauritius (Capt. W.W. Davis, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral C.H.J. Harcourt, CBE, RN) was selected for this duty and the C-in-C Mediterranean requested the Vice-Admiral Malta to sail her with all despatch. She departed Malta around 1715A/23, the Rear-Admiral having quickly stuck his flag and left the ship with his staff.

HMS Enterprise left Plymouth around 0200A/24 with orders to proceed through position 180° - Wolf Rock - 10 nautical miles and then on course 258° at 25 knots. Further instructions would be signalled later.

At 0240A/24, the Admiralty signalled to all ships and authorities in the area a resume of such information as was known at the time. It was obvious that the ship seen by the aircraft of USS Card, if she was indeed an enemy blockade breaker, had successfully eluded the Allied air and surface patrols, and no surface forces now could cut her off or overtake her before she was well under the protection of enemy shore base aircraft. There remained the possible outward bound vessel and any other inward bound ship which might be following the first one sighted. In order to catch these, and especially the former, new patrols J and K were instituted, J being longitude 24°30'W between 46°12'N and 47°50'N, and K being longitude 23°00'W between 48°12'N and 49°50'N and one more L, further out, on longitude 30°00'W between 43°10'N and 49°50'N.

At 0628A/24, orders were signalled to HMS Glasgow to establish patrol J by 1000 hours on the 25th and to HMNZS Gambia to establish patrol K at the same time. If nothing had been sighted by HMS Glasgow by 1900 hours on the 25th and by HMNZS Gambia by 2000 hours on the 25th they were to leave as to establish patrol L within 60 miles from 30°00'W by daylight on the 26th. HMNZS Gambia, who would be the first that needed to refuel at Horta, taking the part to the south of 46°30'N, and HMS Glasgow taking the part north of 46°30'N. Air patrol were ordered to cover the areas to the east of these patrols.

Reports from aircraft shadowing the enemy destroyer force in the Bay of Biscay continued to come in and at daylight a report by aircraft R of 105 group, a USN Liberator, gave the composition as 7 merchant ships and 4 destroyers still on a westerly course.

At 0852A/24, however, the situation was complicated by a report from Liberator H from 53 group that two destroyers some 60 miles to the southward of previous reports had been sighted. These were steering 138° at 18 knots. It was first thought these may be Spanish but as no destroyers of that nationality were known to be in that position it seems that that these must be part of the enemy force turned back for some reason and returning along the Spanish Coast.

During the forenoon, the positions reported by various aircraft which were shadowing varied considerably, but the latitudes were all between 45°N and 46°N, and the course given was west. The speed varied between 15 and 20 knots. The composition of the force was very difficult to assess but the majority of the reports indicated 10 or 11 units, of which one or two were merchant ships.

By 1100A/24 it was quite obvious that blockade running was in full swing, and the Admiralty ordered the destroyers HMS Caldwell (Lt.Cdr. F.D. Stacpoole, RD, RNR) and HMS Chelsea (Lt.Cdr. J.E.R. Wilford, RNR), which had been in position 42°30'N, 27°01'W around 0800 hours that morning, proceeding at 15 knots to the U.K. from Horta, to come under the orders of the C-in-C, Plymouth, but their state of efficiency and the amount of fuel on board was too low for them to be effective and the orders were subsequently cancelled. The Admiralty also requested the C-in-C, Mediterranean to sail HMS Mauritius to the Azores with despatch, and to replace her at Gibraltar with another cruiser so two cruisers were now requested from the Mediterranean.

At 1127A/24, the C-in-C, Plymouth promulgated to all ships and authorities concerned his estimate of the situation, giving 9 enemy destroyers with 2 merchant ships, possibly tankers in position 45°35'N, 10°56'W steering 270° at 15 knots and two destroyers in the vicinity of Cape Ortegal, eastbound, and the inward bound blockade breaker not yet located.

Air searches were meanwhile ongoing to locate the inward bound blockade breaker and at 1220A/24, a Beaufighter of 143 Squadron reported a large merchant ship of about 5000 tons with funnel amidships and a large superstructure round the funnel. She was sighed in position 46°00'N, 11°30'W proceeding on course 090°. The enemy force had meanwhile been reported as consisting of 5 destroyers and 4 merchant vessels.

By 1245A/24, the rendezvous had been made and the enemy had turned onto an easterly course, this being reported by Beaufighters of 235 Squadron. They reported the force as consisting of 2 merchant vessels, 5 destroyers and 3 torpedo boats.

According to German files the rendezvous with the incoming blockade breaker was made at 1246B/24 in approximate position 45°33'N, 12°15'W (grid BE 9322)

Up to this time it had seemed fairly certain that there was at least one outward bound blockade breaker and possibly two, in company with the enemy destroyer force. Now doubt began to arise.

However as the enemy force was now continuously being shadowed by British aircraft, it was appreciated that the enemy would be unlikely to detach an outward bound blockade runner alone and unescorted and it was also appreciated that the enemy would attach the greatest importance to the inward bound blockade breaker.

Consequently there remained two possibilities with regard to outward bound blockade breakers (if these were indeed present);
A) That the enemy had abandoned the attempt and were returning to France with the incoming blockade breaker and the escort.
B) That they would part company with the escort after dark then to proceede once more to the westward.

HMS Enterprise was therefore ordered after passing 09°30'W to steer for position 46°20'N, 15°40'W. She altered course to comply at at 1455A/24.

During the afternoon aircraft continued to shadow the enemy convoy on its easterly course but their signals on its composition failed to resolve the doubt about the presence of outward bound blockade breakers. It seemed that there were now 12 ships in all but the number of merchant ships reported varied from 2 to 7.

Around 1600A/24, 8 Halifax aircraft from 502 Squadron arrived near the enemy convoy and attacked it with 500 lb bombs. Few were able to report the results. Flak was heavy and evasive action by the enemy prevented any accurate observation. One however reported a hit on the larger merchantman who she assessed at 5000 tons. Another aircraft claimed a very near miss on another ship. Aircraft of 19 Group continued to shadow but any attack on the convoy, except by aircraft, was now out of the question.

Besides the possibility of an outward bound blockade breaker turning to the westward after dark there was the further possibility of a second inward bound blockade breaker closely following the first.

In order to guard against these contingencies, the C-in-C, Plymouth, requested at 1624A/24, the Senior British Naval Officer, Azores to arrange for an air search at maximum density, to be carried out during daylight on the 25th in the area between longitudes 18°45'W and 22°55'W, south of latitude 50'N as far towards latitude 42°N as resources would permit, the northern part of the area being the most important. This was to be instead of patrol H. HMS Glasgow and HMNZS Gambia had been ordered to patrol on J and K to the west of this area. Subsequently to commence on the 26th December, air patrol L was instituted between (QQ) 43°10'N, 30°00'W and (RR) 49°50'N, 30°00'W and was to be maintained daily.

At 1837A/24, a further situation report was issued, informing all forces and authorities that it was estimated that an inward bound blockade breaker had joined the enemy force at 1225A/24, in position 45°42'N, 11°45'W, and that the whole force of enemy vessels had turned to the westward at about 1300A/24 in position 45°35'N, 12°08'W and that it was considered all the enemy vessels were now eastbound, though it was possible that any outward bound blockade breaker might turn to the westward after dark.

HMS Enterprise was ordered, at 2012A/24, to establish a patrol on longitude 15°W between 46°50'N and 46°01'N until 0630A/25, when she was to proceed to take up patrol in the vicinity of position 47°50'N, 19°01'W until last light on the 25th after which she is to return to Plymouth. She reached the north end of the patrol line at 0023A/25.

during the night of the 24/25 December aircraft of 19 Group maintained contact with the enemy convoy, the reports of which continued to vary on it's composition but agreed on it's easterly course. At 0255A/25 an aircraft reported that two destroyers were 15 miles astern of the main convoy. Bombs were dropped by 9 aircraft between 0100 and 0500 hours, but no apparent result was achieved.

The weather on the morning of the 25th was unfavourable for flying and shadowing of the enemy convoy could no be kept up after 1140A/25. A striking force of 14 torpedo carrying Beaufighers and two special cannon Mosquitoes, escorted by 29 Beaufighters and 12 Mosquitoes was organised, but their departure had to be delayed owing to the unfavourable weather forecast. They did however, leave in time to arrive in the area around 1530A/25 but were unable to find the enemy.

By 1200A/25, it seemed certain that the enemy had not sent out any ship, and that the inward bound vessel would reach the Gironde, unless stopped by Beaufighters. HMS Enterprise was therefore ordered to return to Plymouth forthwith so that she might be refuelled as soon as possible to be ready for the next incoming blockade breaker. At 1255A/25, HMNZS Gambia was ordered to return to Horta to arrive before dark on the 26th and fuel with despatch. HMS Glasgow was also ordered to leave the northern end of patrol J at 2000A/25 and proceed to patrol L north of 46°50'N.

The Osorno and her escorts arrived in the Gironde in the early hours of the 26th where the blockade breaker hit the wreck of the sunken Sperrbrecher 21 and started to sink. To prevent this the ship was beached. The cargo was successfully salvaged though.

During the passage, at 1850B/24, T 27 suffered a rudder failure and dropped behind for some time before she was able to rejoin. She had to be steered on the engines.

At 0927B/25, ZH 1, which was suffering from engine trouble, requested to be taken in tow for which purpose T 25 was detached. She towed the damaged destroyer to the Gironde where they arrived late in the afternoon of the 26th.

Also, around 1945B/25, T 22, T 23, T 24 and T 26 were detached to proceed to Brest where they arrived around 1015B/26.

Interception of the German blockade breaker Alsterufer.

Attention was now very much directed to the possibility, and indeed the probability, that there was a second inward bound blockade breaker in the offing. It was appreciated that the Germans would wish to meet her and escort her in as much as they had done with the Osorno, and that the rendezvous might well be in much the same vicinity. This could be achieved by the German destroyers in a minimum time of 3 days, but this would involve a very quick turn around after reaching harbour with Osorno. 4 days was considered more likely and proved in the end to be correct. A still stronger interval was by no means out of the question. On the 3 day cycle the inward bound blockade breaker might be expected to have passed patrol line H on 24 December when patrol H was not flown and on the 25th for the 4 day cycle. Also on the 25th the patrol could not be flown due to other the commitments that had been made.

A gap had thus been left in the outer reconnaissance areas, through which a blockade runner might have passed on the 25th. To guard against this, the C-in-C, Plymouth asked Headquarters Coastal Command for an air search on 26 December, in the area between 50°N and 46°N, and 19°W and 22°W, adding that he attached the greatest importance to this. He also asked that patrol L should be flown on the 26th and daily thereafter, so as to ensure early air sighting if the enemy had not passed 30°W longitude on the 25th and to allow for interception by surface vessels as far to the westward as possible, the portion of the patrol line north of 46°30'N, being considered the more important.

Headquarters Coastal Command replied at 1640A/25, that 2 Liberators and 2 Sunderlands of 15 Group would patrol the area asked for from dawn on the 26th and that aircraft from 247 Group in the Azores would fly L patrol.

The general situation was further cleared up by photographic reconnaissance of La Pallice and the Gironde on the 25th which established that none of the possible outward bound blockade breakers had moved with the possible exception of the Himalaya whose berth at Brest had not been covered.

On the 28th photographic reconnaissance showed that the Osorno was at Le Verdon, apparently aground, but being unloaded. The identity of the ship was thus established without a doubt as the Osorno.

An alteration to the patrol ordered for HMS Glasgow was made at 1732A/25 when she was ordered to leave patrol J at dark on the 25th and establish patrol M between 47°25'N, and 48°05'N, and between 20°W and 22°30'W. She was ordered to be at eastern end of this patrol at about 1400A/26 and to leave the western end at dark on that day so as to commence patrol L north of 46°31'N, at daylight on th 27th. This patrol had to be given a general east/west line on account of the U-boat situation.

On the 26th, HMS Enterprise arrived at Plymouth at 1330A/26 and immediately fuelled. The fast minelayer HMS Ariadne (Capt. Lord Ashbourne, RN) left Gibraltar at 0930A/26 for passage to the U.K. HMNZS Gambia arrived at Horta at 1830A/26. HMS Mauritius, on arrival at Gibraltar, was found to have boiler defects. Therefore at 1952A/26, HMS Penelope (Capt. G.D. Belben, DSC, AM, RN) departed Gibraltar for Horta, Azores in her place.

During the afternoon of the 26th, further modifications were made to the patrol arrangements for the following and subsequent days. HMNZS Gambia was to leave Horta as soon as she had completed fuelling and then proceed at 22 knots to patrol L north of 46°31'N. HMS Glasgow was, at dusk onn the 26th, to search westward along 47°30'N and then to establish patrol N between 46°40'N and 47°20'N and between 23°04'W and 26°02'W at daylight on the 27th. The presence of U-boats in the area made it necessary again to establish patrol in an east/west line and further west then desired. HMS Enterprise was to leave Plymouth at 2200A/26 and proceed towards position EB which was in 48°26'N, 15°01'W at speed of advance of 21 knots.

In the evening news was received from the Senior British Naval Officer, Azores that the French large destroyer Le Malin (Cdr. J.E.C. Hourcade) had arrived at Horta on that day from Bermuda and that the French Naval authorities had placed her under British command. Her sister ship, Le Fantasque (Capt. C.Y.F.M. Perzo), currently at Algiers had also been ordered to proceed to Horta via Gibraltar.

Headquarters 19 Group arranged for 8 Liberators to carry out a search in an area bounded by the following points;
49°17'N, 20°26'W,
48°35'N, 17°40'W,
46°05'N, 19°03'W,
46°50'N, 21°50'W.

This area was based on the assumption that the next rendezvous with the destroyer escort and the inward bound blockade breaker would be in roughly the same position as that which had taken place on the 24th and be timed for noon on the 28th which, was now estimated to be the earliest possible date which the enemy destroyers could keep. In case the aircraft of 19 Group would be grounded on account of the weather aircraft from 15 Group were arranged as backup.

The stage was now set for the final act and the hoped for victim made his entry on the morning of the 27th. At 1015A/27, Sunderland T of 201 Squadron, attached to 15 Group, reported a medium seized merchant vessel in position 46°40'N, 19°30'W, steering a course of 120°. HMS Glasgow was thus to the west and HMS Enterprise to the east of the enemy. At 1036A/27, they were both ordered to steer towards position 45°00'N, 15°00'W at best speed. At 1000A/27, the estimated position of HMS Glasgow was 46°59'N, 26.35'W and that she would be on course 090° at 18 knots. On receipt of the signal at 1130 hours she altered course to 100° and increased speed to 27 knots and ten minutes afterwards speed was increased to 30 knots and course was adjusted as necessary to intercept the blockade runner.

Meanwhile Sunderland V of 201 Squadron went to the position given by T/201 and from then on contact was maintained and positions, courses and speed of the enemy were sent in by shadowing aircraft. As usual positions varied considerably, but the course of the enemy was consistently reported as a little south of east, and her speed was apparently high. At 1140A/27, a description of the ship was received from T/201 which fitted rather well with Alsterufer, an expected inward bound ship of about 2730 tons and 15 knots speed.

Shadowing aircraft were ordered not to attack until they had reached their prudent limit of endurance and at 1230A/27 the first attack was made, but it was not successful. After this several more attacks were carried out as aircraft reached their endurance limit but no hits were scored. Homing procedure for aircraft worked well and the enemy was kept under constant observation.

At 1124A/27, HMNZS Gambia who had left Horta at 2344O/26 and HMS Penelope who was on her way to Horta were ordered to steer at best possible speed towards position 45°00'N, 15°00'W. HMNZS Gambia was ordered to keep south of 42°N until west of 20°W, to avoid U-boats. They were also ordered to report their position, course and speed.

The weather over the English Channel and most of France was poor with light winds, drizzle, low cloud and fog patches. Some bases in the south were available for flying but it was probable that by nightfall all the British southern bases would be out of action due to weather. The Admiralty therefore requested the help of USS Block Island (T/Capt. L.C. Ramsey, USN) with her aircraft and her escorting destroyers (USS Paul Jones (T/Lt.Cdr. G.P. Unmacht, USN, with COMDESDIV 58, T/Capt. R.B. Ellis, USN, on board), USS Barker (T/Lt.Cdr. R.G. Colbert, USN), USS Bulmer (T/Lt.Cdr. G.T. Baker, USN) and USS Parrott (T/Cdr. J.N. Hughes, USN)) which were operating in the vicinity of 45°01'N, 22°00'W on anti-submarine work, to co-operate in shadowing and attack if opportunity offered.

At 1241A/27, the C-in-C, Plymouth ordered HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise to intercept and sink the enemy blockade breaker and gave her position as reported by aircraft as 46°50'N, 19°25'W at 1030A/27 steering 090° at 15 knots. The cruisers were to act on aircraft reports and were told that aircraft would be homing on 385 kc/s.

Le Malin was ordered to fill, the gap left by the chase of this blockade breaker, in the outer reconnaissance area, and to leave Horta forthwith to establish patrol L north of 46°30'N.

At 1254A/27, HMS Ariadne, on passage from Gibraltar (which she had left around 1815A/26) to the U.K., was placed under the command of the C-in-C, Plymouth. She was at that time in position 36°30'N, 16°00'W and she had to reduced her speed to 15 knots owing to the weather conditions.

At 1300A/27, HMNZS Gambia had been in position 41°50'N, 29°25'W, steering 090° at 27 knots.

At 1317A/27, the C-in-C, Plymouth organised the cruisers HMNZS Gambia, HMS Glasgow, HMS Penelope and HMS Enterprise into 'Force 3', under command of the Commanding Officer of HMNZS Gambia which was the most senior.

In the meantime, a striking force of 8 Halifaxes of 502 Squadron carrying bombs, was organised by Headquarters 19 Group and took off between 1300A/27 and 1330A/27, expecting to arrive over the enemy blockade breaker at about 1800A/27, being homed to her by the shadowing aircraft.

As a result of the shadowing reports, an estimate of the enemy's position at 1500A/27, was signalled by the C-in-C, Plymouth at 1554A/27 to the cruisers of Force 3, giving the position as 46°40'N, 18°14'W, mean course 115° with a speed of 15.5 knots maximum. Shortly afterwards Force 3 was told that it was estimated, from previous experience, that the enemy might have sailed 5 or 6 destroyers and about 6 torpedo boats to rendezvous, possibly before daylight on the 28th, with the incoming blockade breaker. Ships were also given the position of the previous rendezvous on the 24th which was estimated as being 45°40'N, 12°00'W.

At 1615A/27, Liberator H of 311 Squadron, manned by Czechs, arrived over the enemy to take over shadowing and at once attacked with bombs scoring a direct hit on the target on her after part. A heavy explosion occurred, the ship caught fire, and on the arrival of the striking force of 502 Squadron around 1800A/27, she was seen to be abandoned, heavily on fire and sinking. Excellent photographs were obtained of the attack by H of 311 Squadron which left no doubt that the ship sunk was the Alsterufer.

Action against the enemy destroyers and torpedo boats.

With the incoming blockade runner now satisfactory being dispatched there remained the possibility, if the enemy were not forewarned, of bringing the action to the escort force who would almost certainly be on their way to the rendezvous with her.

The enemy were indeed en-route in the same composition that had brought in the Osorno (see above) except for ZH 1 which was out of action due the engine trouble she had suffered.

HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise were therefore ordered at 1817A/27, to continue their present sweep, reducing speed at their discretion in order to save fuel. An hour later, at 1926A/27, further orders were sent to these two ships to rendezvous in position (SS) 45°14'N, 15°23'W at approximately 0200A/28. They were then to leave this position at 0300A/28 and to sweep on a course of 105° to latitude 45°N and then on a course of 090° so as to reach the meridian of 12°W at 0900A/28. If no information had been received by then, they were to sweep north as far as 45°30'N, and thence on a course of 270°. This approach was designed to bring the cruisers in south of, and out of radar touch of the westbound enemy destroyers / torpedo boats, and then to move them north between the enemy and his base.

It now seemed probable that HMNZS Gambia was too far to the west to be able to make a rendezvous on the next day with HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise so she was therefore told, at 1945A/27, to reduce speed to 23 knots. This was done with the object of saving fuel in case an outward bound enemy blockade runner accompanied the expected escort force coming from the French coast, and evaded HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise while they were dealing with the escort. In such an event, HMS Gambia would be well placed to intercept, but might have to do some hours of high speed steaming.

At this time also there arose some question as to HMS Penelope's state of repair, however, in reply to a signal asking her what maximum speed she could attain, and whether she had still normal endurance, a reassuring answer was received that she could steam 30 knots, her endurance was normal, and that she had 76% of fuel remaining. She took the opportunity to give her position, course and speed as 38°50'N, 13°32'W, 350° at 19 knots. The weather being cloudy with an easterly wind force 5. She was, therefore, likely to be out of the hunt.

In order to locate the enemy force as soon as possible, Headquarters 19 Group intended to send off 2 Liberators of 224 Squadron at 2145A/27, to carry out a modified patrol on the longitude of 10°W, and the cruisers were informed of this at 2300A/27. In the event, this patrol could not leave, due to weather, and it was not until 0630A/28 that the first two Liberators of USN Squadron 105 left to patrol between latitudes 45°N and 47°N and longitudes 12°W and 13°W. the second followed at 0830A/28.

Owing to the suspected presence of U-boats ahead of her, HMNZS Gambia at 2326A/26, was ordered to pass through position 41°20'N, 20°59'W, and then as previously ordered.

About midnight, the Admiralty broadcast a signal to all forces in the area that a suspicious merchant ships, probably an inward bound blockade runner, had been sighted by aircraft in position 47°20'N, 30°15'W at 1030Z/27, on a course of 135°. This ship was subsequently identified as a straggler from an Allied convoy, but this fact was not known for several hours.

At 0022A/28, HMS Ariadne was ordered to proceed so as to reach position 45°00'N, 15°00'W at 0900A/28 if practicable, and to patrol in that area until 1200A/28, when she was to leave and steer towards position 49°00'N, 17°00'W. She should thus have been in a good position to shadow and land what assistance she could to HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise, though to arrange a definite rendezvous with them was impossible without impending their freedom of action on the 28th.

The movements of HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise on the 28th would certainly take them within easy range of enemy shore based aircraft and though the weather forecast, which indicated probable easterly winds force 4 and low cloud over north-west France and the northern half of the Bay of Biscay, was favourable for the Allies, it was considered advisable to inform the cruisers of the C-in-C, Plymouth's intentions, and to arrange to withdraw them if necessary before the danger of concentrated air attack should be accepted subject to the following factors;
A) If no news had been received by the enemy by 1200A/28, the cruisers were to withdraw to withdraw to the westward without further orders, and ... B) If in contact with the enemy, the decision whether and then to break off action would rest with the Senior Officer present, taking into consideration the hours of daylight remaining, conditions for aircraft and the prospects of achieving decisive results.

The news mentioned above of another possible blockade runner approaching made necessary some provision to deal with her, if she evaded the outer patrols. After the expected movements on the 28th, it was certain that HMS Glasgow, HMS Enterprise and HMNZS Gambia would need refuelling and it was by now means certain here they might be. It was decided, therefore, to order HMS Penelope to proceed to Plymouth at best speed so as to be ready fur future commitments, and a signal was made to her to inform her of this. The Vice-Admiral, Gibraltar was also requested to sail HMS Mauritius, whose defect was now repaired, forthwith to reach position (NN) 46°01'N, 25°30'W by 1200 hours on the 30th December.

At 0317A/28, HMNZS Gambia was ordered to proceed at best speed. She increased to 28 knots for about an hour, but the state of the sea forced her to reduce to 27 knots, which speed she was able to maintain without sustaining damage. Meanwhile HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise had affected their rendezvous at about 0300A/28, by the help of radar, and were continuing their sweep, as ordered.

In order to clarify the position to Force 3, the C-in-C, Plymouth gave them his estimate of their positions at 0900A/28. They were HMS Penelope in position 42°28'N, 14°14'W, course 353° at 22 knots. HMS Ariadne patrolling near position 45°00'N, 15°00'W until 1200A/28 and then proceeding on course 342° at 20 knots. HMNZS Gambia in position 42°32'N, 18°45'E, course 050° at 20 knots. Of these positions, Ariadne's was the only oone to be considerably in error. She had been on position 40°01'N, 17°30'W at 0100A/28, thence steering north at 17.5 knots, her speed being necessitated by the adverse weather. Her Commanding Officer, states that although it was impracticable to carry out the instructions to reach 45°N, 15°W at 0900A/28, he did not break W/T silence to say so, since he had intercepted a signal sent by HMS Penelope which mentioned the weather in the area HMS Ariadne was also in. HMS Mauritius departed Gibraltar at 0938A/28 to take up the position as ordered (see above).

The first definite news of the hoped for quarry arrived at 0927A/28, when Liberator V of 105 Squadron (USN) sighted and reported 4 destroyers on a course of 270° at 14 knots. This seemed to indicate the Germans were still unaware of the sinking of the Alsterufer. A further signal from the same aircraft at 0940A/28 gave the position and course of three enemy ships as 46°48'N, 11°57'W, 270°. This appeared to be the most promising at Area Combined Headquarters at Plymouth. HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise were to the southward of the enemy and HMNZS Gambia was approaching from the south-west. Unless the enemy retired to the east again at high speed almost at once, the chances of contact appeared good. It was thought, moreover, that HMS Ariadne and HMS Penelope were nearer than, in fact, they were.

To facilitate enemy reports, two reference positions XX (45°00'N, 15°00'W) and YY (45°00'N, 10°00'W) were established and promulgated to Force 3 and HMS Ariadne. HMS Glasgow was ordered to take HMS Ariadne under her orders when action was joined. HMS Ariadne at 1031A/28, was ordered to proceed to patrol in the vicinity of position 45°12'N, 13°20'W her primary object being reconnaissance and shadowing.

Headquarters 19 Group at once arranged for shadowing to continue throughout the day, detailing for this purpose two Sunderlands and two Liberators. A striking force of 6 Liberators of 105 Squadron (USN) was also get ready.

HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise, who had turned north around 0900A/28, had meanwhile received the enemy report and at 0952A/28, increased speed to 28.5 knots and altered course to 010° to make further ground to the east of the enemy. The wind in the area of the cruisers was south-east force 5.

Further enemy reports from aircraft V/105 came in, indicating that there were probably at least 8 enemy destroyers / torpedo boats in the force sighted. This aircraft was ordered by 19 Group at 1031A/28 to carry out homing procedure, and aircraft X of 105 Squadron was ordered to listen for the homing signals.

In order to provided cover for the cruisers against enemy aircraft a force of 29 Beaufighters and 8 Mosquitoes were ordered to take off as soon as possible so as to rendezvous with with HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise in the vicinity of 46°32'N, 10°28'W. The cruisers were informed of this force by signal and the aircraft actually left between 1330 and 1530 hours.

At 1100A/28, V/105 reported that the enemy had reversed course and were proceeding to the eastward. Their position was 46°48'N, 11°47'W and the number of destroyers / torpedo boats was 10.

At 1130A/28, HMS Glasgow estimated the enemy's furthest on and furthest north probable position was that based on this report, which placed the enemy 45 nautical miles the the north of him, and steering east at 15 knots. This was not too good, as it meant that contact could only just be made. HMS Glasgow therefore altered course to 030°. However at 1120A/28, Sunderland Q of 10 Squadron obtained contact and made the enemy position 46°33'N, 12°30'W. This placed the enemy some 35 miles to the westward of the estimate previous given by V/105. Both shadowing aircraft were attacked by enemy aircraft but managed to beat off the attacks and were able to continue to shadow.

The situation was appreciated by the C-in-C, Plymouth and a signal made at 1155A/28, informing HMS Glasgow that it was estimated the position of 10 enemy destroyers at 1120A/28 was 46°33'N, 12°30'W, steering 090° at 20 knots. More weight was given to the report of the Sunderland owing to the greater expercience of the crew and the fact that she had not been in the air so long as the other aircraft.

It now appeared probable that an action would take place in the afternoon, HMNZS Gambia and HMS Penelope were therefore ordered, at 1215A/28, to proceed to position 46°N, 13°W and it was now intended to sent HMS Penelope back to Gibraltar for fuel on completion of the operation.

By 1230A/28, another Liberator, X of 105 Squadron, was in contact with the enemy force. It reported 11 destroyers in position 47°05'N, 12°40'W, steering 140° at 14 knots, indicating that the enemy had turned onto a new course to the south of east.

HMS Glasgow's movement during the forenoon were unknown at Area Combined Headquarters, Plymouth, but it had been assumed that she had been making ground to the eastward on the strength of the enemy reports received. HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise were therefore told at 1244A/28, that if no further information had been received and if nothing had been sighted by 1430A/28, they should then sweep to the north-west, their estimated position at that time being signalled as 46°31'N, 10°38'W. Before receipt of this signal, however, HMS Glasgow at 1309A/28, had decided that they had passed within radar range of any enemy to the north and decided to turn south-east to intercept the enemy. The enemy's movements were based on the estimate given by the C-in-C, Plymouth corrected for subsequent alterations of course as reported by shadowing aircraft.

HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise had been sighted by enemy aircraft at 1224 hours and again at 1330 hours, so it can be assumed that the enemy were aware of their presence. This was not known at Plymouth at the time.

While turning to the south-east at 1338A/28, HMS Enterprise reported that she had heard homing signals bearing 243° and 146° or reciprocal. HMS Glasgow therefore steadied on a course of 220° in the hope of hearing more and getting a plot, but no further D/F bearings were obtained or received.

At 1306A/28, the C-in-C, Plymouth, ordered HMS Ariadne to shift her patrol to the vicinity of 46°15'N, 12°15'W. On receipt of this signal, Ariadne appreciated that the fact that she was not in a position being unknown, might effect the tactics of HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise, who were obviously about to engage the enemy, and decided to break wireless silence and give her position, course and speed. There was also now no need to fear that her signal might give away to the enemy that fact that cruisers were to the south-west of them, as this fact must be already known. Her signal was timed 1400A/28, and gave her position as 43°30'N, 16°34'W, course 282°. Owing to a beakdown in her W/T transmitter her speed was not signalled.

At 1332A/28, HMS Glasgow sighted the masts of two vessels bearing 238° and simultaneously obtained radar contact on the same bearing at a range of 16 nautical miles. Three minutes later she made her first enemy report ' Enemy in sight, bearing 240°, range 12.5 nautical miles, 325° - Point YY - 118 nautical miles.

It was the Commanding Officer of HMS Glasgow's intention to fight the action from outside the enemy's effective range, which he took to be 13000 yards, and to engage any destroyer / torpedo boat which looked like reaching it. If more then one attained this range he proposed to turn away to reduce the closing rate.

HMS Glasgow opened fire at 1346A/28 with 8 enemy ships in sight at a range of 18500 yards. At 1350A/28, HMS Enterprise joined in. The enemy returned fire at 1358A/28.

HMS Enterprise acted under the following general instructions which had been passed when she joined company;
A) Keep on a line of bearing approximately at right angles to the enemy.
B) Keep within supporting distance of Glasgow.
C) Act independently to avoid possible torpedo fire from the enemy.

The action commenced with HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise on a southerly course, the enemy bearing 234° from them. The details of the action are best read in the action report of HMS Glasgow which we will put online on her page as well as on the page of HMS Enterprise. During the action it appeared that the enemy made much use of smoke floats, retiring behind the screen as fire upon them became effective, and in consequence the movements of the enemy are impossible to follow in detail.

In broad outline, the enemy appeared to have kept together on a south-south-easterly course for about three quarteers of an hour, during which time HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise engaged various ships among them as smoke allowed at long range. The cruisers fire appears to have been effective, and probably damaged several of the enemy during this time.

At 1400A/28, a Focke Wolf 200 aircraft released a glider bomb but effective AA fire from HMS Glasgow caused the enemy aircraft to take evasive action and the bomb fell harmlessly into the sea.

The enemy fired torpedoes with considerable accuracy at about 1420A/28, but their tracks were successfully evaded.

At 1428A/28, the enemy divided his force, four ships turning to the north-west. This was noticed by both cruisers, and though it seems that HMS Glasgow, who was forced to turn away at 1435A/28 to avoid torpedoes, fell out of the action for a few minutes. HMS Enterprise turned away to the westward after the northbound enemy, with whom she maintained contact.

HMS Glasgow soon came in touch again with the same force, the southern remnant of the enemy by now having turned away under smoke and disappeared before 1500A/28. The four remaining enemy ships which were now engaged appeared to be heavily hit and by 1515A/28, of the four one was damaged and stopped, one was damaged and retiring under smoke, one was being engaged by HMS Enterprise and one by HMS Glasgow from a range of 10000 yards.

These last two (T 25 and T 26) were sunk around 1540A/28 and as soon as the third (Z 27, stopped and damaged since around 1430A/28) had been sunk, the Commanding Officer of HMS Glasgow reviewed the situation. HMS Glasgow had fired most of her ammunition, and HMS Enterprise, whose electric gun firing circuits were out of action, was making repairs to these. Under these conditions it was not considered justified in chasing an enemy already out of sight. So therefore line ahead formation was formed and course was altered on 275°, speed 25 knots.

Meanwhile, at Area Combined Headquarters, Plymouth, the C-in-C, Plymouth had, at 1341A/28, ordered Force 3 and HMS Ariadne to close the enemy and at 1400A/28, 4 Halifaxes of 58 Squadron and 15 Liberators of the (USN) Squadrons at Dunkeswell (5 of 110 Squadron, 4 of 103 Squadron and 6 of 105 Squadron) had been despatched to the scene of the action, the cruisers being warned to expect them around 1630A/28.

At 1500A/28, the escort destroyers HMS Tanatside (Cdr. B.J. de St. Croix, RN), HMS Wensleydale (A/Lt.Cdr. W.P. Goodfellow, RNVR) and HMS Brissenden (Lt. D.D.E. Vivian, RN), were ordered to anchor in the Plymouth Sound and remain at 1/2 hour notice. Also 5 MTB's of the 23rd Flotilla from Dartmouth left at 1700A/28, to lie in wait of Brest for the returning enemy force. The rescue tug HMRT Dexterous (?), at Falmouth, was also brought to immediate notice and the M/S trawler HMS Lindisfarne (Skr. S.G. Jinks, RNR) proceeded from Plymouth to Falmouth to escort the tug if required.

The shadowing aircraft, X/105, had reported the six enemy destroyers who had escaped to the south-eastwards, and continued to shadow until reaching prudent limit of endurance at 1610A/28. Although she carried out homing procedure, no other aircraft appear to have received her homing signals.

In the dusk, several of the USN Liberators of the striking force made contact with HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise, and of these, one, P of 105 Squadron attacked Glasgow at 1933A/28. The ships, unable in the half light to distinguish friend from foe, were putting up a heavy barrage of AA fire, but this did not deter the USN, who happily scored a miss about 100 yards of Glasgow's port bow. Four others of the same squadron located and attacked an enemy squadron of destroyers on an easterly course at about 1800A/28, but no hits were claimed. The remainder of the striking force failed to find the target.

Shadowing aircraft re-gained touch after dark, and the movements of the enemy forces (it was not clear how many were together) were reported on an easterly course until midnight, when touch was finally lost.

HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise were ordered to return to Plymouth by the C-in-C, Plymouth signal timed 1825A/28. HMS Ariadne was also ordered to resume her passage home and HMS Penelope was ordered to proceed to Gibraltar to fuel.

HMS Glasgow reported the general result of the action as two destroyers sunk as well as a torpedo boat. Glasgow's casualties were 2 killed and 6 slightly injured, with some minor damage to the ship. HMS Enterprise had no casualties and minor damage to the ship. The losses of the enemy were later ascertained to be 1 destroyer and 2 torpedo boats and not as initially reported by Glasgow. The remainder of the cruisers passage to Plymouth was uneventful and on arrival they were taken in hand at the Devonport Dockyard for action repairs.

On the 29th a lone German destroyer was sighted off the north coast of Spain, proceeding towards Bordeaux at 25 knots. She was shadowed for a short time, but bad weather conditions prevented a striking force from being sent to deal with her. Subsequent photographic reconnaissance of Brest and the Gironde established that four torpedo boats and four destroyers had returned to those ports respectively. One destroyer was subsequently seen in dock in La Pallice.

The outer cruiser patrol was maintained by HMNZS Gambia and HMNZS Mauritius, and the outer and inner air patrols maintained by aircraft of 247 Group in the Azores and 19 Group, until news was received on the th January that all the remaining inbound blockade breakers had been sunk in the South Atlantic by forces of the United States Navy. HMNZS Gambia and HMS Mauritius were then recalled to Plymouth.

Following the battle, Z 24, T 23, T 24 and T 27 proceeded to Brest. Z 32 and Z 37 proceeded to the Gironde and Z 23 and T 22 proceeded to St. Jean de Luz. (8)

24 Dec 1943
The German merchant Nicoline Maersk (4194 GRT) was intercepted by Le Fantasque in the Western Mediterranean and was run aground by her crew near Tortosa, Spain.


  1. ADM 186/794
  2. ADM 53/109170 + ADM 53/109430 + ADM 53/110977
  3. ADM 53/109170
  4. ADM 53/109171
  5. ADM 199/367 + ADM 199/393
  6. ADM 199/641 + ADM 234/358
  7. ADM 53/118370 + ADM 199/774
  8. ADM 199/1038

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.

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